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We are playing Rise of the Runelords, and were fighting Nualia and her minions in Thisletop. During the heat of the battle, Nualia was near death at just 12 HP. Her minion caster fireballed the party that surrounded her. The party survived via making the save or simply soaking the damage. The fireball killed Nualia, and the party killed the rest of the minions.

When it came to tallying the XP, the GM rationalized that since party did not deliver the killing blow to Nualia, we do not receive XP for her demise - but we get the XP for killing the remaining minions.

Can the GM do this, and is it legal?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Is "killing blow" a rule for this edition of PF? That was a rule in a game I ran 40 years ago. You may want to mention if you have seen that rule in PF 1e ever before, or not. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Oct 27 '19 at 16:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ Possibly related: rpg.stackexchange.com/q/51981/3455 \$\endgroup\$ – vsz Oct 28 '19 at 10:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ Just as a lateral thinking exercise, where would your GM draw the line? If I pushed Nualia off a cliff, technically I didn't kill her either (the cliff's bottom did). If I break a dam which floods the place and drowns her, I technically didn't kill her either. If you mind control her and force her to commit suicide, did you kill her? Your GM's reasoning opens the door to a very slippery slope of what exactly counts as you doing it. \$\endgroup\$ – Flater Oct 28 '19 at 14:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ One additional point: Did the DM do the fireball, at least in part, to prevent the party from gaining the XP? You may have a DM vs Party thing going on. \$\endgroup\$ – Michael Richardson Oct 28 '19 at 15:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ Does the GM use this "killing blow" rule for any XP he awards? So a party doesn't share XP for any kill, instead it all goes to the last hitter. Or was it for this boss specifically? \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Oct 28 '19 at 19:33
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The rules don't say that player characters need to kill enemies to earn XP.

From the Core Rulebook, chapter 12 "Gamemastering" gives an overview of how to run combats and combat rewards. The text says that the players must "defeat" monsters or "overcome" the challenge in some way, but does not explicitly say that the enemy creatures must be killed by the players, let alone killed by anyone. On page 399, the section "Awarding Experience" says:

Pathfinder Roleplaying Game characters advance in level by defeating monsters, overcoming challenges, and completing adventures—in so doing, they earn experience points (XP for short). [...] Each monster, trap, and obstacle awards a set amount of XP, as determined by its CR, regardless of the level of the party in relation to the challenge, although you should never bother awarding XP for challenges that have a CR of 10 or more lower than the APL.

According to James Jacobs, one of the system's designers, enduring an encounter counts as the first time the players overcome it, regardless of whether the enemies survived. From the Paizo forums:

ALL XP awards in the game are handed out when the thing they're attached to is defeated. Be that a monster or a trap or a haunt or a tense political standoff. Be "defeated" akin to "killed" or "driven away" or "disabled" or "endured.

There are various gameplay consequences due to your GM's rule that XP is only given for killing blows. Players wouldn't gain XP if they rely on summoned creatures, mind-affecting spells (such as Confusion or Dominate Monster), or environmental objects to dispatch enemies. This rule doesn't account for non-creature hazards such as haunts or traps, which have CR values, and are common in Rise of the Runelords. It also discourages diplomacy, stealth, and other non-combat methods of handling encounters.

However, the GM decides the rules for rewarding XP.

The Gamemastery Guide, chapter 5 "Rewards" has some rough rules for how and when XP should be given to the players. The section is quite long (page 102-104) and begins with the following:

Experience points are the lifeblood of the Pathfinder rewards system. They determine the rate at which the PCs progress, and form the currency with which the most spectacular and reliable abilities are acquired. By deciding when and how to give out XP, you’re establishing the expectations the players will bring to the rest of the game’s reward system.

To summarize, the gist of the section is that the GM judges what encounters and conditions are worth rewarding XP. So if the GM rules that the players only get XP by delivering the "killing blow", then it's legal, even if the rulebooks don't support it.

What can you do about this?

As usual, the solution is "Talk to the GM." The GM is treating combat like a video game, and that's not working for you. Explain that you don't like this rule about killing blows. Not only because it's unsupported by the official rulebooks, but more importantly, that you think it's unfair to be withheld XP even after your characters endured a challenge or encounter.

Side note: Rise of the Runelords is an especially tough adventure path, with numerous encounters where an enemy NPC may flee. Falling behind on XP (and other resources) can make future encounters much more deadly. The players will need as much XP as they can earn.

When you talk to the GM, it may help to get input from the other players. Come up with a new agreement for how and when XP is rewarded.

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    \$\begingroup\$ As an additional argument against using "XP only on last hit", you could note that this creates a bizarre incentive for the DM to have enemies kill each other when they're low on health, which is definitely not an intended mechanic. \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan C. Thompson Oct 28 '19 at 2:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ New adventure idea: a sinister evil prescient demi-God is swooping down on important encounters and "stealing" the killing blows of parties of yet-low-level heroes, in order to reduce the number of epic-level heroes in the future. \$\endgroup\$ – ANeves Oct 28 '19 at 14:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ "The GM is treating combat like a video game" Even by video game standards, killing blow accreditation is rare. You usually encounter contribution accreditation (everyone who contributed splits the XP, whether it's damaging the enemy or buffing/healing those who damage the enemy) (e.g. WoW), and games with multiple-outcome gameplay will similarly grant similar XP for non-killing-resolutions (e.g. Fallout, Skyrim). You can add a bonus for killing blows, but killing blows tend not to be the main source of XP as game developers have learned it destroys team spirit in multiplayer co-op. \$\endgroup\$ – Flater Oct 28 '19 at 14:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PeterTaylor " I think there's room for disagreement on whether it suffices to "endure" monsters." The point is more that this is contextual. Surviving/enduring something can be something that counts as a victory, or it could not be. It depends on the story at hand. The quote is more focusing on the possibility of enduring counting as defeating, rather than trying to imply that all enduring will always count as defeating. \$\endgroup\$ – Flater Oct 28 '19 at 15:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Flater from memory many MMORPGs used to assign all XP to the killing blow, but changed it later because it's very frustrating. \$\endgroup\$ – OrangeDog Oct 28 '19 at 16:12
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The notion that D&D (or a D&D based game like Pathfinder) is a combat game in which all else doesn't count is a trope that many players do not agree with and that some people here constantly work to correct.

A DM who wants to award XP based on killing blows *has fallen into this trope. You should tell the DM this is not the game that you want to play.

Agency

But for your party's presence, the minion would not have cast the fatal fireball. The group is the author of the situation which kills the monster, so credit should be given.

I once threw a Beholder at a level 1 party. The beholder was a quest giver and the encounter was on rails, but if they had found an extraordinary way of interacting with that monster, I would have awarded XP. Obviously they couldn't have killed it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Some people play D&D as a combat game with just enough story to explain who and why the character's are fighting. This is not my preferred style, but it is a common and valid one, not wrong. I also think awarding XP based on the killing blow is an ineffective technique for many reasons (discouraging team play, focusing too much on the final blow of a long combat, etc), but the DM has almost complete discretion on how to award XP. \$\endgroup\$ – TimothyAWiseman Oct 28 '19 at 20:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ @TimothyAWiseman okay, I accept your suggestion. Thhanks. \$\endgroup\$ – Harper - Reinstate Monica Oct 28 '19 at 23:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks Korvin!!!! \$\endgroup\$ – Harper - Reinstate Monica Nov 3 '19 at 17:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ Glad to help, this answer gets at the core of the issue. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Nov 5 '19 at 0:39
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It's allowed... but not fair

The DM/GM can really do whatever they want.

But with great power comes great responsibility.

If it was just the killing blow to the beholder then no, they shouldn't have taken the XP from the Party as they did. XP should be based on the idea of contributing to the encounter. Even someone like a non-combative bard who only buffs should get equal XP because they healed, buffed, inspired, etc.

It would be fine if they gave the minion an equal share of the XP I guess (though I don't personally like the idea if the kill wasn't intentional.) Not allowing any XP from the boss fight is not a fair move.

I typically just accept the DM's ruling on things because they have a story to tell, even if they have to bend a simple rule to make the story progress and move on.

However, in this case, I would speak to your GM/DM and tell them that it is unfair to withhold XP without a valid reason. Be polite, but the game is about having fun. If something is making you feel cheated or unhappy with the game, the GM/DM should be informed and try to compromise with the PCs.

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If that's the rule, just make up the difference

Ruling that killing a creature awards the entirety of its XP and that no other action or circumstance affects how much XP is gained is a somewhat common house rule. It does violate the RAW, and it is dumb, but it is nonetheless common.

In such games, you can trivially get as much XP as you want so long as you've reached level 9 and have a Cleric. Have one of your PCs kill another, then have the Cleric cast breath of life. Repeat until you are a level you are comfortable with. PCs are a CR level-1 encounter and give about 1/6th of a level to every member of the party per kill (including themselves). A 9th level cleric has only a single 5th level slot unless they have a high Wisdom modifier, so they probably can cast revivify only twice per day until they level up. Assuming you pass a week of time, that means everyone in the party should level up twice.

Generally a GM who breaks the rules to cheat you out of XP for a boss doesn't much like this sort of thing, and so in actuality what one does is point out that the new rules they made up are going to let you level up without restriction and suggest that instead the rules in the book (e.g. that one need only defeat an opponent to receive XP, and that killing someone is not necessarily defeating them and that not killing someone does not necessarily mean that you did not defeat them) be used.

If you are less than level 9, you will need other more complicated methods of arbitrary level gain. That would be a long enough topic for another question, however.

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Reducing XP for a monster that was easier to kill than its intended CR rating is normal, but reducing it to 0 is totally unfair.

DMG actually has some reading on situation like this on the REWARDS section, maybe point to your DM to read it....

EXPERIENCE POINTS (DMG P260) Experience points (XP) fuel level advancement for player characters and are most often the reward for completing combat encounters. Each monster has an XP value based on its challenge rating. 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. (Because the NPCs made the fight easier, individual characters receive fewer XP.).

So basically in your example, the DM could have determined that the enemy NPC that 'helped' the party defeat the boss should receive part of the experience and divide evenly amongst the party AND the added NPC... but that would still give substantial XP amount to everyone in the party. I think this DM has some issues he needs to fix in order to make that game more enjoyable, rewards are a BIG part of the game.

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    \$\begingroup\$ the question is tagged for Pathfinder, but you refer to the DMG. ??? \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Nov 3 '19 at 17:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hmm good point I was so infuriated by this question that I jumped to answer it. But Pathfinder is based on DnD 5E rules anyways, so the spirit of DM'ing should be the same \$\endgroup\$ – KilrathiSly Nov 5 '19 at 0:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ as suggeste4d i posted a quote from the book on xp award ruling \$\endgroup\$ – KilrathiSly Nov 5 '19 at 0:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ "But Pathfinder is based on DnD 5E rules anyways" - Uh... No. Not at all. Pathfinder 1st edition came out several years before D&D 5e, so that's not even possible except with Pathfinder products that came out several years after release... The only extent to which Pathfinder could be said to be "based on" D&D 5e is that they both derive, in some part, from D&D 3e/3.5e. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Nov 5 '19 at 9:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ WEll, having read both rulebooks I would say pathfinder more than derives from DnD 3 and 5, some rules are even often exactly the same, most others are very similar with some added variety. Not sure who copied who, but I think DnD came first. \$\endgroup\$ – KilrathiSly Nov 6 '19 at 15:09

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