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!

13 Responses to “Wine, Women, and Song = Experience Points”

  1. October 8, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    This is actually a pretty great system. I’ve got a post coming with the Sir Argus incident later today, but in theory this thing can lead to all kinds of player-generated adventure hooks.

    Arnold’s new carousal objective is to retrieve the Book of Prescient Spells, but that first requires that he obtain profit from adventuring.

  2. October 8, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    Been using such a system for years now and it works great. Not every player uses it on a regular basis for reasons I have yet to figure but the player who had his PC invest the most in sacrifices is also currently the highest level character in the party.
    Another player frequently turns g.p. into exp by bribes and gifts to npcs and recently screwed up by drawing too much attention to the endeavors of his adventuring companions by having so much cash on hand to butter up the masters of the thieves guild.
    It’s a great system that makes sense out of gp to exp that also gets the gp out of the hand of the PCs.

  3. October 8, 2009 at 3:40 pm

    I use a system very similar to this in my face to face Dwimmermount campaign and it’s been a very good way to keep the player characters poor and always on the lookout for new sources of wealth.

  4. October 8, 2009 at 4:44 pm

    “It’s a great system that makes sense out of gp to exp that also gets the gp out of the hand of the PCs.”

    The latter half of that sentence deserves a lot of emphasis. One of the crazier things about D&D is that even 3rd or 4th level characters are positively swimming in money–with almost nothing to buy.

  5. 5 tavisallison
    October 8, 2009 at 5:13 pm

    It’s true that there’s nothing to spend money on in old-school D&D if there isn’t a magic-item market, a stronghold-building framework, or a political or mercantile aspect to the campaign that would justify laying out huge sums of gold on bribes and the like. However, by Third Edition it’s assumed that a higher-level character will have accumulated X amount of gold and used it to buy items of +Y puissance. 4E merely simplifies and standardizes this system, and it’s often my experience that 3E in turn just rationalized and codified existing house rules and reflected the way (some subset of) people were already playing. This modern mindset, that spending GP to gain XP represents a tradeoff vs. spending to buy personal power in the form of magic items, was definitely at work in the EN World thread where I first posted this.

    In the White Sandbox, I’m consciously making magic items barter-only (although I did use the 3E price guidelines to gauge whether Patriarch Zekon would consider it a fair bargain to cast raise dead in return for a magic sword). Nevertheless, we’ve seen some tension between wanting to carouse for XP versus wanting to keep money on hand to hire Celerion’s tarn-chariot to fly them places, to conduct spell research as per the LBBs, or magical item creation as per the Ready Ref Sheets. (“Orgies, Inc.” specifies that spell research counts as spending for XP, and I think I’ll adopt that rule as well to encourage more spell creation because that is indeed an under-used fount of coolness.) JD and James M., are there other things that characters spend big sums on in your campaigns without getting XP in return?

    I wonder if JD’s observation that some players just don’t use the wine, women, and song system isn’t proof that it is a potent tool for player input into the adventure, as James N. suggests. I often hear DMs who are making a conscious effort to give players tools for a greater degree of authorship also being puzzled that some people just don’t seem to use them. Why that might be is probably a post in itself, preferably by someone with more indie experience than myself!

  6. October 8, 2009 at 6:08 pm

    It’s worth clarifying that the DM can tweak the carousing rules to implicitly encourage or discourage various in-character behaviors.

    Example: In my Red Box game, I’ve ruled that gold spent on spell research provides XP as though carousing. This is meant to encourage magic-users to engage in spell research. If I were to allow this bonus only when researching spells that no other PC in the party knows, this would encourage spellcasters to diversify. Furthermore, as the party accumulates spells, sooner or later they’ll learn every spell at any given spell level; this will encourage magic-users to design their own homebrewed spells. On the other hand, if I were to bar elves from gaining XP from gold spent on spell research, this would discourage them from doing so, thus limiting elven spell repertoires without actually banning them from research.

  7. 7 tavisallison
    October 8, 2009 at 6:31 pm

    Good point, Eric. I figure one of the litmus tests for my house rules is whether they get picked up by your campaign (the first test being whether I even keep using them myself). It’s been interesting to see that you’ve removed a lot of the randomness from the dice-happy system I stole from Jeff Rients and what I understood of Arneson’s caravan-might-go-awry special interest rules. My Era the Elf Captain of the Dragoon Lancers could burn as many GPs worth of flaming oil as he liked and be certain that you’d give me XP for all of it. I’ve been inching towards giving players more control over the carousing gamble in the White Sandbox in response, but never asked: what’s your rationale for making it a sure thing?

  8. October 8, 2009 at 7:47 pm

    “It’s been interesting to see that you’ve removed a lot of the randomness from the dice-happy system I stole from Jeff Rients and what I understood of Arneson’s caravan-might-go-awry special interest rules. My Era the Elf Captain of the Dragoon Lancers could burn as many GPs worth of flaming oil as he liked and be certain that you’d give me XP for all of it. I’ve been inching towards giving players more control over the carousing gamble in the White Sandbox in response, but never asked: what’s your rationale for making it a sure thing?”

    I didn’t remove the randomness from Jeff Rients’ system; indeed, I was never using that system in the first place. I’m not sure whether I came across the GP-to-XP system online or if I heard it from you first, but whatever the source, I didn’t have access to the inestimable Mr. Rients’ rules. A direct conversion seemed the simplest way to go.

    Putting a cap on carousing seems like a good idea for my game and one I plan to implement. Adding an element of risk doesn’t appeal to me at the moment, however. First, I want to see these lowly first-level PCs advance, and options that slow down their XP growth even further runs counter to this desire. Second, my sessions are generally quite short (2-3 hours of actual play time), and if the characters are embroiled too deeply in carousing-based shenanigans, they’ll never get into the dungeon by the end of the session!

  9. 9 tavisallison
    October 8, 2009 at 9:17 pm

    Having just posted that multiple people probably independently invented spend-gold-for-XP, I shouldn’t be so quick to assume that was something you got from me!

  10. March 5, 2010 at 1:36 am

    While I love my carousing rules, once the PCs are raking gold by the thousands instead of the hundreds they really ought to be spending much of it on political intrigue, armies of mercenaries, fleets of ships, gifts for powerful nobles and perhaps most importantly SPELL RESEARCH. I’m all for more ale and wenches in the game, but any caster with the money not researching new spells is doing their party a disservice.

  11. March 5, 2010 at 1:55 am

    I’d allow all of those as carousing – we’ve kept the idea of rolling 1d6 x 100, 1d8 x 150, or 1d12 x 200, but the activities you spend money on are constrained only by a vague idea that it shouldn’t be directly survival-related. For example, in Eric’s game one of my PCs was really into throwing flaming oil. Buying many casks of oil to take into the dungeon wouldn’t count, but using them for a kind of medieval danger room where we could practice throwing flaming oil to our heart’s content did!

    It’s a good point about thousands of gp, but as it stands the highest level PCs in my game are 5th and no one has ever been able to roll a 12 in the Nameless City and blow 2,400 gp without being wiped out. Some savvy players do hoard gold in order to achieve their aims in non-directly-XP related ways, which is awesome.

  12. May 15, 2015 at 5:44 pm

    “Anyone know what game this is, or have any experience (ho ho) with this system for giving out xp?” That would be “Barabrians of Lemuria”, also I believe “Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea” has something similar.

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