This is part 19 of 19 of the series: Hacking New Rules

Angry’s Guide to Experience

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There’s certain things you just can’t talk about in gaming without people losing their freaking minds. For example, you can never, ever suggest to anyone that anything other than the way they’ve already decided to do things might improve their game. That’s partly because no one likes to be wrong. And they don’t like to be wrong so bad that they will stubbornly cling to being wrong, screaming and cursing all the while, rather than change their behavior. Because admitting you’re wrong for a moment and then fixing it is obviously so much worse than just being wrong forever and lying to yourself about it. And it’s especially bad when someone suggests that the easy or pleasant or fun way might be the wrong way. Because who wants to do things that are hard or unpleasant. Obviously, if something is easy or fun or pleasant, it must be right. Because that’s what right means, right?

Which brings me around to experience points. Because I dared to mention experience points recently in an article I wrote about adventure goals. And I mentioned how experience points are actually a psychological trick designed to help players associate certain game events with victory in order to help them build mental inertia and that they play right into certain things that are hardwired into the reward structure of your brain. Which is another of the many reasons why you shouldn’t stop using experience points. And why you should be very careful about what you give experience points for. Giving them out for crap like “roleplaying” or “good ideas” or “making everyone laugh” just screws that all up. And discarding experience points in favor of “you can have a level when I decide you deserve one dammit” is just a freaking disaster.

Every time I talk about experience points, I get inundated with messages and comments and e-mails on every channel telling me why I’m wrong. I get messages about how “I use milestone experience and my players are just fine with that” or “I’m a player and my GM stopped using experience points and I never looked back and I’m so much happier” or “I prefer to reward different things like role-playing and stuff and that’s what experience points are all about; they are incentives for good play” or “yeah, but there’s so much math and I hate keeping track of that crap.”

And the only point that is worth a damn is that last one. The one where the person admits they are just too damned lazy to do something that is provably better for the gameplay experience. And yes, I said provably. There’s plenty of research on this crap. The whole video game industry knows it and countless analyses have been done by people with actual credentials – not like me and definitely not like you – about how the human brain likes watching numbers tick up and how the dopamine pathway works and so on and so forth. And no, I’m not going to prove it. You came here because you trust me to give you good advice. If you need my advice proven, go do the damned research, or just dismiss it out of hand.

There’s a reason why XP trackers and levels and achievements have been added to every damned video game that exists in every genre ever these days. And that reason is not “to get people addicted,” you cynical jackass. Yeah, I hear that one along. “People only think they like that crap because it’s designed to addict them.” No. Addiction is – to SOME extent and without putting too fine a point on it – addiction is an exploitation of the reward mechanisms in the brain, but that doesn’t mean that anything that triggers the reward mechanisms in the brain is automatically an attempt to addict. And if you believe otherwise, go sit in a dark box and do nothing because you’re a joyless blob of inhuman goo who will never find any pleasure in life.

Point is experience points and the accumulation thereof, improve the gameplay experience for the vast majority of players for a variety of reasons which include some that are hardwired into the human brain. And that improvement is not something that any given person may be consciously aware of. And I’ve gone over most of this before. Countless times. And I’m done arguing it. If you disagree, that’s fine. But go be wrong somewhere else and don’t make me get involved. Stay out of my comments, don’t e-mail me, don’t message me, don’t write a passive-aggressive, petty, petulant little blog response and send me a pingback, just get lost. Because I’m tired of this one. And my articles aren’t meant for you. They are meant for people with functioning brains.

Clear? Good.

Now, for the rest of you…

I got a lot of feedback when I suggested recently that you should give out quest experience points. I always get feedback when I talk about how to hand out experience. Some of it is actually constructive. Mostly, I get a lot of questions. Because people notice that the things I tell them to do to create a good game experience are, at best, optional rules in most tabletop RPGs and, at worst, actually the opposite of what you’re told to do in most tabletop RPGs.

I also always get a number of people who feel the need to remind me that you used to get XP for collecting treasure in D&D as if I don’t know and I wasn’t there. And those people then use that to try to prove some point and thereby usually prove they don’t understand anything about why that was the case, why it worked at the time, why it changed, and what it means about XP systems. So, can we not have that discussion again either.

Anyway, the biggest question I often receive is “so, Angry, how SHOULD I handle XP? What would be the Angry way to dole out XP?” And I love that question. Because it’s a nice, specific question that I can answer and that also shows an actual willingness to learn, even if, in the end, you’re not going to adopt my practices.

And I’ve been itching to post something nice and practical and mechanical and I haven’t had time to sit down and finish up that magic item thing, so it seems like it’s a good time to spell out Angry’s Guide to Experience. Here you go. If you’re running D&D 5E, here’s how you should handle XP. Some of it follows the rules of the game. Some of it is stuff I’ve made up to make the whole process easier, less math intensive, and to keep it from disrupting the flow of the game. I’m not going to bother pointing out where my general rules different from those in the book or what optional rules I’m using. I’m just going to tell you how I do the XP thing. Or how I would if I bothered following my own best practices.

But, I’m also a lazy hypocrite who can’t be bothered. So… you know, do as I say, not as I do.

Remember that these ideas work on a more subtle level than other aspects of the game. It’s hard to see the actual effect they’re having. And some players and GMs actually find bits and pieces of them inconvenient. But sometimes, that’s necessary to create a good experience. Some game mechanics are like medicine. They taste like crap, but they do keep the system running smooth.

So, all of that said: here’s everything about how to handle experience in your D&D game.

End Every Session with XP…

The key to a good, satisfying game session is structure. No one thinks about the structure of their game sessions. You just kind of run the game until you run out of time and then reconvene next week. A good session, though, has a structure and a routine to it. And they end on a high note. A positive note. I end every session – except when I forget or don’t feel like it, but don’t be like me – I end every session by handing out XP. And when I hand out XP, I tell people why I’m handing out the XP. So, at the end of each session, you might hear something like this:

Okay, let’s see. You defeated or drove off the Zhentarim mercenaries in the inn. That’s 50 XP each. Then, you evaded the Zhent patrols in the streets of Baldur’s Gate. 50 more XP each. And you brought you quarry, Stedd, safely to your camp on the edge of town. That’s 25 XP each. Each of you gained 150 XP.

In fact, I think that’s more or less exactly how I ended my last session of D&D. If I recall. It was a short session, so don’t judge. Just two scenes.

That little speech does a couple of important things. First, it recounts the high points of the adventure. It serves as a little review which helps fix things in the players’ minds. And also in my mind. It makes me remember – and think about – the important things that might change the way the game plays out. If the party had gotten caught by the Zhent patrols and had a fight, that might mean the Zhentarim are on their tail at the start of the next session. Second, it gives the players a nice list of their victories to make them feel good. It reminds them of the things they accomplished. Everyone likes to know they did well. Leaving the players with a list of victories is a great way to make them want to keep playing the game. Third, it connects victories in the game with XP gain and therefore with character progression. And that’s what you want it to do. It’s actually a psychological trick called bundling. Sort of. Basically, you take a couple of different motivations or goals or desires and stick them together to amplify their effects.

Characters growing in power feels good. Making progress with your character feels good. Making progress in the game feels good. Winning feels good. And connecting the extrinsic rewards with the intrinsic good feelings makes everything feel even better. But beyond that, it also ensures that different players – who are motivated by different things – all share in the same sense of accomplishment. Some players like to earn XP. That’s what excites them. Others like to win. Others like to progress in the story. Different players respond to those things in different ways. But if all of those things get tied together in a package deal, everyone gets to be equally happy. Progressing in the story IS winning which IS unlocking new powers IS earning points and watching numbers tick up. Everyone gets something out of it. And therefore everyone can celebrate together even if their motives are different.

Yeah, this whole “dole out XP at the end of the session” thing is pretty loaded. That’s why I do it. Usually. Unless I forget.

And that’s part of the trouble. As a GM, handing out XP isn’t nearly as rewarding. I mean, yes, it’s nice to have that mental recap at the end of the session, but I don’t REALLY need it. And I don’t like doing too much math when I’ve just got done running game. But XP isn’t FOR me. It’s for the players’ brains. It’s for making the game feel good. And you’ll see that I have modified the way I hand out XP specifically to make it easier for me to dole out without thinking too much. I recommend that too. But if you, as a GM, want to tell me it’s too hard and you don’t want to be bothered, you ain’t going to impress me. Because you’ve got a job to do: run a good game. If you aren’t going to do that, get out from the behind and let someone else run that game.

… But Levels Only Come Between “Adventures”

Gaining XP is rewarding by itself, but we all know that players don’t really give a flying monkey turd about accumulating points. Well, they do give a small turd about it. They can’t help it. There is strong evidence that human brains actually get some weird pleasure just from watching numbers tick up. Seriously. It’s a thing. Human brains are weird.

What people really want is levels. And they want levels because they want new powers and bigger numbers and more resources. See, XP really just marks “progress toward a level.” It’s the level that feels really good for most players. Which is precisely why you don’t want the players to get their levels.

See, anticipation and delayed gratification are also insanely valuable for providing a bit of momentum. The closer players get to a level, the more excited they are about gaining XP. On average. Those little victory speeches where you give players a score and tell them how good they did? The best ones are the ones that come just as the party is on the cusp of a level. Because the players’ brains are licking their lips in anticipation. Even the ones who think they don’t care about XP and levels. Because you’ve tied XP and levels to the things they DO care about – story progress or victory or accomplishment or whatever – just like B. F. Pavlov tied salivation to ringing a little bell.

If you think this article is a major victory, click the tip jar to leave a tip.

For that reason, you don’t want a level to come unless there’s a major victory to go along with it. It comes down to structure and pacing again. Remember, you’re trying to connect the narrative flow with the challenge and tension of the game and with progress on the character sheet. And that doesn’t work if levels just happen any old time.

Then too is the fact that it’s good for the players – even though they hate to hear this; trust me – it’s good for the players to spend a few sessions at the same level. Especially in a game like D&D with characters getting substantial new abilities so frequently. Spellcasters, I’m looking at you. The thing is, it’s actually good for players to spend three solid sessions without their characters changing substantially on them. The first session lets them test out new abilities, get to know them, and work them into their mental picture of what the character can do. The second session lets them experiment and push the boundaries with the new ability. And it lets all of the other players get to know what new things the new character can do. The third session is when the player can use those abilities with impunity and confidence and team strategies can form.

I know lots of players will balk at that. Trust me. I run games for them. I have one player in one of my groups who thinks spending more than one session at the same level or being forced to start a campaign below level three is a punishment. Well, he can think that all he wants. He’s wrong.

The other issue is that it is a major pain in the ass if the characters gain levels in the middle of an adventure. I write my own content. And I’m one of those whackos who actually believes in balancing their content. I also like to know what the players are capable of. I like to have my own mental picture of what the characters can do and how their abilities work. Especially because players will conveniently misunderstand their own abilities a lot of the time. So that means that I need to keep the pace of leveling up even and I need time to learn all the new things the characters can do. Especially in D&D. Because the characters can just do too damned much and some abilities appear at weird levels with no rhyme, reason, or progression at all.

And while all of this is an excellent argument for just giving the players levels whenever I want to, that’s still wrong and I thought we agreed we weren’t having that fight anymore.

So, my rule is this: it takes a few days of downtime to actually gain a level. And you need a relatively safe environment in which to do it. And it can’t be done in the middle of a session. You can only level your character – as a player – between sessions. And a character can only gain a level between major goals. Or if they are willing to retreat back to down and take the chance that the adventure won’t get worse for them somehow if they leave it for a few days.

Even if the party gains enough XP to level, they can’t turn that XP into a level until after they finish – or fail to finish – their current adventure.

Now, that said, players should advance every two to four sessions. Assuming you’re running regular sessions every week. If you miss a lot of sessions or if you only run every other week, you might have to adjust that. But if you slow advancement too much, you push beyond the “I’m teaching you to be patient for your own damned good” realm into the realm of “I control the levels, not you, so shut up and suck it up.”

If you’ve got a particularly long adventure or the PCs are close to hitting the next level, it’s good to build a subgoal into your adventure that will allow the players to have a victory and earn enough downtime to level. And that’s important. Never just say, “well, we’ve been at this too long, just take the level.” The point is that levels should follow substantial victories. They need to happen close together for the same reason XP needs to be tied to victories.

Yes, that means that I do a lot of juggling. And it means I sometimes shuffle goals around to allow for a good climax to happen at the end of a session just so the PCs can level up between sessions and so that the session ends at a good point. That’s part of the art of being a good GM.

XP is for Winners!

So, that’s how and when I dole out XP and when the players can bank those points and turn them into sweet, sweet levels. But what do I actually award XP for? Well, my rules are pretty simple. Players get XP for overcoming obstacles or accomplishing goals. In other words, if the players overcome an encounter, they earn XP. And if they accomplish a goal – an adventure goal, a subgoal, or a side goal – they earn XP.

And that’s it.

That said, there’s a little more to it than that.

For instance, when I say “encounter,” I actually mean a “fixed encounter.” And that means two things. It means, first, that they have to deal with an actual encounter. A scene in which they resolve a conflict in order to accomplish a goal or make progress toward a goal and they take a risk to do so. Choosing which direction to go at a crossroads is not an encounter. There’s no adversity to overcome. Talking some directions out of a person on the street is not an encounter. There’s no risk. And probably no adversity either. That said, if they dissolve a hostage situation which could have cost the life of a key witness, that IS an encounter. And if they manage to sneak out of a town while guards with bloodhounds are searching for them, that IS an encounter. If they kill the goblins guarding the entrance to the cave, that’s an encounter. And if they sneak past the goblins, that’s an encounter. And if they talk past the goblins, that’s an encounter.

In short, any scene that involves conflict and risk and represents progress toward a goal is an encounter. And any encounter is worth XP. There doesn’t have to be a fight.

But it’s even more complicated than that. As I said, the encounters need to be fixed encounters. I used to call them planned encounters, but that doesn’t work because I like to improvise. And I can’t even call them keyed encounters because my players like to improvise and sometimes they’ll pursue a goal in a different way and force me to pull an encounter out of my ass. So, I use the term fixed encounter for any encounter that is a planned part of the progress of the adventure or would have been if I could have seen the future. It’s not a great definition, but it works for me. I don’t have to be definitive about this because I know what mean.

What I’m trying to distinguish these encounters from are random encounters or other complications that pop up because of random die rolls or because the party was dicking around making too much noise and I decided to teach them a lesson or because I had some system in place to create random problems in the adventure as a consequence for certain choices. You know? Wandering monsters and all the crap like that. In my game, those encounters are not worth XP because they don’t represent a victory or progress. More importantly, those sorts of complications are supposed to suck. They are supposed to feel crappy. Like a drain on resources. So, they don’t give rewards and rarely have substantial treasure. That emphasizes the fact that they are BAD THINGS. Bad for the characters and bad for the players. Just a drain.

And the reason I have bad things that suck for the players and the characters based on various random systems is that they are usually a consequence of the choices the players make. And I want them to make good choices. Don’t waste time. Be careful. Think. Plan. And, above all, keep moving forward. That is what progress means.

So, fixed encounters earn XP. But only if they are dealt with permanently. If the party sneaks past the goblins on the way in, they will have to sneak past the goblins on the way out again. If the party bypasses an encounter such that they could end up in the same encounter again – however likely it is – they only get half the XP. I’ll talk about how I calculate XP below. And they only get that the first time they bypass the encounter. If they later permanently finish the encounter, they get the other half of the XP.

The party also only gets half the XP if, in my opinion, they have only scraped by the encounter. That is, if it was barely a win and the party is really hurting, I will only give them half the XP. If half the party ended the encounter unconscious, for example. Or the party had to burn a lot of resources to get through. And I will let them know. At the end of the session, I’ll say, “and you defeated the ogre. That would be worth 100 XP each, but you really took a beating and only won by luck and the skin of your teeth. So, it’s 50 XP.”

See, it’s important if you’re going to maintain the connection between victory and XP, that you don’t award XP if there isn’t a victory. You have to be firm on that or you wreck the psychological connection you’re trying to establish. Remember, that’s what this is all about. Which is why “you learn more from failure than success” is a stupid counterargument when it comes to XP. That is NOT what XP is. Moreover, if you give out XP whether the party wins, loses, or draws, you’re telling them that their actions don’t affect their advancement. They have no control over their own character growth. At that point, you might as well just tell them to level whenever you want them to level. And then you might as well quit running games.

And, obviously, if you’re cutting the award in half if the victory is only a Pyrrhic victory, you can’t give them anything if they fail an encounter. And, by the way, when you plan an encounter, you should know what the lose state looks like. That’s a whole separate article, I think. If you don’t plan for the party to lose, eventually they are going to lose anyway and you’re not going to know how to handle it in any other way than just killing the party.

For example, the party I referenced above recently had to sneak out of a neighborhood of the city while soldiers and bloodhounds were tracking them down. And man, were they outnumbered. If they’d gotten caught by one of the patrols, they would have had about two rounds to disable the foes and get the hell away before they were going to have more guards and dogs than they knew what to do with. And they did succeed in escaping. It was very tense at the end. One of them had to bluff her way out of a tight spot. But they did get out. And I’m pretty sure they were assuming the whole time that if they failed, they’d have been dead. And, sure, that was a possibility. If they were dumb enough to try to fight an entire mercenary squad, they could have gotten themselves killed. But I sure as hell knew what would happen if the failed and weren’t stupid enough to fail to the death. And they wouldn’t have gotten any XP for that, let me tell you.

And, by the way, you should also tell the players when they missed an opportunity for XP during a session by being failures. For example, I once had to say, “well, you did kill the moldorm, but the little girl got strained through its’ digestive tract so I can’t call that a win. 0 XP.”

Yes. I said moldorm. I like Zelda games.

So, fixed encounters are worth XP if the party wins. If the party barely wins, they get half the XP. If the party loses, they get no XP. But I did also say accomplishing goals was worth XP, right?

XP is for Closers!

Every adventure I run has a goal. A clear goal. Usually a “verb the noun” type goal. When the party accomplishes that goal, they earn XP. Hooray! Easy as that.

Most of my adventures also have one or more subgoals. And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, go back and read my article on goal setting. Now, obviously, I use subgoals the way they are supposed to be used. They represent major plot-points or breadcrumbs on the trail or whatever. But I also use subgoals – and even insert subgoals on the fly – to tweak the structure of game sessions. I try to make sure that I have inserted a subgoal into every session of play. As best I can. It’s not always possible or feasible and sometimes the players screw with the structure, but it works out more often than it doesn’t. Point is, I try to make sure that every time I end a session, I am giving the party some XP solely for progress in the story of the adventure. And I try to make sure that subgoals come close to the end of the adventure.

And if I think an adventure will take more than three sessions – or if an adventure is bloating itself beyond three sessions – I will insert a subgoal that can work as a stopping point and let the players ding their level. As mentioned above.

The party earns XP for accomplishing any adventure goal, any subgoal, or any side goal. In addition, I do sometimes set goals that, if they aren’t accomplished, reduce the XP from a goal. So, if the adventure is about escorting six monks to a temple and the party only makes it there with three monks intact, their goal XP is penalized by an appropriate amount.

And that’s it. That’s all I give XP for: fixed encounters and goals. Overcome a fixed encounter or complete a goal, you get XP. And I list it at the end of the session and tell you how awesome you did.

As to how I actually calculate the XP? Well, that’s the last part of this puzzle.

How Not to Math

No one likes to do a lot of math. Not even me. And I’m a gamer accountant. And no one likes to keep long lists of things. Especially lists of numbers. So, the one place where I have actually streamlined this process is in how I actually compute the XP. See, I’m going to let you in on a secret: it doesn’t actually matter how much XP you give out. As long as the players get it and as long as they connect it to victories and progress and as long as it provides a good, steady rate of advancement, the actual numbers don’t matter much. Though, there is a reason why the numbers are on the scale of hundreds and thousands and not fives and tens. It has to do with people liking big numbers. It’s another psychology trick.

And here’s another thing that doesn’t matter: if you’re going to always evenly divide the XP between the party members – and there are ZERO good, rational reasons not to, even if some players miss some sessions or some characters miss some encounters – if you’re going to divide the XP between the party members, then you can just dole out the XP on a per character basis.

Given those two facts, in any given adventure, there are only three different sizes of XP rewards. There’s an award, a double award, and a half award. That’s it. The only time I deviate from those three sizes of rewards is when I’m computing XP reductions due to the party screwing up conditions of the adventure goal. Like if I have to penalize them for not getting all the NPCs through the adventure alive.

An encounter is worth an award. Doesn’t matter how hard or easy the encounter is or how many monsters were involved. One encounter equals one XP award. That’s it. You don’t have to do any more than that.

An encounter in which the party only wins a marginal victory – a Pyrrhic victory – is worth a half award. Same with an encounter that was only bypassed. At least, the first time. Bypassing the same encounter multiple times doesn’t earn any additional XP. But, if the party later defeats an encounter they previously bypassed, they get another half award. Basically, they end up with a full award for defeating the encounter. Yes, that DOES mean they are better off dealing with their problems permanently, thank you very much. Working as intended. Feature not bug.

The adventure goal – the big one – that’s worth a double award. Unless its penalized. Subgoals can be worth an award or a half award, depending on the size and importance of the subgoal. And side goals are always worth a half award.

Now, how do I actually calculate how big an award is? Well, I have a system for figuring it out in D&D 5E. Now, there’s a few different ways to arrive at the number, depending on whether you want to use the Monster Manual or the Dungeon Master’s Guide. And the number you get is actually slightly different depending on which system you use. To use the DMG, go to DMG 82 and find the average party level of the characters in the party on the XP Threshold by Character Level table. Read across to the Medium Difficulty column. The number you find is the amount of XP that a single character in the party should earn for each award. Obviously, double that for a double award. Or half it for a half award.

Alternatively, you can find any creature in the MM whose CR is equal to the average level of the party. Divide the XP award for that creature by four to get the amount that a single character in the party should earn for each award.

DO YOU GET WHAT I AM SAYING?

Just figure out how much XP the party would earn for a Medium difficulty encounter of their level. That’s how much an XP award is. I do it on a per character basis. So, at first level, an XP award is 50 XP. A half award is 25 XP per character. And a double award is worth 100 XP. Go back to that example I started with of me handing out XP to my players. It was a first level adventure. They defeated two fixed encounters permanently and they got a minor subgoal. 50 XP for each encounter, 25 XP for the subgoal. Done and done.

It doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that. It really doesn’t. Which is why I don’t want to hear any more pissing and moaning about XP math and how much work it is. Enough. You’re a GM. Act like it. Use XP. Hand it out in the way that is best for the game. Not the best for your lazy ass. And not the best for your selfish players. But the best for the game experience.

Unless you forget or don’t feel like it. That happens.

61 thoughts on “Angry’s Guide to Experience

  1. Nothing irks me more than people who forsake experience points for milestones because they’re worried they’ll do it wrong. Yet, somehow, these same airheads are perfectly intelligent enough to know when a level up is supposed to happen? That’s a weird degree of trust in their own ability. And at no point do they connect any dots that these are very similar lines of logic and that with 5% more effort they might just do it in a way that doesn’t suck. (like, at the very least, telling you what the milestones ARE)
    Or that a single level over or under isn’t going to kill a climax or whatnot. Or that a party of level 6 fighters would consider this a harder fight than a party of level 5 wizards.
    Or what it even MEANS for a fight to be hard or balanced, in cold mechanical terms; the ones they’re aiming at.
    Do they even know they are basically saying they can and can’t do something at the same time?

    • The conceit is non-mechanical. At the end of every adventure, you level. I don’t need to understand the mechanivs of the system to hand out levels as quest rewards, and most commercial adventures only contain a level worth of xp to begin with.
      Its specifically a system for “i want to give out levels, but don’t understand how they work.”

    • There’s a very significant fear with XP (at least as the book describes it), which is the character power spiral. Pretty much anyone reasonably competent in D&D will tell you that smart players can build characters that far exceed the CR guidelines in terms of ability (which is doubly true in 5E, because 5E monsters are very underpowered).

      Generally the answer to this seems simple, just use tougher monsters. But this solution carries a big negative if play XP by the book, you end up in the power spiral. Tougher monsters means more XP and that means the PCs level even faster, meaning you have to increase the challenge even more which only makes them level even faster, etc. It’s a situation that quite rapidly spirals out of control.

      Thus most DMs (including AngryGM) use some other form of XP awards that isn’t based off the XP by CR of the book, because I think most everyone agrees that system sucks.

  2. I like the way the XP calculation works in combination with your idea of side goals. Getting the same amount of XP for an easy encounter and a hard encounter might kinda suck for the players, but they can choose to make an encounter harder by completing a side goal, thereby gaining more XP.

    Your last few articles have really shown me how wrong I was in what I thought a session should look like. And an adventure and campaign. And how the game should be played.

    So thank you, because I do actually enjoy learning how I was wrong.

    I would like to know how you decide what treasure to give. I assume it follows a similar pattern as XP, as it has pretty much the same function as XP, but how do you determine when to give what items?

    I assume you have written an article about this already, but I couldn’t easily find it.

  3. I remember this from a previous article and the XP pack stuff is what completely convinced me to do it this way.

    The one difference I’ve noticed is that now you are advocating for giving XP at the end of a session. The previous article stated „you need to give XP right after the encounter to really drive home the connection between action and reward. Do it with tokens and add them up in the end, but give something out immediately.“

    Do you think this new way is strictly better or are there advantages to both and this is just the way you do it right now?

        • denouement “the final part of a play, movie, or narrative in which the strands of the plot are drawn together and matters are explained or resolved.”

          For being all about climax, story arcs, and direction, I’d have expected you heard of this word before, regardless, the only real difference between your XP method and milestones is the size of the numbers being handed out every session. As a player who apparently has a broken brain and gets turned off by “large number tickers” I’ve always gravitated to the smaller one-to-one reward abstraction of milestones, but the worst thing you can really do is tell your players what your XP/milestone track is, I had a pair of playtesters in an uproar debating over how and when I should give them their reward (they were… aggressive… playtesters, I guess) and what counted as a reward. Honestly, going back to XP just so they shut up because the math is too hard for them to check behind my back is a good enough point. My original reason for running with milestones as “break the leveling mechanics to get extra feats and multi-class features without having to deal with multiclass rules” currency works just as well with an XP cost in its place- it’s all just scale of numbers anyways.

        • Denouement means “unraveling” and is used in literature to describe the aftermath of an adventure. When the climax has happened, the Good Guys Won and most would say “We’re Done”, that’s when denouement happens. It’s where all the story threads that are left get a conclusion: what happened to the Shire after Sauron lost? *Did* the Griffyndors win the House Competition? And what about the mouse?

          Though I am not the guy above, path to denouement would roughly mean the same as the path to the End of the story. The sequence of choices and actions that it takes to get to a Satisfactory Ending with all the goodies and story resolutions that entails.

          • Except the motive force that drives the participants through the story doesn’t carry them toward the denouement. And that’s now how you plan a story or game. You plan the story to drive toward a climax and resolution. The denouement follows as a necessary cleanup and release of tension. So, calling a story to the path to the denouement is like calling a movie “the stuff that leads to the ending credits” or calling a board game “the stuff you have to do to get to cleanup the game and put it back in the box.”

            And I didn’t explain because the previous poster was an absolute smartass with his whole “I’m surprised you don’t know what a denouement is since you claim to know so much about stories.” Well, at least I understand the actual motive force that drives through a story and where it’s leading. A story is not a path to a denouement. That’s a stupid thing to say and it demonstrates that it ain’t ME who doesn’t understand narrative structure.

            And I understand denouement. I’ve written multiple times about it’s place in narrative structure. Hell, the afterword is my book is called denouement as a callback to a discussion about them in Chapter 13: A Bunch of Narrative BS. I don’t need it defined. But other people apparently do.

            And now, this pointless thread is closed. Done. End of story.

    • Disclaimer: I am not Angry, nor do I play him on TV.

      My reading of that section is that “giving” XP at the end of each session is really just summarizing of all the XP you gave for each encounter. That is, you should still give out XP right after the encounter (for the reasons you quoted), but then also tally it up at the end of each session (for the reasons in this article). That way, you get the benefits of both.

    • I adopted a system (which I think Angry alluded to a while back, either here or in the podcast) of using a glass (polycarbonate) into which I toss little glass beads of different colors representing differing amounts of XP at the conclusion of an encounter/whatever. And it has really worked well. The jingling of the beads going in is Pavlovian, the players start to crave it. Several have said “Why haven’t we been doing this forever?”

      They get to see/hear XP going into the glass, and have a rough idea of how much (by the number/color) so they get immediate feedback as to whether they’re doing well or not. (And if they screw up, I can take a bead or two out of the glass, and they get looks like I murdered a puppy or something.) At the end of the session I dump the beads out and divide it up.

      It all goes back to “reward what you want to encourage.” If you award XP for recovering treasure, the players will focus on that. If you award XP for killing things, the players will try to kill things. If you award XP for overcoming obstacles, whether by trickery, combat, negotiation, or whatever, then maybe they’ll start to think about the best/most efficient way to overcome obstacles rather than automatically attacking. I think the only problem with delaying the XP award until end-of-session is that you give up that immediate reinforcement of behavior. If they see right away that they can earn XP for negotiating their way past the goblins, I think it’s more likely to sink in.

  4. Two thoughts:

    1. The “Not to Math” process can be further streamlined. In Angry’s excellent article “Accounting for Magical Items”, I learned that a D&D group goes through 15 encounters per level on average from levels 3 to 11. That’s why I dole out 1-3 XP for each “meaningful encounter” (which Angry calls “fixed encounters”) that occured during the session, plus an optional bonus of 1-3 XP if the party worked meaningfully towards their goals. At 30 XP, the characters are eligible to level up. I can’t see a reasonable explanation for the need to scale up the XP gain.

    2. Angry only gives out XP for in-game victories, which surprised me. I think there’s an argument for separating the mechanical progression from the diegesis. In fiction, when Ichigo loses to Sephiroth, it prevents him from reaching his goal of assembling the dragonballs, becoming the next Hokage, or whatever. It’s a net loss. HOWEVER, the next time he faces Sephiroth, he’ll probably be stronger than before (and he might win this time). That’s a mechanical improvement in spite of a diegetic misstep.

    Back to the game: failure in D&D sucks. At best, you lose out on monetary gain, spend precious ressources, break the trust of an ally. At worst, someone dies (consider yourself lucky if it’s only a beloved NPC). Players don’t need an incentive to win: they WANT to win. That’s why dissociating XP gain from diegetic victory has an out-of-game rationale: it lets the DM increase the likelihood of failure. It assures the players that failure is a natural part of the game that happens organically as a result of bad luck or poor decisions, not because the cluelessness of the players or the sadism of the DM.

    What do you think?

    • I was struck by the same thing, but upon reflection, it seems to me to be saying ‘you messed up, you aren’t ready for the next level yet.’ I’ve never read, heard or watched any stories where the hero goes straight from getting beaten to being more competent. There has to be something in between, at least a recovery/training montage. While the in game short/long rest covers this fiction wise (you could also go the clunky 1e rule of needing to pay more to level up if you haven’t been playing well, to represent training costs), I kind of dig matching the player and character experience of having to make up for it with a successful encounter later.

      Basically, this is another factor to bring player thinking more in line with character thinking, and every little bit helps.

    • If we were to model the XP gain after shonen media, downtime training would net PCs their XP and levels would be gained as soon as the next level was reached, but then the Big Bad typically acts and shonen heroes react, Adventurers invade dungeons, reversing the scheme and somewhat breaking the analogy- but only somewhat. It’s reasonable enough, given mechanics more than realism, that a hardy enough group of PCs could carve out a dungeon level to create space for downtime actions, crafting, and leveling, effectively turning dungeon levels or even whole dungeons into temporary villages without bothering with the hassle of hitting up towns. what’re the 10gp in materials required to craft a sword anyways? iron, coal, and leather? a player could just as easily scrap all those rusty goblin daggers at half market value with a portable forge and fell a few trees outside the main entrance. Then we look at training, the old “you need someone to teach you the next level of stuff”, which neglects how the first teacher learned that level or feat or skill rank, did a god bend down from the heavens and show them? why can’t the wizard theorize and test his new spells based on a few collected texts picked up between dungeons and the odd antiquities shoppe?

  5. I used pretty much the same experience method in my 3rd edition campaign with my kids. The DMG said 13 1/3 level appropriate encounters/level, I said screw that, 10 average Encounters per level. The 3rd edition XP math absolutely invited that–the algorithm for leveling was very obvious with nice round numbers.

    I didn’t carry that into 5th edition, because the whole point of 5th edition is that it’s balanced already and you don’t need to patch everything with homebrew. Glad I can go back to that.

    (I judged encounters as Easy, Average or Hard after the fact. Kids are even more unpredictable than most roleplayers–that balanced combat I designed for the 4 party members and their 3 pets? Becomes a near-TPK when everyone forgets that their pets can do things, and Sister spends the first half of the combat luring pied-pipering sheep away from the goblins, while the ogre wrecks face on Brother and Eldest. When you go back to town and tell the local yokels about that fight, that’s a Hard Encounter.)

  6. Question 1: You said: <>. I agree, but I was then wondering if you also believe that the players should always have the same exact amount of XP and always be at the same level, if that’s the case I’d like to know why (not that I categorically disagree, I’m just curious about the reasoning behind it).

    Question 2: Whenever the party bypass an encounter without dealing permanently with it the DM should give only half the amount of XP and only the first time that happens, again, I agree. But if the players bypass the same encounter a second time (i.e. a goblin guarding the dungeon entrance), then, after completing the goal, they leave and never come back, have they successfully beated the encounter (therefore earning the other half of the XP) or not?

    • The phrase was: There are ZERO good, rational reasons to not always evenly divide the XP between the party members. Don’t know why it didn’t show…

      • Experience is about learning. If a veteran and a rookie go out on patrol together and something happens, the rookie learns a lot more, relatively, than the veteran who has seen this 100x.

        In D&D terms, at 1st level 100xp is a big deal. At 3rd level, a lot less so.

  7. I do something similar to make my exp awards easy, but I also borrowed a page from 4E and just made every level take 10 awards to complete. It works out to not that far from 5e’s calculations, other than that a few levels are weighted to take longer than others with the default level up table….I thought about it for a bit and didn’t see much gained from that, and the overall path from 1 to 20 is still pretty close to the same number of encounters/goals. Makes it a lot easier to know how far the party is likely to be at any given point.

    Now personally I’ve just been using 1 xp = 1 award, but I see your point about big numbers being more psychologically gratifying. Plus it makes docking experience and/or setting bonus experience easier, as well as half- awards, which I haven’t really used. But I think if I do end up using it I’ll probably just say 1 award = 100 xp instead, with 1000 xp per level. It’s not just easier on me, it’s easier on the players to remember how close they are to the best level, too.

  8. I’m curious about the ‘XP for collecting treasure’ thing: why it worked and made sense? I’d be glad to know if there’s a reference in a previous article about that bit. Thanks for your work, super useful as always.

    • Basically: the inventory system is meant to function as a tradeoff between how much stuff you want to use, and the max possible xp you can earn this adventure. Hirelings who carry your stuff become little packets of xp you need to shepard back to town to cash, which makes getting out actually interesting. The player’s attempts to manage these xp bundles is the scaffold for fortress levels.

  9. The physiological affect of increasing numbers has a sweat spot. Too low and there is no payoff. Too large or with too large a gap between increases and people have no way of internalizing it to trigger that sweet sweet dopamine. To that end, what is the purpose of having a scaled XP reward -and- a scaled XP requirement per level?

    Round numbers, because easy.

    If level 1 requires going from 0 to 100 XP and level 2 requires going from 100 to 120, what’s the point when the average encounter at 1st level rewards 25 XP and at 2nd level rewards 30 XP? It isn’t to prevent higher level characters from grinding out levels on lowbie mobs when doing so earns you less anyways. The XP track is a growth curve for no reason and all that does is necessitate the XP rewards be put on the same curve. Needless complexity.

    I’ve been using a flat XP scale for years with no problem. I’m sure Angry disagrees but I’d love to know why.

    • The idea is that as players grow in power, everything increases, from their damage and HP to the scale and scope of their accomplishments. Increasing the amount of XP that they get – even if it remains a fixed percentage of their level – helps lock in that feeling of growth. Without it, you graduate from killing goblins to killing dragons without feeling like anything’s changed. After all, they were worth the same amount of XP.

    • A few things:
      * Your example is backwards of how DnD has always scaled XP. Each level takes *more* XP than the one before it, not less. This is important because…
      * In addition to the psychological whatever of people liking large numbers, the scaling has a few practical benefits – it takes care of the “you earn less for fighting monsters that are too weak” bit for you, and it also allows lower level characters to catch up to the rest of the party more easily if you’re running a system where they start at lvl 1 if they die.

      To my knowledge, neither of those practical benefits applies to Angry’s system. His system also works whether you’re using scaling XP or not – the definition of an “award” just stays static.

        • I believe he is referring to the line “If level 1 requires going from 0 to 100 XP and level 2 requires going from 100 to 120” which I assume is a typo based on the other math in your comment. Maybe you meant level 2 requires going from 100 to 220?

          • Correct, that is what I was referring to. The example in the comment is of a system where it takes 100 XP for “level 1” and 20 additional XP (120-100) for “level 2”, which is the reverse of how DnD XP scaling has traditionally worked.

  10. Great article! I’m usually very good about handing out XP at the end of a session, but I like the way you have it structured. Our sessions would usually finish after a long fight and, “Whoa. Look at what time it is. Lemme figure out your Experience.” Your way seems more difficult to plan, but would have a better positive impact.

    I’m not crazy about your thoughts on half-XP if the PCs “scrape by an encounter,” though if you mean it as a hard and fast rule.

    If players are being careless or stupid and almost get their heads handed to them because of it yet still overcome the encounter, then absolutely. Half-XP is a gift.

    However, if players have a good idea and sound plan that are derailed by something beyond their control (unfavorable dice rolls are the main culprit), it seems unfair. Often, for an encounter that goes badly and is won only at the last second by the skin of someone’s tooth, that in itself is a psychological “high” and a lowered award would put a damper on that.

    I would think that judgement calls would be required since most situations like this fall somewhere between the poles of “completely stupid” and “ridiculously unlucky.” That would certainly take more work to be consistent in those kind of judgments. Half-XP no matter what would obviate the problem, of course, but personally I would go with Full XP for the win.

  11. Awarding less XP for fights where the characters expended more resources (HP, spells, and even death saves, to a point) and end up with more KOs on their side isn’t intuitive to me. If the players struggled and won against the odds, it tracks that they would receive a greater reward.

    For the same reason awarding XP is important to feed players’ fragile egos, awarding more for greater effort makes sense. To me. When the dice roll lower than average for them, or when a particularly challenging encounter is presented and the players succeed regardless, I award more XP. If the party works to overcome the extra difficulty, that merits greater reward.

    I know you say that you operate in the inverse of this method. I’m interested in knowing how your players respond when you tell them they got less XP for a harder fight. I can imagine my players’ disdain at this, and I’m genuinely curious how I could sell them on your method.

    To be clear, I’m also not talking about a fight where the party won despite being blundering idiots who didn’t stop to gather intel, think before they acted, or treat the game world as an input-output, cause/effect place. If they’re being idiotic and they end up facing a greater danger as a result, tough. That sucks. The XP for that encounter is the same as if they’d faced it with smarts and common sense (read: how they should always approach an encounter).

    • I think the caveat here is that the hypothetical encounter is balanced to the party level/capabilities, so if they come out worse for wear “than they ought to” the played ‘badly’ in some manner that, for the sake of not rewarding poor choices and encouraging more or the same, ought to be punished with a lesser reward. But then out-of-the-box encounter balancing mechanics are nonfunctional at best and Angry has one article if not an entire series on that subject.

  12. I have one reason with two sides for using milestone levelling right now: I’m new, and my players are new. That’s it.

    I can’t handle any more mental load beyond planning the adventure with dramatic story beats AND a motivating arc AND interesting balanced encounters; my players are currently learning to track spell slots AND hit dice AND inventory. Once we’re all less overwhelmed, though, I really like the simplicity in what Angry laid out and I think we could manage it.

    Also, though, we only play once every four weeks. Angry referred to needing to adjust for play frequency; I’d be curious to hear how other people manage level progression across long gaps in play. On the whole I want my players to get 2-4 sessions/level, but I also don’t want it to feel like levels come as reliably as the calendar pages turn.

  13. First of all, great article! I think most people overlook the importance of XP as a game mechanic to incentive the players not only to play a certain way, but to keep playing at all!

    Also, being one of those people who talks a lot about “GP as XP”, I would love to hear your take on why do you think this system was abandoned, and if you think there was any merit on it

    Keep being awesome!

    • While I don’t know Angry’s reasoning, I’ve never understood gp as xp. It feels convoluted and limiting, but in a way that hampers creativity.

      Does it imply that my characters can’t grow unless there happens to be a dragon’s hoard involved in the adventure? If my party stops a band of broke bandits, do they get no experience just because the bandits had no gold? Or do I need to come up with a reason for the bandits to have gold instead?

    • Hmm, I don’t know if the players need an incentive to keep playing *at all*. I would have to find a D&D game seriously unfun to consider quitting; if it were that unfun, then I doubt that an incentive that only existed within the game itself would be very effective. To continue Angry’s video game analogy, I’ve never thought to myself “gee, (insert CRPG here) really sucks, but at least I get to watch my XP bar slowly fill as I play!”

      Of course, it’s much easier to stop playing a single-player computer game than it is to quit a D&D game, and it’s not because of XP. Players are strongly incentivized to keep playing D&D because of its nature as a recurring social event. The community has had to come up with the slogan “no D&D is better than bad D&D” because that’s just how unfun D&D has to be for many people to stop playing: people are often reluctant to quit even when their situation is actively toxic.

  14. I had always been more comfortable doing milestone leveling and ignoring XP. Largely due to Angry’s prodding, I’ve moved my in-person group to something very close to this. I use poker chips to make everything feel more tangible and instantly rewarding, and I toss a number of poker chips into the middle of the table to indicate a small, medium, etc XP reward for what they just did. I’ve noticed them counting the chips as they get close to a level. I’m usually able to finagle the rewards and challenges so that they level at dramatically appropriate times, and they only level up between sessions regardless of when they receive the reward.

    But I don’t know what to do with my online group, which is still using milestones. Obviously the poker chips idea is out, cuz its online. We hold short sessions (1.5-2 hours each). We use 4th edition, which has famously long combat. We make it work, because those are our real-life restrictions, but we have to split combat over 2 sessions if I’m throwing a really ridiculous encounter at them. So, some end-of-session XP totals would be literally zilch, since they’re still in the middle of combat. I don’t know how to make XP work well, and so I just level them up at the end of adventures, which usually span 4-5 of these short sessions. Any brilliant ideas, Angry?

  15. As always, your unique perspective makes things easy, simple, and clear. I used to milestone the levels every 2-3 sessions after a major achievement, but your approach adds value to each encounter and goal. My players learned my pattern of rewarding levels and you could feel the difference in participation in the games where they knew they’d level at the end.

    I create all my adventures as well. My new campaign is using the intended XP reward system, but I’ll be adapting it to your suggestions.

  16. Two queries on your metros, both tied to the same concept. 1) What do you do if your PCs warm enough XP to level twice or more because the adventure structure or the players’ choices lead to no chance to return to a city or the like for quite some time? Heavy exploration games can lead to this. 2) How do you handle adventures like Tomb of Annihilation, which invites exactly this sort of “out for a long time” situation?

    Do you just count “camp outside the dungeon” as good enough? If so, why is camping in a dangerous jungle more conducive to leveling Tran camping inside a barricaded room of he dungeon?

    Going back to town in ToA, as an example, pretty much means quitting exploring and backtracking for days.

    In the megadungeon articles, it was mentioned that how long is “too long” to be away from the dungeon depends on the distance back to town. When that distance is high, what is your alternative criterion for when the PCs May level up? I assume you have one, as I suspect leveling 3+ times due to xp backlog would also ruin the flow you are trying to achieve.

  17. So this article is basically the concentrated form of your spreadsheet part of the Megadungeon project, yet there are no spreadsheets! I would have liked to see the one that summarizes how many days, encounters, and xp should happen per level, and the level tiers (I think it was levels 3-5 and 6-9 that awarded the same xp per encounter?) made a lot of sense for the adventure’s power curve

  18. Thank you. You gave me confirmation that I have interpreted your previous writings on XP correctly and that I am doing XP in a nearly identical way for an identical reason.

    I was using the table on page 84 and dividing by 6,7, or 8 for the number of encounters expected per day to determine the XP reward for each encounter. This gives XP rewards similar to page 82.

    Now I will use page 82 and skip the unnecessary math while keeping the party leveling every 2-4 sessions. All of this assumes the party actually plays through the expected number of scenes. Thus the rewards given align with the goal of keeping the story moving.

  19. You could also limit pizza for the players proportional to xp collected through the session. Would make winning and progressing so much more desirable, even though players might hate it

  20. With that very last part about about what an XP award is, you throw out 90% of the XP system. Which is good. And since the XP award, the average encounter CR, and the XP needed to level all increase at roughly the same rate, what you’re really giving out is basically an advancement checkpoint like from Xanathar’s Guide. Except for you, the numbers still get bigger even though they mean the same thing.

    I run Adventurers League games, so I’m tied to their checkpoint system, but I can still still use nearly all your principles for it anyway.

  21. Pingback: Leveling Up | Dungeon Master Daily

    • We’re about to play the continuation of a session that ended with a character about to save vs death (basically – the system we’re using has you roll to see if you die when you are Incapacitated). It remains to be seen if my ending the session this way was a positive or negative experience for the players (we were nearing end time and people were getting antsy, so I made the call to end it).

  22. I’m curious how you would modify this for a sandbox game – aka a game where there is not a predetermined story, almost all encounters are randomly rolled, and exploration is a major part of the structure of the game.

    I’m currently running in a system (Savage Worlds) whose default method of doing XP is “give the players a level every other session or so”. I’m not a big fan of that, but also not sure how to award XP without it just being “get XP every time you discover a new thing or survive an encounter with a dangerous thing” which, while serviceable, would just add complexity on my end but wouldn’t really produce a different result than just giving them a level every other session (we meet twice a month).

    • Well, I sure am not Angry, and you’re probably not interested in an opinion of some random guy on the Internet, but I saw your comment and couldn’t stop myself from answering:
      Savage Worlds and D&D/Pathfinder are vastly different in their ways of handling XP and levels, and one of the major points that Angry makes in the article – about giving players time to adjust to their new abilities – just doesn’t work there, because most of the time what you’re getting out of your level is a couple of skill points, a single new edge or a stat boost. And there’s 5 points to an advancement (a level, whatever). Not 2000, not even 200 – 5. It’s harder to stretch 5 points through multiple sessions, even if you award them only after successful fixed encounters, as Angry suggests.

      So what I’m getting at: don’t bother, SW does its own thing with XP, in that system it’s okay to just give people levels when they overcome major stuff. Or, so I think, I guess. I could be wrong in my 6 years of running SW, I wouldn’t be surprised.

      • The new edition of Savage Worlds (Adventure Edition) actually dispenses entirely with XP and makes “Advance every other session-ish” the RAW. I would agree that 5 points isn’t really granular enough to be much use – were I to houserule an XP system in I would probably use 10 or 100 XP as the amount for each level (thus allowing different “size” XP rewards).

        For the time being though, I’m still not fully done statting everything up for the setting I’m running, so milestone XP it is. 😛

  23. How do you handle the level 1-3 thing? Do you just run shorter adventures? Do you require people to spend 3 sessions at level 1 (when the standard assumption seems to be they gain a level after 1 standard length session)?

  24. I could have sworn you had an article where you said that bookeeping like handing out XP should ONLY ever be at the beginning of a session, NEVER at the end?

    (searches)

    Ah, here it is:

    https://theangrygm.com/how-to-structure-a-session/

    “Administration and Bookkeeping First … Don’t leave any garbage like that to happen during the session or after the session. Frankly, if you really want to do it right, hand out the XP from last session NOW…. Second of all, don’t put ANYTHING between the end of the session, the denouement, and the departure. THAT is why you put all of your bookkeeping up front unless the adventure or campaign actually ended.”

    Do you still think it’s best to give out XP at the start of the next session, or do you now think it’s better at the end? And why?

  25. You state that the party only gets half XP if they expend a lot of resources or end up unconscious. However, I think this goes counter to your objective of getting the players to associate XP and success.

    I agree that partial successes should result in half XP. However, in a lot of scenarios, resources expended is not a measurement success.

    For example, if the party’s goal is to escort a prince, they get 0 XP if he is injured or dies (failure) and they get partial XP if he is unscathed but was constantly frightened for his life, or was forced to to join the combat to defend himself (partial success).

    However, if the party deems it worthwhile to throw their lives in front of the prince, expending all their health and resources to ensure that he is always removed from combat, then they definitely achieved their goal. Awarding half XP would actually be counter-productive to associating XP with victory. Yes, the party expended unnecessary resources, but if the party decided it was worthwhile to expend so many resources to ensure success, then why take that success away from them? Their wastefulness of resources will indirectly lose them XP later when they lack the resources to complete another objective.

    Secondly, close battles are the most exciting to win. Managing to make a come back despite early losses is more exciting then doing well from the start, even if the later is a objectively better scenario. And if the players are exuberantly celebrating that one lucky dice roll that won them the victory, it may be counter-productive to re-frame their success as a partial failure by giving them half XP for their losses, even if those losses were preventable and unnecessary. Maybe they only deserve half XP for their stupidity, but that doesn’t change the fact that they achieved their given goal, regardless of how stupid a path they took to get there. Besides, once again their wastefulness will indirectly lose them XP later.

    • If you need to invent a contrived example that is not representative of 99% of encounters in RPGs to support the argument that I don’t understand my own goals, I think that’s pretty telling. Especially when you have to guess how I’d handle that oddball encounter.

      It’s not just victory. It’s efficient victory. It’s being good at something. It’s not wasting resources and relying on the fact that there’s almost no bad effect in D&D that persists past the next short rest or that can’t be erased with a long rest. I want the players know that victory means actually winning. By doing their best. And if they barely win, they don’t get the reward. So they’d better actually get good. In short, if they want a reward, they have to earn it. And mediocrity earns mediocre rewards.

      Participation awards – getting a medal just for showing up and doing the minimum – have been demonstrated to decrease drive to succeed and satisfaction with the results and lead to a host of other problems. In gaming. Not life advice. Full XP for any victory, even a crappy one that barely counts as a victory, is basically a participation award. Show up, don’t die, get rewarded. I respect my players too much to hand them that sort of crap.

      That said, remember: you can run your game any wrong way you want. You don’t need my permission.

      • I was thinking of D&D combat like a video game or sports tournament, where the final prize money is the same regardless of whether you won by 50 points or 2 points. I admit that giving XP regardless of how much the players won by is an award based on the end result and not the means, but I don’t know whether the studies regarding participation awards would apply since the award is still not guaranteed, any more than a tournament prize is.
        However, I didn’t consider how short term negative effects in D&D are. I also assumed that players will be fully committed to fighting well and won’t just do the minimum to scrape by. I will reconsider how I run games.

  26. Shouldn’t you give xp for actions rather than just success to encourage activity and to reflect trying is important, the goals are motivation in themselves but will give a bonus, but striving and good gameplay are worthy of an xp motivation.

  27. Hey Angry, Here’s a random question that I think you could give a pretty good answer to. What is a good way to handle dreams and visions in dnd? What is the purpose of them, and how can you implement them to get that point across? Should they include ‘spoilers’ of things to come? How far should you go with the dreams and what kind of info should you reveal? How often should you give them? I think you get the point. Dreams. Tell me what do. Please. 🙂

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