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I run two campaigns and decided to run them differently based on the PC desires. In the combat-heavy war-torn campaign I expend all points except those over the leveling up threshold to make it longer and tougher thereby giving the players more combat. The narrative heavy campaign I have been maintaining the accumulation of all XP so as to make it more fun because they wanted to find items and combat isn't such a high priority. Both groups have decided they want to join forces and create a single campaign but I can't until I can make them close to equals so I wondered which version is the correct ruling.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I though we already had the question on the site, but it turned out that the question I was remembering is for 4th edition. So, good first question, and welcome! \$\endgroup\$ Aug 28, 2017 at 4:17

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XP continues to stack.

PHB 12 states,

Also record your experience points. A 1st-level character has 0 XP. A higher-level character typically begins with the minimum amount of XP required to reach that level (see “Beyond 1st Level” later in this chapter).

If XP reset after each level, then a 1st-level character and a higher level character would both start with 0 XP.

You might have noticed that under this system, the XP curve is a little weird because characters level up a lot faster after level 10. However, this is intentional (from a designer tweet):

it's an intentional bump - higher levels are meant to move a little faster than first 10

There's some more discussion of this issue at this question.

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XP accumulate throughout the "life" of the character - they only ever go up, they never go down.

A character's level is known by looking up their total XP in the table.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ There are some exceptions, like the (Idiot?) card in the Deck Of Many Things, but in general this is accurate. \$\endgroup\$
    – Angelica
    Aug 30, 2017 at 22:03

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