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In yesterday's session, our characters scouted a room full of reanimated corpses, and it was the only way to go through. Our characters were completely exhausted of resources and couldn't rest, so I decided to make good use of the only object that could give us hope, the Deck of Many Things, and made my character draw several cards. One of those was "The Fates". I used its effect to erase the reanimation of all those corpses in that room. The DM accepted and didn't misinterpret my erase of the event: all the corpses became inanimated.

Later came the time to reap the rewards, including the XP.

My DM gave us the XP for all the defeated mobs, except for those corpses in that room. I argued that in my view, there was an obstacle and I used a magical object to overcome it, so it took a resource from my part, and me spending a resource should be enough for our party to get the XP. There was no consensus among the other players either: three followed me, one backed the DM not on the "avoid the fight" problem, but on the fact that he's got the final word.

In the end, I accepted my DM's judgement, but didn't (and still don't) agree with it.

How is XP usually handled in such scenario when the players technically overcome an obstacle, by erasing events from the past?

Notes:

  • My DM usually awards us with XP for handling situations in creative ways (meaning, no fight).
  • We asked why we didn't get the XP, the DM said that in the end there was no monster to fight, no obstacle to overcome, so no XP. I trust his word because I've known him for a long time and when he's frustrated with something, he says it. He admitted being frustrated in this instance, but said that had nothing to do with the result.
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    \$\begingroup\$ I actually think that the DM's decision is a pretty fun consequence of your actions: The corpses were never reanimated, so there was never any XP to gain. :P \$\endgroup\$ – Kapten-N Jan 29 '18 at 14:00
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It's up to the DM.

Whether or not you agree with him, your DM has the final authority in deciding which actions yield XP and which do not: (DMG 261)

You decide whether to award experience to characters for overcoming challenges outside combat. If the adventurers complete a tense negotiation with a baron, forge a trade agreement with a clan of surly dwarves, or successfully navigate the Chasm of Doom, you might decide that they deserve an XP reward.

While there are various compelling arguments on both sides of the issue, the system gives wide latitude to the DM for giving out XP.

Additionally, your argument is metagaming, depending on how you interpret the wording of The Fates. If the past was rewritten so that the animation of the corpses never actually happened, the characters might never have known that there was ever a threat there to begin with, and thus from their perspective, there was nothing to gain experience from.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Appealing to a higher authority to override a DM's valid interpretation of a mechanic sounds less effective than discussing your concerns with your DM. Unless Crawford or Mearls are running your game...? I'm sure somewhere a DM will side with you, but unless you're playing in their game I don't see what good it will do you. \$\endgroup\$ – Tumin Sep 3 '17 at 18:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ "your argument is metagaming": yes, but so is the XP system - it has no existence "in-universe". You can't use the broader sense of meta gaming either since both the deck and the XP system are part of the game's rules. \$\endgroup\$ – Dale M Sep 3 '17 at 21:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Sep 5 '17 at 20:23
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Avoiding encounters usually doesn’t merit an XP award

You used treasure to avoid fighting the undead. Effectively, you bought your way out of a combat encounter. You might also have hired mercenaries to fight the creatures, used a scroll to fly over them, etc.

That’s all OK to do, but those aren’t things (no matter how clever they may be) that the rules say call for an experience point award.

Sure, with the Deck of Many Things, there was a chance of “failure” (something terrible happing, or just not getting anything helpful to the situation) in your attempt to use it for this purpose — but that is part and parcel to that magic item.

On the other hand, the play to avoid these monsters, possibly saving the party, was clever and bold. As a DM, I would have granted Inspiration.

Quest XP would still be appropriate

If there had been some quest goal that you attained, then those associated XP would still be appropriate to award.

XP Awards aren’t what you should be arguing with your DM about

You were right to drop this matter with your DM. Experience points will come when they come, and one encounter’s worth of them is nothing to get agitated over.

If the DM makes some call that is going to get a PC killed, or make someone’s character un-fun to play, then you want to argue your points. And when you do, you won’t want to have worn out your DM’s ears haggling for XP.

Look at the overall pace of level progression

If you and the other players wish your characters were progressing through levels faster, then that is something you can talk to the DM about. Be aware that this is not necessarily a small favor to ask. The DM may need to adjust encounters, or even whole story elements of a campaign, to make this work.

If the progression through levels is OK, then, no matter if you think the DM’s decision was fair or not, forget about those XP and enjoy your next game.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Just for clarification, I didn't use the Deck of Many Things for the purpose of getting this card, because I didn't know it specifically existed. It was the first time I encountered this item. I only excellent things could happen as well as the worse. \$\endgroup\$ – Olivier Grégoire Sep 4 '17 at 8:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ Actually, knowingly avoiding an obstacle does grant XP under certain circumstances (as does simply surviving it) - see the traps section for an example of that. If you miss it by dumb luck, then maybe not. \$\endgroup\$ – nijineko Sep 5 '17 at 20:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @nijineko, sure, avoiding a trap can be as good as disarming one. But sneaking around the dragon is not the same as slaying it. \$\endgroup\$ – Tim Grant Sep 5 '17 at 22:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ Of course not. However, if the goal was to get to something or somewhere beyond the dragon, or perhaps something in the dragon's possession; then sneaking or diplomancing gets full xp for the encounter, same as combat. The context of the encounter and the goal thereof is critical to determining how to award XP. If the goal was instead to kill the dragon, then no, sneaking would not meet the intended goal and should get no XP. How the goal is accomplished is actually not important to awarding XP, and is, in fact, part of the fun, especially when the players surprise you. \$\endgroup\$ – nijineko Sep 6 '17 at 2:54
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From an XP standpoint, I as a DM would have awarded this to the players. I try to never penalize the party for finding a non-combat way to resolve an encounter. On the other hand, the awarding of XP is not just a mechanical function; it is also a critical tool for the DM to be able to regulate the pace of the campaign, so he needs a lot of leeway to use that tool. I'd let this one go; it's an argument with little value in having.

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What does xp awarded mean to your gaming group?

Obviously the DM gets final say in the matter, but a perspective you could suggest to him is that xp is a reflection of your progression through an adventure, provided by surviving encounters. Rather than consider the xp awarded as "points per enemy defeated in combat", I think there's value in considering xp gain as "experience per encounter"; in this reading your party survived a combat encounter that had a certain xp value and it would be right to award them that xp.

Considering xp awards this way means that if, say, you'd found a way to sneak past the enemies you could still get xp for the encounter; you'd just found another way to "defeat" it. Nothing saying the DM couldn't throw them at you again later, or add other repercussions. This approach also applies to non-combat situations; you can consider a negotiation scene as an "encounter" with an xp value if you wanted.

Reducing xp to explicitly "mobs killed" and "quests completed" is a very videogame approach, and to me table top rpgs allow for more flexible approaches that can reward lateral and creative thinking in ways that are simply impossible to code.

Edit: I would consider this answer here, which references a passage of DnD rules, to be relevant and in line with the position I've taken here: https://rpg.stackexchange.com/a/73724/39157

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As both a player and a DM, I've seen this issue swing in both directions. On the one hand, from an in-character / roleplaying perspective, XP is the physical (well, metaphysical, but still) reflection of the characters' growth and development through their journey, and while finding a clever way to overcome obstacles is definitely worth XP, burning an item (or a single card, in this case) to make something never exist means the characters (but not the item) never recognize the threat and thus don't learn anything from its resolution.

On the other hand, however, most DMs will still (in my experience - pun only slightly intended) award XP for the potential encounter because it's programmed into the intended XP and would otherwise need to be made up elsewhere to keep the party on track for the eventual endgame.

(And then, as an aside, there's the option of "milestone" levelling which gives this entire mess a miss to begin with, but obviously that's not the case here. Still, I cannot recommend that enough, since it ensures any worthwhile endeavor is worth a level's worth of XP, regardless of anything else.)

TL;DR - At the end of the day, while there's guidelines in the DMG for awarding XP, that's all they are. If DM fiat declares that the encounter never existed and therefore there's nothing gained, that's their decision and fighting it won't achieve much. The fact that there was a precedent might be concerning, except that you essentially retconned the undead out of existence, not quite the same as disarming an encounter with a well-placed Sleep spell.

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You don't know why the DM chose not to award XP; you only know for certain why they said they didn't.

There are at least two scenarios where the real reason might not be what you were told:

  • The reason is related to the story - telling you why you weren't granted XP could ultimately spoil future events.
  • The DM was frustrated with the turn the story took because of your actions, and was reacting to the situation (Remember - outside of the game, DM's are human too :-).

In either case, with the passage of a few days, the DM may have either thought of a way to let you know "there's a reason" without spoiling anything, or may have thought better of their reaction.

It's possible that a properly worded follow-up question to the DM would either give them a chance to hint that there's an ultimate reason why they didn't give you any XP for the (not quite) encounter; or, may prompt them to give you an opportunity to get something out of the encounter long-term (even if it's just replacing the resource you used).

If a short question about it before the next session starts doesn't get you any results, let it go. A number of interpretations of the events have been brought up here that show it's not unreasonable to not grant XP for this "almost" encounter.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Adding railroading to XP denial doesn't make the latter any more palatable. \$\endgroup\$ – user17995 Sep 5 '17 at 20:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TuggyNE - Absolutely true. However, let's not forget that out-of-game, DMs are human too :-). If there's a good reason to deny the XP (above and beyond "nothing actually happened as far as the group knows, so they learned nothing," which is pretty valid), fine; if not, then giving them an opportunity to amend their mistake isn't a bad thing. \$\endgroup\$ – RDFozz Sep 5 '17 at 20:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ In re your first sentence, it appears that the reason "why" wasn't explored too far before posting a rant here. This was a problem or dispute to be solved at that table, not among internet opinions. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Sep 6 '17 at 1:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ "You don't know why the DM chose not to award XP." Yes I do. Explanations were requested in other answers, which I gave as comments. Unless my DM has chosen to whithold that information when we talked about it, but I've known him for a long time before we started rpg'ing together and lying about why we didn't get the xp doesn't fit him. \$\endgroup\$ – Olivier Grégoire Sep 6 '17 at 5:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Olivier Could you please add those explanations in those comments to the question? In the question they help everyone who is trying to help you, while in comments they only help the person you're commenting to. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Sep 6 '17 at 15:14
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In addition to the answers above, The fates card erased the obstacle from ever happening.

Reality's fabric unravels and spins anew, allowing you to avoid or erase one event as if it never happened. (emphasis mine)

As a result, because there was never an obstacle to overcome, your character never overcame it. This you would gain no XP from overcoming that obstacle. Thus may seem tongue-in-cheek, but it fits thematically with the deck. Of course the DM has the right to interpret XP how he or she wants to. if you have further concerns it should be taken up with your DM.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ You say it's an addition, but I fail to see how it's an addition to the other answers? From my point of view, you only corrected my question: I'm not a native English speaker and given their translation from my language, "existing" and "happening" are synonyms in the sentence I wrote, in my mind. Nothing feels like a real addition to what other answerers said. Would you please elaborate? Thank you! :) \$\endgroup\$ – Olivier Grégoire Sep 8 '17 at 5:50

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