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Happiness is a Warm Wand ... of Fireballs!
Variant Rules for Awarding Experience

Copyright D. Andrew Ferguson ©2001

Edited by Jamie Revell for The Guild Companion

Lets face it the OGL 3.x rules was designed for combat and nowhere is this more obvious than in the rules for experience. Here are a few variant rules that will help to even things out by giving the GM a few alternatives for awarding experience for non-combat related acts.

General Guidelines:

PCs should only receive rewards for actions, that are heroic and in character.

PCs should only be rewarded once for any action.


In combat heavy adventures the GM may want to just keep the rules as originally presented in the DMG or to adopt a few other rules to make combat even more important. Experience can also be given for taking or dealing damage, or, in the case of some classes, for healing damage. This award should be on a one to one ratio: one point of damage (dealt, received, or healed) equals one point of experience awarded.

This rule will give fighters and other combat heavy classes a clear advantage when it comes to experience and the other classes could quickly be left in the dust at low level. However, once higher levels are achieved some of the other classes will eventually be able to close the gap. For example, a fireball could earn a Wizard or Sorcerer a lot of experience.


If the GM wants to make skills more important in the game, especially non-combat skills, then the following rule may be useful.

Award half experience for combat, to lessen the total experience granted in an encounter (calculate as either half of the total experience or at a CR of two less than the encounter). Award experience for successful skill use equal to the DC for the task. Or award XP for successful skill use equal to the DC for the task for class skills, and half of that for non-class skills.

This option can favour certain classes or races over others. For example, a Human or a Rogue gets more points to spend on skills than other similar characters. Having more skills at higher levels makes it more likely that some characters would have a distinct advantage in this area.


Generally experience should not be given for using a feat, as feats generally aid in combat or skill use. In these cases awarding experience would not be appropriate because the character is already being rewarded for that task, either by having an advantage in combat, with a skill, or by gaining an item.


Generally considered to be the most important part of the game, this area is often overlooked when it comes to awarding experience. This is because it is often the hardest topic to try to put into concrete terms. The DMG presents the concept of ad hoc experience awards but does not present a system of guidelines for a GM.

Playing: Some GMs award extra experience just for showing up and surviving for a specific period of time, usually either one night of gaming or an entire story.

Playing in character: The players may expect to be given a set amount of experience just for playing in character. This, however, can lead to players forfeiting this experience if an opportunity presents itself for an action which is out of character but which would earn the character more experience for other reasons. One way to beat this problem is to only award experience for combat or skill use when the players are acting in character.

Superior Character: Sometimes a player will go that extra mile to create a truly vibrant character with personal relationships, quirks, and a well-detailed history. This kind of role-playing should be rewarded and the experience awarded should reflect both the player’s effort to create a rich story and the potential risks involved in having a relationship with someone who could be used against the character. However, note that continually using these NPCs against the PCs will deter this kind of behaviour.

Story Awards: Sometimes the PCs are required to perform tasks that in themselves are not worth much experience but in the big picture may have greater importance. For example a party of adventurers could help escort a prisoner to the capital city to be tried for his crimes. In this example the PCs have travelled, an event not uncommon to adventurers. However, the potential for danger was high and the PCs should be awarded for that. The amount of experience should reflect both the personal effort and potential danger. Of course, it is hard to estimate the potential danger, but this is just a guideline for judging. If the PCs were alert and waiting to be attacked they may have used certain abilities and have managed to learn from the experience.

Saving Throws:

Characters who successfully make a saving throw could be awarded experience as if the saving throw was a skill. This option is not recommended as the players will not easily be able to focus on raising their saving throws, and if combined with the combat option previously mentioned the player would be awarded for the damage received in addition to the reward for a successful saving throw. One possible way to handle this is to only award experience for exceptionally difficult saves DC of 30 or higher.

A Balanced Approach to Experience:

The balanced approach is an attempt to equalise opportunities for gaining experience regardless of race class, level, or combat ability. The balanced approach combines several of the ideas presented above to create a system that rewards combat roleplaying and skill use more evenly than the rules presented in the DMG. The total experience for an adventure will be similar, but this system promotes the development of more well rounded characters.

Balanced Approach Summary:

Reduce Experience from combat to half.

Grant Experience for damage (dealt, taken, or healed) at a one point of damage to one point of experience.

Award experience for successful skill use equal to the DC for the task. Or award XP for successful skill use equal to the DC for the task for class skills, and half of that for non -class skills.

Reward exceptional roleplaying when appropriate for the story.

Award experience for successful saving throws with a DC of 30 or higher

Appendix A

This article: "Happiness is a Warm Wand ... of Fireballs!", Copyright © 2001 by D. Andrew Ferguson, is an OGL 3.x article.

This article is covered by the Open Gaming License. The title "Happiness is a Warm Wand ... of Fireballs!" is Product Identity, all other material in this article is Open Gaming Content. Portions of this work are derived from the System Reference Document, Copyright © 1999, 2000 by Wizards of the Coast, and are used with permission.

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Open Game License v 1.0 Copyright 2000, Wizards of the Coast, Inc. System Reference Document v1.0 Copyright (C) 1999,2000 Wizards of the Coast, Inc, "Happiness is a Warm Wand ... of fireballs!", Copyright © 2001 by D. Andrew Ferguson

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