I have created an encounter with monsters, with their relevant CR and XP. Normally, when the party kills everyone, they are rewarded the XP. If the party chooses to, and succeeds in, resolving the encounter without combat, do they get the XP they would've received for killing the monsters, or do you award XP based on the task they performed to defeat the encounter (and maybe use the DMG's easy/medium/hard XP reward for non-combat encounters)?

The possible solutions that come to mind:

  1. They avoid the area (0 XP, as they didn't interact with situation)
  2. They talk their way out of it (Does this get the combat encounter's XP?)
  3. They find a very clever way to avoid fighting, with risk of being caught/killed/fall to their deaths (here I'm not sure if there needs to be a different set of XP values for what they're trying to accomplish).

I understand that a lot of people will say "I can do what I want", but I'm asking to find out what is the "standard".

I am not asking whether or not I should award the XP. I believe I should, and the DMG says I can/should too. I am asking if the XP awarded should be the same as if the PCs killed all the monsters, or at the difficulty of the "method" they thought of using. For example, if they avoided the encounter by running through them stealthily and the monsters didn't see them (has risk) or by going overhead using the beams (risk of falling into the fight), should I award the full "killed-the-monsters" XP or a lesser XP because it's not difficult to go over the beams in a stealthy manner.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mołot: I think this question might be slightly broader than that one, in that the linked scenario only covers solution 1 in this post. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Apr 24 '19 at 9:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mołot Why was this marked as duplicate? That other question asks whether or not the XP should be awarded. I'm asking whether it should be the full XP or less \$\endgroup\$ – Theo Scholiadis Apr 24 '19 at 11:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ I voted before your edit, when it wasn't about full XP yet, at least not clearly. \$\endgroup\$ – Mołot Apr 24 '19 at 11:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ Related question: Can PCs gain XP from “defeating” an enemy who actually just used Feign Death? \$\endgroup\$ – Philipp Apr 24 '19 at 12:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ Related on How to manage XP in non-combat missions \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Apr 24 '19 at 13:17

Encounter difficulty might depend heavily on the method and scenario...

The rules on encounter design and "expected" XP values are explicitly described as guidelines, and while the default intent seems to be to award the same amount of XP regardless of the method, they also caution that effective encounter difficulty may vary, and that XP might have to be adjusted according to the difficulty.

Extreme example: the difficulty of fighting a group of zombies scales with their number, but their passive perception score, and thus the difficulty of sneaking past them, doesn't. If the zombie mob is overwhelmingly large, the party is (probably) not supposed to fight them and awarding the same amount of XP as for a combat would seem absurd. However, it might also be designed as a difficult, but manageable combat encounter, except that, instead of Fireball, the party happened to pack Pass Without a Trace.

...but do we care?

In short, it really depends on your playstyle and the type of campaign you're running. Different playstyles inherently award and limit XP in different ways, and going against the grain here might lead to issues.

In the case of most published adventures, encounters (and thus the amount of XP to be gained) are essentially a limited resource. Characters are expected to be around a certain level in each chapter, and given roughly the amount of XP required to reach these levels. Straying too far from those expectations can cause issues with not only encounter difficulty (which can be adjusted with some extra work) but also the plot, for example if characters gain access to higher level spells that a tier 1 or 2 adventure doesn't expect them to have. In this case, I would recommend handing out the same amount of XP regardless of how the party handled an encounter, and trusting that the authors have balanced their module against a variety of party compositions.

This assumes fairly consistent boundaries between encounters, i.e. if you snuck past the goblin camp, you're unlikely to see them ever again. If the goblins happen to become a persistent threat, but the module counts them as a single encounter, it's up to you whether you split the encounter XP or award the full XP on the first "meeting" and none on subsequent ones.

In a sandbox, on the other hand, there's usually no shortage of monsters to fight and places to explore, encounters are potentially a lot more fluid and risks might be persistent. XP to gain is not limited by a set number of encounters but rather the party's resource managment and appetite for risk.

In such a scenario, I usually hand out more XP for methods that permanently deal with a threat or challenge (e.g. killing or befriending the goblins) and a little less for methods that just bypass or temporarily resolve it (e.g. distracting or driving them off for a short while). Encounter difficulty follows the same pattern.


Yes, typically award the full encounter XP

The Monster Manual says you gain the XP for "defeating" monsters. Typically this means killing them but, as it also says:

...the DM may also award XP for neutralizing the threat posed by the monster in some other manner.

Now, I can't speak for other groups or DMs in order to tell you what is "standard", but yes I would award the full encounter XP for the player's figuring out how to get past the monster(s) in whatever way they manage it - whether that is killing, talking their way past or using some other trick.

I wouldn't award XP if the player's unknowingly bypass an encounter by simply taking a different route. For example, if the player's decide to scale a cliff to get to the top rather than taking a cliff-side path and end up not even encountering the ambush I had placed there (but which they didn't know about).

I would also be careful not to award XP twice. E.g. if the player's talk their way past an encounter, but later go back and end up killing those same monsters (I tend to use the "milestone" rules these days, but in the past I would tot up encounter XP in a separate notepad so I knew what had been done and hand it out to players only at a convenient spot in the adventure).

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    \$\begingroup\$ Big +1. Especially for not awarding XP twice. I recently had a conversation "Wait, where are XP from treant?! Sorry guys, but you already got it in the previous chapter, you can't bo back and fight to get it again." \$\endgroup\$ – Mołot Apr 24 '19 at 9:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ Edited to say "full encounter XP" \$\endgroup\$ – PJRZ Apr 24 '19 at 10:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TheoScholiadis: Perhaps you should ask how to handle the milestone rule in a separate question! \$\endgroup\$ – PJRZ Apr 24 '19 at 10:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mazura. There is a lot of DM lee-way, and the usual rules don't really cover mass battles. So you're right this would be an exception: I wouldn't award "encounter" XP for a player sneakily bypassing an entire army of 100,000 creatures, but that's mainly because I wouldn't expect fighting them to be the encounter in the first place! \$\endgroup\$ – PJRZ Apr 24 '19 at 11:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ "I would also be careful not to award XP twice" - Where would you draw the line? What is "the same" and what is "a new" encounter? What if, of the goblins you just snuck past, half joins the BBEG in their throne room and the other half goes to guard the entrance? What if one of the goblins happens to be the real mastermind in disguise and also the boss in the third act? Do you award XP per creature, per location, per plot point? \$\endgroup\$ – Ruther Rendommeleigh Apr 24 '19 at 12:52

When adventurers defeat one or more monsters-typically by killing, routing, or capturing them-they divide the total XP value of the monsters evenly among themselves. If the party received substantial assistance from one or more NPCs, count those NPCs as party members when dividing up the XP.

DMG 260.

The Question is: is the encounter solved, the threat negated, the risk avoided?

the DM may also award XP for neutralizing the threat posed by the monster in some other manner.

MM 9.

Sometimes it is adequate to award partial experience for solving an encounter if the threat is not negated but only temporarily avoided in a specific quest line. As an example: sneaking into a stronghold of a villain avoiding the guards on your way in but then fighting them on your way out technically counts as two encounters. You might not want to award full XP for sneaking in as the threat was only temporarily avoided.

If you, however, sneaked into some cave, obtained the object of your side quest and avoided the encounter peacefully that should award you full XP (and a "thank you" from your DM because you aren't a murder-band).

  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Apr 24 '19 at 18:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks. That actually makes a lot of sense and quite clear. \$\endgroup\$ – Theo Scholiadis Apr 24 '19 at 22:09

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