Once in an AD&D 2nd edition game, after a not very successful encounter with wererats, our beaten-down 2nd/3rd level party — one character unconscious, both clerics exhausted — was traveling a road to get to the nearest town before dark, as it was said there were undead at night. A lone hungry bear appeared out of the forest, his intent to eat the party obvious. The mage and the elf-ranger used magic missiles and a bow, respectively. Surprisingly, they killed the bear before it got close.

The DM decided that the kill was too easy, as the bear was sick and had too few hit points, so the party got no (zero) experience points. The party argued that if the bear had reached them they would have had little chance, as they were beaten and exhausted, not to mention that the bear was possibly rabid, so the correct action of those two characters saved the party.

Is the DM right? Are there rules in AD&D 2nd edition that specify when an encounter is too easy and worth zero XP?

Background information: (1) The DM's argument of 'too easy' was backed by the fact that the party lost no hit points. (2) The DM was clearly bored having to run a game with novice players (for half of the players, it was their first game). He was annoyed with the need to repeat the rules to the players and to explain the game mechanics most of the time. But he was ambitions to run the game himself, even if he had to play with novices. (From comments under @PrometheanVigil's answer).


By the GM's argument, archers can never go up in level.

The logic doesn't add up. If you use ranged attacks, of whatever sort, to defeat an enemy, then you should get the reward for having defeated that enemy. Period. Nothing in the rules say you have to suffer damage to get XP.

If he truly did reduce the combat effectiveness (i.e. the hit points, AC, etc.) of the bear, then the GM was well within rights to reduce the XP award by some reasonable percentage. In theory, that reduction in XP should be in line with the reduction in combativeness. But that's a reduction based on combat effectiveness, not based on how you fought it or whether the dice truly favored you that night so you didn't get hit or whatever.

That's why it takes so many more XP to gain new levels as your level rises. And why monsters are worth more XP as their combat effectiveness (what D&D 3x calls challenge rating) goes up.

IMHO, it sounds like the GM was unhappy and was therefore taking that out on you, the party. If so, then I'd argue there's a bigger problem here, that has nothing whatsoever to do with the bear or ranged combat vs. XP... But that's outside the scope of your specific question.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Excellent point about archers (or mages) never getting a reward. So the rules are broken, aren't they? \$\endgroup\$ – TimSparrow Aug 2 '17 at 17:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TimSparrow No. It appears that your DM, and possibly your table, might be. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Aug 2 '17 at 21:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast that is what I meant - rules were broken by our DM. \$\endgroup\$ – TimSparrow Aug 3 '17 at 9:41

There is no explicit rule about an encounter being "too easy."

The DMG has an entire chapter devoted to experience points (chapter 8), which is far too much to summarize here. The overall gist is 'the DM should use XP in a largely-discretionary way to achieve diverse goals.' In their words, "the job is difficult because there are only a few rules (and lots of guidelines) to rely on.... There is no magical formula or die roll to determine if he is doing the right or wrong thing."

That said, given your apparent displeasure you (and the other players?) should be having a conversation with your DM about what they were thinking in this instance. After all, one of the explicit book-goals of XP is to ensure player fun! To that end, here are some highlights from DMG chapter 8:

  • Don't give out too much or too little;
  • Role-playing should be an opportunity for XP award;
  • Risk to character survival should be an opportunity for XP award, commensurate to the risk faced;
  • Story goals are encouraged;
  • "Victory" does not necessarily equate to killing things.

The last words of this chapter should guide you in addressing your DM: "The [appropriate] pace of advancement... may not come to a DM immediately. Let experience be your guide."

You and your party are part of this DM's experience--a positive, character- and fun-focused conversation should lead to fruitful collaboration. And then the players and DM will live happily ever after.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ There is an explicit rule about this, in the DMG under "Group Experience": "All characters earn experience for victory over their foes. [...] Second, no experience is earned for situations in which the PCs have an overwhelming advantage over their foes." That said, it doesn't sound like this particular encounter represented "overwhelming advantage" for the PCs. \$\endgroup\$ – ucbpaladin Dec 27 '17 at 22:46

Key's in this part: "The DM decided that the kill was too easy, as the bear was sick and had too few hit points, so the party got no (zero) experience points. The party argued that if the bear had reached them they would have had little chance"

The encounter was rigged. You and your fellow PCs were supposed be eaten. Since that didn't happen, the GM probably got a little mad and decided to not award you XP. Now, that in itself is fine. What is not ok is gaming expectations of the players.

Your fellow PCs made the right call and the GM did not make the right (or correct) call. You need to bring this up with them, especially the fact that you couldn't have known the bear was sick (unless you made a Heal check etc... probs not possible given the circumstances). They either need to provide some sort of check for you to tell if the encounter is worth it or to somehow avoid it in future — or just to provide a trivial amount of XP, otherwise the core reward system of D&D breaks down.

So this is a low-key expectations talk. Keep it simple, don't argue and just state facts and the scenario presented. A GM's job is the hardest at the table by far but that doesn't give them the right to screw over players playing in a logical, rational manner and especially in-character.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Aug 2 '17 at 2:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ Based on the second-last paragraph, I think you're misremembering how AD&D rules work around skills, XP, and encounter design, and substituting things from memories of D&D 3.x and later. (In particular, things like “Heal check” is obviously 3.x+ nomenclature, checks being owed to players is a 3e-ism, skills are an uncommon optional rule in AD&D 2e, and how the core reward system works is different than this answer implies.) If you could you consult your AD&D 2e books and revise this to be based on the correct game, I think it would be significantly higher-quality as an expert answer. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Aug 2 '17 at 2:37

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