In addition to my weekly Runebearer campaign, I am running a Pathfinder game at my local game store. Running Pathfinder, or any d20 game for that matter, is a novelty for me and I am having a pretty good time. But, as I sit down after our first completed adventure and start tallying up experience points, I came to a realization.
For most campaigns, experience points just don't matter.
My current campaign is a prime example. I am dividing the experience equally. I am not giving per session xp for showing up. I was thinking about offering xp for characters completing personal subquests, but ultimately, those would be offered fairly, to give everyone the same chance at advancement.
The end result is that everyone has the same experience total... all the time. So really, the only reason to tally points is to understand how fast the game thinks the PCs should be advancing.
Keeping track of experience only matters when there is going to be some difference between PCs in a game. Early editions of D&D offered bonus experience for having good stats. A favorite character might jump from campaign to campaign. Certain classes required more or less experience, or had to face certain challenges at certain points, or have their advancement frozen. Tracking xp mattered in these games.
Other games make xp matter in other ways. In HERO, you might get the same amount of experience as others in your group, but you spent it differently. In my own game, Runebearer, you get experience as you succeed at skill checks. Rolemaster has perhaps the most ugly (and awesome) experience point system in existence... so much so that there is an app for it!
But in this particular Pathfinder campaign, it really doesn't matter much. I will still tally up the points, because I am new at running Pathfinder, and I would like PCs to advance at a proper pace. However, to differentiate their progression a little and to make experience fun, I am going to periodically allow them to choose some low-powered traits tailored to the events and their actions in the game.
So, the guy who was knocked out 4 times in the adventure may have the option to get an extra hit point or two. The PC who faced down a horde of bad guys alone might get a +1 AC when outnumbered. A couple characters might have the option to add a class skill. Stuff like that.
I am new to Pathfinder and curious. How do you guys handle experience in your games?