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Link to Discussion

In Greyhawk, the first OD&D supplement, there is this famous text (p. 12):

The awarding of experience points is often a matter of discussion, for the referee must make subjective judgments. Rather than the (ridiculous) 100 points per level of slain monsters, use the table below, dividing experience equally [emphasis theirs] among all characters in the party involved…

The emphasis on “dividing experience equally” is interesting. I used to think that Gygax was railing against 10 slain Orcs being worth 1000xp, divided among an entire party. Which is strange to me, as I still like to play this way in all my OD&D/White Box games, regardless of the system. I find it helps PCs gain levels more quickly in today’s gaming environment, which is typically shorter games with smaller groups that are played not as often. Maybe it results in rapid advancement if you are playing 1974-style 12-hour sessions, but still not overly so, given the typically larger parties back then.

But now, looking back carefully at Men & Magic on the section about awarding experience, p. 18:

Experience points are awarded to players by the referee with appropriate bonuses or penalties for prime requisite scores. As characters meet monsters in mortal combat and defeat them, and when they obtain various forms of treasure (money, gems, jewelry, magical items, etc.), they gain “experience.” This adds to their experience point total, gradually moving them upwards through the levels…

Let us assume he gains 7,000 Gold Pieces by defeating a troll (which is a 7th-level monster, as it has over 6 hit dice)…thus; 7,000 GP + 700 for killing the troll…

It is also recommended that no more experience points be awarded for any single adventure than will suffice to move the character upwards one level. Thus a “veteran” (1st level) gains what would ordinarily be 5,000 experience points; however, as this would move him upwards two levels, the referee should award only sufficient points to bring him to “warrior” (2nd level), say 3,999 if the character began with 0 experience points.

Notice that nowhere in there does it say to divide experience equally among each party member leaving the reader to deduce from the example how to handle larger parties. I suspect that what some referees were doing back then was awarding the total XP for slain monsters to the entire party, without dividing it up equally (this seems even more likely with the example about the veteran earning 5000xp in one session). So a party of six first-level PCs that battled and killed 10 orcs would each get 1000xp. And that does indeed seem “ridiculous”, especially when you include treasure-based XP awards in the total.

I can imagine Gygax receiving letters about this, or hearing of games played where referees were seeing every PC gain a level per game, which prompted that paragraph and emphasis in the Greyhawk supplement. This is all just conjecture on my part of course, but I’d love to hear from anyone who played back then and knew of referees who awarded XP this way.