Unearthed Arcana: Three-Pillar Experience Analysis

For the month of August we are presented with an alternative experience system.

The system tries to add more value, experience wise, to the exploration and social pillars. To be more precise, it tries to better incorporate these two pillars to the process of getting experience. But let’s take things from the beginning.

Simpler XP

Experience needed to level up does not scale in this system. In order to reach the next level you have to get 100 XP. While I see no particular need to simplify this aspect, it ties well with how the system works. Also, XP isn’t divided, with some exceptions of course. This means that if your party gains 10 XP from an encounter, every party member gains 10 XP.

Moving on to the bulk of the document, which tells us how you can actually gain experience. The system focuses on the three pillars and so the ways you can get XP are divided into categories based on them.


Under the exploration pillar there are two ways of gaining XP. These are retrieving magic items and treasures, and discovering, exploring, and liberating locations.

There is a tier system in order to prevent higher level characters from gaining XP by retrieving lower value items or exploring locations that aren’t dangerous for them. For the items it’s determined by cost and for the locations by how important they are. You can’t gain experience from tiers lower than you, but you gain extra experience from tiers higher than you.

Keep in mind that coins do not give experience, just valuable objects and magic items. This adds more value to rewarding the players with items than just coins. Also, a dragon’s hoard is an experience hoard all by itself.

My only problem with this pillar is that experience from location may not be able to be used in every campaign. Other than that, the tier system makes sure things remain balanced.

Social Interaction

Experience from this pillar is gained by interacting with important NPCs. Like with the exploration pillar, there is a tier system to keep things in check. This time it’s determined by the importance of the NPC. This time, however, things are a bit less strict, allowing to gain experience from a tier below you.

However, like with the location part of the exploration pillar, how well this is used depends on the type of the campaign.


And last but not least, we’ve got combat. There is no tier system here but things are very straightforward. You gain 5 XP per monster defeated. Defeating a monster does not mean necessarily killing it. Also, if the Challenge Rating(CR) of the monster is half your level or less, you get 2 XP, and if it’s at least double your level you get 15 XP.

The way combat XP is earned means that lower level characters can end up getting more experience faster while characters of higher levels gain experience more slowly. This is actually pretty smart. Characters can breeze through the first 3 levels, during which most of them haven’t had the choice to pick their archetype yet. On the other hand, characters close to level 20 should gain experience a bit more slowly, at least for flavor reasons.

The Verdict

I like the direction this system is going. However, I believe it has still some flaws that need polishing. It’s important to have more ways to give experience through social interaction and exploration. That’s because not all of them are going to fit in every campaign.

Combat, on the other hand, fits in almost every campaign. Also, it’s still much easier to finish one combat encounter and get XP than doing anything from the other options. Allow me to explain. Let’s say you get to explore a new location, for example a jungle. There’s probably going to be at least one combat encounter, which will probably involve more than one monster. This means that there’s a possibility you’ll gain more experience fighting in order to reach your destination than getting for reaching it.


Finally, I still find using milestones somewhat better. Why? Because I can throw as many encounters(from all three pillars) to my players, before I decide it’s time for them to level up their characters. Also, I already have in mind all three pillars when it comes to milestone leveling.

But don’t get me wrong. I really like this system and want to see it becoming much better. Also, it provides good hints as to how you can better use milestones. I’m definitely going to incorporate some of its ideas into the milestone system.

You can read the full article here and download the PDF here.

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