The PHB's required XP for leveling can generally be described as, "For your next level, you'll need more than what was required for this level," with a notable exception between going from level 10 to level 11; presumably because this is considered a significant tier increase, which opens up restricted spells.

The DMG discusses the possibility of providing epic boons at a rate of one per every 30,000 XP. From a review of the boons, I would not describe them all as being equal. Some I consider extremely powerful (Boon of Skill Proficiency), others I would consider more tempered considering the level of the character (Boon of Irresistable Offense). What stands out as odd, though, is that the required XP threshold is less than what's required to reach level 20 (50,000 XP). In fact, the recommended 30,000 XP is what's required to gain levels 16 and 17.

I'm curious how well this recommended rate of boon reward works in play. Given that at 20th level, characters are pretty much demigods and taking swings at things like the Tarrasque, more than Solars, and other god-like creatures, it would seem that most every notable encounter that could actually threaten them would provide the party enough XP to gain a boon.

A good answer would stem from actual experience at 20th level from a table that tracks XP closely to award boons. Discussion on whether all boons should be treated equally would further improve the answer. Please also include discussion on the availability of magic items in your game; it is my understanding that 5e is designed to balanced without magic items. If it is available, any developer commentary on the matter is also of interest.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Mearls' comment on why the 10-->11 XP requirement is different is referenced in this answer. (And that whole question might be worth linking in your opening paragraph, IMO.) \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Commented Dec 19, 2017 at 15:28

3 Answers 3


Keep in mind this answer is going to be based on personal experience, since that is what the question seems to ask for. Each of my yearlong campaigns in the last four years have progressed beyond 20th level, and I pass out XP granularly after every combat and event.

Number of Boons

Personally, I have found that if only one or two boons are acquired, each class has a couple fairly obvious complements to the skillset. Full casters will want High Magic, rogues Undetectability or Night Spirit, and so on. I'm assuming the kind of situation you're talking about includes something like half a dozen to a dozen boons; more and everyone just has the same checklist to go through.

Balancing Combats and XP

A "Deadly" encounter for a 20th level character, as per DMG 82, is going to be 12,700 XP, and judging by how that number changes over the previous few levels, should rise by 2,000 XP per level beyond 20th. Now, most of the boons aren't as powerful as an increase in level is (at 17th, a full caster gets a 9th level slot AND a cantrip damage boost AND additional health), so I personally estimate each boon as adding 1,600 XP to the "Deadly" level and follow a parallel logic at lower levels of challenge.

If a character is handling 6 or so of these per adventuring day, they will "level" every adventuring day, usually getting twice the 30,000 suggested value, but any given solo is not likely to do it - the Tarrasque itself yields a boon only if taken down by 5 or fewer adventurers.

You're right in that at these levels, ancient dragons and the Tarrasque become solos worthy of the party, and to keep some more complexity in the fights instead of just increasing enemy HP and damage, I include more than one enemy in most combats. A mating pair of dragons, or a pit fiend and a half dozen of his generals would provide a worthy challenge. The "Encounter Multipliers" table on DMG page 82 (used for balancing this) creates what I call "phantom XP" - XP used for calclating difficulty but not, RAW, given to the players. If you, as I do, give them this phantom XP anyways, it simplifies the progression, but means they will gain XP at a rapid clip of about 70,000 per adventuring day.

Pacing Boons

Given that a player character usually faces 7-9 "Medium" encounters or 4-5 "Deadly" encounters to level (DMG page 82 and PHB page 15), that comes out to a bit over one adventuring day per level. As I previously mentioned, most of the boons are a bit less of a power jump than a level, and less complex certainly than a new class feature. However, I don't want to pass them out twice a day, or after every third combat. Certainly more often than once a day feels contrived. Therefore, I personally set the threshold at 55,000 XP per boon. This measures out to once every 4-5 combats, which feels in line with the progression of previous levels. I also instruct my players to alternate ASIs with named boons to maintain a variety of bonuses; it also helps to regulate the difference in value between the different boons, since ASIs affect all classes equally, but YMMV.

Magic Items and Balance

It's fair to start by saying that DnD is not as well balanced at high levels (15+) as it is at low ones, to say nothing of beyond 20. It is for this reason that published adventures rarely go beyond 12-14, and Wizards has published virtually nothing for 20th level characters. Balance at this tier with magic items is going to be constrained by balance at this tier at all, which is to say, not very standard across parties. That said, my players can generally acquire any non-artifact magic item they want past 20th, though I keep a very close eye on anything with a +2 bonus or better and have added attunement requirements for +3 to keep bounded accuracy relevant. My players also understand they can't stockpile something like wands of fireball and drop a 9th level fireball each turn.

In Conclusion

I feel that the epic boon progression is indeed too fast; 50,000 XP to 20th level should not be followed by 60,000 XP to two additional 9th level slots (High Magic and Spell Recall). I nearly halve the progression to 55,000/boon and require ASIs to be taken to further slow the progression and aviod blowing through all the relevant boons in 15 combats.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm going to hold off on giving this the checkmark so as to not dissuade others from sharing their experiences, which might differ but I appreciate your effort on this answer so I'm going to throw a bounty at it. I think it may be the best middle ground since the experience of others may be drastically different and I'm curious about those as well. Thanks! \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 2, 2018 at 20:49

For my Epic-20 5e campaigns I base boon advancement off the same rate as the DMG recommended levelling rate of 2-3 4 hour sessions per level. I was using 50,000 XP per Boon initially, but I now use either a system of 20 XP per level with 1 XP for easy encounter, 2 for moderate encounter, 3 for hard etc, or else fiat Boons after major achievements at about the same rate. My E20 Runelords text chat campaign http://smonscurseofthecrimsonthrone.blogspot.com/ sees PCs earn an EB every 5 or 6 online sessions, each of about 2.5 hours of play, which equates to about 3 to 3.5 hours of tabletop play.

Minor boons are ASI/Feat, major boons are DMG or even better.

Been using this for 35 online sessions, the most advanced PC now has 7 EBs - 5 true EBs and 2 ASIs. Works well.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm trying to understand your XP system, and it seems like you are able to run a huge amount of encounters per 2.5 hour session. If they've done 35 online sessions and have hit 7 EBs, then that should mean that every 5 sessions they are achieving an EB. Which means that you have 4 deadly encounters per session in order to get there. Is that right? how is that possible? \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Jun 15, 2020 at 14:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think the encounters tend to be well over 'Deadly if I calculated XP'. The rate of EBs seems to be slowing down over time, but it's milestone based not by XP now - a big achievement gets an EB. \$\endgroup\$
    – Simon
    Commented Sep 30, 2020 at 16:36

I go one further. I keep the 30k XP, but go Epic Boon, ASI, regular feat. This way it seems more in line with an actual set of levels. Lots of 3PP have written epic progression books which take you from 21 to 40, and I would recommend doing that instead, if you're not a fan of the boons. Personally, I've never gone past level 23 equivalent, and that was only because of us doing a 3.5 module converted to 5e. But as Bartimaeus said, YMMV.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. Have you followed this recommendation this in your own games? How has it worked, in your experience? (Even supporting it with limited experience is better than nothing.) \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Commented Jun 10, 2019 at 6:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ Like V2 said, your answer will be greatly improved by detailing how this worked for you. Have you used it multiple times? What has worked well? What hasn't? What might you change? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 10, 2019 at 12:35

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