Zero XP

  By Shamus   Jun 16, 2008   84 comments

A little videogame theory, from someone who ponders this sort of business more than is good for him:

We know what XP is in meta-game terms. It’s supposed to represent the acquisition of knowledge. So, the thinking goes, after you’ve killed a hundred orcs, killing the 101st shouldn’t teach you anything new. I could argue this point and we could get into all sorts of simulationist arguments about what would produce the greatest fidelity to real-world behavior, but the truth is that in gameplay terms XP is really a reward for risk and effort.

Most games have you earning XP on an upward curve. As you proceed, the monsters are worth more XP as well, but the rewards don’t quite keep pace with the XP needed between levels. So, maybe you only need to kill ten monsters to go from level 1 to 2, but you’ll need several dozen to go from 5 to 6 and a hundred to go from level 19 to 20. (This is all assuming the monsters you’re fighting are the same level you are.)

Some games feel the need to impose a certain degree of risk on the player. You get penalized for fighting stuff below your level. You’re level 10 and you’re fighting a level 1 rat. That rat would be worth 10XP to a level 1 player (a pittance to you, a level 10) but if you kill the thing you get zero. Most games make this restriction pretty tight, so that even a monster slightly below you in level is worth far less than it was when you were “supposed” to be fighting it.

In your standard RPG / leveling kind of game, the player should always be compensated for risk or effort. The only time a monster should be worth zero XP is if the player can kill the thing in a single hit, without breaking stride. Anything more than that, and the player deserves a reward for putting the beast down.

I think fighting low-level mobs is a perfectly legitimate way of leveling up, and I think designers need to stop trying to enforce their own ideas about what makes the game fun onto players. What do you care if somebody wants to kill goblins for ten hours instead of horned devils for two? Maybe they just aren’t very good at the game. Maybe their friends are a few level behind them, and they would rather play with friends than push against the limit of their abilities. Maybe the player just wants to explore the world you’ve crafted and backtrack over low-level territory. Maybe they just really like fighting those Goblins. If it requires effort, they ought to be getting some sort of positive feedback. When the fat zero appears, you are sending a message to the player: You’re doing it wrong. Figure out how we intended for you to play the game and do that.

I find “tightly leveled” games to be infuriating. Fight something two levels below you, and the game gets tight-fisted with the rewards and punishes you for not constantly risking death to proceed. Fight something two levels above you, and die. Suddenly there is a very limited supply of appropriate foes for you to tangle with. At this point they might as well make the game linear. Why give the illusion of freedom when there’s only one area of the gameworld in which the player can meaningfully operate?

Loosening the levels of a game so that the player can meaningfully fight a wider band of monsters lets players set their own pace and choose their own preference for risk vs. reward. It opens things up for more casual types, is more newbie friendly, and encourages exploration. And the downside? Say, what is the downside, anyway?

202020204There are now 84 comments. Almost a hundred!


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  1. Zukhramm says:

    The downside is that you still have levels.

    I think, having less levels should really give you more options for chosing enemies to fight. Or well, it should be around the same amount, but it does give less variety, and harder steps between enemy stages.

    And if this is about Guild Wars I’ll tell you now allready: Guild Wars is linear.

  2. MintSkittle says:

    I can’t remember a game that gave zero XP for fighting severely underleveled monsters, but I have seen one XP.

    In those games, the leveling system is usually 100 XP to the next level, no hatter how powerful you are, ten XP for killing a monster equal to your level, and minus two to that for every level below your own, until it hits one.

  3. Dan Shiovitz says:

    Well, in a MMORPG there’s the issue that each character only has certain monsters they can kill at all; if you let the high-level characters kill low-level monsters, the low-level characters can’t then go kill high-level monsters instead, so the total number of monsters they have available is lessened.

  4. Jono says:

    MintSkittle: WoW gives zero XP for mobs whose level shows as grey to you. This happens iirc when the mob is more than 8 levels below you. (This has additional effects, because some things only trigger when you kill a mob that is worth experience, or a player who is worth honor.)

  5. Deoxy says:

    Dan Shiovitz explained the downside perfectly.

    Having played in MUDs (back in the day) that didn’t control this well enough, yes, it could really make it hard on the newbies if the “newbie” area was still in any way lucrative to higher level players, as they could come through and wipe out every mob in the whole area easily, go off and wipe the next newbie area, and get back just in time for the respawn and do it all again. The real newbies got NOTHING.

    So, yeah, in a real MMO, it’s important to give people incentives to handle stuff “of their own level”.

    I do agree that some games take that way too far, though.

  6. Mark says:

    The Paper Mario games* reduce the amount of experience points you get from enemies as you gain levels, but it takes about ten levels or so to reach the point where they stop giving you 1 XP (well, they have a different name, but they’re XP) and start giving you 0 – which is a big difference when it always takes you 100 to get to the next level. It makes it virtually impossible to reach the level cap, as once you’re in the last level or two, the strongest enemies in the game have been reduced to giving just 1XP, and you’ve probably run out of bosses.

    Fortunately the games are very easy, and as all good players figure out, the reason for leveling up is so that you can get more Badge Points and go into battle with an increasingly formidable combination of moves and buffs. Diminishing returns apply.

    * Incidentally, these games – while certainly linear and perhaps on the simplistic and easy side, especially given your tastes, are excellent, and I strongly recommend you check them out now that you’ve got a Wii. The original, although somewhat clunky now, can be had on Virtual Console for ten of your earth dollars, and the surprisingly deep sequel, The Thousand-Year Door, ought to be found in a bargain bin. Skip Super Paper Mario, though.

  7. krellen says:

    I’ve recently become enamoured with an XP idea based off Jet Li’s movie “The One”: XP isn’t a measure of experience gained or even so much a reward for risk. Instead, XP is a measure of your relative power growing because you survived while other yous in other dimensions did not.

    In “The One”, an alternate dimension Jet Li is jumping through dimensions killing himself because each person has a finite amount of power spread out over each iteration of themselves throughout the many dimensions. The less “yous” that exist across the various dimensions, the more power each individual iteration has. The theory was that an individual that was truly unique throughout all dimensions would be god-like in power.

    Thus this experience model would not reward risks per se, but rather survival (and thus explain why failure would net as much reward as success – either way you survived, while other versions of you did not). By this argument, the only thing that would net you no experience would be something that could not ever conceivably hurt you. Very few gaming systems have such a system; even in MMOs a little grey enemy, and especially a clump of grey enemies, can still kill you.

  8. Dan Shiovitz has it right there, and Deoxy expands on that a bit. I’d just like to mention that unfortunately their is still certain creatures that provide something lucrative for high level characters, especially when tradeskills are involved. This creates the farming terminology as applied to MMO’s and is something I really wish MMO mechanics could improve upon.

    I will also mention the Star Wars MMO experience system. Rather than gaining exp for killing creatures, each skill had a separate xp bar that would earn xp as the skill was used. I thought it pretty revolutionary at the time, but the game still hadn’t really provided that something that would grip me.

  9. Ozymandias says:

    The best part of “The One” is the ending, when all these people are running towards super-powered Jet-Li to get the free beatdown he’s offering.

    “Hey, Jim! Some kinda superman is kicking everyone’s ass!”
    “Well what are we waiting for! Let’s get a piece of that action!”

    Anyhow, Diablo II did the no XP for lower level monsters too. It was indeed limiting, and for no good reason. It is quite frustrating!

  10. Poet says:

    Deoxy pretty much nailed it there. I’ve had various relationships with different MUDs in the past (from owner to admin to builder to imm, even player from time to time), and I’ve attempted, on one occasion, to modify the level-XP penalties, and within a day or two the newbie areas are flooded with high level people leveling without risk. We even made the switch to 1 hit kills reducing to zero XP, but the players just worked around by going in unarmed, or trigger penalties on their hits so it would always take at least two, still without risk to their 10k and up hitpoints.
    Yes, it’s restricting to players who want pure freedom, east gains, and little to no risk; but leaving it open drove away more new players than was worth it.

  11. Because of exploitation by gold farmers, the new MMO, Age of Conan, created a unique (albeit, frustrating) solution to high level characters killing low level mobs.

    Low level mobs can now ONE-SHOT YOU!

    The Brasse has a humorous cartoon about this issue.

    (And I agree with you completely, Shamus.)

  12. Shamus says:

    But Deoxy is talking about higher-level players nuking low-level mobs in one hit, and above I agreed that this should be worthless.

    A well-balanced system should naturally pull players forward: A player slaughtering low-level mobs should realize, “Hey, for just a little more effort I could be earning better XP and much better loot.” This would be balanced by: “Wow these monsters are fantastic XP but this is too dangerous.” Everyone would seek their own level with regards to skill and temperament.

    The system in Diablo is one of the ones I was thinking of. You could run into a little lighting enchanted unique guy who can kick your ass if you’re not careful, and the game won’t give you a thing for him.

    D2 was ALSO odd because it punished you for hunting ABOVE your level. Using cheats I got myself to the catacombs at level 2 or so. These monsters were about ten levels above me. It was tricky to pull off, but I managed to kill one of them (I think by fireballing a guy who couldn’t reach me through a fence, or something) and the game gave me almost nothing for him. In pure gameplay mechanics, he should have been worth a whole level. In common sense terms, he should have been worth AT LEAST what a monster of my own level would be worth.

    I observe this sort of XP shenanigans from time to time, and it bugs me.

  13. Alexis says:

    Apologies to the dead horse… the issue becomes worse with area of effect attacks. Being able (in a MUD) to walk into a room, go bang, do it again, can make even penalised rewards add up fast with a very bot-friendly level of risk.

    I remember casting Mindblade against this room of 99 barbarians in The Bard’s Tale. I guess it was supposed to be a deathtrap, but it proved a grindspot from heaven.

    What really hacks me off are XP penalties for killing stuff above your level. Come ON! If I have that much whoopass on tap, I deserve a big fat reward.

  14. Shamus says:

    Leslee: This is horrifying. AoC just dropped WAY down my list of MMO’s to check out. Anyone putting mechanics like that into play has no idea what they’re doing. Yuck.

  15. Mari says:

    @MintSkittle: Dragon Quest 8 does the 1 XP for low level battles, too. I WISH it were 100 XP between levels. Yeah, try 30,000 XP at higher levels.

  16. Zukhramm says:

    Ow. That “solution” in Age of Conan looks like the most illogical way to deal with the problem one could ever think of. Really, what?!

  17. Alexis says:

    In Age of Soviet Russia, L1 mobs one-shot YOU!

    the intertubes made me do it.

  18. Pederson says:

    Guild Wars does this, and it’s problematic for two reasons. First, the storyline is basically linear. In certain areas, you con sometimes skip over entire missions, or there are branches that are optional, but you still proceed through the areas more-or-less in the order they’re presented to you. More importantly, all areas are instanced, so the number of people whose day you can ruin is pretty limited, and entirely voluntary.

    On the upside, you don’t have to worry too much about bots camping all the spawns.

  19. Dirty Dan says:

    Atlus fan, MintSkittle? The XP schema you mention sounds a lot like Ogre Battle, wherein each level was 100xp, and even a skirmish that resulted in no kills for either side was worth 1xp to everyone.

    But then, in Ogre Battle (at least Person of Lordly Caliber, the only one I’ve played in earnest), the only source of XP was the pre-set storyline battles which could *not* be replayed, the extremely rare random encounters, and the training feature, which cost money, which could only be earned through the pre-set storyline battles. No XP farming here without “infinite gold” cheats.

  20. Josh says:

    Hmm, this usage of “one-shot” hasn’t even made it into the Urban Dictionary yet. I assume from context that it means “kill in one hit”? Is there a lot of shooting in Age of Conan?

  21. Dev Null says:

    is jumping through dimensions killing himself because each person has a finite amount of power spread out over each iteration of themselves throughout the many dimensions.

    So Superman is actually just a guy with an inexplicable overpowering desire to skydive without a parachute, only he’s the version who resisted longest? Even better, this explains rather a lot about my 103-year old grandma’s mad Scrabble ki-power – shes got to be outrunning quite a few of the other hers by sheer endurance…

    (Sorry, couldn’t resist…)

    But back to what Shamus was saying, before I derailed:

    One of my pet peeves with pretty much every RPG I’ve ever played – paper or computer – is that I’d like to see one where fighting LOTS of weenies was actually proportionally much harder to fighting several weenies. I’m not saying your Age of Conan example is any good, where they can 1-shot you, but maybe they get an increased chance to do _some_ damage to you because there are so many – your parry skill only works once per second or something. I’m all there with no xp for things that couldn’t possibly hurt you (as you say; no risk) but if a hundred level 1 weenies still had a 1 in 100 chance of a lucky hit that would, say, knock out 10% of your uber-barbarians health in the amount of time it took you to kill 5 or 6 of them, then suddenly taking on 100 of them at once _should_ actually be worth xp again.

    Of course, this does not really scale well to many computer games, where tracking that many badguys is hard on the hardware. I can but dream; I always was one to side with the 8,762 orcs.

  22. krellen says:

    Dev Null:

    In 4e, all monsters are worth XP regardless of level, and, for instance, a horde of goblins do, in fact, have a better chance at hitting you than a few goblins. They get a +1 to hit for every other goblin attacking you, so twelve goblins hit more often than six.

  23. Groboclown says:

    One reason for MMOs to cut down to zero the XP for taking on lower level mobs is that it helps prevent high level PCs wiping out the low level mobs.

    As was pointed out, low level characters don’t have as many monsters they can handle, so they will (generally) camp out at the low-level mob sites. If high level characters clean those out, looking for cheap XP to get them that last nudge to the next level, it will deplete the mobs available for the low level characters.

    At least, that’s what a EverCrack player told me.

  24. Allen says:

    There was a guy I knew, a few years ago, Nathan Knaack, went by the name of Rentantilus. Ran a D&D game on the old OpenRPG system, which was awesome. I had a lot of talks with the guy on MSN about how he wanted to revolutionize the MMO community by introducing a game that, simply, didn’t really have levels.

    I always DID wonder what happened to that guy…

  25. Fukiku says:

    Dev Null:

    As for computer games – ADOM (a quite interesting rogue-like, if You haven’t come across it yet), has a similar system. I guess it was something along the lines of every creature more than the first two on a square adjacent to You gives You some kind of defense penalties or something like that. Being totally surrounded (8 guys attacking You), was pure suicide.

    It was possible to lower the effect though, by doing a quest and gaining a special skill, but the skill was only for warrior types, if I remember correctly.

    And on a sidenote – nice to be commenting here for the first time, being such a devoted lurker for quite a time.

  26. Bruce says:

    The problem with any sort of artificial system for recording improvement is that it can be abused. I think there should some sort of sliding scale of experience gains. Eventually killing a rat will earn you nothing but a rat pelt, some bad tasting meat and some light exercise. When the King arrives looking for a hero to rescue his daughter from the black dragon does he want the guy who’s faced giants, ogres and trolls, or the the guy who’s killed millions of rats (though I suppose Luke did learn to blow up the Death Star by killing Whomp Rats, then there’s David and Goliath – maybe missile weapons would be the exception…).

    I support the Runequest RPG school of thought where you get better at what you actually do (cast magic, get better at it. The higher you go, however, the less chance you will learn something new). You can still get rewards from killing stuff in monetary terms and maybe the odd magic item, but not experience.

    A nice little idea would be for creatures to automatically flee from characters a certain amount of levels higher than them. Perhaps they could be catchable if you really want to go to the effort of chasing them, or maybe they flee towards higher level monsters for protection.

  27. Sauron says:

    @Josh:
    “Hmm, this usage of “one-shot” hasn’t even made it into the Urban Dictionary yet. I assume from context that it means “kill in one hit”? Is there a lot of shooting in Age of Conan?”

    This usage of “one-shot” has been around long enough that I guess UD users didn’t feel the need to add it. Yeah, it means kill in one hit. No, it doesn’t imply actual shooting.

  28. Nutter says:

    Okies, I don’t usually post here with good reason, but I’ve been playing with an idea, and this seems like a good place to share.

    Oh forgive my ignorance if it’s been thought before but I’ve not seen much like it.

    The idea took more explaining than I thought, and rather than pack this place with it, I’ve posted it else where and you can go view it if you wish at:

    http://nutter4ever.livejournal.com/3486.html

    Anyway just an idea and probably not all that relevent or unique but one I’ve given thought to, even if I’m generally too lazy to do much with it.

  29. evilmrhenry says:

    Shamus, the reason D2 has an exp penalty for killing things above your level is to stop people from having their level 1 character teaming up with much stronger players, and just running through a level much too high for them in order to skip the first 10 levels or so. Same reason equipment has stat requirements, really.

  30. JungianYoung says:

    If you do 1000 bicep curls with a half pound weight, you don’t get stronger. If you read a baby board book 1000 times, you don’t get smarter. If you exterminate 1000 rats (1 at a time), you learn nothing about fighting ogres. Experience may be arbitrary, but at least in that case it fits reality. Really, if you want avoid tedium, why not give your character a set amount of XP everytime you die and restart? It saves the tedium of finding more rats. (And if you *LIKE* killing rats 1 at a time, you can do it for fun, don’t expect to learn anything out of it.)

    I like the idea above about low-level monsters running away from high-level PCs. That’s what real-life rats do, after all.

  31. Karl says:

    In case this is about Guild Wars I’d like to point out that XP in Guild Wars is much less relevant than it is in other games as level cap is so low. XP penalties against lower level mobs are really not a hindrance to players who are just making their way to 20 for the extra power; you don’t have to play much to max out your level anyway.

    XP is much more relevant to the Survivor title track, I think. This is a title (with no in-game benefit beyond the prestige of being allowed to display it) awarded for gaining large amounts of XP without a single death. For this purpose it makes sense that you don’t get too much easy XP from low-level mobs.

  32. coffee says:

    The system that I can throw my weight behind is this…

    The amount of XP you get from any particular encounter should be static. If, say, a Warg is worth 100xp when you’re level 3, and it’s the fight to the very limits, it should still be 100xp when you’re level 30, and it’s the rough equivalent of kicking a small forest creature in the face. The difference is that at level 3, 100xp is enough to shoot you halfway up to the next level, and at level 30, it’s about 1% of what you need to level.

    Call me crazy, but I think that balances it, roughly.

  33. Julian says:

    Heavily reduced XP in Diablo for too-high-level monsters makes some sense because of the online multiplayer — it reduces the incentive to party with a high-level character and tag along, getting experience without actually facing risk.

    Yeah, it’s not an ideal solution, but I don’t know if any of the others solutions are any better.

  34. I’ve always enjoyed Angband’s system. A monster is worth a given number of base XP, and when you kill them, you receive that XP divided by your level. (The values are of course balanced so that makes sense.)

    Diving deep (to get to the high-powered monsters) with a low-level character is naturally rewarded; a skillful or lucky level 1 user is perfectly well permitted to jump straight to level 20 in one kill if they earn it, but there aren’t many such opportunities. Scumming low-level monster mobs is naturally penalized with diminishing returns. The system needs no further gaming to work.

  35. Deoxy says:

    The One: made for an interesting movie, but it also made NO SENSE AT ALL if you stopped to think about it… being in different dimensions (in some cases, quite different, it appears), it is ridiculous to think that various “instances” of the same person would all die at the same time all the time. Death by old age would thus render the last “instance” into the “god-like powers” situation… Yeah, it was silly. Fun and enjoyable movie, though.

    Skill-based XP systems (Stars Wars MMO, Runequest, etc): unless I am mistaken, Ultima Online did that from the very beginning, years ago. Elder Scrolls games have it, too. At least one pen-and-paper RPG I know of has elements of that, as well. It’s an old idea… the problem is that you reward boring stuff – in Daggerfall, for instance (the only Elder Scrolls game I’ve gotten around to playing), you could set your “class skills” to all kinds of odd stuff… including Jumping. So, to level, I just need to jump a whole lot? Yup… wow, that’s fun.

    “one-shot”: um, wow, that’s an old term. Not sure how old, but a decade, at least. It’s pretty much just what it sounds like…

    “But Deoxy is talking about higher-level players nuking low-level mobs in one hit, and above I agreed that this should be worthless.”: But that’s just the most extreme and easily-discussed point – where exactly do you draw the line? You agree a line should be drawn, you just don’t like the spot they chose or the method, yet MUD experience (and the big boys of modern MMOs) has failed to come up with anything better. Indeed, that’s the point that most of them end up at, because it’s the least bad.

    “In 4e…”: some monsters do have a special “mob bonus”. Also, mobs are worth a fixed amount of XP… but the DMG expressly discourages using lots of dinky monsters (that’s what level-appropriate minions are for) as a waste of time.

    Fixed XP for kill vs Fixed XP for level: Some systems lower the XP you get from mobs are you get higher level (Angband – and that sounds like an elegant solution, though perhaps hard to balance properly, especially at low levels). Some systems raise the total XP required to level as you get higher levels (4e). Both of these sound reasonable. What gets me are when BOTH are applied strongly. 3e D&D did this some, but it was somewhat weak on both counts, so it was a bit of a “middle ground” solution. But WoW is a good example of this gone awry – lower level mobs aren’t worth diddly, AND the experience required go UP UP UP (or at least, it used to, IIRC). Of course, it makes for long-running grinding, which is apparently a good subscription seller….

    low-level monsters one-shot high level PCs: if properly publicized, this could work. The problem is that it’s also potentially abusable (find some way to summon level 1 aggressive mobs in a high-level area and enjoy looting the corpses afterwards).

  36. Viktor says:

    I can’t believe no one on this site has mentioned this yet, but how about the Morrowind System? XP for your sword skill every time you swing and hit something, with each level requiring more swings to increase the skill. Other than the infamous “1 pt Destruction, 1 pt Restoration on self” trick, it wasn’t very abusable.

    (Though maybe that’s just because Cliff Racers were too annoying to farm);)

  37. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Solution:Remove the levels.Morowind(and I think oblivion as well)almost did it right:You fight with your sword long enough,and your sword fighting skill increases.With XP and levels you get idiotic things like killing 100 orcs with your staff=you can brew better potions.There are also other ways to solve this:No improvment for mob fighting,but for solving a quest/looting a dungeon you get lots of loot that can be used for training.Here,monsters arent individuals but parts of mobs,and the stronger the mob(more monsters/stronger monsters in the mob),greater the risk,and also greater reward.I think WoW has something similar to this after you reach level 70,and this is a nice solution.You want to fight punny goblins?Go ahead,but youll need to kill thousands of them to get 100 gp,while the same could be achieved by killing a single demon with an uber weapon worth 100 gp.

  38. DocTwisted says:

    Hrmm… there’s multiple types of games getting lumped together in this discussion, that have different features/designs in mind. I’m going to try to break them into more specific categories of MMO and see what they’re like.

    MUDs: This brings me back. Haven’t been on on MUD or MUCK for about ten years now. The argument for rewardless low level encounters can be summed up in one word: botting. If someone just sets a bot to move through one low level area killing all the rats as they respawn, then skips off to work so they’ll come back to a super-levelled character… well, they’re not really playing the friggin’ game.

    Third Person Looters: Diablo II and its ilk. Without the restrictions in place, there would be power levelling like mad A great example of where a lack of control causes such egregious exploits is the PS2 game Champions of Norrath… I can create a new character, save them, then import them to a previously saved game at a boss fight where the boss has been lowered to about 10hp, and there’s a pile of grenades next to the save point. My lvl 1 character in starter gear suddenly is level 20 because he just, well, felled a God single-handedly, as the game sees it. And in high levels attacking lows… well, if you’re in a zone with the maximum number of players, do you want to be the one getting no exp and no loot because the big mean level 20’s have already swept it up?

    “Open” MMOs: City of Heroes, EQ, WoW, and any other game where the only thing keeping you from expanding your map is aggresive monsters that might be getting taken care of by campers/farmers because the combat zones are all one shared pool. Without this, I fear the noob zones would be overpopulated to the point of absurdity because many of these games make steeper learning curves as you progress in level… Once you earn your cape (level 20 or 15? been so long since I played) the enemies close to your level are actually a challenge if you’re not moving with a group that knows what they’re doing. There were times I tempted to go step on level 7’s again just for the rush of winning a fight.

    Guild Wars: Yeah, this gets its own category because far as I know, it’s the only MMO where the combat zones are instanced, which strips out the camping/farming/grinding issue. What I noticed early on in playing Guild Wars is that if you keep track of the exp gained fighting things during a given mission (whether a side quest, primary quest, or “Mission” mission that advances the game’s plot), the exp gained for completing the mission itself is, in fact, significantly higher. This is especially true during your first 10 levels, but I believe remains true later on. So if you’re looking around each town to tag every exclamation point and do their bidding, exp is not all that much of an issue. A good team can rush a group of mobs with one of them (or maybe two if they’re good) 5 or 6 levels higher than it, beat it down (slowly and with careful use of the skills), and receive a generous exp reward because it really was a risky move. Oh, as a side note: in NightFall there are “bounties” you can receive in mob zones. Killing a mob of the type matching one of your bounties (and by running around the edges of a zone, you can collect multiple bounties that are all in affect at once) gives you twice the exp it normally would (and if it would have been zero, it becomes 2, IIRC) and earns you something called “Sunspear Promotion Points,” which allows you access to some additional all-important skill points as you accumulate them.

    There one other kind of MMO I play, which is webpage based: Kingdom of Loathing, Forumwarz, and Urban Dead are my big three right now. In KoL, the experience you gain doesn’t change, but the experience needed to reach each level higher is exponentially higher than the last, so you get… “encouraged” by that to chase after bigger things as the game progresses. Something close to this is true in Forumwarz, as well. In Urban Dead, their exp system is slightly different. Whenever you do damage, you gain exp equal to the damage dealt. Whenever you heal someone (as a human character) you gain 5 exp (note: they must need at least 1 HP healed for this to work). As a Zombie, damaging the barricades of a building gains you some exp. I think there’s another human skill set that gains you exp, but I’ve yet to buy any of that branch of the tree. My character started off as a doctor, and gained almost all of his levels not by fighting, but by running around keeping other player characters alive.

  39. Avatar says:

    It’s kind of inherent in the design of an RPG, isn’t it?

    In reality, the difference between a battle-scarred veteran barbarian and Mr. Miller from down the lane is a lot smaller than in RPGs. Sure, Conan is going to have better reflexes, more familiarity with moving around in armor, and a better idea of where to put his pig-sticker to make something die. But he’s not that much tougher than the average guy; he’ll bleed out like anyone else.

    And a lot of the differences there are conditioning. If we’re comparing him to, not just an average guy, but a nut who likes running ultramarathons, the physical differences are going to be a lot smaller, even though the athlete isn’t going to have earned a hell of a lot of XP out on the open road, as opposed to dungeon crawling.

    Certainly there’s nothing that makes the one more likely to survive a lightning strike! ;p

    RPGs are set up the way they are because players need to have an incentive to seek out monsters and challenges. Otherwise, there would be a huge disadvantage to engaging in combat (hey, you could get hurt out there!) and a big incentive to attempting to outwit the GM at every turn instead, to bypass challenges without physical risk. Not only is that problematic for some characters – it’s not really roleplaying if your INT 9 fighter can form strategies like Clausewitz – but it also puts the GM and the players in a confrontational situation, where the former is more likely to penalizing the players for being too clever about things.

    Of course, in a paper-and-pen RPG, the GM has other ways to enforce the “go out and do something worthwhile” ethos. Decided that you’re going to become an epic-class rogue by exterminating every rat in Waterdeep? Sure thing, man, if you don’t mind having people call you “Slayer of Rats” and “Ratbane” and the were-rats coming after your butt. ;p

  40. mistergreen says:

    Doc Twisted, you mention City of Heroes/Villains, which is another NCSoft game like Guild Wars, and I was going to bring that up as I came back to that game after a 2 year break from being in since beta. The level system there is gray, -3 and below; green, -2; blue,-1; white,even; yellow,+1; orange,+2; red,+3; purple,+4 and above.

    The one cool thing this game does that I am not aware of any other game doing is Sidekicking and Exemplaring. Side kick means you can fight along with a friend that is anything over 3 levels higher then you, while you are effectively 1 lower then him, and you will have an easier time with the mobs while earning exp comparable to your level. Exemplaring is where you as a higher level character lower yourself to your friends level and fight as their level losing the higher powers so that the missions are still a challenge. While you are exemplared you only earn influence, the games currency, and your enhancements are not as effective as they would be normally.

    Yes that means a level 50 can take a level 1 character with them in a mission and that level 1 will be 49, but will not gain any powers that he or she would be granted upon playing the game. Nor will they be effective at all with only 1 or 2 attacks versus the level 50 having 20+.

    Another thing off topic from this, is that CoX does not require you to camp for mobs for that phat lewt. You can play the game for only an hour at a time, or take on the infamous Dr. Quaterfield Task Force which requires you to have a full 8 person team and on average takes 7 hours to do. Though the nice thing is, as long as everyone agrees you can all log out after a few hours and rejoin later in the day or in the week to finish it.

  41. Hawkstrike says:

    This isn’t restricted to computer games. D&D 3E, as written, provide no XP to monsters eight levels below the character’s level. But it also assumes a DM smart enough not to give the PCs opponents that far below their level.

    But I tend to agree with you … if the player wants to grind XP by killing meaninless things, by all means let them. Though I like Oblivion’s leveling system, I’m also frustrated that the game scales the opponents in proportion — so no matter how good I get, it always seems like I’m playing on the same level of difficulty.

    I miss games like Pool of Radiance / Curse of the Azure Bonds / Baldur’s Gate were if an encounter area was too tough, you could back off, go fight some foes more your speed without having to kill meaningless rats over and over, then return with enough mojo to handle the fight.

    There has to be some balance between requiring XP grinding and preventing power-leveling.

  42. Alexis says:

    The multiplayer exploit is easily avoided with grouping penalties when there’s a level gap.

  43. scragar says:

    As long as the game is not an online game then there is no problem with allowing power leveling if the player is willing to actively seek it, once the game allows a higher level character to wipe out an area, or abuse the server, then it becomes a problem.

    Since only online games have to worry about this there are several solutions, my personal favorite consideration would be to make items more valuable than EXP, and as an extension of this, make the best weapons for every level available only through quests or battle, that way users who abuse low level areas find their extra power from leveling is wasted. For magic users this could be done simply by demanding that the players find spell books or components to cast the more powerful spells. And ofcourse cleric style characters could be offered blessings for defeating a more powerful MOB and lose favour with their god for bullying the weaker MOBs. Once the focus is taken of EXP it makes the games much easier to force compliance on :P

  44. Chris Arndt says:

    This argument only reminds me of the Playstation version of Gauntlet Legends.

  45. Benjamin O says:

    My ultimate game that I am planning on making (sneak peak: but it will never happen, so there!) will do this: you gain experience for both killing mobs regardless of level, BUT most of the game is based on player skill (I can’t reveal how that works without giving away a potentially lucrative game idea that I’m never going to use…).

    The idea is simple though…you gain access to character ability by fighting, killing and using various skills, but the player needs increase their own ability to use the various skills and whatnot. Yes I know that computers can emulate much of this, so it’s a challenge to implement, but think about how much of that’s true in games like WoW or even Unreal Tournament where aim-bots and such _can_ imbalance the game, but generally most people don’t bother because it ruins the game. Yeah, it’s fun once in a while, but I’d never do it with a serious character. I might do it with an instanced character that I didn’t care about, but I’d never take a character that I cared about and totally whack it out with crazy stuff and throw an aim bot on it for pvp except to just screw around.

    But anyway, if you make a game that pretty much allows the character to grow based on skill use, but make it require actual player interaction to use those skills, then you should be okay. Personally, that’s why D&D and other table-top games are fun–the GM can hand out XP for whatever they choose. It doesn’t have to be kills or even combat. I can handout XP for good roleplaying, good skill use, getting killed the most or whatever.

  46. scragar says:

    OFF TOPIC WARNING

    Sorry for a second post, but I completely forgot, could you remind people of the world record attempt by firefox tomorrow? they’re going for the most downloads of a piece of software in 24 hours, and as of now it’s not very well publicised…
    Linky: http://www.spreadfirefox.com/en-US/worldrecord

    /OFF TOPIC WARNING

    I like DoP’s leveling system, raising skills requires money, since the training cost’s money as do items, fighting something too week will not generate nearly enough money to buy a worthy weapon and raise your skills, battling something more your level will ofcourse drop items more your level allowing you to easy your money concerns in one aspect(weapons/armor/bags/food…), giving you a much better cash flow for the skills and consumables.

  47. Darian says:

    In Age of Conan, the newest big name MMO to come out, you get one XP for killing anything, but you get vastly more for killing something your level or higher. So theoretically you could ‘pull a southpark’ and try and gain multiple levels by grinding first level monsters, but it would take you months.

    Similarly in DnD’s 4th Edition all monsters are worth a set amount of experience, no matter your level. It is the GMs job to fill an encounter with a certain amount of experience. If the GM wants to swarm the players with boatloads of lesser monsters, the party still gets experience for them, however the amount for each is so miniscule that you need an army of level ones to equal the experience of a reasonable level monster.

  48. Ragnesand says:

    EvE-OnlinE has found a way around grinding mobs endlessly for levels. Instead of gaining levels by grinding you buy a skillbook for a skill you wish to learn and then it automatically trains untill you gain a level inte the skill or tell it to stop training or the account time goes out.
    Also, for one-shotting low level mobs for money It ain’t very effective. The larger ship you have the larger weapons you generally have and the harder it is to hit the smaller ships. If you are using guns you will (often) be unable to hitt ships two classes smaller then you unless at a range, and if you are using missiles you will hit, but do so little damage that you will waste more money then you earn, generally.
    The problem with this system is that if you try to kill larger ships with your small ship you probably won’t be able to. And since the ships at your ‘level’ usually has very little money, and the larger ships, wich are as in all mmo’s are worth more money, you won’t be able to get a larger ship unless you grind for many weeks.
    There are a lot of other ways to earn money in the game, such as suicide pvp, livestock hauling, or granite mining. Though I have found those things even harder to get a profit from then mission farming.

  49. Zaghadka says:

    And, of course, computer users will get zero XP after Microsoft’s retirement date of June 30th.

    (*rimshot*)

  50. Khizan says:

    The problem with letting me level off of the goblins 10 levels below me in a MMORPG is that there isn’t an infinite amount of goblins, and there are players 10 levels below me who might like to kill them too. If I’m able to backfarm them for EXP, I’ll be overpowering the lowerleveled people there by such an extent that they won’t be able to get any of them.

    In WoW, this is especially apparent if you’ve ever tried to level in the same place where a high leveled character is backfarming materials for crafting. So they really do need to rush you out of an area once you hit a certain level of power, so that the people below you can use that area.

  51. Armydan says:

    From what I am reading here – the concern is about computer games rather than RPG (tabletop games) in that the “low” level monsters don’t given enough (or any exp) for the kill.

    I disagree with Shamus’s arguement – not only in respect to the NooBs of the game, but also because the Computer player is never going to be good enough to take on the player.

    For example, in D2 you could quite easily “funnel” low level creatures down a path and kill them (almost) one by one. This provides niether a threat nor a challenge to the player thus why should it be rewarded?

    Alternatively, the same applies if you combat “higher” level monsters (in D2).. which I agree is a concern, but does something for the developers of the game – forces the player to play through the game that they have developed (ie all that stuff you just missed and the developers have spent thousands developing) rather than Cheat and just go to the highest level.

  52. Khizan says:

    Also, you say in your post “In your standard RPG / leveling kind of game, the player should always be compensated for risk or effort.”

    It doesn’t take a whole lot of risk or effort to South Park a game and kill level 1 boars till you’re level 60/70/etc. All it takes is time, and I don’t think that a player should be rewarded for grinding well below his power level.

  53. Annon says:

    Alright. I’ve been itching to say some things about XP in games and now you’ve given me a plausible excuse >:)

    First of all, I agree that some games take the “tightly levelled” model too far. That was my principle complaint about NWN–if you are obsessive like me ant try to find every single quest, you will hit level ten in an hour and for THE REST OF THE ORIGINAL MAIN QUEST (10-20 hours for the obsessive) you’ll maybe gain 5 more levels. I hated it, because I felt like I was doing quests as a hollow exercise, only to sate my own desire to find everything and not for any reward whatsoever. Even the fights that were hard-as-hell, risk life and limb only gave maybe 5% of the XP needed to level. It encourages people to avoid sidequests, and if you do that, why the hell did you code the extra content in the first place?

    For MMO’s: I think what’s there, works. Let players tousle around with stuff ~3 levels above or below, but yoink the rewards to stop the farmers and give the newbies a shot. I didn’t know the sidekick/exemplar system in CoX is so unique, but it’s fun and an interesting way to share the experience with friends if you are a new player.

    For single player: I like systems that level with you. They make things interesting if you want to revisit a level to grab anything you missed, they give writers more lattitude in where they want to go with a story with less complication, and they allow you to explore more. One of my favorite things about Oblivion was that once I got out of the sewers the whole worlds was free game, and I don’t think that would be possible if enemies’ levels were static.

    There has to be more than XP, however. The problem with Oblivion was that EVERYTHING was dependent on level–loot, enemy strength, shop inventories, EVERYTHING. There’s no reason to improve, because everything is railed into improving at the same rate as you.

    What every system needs is a two dimensional approach to rewarding. Take D2 for example. Yeah, you’ll have a hard time reaching level 20 in the first Act, but if you keep at it for enough hours you might find an extra Set item or Unique item that will give you a slight boost to beat the boss. With hours of patience, you can increase your power level without moving too high on the food chain–this eases the power curve so granny who plays the barbarian with more mana than health can still play alongside Minmax the barbarian who knew the exact order he was going to fill his skills out in before he started playing. They both control their own power through the character choices they make and they control the power of the creatures around them by choosing to remain in one area or advance. The most elegant and likeable solution to balance the “Zero XP” problem is to keep it around, but to give some other reward for turning 1000 rats into burger in addition to 0 XP.

    Although…I like the alternative idea of rat farming affecting your reputation. Maybe killing so many low level monsters earns the title “Bottom Feeder,” which the king will pronounce with disdain and won’t even look at you until you’ve shaken it…

  54. Hal says:

    I liked Earthbound’s approach to this:

    If you’re strong enough to kill a monster without breaking stride, you just skip the battle completely and go straight to earning XP and treasure. Sure, the XP might be meaningless for you at your current level, but you don’t have to waste your time fighting pitiful enemies.

  55. Shamus says:

    The point I made, and then repeated, is that I think if the CREATURE IS A POSSIBLE THREAT OR HASSLE TO PUT DOWN, then you should be compensated, even if the threat and hassle is less than something closer to your own level.

    People keep talking about mass-killing harmless mobs, which isn’t what I was talking about at all. I made it pretty clear: Risk + Effort = XP.

  56. Armydan says:

    “CREATURE IS A POSSIBLE THREAT OR HASSLE TO PUT DOWN”

    Then how does the developers define this – player behaviour is not something that can be developed for “in Game”. For example this Mob of creatures – as a mob on its own could be a difficult task for the player to overcome – yet when combined with suitable outside controls – becomes a meaningless battle (thus not deserving XP).

    Developers seem to have gone for – close to character (not player) level/ability – which is measurable BTW = XP reward. Not close = No reward as the majority (not necessaryily all) of the difficulty is easy (or meaningless) to overcome.

  57. Dagrim says:

    ADOM again — monster’s XP value wasn’t reduced according to your level, but according to how many of that monster you had already slain. The more often you kill that same monster, the less you would learn (earn XP) from doing the same thing. No artificial level cut-off, but a nice natural drop-off in pay-back.

  58. Annon says:

    And my point was that it would be simpler–and more enjoyable–if you change that to “Risk Effort = Reward.” XP is already an artificial concept that only really serves as a reward system and–aside from a few exceptions–does very little to make the game feel any more real. When you’re the same level as your enemies you fight them individually with a sound strategy for that particular beast, but when you are higher level it takes too much time to fight every creature individually, and it isn’t a challenge or a risk. The way you fight change accordingly, to include large groups of monsters. It is very hard to assign difficulties to squads of lower level monsters–add one special ability and the difficulty is multiplied by a hundred. Take it away and the monsters are a walk in the park.

    Rather than simply make a procedure for deciding how much XP you get according to level, you’re asking designers to move through each inidividual monster and custom-create an XP progression for fighting fights based on how much of a hassle it is. That works, though I would be interested to see how such a system could be implemented. It’s not like the ‘enemies level up as you go’ system isn’t just as much work to actually do correct. I think it’s much simpler, however, to take the D2 approach. Make sure everything has a chance, no matter how far fetched, to give you some useful loot and let people decide for themselves if that is enough incentive to stick around for a while. Yeah, you get zero XP, but at least you’re getting something, and you won’t be bored by reaching max level before the second half of the game.

  59. Axolotl says:

    In pen and paper roleplaying games I always liked the “Call of Cthulhu” XP system. If during the course of a session you successfully used a skill “in a significant way” (DM’s decision) you get a skill check. At the end of the session for each skill check you have you try and roll over your current skill percentage (on a d100). So you get experience for using your skills, but the more skilled you are the less likely you are to improve.

  60. Cineris says:

    So, here’s a question:
    Lets assume for a moment that assessing a creature’s potential threat to your character is something the computer can do trivially. What if you build your character putting all the filthy XP lucre from levelling into offensive powers rather than defensive powers?

    Essentially, the threat level of a creature would stay the same. Even though you may be able to easily kill the creature, it still presents a credible threat to you should you ever find yourself in a bad situation (8 mobs are coming at you, and your four attack spells are in cooldown).

    In a scenario like this I’d expect that players would level up on low level mobs as much as possible, and then once they have reached the level cap, invest all of the points they have accumulated from levelling up. You might also see fun abuse like players wearing no armor and using no weapons to increase the threat level of enemies against them and earn more XP. You’d also get unwanted side-effects like using better equipment resulting in less experience.

    As crazy as it sounds, I don’t think there’s a way around problems like these if we want to get into a realistic threat assessment scenario. Yes, Lightning Enchanted creatures in Diablo 2 could easily be multiple times more deadly than other creatures, but if you’re a ranged attacker you can also avoid the lightning entirely by standing in certain locations. Your character might also have a second set of equipment with absurdly high elemental resistances that you can swap to and ignore the lightning effect.
    The computer is not going to be able to tell if someone with crummy equipment is a good player slumming for experience, or a player who has never received any good drops, or a poor player who doesn’t know how to determine what equipment is good at all. This is a very, very complex problem and the thing is – the approaches taken by most games are straightforward and easy to understand, and cause little problem in normal play. Tackling the problem of a creature’s actual threat for rewarding proper XP is a complex problem that’d be kind of inscrutable in practice, and cause major disruptions to normal play.

  61. Derek K says:

    Cineris pretty much has it.

    In fact, I’m fairly sure I have a memory of a game system that did exactly that – it calculated your relative threat level, and people did, in fact, abuse it by artificially lowering their threat levels via equipment, etc. In a game like D2, you could simply save up all your skill points and attribute points until you hit your target goal, then *boom* you’re deadly.

    Course, you can negate that by assuming that all unspent points will be spent according to a baseline – if you’re an amazon, and have 15 unspent points, equate that to 15 points in magic arrow. Etc. But then you’re at the level where, honestly, most of us reading this, will far far outperform the “basic” setup. Because the devs are dealing with granny mana-barb and minmax at the same time.

    The *best* thing about Oblivion, imho, was that little bar in the options that said “Combat Difficulty” – many RPGs have it, but usually it’s just “easy, medium, hard”. Oblivion had a giant sliding scale so you could tweak it oh so closely. I didn’t check if harder monsters == harder XP – I hope it didn’t.

    In WoW, CoH, and other games, there are already powerlevelling strategies that rely on getting together as many almost non-xp granting monsters are you can, and then killing them all in giant AoEs. CoH actually had to put a cap on the number of mobs that can be affected by each AoE, because tanks could gather up 100+ green or blue mobs pretty quickly, not fear anything from their attacks, and then just bring them back in a horribly tight group to the blaster, who could one-shot them all.

    It worked really well – I used that system to bring my wife up to my level several times when she’d taken a break for a time. Now you can still do it, but you’ll only hit 16 mobs at a time that way….

  62. Deoxy says:

    Gotta go with Cineris, here, Shamus. I know what you’re wanting… but the “bang” is small, and the “buck” is obscenely high, so I just don’t see it being done any time soon.

    People keep bringing up “one-shotting” because it’s the simplest example that’s (essentially) indistinguishable from the next step up.

    Actually, that’s the main problem (as Cineris said) – determining actual threat level is HARD.

    ANY system (yet discovered) that allows what you’re wanting can be (and is) gamed, so the vast majority of games just cut it all out.

    Seriously, if you find a solution to this problem, you’ll be famous. Good luck with it, eh?

  63. Zukhramm says:

    I think, about the risk/reward thing, that MMORPGs should try to move away from that way of rewarding players completley. There must be other ways than getting things for killing things. However, this moves us away from the “standard RPG / leveling kind of game”, which your argument was about.

    And I feel like starting CoH/CoV again.

  64. Oleyo says:

    I think WoW has a pretty good balance here. You will get XP for creature up to 9 levels below you, which is well under the range of being difficult, though not a “one-shot” per-se, depending on your class.

    Additionally, you can fight any creature higher than you with a realistic hope of defeating foes up to 5 levels above you. At that level, occasional bouts of missing/being-resisted several times in a row will get you walloped if you dont bail out and run.

    Six and seven levels above you will be quite difficult to take down, but possible using all of your tricks and cooldowns, and some lucky hits. Even with good gear for your level it will be quite difficult to land enough blows to defeat the creature, without being trounced.

    After that you will be like Shaq at the free-throw line.

    Quite a big range in my opinion; 14 levels of creature that you can kill consistently without great fear.

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