I'm a very infrequent visitor to 4E blogs like Musings Of the Chatty DM. Sure, Chatty has some occasional insights, that can be teased out and used in my old-school games. He even ran and reported on a couple of old-school D&D sessions. That was quite adventerous of him. But by and large, it is 4E mechanics that are being discussed on his blog, something I have little interest in. However, Chatty's recent post on Re-examining the Dungeon caught my attention, and I found quite illuminating what one of his commentors had to say about experience awards in 4E.
"Part of the XP-for-killing mentality is baked into the 4E game set (and a variety of other rule sets). As your character gets better (levels) what do you get better at?
You get better at killing things.
Virtually all your new powers are about new ways to kill things. You may get a slight increase in your skills (the non-killing part of the game) but these are not new powers. Thus it makes sense that if the focus is about getting better at killing stuff, then you are learning from killing things, ie. XP for killing stuff.
Who has a saving-the-princess skill? No one. The reward for a quest, such as saving the princess, is an abstraction that is a package deal for everything you did to get to that part (of which 'killing' is usually a big part) since you can’t go up in an actual saving-the-princess skill.
Bear in mind that XP is not the reward for killing stuff or for accomplishing goals. XP is a placeholder for the actual reward, which is leveling up.
By taking a look at what a character gains as part of the leveling process, we can see what the actual reward is.
In 4E it is the ability to better kill stuff."
Now, this post could just has easily been a criticism levelled at old-school D&D. After all, i've heard (too many times) that original Dungeons & Dragons was all about killing things and taking their stuff -- as if the mere incessant aping of that trite statement somehow makes it true.
To be sure, there was combat and treasure in original D&D. But, as I hope I have been demonstrating in my posts on experience awards, the bulk of the experience in original D&D was gained from treasure, not combat. It was expected, by the game designers, that the players would find ways to obtain the treasure by cleverness and subterfuge, not by violence and main strength. Not everyone played it that way. And to the extent that they did not, the fault lies with the game designers, not the players: one, the award system was not well communicated; two, the treasure for experience mechanic didn't resonate with those unfamiliar with the swords and sorcery genre.
4E on the other hand has done an excellent job of communicating its' award system. Experience awards are doled out when you kill things. And when you kill things, you level up, thus getting better at killing things.
Was original D&D any different, ask those who killed-and-took-stuff from the beginning, and those who came late to the game, but hear others claim it was always played that way.