[RPG] My players want to grind XP but we’re using milestone advancement


I've been running a D&D 5e campaign where the levelling up has been done at certain landmark points or milestones. Regardless of your opinion on that specific system, it's reached a point where all my players asked each other, "What's your goal?"

And each of them basically said "I don't know… Get stronger?". So they decided to go to the wilderness to level up more. Now I have no problem with this, but I said to them:

"Look, if levelling up is the landmark, then we need to switch to XP levelling up, because you're literally trying to XP-farm when there's no 'landmark achievements' to even consider noteworthy enough to level you all up."

They said no, and that I should be able to feel-out when it's been enough time for them to level up (which sounds like me just keeping track of their XP secretly).

But they really want landmark levelling. But they refuse to do anything that might spark a story, because they need to level up first… But they really don't want XP-based levelling… The issue is circular.

Basically: I want to force them to either (1) actually try to make their own story, and therefore keep landmark-levelling, or (2) commit to just finding stuff to kill in the wilderness, and therefore warrant XP-levelling – but my players want both and neither at the same time.

What do I do?

Best Answer

Let me summarize: You have a group that prefers Milestone XP, but isn't interested in creating any new stories. And you don't seem interested in making a story of your own unrelated to the characters.

The out-of-game options

Your players appear to be afraid that they will not be strong enough for the challenge you have prepared.

There are a few reason why they may think this way:

  • They have experiences with GMs who did not scale the content. In which case, tell them directly that you prepare the challenges for their level and their strength. All they can do is trust you on this.
  • They want to have certain features that will come with level. This one is actually a valid reason to want to grind, but you can still reassure them that they will get to their level before the end. Or let them hunt monsters and gain level.
    • Or just level them up outright. This is an option if you, as a GM, don't want to play out the grinding part, either because it doesn't interest you or because your play time is limited. My group meets once every 2 weeks and I find myself reorganizing the way I planned my campaign for this reason : I don't want to spend 2 months of playtime just to get from one kingdom to another.
  • They feel that the game is too hard. That you challenge them too much. In which case, you may be able to reassure your players that the danger is not as high as they feel it. That maybe you can teach them to play better and adjust to your level of play. But chances are that you will have to change the way you balance your encounter. Even if they spend months getting stronger, it will be useless if you adjust the balance for it.
  • They don't feel it's "right" that adventurers of their level could take on what you foreshadowed. In this case I'm not quite sure how to address it, but you should either change their perception of the story (or your own perception of the story) or simply allow them to get stronger in a way that satisfies both of you.

Either way, I suggest you warn them, out of game, that the game is not a videogame and that taking time to get stronger will have consequence on the world around. This will prevent resentment from growing if they don't expect the world to work this way.

The Session 0 option

If you think there is a major disconnect between the way you envision the game working and how you player do, either about the mechanical or the game difficulty or the fiction of adventurers of their power level taking on the challenges you have prepared.

The best option might be to go back to a session 0 and tell them "Why do you want to play? I don't want to make up a story unrelated to your characters, I'd rather it come from one of you. You can roll new characters if the current ones don't inspire you".

Maybe they will tell you they want to start fresh with a new kind of story, maybe they'll say they want to go along with what you have to tell. Either way, it's your turn to see if you want to GM for that game. Either way, letting someone else GM for a while is an option. So is just dropping the group (But it usually is the least happy one).

Or, why not roll with their idea?

They said their goal is to get stronger. Make them work for it, literally. Since you run Milestone, they litterally can't argue that they want to farm easy fights for experience. So they have no choice but to chase bigger and bigger beast.

You asked: "So what now?"

They answered: "We don't know... Get stronger?"

Ask them: "Since the wildlife here is not challenge for you, where do you go looking for trouble?"

Let them be monster slayers, wandering the land in search of bigger and bigger game. Solving problems because they happen to want to kill the source of the problem. You seem to have the perfect group for it. If you want to tell a more classic story as the GM, let the environment and the NPC's action tell it. Maybe one of your player will catch on to it and change the story again.

If you want to push the strategic game further. Or if you want to push the storytelling aspect of fighting epic monsters. Or if you were looking for a way to use the bigger monsters in the book: the Elder Red Dragons, the ArchDemilich or the godlike monsters at the end of the Monster Manual.

You have the perfect opportunity.