Monday, April 24, 2017

OD&D Experience Levels


Question: Do Wizards need more XP to level up than Fighters?

This is one of those questions that has an answer which, for OD&D, is "clear, simple, and wrong" (with apologies to H.L. Mencken). Granted that Wizards start with a bigger XP step to 2nd level than Fighters have. But while Fighters consistently double the XP required to reach each level up to 9th, Wizards -- and also Thieves from Sup-I -- do not. Rather, in the range of levels 6-10 or so these latter classes add less than a doubling's increment, closer to 50% or so (specifically: between 33% and 75%). And therefore by the 7th level Wizards actually need less XP for each level than Fighters do; this is highlighted in the summary table below.


A few other observations: In the original D&D rules, while it was explicated that "There is no theoretical limit to how high a character may progress" (Vol-1, p. 18) -- and also indicated patterns for hit dice, attacks, and spells at levels off the chart -- no guidance was given for XP steps above those shown here. Sup-I does state for the new Thief class that it requires "+125,000 additional points for each level above Master Thief" (p. 9), and from this we might infer a similar increment to the last step in the table for others (also: in synch with later rulesets) -- which would be 120,000 for Fighters but only 100,000 for Wizards, so the flipped relation would hold true for all higher levels. Also note that the "Name" level at which hit dice stop accruing is different for each class (Fighters at 9, Thieves at 10, Wizards at 11, per Sup-I); the table above matches everything given in the OD&D book tables.

Gygax made some edits to XP tables in AD&D but this artifact largely persists there (AD&D Fighters need 70,001 XP to reach level 7, Wizards merely 60,001; by 10th level the Fighter needs precisely double what the Wizard does). Cook in the Expert D&D rules made the tables completely uniform; everyone doubles XP requirements up to Name level, which is universally 9th. Even in OD&D, Clerics had a regular doubling of XP, like Fighters, starting from a low 1,500 XP needed for 2nd level (omitted from table above; a suspiciously low basis for a class that gets all of fighting, armor, and spell capability).

An open question would be: Why? The fact that Gygax maintained this asynchronicity in both OD&D and AD&D seems to suggest that it was intentional -- that Magic-Users were intended to get accelerated advancement compared to Fighters at higher levels. Perhaps this was an amplification of the idea that Magic-Users will be weak at low levels and need assistance, but increasingly more powerful at high levels.

Edit: User elphilm in the comments helpfully links to a recollection by original player Mike Mornard on how Gygax ruled on higher-level experience, different from my extrapolation above, namely: each class increments as per the total XP needed to get to name level (regardless of the increment before that). So higher-level increments are: Fighters +240K, Wizards + 300K. Some pros to this interpretation: (1) it's consistent with the method for Thieves in Sup-I, (2) it's consistent with the method for those classes in AD&D, (3) it solves the problem above where by at least level 20+ Wizards do need more XP than Fighters. Two cons might be: (1) It sure looks weird that Wizard levels that go 100K, 200K, 300K, 600K... (at levels 9-12), (2) it is different than the extrapolation given in B/X Expert D&D from Cook, et. al. Thanks, elphilm (and M. Mornard; link)!

(Also consider: Do Wizards get better saves vs. spells than Fighters?)


27 comments:

  1. Maybe Gary wanted to make sure there was a chance of having high level wizards. Slow the advancement down a little at the begining so the player learns how to play the class and then give them a chance to advance.
    When you crunch the numbers very few MUs are going to survive much after the 1st round against another MU. If you want badass archimages, they need to learn how to get there and then a chance to get there.

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  2. There's further guidance in Men & Magic for the levels above those you list. See page 19 "Levels Above those Listed," which takes fighters and clerics to level 13 and mu's to level 18. It even has notes for higher levels, but they apply to the Chainmail combat system, with advancement differing slightly from the alternative combat attack matrix.

    I found it problematic that at 300,000 XP (and using the alternative combat system), fighters have the same attack ability (THAC0 = 14) as clerics and magic-users (and, later, thieves too). It's the main reason I prefer a unified level progression table (everyone just following the fighter progression, and this even though in theory I find much to appreciate in what seems to be the original intention of Gygax's system re magic-user advancement, emphasizing the power contrast between their early "career" vs late) with combat ability progressing similar to (inspired by) the way you handle it.

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    1. Good point about the counter-intuitive to-hit values at equivalent XP points!

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  3. Rules Cyclopedia is a bit of both approachs.
    There is some rounding between first and name levels but the thing is more or less this way: Doubles every level until name level then keep adding the last increase.

    Cleric:
    - Starts 1.500
    - +100,000 after Name level

    Fighter:
    - Starts 2.000
    - +120,000 after Name level

    Magic-user:
    - Starts 2.500
    - +150,000 after Name level

    Thief:
    - Starts 1.200
    - +80,000 after Name level

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  4. The Cook expert set actually has a more uniform increase after 9th level with thieves getting bumped to 120K per level (rather than 80K, which is the amount needed to reach name level), making their advancement the same as fighters rather than the extremely fast rate they enjoy at low levels. In my opinion, he should have taken the same tact with clerics (upping their rate to 150K, in line with the other spell-casting (MU) class) as clerics advance far too quickly through the upper levels at only 100K per.

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    1. Not sure if that was Cook who wrote those tables. Could be, but Marsh wrote most of the Xpert book.

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  5. I guess I would counter, why, with, why not? It makes the chart less "crackable" and almost more, I don't know, mysterious. These things are just part of the way things work in the fantasy world.

    More to the point, I like little quirks like this that emphasize differences between the classes in different ways without having some obvious or uniform trend.

    I wonder, too, how much difference it actually makes in play. In my campaigns you would usually have more experience points than you needed - experience points that would then be "lost." Based on how money and spending were treated - did you need to pay for training, etc. - you almost had to have an excess, otherwise the player-characters would go broke

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    1. I must admit that this post arose from me trying to program the XP charts with a formula and being foiled for this reason.

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    2. And also a concise way of expressing that in a rules document without copying the tables themselves. So it also served as something of an "IP bomb".

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  6. Perhaps an odd question, but if you had to choose just one XP chart to use for all classes, which one would seem the "right" one to you? My inclination would be Fighter, but I'm curious as to what you'd say.

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    1. Yeah, I'm certainly in the habit of using the Fighter table as the "base" one. It has the simplest numbers and pattern to it.

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  7. A lot of people claim that the differing XP tables are a great balancer. Also, prime requisites gave you a 10% XP bonus, which is also held as some nice boost.

    But, given the mostly exponential nature of XP, I question if either of those features make any noticeable difference beyond about level 2. The XP boost at best puts you 1 level ahead 10% of the time (and maybe even less if you factor in reducing XP when higher level than the monsters), which hardly seems worth the extra maths involved.

    This seems to be the final nail in the coffin, suggesting that fiddling with XP really is a pointless endeavour.

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    1. I certainly agree that the 10% XP boost is a waste of space; I ditch it from my game. (In addition I feel like the advent of generalized in-game ability modifiers supersedes the need for XP mods.)

      However, the way these tables are set up with different sequences can make a huge difference. At 100K XP, Fighters are 7 and Wizards at 9. At 1M XP, Fighters would be at 15th with Wizards at 18th... with increasing inequality further on.

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    2. The LBBs don't spell out how the experience tables are supposed to continue past name levels, and your interpretation is a common one, but it isn't how Gygax intended for the tables to function. Instead, each additional level past name level costs as much experience as it took to get to name level, so Fighters add 240k and M-Us 300k past their respective name levels. At a million XP, the Fighter would be 12th level and the M-U 13th level, and they would both require the same amount of xp (2,400,000) to reach 18th level. Mike Mornard clarifies the issue here: http://odd74.proboards.com/post/161241

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    3. elphilm: That's very interesting and helpful! It does seem consistent with what Gygax wrote in Sup-I for thieves, and also the increments given in AD&D (excepting the thief, weirdly). I'll put an edit in the post to include this.

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    4. One possible issue with the high level XP values Gygax used at the time the LBBs were published is something you don't have to worry about since you nix Clerics altogether: They have even more crazily low XP requirements than their already generous low-level progression. Assuming equal XP distributions, by the time Fighters are 13th and M-Us 14th level, Clerics are already at level 19! They actually reach the last two levels of combat ability on the OD&D attack matrix before Fighters do.

      However, that wasn't really a practical problem at Gygax's table, since leveling was meant to grind to a halt after name level. According to Mike Mornard, the highest level anyone reached in Gygax's Greyhawk campaign was Rob Kuntz's Robilar at 14th level, and that took years of weekly play to achieve. That tidbit has some interesting implications, such as that no player character ever had the ability to memorize level 7-9 spells in Gygax's campaign (Robilar was a Fighter). Those tiers of power were probably only relevant in the case of spellcasting NPC antagonists such as Liches.

      One of the pre-publication OD&D playtest documents (dubbed the Dalluhn manuscript by, I think, Jon Peterson) may provide a clue to how the strange M-U progression should be interpreted. In Dalluhn, both Fighters and Magic-Users require 2,000 XP to reach 2nd level and so on, while Clerics require only 1,000 XP. That suggests that the OD&D M-U experience table shouldn't be viewed as the "slow" progression (since, as you note in the blog post, it's actually faster in places), but rather a variant of the Fighter XP table, warped to disadvantage M-Us at low levels and to favor them at mid to high levels.

      Evidently Gygax didn't think much of the Cleric's abilities, since in both Dalluhn and the LBBs the class requires relatively little XP compared to the other classes.

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    5. [Shakes fist at Clerics for the zillionth time]

      [And also the weirdo often unplayable spell levels after 6th]

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  8. Looks like I misremembered the Dalluhn XP requirements -- they're actually only 1,000 for Fighters and M-Us and 500 for Clerics to reach 2nd level. Still, the point holds that Fighters and M-Us started with the same XP table. Source: http://odd74.proboards.com/post/175582

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    1. That's great info, thanks for that!

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    2. Yep. The 1000xp figure was what Arneson was using in Blackmoor, apparently for all characters. I presume the 500 xp in Dalluhn/BTPbD for Clerics was because a 1st level Cleric had no spell, it was as if a 1st level cleric were like a 0 level fighter or MU.

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  9. OzymandiasMay 13, 2017 at 2:21 PM
    That's one thing that's always confused me about the old XP tables: there's the hint of a formulaic progression but each level requirement sort of jumps from one number to the next. It's almost as if the original designers wrote a formula, then looked at the results and said, "Man, that looks weird," and instead of adjusting the formula or their perception of what the numbers should be, they just adjusted the individual thresholds at different levels until it "looked" or "felt" more accurate.

    But that's just my speculation...

    And the cleric is the worst offender of this, by far. If you attempt to assign value to each class skill/ability and follow a methodology, you'll find that the cleric's skill set is closer to the wizard's in terms of utility and power; therefore, their progression should be somewhere between the fighter and the wizard. (Assuming you haven't just thrown the class out altogether... ) :)

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    1. I do agree with your intuition.

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  10. Dan, just wonder if you have seen this post https://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?781303-Analyzing-old-school-D-amp-D

    I find it all interesting and curios, and I wish there was a good explanation for the wonky experience point requirements.

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    1. I hadn't seen that before, thanks for the link! Interesting stuff. Particularly nice use of color in the charts.

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  11. I did at some point complain about all that as well, see https://nilisnotnull.blogspot.com/2013/05/level-progressions-history-and.html for example. The chaos is so immense it makes you wonder whether all these people just ignored each others work completely. I still think the numbers were "tweaked as needed" the first few times Gary played, then "declared sacrosanct" and it became a sin to doubt them (in the AD&D subtree) until 3rd edition completely obliterated everything. For what it's worth, I am doing the fighter XP table for everybody, doesn't matter what class. The central idea of "progression slows down" is the important thing. Anything else, to me, is fine-tuning without reason. True, if you run one of your famous simulations, you'd probably be able to decide what the differences should be between the fighter curve and the thief curve and so on. But back then they didn't run millions of simulated encounters. Hence those numbers have at most a "playing a hunch and pulling out of a hat" pedigree. Simplify. :-)

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    1. I agree, I'm thinking that the original choices were most likely mostly arbitrary. I guess. Or I wish there was some stated justification for them. With Mr. Cook lead editor of both B/X and 2E AD&D he must have been aware, but required to maintain compatibility with 1E. I'm fond of your always-doubling XP idea. :-)

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