In a persistent, shared world like Black Marches it's often a struggle to ensure that players gain experience and wealth in a fair and consistent way. GMs typically vary in how they hand out rewards based on the types of games they like to run, which makes it hard to play with multiple GMs as each adventure may be built with entirely different assumptions for player characters in mind! The following rules are an attempt to standardize rewards and keep player characters on even footing with each other, regardless of who's running the game they're in.
Challenge tokens are a stand-in for loot and experience a character acquires during their adventures. GMs award challenge tokens for participating in an adventure and overcoming threats and tasks. Whenever a token is awarded, it is awarded to the entire party, never an individual- you're working together, after all. Challenge tokens have a value roughly equivalent to challenge rating (CR), and are awarded for the following circumstances:
- Combat, Trap, and/or Hazard Encounters: Parties should earn a token of the same CR as the encounter. See notes on building encounters as a GM- this does not mean that larger parties earn more experience and wealth for fighting!
- Problem Solving: Parties earn tokens for non-combat solutions to situations. These are uses of skills, spells, and abilities that solve non-trivial obstacles, provide significant information, unlock new avenues of advancement, actively avoid significant conflict, and so on. For instance, taking 10 on Acrobatics to jump over a 10 foot pit isn't problem solving, but succeeding on a difficult Survival check to track a murderer back to his urban lair is. These tokens should usually have a value equal to the average party level (APL) - 2, and what is or isn't worth a token is ultimately subject to GM discretion.
- Achieving Objectives: Successfully completing an adventure's primary objectives should award a token with a CR value ranging from APL-2 to APL+1. These tokens handle "quest experience" type scenarios, and are rewards for major milestones or accomplishments in an adventure. Milestone rewards should be small (generally APL-2 or APL-1, depending on how many there are), while rewards for total success should be larger. For example, when escorting a caravan cross-country with two stops before their destination, the two stops could award an APL-2 token each, while reaching the final destination safely could award an APL-1 token. Avoid awarding more total value in tokens than a single APL+1 token during one adventure, unless it is particularly long or grueling.
Challenge tokens should not be awarded to players who are not actively participating in the game: sitting idle for the majority of the adventure, going AFK for long periods without warning or excuse, not paying attention and distracting themselves with other games or activities, etc. If a player has to leave during a session, they retain only any tokens they were present to earn.
Encounter Building (Temporarily here to make the proposal more self contained- GMing rules will follow)
Instead of increasing or decreasing the APL of a party (and the CR of encounters you use) based on their size, simply adjust the experience budget of encounters by 25% for each PC above or below 4, decreasing your budget for a reduced number of PCs, and increasing it with a larger party size. For example, a CR 5 encounter usually has an experience budget of 1,600. If you were building such an encounter for 2 PCs you would reduce that budget by 50% (down to 800), and if you were building the same encounter for 5 PCs you would increase your budget by 25% (up to 2,000).
Challenge Token Values
Challenge tokens are worth a specific amount of experience and GP dependent upon their CR. At the end of an adventure, all the challenge tokens the PCs earned are converted into the appropriate value of experience and GP and can be added to their character sheets- be sure to mark what CR tokens your PC earned and the total value of experience and GP they acquired! GP earned in this way doesn't have to be raw currency. At your discretion it can be a composite of debt towards you and whatever assets you can liquidate to make purchases- mechanically this makes no difference, but gives you more freedom to describe your character's finances should you so choose. For example, you might want to have a paladin who takes no monetary compensation for their work, but is instead furnished with equipment and supplies by their church and donations from grateful people they've helped.
Tokens have value equivalent to roughly one quarter the expected reward of an encounter of the same CR. See the chart below for details:
It might facilitate balance, but it's not always fun to be rewarded in nothing but gold pieces. Players will rightfully want to claim the Dark Lord's war-gear, scavenge platinum plating and jewelry from ancient ruins, or take old spellbooks from a wizard's tower for their own study. In service of that notion, significant treasure from an adventure should be defined as Loot by the GM. Any item can be Loot, but generally all items that fit the following criteria should be Loot:
- Significant equipment from defeated enemies. This should be most, if not all equipment worth 150 GP or more- masterwork and magical gear is worth listing, but an enemy adventurer's 10-foot pole is a waste of time to list. If gear did not survive an encounter (such as a potion that was used by its owner), it should not be listed.
- Unique or interesting items, such as a fine sword with intricate carvings that tell a story, an amazingly fine cloak trimmed with winter wolf fur, or a necklace studded with jewels and ivory.
- Specific rewards either discovered during the adventure (such as magic items in a hidden cache) or awarded to the PCs by an NPC (such as an employer).
- Additional items at the GM's discretion.
PCs don't receive these items for free- the Challenge Token system handles the amount of material wealth PCs gain- instead they are added to each PC's Loot Pool. Items from the last 3 adventures the PC participated in remain in their Loot Pool; after they participate in a 4th adventure, items from their 1st adventure leave the pool, and so on.
Outside of adventures, PCs can expend GP to purchase items from their Loot Pool and add them to their character sheet. Purchasing equipment in this way costs half of the item's normal price, while purchasing special treasure, trade goods, and other items that sell for their full value costs its full price. The PC is not necessarily buying the relevant item- their player is free to explain how they acquire the item in any reasonable fashion. For example, they might just be claiming the Dark Lord's armor from their body at the end of an adventure, or receiving a holy avenger as a gift for their service to the city.
Multiple PCs can purchase the same items. How they choose to describe this is up to them: for example, two PCs buying the same +1 longsword from a hoard might just say it turns out there were actually two swords instead of one, or that one PC received it as a gift from a contact or employer to ensure they can perform their job better in the future, or they might choose simply not to worry about it- if it's not going to come up, it doesn't matter much. Despite this, the same PC cannot purchase the same item multiple times. Once they've purchased it, the item leaves their Loot Pool forever.