XP Tax

  • Update: This has been a great conversation. It seems like this hasn't been tried before. I've been thinking of it as stat maintenance after talking with you all. Stats become capital, XP becomes currency, and capital depreciates. You can invest in existing infrastructure or create new infrastructure, and everyone get an allowance that lets them be competitive and have fun. The rest is up to your enterprising spirit.

    Has anyone tried or played in a game that used an experience tax? If so, I am interested to hear how well it worked.

    If you're unfamiliar with the idea, here is a brief outline using round numbers and a CoD system.


    Adam has earned 50 experiences and has spent 40 of them.
    His XP comes from a combination of automatic XP and participation.
    Adam gains automatic XP based on the 40 XP he's spent, not the 50 XP he's earned.

    Brad has earned 50 experiences and has spent 50 of them.
    Brad's automatic XP is based on his 50 XP spent.

    A periodic experience tax is due. All players know the schedule, and some prepare by not spending their full XP. Each stat is assessed and there is a tax due of one beat per dot. This is a simplified value. It may be better to use 10% of the cost to buy the dot instead of a flat value.

    Adam is a doctor and wants to keep his Medicine 4. He pays 4 beats to keep it at 4 because it is important to his character. A year ago, he bought a 2 points of Firearms because there were rumors of a monster roaming his neighborhood. The firearms skill isn't important to him, so he elects to only spent 1 beat to maintain the first dot of firearms.

    He needs 44 beats to maintain the character creation base of 5/4/3 attributes, 11/7/4 skills, and 10 points of merits. Further, Adam has spent 40 XP in skills, resulting in 20 more dots, which means 20 more beats due. Adam would need 66 beats, or 13 experiences and 1 beat to keep his sheet as it is. He's willing to let a few things, like Firearms slide.

    Adam's sheet is almost the same, but he's lost a step on a few of his skills.

    Brad spent all his XP despite knowing the XP tax was coming. This is like going all out and burning the candle at both ends. Not only has he working a full time job and going to college at night, but he's been trying to solve the mystery of his father's disappearance.

    He has no experience to spend, so all his stats decrease by one. This seems brutal, but if you max out your credit cards and spend your entire savings, you will also be in trouble. Brad's effective power level drops as he burns out from doing too much all at once. But, this also reduces his spent XP, which means he acquires experience faster than Adam.


    • Automatic XP must be configured to allow a character to maintain a character at a soft cap without decay. The number for the soft cap is immaterial.

    • Automatic XP is awarded based on XP spent, not XP earned.

    • Experience gained through participation or kudos is the way to increase power beyond the soft cap.

    • The tax cost is flat per point, but may vary between attributes, skills, merits, etc. Characters can be tall or wide, but seldom both.

    • Players always know when the next tax is due and how much it costs. This could even a display on the character sheet.

    • Players may decide not to maintain a stat and focus their attentions elsewhere. This allows them to rework their character over time or take a crash course in an emergency.

    • A system like this would likely pair well with a refractory period before raising a stat again.

  • Seems simpler to set you soft cap, and have players track what they spend their over the cap xp on.

    If skills fading, or becoming outdated is a thing, just assign a penalty to the skill and some sort of task (say learning rolls) to re-update.

    XP are not a learning simulator. So assess how they behave based on what you want players to experience, and do about it, and what you want your world to do.

  • Whenever designing a system, it is best to consider:

    1. What problem am I trying to solve?
    2. Will this system solve that problem without causing more?
    3. Is this problem even worth worrying about?

    (In my experience, #3 is the one people tend to overlook. This is why so many systems are such utter shit.)

    In the specific world of coding (any kind of coding!) there is a precursor question which must be asked instead:

    1. Why do I want to write this system?

    If, as is so commonly the case in software, the answer to this question is "because I can" or "because it seems like a cool challenge" then stop right the fuck there and do something else. If it is more along the lines of "it is intended to solve <insert problem>" then go ahead and proceed with questions #1 through #3.

    So, @Hexagon, please answer these questions:

    1. Why do you want to implement this system?

    If your answer isn't some variant of "it would be cool" then:

    1. What actual problem are you trying to solve?
    2. Will this system solve that problem without causing more?
    3. Is this problem even worth worrying about?

    Be honest (with yourself at least), because if you're not, trust me, the feedback from MSB will be brutally so.

  • What's the POINT of the XP tax? I mean, I get you're trying to find a way to 'use or reduce' a skill, but this is not a good way to do it. It feels like minutiae just for the point of minutiae and a system that doesn't ADD anything to a game.

    Being completely frank, I would never play on a game using an 'XP tax'. Especially if you have to upkeep your starting dots. It wouldn't promote anything on the game other than making sure you had enough beats to upkeep your baseline; what's the point of buying things if you need ever-increasing points to KEEP the things you ALREADY bought?

    If you were doing increases and such based on time-learning, and 'use or forget' type stuff, a downtime/time tax might make sense (you must spend X hours to keep a stat of X).

  • @WTFE Great questions. I'll preface by saying I thought of this in my car when I got tired of listening to music. I was on my way back from professional training, and I was thinking about how RPG characters hit some magical threshold and never have to retrain. It must be nice.

    1. I'm not sure that I do, that's why I asked if anyone had any experience with something like this. It seems like a lot of work, but...
    2. The problem this might address is the perceived lack of agency in developing a character once you approach an experience cap. The typical answer to that seems to be to move the cap. Encouraging players to cycle in new characters by retiring or killing them could also work. That problem is caused by the desire to constrain a game so power levels don't exceed the ability of the game system to handle them. There seem to be statistical issues with power levels when characters become very powerful.
    3. I don't know. It certainly seems like it might cause a coding problem because I haven't seen anything like this, which means it would probably have to be created whole cloth. It could also cause emotional problems if people see it as damaging their character instead of as a way to rewrite their character over time in ways they see fit. It is also very different, and that can cause distress.
    4. It seems to be a problem worth considering, because there are several extensive discussions on the issue of XP caps, staged XP, and other methods of handing out XP. This seems to stem from the tabletop design of vignettes, where we see characters at their most powerful and never experience downtime. This contrasts with MU gaming because large parts of a MU are devoted to downtime, with casual scenes, parties, and other slice of life activities.

    I'm not sure how much of the difference between tabletop and MU gaming is real and how much is perceived, but everyone seems to want something different. I've reached the point in my consideration that I'd like some outside input.

  • @Bobotron Yes, it's based on time-learning, and use it or lose it. If you gain 2 XP per week, and it costs you 15 XP twice a year to maintain your base, that leaves you 74 XP a year to spend over your base. It might be helpful to think of it like the rocket equation: you want to get mass into space, but you have to take your fuel, which is more mass. That means you need more fuel. There is a point where you can't take more mass or more fuel because your engines are only so good. How good your "engines" are is your cap. If you can't maintain your very powerful character, you will naturally come to a point where automatic XP and the tax balance each other out.

    I've never heard of anyone doing it, so I'm asking the groupmind if anyone else has to see what their experience with it is like.

  • OK, it sounds like you've done at least a modicum of thought on it beyond "wouldn't it be cool if...?".

    So here are my thoughts, welcome or otherwise.

    First, one of my big beefs with RPGs in general stems from the ur-game, D&D. D&D stemmed from wargaming roots and it's so painfully obvious that it did to anybody who actually played those games back when D&D was being introduced. One of the things that stems from this background is the experience system.

    The never-ending staircase of ever-increasing power has a direct ancestor in campaign wargames where units got better as they got more experience. The problem is that even in campaign wargames there were:

    1. Upper bounds.
    2. Typically an end to the process. (The campaign ended.)

    This didn't happen in D&D games, so you wound up with that ever-increasing levels thing reaching literally godlike levels. (Original D&D had, IIRC, only six levels max … but this was one of the first things dropped as people played the game.)

    The current shibboleth that this mimics the development of characters you see in the fictions it was based on is trivially observable bullshit. The stated sources of inspiration (Conan, the Grey Mouser stories, etc.) did not start off their stories with the heroes being incompetent nebbishes who could be defeated by a house cat half the time. The stories started with them being at least heroic and, perhaps, over the course of several novels/stories/whatever they would get a bit better. Most advances in the stories were advances of social construct, not powers and abilities. Conan didn't start off barely able to hold his sword and end off able to fight gods in the stories. Conan started off able to fight minor gods and ended off able to, you know, fight minor gods. But he started as an unregarded barbarian and ended as king.

    (Note: I am emphatically not saying that there was no development of character abilities in these stories! I'm saying that the development was far less than a typical RPG character undergoes in the D&D-style RPG vein…which includes Storyteller.)

    So my response to your (implied) question of "how do we control endless XP growth" is 无, the Chan (Zen) means of, essentially, unasking a badly-formulated question. The proper question isn't "how do we control XP so that we don't have huge imbalances of power?" it is rather "how do we manage player expectations so they don't seek this never-ending escalator of power?"

    Some modern games handle this far better. An example of this would be @Thenomain's and and my go-to example: Fate (Core or Accelerated EditionFC and FAE respectively in the future). These games have "milestones" that, when met, allow character sheets to change. (I'll use FAE for my examples because it's my favoured flavour of Fate, but FC's systems are pretty much identical, just more verbose.)

    In FAE a "minor milestone" lets you choose one of (and only one of):

    • Switch the ratings of any two "approaches" [read: skills].
    • Rename one "aspect" [no real equivalent; think of it as redescribing facets of your character's social hooks or abilities] that isn’t your high concept.
    • Exchange one "stunt" [read: D&D3+ feat, kinda/sorta] for a different stunt.
    • Choose a new stunt.

    Of these options the only one that increases your character's ability in any measurable way is the last one. And that's a relatively minor increase. The rest are about changing the character's focus, like your example of the guy who picked up a gun skill for a specific reason and then didn't really need it any longer would be renaming an aspect.

    Then there are "significant milestones". In these you get to do any one of the minor milestone options plus you may do both of the following:

    • If you have a severe "consequence" [long-term injury effect] that’s been around for at least two sessions, you can clear it.
    • Raise the bonus of one approach by one.

    Note that only one of these involves measurably improving a character. (The other restores a damaged character.)

    Finally there are the "major milestones". In these you get to do a minor and significant milestone's options plus any or all of:

    • Take an additional point of refresh, which you may immediately use to purchase a stunt if you wish. [Again no real equivalent; this is the rate at which you get back your used-up "fate points".]
    • Rename your character’s "high concept" [effectively equivalent to a user-defined character class if you will].

    And again only one of these two improves the character (and given the fate point economy of the game, it's a pretty decent improvement). The other merely redefines it.

    Under the Fate-style "advancement" mechanism I personally think you have a far better model of character change than the D&D-based models that dominate RPGs. Fate itself is not necessarily a good fit for all genres (and most gamers, given how ludicrously conservative they tend to be!), but I think its advancement mechanism could be kit-bashed into other games in ways that make the power creep built into them less of a problem than they currently are for online play.

  • @Hexagon

    Interesting idea. So. When a vampire drinks someone dry, they drink up their experience too, right? Considering each Covenant has a method to perceive memories via blood. Can I now go open up Bob, and suck out his 50xp worth of skills and such?

    The idea is nice, as an idea. As a game it is too specific, I think.

  • I'm going to not address @WTFE's super-long reply right now, not because it's not thoughtful but because I had an idea and if I read someone else's idea then my own idea could be drowned out.

    You know, you can get a similar effect by lowering the amount of XP one can earn based on total spent and allow people to drop stats. This is a more hands-on approach that people are already used to, at least on the recent WoD games.

    My problem with "tax season" is that it becomes a side-game that you can't really opt out of. It's not like an economy system or crafting system, side-games that can be fun to engage with. There is absolutely no opt-in to it, so it needs to add something to the game as a whole.

    Adding a layer of realism isn't enough. (Yeah yeah, my Calculus has really waned. Mind you, because I knew it, re-learning it will be easier.) Adding a layer of realism in a survival game that increases the tension is a good reason. To give people a reason to play around with glass beads is a good reason. It doesn't have to wow the judges--your players--but it does have to engage them.

    Without reading @Hexagon's reply to @WTFE, it sounds like busywork. The goal may be to engage Eve Online players, which is also a good reason. Not my reason, but if you really like Eve Online then it's a good one none the less.

  • No offense intended, but simply reading this left me feeling 'throw in the towel' exhausted.

    That doesn't mean it's a bad idea at all, actually -- for some games, this could be very helpful, particularly if it only kicks in after a certain point.•

    Back to the exhaustion for a moment: some people enjoy sheet maintenance, min-maxing, and any or all other forms of sheet and mechanics math. It's possible these folks would love this, too. There is also a non-trivial portion of the playerbase of any given game that does not, not for a hot second, want to have to math in their pretendy fun time games. I speak for no one but myself in saying I would enjoy this roughly as much as I enjoy doing my actual taxes, and to drive home the gravity of this statement, I say this as a self-employed artist who has to do the long form every time and has to pay up since nobody does any handy-dandy withholding for me that might mean going through all of that hassle means I get some kind of refund at the end of it.

    Mechanically speaking, however, this is going to depend strongly on the system. The 'tax' would be one thing under a GMC/CoD setup with flat costs, and something entirely different in a system that uses multiplied costs such as nWoD or oWoD.

    Even under GMC/CoD, you're going to end up taxing some character types more than others. One dot of <Powerstat>, for instance, will cost a player the same as one dot of Contacts (Bloggers) -- never mind the fact that these two things have nowhere near close to the same impact on the game. It'd end up making it more effective for players to pile more XP into high cost powers, rather than low cost merits. When you look at the fact that the latter are the only thing available to most minor templates, it definitely gives the minor templates the crap end of the stick even more, as their powers tend to be bought on merits -- so the thing a super could do with one dot of a discipline will be something that costs four dots to a minor template as a supernatural merit, thus costing the character who is already 'the little guy' in all other respects considerably more simply to keep what s/he has.

    It's an interesting thought, and the inspiration is understandable, but I wouldn't go within a mile of a game that implemented this as described, as I don't consider it to be something that actually improves the game experience in any way, and instead penalizes certain character choices and does so unevenly -- in addition to being more math than I feel like I need in my life.

    • You would be better off doing something similar to what a few other games have been described as having done -- diminish the amount 'a beat' is worth as the character's XP total gets higher, and ascribe the 'lost' XP to maintenance. That hits across the board evenly regardless of what style of character the player has chosen to create. For instance, at 60XP, a beat is now worth 0.175 instead of 0.2, at 90XP, it's worth 0.15, at 120 it's worth 0.125 -- or whatever other staggered reduction metric you prefer.

  • @WTFE Mu, indeed. I'm pleased to see that we have some of the same touchstones.

    To Conan and starting off weak, I don't think an XP tax requires low starting XP. I selected that because it made the math quicker. Chronicles of Darkness made the interesting move from increasing costs per dot to flat costs per dot. There is no longer an asymptotic curve to eat ever increasing XP.

    Depending on the automated XP amount, a system can support a strong mid-level starting character as easily as a 0 XP starting character. I find that the tails of the bell curve suffer with rules intended for moderate characters. Starting characters are more fragile than they should be, and characters with traits over 5 and roll modifiers are too powerful. Not too powerful for a campaign, but for the basic rules. Exploding dice and reduced thresholds are problems as much as assets. Powers that allow for multiple or contingent actions make ordering the action difficult.

    Note, these are dice systems. There are no roleplay issues with either, and both can make for a fun experience.

    There is a significant difference in a world class character with extensive contacts, allies, and status and a combat monster. I'm trying to avoid those distinctions as much as possible as some variance is desirable.

    I think this might address accomplishment without maintenance. It provides punctuated points ("minor milestones" in FAE parlance) to change your character. It could allow a player to neglect stats so they can increase in others as they become important. The extreme case is just that. It would be a rash player who wouldn't keep back some XP to spend when they knew they would need it.

    A system like this wouldn't make much sense for Fate or D&D. I could maybe make a case for Unisystem, but I was thinking of CoD. Chronicles of Darkness offers nothing for character advancement that isn't an increase of power or resolving a story. Since I didn't know of any other games that might have similar progression and a different way of handling it, I decided to ask.

  • Pitcrew

    I think it's an interesting thought exercise. It's fascinating and interesting to work out, and I would personally run screaming from something like this coming anywhere near a game I was interested in playing on. It would be a hard stop for me, for the reasons @surreality mentions. It's very clear that I'm not the target audience though, so I think it's certainly worth exploring it for the sort of folks that it is the target audience for.

    It really does to me come off a little bit like proposing a solution, then finding a problem to solve with it.

  • @HorrorHound Possibly, but is that how it is handled now? It seems more likely games would use that as a method to allow an XP discount or justification rather than adding 50 XP by fiat to a character sheet.

    How is it too specific? My hope had been to avoid that. Even the example was the most generic case.

  • @Sunny Some of this is in response to thoughts I have had percolating since reading the nWoD 2.0 Experience Analysis from Nov 15. I think you were one of the people discussing the issue there, especially with regards to experience caps. You specifically wanted people who were at the cap to have something to do with their XP. This seems like something to allow just that.

  • Pitcrew


    If your take-away from the expression of my opinion on something else is that this solution addresses my thoughts, I think you wholly misunderstood my perspective.

  • @Sunny No, that wasn't my take away. I'm saying that it's not an issue of proposing a solution and looking for a problem to solve with it. It was a concern a year ago, and it's still a concern, and it will likely continue to be a concern in the future as all games will probably want to address it different ways.

    I just asked if anyone had any experience with something like it, and then gave an example.

  • Pitcrew

    I think the system could work mechanically, though socially it is gonna be a hard sell.
    There are a fair number of players that like the pretty dots on their sheets and taking them away will lead to discontent.
    Yes I know you said the dates of the taxes will be known in advance but trust me that will not help people prepare for it. Many people fail to me ready for RL income taxes and the dates for that is known well in advance. The whole reason we have withholding out of paychecks now is that when the income tax was first a thing people did not prepare despite knowing it was coming leaving the govt with one hell of a collection job, now the govt had to power to compel people to prepare after that with withholding but for those in business for themselves or who are considered independent contractors it is still an issue.
    Running a MU entails dealing with tons of drama I see this as creating more when one solution has existed and has been mentioned in this thread, which having beats be worth less of an XP as people raise in experience. this will function as a tax on the XP earned rather then spent, but it is also a "tax" that will be socially easier to implement since no one actually loses anything in the process they just have to wait longer for gains as they increase in total XP.

    Edit to add: I just thought of another possible issue with taxing the dots on a sheet, since there is a fairly decent number of starting dots given in c-gen this would create an initial tax burden for those who make character near tax time might not have time to earn enough to pay.

  • Pitcrew

    Interesting idea, but I can see a couple of problems with it on first blush:
    1> You're inevitably going to reach a point where all of the xp a person earns during a month is going to have to be thrown at the tax just to maintain their sheet as it is. At some point, if the person is active and gaining additional xp above the weekly dole, their sheet might push past that point so they're going to have to finagle more and more points just to keep things where they are; that doesn't strike me as a particuliarly good way of doing business.
    2> RL Happens. Some times of year, for myself and many people I know, are busier than others. People go on vacation, crap happens that takes you away from the game or messes with your schedule. Maybe you just live in an inconvenient time zone - but if you're not able to make events or things that allow for higher xp-per-week, you'll basically be locked into a tier lower than everyone else through no fault of your own. If you're usually active but have a bad month, you stand to lose a tremendous amount of xp - as in, it would take several months to regain what it took only a couple of weeks to lose.
    3> This really screws prerequisite stats all to hell. What happens if you miss something and your Resolve drops too low to use Martial Arts? Or what happens if you lose points on a Merit that's Chargen only?

    Just a few devil's advocate things. I've always been a strong supporter of the idea that if you earn/are awarded the xp, it's yours to do with as you please. I've even been semi-vocal about requiring justifications for Renown in Werewolf these days (particularly if nothing else in the game requires justifications) - so I'd likely never play at a game that utilizes this kind of system.

  • @Hexagon said in XP Tax:

    1. I'm not sure that I do, that's why I asked if anyone had any experience with something like this. It seems like a lot of work, but...

    I appreciate the thought. It sounds like you want a system that would limit the ability of well-developed PCs to increase traits at the same pace as not-well-developed PCs.

    There have been games that have addressed this issue in nWoD 2E. MU*s that reduce auto-gain for Beats based on total XP spent have done so, and I believe this to be an adequate throttle on advancement.

  • @ThatGuyThere The people problem is always going to be the problem, but this is a very cogent way of putting it. I suppose it could also be thought of as XP decay, or altered so that a copy of the initial sheet was always retained and those dots were never imperiled by this, merely advancement. That said, I think most games give out initial XP because the rules are particularly harsh for starting characters. It's an optional mechanic to allow characters to start a a level "appropriate" to the campaign.

    What I'm learning is that this method may be suitable mechanically, but it hasn't been tested or applied by any known system out there.

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