Persuasion Check: Unearthed Arcana – Three-Pillar Experience

At first I wasn’t sure what to think about August’s Unearthed Arcana as it came in as a brief (a little less than 2 pages) article on the heels of a very controversial release in July. It takes on the challenge of awarding experience in a more holistic fashion, focused on exploration, roleplaying, and combat in fairly equal parts, rather the mainly combat-oriented experience that is default in D&D and so many other games. Keep reading to find out where I landed on this one.

The Three Pillars
As stated, the purpose of the Three-Pillar Experience is give exploration and role-playing just as much chance to impact player XP as combat does. They accomplished this by revamping the experience scale and assigning (or in the case of combat, reassigning) experience point values to different activities in each pillar.

In the case of Exploration, there are two different ways to amass experience. The first is to find wealth, either over a certain gold value or magic rating (such as uncommon, rare, and so on) for non-consumables. The second is upon finding a location of importance to the story, and depends on what type of location that is.

Roleplaying, or Social Interaction as it is called in the article, is all about swaying NPCs and the amount you get is based on what type of power or type of person they are. At the top, unsurprisingly, are deities and other powerful beings of that ilk, while the low end is someone with influence of a small town or village- quite possibly a mayor or even a prominent citizen that others look to.

And last but not least, Combat is still based on challenge rating, but rather an amount per CR (such as 200 for a CR1 creature) it is all relative to the player level, earning more for creatures with a CR higher than their level or less for creatures with a CR lower than their level.

Planning and Leveling
Another thing to mention is that a secondary goal of the Three-Pillar Experience is to keep the amount of time between levels even, requiring just 100 experience points to reach the next level. Now, without context, that seems like a tiny bit by old standards (it is- you need a meager 300 XP to make it to level 2 with standard leveling, while the difference between level 19 and 20 is 50,000 XP), but most things give you 5-15 experience at a go. So by keeping the gap between levels the same, they more or less have accomplished their secondary goal.

Also of note is that the rewards for Social Interaction and Exploration are based on the “tier” of character you are (which is defined by your level, see page 37 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide for more details). So, winning over small town mayors won’t do you much good as you progress higher. This way it naturally builds into more and more encounters with weight behind them that is right for the level of the party. And as a final note, XP isn’t divided in this system. When the group kills an enemy that would give them 5 XP, they all get it regardless of how many or few of them there are.

Keeping all of the above in mind when planning out a session or campaign is important, but also allows, in my opinion, a little more control in pacing. It gives a more concrete way to award players for finding solutions other than combat or for uncovering mysterious locations and long forgotten treasures, which as a DM gives you more control over the type of adventure without trying to determine what you should award at various levels for the players convincing the old wizard to help them, which could change drastically and wouldn’t scale well throughout. As a matter of fact, the only place I don’t see this system working is for those who want to place particularly high or low fantasy, where the Social Interaction and Exploration sections would need to be adjusted to fit.

So, at the end of it, I’m coming out with a pretty positive impression of this system. It’s a change from the standard, for sure, but for those who want less combat or to eliminate the luls between certain levels, it’s likely a better system.

Although I don’t foresee myself making the change anytime soon, one place I can certainly see revisiting this is if I was designing a campaign that used Milestone leveling and wanted a guide for how much to include in each section. Even this might be a bit much, but adjusting it down from 100 to 75 or even 50 XP per milestone could create a good standard to measure against during design for my needs.


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