An experience point (often abbreviated to Exp or XP) is a unit of measurement used in many role-playing games (RPGs) and role-playing video games to quantify a player character's progression through the game. Experience points are generally awarded for the completion of quests, overcoming obstacles and opponents, and for successful role-playing.
In many RPGs, characters start as fairly weak and untrained. When a sufficient amount of experience is obtained, the character "levels up", achieving the next stage of character development. Such an event usually increases the character's statistics, such as maximum health, magic and strength, and may permit the character to acquire new abilities or improve existing ones. Leveling up may also give the character access to more areas or items.
In some role-playing games, particularly those derived from Dungeons & Dragons, experience points are used to improve characters in discrete experience levels; in other games, such as GURPS and the World of Darkness games, experience points are spent on specific abilities or attributes chosen by the player.
In most games, as the difficulty of the challenge increases, the experience rewarded for overcoming it also increases. As players gain more experience points, the amount of experience needed to gain new abilities typically increases. Alternatively, games keep the amount of experience points per level constant, but progressively lower the experience gained for the same tasks as the character's level increases. Thus, as the player character strengthens from gaining experience, they are encouraged to accept tasks that are commensurate with their improved abilities in order to advance.
In games derived from Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), an accumulation of a sufficient number of experience points (XP) increases a character's "level", a number that represents a character's overall skill and experience. To "level" or "level up" means to gain enough XP to reach the next level. By gaining a level, a character's abilities or stats will increase, making the character stronger and able to accomplish more difficult tasks, including safely battling stronger enemies, gaining access to more powerful abilities (such as spells or combat techniques), and to make, fix or disable more complex mechanical devices, or resolve increasingly difficult social challenges.
Typically levels are associated with a character class, and many systems will allow combinations of classes, allowing a player to customize how their character develops.
Some systems that use a level-based experience system also incorporate the ability to purchase specific traits with a set amount of experience; for example, D&D 3rd Edition bases the creation of magical items around a system of experience expenditure (known as burning xp) and also uses a system of feat selection which closely matches the advantages of systems such as GURPS or the Hero System. The d20 system also introduced the concept of prestige classes which bundle sets of mechanics, character development and requirements into a package which can be "leveled" like an ordinary class.
Some games have a level cap, or a limit of levels available. For example, in the online game RuneScape, no player can currently get higher than level 99 which needs a combined 13,034,431 experience points to gain, nor can any one skill gain more than 200 million experience. Some games have a dynamic level cap, where the level cap is dependent upon the levels of the average player (so it gradually increases).
In some systems, such as the classic tabletop role-playing games Traveller, Call of Cthulhu and Basic Role-Playing, and the role-playing video games Final Fantasy II, The Elder Scrolls, and the SaGa and Grandia series progression is based on increasing individual statistics (skills, rank and other features) of the character, and is not driven by the acquisition of (general) experience points. The skills and attributes are made to grow through exercised use.
Free-form advancement is used by many role-playing systems including GURPS, Hero or the World of Darkness series. It allows the player to select which skills to advance by allocating "points". Each character attribute is assigned a price to improve, so for example it might cost a character 2 points to raise an archery skill one notch, 10 points to raise overall dexterity by one, or it might cost 20 points to learn a new magic spell.
Players are typically free to spend points however they choose, which greatly increases the control that a player has over the character's development, but also usually causes players to find that complexity increases as well. Some games therefore simplify character creation and advancement by suggesting packages or templates of pre-selected ability sets, so for example a player could have their character become an "investigator" by purchasing a package deal which includes many skills and abilities, rather than buying them each separately.
A Cash-in Experience advancement system uses experience points to "purchase" such character advancements as Class Levels, Skill Points, new skills, feats or increasing saving throw bonuses or base attribute points each of which has a set cost in experience points with set limits on the maximum bonuses that can be purchased at a given time usually once per game session. Once experience points are used thus they are "spent" and are erased from the character record or marked as spent and cannot be used again. Final Fantasy XIII, Minecraft, Dice & Glory, and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay are examples of games that use a cash-in advancement system.
Some games use advancement systems which combine elements from two or more of the above types. For example, in the third edition of Dungeons & Dragons, whenever a level is gained in a character class, it provides a number of skill points (the exact number is calculated based on the class and the character's intelligence statistic), which can be spent to raise various skills. Character level (generally the sum of a character's total levels in all classes) is used to calculate how high skills can be raised, when an ability score can be raised and when a character can gain new feats (a class of special abilities which include special attacks, proficiencies in various weapons and bonuses on the dice rolls used to determine the outcome of various actions) and how many experience points are needed to advance in level. In Ragnarok Online, experience points are divided into two categories: base experience and job experience. Gaining base experience increases a character's base level, which is used to calculate a character's maximum HP and SP, increasing base level also provides points which can be spent to increase stats such as strength, agility and intelligence. Gaining job experience increases a character's job level, each job level provides a skill point which can be spent in the job's skill tree to gain a new ability, such as a spell, special attack or passive bonus, or improve an existing ability.
In many games, characters must obtain a minimum level to perform certain actions, such as wielding a particular weapon, entering a restricted area, or earning the respect of a non-player character. Some games use a system of "character levels", where higher-level characters hold an absolute advantage over those of lower level. In these games, statistical character management is usually kept to a minimum. Other games use a system of "skill levels" to measure advantages in terms of specific aptitudes, such as weapon handling, spell-casting proficiency, and stealthiness. These games allow the players to customize their characters to a greater extent.
Remorting is another technique that, while encouraging power-leveling, alleviates its ill effects by giving the player a sense of achievement as it maintains balance with other characters of lower level within the game.
"Perks" are special bonuses that video game players can add to their characters to give special abilities. The term refers to the general usage of "perk" as an abbreviation of "perquisite". Perks are a variation of the power-up mechanic, but are permanent rather than temporary and are progressively unlocked through experience points.
The concept of permanent power-ups that are progressively unlocked dates back to the early NES action RPGs, Deadly Towers (1986) and Rygar (1987), which blurred the line between the power-ups used in action-adventures and the experience points used in role-playing video games. The first video game to use the term "perks" to refer to such a mechanic was possibly the 1997 role-playing video game Fallout. Perks have been used in various other video games in recent times, including first-person shooters such as Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007), Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (2009), and Killing Floor (2009), as well as action games such as Metal Gear Online (2008).
"Remorting" (also known as "rebirth", "ascending/ascension", "reincarnating", or "new game plus") is a game mechanic in some role-playing games whereby, once the player character reaches a specified level limit, the player can elect to start over with a new version of his or her character. The bonuses that are given are dependent on several factors, which generally involve the stats of the character before the reincarnation occurs. The remorting character generally loses all levels, but gains an advantage that was previously unavailable, usually access to different races, avatars, classes, skills, or otherwise inaccessible play areas within the game. A symbol often identifies a remorted character.
The term "remort" comes from MUDs, in some of which players may become immortal characters—administrative staff—simply by advancing to the maximum level. These users are generally expected to distance themselves from gameplay, and interaction with players may be severely limited. When an immortal chooses to vacate his or her position to resume playing the game—usually from level one just as with any new character—he or she is said to have remorted, "becoming mortal again". A MUD called Arcane Nites, formerly Nitemare, claims to have created the first remort system and coined the term.
Grinding refers to the process of repeating one specific activity over and over. This is done, for example, by repeatedly participating in challenges, quests, tasks and events which reward experience points for performing repetitive, often menial challenges. This definition can also be used in multi-player games, but it is typically displaced by a much more charged meaning. A term intended to describe this style of play without pejorative connotation is optimization, also known as "XP farming".
Power-leveling is using the help of another, stronger player to level a character more quickly than is possible alone.
One kind of power-leveling refers to an experienced character assisting a character of much lower power (who is often controlled by the experienced character's controller as an assistant character or improved future main character in training) in defeating enemies that would normally be too powerful for the inexperienced character but are easily and quickly killed by the more powerful character or, in games in which experience points or "credits" are distributed in proportion to group members' levels, weakened almost to the point of death by the more powerful character, who is not grouped with the inexperienced character. In the latter case, once an enemy is weakened to the point at which the lower-level character can safely finish the kill (usually with the more powerful character's use of healing spells/effects as a backup), the more powerful character uses a spell or effect to stop battle or, if the lower-level character's skills permit, allows itself to be "rescued" by the lower-level character, who then finishes the kill and gets all of the associated experience points. Defeating high-level enemies rewards the lower level character with more experience points than it could otherwise achieve.
A second kind of power-leveling refers to a player paying a company or individual to play and level-up their character. The customer provides the company with the username and password for their account, and the company assigns an employee to play the character for the customer until a desired level is reached. This is against the Terms of Service of many games and, if caught, may result in the character being banned. There are also risks involved, as an unscrupulous service may "steal" the character, for later resale to another customer.
Power-leveling increased in EverQuest as it became more common to sell characters through the Internet. Techniques of kill stealing and power-gaming would make this pursuit considerably more attractive.
To combat power-leveling and leeching, some game designers have devised better means of rewarding a player based on their actual contribution to the completion of the task. Another method used is to cap how much experience a character can gain at any single moment. For example, the game might not allow a character to gain more than 20% of the experience they need to level up by defeating an enemy. This is controversial in that it also punishes players who are skilled enough to face challenges more difficult than regular players or that band together with other players to face more difficult challenges. Another anti-power-leveling method, popularized through widespread adoption of the CircleMUD code base, is to distribute experience points from an enemy across a party pro rata by level, such that each party member gains a fraction of the enemy's experience points corresponding to the fraction of a party's total level ownership possessed by that character. For example, after any given battle, a level-30 character in a party would earn twice as much experience as would a level-15 character. Power-levelers sometimes circumvent this provision by what could be called "passive power-leveling", where a high level character who has access to healing abilities does not formally join the lower-level character's party, instead a) healing and/or "powering up" the lower-level character, b) targeting the enemy with spells or effects that do not involve joining the battle, and/or c) fighting alongside the lower-level character until the enemy is nearly defeated and then pausing the battle (e.g., through use of "calm" or a similar command) and allowing the lower-level character to resume, finish, and claim all the experience points for itself. Finally, power-levelling may be rendered more difficult by having very large jumps between experience points required for each subsequent level of experience. It is common practice to have experience needed increasing in a non-linear way relative to experience levels to push players to the next town or land, but it can also reduce the opportunities for power-levelling as a player would be forced to find a different power-levelling technique for every couple of experience levels and move and do that technique.
In some online games, it is possible to join a group and gain experience, loot or other rewards, while providing little or no contribution to the group. This type of behaviour is referred to as leeching, particularly when it is done without the permission of other group members. In games which allow players to gain rewards by kill stealing, this is also considered a form of leeching. This is extremely common in games such as Dungeon Defenders, in which all players receive the same rewards regardless of their contributions.
Some players of online games use automated programs known as bots to grind or leech for them in order to progress with minimal effort. This practice often violates the terms of service. Bots are also commonly used in commercial operations in order to powerlevel a character, either to increase the sale value of the account, or to allow the character to be used for commercial gold farming.
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While America has been concentrating on yet another Wizardry, Ultima, or Might & Magic, each bigger and more complex than the one before it, the Japanese have slowly carved out a completely new niche in the realm of CRPG. The first CRPG entries were Rygar and Deadly Towers on the NES. These differed considerably from the "action adventure" games that had drawn quite a following on the machines beforehand. Action adventures were basically arcade games done in a fantasy setting such as Castlevania, Trojan, and Wizards & Warriors. The new CRPGs had some of the trappings of regular CRPGs. The character could get stronger over time and gain extras which were not merely a result of a short-term "Power-Up." There were specific items that could be acquired which boosted fighting or defense on a permanent basis. Primitive stores were introduced with the concept that a player could buy something to aid him on his journey.
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By now you must have figured out that someone has to write and watch over MUDs. Sometimes these powerful beings swirling over your head are the coders/immortals/wizards who have put many hundreds of hours into making sure you have fun. At other times, these gods are those dedicated players who have managed to live through everything the MUD had to throw at them and have achieved the ultimate goal of immorting a character. [...] They're the people putting in their time to add new areas and monsters to the realm [...] The day may come when you find yourself in that big comfy chair in the sky. On most MUDs, when you get past a certain level (which varies from game to game) your character becomes immortal. [...] Some MUDs have levels that the immortals to continue to vie for, and others have a remort option for those that find godhood isn't all that it's cracked up to be.
- Bartle, Richard (2003). Designing Virtual Worlds. New Riders. p. 356. ISBN 0-13-101816-7.
...there's often a maximum level beyond which characters cannot proceed. Some virtual worlds allow remorting at this level, which means a character gets to keep its abilities but must start back at level zero as a different (sometimes more powerful) class.
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- The dictionary definition of experience points at Wiktionary
- The dictionary definition of level up at Wiktionary