Adventure paths tend to assume that the PCs will be a certain level at a certain point. Especially since Pathfinder removed the experience cost for crafting magic items, it’s very easy to go, “okay, you guys just finished the latest act of the adventure, level up.” That is, tracking exp is bookkeeping that’s largely meaningless; the module writers put in exactly as many encounters as were needed to get you to the next level, and if somehow you miss some, you’ll probably want to put in some optional ones to get the PCs back to par.

But sometimes the modules play with optional encounters and rewards: random encounters, side encounters, and quest rewards in experience points. If you’re just giving players level ups when the story suggests they should have them, bonus exp isn’t an incentive. The following system is designed to give a use to bonus experience points when you’ve decided to just level the players up when appropriate.

Earning Karma

Karma is a party resource (i.e., there’s no need to do the math to divide it among party members). The GM can track it, or whichever players likes to do party resource bookkeeping can track it instead.

The players get Karma equal to the experience points they would have gotten in the following situations:

  • Defeating an optional encounter (one that was not required to progress the story) that did not have a treasure reward or other story-based result (i.e., the exp would have been the only reward)
  • Defeating a random encounter that did not have a treasure reward
  • Getting a quest or ad hoc reward in experience points (remember to multiply by the party size if the reward is phrased as “give each party member X experience points”)
  • Giving up treasure (a lot of adventure paths want the players to do this at certain points; if they do, give them double the cash value in Karma)

The players do not get Karma in the following situations:

  • Defeating an encounter that was required to progress the story
  • Defeating or bypassing an encounter that was in the way of progressing the story (i.e., it was not truly optional)
  • Defeating any encounter with a treasure reward (either as enemy gear or in a horde or cache the encounter was protecting)

Spending Karma

Players can expend Karma (permanently removing it from the party’s resources) for the following ends:

  • Pay the sale value (i.e., half total value) to sell something that is otherwise unsellable (i.e., it either exceeds the local purchase limit or is something weird that the GM can’t see anyone needing, like large weapons).
  • Pay the basic sale value to sell something at +10%, cumulative (e.g., if something would sell for 1000 GP, spend 1000 Karma to sell it for 1100 GP or 2000 Karma to sell it for 1200 GP) to a maximum of +100%.
  • Pay the purchase value (i.e., full total value) to buy something that is otherwise unavailable (i.e., it either exceeds the local purchase limit or is something weird that should be hard to find). The GM is welcome to introduce a delay for items that are very specialized (as the universe is conspiring to make an item available for sale in a weird place).
  • Pay the basic purchase value to buy something at -10%, cumulative (e.g., if something would cost 2000 GP, spend 2000 Karma to buy it for 1800 GP or 4000 Karma to buy it for 1600 GP) to a minimum -50%.
  • Pay the normal spell scribing cost to borrow a spellbook to scribe spells; you still have to pay the scribing cost, but not the +50% surcharge for borrowing (e.g., a 5th level spell costs 250 Karma and 250 GP to scribe, rather than 375 GP). The GM is welcome to introduce a delay for rare spells (as the universe is conspiring to introduce the players to a friendly Wizard).
  • Pay twice the cost for basic nonmagical goods, services, lifestyle costs, and other incidental expenses to get them for free (i.e., because you’re such big damn heroes that people will help you out with the basics). It’s the GM’s discretion what counts as an incidental expense.
  • Pay the current party level times 1,000 to get a clue, get out of a tight spot, or otherwise recover from confusion or bad choices. The GM is expected to vary this multiplier down for incidental aid (e.g., a clue to something unimportant or which is clearly frustratingly tedious to solve) or up for significant aid (e.g., escaping certain death from poor decisions).