The case for awarding XP for gold
Once upon a time, you didn’t just get Experience Points for killing things, completing quests and making the GM laugh. You also got them for stuffing your pockets (and backpacks, and Bags of Holding) with flat round shiny gold pieces.
Then all of a sudden that went out of fashion and people pointed and laughed (and probably gained XP for it) at this much maligned corner of D&D rules history.
And y’know what? I think it’s time to bring it back.
Somewhere along the way we have forgotten what Experience Points represent. They are a measure of your PC’s improving skill at arms and magic, but they are also a measure of your hero’s fame. XP is rewarded for completing a quest not because completing the quest somehow makes them a better fighter, but because word of their success will spread. As their XP (and level) increases their reknown will travel, bringing them greater and more challenging opportunities.
It’s a reciprocal arrangement; your hero’s XP increases as their fame rises, and vice versa. Your starting 1st level PC with 0 XP is known only by his friends (if he has any) and family (if he has any), and anyone outside the village of his birth will neither know nor care who he is. When they reach 2nd level (at whatever XP value that might be, depending on Edition) their success against Those Goblins and the Bugbear Bandits will have spread to a nearby village, and they come asking for help. As the XP rises into the tens then hundreds of thousands, their fame spreads to towns, cities, then whole nations know of their name. Bards sing songs about them, and as the PC’s level rises they even edit out the rude words.
Rewarding XP for GP taps into that. Your adventuring party isn’t likely to be known as Those Guys Who Killed 15 Skeletons, 3 Ogres and Wiped Out a Secret Cult, but they will be known for finding the Huge Ruby and dropping a shedload of cash on the counter of the local Qwik E Kill General Store.
Even in a world of magic, wealth brings fame – but only if it is hard won. Your local merchant who has 30,000gp stashed under the floorboards could still be 0 level because he’s not gained it the hard way – unless the PCs decide to raid his home of course, then all bets are off and the GM is entirely within his rights to spontaneously make him a closet Necromancer. Which would explain the skeletons in the cupboard, I guess.
Awarding XP for gold also has the added benefit of sorting out the whole “magic weapon tax” problem thing. If magic items has a GP value, and GP gives you XP then it becomes a dead issue. Here’s how it would work. I suggest a rate of 10GP = 1XP.
Let’s say the party find (and by find I mean “kill the previous owners of”) a stash of treasure. There’s a Sword of Icy Death +1 (worth 1,000gp) and 3,000gp in coins and gems. Let’s keep the math simple – there’s four PCs so the Fighter takes the Sword and the other three PCs split the coins between them (1,000gp each). All four party members get 100XP in Loot Boast reward.
It’s entirely up to the non-Magic Sword gaining PCs how they spend their share of the cash. They could buy their own magic weapon (but not get XP for it, alas. Buying ain’t heroic), save it toward their Stronghold Retirement Fund, donate it to an orphanage (which probably would give them bonus XP for being a selfless act) or do what most PCs do, and just keep the coins piling up on their character sheet. I have seen high-level PCs with millions of GP on their sheets, and wept. Either way, word of their purchase/wisdom/generosity/miserliness will spread, and that’s what the XP represents. Their added purchasing power balances with the benefit the Fighter gains from his cool sword. How they choose to use it (to aid them in combat, or not) is entirely up to them.
There you go. Bring back fame and reknown as an intrinsic part of climbing the level ladder.
Bring back XP for gold.
Thanks for listening.