I'm planning my first adventure, and I'm confused by the guidelines for creating encounters. Everything I've read says it should take around 6 encounters for the players to go from level 1 to 2, however the dungeon masters guide gives guidelines that say an encounter with multiple enemies should have a multiplier because more monsters is harder, but that it doesn't actually apply to the amount of experience gained.

This leads to examples such as 5 cultists from the monsters manual only giving 125 experience, but counting as 250 for creating the encounter. This is a medium encounter for my party of 5, but at that rate it will take forever to level up.

Would it be ok if I started adding the multiplier to the actual experience gained? Or would that mess things up in the future when the experience numbers get a lot bigger?

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ For critical analysis purposes, I would like to see sources that quote six encounters as a likely number of encounters before the second level. \$\endgroup\$
    – kviiri
    Jul 31, 2017 at 16:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ @jeanquilt that seems like the start of a good frame challenge rather than a suggested improvement/clarification for the post. Please use an answer post to provide an answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Jul 31, 2017 at 16:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @kviiri I'm not sure I'm following--are you saying this question post should detail where OP's getting this "six encounters 1 --> 2" notion from, or something else? \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Jul 31, 2017 at 16:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 Yes, that's exactly what I'd like. While the number sounds reasonable, I don't think I've seen it in writing, and seeing people who quote that, and in particular, the context, could illuminate the issue. \$\endgroup\$
    – kviiri
    Jul 31, 2017 at 17:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ 1st level 300 XP per day per character at level 1 on DMG Page 84. 300 being level 2 threshold, and then DM Basic rules p.57 says "Assuming typical adventuring conditions and average luck, most adventuring parties can handle about six to eight medium or hard encounters in a day." So, 1 --> 2 in 6 to 8 encounters is indeed the WotC advice. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 31, 2017 at 17:06

1 Answer 1


Understand it is a Rule of Thumb

So, 6 encounters is a rule of thumb, not a hard and fast "you must make level X after 6 encounters." Also, keep in mind that when it comes to balance and leveling some of the advice in the DMG is hard to follow to the letter. I for instance, have never been able to get the "6 to 8 encounters a day" -- so instead I only use "hard" or "deadly" encounters, which I find my players seem to manage too easily most of the time. They aren't minmaxed, they just play to their strengths in the actual fight.

Likewise for your group, changing the way XP is totaled, or ignoring XP for level purposees might make sense. Let talk about this though.

Not all Encounters are Combat

The books don't talk about the proper amount of XP to give to social encounters, trap encounters, puzzle encounter, etc. But the books and game designers do state that XP should be awarded for them. The reason there aren't charts for them is because they are hard to judge without actually being there. So, if you keep battle XP calculated the same, but start giving XP for these other types of encounters, you might reach the suggestions in the DMG.

For Battle Encounters

The battles your players face will have various numbers of foes. Fewer foes mean larger monsters. This means lower or no multiplier, so the split is better for the players. So, throw in a solo "boss" monster here and there. Or a boss monster with "squishy" minions.

Another option is to look at the published adventures, even if you don't plan to run them. For example Lost Mine of Phandelver, it tell you how many monsters will be in each area. It is calculated that if you run the option first quest the average party should gain one level, before you begin the main story arcs.

How they do manage this? They do a few encounters with a lot of goblins, but by the end you are basically in a mini-boss fight. They've done the math for each encounter ahead of time, and know that running that part will grant X XP for this encounter with a part of Y players.

"Would it be ok if I started adding the multiplier to the actual experience gained?"

Yes. The beauty of the game is that the rules are a guide post. If you do start adding the multiplier, it won't break anything -- but it will make your characters level faster, which will change the feel of the game as character progression would be sped up, but some people like that. If you do, just keep in mind to balance encounters so that they are on the harder side.

Another Option: Milestones

I personally don't use XP. I use milestones. It is more subjective, but it feels more natural to me. With XP, a big boss fight might put you a few points away from the next level, and end up leveling on a random goblin -- might feel anti-climatic. Where with milestones, you kill the dragon -- welcome to the next level.

This also allow the DM to control the pace of the leveling. If you need them to be a certain level for a certain encounter, you can get them there before they reach it.

Question in the title: How to get from 1 to 2 in 6 encounters.

Assume party size of 4 players:

Each player has to get 300 XP. 300 X 4 = 1200 XP.

(using Kobld Fight Club for ease) I generate 6 random encounters... Say 1 easy, 2 medium, 2 hard and 1 deadly. I get:

  • 1 Ape (easy) 100XP
  • 1 spy (medium) 200XP
  • 1 Cultist, 3 Lizard, 2 Mule (medium) 105XP
  • 1 Blue Faerie Dragon (hard) 450XP
  • 1 Merrow (hard) 450XP
  • 1 Carrion Crawler (deadly) 450XP

Total 1,755 XP. Well over the needed 1200 XP. In fact enough XP that a party of 5 players could all make level 2.

  • 8
    \$\begingroup\$ Good answer overall, but as an improvement suggestion, I recommend using a different term for "milestones" since in the DMG, milestones are a system used along with XP, not instead of XP. What you describe is called "story-based advancement" and is described on DMG page 261 (same page as milestones). \$\endgroup\$
    – kviiri
    Jul 31, 2017 at 17:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ That's the first time I've seen anybody talk about Kobold Fight Club. \$\endgroup\$
    – Peter
    Jul 31, 2017 at 21:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Peter I guess he didn't read the first rule of KFC \$\endgroup\$
    – Cireo
    Jul 31, 2017 at 21:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ For some of my campaigns in the past I've awarded bonus XP based on how many sessions the player has attended without missing one. It doesn't have to be much, but you can use it to both pad out the XP to get the players to the level you need them at to continue the story and as an incentive to make sure they don't just skip a session for trivial reasons. (If you have lazy players.) \$\endgroup\$
    – Perkins
    Jul 31, 2017 at 22:08

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