... now with 35% more arrogance!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Level and Status

There's a post on The Mule Abides about the OD&D 1% maintenance cost, something I've posted about myself on occasion. In the comments, Charlatan states: "I fail to understand the system that ties accrued experience points to lifestyle." I gather from this and other statements that Charlatan is in the "Level indicates training and expertise" camp, a perfectly valid interpretation that really first becomes established in AD&D: you have to pay training costs to increase your level, and you gain weapon proficiencies every couple levels.

I'm in the "Level indicates status and luck" camp. The primary support for this interpretation in OD&D is the rule about building a stronghold (or starting a thieves' guild) at name level. The increase in hit dice also mildly supports this stance, since hit points in their earliest form represent luck and stamina.

There's also the xp for gold factor. Much has been written about the link between experience points and treasure being a highly abstract way of representing the non-combat challenges of the adventure. This is true, but also consider this: you get xp for treasure when you return to town. It's the flashing of gold coin in front of the townsfolk that converts cash into experience (and eventually level.) This is why you don't get experience for bringing back used mundane equipment; no one thinks of you as a great hero because you now have five coils of rope and an extra sword. It's also why Dave Arneson tied experience specifically to spending treasure frivolously.

The zero xp adventurer has no reputation to speak of; such people may be able to do a thing or two that ordinary people can't, like cast spells, but otherwise they're considered no better than anyone else. If you want anything, you have to pay full cost, and there's no credit. If you pay for a room, that's what you get: a room; food is extra, and so are candles, and stable fees, and polishing armor, and washing your laundry.

Coming back with treasure is somewhat impressive; you might be able to get a package deal for your basic lodging, because a regular customer with a full coin purse seems more reliable to an innkeeper. You won't get nickeled and dimed for minor items, although you will still get charged for new gear or fancy items. When you level up, some start regarding you as better than the bottom of the heap, as long as they see you spending as much as they think a hero or magician should spend. Eventually, you hit a level where the majority of the populace regards you as a mighty lord or lady (or wizard, or head of a religious order.) They're willing to accept your word as law -- and pay taxes.

To make the Level/Status relationship more obvious, divide however much a character spends on maintenance by 100; a result of 1 or more means a +1 to reaction rolls if you have 10,000 xp or more. If you don't have the experience, people think you're a braggart. If you start acting like a lord of the manor, the modifier is a -1 instead, unless you really are a lord of the manor, or have 100,000 xp or more. If you have the 100,000 xp, but you're spending much less and don't own a manor, again the reaction modifier becomes -1, because you're living below your station.


  1. I'm not at all opposed to thinking of level as luck, and to some extent or another status.

    It occurs to me that this is a very campaign-specific discussion: I think I play in a campaign in which level has more to do with mechanics, and status derives mostly from player interaction with NPCs. In such a campaign, I think my tendency to peg expenses to wealth makes sense.

    On the other hand, if your campaign attaches prestige, henchmen, equipment- status- to level, the upkeep-from-level approach makes perfect sense as the bill for those benefits (and obligations).

  2. Very nice post. I'm reminded of what the "hero/4th level fighting man was in CHAINMAIL--a "well known knight ir leader".

    A 4th level fighter probably should be called "sir" by the majority of commoners he speaks to, assuming he spends gold like a man of some means. I think the tendancy for many DM's is to have 0-level npc's speak to heroes as equals or even with dirision. As if heroes and wizards are common sellswords and gypsies.

  3. I think it's entirely possible for 4th level PCs to appear and act and receive respect as if they were just thugs and grave-robbers, if that's what they choose. Likewise, a gruop of 1st level PCs who spend money and effort improving their appearance should get more respect from common folk.

    Also, you'd expect that the 4th level PCs will speak deferentially to the King, right? What if the zero-level dirt-scrubbers don't speak to the PCs deferentially? If the DM wants people in his campaign to have a sense of social place, the PCs need to be able to improve their standing somewhat.

    But I think this should be a choice, a trade-off. You can spend time creating a magic item, but that's time you weren't adventuring. You can start a business in town, but that's money tied up in capital and time spent overseeing the operation. If you want social standing, you have to give up things - time, favors, money, etc.

    Because of that, it makes sense to me that it's not automatic.

    As for "name level" and followers / strongholds, I think it should be an investment. A good idea is to have some basic upkeep cost when in town to reflect equipment wear and tear, new clothes, inn room, hot meals, shave and hair cut and cosmetics, bribes, tithes, taxes, etc. This could replace training costs, but it's the price of being in civilization. If you spend a long time out of town, avoiding the excesses and expenses, you will become gradually shabbier and wilder-looking, less well socialized, etc. You'll take Reaction penalties from civilized folk and your equipment may fail at inopportune times.

    Of course, if you establish a stronghold you can avoid these expenses. Effectively it's like buying a house instead of renting one. The money you spend goes into equity in the stronghold (maybe 20% to 50% of it anyway) in the form of better defenses and a laboratory or library or beautiful chapel, instead of frittering it away in town.

    Another way to handle it is to give 1 EXP per GP squandered, but nothing for acquiring treasure and no costs for upkeep or training. This way it's a positive choice that players make - to keep the money or spend it on the town.

    This ignores level relating to social standing. I look at level as your experience, which seems awfully obvious to me, and your social standing is separate from that.