Attempting to keep things vague to avoid possible spoilers for Dragon Heist

During the first session, after the barfight, a couple monsters crawl out of the hole in the middle of the tavern, one big scary dude and three bugs. The 'Big Scary Dude' would be worth a ton of XP if killed by the players, but there are two caveats:

  1. It is at half health when introduced.

  2. The players are told in no uncertain terms to focus on the little bugs while an NPC takes care of it.

Before the players even have a chance at him, the NPC goes before them in the Initiative and outright kills the big scary dude with a four hit combo on his turn. The big dude goes down literally before they even have a chance to react.

Just the other day, one of my players was asking me if they should have gotten experience for being apart of that battle with the big dude. If they did, they would be undeniably level 2 for the rest of the first chapter, but my thoughts are that they did not actually do anything in that fight and therefore should not get the XP. Am I in the wrong for denying them the XP? Or am I in the right for maintaining continuity?

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Related: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/73722/… \$\endgroup\$
    – ZwiQ
    Jun 17, 2019 at 14:39
  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ I'd suggest using spoiler tags in your question to cover details that people might consider spoilers. You can do this by using >! prior to a block of text. This way you can have a more complete question, without answerers needing to guess at which sections you are addressing. \$\endgroup\$
    – illustro
    Jun 17, 2019 at 15:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ How many players are in your party? \$\endgroup\$
    – illustro
    Jun 17, 2019 at 15:19

5 Answers 5


I personally feel Dragon Heist isn't optimized for using experience

Waterdeep: Dragon Heist seems to be designed with the milestone level system in mind, and it accordingly gives out roughly one level per chapter. If you've decided that players get experience for killing monsters, instead of levels for completing chapters, then you've already set yourself up for more problems down the road, because Dragon Heist does not have nearly enough combat encounters to get you to the required level for the later parts and you'll be forced to improvise extra experience for social encounters and traps.

So as far as the reasoning is concerned, no, they get no exp for it, because they never get exp for anything, they get a level when they complete a milestone.

But I've already decided to use experience!

Even then, they still shouldn't really get any experience for the big monster, because they weren't involved in fighting it. The NPC was in a fight with the giant monster, they were in a fight with the small things around him. Nothing they did contributed in any way to the fight with the big monster, and nothing the NPC did contributed to the fight with the little monsters.

For all intents and purposes, they were two separate encounters, and one of the encounters did not involve the players, they were essentially bystanders. If your player insists that they deserve experience because they were also there for the encounter, then logically speaking all other NPCs in the tavern were also there and should also share in the experience.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Jun 18, 2019 at 20:38

Yes they should get XP for the encounter, but it should be divided between the NPC + Party

Dragon Heist gives you the option of either using XP based advancement, or using milestone advancement. If you choose to use XP based advancement (which you clearly have) then you should be dividing out XP for the encounter as a whole.

Based on your description I believe the encounter in question is the

Troll and 3 stirges

While your party did not actually fight the


due to lack of opportunity they did participate in the encounter. In particular they stopped

3 stirges from dogpiling on Durnan while Durnan fought the Troll.



prevented the PCs from being attacked by the


Finally the module expects the PCs to be thanked by


for their help in the encounter, and stabilised if they have been reduced to 0 HP.

One thing to remember is that the

Troll regenerates back if it isn't hit by fire when it's at 0 HP. Durnan has no way (as written) to deal that fire damage, so he needs help from somewhere to actually deal the fire damage. The module mentions Durnan dousing the Troll in lamp oil, but that should have at least taken one of his 4 attacks. If you allowed Durnan to throw the lamp oil and make four attacks then you changed the action economy of the fight.

As you mention, the


is at half it's hitpoints when the encounter starts. This does (technically) reduce it's defensive challenge rating, which will then have a knock on effect on it's overall challenge rating. I have the calculations for this at home and will dig them out (later). This does add additional complications to the calculation though.

You always have the option of not dealing with this complication, and just awarding the normal XP for the monster.

If we use the normal XP for a full health monster, the total XP for the encounter is:

1800 + 3 * 25 = 1875

If we assume you are playing with 4 party members then the encounter XP should be divided by 5 to get the per player XP.

The would mean each player should be awarded

375 XP for the encounter

If you don't include the


And treat them as two separate encounters, then they would get

18 XP each. (75/4 = 18.75 which is rounded down to 18)

But, they didn't actually hit it?!!

Lets take this argument to the extreme. If you have an encounter setup for your party which has 50 goblins walk around a corner. Your party has a Sorcerer (or a Wizard) with fireball, who happens to roll high enough in initiative that they go before everything else in the encounter (both goblins and other PCs).

The Sorcerer seizes the moment and casts Fireball, incinerating all 50 goblins.

Should the other PCs in your party get an XP share? or should it all go to the Sorcerer?

To put it another way, if your party has an especially low Dex PC who doesn't roll high enough to participate in the encounter (the rest of your party are efficient at their monster murdering). Should that low Dex PC be excluded from the XP calculation?

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ low Dex PC who doesn't roll high enough to participate in the encounter can actually participate as a support character. Tank, healer etc. These roles still deserve XP in my opinion. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    Jun 17, 2019 at 14:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mołot I'm talking about a situation where the encounter is over by the time it would be the low Dex PCs turn, and they were in no danger from the encounter (due to how the turn order for the particular instance of the encounter turned out. (In any case I agree that the PC in question should be getting XP). \$\endgroup\$
    – illustro
    Jun 17, 2019 at 14:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ That situation is analogous to the one from Dragon Heist described by the OP. Had the NPC not felled the monster in a single turn, the PCs would most definitely have been in danger and under threat from the monster, and could have participated in the dispatching of it, and should get XP as a result. \$\endgroup\$
    – illustro
    Jun 17, 2019 at 14:11
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ This is the right answer. You can also make an analogy with real-world combat activities such as military and police work. Suppose you are a cop and participate in a raid. You join in surveillance, attend the briefing, contribute ideas, receive orders, then deploy. Your specific role is to enter and proceed quickly to the attic. For whatever reason, the goons were all in the basement and you end up reaching an empty attic. You receive word that the mission is successful. Did you learn anything? That's what XP is. You don't learn just by shooting people. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 18, 2019 at 14:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ I especially like this because it's silly to only equate experience to killing monsters. XP represents growth of characters, and ought to be awarded for overcoming challenges. Whether they kill the ravenous dog or feed it, they got past the obstacle (and similarly for bypassing traps or social situations). \$\endgroup\$
    – Delioth
    Jun 18, 2019 at 20:40

No. You get XP for overcoming threats, not for letting someone else do it.

Basic Rules:

As your character goes on adventures and overcomes challenges, he or she gains experience, represented by experience points.

The scenario supplied them with an NPC whose job is to fight the monster and keep it away from the PCs. The NPC did his job, thus preventing the party from ever having to engage with the monster at all. They were, as Buffy the Vampire Slayer would have put it, "fray-adjacent".

If Godzilla is going to eat your peaceful village, and a hero goes and drives Godzilla away, what you did was get rescued. You don't get a share of the XP for that. Your reward is to not get eaten.

The typical D&D party is very often in the position of the hero here: being invited or contracted to deal with someone else's problems. When the Lord of Castle Aaaargh hires you to slay a dragon for him, does he get XP for that? No! Even though, if you had failed, he might well have had to put on his armor and go out there himself. Because that's not what happened. He outsourced the job, so he outsourced the glory.

If you want to advance to hero status, you have to step up to Godzilla in some way. You don't have to kill him, or even fight him. You could decoy him away from the town, or dig a giant trench to stop him. But you have to act.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Question, in the Godzilla scenario, would the players get xp for luring Mothra into Godzilla's path and getting the two of them to duke it out instead of having their village be eaten? \$\endgroup\$
    – Valthek
    Jun 18, 2019 at 13:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Valthek Excellent question. I suggest you post it :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Mark Wells
    Jun 18, 2019 at 13:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ Sure thing: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/150143/… \$\endgroup\$
    – Valthek
    Jun 18, 2019 at 13:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ Overcoming threats can also cover situations where your characters use guile or craftiness to solve challenges. XP should be given for more than just damage dealt. However, there is a narrow line between avoiding conflict and solving an issue by non-violent means, that a GM should watch out for. Having the skill, and forethought to lure Mothra to Godzilla should absolutely reward the players. Meeting the bandits outside of town and convincing them to go and bother someone else should also. But hiding in the closet to avoid getting your face beaten should not be rewarded. etc. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 18, 2019 at 16:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ In both of the cases I outline above, XP reward should be commensurate to the method used to solve the challenge. E.g. using Mothra should reward you XP according to how difficult it was to recognize and successfully implement the plan to lure Mothra.... not grant the full XP for "defeating Godzilla". \$\endgroup\$ Jun 18, 2019 at 16:15

In my experience as a DM, I would award partial experience for being part of the encounter. If the encounter is scripted to have the big dude go down by an NPC, then it's possible to award nothing at all. But the fact that the players experienced an encounter with the big dude does give them something. I would award 10% of the full experience.

As a DM, you can do whatever you want. You can award full experience, you can award nothing. But players have the most fun by getting experience. It's about making it fun for the players. If they become more powerful, just increase the difficulty of the enemies (give +1-4 more hit dice to the enemies, or create your own monster that's not in the monster manual).

As an example, I had my party do combat with a Rakshasa (in disguise) and some soldiers at low level. Then I had the Rakshasa reveal himself. They knew what the Rakshasa does and knew they could not defeat it with their current gear. But I mentioned a magical arrow that was on display in the courtroom that they happened to forget about. I had them make a wisdom check and the one that passed, I reminded them about it. They broke it out of the case and fired it at the Rakshasa. If they missed, they would need to retrieve it and do it again. If they hit him, I automatically ended the fight with a climatic movie ending type scene, which caused the soldiers to come out of their "charm". It was a very exciting battle for them that they were not accustomed to. They were always about min/max'ing their combat values and to me, that takes away from the experience of having fun.

Remember, the monster manual, player's guide, etc, that's all just a guideline. You can alter the rules how you see fit. There are certain rules to stick by, but for the most part, think of everything as a guideline.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Jun 18, 2019 at 20:36

I believe illustro's answer is excellent in stating that the PC's and the NPC collaborated in the combat. Who delivered which blows is just detail.

There is a more generalized rule that I have found to be helpful. Consider the entire encounter to be a mission similar to the ones that police, military, or even armed gangs might go on. Suppose you are a cop and participate in a raid on some gang's meth lab. You join in surveillance, attend the pre-mission briefing, contribute ideas, receive orders, then deploy. Your specific role is to enter and proceed quickly to the attic. For whatever reason, the goons were all in the basement and you end up reaching an empty attic. You receive word that the mission is successful. Did you learn anything? Did you get a chance to build lower-body muscle strength while climbing all of those stairs? Did you build self-resilience by facing fears of getting shot? That's what XP is. You don't learn just by shooting people. Real-world cops don't receive promotions based on number of suspects shot, but by other factors such as time in grade, passing exams, and contributing broadly to the police mission.

Another way to consider it is what I call the danger metric. As illustro mentioned, the reason that the PC's are able to concentrate on the "minions" (and, vice versa, how the NPC is able to concentrate on the Big Bad) is because they both put themselves "into the fray", risking their own safety for the sake of everyone (PC or NPC alike). This argument aligns with many combat support roles we find in our own world today. Army tank drivers, who might carry a sidearm "just in case" but won't be personally firing any type of shots in most encounters, are still risking their lives by helping their gunner get into the right position. Similarly, combat medics "in the field" risk their lives, as well as radiomen, truck drivers, cargo unloaders, etc. Many militaries will give you a mission or campaign medal for doing these things, and soldiers who participate in these ways "in the field" are granted "veteran" status when it is over. It's ridiculous to say to the driver, "well, you only drove the tank, it was your gunner who pushed the 'fire' button, so you get no recognition or even credit for your service".

For a real encounter with this, find a local Navy veteran. Ask them if they have military experience. Ask them how many medals or promotions they received, and whether or not they feel they gained anything valuable from their service other than a paycheck and a chance to loot treasure chests. After that, ask them for the number of enemy personnel they personally shot, ran through with a sword, hurled overboard to the sharks, or otherwise personally dispatched. Don't be surprised if the answer is low, or even zero.

Also see my previous question here about support roles outside of the immediate combat zone and how those roles can lead to XP: Should a PC get XP for assisting outside of combat?


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