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In AD&D, there was a rule that advancing in level took several weeks or months of dedicated training, and thousands of gold pieces. No one ever used this rule, partly because the gold piece cost given by Gygax far exceeded the amount of gold one could obtain in one level's worth of adventuring (partly because, per Gygax, gaining gold itself awarded XP).

Yes, you're right, and I'd forgotten. For as long as I played AD&D, I played 1gp = 1xp, and leveling up occurred spontaneously, sometimes mid-combat (as it does in Pokemon, BTW). But then, I stopped playing AD&D around the age of 15.

For years afterwards one or another aspect of this would bother me: first it was the sheer irrationality that experience was contained in precious metals (an idea I now rather like, as a kind of oddball pantheism), then it was the incredibly low value of "precious" metals in the D&Dverse, finally it was the supernatural-superego structure of levels themselves. I indulge discussion of D&D now because I find it so very weird that it restructures my brain when I think about it.

I think the experience vs. rite of passage question makes perfect sense if (for instance) when you hit 2000 XP, you get an additional hit die and can now cast Create Bacon, but until you (defeat Sheng Long | tithe | defend your thesis) you stop gaining experience. That is, there are two phases to gaining a level: acquiring new skills, and mastering them. Presumably, someone with extraordinary natural ability could rise through the ranks without actually gaining the experience; at that point they'd just level up as XP permitted. (Bruce Lee might well have become a Grand Master of Flowers without ever acquiring the ability to resist poison, for example.)

I believe this is the nerdiest comment I've written this year.

Also, in answer to your cut-text, which for boring reasons I cannot reproduce easily...

Have you ever played the old SSI game Stronghold? Apparently, what a Duke does with a bunch of high-level mages is put them to work building mage academies, houses and farms until he has a hundred or so 36th level mages which he can send out to destroy a nest of beholders. Fortunately, the mages level up as a squad, which I imagine makes the "wait, how many level 31 mages do I have?" accounting much smoother.

this makes perfect sense to me in a fantasy economy. It also implies something peculiar about mages: are they natural communitarians? Or do they all work on the same research and therefore advance as an institution?

I love your nerdy comment, BTW. I reassure myself that I'm only slumming as a nerd, here.
...or at least as a gaming nerd.

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