Pathfinder’s XP System

Recently I noticed that Paizo’s Pathfinder RPG system uses an alternative XP system from the D&D 3.5 system it’s based on. The observant will recognise a strong similarly to the “Level-Independent XP Awards” variant from Unearthed Arcana (page 213), described as “a way of easing the DM’s job of adventure design and the task of experience-point calculating at the end of a game session.”

The big difference with the Pathfinder/UA experience system is that instead of earning a different amount of XP from a creature depending on your party’s current level, you gain the same XP amount regardless of party level, but higher level monsters give much more XP, and you need more XP to level up. The overall effect is that the XP numbers get much higher (millions of XP to reach level 20), but players still level up at the same rate as normal.

The main benefit here is that DMs can combine monsters in encounters more easily and calculate XP rewards more easily. It’s now possible to calculate the XP total for an encounter in advance even if you don’t know what level the PCs will be. A similar system is employed by fourth edition D&D, although it’s unlikely Pathfinder copied 4E’s rule here: this system originally appeared in 2004’s Unearthed Arcana, four years before 4E.

Another change peculiar to Pathfinder RPG is the choice of three XP rates: slow, medium, and fast. Some groups prefer to level up frequently, while others prefer slower levelling.

Fast is closest to the Unearthed Arcana equivalent and therefore the standard 3.5 progress rate, requiring 1,300 XP or 13 average Pathfinder encounters to reach level 2, and 2,400,000 XP to reach level 20. Medium requires about 50% more XP than Fast, suggesting Pathfinder favours a more gradual levelling rate. Slow requires 50% more XP than Medium, and 2.25 times as much as Fast, with players levelling once every 30 encounters or so.

If you’d like to try Pathfinder RPG, even if only to mine for ideas or house rules for a 3.5 game, the 576 page full-colour PDF is a very reasonable $10 from The new XP rules appear on pages 30 and 398.

Comments (6)

Tim Shorts (June 1st, 2010)

I like Pathfinder’s experience point system, the choice of fast, normal or slow leveling is great and I always preferred that critters give the same xp no matter what level because it works out on its own in the end. Killing orcs and goblins will get you to 2nd level, but won’t get you to 11th level for a long, long time.

d7 (June 1st, 2010)

It’s worth noting that 3e is the aberration here. The 3e XP system was designed to suit the CR system that it introduced. Prior to 3e, (A)D&D had always given fixed XP rewards based on the moster’s toughness and required more XP at the higher levels.

I didn’t know that Pathfinder had returned to that system though; good to know.

Asmor (June 1st, 2010)

Also worth noting that you may actually have WotC to thank for the alternate XP system used by PF. Since character creation and advancement rules weren’t part of the SRD, other games based on D20 had to come up with their own rules which were sufficiently different.

Not saying that Paizo wouldn’t have changed the XP system regardless, but they didn’t actually have a choice in the matter. :)

San (June 3rd, 2010)

The PF system seems to make encounter-building easier for the DM. Paizo made a good job at that. I hadn’t noticed the Medium progression has a rate lower than 3.5 standard.

However, I will always favor the True20 approach: characters level up when the DM chooses so. It’s more tied to the story developement and takes away the “XP anxiety” from the game.

Alyssa (April 7th, 2011)

I’m still undecided about the Pathfinder XP system. It’s simpler, sure, but after using it for a while I’m still weighing up whether all creatures should always give XP, regardless of the parties level.

I think that there should be a point where chopping up Goblins should no longer benefit the axe-wielder, and that grouping masses of low XP critters into one easy-to-kill-big-XP-fest is not exactly working right.

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