When a hero or villain is defeated, he accrues experience debt, which slows his ability to reach the next level.
Debt does not accrue until the character reaches experience level ten. As the character rises in level, the amount of debt he accrues per defeat increases, as does the maximum total amount of debt he can accumulate. A character can have a maximum of five full defeats' worth of debt.
Some powers and situations reduce or even eliminate the amount of debt that defeat causes. Most prominently, a character defeated while in an instanced mission accrues only half the normal amount of debt. Also, some resurrection effects render the revived character immune to debt for a brief period, in the event that he is immediately defeated again. There are, however, no powers or effects that directly pay off debt after it is accrued.
Working Off Debt
When a character has experience debt, half the experience earned (or the amount of remaining debt, whichever is less) is used to pay off the debt. Only the remainder applies to advance the character's level.
To work off debt more quickly, a character may serve as an Exemplar or Malefactor. While this arrangement exists, all experience the character earns is applied toward his debt.
A clever way to use Exemplaring to full effect is to acquire a high-level "Defeat X Enemies" mission that is not tied to any particular zone and specifies an enemy that exists at both high and low levels, such as Arachnos or the Circle of Thorns. Exemplar to a much lower-level character and defeat those enemies in an appropriate low-level zone. Your mission completion bonus will be based on your true level and be quite large, and it will all be applied to your debt due to your Exemplar status.
Strategic Use of Debt
On certain occasions, a character may not want to level up. In such cases, the player may deliberately accrue debt to slow the character's progression.
For example, a player may not want to outlevel his Contacts. He may be trying to get a specific badge mission or Story Arc from a Contact, or he may be a villain trying to unlock an unlockable CoV Contact while that Contact will still speak with him.
Since debt also counts toward debt badges, hardcore badge-collecting players may want to generate debt specifically to work on earning the debt badges.
Also, a character might want to earn badges for Accolades at a lower level to have access them in a PvP zone like Bloody Bay, as the game remembers what level the accolade was earned at, and will deny a character the use of the accolade power if it was earned it at a higher level than the level of the zone.
It should be noted that several of these goals may be accomplished by being an Exemplar/Malefactor to a lower-level player as well, particularly the last one. Serving as an Exemplar halts a character's leveling progress completely. Debt only slows it to half speed.
You can also completely turn off the gaining of experience via the an option in Menu -> Options -> General -> "Disable Earning XP".
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