What is experience?

  1. practical contact with and observation of facts or events
  2. the knowledge or skill acquired by experience over a period of time, especially that gained in a particular profession by someone at work
  3. an event or occurrence that leaves an impression on someone

By profession, I’m an industrial engineer and an officer in the Army. In both fields, I specialize in logistics planning and management. I’ve spent the past decade learning my profession in a variety of capacities ~ team leader, project leader, analyst, planner, supervisor, manager ~ and in each of these there was a common thread: I done fucked up, a lot.

I despise the phrase, “That’s not my job,” not because the thing I’ve been asked to do is within my scope of responsibility. Quite often, it isn’t, and I have to help someone find the person they need to get the thing done. I hate the phrase because it’s usually uttered by people who aren’t interested in doing anything except their job. They aren’t motivated to help ~ even if helping is simply finding the right man or woman for the task at hand. They’re certainly not interested in learning and, more often than not, I’ve found that they’re quite comfortable with staying in their lane for fear of making a right mess of things. They’re afraid to fail.

I’m not. Likely, that’s why I’m where I am in my life. I learn from the things I’ve done right, but I’ve learned more from the things I’ve done wrong. And I don’t make the same mistake twice.

This is the basis for experience in a role-playing game. It serves one purpose in that it provides motivation for the player. It is a risk/reward mechanism. It serves another purpose in that it represents the way we learn in real life, which, being something we are intimately familiar with, makes it easier to relate to the game. It helps suspend our disbelief; it helps us to “get into character.”

How it is that anyone can think the game is better for not having experience is beyond me.

I didn’t always work in logistics. Prior to enrollment in college, I worked in kitchens as a line cook. While my work as an engineer and an officer benefits from experience with designing and developing processes; planning and implementing plans; or coordinating with disparate teams. My work as a cook benefited from . . . well, cooking; and managing inventory, scheduling menus, ordering product, etc. Thing is, I’ve learned more from being an engineer than from being a cook. It’s not because the work is harder ~ physically, at least, it isn’t. Being a cook is a grueling, taxing vocation. Being an engineer is mentally exhausting, especially for myself because I never developed the social skills necessary to be successful with large, diverse teams. I have those skills now, but it took many years of trial and error to acquire them.

Being an engineer takes more experience than being a cook but it also offers more opportunities to acquire that experience.

What is the player character’s profession? He is the adventurer. He is the opportunist of the world, the explorer and conqueror, the murderer and looter, the hero or the villain or both at once. He thrives on conflict and defeating his enemies; he may live on the fringe of society where his behavior is more tolerable but there is often plenty of work for him within normal social boundaries. How, then, do we qualify his experience? What kind of rewards do we offer him? What sort of behavior counts for those rewards?

Of course, these are rhetorical questions: the system is already in place and it works quite well. All I’m saying is, when someone suggests eliminating or replacing it, give a moment of thought to the “why” before kicking them square in the balls for being a moron.


3 thoughts on “Experience

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  1. I’m currently in a game where the DM has, for all practical purposes, removed XP and just said “I’ll level you guys up as the story progresses.” They’re not the first DM of this edition to do so, even in my limited time spent playing in the system. Granted, the whole Encounter Level / Challenge Rating thing in the WOTC iterations is a gigantic headache, but as it stands now I stand to level up at the same pace whether I play my character convincingly or just go along for the ride.

    Maybe it’s just the amount of time I’ve spent on the other side of the screen (albeit in different versions of the game), but as a player I feel cheated. Unfortunately, I don’t think I could get the rest of the players to see my side in this.


    1. By “convincingly,” I assumed you’re referring to the convention that role-playing is akin to acting. So you’re expected to say and do things your character would day and do, and avoid things that would break that immersion for other players.

      You could try just as you say: put forth the bare minimum of effort. Don’t slack, necessarily. Play the game, roll the dice, kill the monsters and talk to NPCs, but do it without any hint of “conviction.” See what happens. If the other players complain, tell them you’re doing what the DM prescribed: the reward isn’t tied to all this “role-playing” so why are we worried about it?

      Or ask them to read my page, What is a Role-playing Game? That’ll probably fire up a few “discussion​s.”


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