In most roleplaying games, gaining Experience Points is an arduous task that represents your character's mastery of previously insurmountable obstacles, concepts and techniques. Typically they involve long hours of mass murder in the great outdoors, fetching granny's dentures from the dungeon next door, or combining the two (by committing mass murder on the way TO the dentures).
Some games, however, hand you this precious resource on a platter, for doing the most mundane activities imaginable. Travel somewhere new? Have some exp! Talk to an NPC? Have some exp! Talk to someone in your party more than once? Have some exp! Read a book? Have some exp! Look at something interesting (or not)? Have some exp! Pop a pill? Have some exp! Gain some exp? Have some exp! Own the game at all? Have some exp!
These games never quite make the connection between performing these mundane tasks and getting better at killing things. This connection is tenuous enough even when actually killing things IS the reason for leveling up, but this trope removes even that flimsy justification.
Typically, in a token concession to realism, such activities grant your character less experience than the mass murder and questing that RPGs usually rely on — implying (rightfully) that fighting for your life is a bit more educational than glancing at a computer screen or road sign while strolling merrily through the game. However, games that include this form of experience tend to include so many ways to gain it, that you can often gain a few levels simply by running around and doing all of them. This can result in the highly rare RPG phenomenon of "leveling in town."
This may be the videogame justification for Hard Work Hardly Works. Abusing this system can be key to unlocking the Magikarp Power. If this takes the form of a consumable item, it is typically a Rare Candy. See also Peninsula of Power Leveling, though implemented more skillfully, this can avert RPGs Equal Combat.
Video Game Examples
- Age of Empires III grants experience to a Home City simply for being in a game, although more experience is earned for killing, building, etc.
- Alpha Protocol has a variation of this: Perks For Everything! Performing any kind of action (even dialogue-based ones) will grant the main character some sort of bonus, such as increased Endurance, faster cooldown times for his abilities, and so on. Some perks exist only to give you extra EXP or AP.
- Atlantica Online does this a lot, especially when you play in a guild that owns a town. The means include: New citizens arrive, completing a Guildcraft, objectives that grant bonus experience a few times per day, participating in a tournament, craft items, sending your mercenaries on their own adventure (free exp for them, free loot for you), buying it from Lorenzo De' Medici. Even plain old combat experience is plentiful, since each and every hit any of your mercenaries land earns them experience. This is an essential mechanic since all of them join at level 1, and leveling them up would be a chore otherwise.
- Borderlands and Borderlands2 typically award some experience for completing missions in addition to killing enemies. While some of the missions are hardly easy XP, some of them require very little effort, such as missions where you have to go talk to a certain person, or simply shoot the mission giver in the face.
- One of the stats in Brave Fencer Musashi levels up by walking. This meant you could level grind by walking around in circles.
- In Diablo III, getting a Kill Streak, killing multiple enemies in a single attack, or simply destroying many objects at one go will net you experience.
- Dragon Age: Origins lets you gain XP from reading random books, as does Knights of the Old Republic and Jade Empire. Sure, it's only granules of XP when you consider how much you need to level up, but you're still gaining XP for bugger-all. More notably, you can gain experience from donating elfroot (and other things, but elfroot is the cheapest). Extremely abusable, since it gives a decent amount of exp, there's no limit to this, and there's a vendor that sells infinite elfroot in the game.
- Lampshaded in a Breaking the Fourth Wall moment by Player Character Zero in Drakengard 3 after she gets a chunk of EXP for solving a box puzzle.
Zero: Why the hell do I get experience for that?
- Dungeons & Dragons Online has Wilderness Areas that, when explored, give you experience for finding certain objects/locations, beating a certain number of enemies, or fighting Rare Encounter bosses. There are also a handful of quests that are very short and only have a small number of enemies.
- In Dungeons of Dredmor, you can find statues of Lord Dredmor scattered around the dungeon, and you can smash them for a "Heroic Vandalism" bonus that starts at 50 XP and increases the deeper into the dungeon you go.
- Dust: An Elysian Tail gives you experience when you talk to NPCs the first time.
- This is why the carp in Dwarf Fortress were "too extreme". Stats could be leveled up by engaging in other tasks, such as swimming. Which fish do all the time. Result: swimming death machines.
- The Elder Scrolls:
- Throughout the series, "Skill Books" are available which automatically increase one of your skills upon reading. You don't even have to actually read them, merely opening the book grants the skill increase.
- In the games prior to Skyrim, it is possible to set skills like Athletics and Acrobatics as "primary" or "major/minor" skills, which when increased contribute toward your next overall level up. This means that simply by running around and/or jumping a lot, you can increase in level. This, understandably, isn't advisable as it almost always leads to inefficient leveling, eventually leaving you weaker overall than you would have been if you leveled up less often but made sure to get the maximum Attribute multipliers that come with efficient leveling. (This is especially true in Oblivion, where the horrific Level Scaling essentially forces you to be a Munchkin... or to simply avoid leveling up wherever possible, as skills increase independently of your overall level.)
- Skyrim will give you a free level in the Speech skill if you try to "persuade" the guard before entering Whiterun. You also get a free Speech level for pointing out the guard in front of Riften's scam. It's impossible to fail these speech events.
- EVE Online gives you free exp without playing, so long as you merely get skill packages and inject them into your Player Character's Upgrade Artifact. The downside to this is that there's very little one can do to accelerate exp accumulation beyond a certain constant rate (installing cybernetics can help, to an degree), meaning that certain things you might want to do require the completion of truly, immensely long training sequences. These can range in duration from a few days to improve your skill with a certain ship's system to well over a year to become a competent pilot of a large, advanced starship.
- In the Fallout series, you can gain experience for hacking computers, picking locks, picking pockets, healing wounds (with a skill, not a Stimpak), discovering new map locations, and giving specific junk items to NPCs who want them. Many quests also have solutions that require a high Speech skill; these often give more experience than wholesale slaughter.
- In Fallout 2, after you finish the game you can get the Fallout 2 Hintbook from Father Tully in New Reno. Reading it permanently increases your skills to maximum and gives you 10,000 experience points each time you read it - that's enough experience to gain a level even when your character is at high levels. And you can it read as often as you like.
- Campaign Ops in Final Fantasy XI can descend into this. Getting additional XP for offensive or defensive battles because you happen to be on an op at the time? OK. Getting XP for training soldiers or craftsmen or planting a bomb on an enemy stronghold? Er, all right. Getting XP for just delivering supplies, escorting a soldier, or sweeping the city for suspicious objects? Considering how hard XP is (used to be) to get in that game, and how you get punished for dying with XP loss, most players consider it an acceptable break from the rest of the game.
- Final Fantasy X. Characters can be tuned to gain overdrive} for damage taken by other party members, overdrive meter charge is cheaply accelerated threefold by customizing equipment. Now, the actual fun part is when the equipment is also customized with a feature that transforms all overdrive charge to AP and the player goes face some really nasty boss in the monster arena. One character gets punched, two gain experience.
- Final Fantasy XV:
- Let Iris show Noctis around Lestallum: get some experience!
- Look at Lunafreya's dress in the Vivienne Westwood shop in Altissia: get some experience!
- Fix some steam pipes in Lestallum: get some experience!
- Forget Me Not: My Organic Garden: Animals gain EXP by just trying to assist their specified process, even if it's not technically doing anything, such as frogs trying to refill a full watering can. And while they don't always try, they swap between trying and not trying, even without the player's prodding, so they basically gain EXP without the player needing to do anything except wait.
- Fossil Fighters has fossil cleaning, on the grounds that a higher-quality fossil means a stronger dinosaur revived from it. With a little luck and skill, your dinos can actually reach level 10 of 12 just from this.
- Guild Wars 2 gives experience for everything; Fill out the map? XP. Complete platforming challenges? XP. Gather ores/herbs/wood? XP. And you also have a list of dailies that give an especially massive amount of XP for doing so much of all of the above. And all of it scales competitively with player level so you can conceivably stay in the starter zone and hit level cap.
- In Heroes of Might and Magic V, when a monster doesn't want to fight you, you have two choices: 1.fight it anyway 2.let it run away. If you let it run away you still get XP, for doing absolutely nothing. In fact, the entire Heroes of Might and Magic series is filled with ways to get XP without battling. One example is the treasure chests which can either give you money or experience just for finding one. And there's usually a lot of them. One of the secondary skills in the fanmade expansion Heroes of Might and Magic III: Wake of Gods makes you gain experience every day for free. This is so that you don't have to waste time on obviously one-sided battles. But this does not apply when fighting monsters in certain locations or plot-critical battles, though. The second expansion added an auto-battle option to save time, though.
- The Command Board from Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep. Playing it earns you commands and XP for your commands, which makes up the vast majority of attacks in the game. You don't even have to win the game to get the prizes — in fact, there is no reward at all for winning, beyond the fact that you've naturally earned more XP in the process. There's also the EXP Walker ability, which grants you a point of EXP per step you take. It doesn't sound like much, but it adds up after a while and can be boosted by the EXP Chance ability.
- The Summon Circles in The Last Story allow you to repeatedly summon enemies so you can defeat them and your party members can get experience points. It helps that most of them are close to the whereabouts of the bosses.
- In spades in Latale, where you can get exp just for sitting in a spa. You can also earn special exp potions for doing guild crops, and certain special events give even more experience. And of course you get a nice chunk of experience the first time you save at each Iris stone as well.
- The Lord of the Rings Online, in one of its updates, introduced a feature that crafting gave a (small) amount of XP. It's not a lot ... but if you have a high level alt feeding you materials, it's easy to gain multiple levels this way without ever stepping foot outside a crafting hall. In fact, it's so easy that there were complaints; Turbine responded by adding a toggle to turn off XP gain, so that you didn't level up too fast (this used to be more important than it is now, because certain quests that gave you faction rep had a maximum level, so you could accidentally out-level your ability to gain reputation with that faction).
- MapleStory 2 awards EXP for a variety of non-combat or questing-related activities, which include, among other things, furnishing your house, playing the piano, fishing, picking flowers, and more. Playing music in particular is actually faster than conventional grinding, for some bizarre reason.
- Mass Effect, being heavily themed around worldbuilding and characters, features this trope frequently:
- In Mass Effect, the standard ways of gaining exp are killing and questing, as above. However, you can gain substantial amounts by talking to people, repeatedly talking to your party members between missions, and even just looking at things, like the computers on your ship. This is because you're awarded XP for every Codex entry you unlock, regardless of whether it's about Thresher Maws, anti-ship weaponry, or asari mating habits.
- Mass Effect 2 inverts this so that you don't get any XP from fighting either, only quests.
- Mass Effect 3 works in much the same way as the second game, with one exception—you get a small amount of EXP for picking up medkits if you already have maximum medi-gel. This encourages the player to not use medi-gel if they don't have to. Or at all.
- Minecraft, since version 1.3, had bonus XP when you mined/smelted items depending on how they dropped. The higher the item value, the higher the XP they drop such as diamonds dropping more than coal. Iron and gold do not drop but they reward XP when their respective blocks are smelted. 1.4 introduces XP for farming and fishing as well.
- Mother 3 has a dung beetle that will give you EXP in return for dung, which you get from defeating enemies from around that area. This comes in handy because the character you play as at that point happens to be pathetically weak.
- EarthBound (1994) has Criminal Caterpillars, which tend to run from you when you got close, almost always get an advantage on in battle (from sneaking up on them from behind), and are almost always an auto-victory. The amount of EXP they drop is in the ten thousands.
- In NetHack, the primary ways of getting experience is by killing monsters; in the middle of all that is a unique NPC monster called the Oracle that has is guaranteed to spawn. Each time you pay for a consultation with the Oracle, you receive a random rumor (or a truth if you pay for a major consultation) and some experience. It's "easy" in the sense that you can stand around and don't need to kill many things.
- Neverwinter Nights: During the mission to rescue the animals from the zoo for the druid in Act I, it's possible to keep "rescuing" the same animal over and over again gaining some experience.
- A Good Bad Bug in Neverwinter Nights 2 causes this. You get experience for turning a cultist's journal in to Lord Nasher. You can then pickpcket the journal from him and turn it in again to get the reward again. There's no penalty for failing a pickpocket attempt, so you can repeat this as long as you need experience until act 3 begins.
- Due to the unique system of character advancement in Quest 64, gaining experience for your AGL stat occurs in this manner. You gain HP by using your staff, MP by using magic, and DEF by taking damage. You gain AGL by walking. Including running around in circles for a few days.
- Most quests in The Sims Medieval have some really low-effort steps thrown in that, because they're quest tasks, still give your character a decent amount of XP. Some examples are "Look in the Mirror" in First Steps and a lot of quest tasks involving talking, like "Report to Royal Advisor," "Pay Homage to Monarch," and, more amusingly, "Give the Spy a Piece of Your Mind." (He'd created anti-dragon armor that did not work as advertised.) Then there are the quest tasks involving eating, sleeping, or using the toilet. And Responsibilities are the same way, since there are some really easy ones like "Sharpen Sword."
- Sonic Chronicles grants the party extra exp for completing sidequests. Aside from the basic fetch quests, these include chopping wood, rescuing people, solving a mystery and puzzle solving. Handy in that the amount of exp gained remains constant throughout multiple playthroughs when the amount of bad guy exp runs smack into the Anti-Grinding feature.
- Star Wars: The Old Republic seems to encourage this. Killing monsters, finding codex entries and datacrons, exploration, flashpoints, quests that reset daily, talking to your companions, PvP, space missions, etc. It's not unheard of to reach level 60 somewhere on Alderaan (designed for levels 27-35, with a bonus mission series for level 40).
- The Intelligence score in Ultima VIII was increased by casting spells or reading. You could max out the Int score fairly rapidly by reading the same two page book over and over again.
- There's a subversion in Undertale. CHECKing The Monster Kid on the No Mercy path will tell you "looks like free EXP". But if you do try killing them, someone will get in the way, someone who is the the very opposite of easy EXP.
- The World Ends with You has three types of EXP. You get one type of them by not playing the game for a while, though it does grant diminishing returns per day and caps out entirely at one week.
- World of Warcraft's primary sources of experience are slaughter, quests, and quests involving slaughter. However, it is also possible to gain substantial experience simply by walking to a new area and recording it on your world map. This "exploration exp" is available in sufficient quantities to cause well-travelled explorers to gain levels early on even without battling a single monster. Certain high-leveled areas present substantial sums of exp to more advanced characters as well. It was later expanded to giving experience for mining ore, gathering herbs or digging up archaeological artefacts. Coupled with the game's vast array of experience-enhancing items and perks, leveling can become extremely fast.
- Xenoblade Chronicles has this in several ways. Finding a brand new "Landmark" awards EXP (with well hidden locations awarding more then normal) - performing side-quests also earn EXP. Which is good because the game can become ridiculously hard at some points if you're not at a high enough level. An interesting effect of the normal landmark exp: the number amount of exp you get scales throughout the game, but at a static value connected to each one. So glitching into a lategame area early and exploring will catapault the party from level 5 to level 50. This is naturally a cornerstone of many speedruns.
Non-Video Game Examples
- The Gam3: Literally everything a player does can result in experience gain or learning or improving an ability. Alan has gained experience for, among other things: bartering with a shopkeeper, decorating his Power Armor, meditating, and running on a treadmill until he passed out.
- This is not only possible, but actively encouraged in games like Dungeons & Dragons.
- Iron Crown Enterprise's Rolemaster had this in spades. PCs could get XP for performing maneuvers (e.g. sneaking across a clearing or hiding behind a tree), casting spells out of combat, being hit in battle, receiving a mortal wound, and for traveling in an unfamiliar area (1 xp/mile on land, 1 xp/10 miles while flying or on water).
- In El Goonish Shive, during the "Dan in the MUD" storyline, Dan gets XP for walking and running.
- The Order of the Stick: In the prequel On the Origin of PCs, elf mage Vaarsuvius grumbles that apparently decades of magic study can't compare to killing a few kobolds for XP.