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In a game of D&D 5e last night we had to creep through a room containing ~1000 Duergar.

It should have been easy, as they were already distracted, but our Paladin, who we'll call Clanky McClankface, managed to get the attention of one of them.

Off we run in to a corridor pursued by the Duergar and exit on to a set of stairs. Imagine the stairs in Moria in Lord of The Rings, but each step is ~6 foot, and slippy.

Clanky makes up for his earlier mishap by summoning a Champion to hold the doorway which fits 2 dwarves at a time, while we start to descend. I decide we need a bigger buffer so throw a fireball in to the mass...

In this case the DM decided it was reasonable to assume 50 Duergar met a fiery demise so, woo hoo!, 10,000 xp for me.

It did get us thinking though; fireball is a 20ft radius so ~1256 sq ft. Had I thrown it into the original mob and we assume 5ft of space for each dwarf that would be 250 dwarves and 50,000 xp (!). As it was I went up two levels from 5th to 7th but 50,000 would have put me in touch of 10th level. From one spell.

If GMing would you argue it would be reasonable to cap the xp from such an event?

For clarity; I'm more than happy with how it played out.

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Purple Monkey, Miniman, Arthaban, Mołot, Thomas Jacobs Feb 8 '18 at 10:57

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Out of curiosity, though the question in its current form seems rather opinion based and a prompt for discussion; is your group aware that XP for an encounter is generally meant to be divided amongst each party member or are you using some form of house rule, or was the 10,000 XP that only you got just a one-off DM decision? \$\endgroup\$ – Purple Monkey Feb 8 '18 at 9:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ Eeesh. Way to disincentivise playing a support character. :( \$\endgroup\$ – Quentin Feb 8 '18 at 10:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ Your math is bad. You should assume 25 square feet for each dwarf (5'x5'), and then you get pi*20'^2/(5'x5') = 50.3. Your DM's 50 is accurate for 5e medium creatures tightly packed but in their own spaces. (Units matter.) \$\endgroup\$ – Nick Brown Feb 8 '18 at 14:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ By RAW, the group should be awarded the XP, not an individual. This DM is already deep into house rule territory, and frankly unrealistic. There's no reasonable way to explain only the killing blow granting XP. Using that logic, a character who deals 49 of 50 damage to a target gets nothing if somebody else finishes the target off by dealing 1 damage. Is it really reasonable to think that the character who whittled through 98% of the target learned less about fighting it than the character who did 2% of the work? \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Feb 8 '18 at 14:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Quentin not just supporting characters, it disincentivises sensible tactics. Target priority becomes "Foes that die to this attack" > "Foes that will survive to next round" > "Foes that will die to allies attacks", where it is normally the other way around \$\endgroup\$ – Caleth Feb 8 '18 at 15:06
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By the book

RAW, your group should be awarded 50,000 XP for killing 250 Duergar. If you strictly play by the book as written, there is no arguing here. But the DnD rules are not perfect, and this is why the GM ultimately has the authority.

Since you did mention in a comment you're playing with certain house rules (only the killer gets XP) it would be such a ridiculous amount that I would argue this needs to be house ruled, too. In the special case that you're behind in XP because of this, it might be reasonable to give you a boost here, but I can't judge that. I trust your GM to make the right call in that situation, too.

My Opinion

Personally, I as a GM would cap the XP one way or another. My reasoning: You did not fight off 250 Duergar individually, which would've helped you learn how to fight better. You just performed a single, simple action; a fireball spell you had already learned beforehand. How much can there be learned from this? Sure, you learned Duergar don't like fire, that's something...

Compare it to buying 100 horses, putting them in a pen and throwing a fireball in there. Would it be reasonable to gain a level from that? I wouldn't allow this, DnD is not grinding in an MMO.

In fact, I wouldn't award you XP for the enemies at all, but I would award you XP for solving an encounter gone wrong in a smart way. Not only to you, but your entire group. And definitely not 50,000 XP - I'm thinking around 2500 XP for each of you.

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Yes, the DM can limit XP (or, in fact, bend any rule as He sees fit). The DM is not even God, he is the Creator of Gods and the universe. The top authority.

Now, that doesn't mean the DM should do everything at a whim. But, if it's for a good reason, there is no problem with that. Also, you might find that experience should not be bestowed for "killing" foes, but for surviving ordeals (that's what our group does, in all our games - not only D&D ones, but everywhere).

Sure, the rules state that you get this many XP for one monster of this type, and that many XP for one of that type, etc. Consider a dragon, keeping its huge treasure with him. You enter, manage to trick the dragon, and flee with the treasure (without killing him). Wouldn't you deserve a lot of XP for having managed that feat ? Now, imagine being against a lot of melee-only enemies, and having a natural defense between them and you (like, a very hard-to-destroy iron grate, or merely being on top of a 12-feet wall, while surrounded by a lot of ferocious wolves - who cannot, obviously, reach you). If you manage to kill the wolves, do you "deserve" to get full XP, as if you had been in danger ? If it's merely shooting sitting ducks, you don't learn a lot, and you're not better prepared for future adventures - maybe a bit better at archery, but that's it.

So, yes, in this case (no risk, or low risk, etc.), it would make sense to cap XP gain, etc.

To make it short: The best way is to find a way which makes sense, both to the players and to the GM. If it only makes sense to the GM, or to the players, then the game won't be (as) fun. As long as the system is OK for everyone, it should be enjoyable.

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