There is only one natural predator of high level characters: the dreaded TPK. When your healy dude has resurrection powers or when you’ve got spare clones in the tank, death is only a temporary setback. Sure it’ll cost you a few gold, but there’s no real danger. Low level characters, on the other hand, have a lot more to worry about. An aggressive cat can straight up murder a first level commoner, and an ill-timed crit from an orc can trigger a visit from “my twin brother who is identical in every way to my last guy.”

For my money, it’s mid-level where things get really interesting. At that point, coming back from the dead is within the realm of possibility, but it’s just out of reach of your character. That means desperate gambits, bargains with eldritch powers, and ill-advised quests are all on the table. In D&D/Pathfinder terms, that might mean Cleric has to “prove his faith” by ridding the world of 24,000 XP worth of goblins. Only then will the gods help. Of course, since the 3.X spell raise dead only works on “a creature that has been dead for no longer than one day per caster level,” there’s suddenly this interesting tension in the game. Can you prove your faith quickly enough to help your companions?

The idea of grinding comes from video games, and it is a term synonymous with boring, repetitive tasks: Kill 178 goblins, acquire one level. And if you just look at the numbers, that really is boring stuff. Consider what it means though. Remember that XP is a metaphor, and that the numbers represent something real in the game world. For a divine character, that might be a test of faith that unlocks some new revelation. For a bard, it could mean you’ve finally unlocked the next piece of your own epic. For a martial character, XP might represent physical conditioning, soldierly seasoning, or losing that wide-eyed, wet-behind-the-ears wonder of the average man who picks up a sword.

That brings me to the question of the day. How do you personally conceptualize “experience points?” How do you translate those boring numbers into something meaningful for your character?