RPG Design: Experience for skill checks

chessFor my latest RPG design I already have decided to use a level based system as explained in another post. I also love skill-based systems because of the variety they IMHO add to characters. One issue I find myself toying with again and again is how (and if) to reward skill checks with experience points.

The basic idea probably is somewhat similar to what Tunnels & Trolls introduced with its saving throws or what Runequest introduced with skill marks: When a character uses a skill he is awarded for doing so. I personally prefer the T&T way (e.g. gaining experience points for using a skill or rather having to roll a saving throw in T&T terms) to the Runquest way (e.g. marking a skill as “has been used” and rolling for a potential increase after an adventure) but here are some more details to be considered:

  • Should experience points only be awarded on a successful check? One could say yes because only success usually is rewarded in roleplaying games (option A). One could say (like T&T) no, because a character learns something every time he tries (option B). One could even say that you should gain more experience from failed experience checks since we usually learn faster by making (potentially painful) mistakes (option C).
  • Should experience points awarded depend on the actual skill check (option D) or be a constant (option E)? Option D links the check to the reward and e.g. rewards critical successes in a more memorable way. It also seems to be more encouraging to players as far as I am concerned. Especially so if e.g. a failed check yields twice the number of experience points (the base number of XP e.g. being equal to roll + modifiers). Option E on the other hand requires less bookkeeping and is faster.
  • Should the amount of experience available due to an encounter be limited (option F) or unlimited (option G)? Option F is similar to what Rolemaster does (e.g. calculating an experience maximum for an encounter and deducting all experience rewarded during from the pool), but requires quite a bit of bookkeeping. And it has the side effect of having a drop off point where an encounter looses interest value because nothing more can be gained from it. Option G might feel abusable.

Currently I lean towards using options B, C, E and G (e.g. rewarding constant amounts of experience for each check with experience being rewarded in a theoretically unlimited amount as long as the PCs are trying to do something funny or useful and failure carries a risk). Option D will probably become an optional alternative to option E so that the ADOM RPG probably will offer either B, C, E, G or B, C, D, G as rules systems.


3 Responses to “RPG Design: Experience for skill checks”

  1. Tommi  on May 22nd, 2009

    I think experience for skill checks can work only if every skill check (that is worth experience) matters.

    The easiest way to do this is the principle “say yes or roll the dice”: If player character is doing something where failure is interesting, then GM asks the dice to be rolled, otherwise the GM simply says yes (or no, if it is impossible).

    PC trying to climb a cliff? If there is no hurry, GM says yes, as the player would eventually succeed anyway. Trying to escape from a monster by scaling a cliff? Roll, success means getting away, failure means problems with the monster.

  2. Wavecutter  on July 12th, 2009

    I have a suggestion. (For what it’s worth)

    I have always believed that skills should adhere to to the law of diminishing returns. The better you get at a skill the less likely it is that you will improve that skill when using it.

    I think that this would cause a rather pleasant effect between success and failure. Either way, there is some reward.

  3. EmpiptSattFep  on December 11th, 2009

    Amazing, very cool topic. I will write about it too.