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I have bought my first DnD adventure, Dragon of Icespire Peak, mainly because I wanted a good opening adventure to introduce some new players to the game.

However the module uses milestone leveling with clear advice to increase to level 1 after quest 1 and then increase based on the successful completion of quests thereafter.

I am planning on this to be an opening intro to a wider campaign I have planned and have tweaked the setting accordingly however I generally run my campaigns based on experience points, largely because I run a very open world players can do anything including ignore the main story, type of campaign. I don’t have anything largely against the way players will level through the adventure but I don’t want them to get to level 5/6 and then suddenly start handing out XP as we move into my own material.

Are there any clear rules to converting the milestone based adventures into XP style games? I can easily work our roughly how much XP the various monsters will return and then work out what completing the quests/role playing bonus should give to allow the players to advance at roughly the same pace but are there any official suggestions as to how to do this?

Just to add some clarity, I will be running for 6 players, and these are mainly new players so I want to be able to use XP to reward role playing and good gamesmanship as well as just completing the quests and killing stuff.

As suggested by a comment the way I hand out XP is very much based on rewarding roleplay and good gameplay as opposed to just monster killing. If a group of potential enemies would give 350XP if killed but the party resolve or avoid the encounter in a different way to combat the odds are I will reward with the same amount of XP. I also give a large % of XP for how the players roleplay social encounters, or come up with clever ways to deal with a situation.

Milestones take away this ability to reward player behavior throughout the quests instead simply rewarding at quest end.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "I don’t have anything largely against the way players will level through the adventure but I don’t want them to get to level 5/6 and then suddenly start handing out XP as we move into my own material." - can you tell us why you don't want to switch to XP as you move into your own material? \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Aug 18 '20 at 14:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ So far, that sounds like a good reason not to use XP; XP definitely encourages murderhobo behaviour vs. anything creative or out of the box thinking... \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Aug 18 '20 at 14:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ In my experience the way I hand out XP does not lead to that, yes combat is necessary but I hand out just as much XP for resolving an encounter without killing anything as if they had. But it also means I can give bonus xp for role playing that talk to the barmaid, or for how the party engaged with the farmer who’s daughter has been kidnapped, I can give XP to that player who played his phobia without simply resorting to making constant dice rolls and that player with low intelligence I can reward for not being the brightest person in the party. My players know killing won’t always mean XP. \$\endgroup\$ – Richard C Aug 18 '20 at 14:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ @RichardC You should really add that to the question, because if you're running XP different to what folks are used to, you're gonna get different advice. A certain part here is that "these are mainly new players" and "My players know killing won’t always mean XP" seem incompatible, at least to my first glance. \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Aug 18 '20 at 14:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ Something else I've just thought of; you mention "that player with low intelligence I can reward for not being the brightest person in the party" - does that mean that your players may be different levels as they earn different amount of XP, or does the entire party get XP for one person's good roleplaying? I ask because milestone levelling assumes everyone is always at the same level... \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Aug 18 '20 at 15:09
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You're better off sticking with milestone levelling

The upsides of this are of course that you don't have to mess with the pre-created module and can just play it as-is, but that's not the reason I'm suggesting this. I'm suggesting this because of something you mentioned in comments:

... I want to encourage out of the box thinking and role playing vs just killing everything in sight to churn through the quests, XP is a good tool for this as it allows me to hand out bonus XP do good bits of roleplay as opposed to just, Quest 1 complete here is level 1, I don’t care how you got there.

I completely disagree with this reasoning. In my experience (no pun intended), I've found that games that make use of XP tend to encourage players to pick more fights and rely on combat, fighting everything to the last, because the more things you kill = more XP = faster level progression. It tends to discourage more roleplaying-based solutions and clever planning (besides how to kill the most enemies with minimal risk, but still expecting full XP for it).

However, I've found, both in using milestone levelling and being a player in games that use it, the use of milestones tends to encourage players to forget about how they're going to get to the next level, allowing them to engage in the story more, roleplaying their way out of combat if it better fits the narrative, being more creative, focusing on the story precisely because they trust that you'll hand out the next level up when the story calls for it, freeing them up to progress with the story in whichever way they please (i.e. not just fighting everything for XP).

The accepted answer to Does 5e address the murderhobos problem? proposes using milestone levelling as a way to reduce murderhobo style play (assuming you agree with OP/accepted answer).

But what about when I start using my homebrew stuff?

I'd recommend still using milestone levelling, even if your game isn't going to necessarily "follow a strict story" in a railroading sense. However, your party will still be achieving something and when you feel like they've achieved enough since their last level to deserve the next one, that's when they level up. This still allows you to run the game with player decisions front-and-centre, allowing the party to decide where to go and what to do next.

In a couple of games I'm currently running, I'm effectively using milestone levelling, but behind the scenes, I'm also lumping together how much XP the various combat encounters would provide so that I know that, when I decide the party have achieved enough in an in-game narrative sense, I can also double check that they've also earned a sizeable chunk of "XP" for the level to feel justified.

This prevents me from handing out levels to frequently, or holding out on the party too long. I don't care if they earn exactly the XP they needed (otherwise, I might as well use XP levelling), and effectively whatever they don't earn via XP they've "earned" via roleplaying and story progression, but it's more of a sanity check so that I have more confidence in how often I hand out levels.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Some good ideas here, as I noted in my comment I don’t auto hand out XP just for killing creatures, that group of bandits camped out, if they would give 50xp per party player then if the party resolve the encounter without killing a thing they get the 50 XP, but I also weigh my XP more heavily for role so I am just as likely to hand out as many experience points to players for how they roleplay in a session as I would for killing stuff and I break down for my players what there XP was for, 300 for killing split between the party, 350 for role playing, and extra 200 for completing that thing. \$\endgroup\$ – Richard C Aug 18 '20 at 14:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ That way players see that not killing stuff doesn’t negatively impact them. In fact I have been know to remove XP if I think players are just killing to level up. But I do like the idea of just handeling the XP in the background, the players don’t know then when the switch happens I just tell them, you have leveled up. \$\endgroup\$ – Richard C Aug 18 '20 at 14:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ To be fair, by your follow up comments, it does sound as though you're using XP a lot better than a lot of DM's I've played with/read about (and better than me, as well), but I'm glad that "XP in the background" is helpful to you; it allows you to play the pre-created adventure as-is, but also allows you to "seamlessly" switch to XP in the background for running your own material without your players needing to know that anything has changed... \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Aug 18 '20 at 15:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ @RichardC As a DM I've also found milestone XP to be much less paperwork. It also makes it much easier to plan out your own adventures (if/when you get around to that) since you know that after this part of the quest everyone will be 6th level so you can balance future encounters in the next part. \$\endgroup\$ – PJRZ Aug 18 '20 at 15:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer assumes that the only way, or at least the most efficient way, to get XP is through combat, which isn't the case. While the rules don't give explicit guidance on how much XP to give for non-combat encounters, they do assume that you will be giving some out. \$\endgroup\$ – illustro Aug 18 '20 at 16:36
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Give quest experience, but let the players choose their quests

A problem, or maybe a feature for some, of milestone experience is that it removes agency from the players, turning their advancement into a matter of game master whim. This is not well suited for a sandbox and player agency, which you seem to be after.

The problem with giving experience for killing stuff is that it encourages killing stuff, often leading to boring gameplay.

You get the best out of both worlds by offering players quests, and allowing them to set up quests for themselves, and then revealing roughly how much experience the quests are worth.

How much is a quest worth?

The most "balanced" (as in, gives the game master most power over character advancement and figuring out "appropriate" encounters) way is: What level should the characters be when they take on the quest? What level should they be when they finish it? How much experience should they earn for these to be true?

What I personally do is just consider the significance of the quest in the grand scheme of things. Use the tiers to figure out how significant something is and then adjust based on how challenging it is for, say, six characters. This gives you the level for the quest. I would check how much experience six characters need to get to level to that level and assign that as the experience award. (You can use a single character or four characters or whichever number you find convenient, here.) The outcome should be, more-or-less, that if the characters accomplish something that you imagine seventh level characters should be capable of accomplishing, they get enough experience to level up from level 6 to 7. (They just demonstrated doing 7th level deeds, did they not?)

Player choice

Note that players can choose to tackle easier or more difficult quests than would be appropriate for their present level. That is up to them. Taking on easy quests leads to slow advancement, taking on hard ones to fast advancement, generally speaking.

Some traditional sources of experience

The traditional source of experience in D&D has been acquiring wealth, with one gold piece worth one experience point.

Another traditional way is giving experience for defeating enemies (for example by killing), with small rewards in older editions, large rewards in modern ones.

You might consider leaning on these if the players are out to rob a dragon; that might only have local significance, if even that, but is certainly quite heroic activity. So why not give experience for gold (maybe with some other conversion rate than one-to-one)? The same if they are out to hunt Hiiden hirvi or Κέρβερος some other legendary beast; consider the experience reward as a function of its challenge rating.

Quest components

You might consider that instead of giving all the quest experience at once, give it a bit at a time. This must be told to the players for them to have agency.

This can be combined with the above; if your quest is to build a castle, acquiring funding or killing monsters from the location might be good partial quest experience sources.

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Follow the rules in the Dungeon Master's Guide.

The Dungeon Master's Guide contains the rules for calculating XP awards, which is usually based on the XP values of the monsters (which is in turn based on their Challenge Ratings) added up and divided by the number of Player Characters. If you wanted to convert an existing adventure that's using milestone levelling, you can just look up the CRs of the monsters the PCs fought, calculate the appropriate amount of XP to be granted for them, then award it to the players.

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