seeking concensus- adventure xp levels

One could ask such questions, but it would just open a wormhole when one tries to determine what work is compatible with adventure learning and what is not. On this point I find RAW absolutely satisfactory. It is a decent approximation, realistic enough in most cases, balanced in game terms, pragmatic, and playable.

And in my personal experience, having to do something is incompatible with thinking effectively about what I want to think about. That does not mean that I could not hammer out nails and still reflect and learn, but it means that I could not have to hammer out nails.


Silveroak definitely has a point, in my 20s I worked at a bunch of different copy shops and I loved the work, especially the really drudgy, tedious stuff because I could think about whatever I wanted while collating or whatnot... interrupted, of course, by pesky customers but...

That said, I think for ease of play Loke is right and Atlas made the right decision on this.

1 Like

Realistically, how much in-game time actually passes in most games people are running?

A decade (40 seasons)? More?

I ask because this discussion has me thinking about the practical impact of distinguishing between giving 5 or 6 xp. Or even 5 vs 10 xp.

What impact does a 1 xp difference over 40 seasons have on the game? What about a 5 xp difference 40 seasons?

Or how much impact do these distinctions have in the actual practice of running an ArM game over time if most games don't run more than a decade or two of in-game time in which to spend the XP?

With those questions in mind, I think I would encourage a slightly more generous approach to awarding adventure XP.

In the lived (played?) experience of an ArM game, it may not be really all that material to shave the hairs of adventure xp so closely.

Perhaps it depends on the game's pace and consensus on how power should scale over time in the game.

I think it might be worth the risk to be generous with the XP.

Just some thoughts from an apprentice.


There are two subtle issues here.

The first is that if you are always equally generous with xp - you award 10xp both for major stories and for minor ones - in my experience many players will not see you as generous with minor-story xps, they will call you stingy with major-story xps :slight_smile: "What do you mean only 10xp? We stopped the mongol invasion! And we get the same xp that our grogs got for that little trip to sell wine at the local fair?"

The second is that, at a certain point of the thread, many people seemed to argue in favour of awarding Story xp for every Story, rather than for every season of Stories. If a character has a Story every week of a season, even if each earns that character only 5xp, it's 65xp at the end of the season, and that is a big deal.


Awarding xp for every story is definitely not 5th edition.

So is having a Source Quality for story xp greater than 10. But you'll note that some people in the thread have argued for house rules that award xp for every story and/or remove the Quality 10 cap. To each his own; I was simply observing that Bartomeus' point "5 or 6 or 10xp, not much difference" was not quite applicable to what a lot of people had been proposing.

As a side note: 5-10xp as a Source Quality from stories is already exceedingly generous in my opinion, and justifiable only as a gaming device to give a nice warm fuzzy feeling to players who got spoiled by other rpgs where you gain "levels" by "adventuring". In this I completely disagree with loke: Source Quality for (reflecting upon) accidental experiences that are not designed to have one learn stuff, realistically should be lower than that for purposeful experiences, i.e. Practice. And indeed, Exposure Source Quality is lower than Practice Source Quality.

For some reason people assume Exposure is gained only in seasons of drudgework, but it's not! It's simply what you get in a season that you do not devote (almost) entirely to learning. The only difference with Stories is that events in the latter are explicitly narrated in detail - but that's not an in-game difference.

I think that's a feature, not a bug in the system: it makes characters in ArM5 feel much more real. Most normal people would rather be left to their own devices. "Adventure is something that happens to someone else. When it's happening to you, it's only trouble." :slight_smile:

But that's what Personality and Story Flaws (and Covenant Hooks) are for. You are not coercing the players. On character (and covenant) creation, they made an explicit statement: "I want stories about this or that for my PC - I expect the SG to provide them and look, while the average person would shy away from them, this PC has a good reason not to." I consider this one of the best innovations of ArM5: it creates a semi-explicit contract between players on what the game will be about, while simultaneously providing a convincing rationale for the characters to act.

Incidentally, while you are coercing the characters with Story Flaws (and some Hooks) you are not really coercing them when leveraging Personality Flaws (most of them. anyways - a few are Personality Flaws in name only). You want to get an Ambitious/Obsessed/Pious/Lecherous character on a Story? Dangle something tickling said Ambition/Obsession/Piety/Lechery. While it may not be worth the xps, and might in fact cost the character more resources than it generates, that story will be appealing for the character who, of his own agency (if properly roleplayed) will embark on it.

Rafael Bessoni has said this better than I could here.


Interesting thought. That means that the turb grogs should be forced to practice weapons (or be trained/tought) in their work seasons and earn only exposure in the free seasons which they would most likely use to tell stories at the tavern or pick flowers in the hills.

It should be an in-game difference. The stories we tell should be those of extra-ordinary surprise. The features that make a story entertaining are also the best learning opportunities. It may be that we sometimes tell boring stories, that should only be worth 5xp or less, but when katharsis is achieved after a well-told story, it is worth 10xp or more.

This is true in general, for early stage learners. However, it misses the point that the accidental experiences encountered in a story worth telling are not average accidents. They should be the extra-ordinarily valuable experiences that are very hard to match on purpose. Note that I argue that good stories should match the typical low-level (sound) summa with quality around 15, and not the sound primer that easily get qualities past 20. (I have also seen in-game teachers with SQ well above 20, but that seems to have been extreme power-gaming.)

Maybe inflated book qualities is more of the problem than stingy story xp.

This also hits on an other issue with Ars Magica. Advanced learning is penalised twice. From 2ed and 3ed we have the steep pyramid scale which makes advanced levels more expensive, which is very fair, since learning has diminishing returns on investment. From 4ed we get the more advanced system of different modes of learning, which allows extremely efficient learning activities with very high xp gains only for beginners. In itself, this is fair, because advanced learning do require different learning methods, but it is a problem because advanced learning was already fairly penalised by the pyramid scale.

1 Like

Most games? Probably less than two seasons, with a sizeable fraction crashing during character generation.

But there are players here reporting from games that have run for a century. My own longest is past 25 years now.

The question is not the number of seasons, though, but the number of stories. I play sagas where stories often take 3-4 sessions and never less than one. In this case, ±5xp matters little, even when compound over every story season, because there aren't that many. I see other sagas where story seasons are processed quickly, and the saga can progress fast even if there are stories every or almost every season. If, on top of that, the same characters take part in every story, the difference is massive.

1 Like

I am not 100% I understand the causal link ("that means...") but you do bring up a somewhat sore issue about ArM5 experience. Characters are workaholics! Any PC with free time, whether it's a genuinely free season of contiguous time or a season "spread over" a year, tends to spend it studying, crafting, etc. like an obsessed maniac.

Now, you could make a case for grogs (and other characters who have to take orders) that they can't spend their "free" seasons as they wish: "you are not expected to be on guard from noon to early afternoon so you can practice your swordplay with your instructor". But characters with power, like magi in a relatively comfortable covenant, or even a placid shopkeeper without great ambitions? I can see a few being obsessed with ... whatever obsession they have, and I am not claiming that everyone else would spend all their free time doing nothing either. But I find the way most characters tend to be played unrealistic.

ArM3 took this into account: the average character was supposed to earn 2xp per year (the equivalent of 10xp in ArM5), but lazy characters were supposed to earn 50% less, and characters obsessed with advancing themselves could earn 50% more.Yet in virtually all games I saw, almost all important characters ended up being obsessed one way or another to claim the bonus.

I wish ArM5 had a mechanism to reward roleplaying human laziness in seasonal advancement - at least in those characters who have no pressing need to become better at what they do, or do more of what they typically do. It can't be xp, of course: a character obsessed with improving swordplay should advance more quickly, ceteris paribus, than someone who feels fine about himself. And for the same reason it can't be labour points: working like a dog does boost one's business.

So, what should the reward be? For companions and magi, bestowing extra Confidence seems a good option: someone who is serene, well-rested etc. will probably perform better in a sudden crisis than someone who is already stretched to the limit. But this does not work for grogs. For older characters, a bonus to aging rolls is also an option. And the truly dedicated roleplayer will just feel a nice warm fuzzy feeling at the idea that his favoured grizzled grog is spending time happily doing nothing. But from my experience, none of this is usually a powerful enough motivator. Ideas?

1 Like

I do not think the increased confidence of the lazy is even remotely realistic.
A bonus to aging roll is probably better, but in reality laziness is as destructive as exertion, it is the golde middle path that makes a healthy life.

Does not matter, it was sloppily phrased, and I think we agree on the essence here.

1 Like

Sure, but: how do you reward then characters who take that "golden middle path"? It's obvious that they should not advance as quickly as those who are consumed by the desire for advancement (intellectual, financial etc.). And how do you reward players for occasionally roleplaying a genuinely lazy character?

Is the question really relevant? Should good roleplaying not be its own reward?

This is were I really think ArM has failed. We try to combine a complex mechanical system which encourages players to come up with fantastic lab inventions, pushing the system to its limits, and at the same time, it tries to encourage cultivation of the narrative and the roleplay. The two simply do not go well together.

There is of course a second reason why external motivation is bad. Any reward system has to define its criteria and thus what is considered good, but good roleplaying is not playing to predefined criteria, but quite on the contrary, challenging expectations and creating something ever new.

And then there is a third question. In what way is playing laziness in downtime seasons good roleplaying? To me roleplaying is the storytelling, which has to be uptime. Downtime is bookkeeping.

Sorry, I don't believe in quick fixes, and I do not believe in tricks and treats.

1 Like

It should. But a good system encourages players into behaviours that entertain the group. Now, most players feel rewarded when something "positive" happens to their characters. Thus, the challenge is to encourage players to have their characters act in a way that's good for the gaming group, when said way is detrimental to the character - particularly if the player has strong emotional attachment to the character.

The way it's usually done is through mechanics that in some way "reimburse" the character for what would otherwise be suboptimal behaviour. For example, Flaws give a character points to purchase Virtues. Many games (not Ars Magica) reward characters who sacrifice themselves for other characters with extra xp. Etc. I think it should not be too hard to come up with some "reward" mechanics that encourage players to have their characters spend some of their free time just ... relaxing, rather than constantly improving themselves.

I disagree. I think there's nothing in principle preventing them from going well together. I also think that ArM5 does pretty well overall (with the occasional issue such as this one). Personality and Story Flaws, Covenant Hooks etc. go a long way to encourage the narrative.

This is .. a bit too fuzzy for me to tackle. But I tend to disagree, see my comment at the beginning of this post.

Roleplaying is mostly storytelling, yes. But storytelling in the sense of "creating a narrative" is not necessarily just roleplaying. Despite the fact that "Story" is the technical term in ArM5 for uptime, downtime does contribute to the narrative; it's not just bookkeeping, particularly in games like ArM or Pendragon that support it well. A character who decides to spend a season "off screen" searching for an apprentice, or performing works of piety, or working like a dog so he can afford to pay a decent dowry to his daughter does contribute to the narrative. So does a character who, after succesfully marrying his daughter off, spends a season sleeping and generally lazying off all day long while pining for her. It's just "accelerated" narration, like a montage in screenplay.

Every reward system I can think of just turns «relaxing, rather than» into «relaxing in order to» ...

Sorry. Let me try again. You, at least partly, equate good roleplaying with sacrifice, and then you compensate said sacrifice. What happens then is that the sacrifice ceases to be a sacrifice, because the player knows the compensation and takes that into account. But this only works for those recognised «sacrifices» that are rewarded, and not the novel ideas that the rules did not anticipate.

As far as I am concerned, the reward is when players, after the session or maybe years later, retell episodes. Good roleplaying is remembered and enjoyed over and over again. You may be right that downtime is part of the narrative, but I have yet to see any downtime episodes retold and reenjoyed after the session.

There is. There was even a Nobel Prize for pointing it out, admittedly the one in economics rather than any of Nobel's own, but still. 1978 Herbert Simon, who identified bounded rationality. There is a limit to how many objectives and rules the players can process.


The term laziness itself may not be the most accurate here.

We are typing on a computer discussing a rule system for a game which we do in our leisure time. We aren't focused on improving ourselves..... Maybe if I play Ars Majica enough, I, the player, on my metaphysical character sheet receives 2 exposure points in history? (assuming my SG is good with their history).
Just for the record, I'm not dissing RPG, I've played them for over quarter of a century, just saying the focus is not learning. Leisure is a focus for many of us.

The focus on non-stop improvement for magi, and in the 2 non-work seasons for normal characters is the peculiarity. Someone regularly engaging in leisure activities when given the option, such that in a year it would add up to a season, is not ridiculous, and is probably more likely.


A lot of people play their PCs as homo economicus who only work towards their optimal outcomes with limited regard to how humans actually behave.


A lot of people live their lives as homo economicus who work towards their optimal outcomes with limited regard to what it means to be human.

(Herbert Marcuse One-dimensional man 1964 - paraphrased - no quote)


First I think the idea of exposure experience for work is based not on how hard someone works but how repetitive it is- typical work does not involve a lot of pushing one's boundaries, and the typical grog on guard duty is likely to be gaining exposure experience in awareness rather than weapons skills (unless perhaps they are also entertaining themselves by twirling their weapons on watch and gaining some degree of additional familiarity with them or something).
The other thing to consider is the difference between relaxing as in doing nothing versus doing something we consider fun which might be considered practicing a skill. Take hide and seek for a juvenile example- children are quickly learning area lore and stealth as they pay the game, not because they are intensely trying to improve their skills but because thy enjoy doing so. People paint and craft for their own amusement, and of course you can always spend a season practicing carousing.

Additionally you have the potential from ROP:I to convert your vices into confidence points if you are not improving abilities significantly

However this is getting away from the intention of the thread as well, which was to try and create a standard outline of what kind of adventures should result in the RAW XP rewards for adventures based on the importance of the story
Part of the reason I ask is that it occurs to me that as things stand adventures are the only form of xp that you cannot properly plan what you will gain in a season, and with the RAW outline it should be possible to get a fair idea of the xp that will be rewarded depending on the mission, allowing better planning for which characters would be sent on a mission.

1 Like

I've definitely had some house rule decisions I made at my table for a combination of my own tracking and play, rather than realism.
As a person, I tend towards moderate rewards and struggles, and tend to not like power-bloat in shared games (Because it can create weird competitions of efficiency that makes players unhappy.) The two major changes I have in running my saga for adventuring:

  1. We keep a spreadsheet of xp so people can plan together. The column right next to the season/year is MY column, where I put advance notice of potential adventures (so I don't forget them and so the players have some preparation time - during my first saga, we regularly had a mid-season or late-season adventure completely ruin all the labwork that season because the Mentem maga was the only one who could handle it, or they needed the Ex Misc with Demons Eternal Oblivion.) A brief note of 'something is happening this season' gives my players a sense of planning for problems and solutions, rather than just aimlessly reading the highest-xp book they can each season. [Also, my players get really confused when in 2 seasons we have 'Winter is Coming' as a note, and the player who's secretly engaged to to the Snow Queen is sweating bullets]
  2. I tend to be stingy with Confidence - not because of any conscious decision, but because I just don't think about it. To counteract this, I give characters a point of confidence whenever they decide to go out past their comfort zone and take an adventure.

As I've mentioned before, I tend to give 5-7 xp for most adventures, and I tend to give more xp when adventures last multiple game sessions. Additionally, I tend to run 1-2 adventures per game year (Usually there's 2 'plot problems' a year and the players will solve or delay one with nonadventure planning, and then adventure for the other.)

Personally I'd like to have an (online) game where each year there are several small adventures for grogs and companions that can be handled quickly and in parallel (played at the same time as each other), and adventures involving mages being lengthier affairs that occur every few years, but most of my games get bogged down by players wanting to send out all the mages on every adventure.

1 Like