Saturday, May 3, 2008

Reversing innovation (Part II)

Another of the (now discarded) innovations of 3rd Edition D&D is XP as a commodity. In 1st and 2nd Edition it was possible to lose XP to creatures like the undead or items like the Book of Vile Darkness. It wasn't until 3rd edition that you gained the ability to spend it.

While not always common, the ability to spend all that XP that was "burning a hole in your pocket" was very present. Magic Item Creation was probably the most popular way to spend XP. It was followed closely by spell-casting, where several high end powers required the expenditure of XP. Psionic Powers were another common place to spend XP, especially since XP Cost replaced the use of expensive material components.

When I first started 3rd Edition D&D XP costs seemed an inspired solution to me. The new item creation rules had opened up the ability to create magic items to much lower level characters than the past. Unfortunately, unchecked this system would be ripe for abuse. After all, a 1st level party could decide to sit tight in a town for a month and potentially make thirty scrolls per spell-caster! Putting a gold piece cost limited this abuse somewhat, but an XP cost hit the player where it hurt. While the XP cost for utility items was never very high, it did cause most players with item creation feats to sit up and say "Hey, wait a minute!" when other players would suggest turning their characters into scroll and potion creating factories.

Similarly, XP costs served as a good deterrent for the use of spells like Wish or Miracle.  Those "do anything" spells were nice to have in your back pocket if you were a spell-caster.  Unfortunately, without any deterrence from using them, there would be no rational reason not to make a wish every night before bed (giving "when you wish upon a star" new meaning).  The XP cost handled this nicely.

Now, you may have noticed one of the problems with XP as a commodity.  Namely, only the spell-casting classes spend XP.  As a result, it tends to act more as a punishment for playing a spell-caster than a check for using these abilities.  After all, lets say you have several crafting feats.  You might make magic armor and weapons for all of the party members.  Craft everyone bags of holding and a couple of ability score increasing items.  The end result is you are lagging behind everyone on XP while they are more powerful due to their new magic items.  Now that hardly seems fair, does it?

I can't say I will be sad to see XP cost go.  In D&D 4th Edition nothing takes away XP.  Not undead, not dying, and especially not casting spells or prayers.  This is probably for the best.

Next up, the new multiclass rules!


Todd said...

Personally, I am a fan of combined crafting aka. Monte Cook. This allows the fighter to share the burden of making his +5 kill-a-ma-bob. I am also a fan of quest components (per the dmg2 and a few dragon articles). This allows a mage to research a formula for a particular item, and then gain the required rare components which would count twords either the xp cost or gp cost as determined by the DM when the formula is designed. By combining these two things, the mage is only punished by being forced to take the feat in the first place (instead of metamagics or whatever else is handy). That said, in 3.x edition games, the caster's main attribute is nearly always buffed out considerably by crafted wonderous items... so perhaps it's not such a wasted slot after all.

Bronz said...

I am definitely glad XP is gone as a commodity. I liked it in the beginning because it was the main currency through which this new magic item creation system worked. But it didn't take long to see it as another weight around spellcaster's ankles.

I personally hate the idea of anything making a character lag behind the rest of the party in level (or xp). XP as a commodity certainly did that and I am glad 4e is taking that away.

Coyote1aw said...

I have to admit that initially I was also thought that the XP cost was a good way to balance the game and allow PC's to make items. The system made some logical sense. However as it turns out it is a pain trying to figure out what the exact cost is, and who wants to use valuable playtime fiduring out how many potions one can make and how many XP's are needed. I do like the Eberon Campaign's Artificer class feature of being able to make so many XP's of items per level for free.
While I don't know how item creation will work in 4th ed, I wonder if that would be a solution -with each item creation feat taken, there is a set # items per level that can be created. Since each item will have a level associated with it and the cost of each item is the same at a given level, that might work.