It’s 1977. D&D is wild and wonderful and everyone’s doing their own thing.
So much so, in fact, that in that same year two people published alternate versions of one of the core mechanics of old-school D&D: earning XP for treasure.
In 1977, Dave Arneson, co-creator of D&D, and Jon Pickens, who later became an editor at TSR, each published alternate systems for earning XP.
While the baseline was 1 XP for every 1 GP of treasure recovered and brought back to civilization, Arneson did things differently in his Blackmoor campaign, and Pickens proposed much the same alternative in Dragon Magazine #10.
I love this stuff, so I want to talk about it here — and about its modern descendants.
Here’s Dave Arneson in The First Fantasy Campaign (which — a crying shame! — isn’t legally available in PDF, and tends to command high prices in print), under the heading “Special Interests”:
Instead of awarding points for money and Jewels acquired in the depths of the Dungeon or hoarding items against the indefinite future, the players will receive NO points until they acquire the items listed below unless it happens to already fall within the area of their interest.
The “items listed below” are:
- Religion or Spiritualism
The wine rules are entertaining, awarding XP only until the PC is drunk. After recovering, she can drink more to earn more XP. “Song” is basically a big-ass party, with rules for how damaging the tavern impacts XP earned. Wealth covers hoarding gold, which would be a bit of a cop-out (doing that in vanilla D&D earns you XP, too) except that here, if it’s stolen you lose that amount of XP.
Fame is based on dueling and gladiatorial combat — basically picking fights for glory, but you have to go to a big party afterwards. Religion covers donations to churches, as well as quests, and “Hobby” is just that: Pick Your Thing, do Your Thing, and earn XP for it. (One suggestion is “the devising of better Torture machines,” a peculiar hobby indeed.)
“Women” is problematic. Sleeping around for XP, sure — that sounds like fun, and it’s true to the source literature (more on this in a moment), but it assumes the PCs are male and straight, and that all prostitutes are women.
Appendix N is rich with examples of carousing in action, notably in the Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser tales and Robert E. Howard’s Conan yarns. Lankhmar’s duo and the fearsome Cimmerian are frequently broke, and rarely shy away from wine, companionship, or song. But just that simple shift, substituting “companionship” for female prostitutes, costs nothing and admits all comers.
And then there’s this bit:
Slaves of the appropriate type (left to player) may also be purchased with the funds and utilized to fulfill this classification. These slaves may then be sold at reduced value, the difference being credited to the players account.
That crosses a line for me, and it’s something I’d strike before using Dave’s carousing system in my game.
Apart from those sour notes, though, this is a neat system. “XP for GP blown in Conan-like excesses” is a fantastic concept, and despite sharing a publication year with Pickens’ article in Dragon #10, I think it’s fair to credit Arneson as the first, as he’d been running Blackmoor for years prior to 1977.
Pickens’ article in Dragon #10, “Orgies, Inc.,” proposes basically the same thing:
Instead of receiving experience for gaining treasure, players would receive experience only as the treasure is spent.
He lists five options for accomplishing this expenditure of wealth:
- Clan Hoards
Salacious title aside, Pickens leaves “Orgies” at “Lusty indulgence in wine, women, and song.” You can orgy for a number of days equal to your Con score, with a cost per day (earned as XP, and then you have to rest for a like amount of days. Set aside the “women” assumption, and I like this version better than Arneson’s.
Philanthropy is about the same as in Blackmoor, and “Research” and “Sacrifices” likewise map pretty well to Hobby and Spiritualism, respectively.
Clan Hoards is a much cooler idea than plain ol’ hoards, and it’s very Tolkien: Dwarves are called out specifically, and they must return home and consign the treasure to the clan’s vault (no withdrawals!). That’s awesome.
The artwork for the article is great, too (though uncredited), depicting an interspecies Bacchanalian revel. I’ve trimmed out a safe-for-work portion, but it’s worth seeking out the whole picture.
Ale & Wenches
Fast forward to the 2008, and we get the best-known OSR system for carousing, published by Jeff Rients: Party like it’s 999. Here’s an excerpt:
At the beginning of a session if a PC is hanging around Ye Olde Village Inne with nothing better to do, they can roll 1d6 and spend 100gp times the roll on liquor and/or lechery. The character gains experience equal to the gold spent. The d6 x 100 standard applies to villages only. A PC could travel to a town or city and debauch much more efficiently.
Where Arneson and Pickens assign categories and break things down in more detail, Jeff simplifies everything down to carousing/debauchery and adds a glorious d20 table. If you fail a save vs. poison while blowing your gold, you roll on the table.
A 10 is “Beaten and robbed. Lose all your personal effects and reduced to half hit points.” A 14 gets you “One of us! One of us! You’re not sure how it happened, but you’ve been initiated into some sort of secret society or weird cult. Did you really make out with an emu of was that just the drugs? Roll Int check to remember the signs and passes.”
It’s a light, easy-to-implement system, and it looks like it’d be a hoot in play. Again, I’d substitute “Companionship” for “Wenches.”
Carousing, orgies, and their alternatives
Claytonian JP mashed up “Orgies, Inc.” and Jeff’s carousing system and designed a DCC RPG version tied to Luck. His table is also fantastic. My favorite carousing result is 20, “An evil magic user has some of your hair and flesh… you wake up with a gash and covered in strange runes.”
He also spun off systems for martial training, research, and sacrifices, each with its own fabulous, quirky table of delights/horrors. (They’re collected in a free Google Doc.)
- A 4 on the martial table is “You lose a hand, but now have a wicked hook and intimidation rolls are easier for you.“
- Roll an 8 for sacrifices, and you get “Thou must feed my sheeple. 3 Idiots join you. They fight as henchmen, but they are bumbling fools and will constantly give away your position. Killing or turning them away is bad luck.“
- The table for research is pretty brutal. An 11 is “You attract ghosts like the dickens. Whenever you are in a haunted locale, wandering ghost are twice as likely to show up and primarily target you.“
Unlike its predecessors, this system also assigns no gender specifics and makes no assumptions about the PCs — anyone can feel welcome to carouse.
Claytonian’s take is my overall favorite. It’d be easy to port into your own campaign (or out of DCC, or both), and it encompasses a variety of activities without adding much in the way of rules overhead. It’s slick.
Carousing in Marlinko
I wrote a bit about carousing in Fever-Dreaming Marlinko, but I want to expand on it here.
What Chris Kutalik and company have done in Marlinko is really neat: Carousing is based on which city quarter you do it in, and unless I’ve missed something it’s an optional addition to the normal XP-for-GP arrangement.
The different quarters of Marlinko are quite different from one another, which gives this system a lot of flavor. In one quarter, the PCs can hit the bathhouse, booze it up, and visit lotus powder dens. In another, a variety of pleasures — from savory to unsavory — can be indulged.
Spend the gold, earn the XP . . . unless you Lose Your Shit, which happens if the carousing roll exceeds your level. Out come the tables, also divided by quarter, and they’re awesome (spoilers):
- Lost your shit in the Golden Swine quarter? You just joined the Church of the Blood Jesus, and are being held by nun-maenads in their private dungeon.
- After a bender in the Domesman quarter, you took a purgative and shat your room at the inn so badly that it’s going to cost you some cash.
- You thought Mercator would be better? You wake up while being serenaded by “horrifically disfigured serial murderer Taurus the Clown.”
- In the Apiarian quarter, you spilled beer on the wrong woman’s dress, and she’s going to make you pay — hard.
Like Claytonian’s system, the one in Marlinko makes no assumptions about the PCs. As Humza Kazmi, one of the book’s editors, said on G+, “We tried to make sure that the carousing table in FDM was gender- and sexuality-neutral, to avoid the idea that all PCs are straight dudes.”
It’d take new tables to adapt Marlinko’s carousing to another city, but the bones are all there.
2016 and onwards?
These are the five published carousing systems I’m aware of, but I bet there are others (and I’d love to hear about them in the comments!). Almost 40 years on, this idea is still going strong and being used in play, so I’d also bet there will be other takes on it in the future.
I’ve never run or played in a game that used carousing-for-XP, but it’s on my list of takes on D&D that I’d like to try.
 Plus XP for defeating monsters, of course.
 Pun intended.
 According to commenter Tony Rowe on G+, the artist is Dave Trampier.
The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG.
9 replies on “Debauchery & Dragons: Carousing for XP, 1977 to 2015”
In case anyone wants the condensed version of my stuff, it’s at https://docs.google.com/document/d/19g0wnS_xf70B9EC357GF6eQMk4QMq9Sehio0XmqQh1g/edit
Awesome! I’ve added that link to the post.
I use carousing in my campaign as well, and even made a table for those characters that “fumble” their carousing roll. It has put some spice into my game! :-)
Neat! Are your rules available online anywhere? I’d love to see them.
No, but I can email them…which address though?.. Been reading since Treasure Tales!
martin martinralya com is good. Thanks!
I have used these as a starting point for carousing in my game. I think they port pretty well between systems.
Short and sweet — I like it!