One of the cornerstones of the monster-treasure system I’ve been working on is that characters receive an average of 4 experience points from recovering treasure for every one they achieve by defeating monsters. This is essential enough that my previous post won’t make much sense without it. It’s also a significant departure from modern versions of the world’s most popular fantasy roleplaying game, so it’s probably worth explaining the logic to people for whom it may come as a suprising change.
To do so, I’ll borrow from a thread I was part of at the great NerdNYC forums. They’re great for a number of reasons, one of which is the diversity of roleplayers; conversations there often draw in people with many different perspectives and experiences who are willing to learn from one another. I’m copy-pasting from posts there not just because I’m lazy, but also because this environment offered supporting evidence that the way I advocated giving XP for treasure made sense to folks not caught up in D&D history (“I think you should get XP for your economic analysis of the editions. I don’t care much about the game, but I like this.”) and was convincing even to those who’d moved away from it in the past (“XP for treasure never was to my taste, although we kept to it back in the day. You make a good case for keeping it in the game.”)
The relevant part of the conversation started with an observation I made about the play experience of classic editions and their retro-clones:
You spend a lot of time prodding reality with 10' poles, building tension each time you turn a corner and see... a corridor! with doors! Until finally when something consequential happens it's a big release. I like old-school dungeon design principles for this, with lots of empty rooms and encounters that are either tension-building speed bumps or climactic insane challenges; not for me the 3e/4e design paradigm of just-right bites of XP you have to chew through level by level.wanderer took issue with this last sentence:
You’re conflating editions. This was not the 3rd Edition (3.0) philosophy, as laid out in the DMG. Parties were supposed to encounter monsters both well above and well below their challenge rating. Stumbling into an encounter that the party would have no chance of overcoming was a by-the-book reality.jenskot replied with the observation "that is technically correct, rules as written. But became culturally incorrect, in actual play" and pointed to the same article about fetishizing balance I linked to last post. I'd already started a longer response, however:
I bow respectfully to your scholarship before launching a counter-attack of pedantry!
In my opinion, the seeds of all this were sown by 3E’s decision to make XP come from combat only, rather than from treasure. If you get something like 4 to 10 times as many XP from treasure as you do from combat (as some evidence suggests was meant to be the case with by-the-book TSR editions), an unbeatable monster isn’t a waste of play time. You might find a way to sneak past it to get its cash, or make an agreement to split the profits with some other monster you lure to fight it, or whatever.
3E decouples treasure from the engine of advancement, but then re-introduces it again as expected wealth by level. So now it becomes a perceived problem if your 1st level guys sneak past the unbeatable 15th level monster and take the treasure that was balanced for people who could beat it, because getting lots of GP but not XP means you have too much wealth for your level. I see things like the fetishization of balance, the 4E idea of item parcels, etc. as all being unintended consequences of not giving XP for GP.
In 3E’s defense - I love the old slattern dearly, and am looking forward to having the time to read Justin Alexander’s Legends & Labyrinths’ new coat of paint smoothing over the wrinkes on her use-worn face - many people rejected GP for XP in older editions anyway. Lots of design decisions in 3E were just formalizing the most popular house rules.
Likewise, lots of criticisms of TSR D&D are aimed at the way people played it, not the way it was actually written. The fact that its writing is so contradictory & its intent so unclear that this happened a lot may or may not be a valid criticism. Both the encounter balance and wealth by level things are guidelines not rules, but because they were stated explicitly people gave them more importance than the designers might have intended. A certain degree of implicit design might have avoided these problems. OD&D’s refusal to tell you what its gnomic text had in mind allowed lots of interpretations to flourish; the make-your-intent-explicit modern trend is linked in my mind to the way D&D has become more and more narrowly focused and exclusionary of other styles.
It remains to be seen whether the degree of explicitness about wealth and advancement guidelines we provide in ACKS will wind up resulting in unintended consequences - worrying about this is no guarantee it won’t happen. Statements of the designers’ intent didn’t stop this trend in 3E, but for what it’s worth the calculations ACKS allows you to do about how much wealth a party of characters of a certain level usually have are, to my mind, important to the extent that they let you create scenarios that break those expectations with interesting results.
How much impact introductory adventures have on a game’s culture is debatable - the adventure path modules like Forge of Fury designed to introduce players to 3E had a wide range of encounters, but this didn’t stop the fetishization of level-appropriateness - but the scenarios I have in mind for introductory ACKS adventures all involve putting the characters in the position of having wealth beyond their level.
The first is a take on Keep on the Borderlands, inspired in part by Beedo’s tales of his Gothic Greyhawk campaign in which the players have taken over Castle Ravenloft despite being far too poor to have built it themselves or even maintain it properly. In my version of the classic Red Box intro adventure, the Keep will be not merely a base for low-level adventurers but also a stronghold they may find themselves in charge of well before characters are normally ready to afford a domain. And the second is a “more money, more problems” city adventure that uses the ACKS wealth-by-level guidelines to identify who might become the adventurer’s adversaries when they come into possession of a treasure that is an appropriate prize for conquerors or kings.