March 2009

PART 1 - PART 2 - PART 3 - PART 4 - PART 5 - PART 6

"There is really a very fine line between killing a sacred cow and shooting a beloved dog." - Kamikaze Midget, ENWorld

March 18th, 2009

Go to Part 1


Let me clue you into the Golden Rule of Gaming, by way of Ben Robbins:

Players pay attention when you describe treasure.

(See, it's the Golden Rule because gold is treasure. Get it? Get it? ... Okay, never mind.)

The one time you're guaranteed to have everyone's undivided attention at the gaming table is the moment when you're opening the goody bag and getting ready to distribute the goodies.

Want them to know about the ancient dwarven empire that ruled the surface world aeons ago before the Dragon War forced them to retreat into their mountain citadels? Then let them find a cache of ancient dwarven coins with the Imperial motto "All that the sun shines upon shall be shaped by our forge" written upon them. Place the forgemark of the Greatfall Armories on the next magic sword they find.Give them a treasure map leading to the ancient ruins of a dwarven palace.

Sometime knowledge itself can be the treasure: Lorebooks, diaries, and the like can all be looted.

And sometimes you can use knowledge to boost the value of the treasure. For example, they might find a very nice tapestry worth a few hundred gold pieces. With a successful History check, however, they might recognize the tapestry as being a famous depiction of the Battle of the Firebane. Find the right collector, and the value of the tapestry has quintupled. Now the Battle of the Firebane isn't just a bit of fluff text -- it's the reason they're earning the big bucks.



Take your lore, break it down into a series of specific revelations. Then use the Three Clue Rule to liberally sprinkle your campaign with the requisite clues necessary for figuring out each revelation.

If the players have to struggle to figure something out, then they'll focus on it. And feel a sense of accomplishment when they finally piece together the truth. Of course, this usually means that you'll need to find some way of motivating them to figure it out. (Unless you're lucky and have players who motivate themselves at the sign of any enigma.)

In many ways, making it a mystery is really just a specific way of making it short (by parceling the information into separate revelations) and making it plot (by providing the players with a motivation to figure it out).



Let's return for a moment to Lord Dartmouth's destruction of the village of Cairwoth. The event can be made instantly memorable if Cairwoth was the home town for one of the PCs... and their parents were slaughtered by Dartmouth.

Of course, making it personal for the PCs doesn't mean it needs to be traumatic. Let the PCs find documents suggesting that they might be a direct descendant of the Silver Duke of Amartain, for example, and you've got a fairly good chance that they'll lap up whatever information you choose to dish out about the Silver Duke.

These personal ties can arise during actual gameplay, but they can also be established during character creation.

In my campaigns, character creation tends to be a collaborative process: 

(1) I'll provide the player with my standard handout describing the campaign setting.

(2) The player will pitch me their character concept. This concept can range from the barebones ("I want to play a human wizard") to the brief ("I'd like to play a barbarian from somewhere up north. I think it might be cool if my village was attacked by slavers.") to the elaborate (a detailed, three page biography).

(3) I'll take the concept and, using my greater knowledge of the setting, begin to flesh out the details. (If they tell me they want to play a barbarian, I'll give them a specific tribe and provide them appropriate cultural and historical detail, for example.) My goal here is generally not to change the concept. I'm just working to help them realize the concept.

Most of this work is done via e-mail, and it's not unusual for the character concept to get passed back and forth several times as we polish it up. Sometimes my suggestions will be completely off-base, at which point we go back to the drawing board and try a different approach.

But I digress. My point here is that this collaborative process of character creation can be used to establish information regarding the world. Maybe it's something that will become important during the course of the campaign. Or maybe it's just something that you find cool and feel like sharing. But, in either case, you've put yourself in the position where (a) the player will care about those details and (b) they'll do the heavy-lifting in terms of sharing those details with the other players.

(Another tangent: Things don't always go like you plan, of course. In one campaign, I thought I had gotten things setup so that one of the PCs (whose central character trait was the desire to learn secrets) was in a position to receive various pieces of secret lore. I thought I could use the character's passion for learning secrets to funnel information into the campaign. The only problem? It turned out that the character liked to learn secrets... so that she could keep them. The information funnelled into the PC... and stopped there, creating a very different dynamic than I had anticipated.)

March 19th, 2009

Go to Part 1


Handouts are a great way of conveying information for two reasons:

(1) Players love them. Give them a handout and they will sit up and take notice.

(2) Handouts are tangible and persistent.

If you tell the players something, it can go in one ear and out the other. Or be forgotten by the next session.

But if it's a handout, then they have a constant reminder that the information exists. And if they forget a detail, they can just look at the handout again.

Although elaborate and detailed handouts will be more interesting and attract greater focus and attention, don't get so wrapped up in the production values that you become reluctant to include the handouts. For example, I'll rarely take the time to write out a letter by hand on a authentic-looking parchment.... but I'll almost always type up the letter and hand it to them on a separate sheet of paper.



We learn through repetition of information: Mention something once, we might remember it. Mention it again, the odds go up. Mention it several times, and our brains will generally identify it as notable information and file it away.

The problem with repetition is that it can also be very boring. Getting the same chunk of information dumped in their laps over and over again is not very interesting for the playerrs, and will eventually prompt a frustrated response: "Yes. All right. We get it already. Give it a rest."

Now they know, but they still don't care.

The trick is to figure out how to make each repetition of the information interesting in its own right. This is actually relatively easy to achieve by varying the type and content of the information.

For example, imagine that Bairwin Wildarson -- a famous half-elven hero -- has been placed in a stasis chamber somewhere deep beneath the surface of the earth. When the PCs find this stasis chamber you want it to be a major WOW! moment -- as if they had just discovered Robin Hood. Obviously, for that to happen, the players need to appreciate just how famous and important Bairwin Wildarson is.

First, you might have the PCs start their adventures in the town of Bairwin -- which was, of course, named after the legendary hero (Make It Personal). Perhaps, just to reinforce the point, some annual festival might be held by the village in the hero's honor. The festival could even be disrupted by an attack by the Dark Fey (Make It Plot).

Second, after defeating the Ogre Crones in the Western Hills, the PCs might recover from their treasure horde the sword that Bairwin famously lost early in his adventuring career (Make It Treasure).

Third, after raiding the Tower of Magentine Hues, the PCs might find an antique copy of The Adventures of Bairwin Wildarson -- summarized by way of a handout (Make It Physical).

In many ways, this is just another variation of the Three Clue Rule, and it naturally works quite well with the Make It Mystery technique. In many cases you won't even need to make the mystery explicit: As the players pick up various bits of information regarding Bairwin Wildarson, they'll start trying to piece it together for themselves.



If you heed this advice, then your campaign will start operating under a new paradigm. At this point, something interesting happens: Because you've eliminated the common occurence of McLecture the Scottish Elf, the players will suddenly be very interested when McLecture does show up. (If you handle it correctly, of course.)

For example, not that long ago I had an NPC in my Ptolus campaign deliver a page-long lecture regarding the history and lore of the Banewarrens. Rather than serving as a chance for my players to tune out, the event actually served as the dramatic culmination of an entire session. It was a taut and exciting cliffhanger.

What made it work?

(1) The Banewarrens were not an unknown quantity at this point. I had been dropping various hints regarding their existence and their importance over the course of the entire campaign. Because of this, the players had been looking for more information.

(2) Because I had been following the "rules" outlined above, the players weren't used to getting more than little snippets of information. So when they suddenly got inundated with information they (a) drank it up like thirsty men at a desert oasis and (b) they knew it was a portentous and important event.

(3) I also laid the groundwork for that portentous atmosphere. The NPC delivering the lecture had been known to the PCs for a long time, but when she came on the scene to deliver the lesson in lore, she seemed like a very different person. They weren't just hanging out in a bar and having a good time any more. This was important to her. And because she had become important to them, the fact that she considered it important carried weight.

So, like most rules, you need to know when to use them and you need to know when to break them. But it's also important to realize that what makes breaking the rules so effective is the fact that you were using them before.

March 19th, 2009 (2nd Update)


Before I say anything else, let me say this: I've been paying attention to the RPG industry for 20 years now. And for 20 years, people have been predicting the death of the industry. The industry, you will note, is still here. So this essay should not be mistaken as a heralding of the End Times.

But I did want to address a few of the memes I've seen circling recently, and to do that I first need to step back and take a slightly wider view.



Is the industry dying? The truth is, nobody knows. There are certainly signs that the industry is contracting, but it's also been 10 years since any meaningful marketing research in the hobby games industry has been made public. And the fundamental shifts in the ways that games are distributed and purchased have turned the number we used to use to measure the size of the market into an arguably apples-to-oranges comparison.

It's known that the number of independent game stores has shrunk. But, on the other hand, much of that decline can be almost directly linked to (a) the poor inventory management and business practices of gaming stores during the D20 boom-bust cycle (which was not the first time that poor inventory control and business practices had resulted in gaming stores sucking up the bust end of the boom-bust cycle in a game); and (b) the advent of internet commerce. Are the dollars going away or are they going online?

Maybe they're going away. After all, publishers are almost universally reporting lowers sales on a per title basis. But, on the other hand, we've also seen a prodigious explosion in the number of companies publishing games over the past several years. The RPG industry is also one of the few industries to really grab hold of long-tail economics and make its vast back-catalog of material available electronically. Is the easy availability of older games and supplements reducing the demand on newer games and supplements?

There's a lot of anecdotal evidence going around to suggest that the market is graying -- the average gamer is getting older and people aren't seeing as many younger gamers. I used to be harboring some of those same feelings until recently, when I realized I was making an obvious mistake: When I was 10 years old and started gaming, I was naturally exposed to a lot of fellow 10 year olds. Now I'm almost 30. Why would I expect to be running into a lot of 10 year old gamers?

In fact, I recently went back to my alma mater to direct a play for the students there. I was surprised to discover that several members of my cast and crew were active roleplayers (GURPS and Shadowrun). The minute I was exposed to a younger crowd, younger gamers were there to be found. (And when I was in the exact same theater program 10+ years ago, there were no active gamers.)

In addition, the average graying of the market is almost inevitable, assuming that: (1) The market is retaining long-term gamers (which it clearly is); and (2) Most people start gaming when they're young. Even if you add the exact same number of young gamers to the market every year, the demographics will steadily skew older as your existing players age.

Are we, in fact, suffering from a lack of replacement players? It's possible. But there's absolutely no data to support the contention in either direction.



But let's accept, for the moment, that the industry is in a period of contraction (perhaps a terminal one): Players are leaving and new players aren't replacing them. Why is that happening? There seem to be two popular memes:

(1) Video games are poaching tabletop's audience.

(2) D&D was a fad in the '80s. It will never be that popular again.

In both cases, the underlying philosophy is a shrug of the shoulders: The decline and fall of the roleplaying game was inevitable. There's nothing that can be done about it.

There's certainly truth to be found in both memes.

Video games, for example, are flat-out better for delivering certain types of entertainment that used to be delivered by roleplaying games. If you're interested in pure hack 'n slash play, for example, there's really no question that Diablo is better at delivering it: The game does the math for you. It gives you pretty graphics. It gives you a built-in soundtrack. You can play it any time you want to. You can even play it with your friends.

Similarly, D&D was a fad in the '80s. The game itself had gotten mainstream recogition and was able to spawn a wide array of spin-off products andmedia tie-ins.

But, on the flip-side, roleplaying games are still capable of doing things that even the best computers can't even begin to duplicate. And plenty of things settle into patterns of long-term success after starting off as fads.



I think the underlying decay of the roleplaying games industry can be traced back to one core problem: The lack of a gateway product.

Dungeons & Dragons, for better or for worse, is still the primary route by which new gamers enter the hobby. And the sad truth is that the route just isn't as easy as it used to be.

From 1974 until 1991, D&D was continuously available in an affordable, all-in-one box that was a legitimate game in its own right: From '74 to '77 there was the original boxed set. From '77 to '81 there was the Holmes Basic Set. From '81 to '83 there was the Moldvay Basic Set. And from '83 to '91 there was the BECMI Basic Set.

With the publication of the Rules Cyclopedia in 1991, however, the Basic Set or Basic Game products became nothing but a preview for other products. And they were previews that you had to actually pay for.

(Note that I'm not condemning the existence of supplements. I'm talking about the Basic Set becoming a preview for some other product. What's the distinction? Well, when I had finished playing through my BECMI Basic Set, I went out and bought the Expert Set. But I didn't stop using my Basic Set in order to use my Expert Set. The Basic Set wasn't a preview of the Expert Set; rather the Expert Set expanded the game presented in the Basic Set.

But if you bought the Basic Set in the mid-'90s, then your next step was to buy the Rules Cyclopedia -- at which point you stuck your Basic Set on the shelf and never touched it again.)

This lack of a gateway product has had several major effects:

(1) There hasn't been any legitimate version of the game packaged to look like a game to the average consumer.

(2) Similarly, there hasn't been a legitimate version of the game packaged to be sold through mainsteam toy stroes and game shops right next to the other boxed games.

(3) Once the Rules Cyclopedia went out of print, the entry cost for playing the game tripled.

(4) The investment time in terms of reading the rulebooks also drastically increased. The BECMI Basic Set I started playing with had roughly 100 page in it, and a significant chunk of that was actually a solo play adventure. By contrast, 4th Edition's core rulebooks are 800+ pages.

(The solo play adventure, by the way, meant that you were playing D&D within 5 minutes of opening the box. You didn't even have to get a group of your friends together in order to get a taste of what the game had to offer.)

So the game has become less available, less accessible, and more expensive. Is it really that shocking that sales declined?

We lost our entry level product nearly 20 years ago. And people stopped entering the hobby.



When AD&D came out, TSR stiffed Dave Arneson. They claimed that he wasn't owed royalties because AD&D wasn't the same game as D&D. Arneson sued and, by all accounts, TSR was forced to keep the basic D&D game in print as a result of that lawsuit. If it wasn't for that lawsuit, TSR would have most likely discontinued the publication of the D&D game and focused entirely on AD&D.

I think TSR lucked out. I think the success the game enjoyed in the '80s was as a direct result of keeping the game available in an all-in-one box that wasn't just a preview for a more expensive product.

In fact, I think I lucked out. I think there's a fairly good chance that, if it wasn't for the BECMI Basic Set, I would never have started gaming.

Let me lapse into a tangent here for a moment and tell you my own story of getting into gaming:

The general concept of a roleplaying game had sort of percolated into my brain (I remember the novelization of E.T. being a significant moment, along with the ads TSR used to put in Marvel comics). And I liked that concept a lot. It sounded fascinating.

So I was perfectly primed the first time I ever saw a roleplaying game for sale: It was the BATMAN ROLEPLAYING GAME, a spin-off of Mayfair's DC Heroes game. I bought it. I read it. I bounced off of it. I couldn't make heads or tails of it.

So, in lieu of that, I ended up making my own BATMAN game. My brother played Batman and every single action was resolved using an opposed roll of 1d6: I, as GM, rolled an unmodified 1d6. My brother, as Batman, rolled an unmodified 1d6. If his roll was higher, he succeeded. If my roll was higher, he failed.

And we rolled for literally every declared action, leading to the one moment of hilarity I can remember from that game: Batman crashing the batmobile on his way back to the batcave.

My father saw my interest and pulled out a copy of Middle Earth Role-Playing. I tried reading that. I bounced off of it. I couldn't make heads or tails of it: What was I supposed to do with it? And the density of the rules blew my mind. I managed to create a character for the game, but I never actually did anything with it.

I also bounced off his copy of Bunnies & Burrows

It was the BECMI Basic Set that got me playing. It's a near-perfect example of an introductory product should be: A complete game (including all the funky dice you need). A crystal clear example of play. A solo-play adventure so that you can immediately get a taste for how awesome the game can be. And a complete module for the first time you DM.

A product like that hasn't existed before or since. About the only change I would make is to expand the number of levels supported (1-3 is a fairly shallow gameplay experience). I'm not a fan of 4th Edition, but I still wish that WotC would release a product like this supporting the entire Heroic Tier of play using a stripped down set of core rules.

(It also wouldn't hurt if WotC developed a mini-version of the game that could be included in computer games, DVDs, and other licensed products. They could also develop a line of D&D Adventure Novels that would incorporate a stripped down D&D system. They are virtually the only company that could realistically do this. The only other company that could even try would be White Wolf, who could theoretically produce an E.V.E. roleplaying game and include mini-versions of the game in copies of E.V.E. Online.)

March 19th, 2009 (3rd Update)


There's a kerfluffle of sorts rumbling the blogosphere regarding the importance of character backgrounds. It got started at Lamentations of the Flame Princess, where James Edward wrote:

Role-playing is not the characterization and speaking in voices and inventing a background and developing a persona that's a unique little snowflake. Your character's personality and "what would my character do based on that personality?" are add-on extras completely irrelevant (yet can enhance and perhaps make the effort enjoyable in the first place, make no mistake about what I'm saying here) to the basic activity of role-playing.

Fighting Man Level 1
ST 12, IN 8, WI 10, CN 9, DX 10, CH 9

That's your character and your role, right there.

This contention was responded to by Bat in the Attic and was, in turn, followed up by the Society of Torch, Pole, and Rope (which is where I first stumbled into the fray). This led me to a quick conclusion:

These guys all have better blog titles than I do.

(Not that I'm changing or anything, but "Lamentations of the Flame Princess" sounds like a fantasy metal band and "Society of Torch, Pole, and Rope" pretty much screams old school fun.)

Truth be told, however, I also drew a pertinent conclusion: To whit, I think the post on Lamentations of the Flame Princess was (intentionally or not) engaging in the worst type of One True Wayism. Specifically, the type that precludes a clear-headed consideration and open discussion of character backgrounds and how they can be used.

With that in mind, here are a few random thoughts off the top of my head. Each of these thoughts really just skims the surface of some pretty interesting stuff, and perhaps some day I'll be able to return and muse upon them appropriately. But for now I'm interested to see what kind of discussion they prompt.

First, there's the difference between crafting a character and discovering a character. Each poses unique benefits, challenges, advantages, and disadvantages. In some ways this can be considered analogous to the difference between, say, playing Hamlet and performing in improv theater. 

(Of course, to some extent all characters are developed during play, right? No matter how much detail you develop before play begins, there'll always be something new to discover once you start playing the character in new situations -- if for no other reason than that we all grow and change.)

Second, let's consider the distinction between a character your create entirely by yourself; a completely pregenerated character; and a character created through collaboration (with either your GM and/or the other players in your group).

(Frankly, this is an area of really interesting gradations. There are different types of collaboration, for example: Some are driven mechanically, others socially. Different issue: Even if you're given a completely pregenerated character, doesn't it become a collaboration as soon as you interpret it and begin playing it? And how does that tie back into our first topic of discussion?)

Third, the impact that the expected longevity of the character has one these issues. For my Ptolus campaign my players and I collaborated on character histories that were intimately connected to the setting in various ways. These ranged anywhere from 1-3 pages, depending on the player and the character. In my OD&D campaign using the Caverns of Thracia, OTOH, we expected character mortality to be high (it was) and the entire group only got about 3 sentences of background before the fur started to fly.

(On the other hand, as much as OD&D's short-lived characters encourage you to skimp on your character's backgrounds, a 1st level Fighting-Man in OD&D is known as a Veteran. That title pretty much insists that even a beginning character has an interesting and meaningful background. A veteran of what? is the inevitable, unavoidable, and evocative question.)

Fourth, there's the issue of how character backgrounds can be developed and used (by both the player and the GM). The short version is: There are lots and lots of ways to use them. And there are also lots and lots of ways to abuse them.

(Which is why you'll get plenty of horror stories talking about both (a) the guy who showed up with nothing but a stat block (and played nothing but a stat block) and (b) the guy with a 15 page character background of Mary Sue-ist excess.

Of course, on the flip-side, you'll also hear great stories about (a) the guy who took nothing but a stat block and turned it into the Most Memorable Character Ever(TM) and (b) the guy who developed a 15 page character background giving the GM all kinds of useful hooks and providing dramatic fodder for some of the most moving roleplaying you've ever seen.)

Fifth, we could discuss various mechanical ways of developing character background. For example, there's Traveller's terms of service which uses a gambling mechanic to simultaneously generate a character's mechanical statistics and provide a framework for fleshing out their background. Or GURPS which bribes you with extra points for making your characters more interesting (by way of disadvantages). Or what about those systems which replace a skill system with a background system (so that what a character can do depends on concrete experience and not just abstract measurements of aptitude)?

(And is mechanizing the development of a background good or bad? I would argue that the more appropriate question is: Good for what? These types of mechanics can provide raw fodder to inspire improvisations that you might not have otherwise considered. In other cases, such mechanics provide a common framework for the group to creatively collaborate. Sometimes that's what you need. Sometimes it isn't.)

I think the biggest point I want to make here is that this isn't really an issue of right-and-wrong. And, in my opinion, trying to frame it in those terms is to waste a lot of time needlessly tilting at windmills.

March 20th, 2009


Interesting fact about the basic rules for experience point awards in OD&D: They don't actually exist.

Instead you have to intuit them out of an example on pg. 18 of Volume 1: Men & Magic, which states that you would get 7,700 XP for killing a troll with 7,000 gp of treasure: 7,000 XP for the 7,000 GP + 700 for killing the troll (which is a 7th level monster).

From this example you are forced to intuit that PCs receive 1 XP per gold piece of treasure and 100 XP per level of a defeated monster. (A monster's level is basically determined by its Hit Dice.)

The one hard-and-fast rule regarding XP is that: "Gains in experience points will be relative; thus an 8th level Magic-User operating on the 5th dungeon level would be awarded 5/8 experience. [...] Experience points are never awarded above a 1 for 1 basis, so even if a character defeats a higher level monster he will not receive experience points above the total of treasure combined with the monster's kill value." But even this rule is somewhat vague, because in places it refers to "dungeon level" and in other places it refers to the "level of the monster".

(It should be noted that the level of the dungeon was assumed to be correlated to its difficulty -- with the first level of the dungeon appropriate for 1st level characters and so forth. But even in these early days it was acknowledged that harder foes could sometimes be found on upper levels and less powerful foes on lower levels, so there remains a real and meaningful difference.)

(This entire concept of adjusted XP would disappear from the game for awhile, before returning in 3rd Edition... where for reasons I've never quite been able to understand they mucked around with the math until it made no sense and required a chart look-up.)

Note, however, that the passage is clear that the adjustment is on a per character basis. The 8th level Magic-User has their experience adjusted, but if they were adventuring with a 4th level Fighter the fighter would not have their rewards so adjusted. 

Writing this up now, I also just realized that there is also no provision given for dividing the experience award. If a party of 16 characters defeats a troll, they should all get the full XP award for it apparently. The players in my Caverns of Thracia one-shot are going to be pissed.

There's also a recommendation that "no more experience points be awarded for any single adventure than will suffice to move the character upwards one level", with an associated example suggesting that the character should max out 1 XP shy of gaining a second level from the same adventure.


The practice of giving XP is much maligned. I criticized it myself when I was young. The logic usually goes something like this:

(1) "How does earning money improve your skills?"

(2) "Treasure itself is a reward. Why should you be rewarded for getting a reward?"

The answer is simple: Treasure was seen as an analog for accomplishment. The goal of the game was not, in fact, to go into a dungeon and fight with monsters. Fighting with monsters was, in fact, a really bad idea. Fighting monsters could get you killed. What you wanted to do was get the treasure without fighting the monsters.

By rewarding the bulk of XP for treasure, the game encouraged smart, strategic play instead of hack 'n slash play. Combat was implicitly a means to an end, not the end itself. (I know that in the BECMI Basic Set, at least, it was explicitly made so. Whenever someone tries to tell you that D&D is a game about "killing things and taking their stuff", keep that in mind.)

And this was intentional. Upon discovering that 100 XP per HD was encouraging players to treat monsters as a source of walking XP (instead of fearing them as deadly dangers), Gygax promptly revised the XP rules in Supplement 1: Greyhawk. Low level awards were drastically reduced (1 and 2 HD monsters, for example, were reduced to just 1/10th of their former reward) and experience awards were now explicitly divided among all party members. Hirelings and retainers were also given a full share (although they only benefited from half their portion).

Depending on how you read the rules, if you were in a group with a total of 10 characters (PCs and hirelings both) you could actually see your XP rewards for killing a 1 HD monster reduced to 1/100th its former level upon adopting the rules in Supplement 1: Greyhawk!



This still leaves the objection that there's no innate connection between finding a pot of gold and improving your sword-swinging ability. But this is almost utterly irrelevant because experience points -- like virtually all character creation mechanics -- are abstracted to the point of being virutally indistinguishable from a completely dissociated mechanic. Experience point awards are simply not any kind of meaningful model of actual learning or self-improvement in the real world -- it doesn't matter whether you give them for treasure, killing monsters, roleplaying, or just time served.

A few games (most notably RuneQuest) abandons them entirely and attempt to adopt associated mechanics that more meaningfully model the learning process. (For example, by improving skills that are used or trained.)

But if you choose to keep XP awards (and, like other dissociated character creation mechanics, I find nothing particularly problematic about them), then I think it's important to acknowledge their role: 

(1) They're an efficient way of saying this is important. They can be an important part of the formal or informal social contract that says, "This is one of our primary goals." If the primary source of XP is killing things, then you're saying, "Killing things is going to be a focus of the game."

(2) They're a concrete way of setting and rewarding specific goals.

Of course, it's also possible to over-emphasize the importance of these things. XP awards may feature an important part of the risk-vs-reward dynamic at the game table, but there are other rewards to be had -- both in-character and out-of-character.

MARCH 2009: 

PART 1 - PART 2 - PART 3 - PART 4 - PART 5 - PART 6