Monday, September 28, 2020

The Sweet Spot in Focus

Last week, I posted about the way that Empire of the Petal Throne handles leveling and how I've found, in the course of playing my House of Worms campaign over the last five and half years, that it works very well to preserve the "sweet spot" in character power relative to in-game challenges. One reader commented, not unreasonably, I think, that EPT's specific approach was "unnecessarily complicated." James Mishler must have had similar thoughts, which led him to create the following table, which consolidates EPT's experience rules into a single table.
What James has done is take the XP cost of Empire of the Petal Throne classes – he ignored the slight anomalies in the magic-user charts at higher levels – and then applied the XP penalties to arrive at the actual experience points needed to reach new levels. The final column shows that running experience total, which I think is just as important to know. Looked at in this way, you see that the biggest jumps are between Level 5 and 6 and between Level 6 and 7. This comports with my own campaign, where most of the characters are now either Level 5 or 6 and there has been no significant movement toward the next higher level in some time. I expect that we'll eventually see some characters reach level 7, but, unless the campaign lasts more than a decade, the likelihood that any one of them will ever see Level 8 is slim to none.

Though I appreciate the effect upon the rate at which characters advance in the campaign, I do wonder if this was Professor Barker's motivation in writing the experience rules as he did. Remember that EPT was written in the spring of 1974, only a few months after the initial appearance of OD&D. While Barker had, by this time, played OD&D many times with the University of Minnesota Conflict Simulation Association (as the wargames club was known), it seems unlikely to me that he'd have played enough for any character of his to have attained very high levels. Yet, he nevertheless seems to have intuited that there was a potential issue with characters reaching the heights of power too quickly and thus acted to correct the matter in his own OD&D-derived Empire of the Petal Throne. If that was in fact Barker's motivation – and, barring documentary evidence of this point, I don't think we'll ever know for certain – it speaks to a remarkable degree of perspicacity into OD&D. 


  1. I decided to ignore the XP adjustments for higher levels in my campaign. We are just shy of 50 sessions and there are two characters that have managed to reach level 5. I am pretty happy with that. We also just had an event that drew half the party to Avanthar (to move on to a more political game) with the other half staying behind in Kumeshkekkur (based on the town in ETV of course) to focus on dealing with more exploration/action focused issues there. This means that each player now has a second PC, and we will be switching between the two locations. I expect this will slow advancement quite a bit.

  2. The "New School" approach seems to be hard level limits. Like in 13th Age, where characters only advance to level 10.

    Do you think there are any advantages of using a soft cap approach like this over simply limiting how high characters can go?

    Part of me wonders if the difference is a thinking brain vs feeling brain thing.

    1. All I can say with any certainty is that, having used this system over the last five and a half years, it works well and has kept a lid on rampant advancement while still providing scope for it, albeit slowly.