Archive for October 8th, 2009


why i ate eagle dung

Tavis writes:

More recently the gold-for-XP rules have led to an assassin PC founding a ASPCA-style animal shelter, and to another magic-user having to taste the giant eagle dung he was passing off as giant roc guano. Good times!

As the player of said Magic-User, I want to clarify: my character, Arnold Littleworth, didn’t eat eagle poop just for the sake of carousing.  That is not his deal.  Rather, he tasted eagle poop to save his friend’s life.

My character does not carouse because, to the best of my knowledge, he has never made any money in his adventures.  But other characters have, and occasionally they get into trouble.

Due to a mishap on Tavis’s Carousing Table (which I am sure he will post in more detail), Sir Argus the Rat Knight bibulously offended a powerful Wizard.  Said Wizard placed him under a curse to grow an inch shorter every week, and he would only remove the curse if Sir Argus retrieved the excrement of a Roc.

Now, even on his best days Sir Argus cuts a pitiful figure.  But it would be an ever-smaller pitiful figure.  Yet he’s been a staunch ally, and I didn’t want him to shrink into nothingness.  Others in the party voiced differing opinions.  Nevertheless a few of us decided to undo the curse on Sir Argus.

Removing the curse through magic wasn’t an option, because we are lowly adventurers who had caroused all our gold away.  Even if we could kill the Wizard–a very dubious assumption–we weren’t sure if that would undo the curse.  Retrieving a Roc’s guano was rejected immediately: they are among the most ferocious monsters in the game and we are the types of characters who get turned into midgets after drinking too much.  We know this NPC who has four trained Giant Eagles, however, and I briefly proposed using them to fight the Roc (“C’mon, nobody ever uses the rules for aerial combat!”) but Tavis shut that idea down (“I think it’s because no one has ever bothered reading them”).

After a bit of brainstorming, we decided to use my Magic-User to pass off four Eagles’ dung as Roc dung.  My character is a former charlatan and hedge-alchemist, so it seemed plausible.  And, in fact, it worked.  My 3rd-level Conjurer, Arnold Littleworth, managed to hoodwink Fingle-Ungle-Narn, an 11th-level Wizard, who was so impressed with the quality of the goods that he would consider me for membership in his Wizard Syndicate, or such is my recollection.  All it required was a taste test.

Sir Argus, you owe me.

More seriously: this is the kind of hijinks that a player can get up to using Rients’s carousal system.  Under Tavis’s variant, you’re spending this money not simply to hang out with random harlots but to achieve some larger, personal quest.  (Exception: your personal quest might be to hang out with random harlots.)  I can’t remember exactly what Sir Argus was trying to do – but it ended up getting him into a lot of trouble, and leading to a moment of great daring and courage on behalf of the party members who endeavored to rescue him.

Because the system ties into players’ individual goals, and has these sorts of zany effects, I think it’s a pretty good candidate for the kind of personal investment in the setting that I was talking about.  If anything, I think the system is a little too “one roll and you’re done.”  Some of these entanglements could be springboards to actual adventures in which gold and experience are gained, rather than mere comical interludes.  In our latest session, for example, a player bought a house from the local Thieves Guild–I knew real estate was a racket!–leading to the unanticipated discovery of a dungeon and various magical malfeasance.


Wine, Women, and Song = Experience Points

This summer at EN World, the Jester asked: “A while back someone mentioned a game that gave xp for burning money on drinks and whores. This sounds like a very interesting way to inject a certain ‘gritty fantasy’ element to the game- if you get xp for spending money on stuff that gives you know material benefit, you sometimes have to choose between gaining xp and improving your armor! Anyone know what game this is, or have any experience (ho ho) with this system for giving out xp?”

I’m reposting & revising my reply here as a prelude to future discussion about my carousing rules in the White Sandbox campaign:

The game that gives you XP for spending money on ale and whores later became D&D. This idea is literally as old as roleplaying itself.

In 1977, Dave Arneson published The First Fantasy Campaign, in which he looks back on the development of the Blackmoor campaign beginning in 1970/71. It’s a weird, fascinating, and confusing book because somewhere in that time span what started out as a campaign of PvP miniature battles turned into the modern RPG. This seems to have appeared as natural to the group at the time as it seems bizarre to us, because Arneson discusses some aspects about the ongoing evolution of the game but takes many others for granted. One thing that was established early on was that you got 1 XP for each gold piece you discovered and brought safely out of the dungeon.

OD&D indicates that you were meant to get the bulk of your XP from treasure-hunting; the example of experience awards is a troll whose treasure is worth eight times the XP you get just from killing him. In Supplement I: Greyhawk, Gygax called the previous combat award of 100 XP per hit dice of creature killed “ridiculous” and bumped it down, so that from 1975 onwards you got maybe 8 XP for killing an orc instead of 100. This attempt to focus the game on finding creative ways to seek profit and avoid combat was carried over to AD&D, but the message was totally lost on me & I think most other AD&D players – I don’t remember ever giving or getting XP from treasure, and I do remember thinking that it’d take forever to make second level by killing orcs.

Anyway, looking back on the development of the proto-D&D game, Arneson mentions that his group soon evolved a new approach to getting XP from GP. Bringing it out of the dungeon was no longer enough:

“Character motivation was solved by stating that you did not get experience points until the money had been spent on your area of interest. This often led to additional adventures as players would order special cargos from off the board and then have to go and guard them so that the cargo would reach their lodging and THEN the player would get the experience points. More than one poor fellow found that his special motivators would literally run him ragged and get him killed before he got anything.” – Dave Arneson, The First Fantasy Campaign

Note that the FFC list of prices includes both kegs of wine and two different grades of pleasure slaves, so that you could quantify how many wagons worth of wine or women you had to shepherd through the wilderness to your barony in order to earn the XP you’d paid for!

Like many of the essential innovations in RPGs or any other DIY field, this idea seems likely to have been independently invented a number of times. Also in 1977, an article called “Orgies, Inc.” appeared in issue #10 of The Dragon magazine that also outlined a system where gold was awarded for gold spent on character-class-related activities. Basically, you get XP equal to gold spent divided by your level. You can spend on the following categories:

– Sacrifices, to a god or a demon or his representatives. Any classes, no more than 1/week, no limit.
– Philanthropy. Lawfuls only, no limit.
– Research. Magic-users and alchemists, up to 250 gp per level per day. Spell research counts, but magic item / poison / potion creation does not.
– Clan hoards. Dwarves & other clannish folk, no limit but must travel to location of clan & its hoard.
– Orgies. Fighting Men (not rangers & paladins), bards, thieves, and all Chaotics. Max spent is 500 gp per level per night (“250 if recuperating and under 50%” <- hit points I presume). A player may orgy continuously as many days as he has constitution points, but then must rest for as many days as he has orgied.

Here’s David A. Trampier’s magnificent illustration for this article, rendered safe for work (sorta) by the guys at Head Injury Theater:

And the EN World thread linked above has a player report whose DM used XP-for-gold-spent as a way to balance out stronghold expenditures; those who had invested their treasure in their demesnes got XP for the GP of taxes collected, while those uninterested in stronghold-building got XP for investing their treasure in wine, women, and song instead. It’s possible that DM was inspired by Arneson or “Orgies, Inc.”, but it seems equally possible to me that he thought of it on his own as a solution to the stronghold XP issue and a way to to emulate stories like Fafhrd & the Grey Mouser where heroes are always broke at the start of the next adventure.

In my White Sandbox campaign, I award XP for treasure twice – once for getting it out of the dungeon, like in core OD&D, and once for spending it as per Arneson’s inspiration and Jeff Rients’ “Party Like it’s 999” carousing rules. I’ve tracked down “Orgies, Inc.”, but it’s mostly useful to me as a way to define the canonical activities each class might indulge in. In practice I’ve allowed carousing to cover spending gold on a wide variety of stuff that’s not immediately useful than the PCs, rather than just awarding XP for money spent raising hell or donating to temples.

I’m really happy with the ways it’s helped characters develop unique personalities & expanded the campaign beyond the dungeon. This New York Red Box thread talks about some of the ways players planned to use it. More recently the gold-for-XP rules have led to an assassin PC founding a ASPCA-style animal shelter, and to another magic-user having to taste the giant eagle dung he was passing off as giant roc guano. Good times!

Past Adventures of the Mule

October 2009

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