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I'm running a campaign with six player characters. Since it's a larger group, they occasionally split up. During these times, individual groups have gotten into encounters and been awarded XP.

My question is, does this XP get split evenly among the group present at the encounter or does the entire party, including the non-present group, receive XP evenly across the board?

For my specific example, the party members aren't far away from each other completing their own quests. One group of 3 went down into a house's basement and reaped XP from an encounter; while, the other group of 3 was on the 2nd floor and was totally unaware of the encounter.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Sep 18 at 7:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ Are any of the answers good enough for a green check? \$\endgroup\$ – Thomas Markov Sep 21 at 20:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ Although your answer isn't bad, I knew those rules going into this question. I was hoping of someone having knowledge of rules I wasn't aware of, especially from Sage Advice. \$\endgroup\$ – One Eye Sep 22 at 12:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @OneEye I added a section at the bottom of my answer, maybe it addresses the concerns you mentioned. \$\endgroup\$ – Thomas Markov Oct 2 at 13:04
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It’s entirely up to you (and I recommend input from your players).

The Dungeon Master’s Guide has some guidance on absent players that can easily be applied in a situation where a character is absent from an encounter. Part of the "Absent Characters" (p. 260) section says:

Typically, adventurers earn experience only for encounters they participate in. If a player is absent for a session, the player’s character misses out on the experience points.

Over time, you might end up with a level gap between the characters of players who never miss a session and characters belonging to players who are more sporadic in their attendance. Nothing is wrong with that. A gap of two or three levels between different characters in the same party isn’t going to ruin the game for anyone. Some DMs treat XP as a reward for participating in the game, and keeping up with the rest of the party is good incentive for players to attend as many sessions as possible.

Again, this is guidance, not rules. The very next paragraph suggests just spreading XP evenly as an alternative. It’s up to you how you handle leveling and experience, but it’s probably a good idea to talk to your players and get some ideas from them about their expectations. The game is a team effort, and an important decision like this should consider the players’ input.

Frame Challenge: There are no rules, only tools

Think about it like this: the Dungeon Master's Guide approaches experience and leveling with a set of tools, not a set of rules. The DMG is quite intentional about this - the designers intend not to restrict you to one system, rather they give us variety of methods to use or tweak to suit the needs of our tables. In this sense, there are no proper rules concerning advancement. There is a tool box given in the DMG from which you may select and modify the right tool for your game. Aside from the mentioned DMG guidance, there are no other official rules concerning split party XP.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The way I handle it is to just assume the other player(s) did something equally XP-rewarding "off screen" and so everyone ends up with the same XP in the end. \$\endgroup\$ – Morfildur Sep 18 at 12:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ Good answer. On my side I do give it evenly to everyone since splitting the party was likely a party decision to increase their chances of success OR something that happened the players have no control over... I do not see why some players would be penalized by it... But that is just my ruling on it there are no rules on it i can think.of. \$\endgroup\$ – KilrathiSly Sep 22 at 21:36
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My recommendation, particularly if you are a new DM, is to use milestone leveling. It is much easier to have things planned so the party has a whole should get an average of the appropriate amount of xp to level when they complete certain milestones in your campaign. This way you don't need to track every point of XP but just say "the PCs achieved X goal, therefore they all level up". There are several advantages to this. For one, it discourages party splitting. As others have mentioned, its a hassle for players and DM alike. If the party splits, it risks some members of the party running into an encounter that was meant to be a hard encounter for the entire party, which could end up wiping that half of the party. Moreover, you do run into the problem of balancing attention between your split parties. If one party splits of in the direction of all the action, the other half of the party will be bored while you resolve that. It also leads to less frustration about being a different level, and in balancing encounters for a mixed level party. If half the party is a lower level and you balance the encounter for the higher level, the lower level PCs might die, or even just feel useless in the fight (unable to hit the monsters, have less AOE spells to deal with swarms, etc.). Everything is easiest if everyone levels together.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I asked my group at the start of the campaign how they would like to level. It was unanimously XP because they wanted a sense of progression. As for parties splitting up, I actually feel like I've been handling this fairly well. For example, last session, the active group was in dire danger and the non-active group was extremely interested to what the outcome was going to be. \$\endgroup\$ – One Eye Sep 22 at 13:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ Another option if milestone doesn't "show the progress" enough is to do XP but still just give it to the whole party regardless. Generally my PCs level about every 3-4 sessions so they don't really feel they need to see the xp totals, they can "feel" when they are about to level \$\endgroup\$ – Andrew A DeMarco Sep 23 at 11:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ I am playing in a game like this where the split party thing is doing ok, he is doing a good job of giving both parties something meaningful to do and of switching back and forth between them every 30 minutes or so and everyone is staying engaged, so it can work, its just more work. Also even he does not give XP totals, and has us all level at the same rate \$\endgroup\$ – Andrew A DeMarco Sep 23 at 11:23
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Both as a player and as a DM I generally avoid splitting the party. It basically means that the group now has to play two sessions in parallel and has to divide its attention back and forth between them. It is also hard for the DM to not play favorites in this situation and let one half of the group enjoy more spotlight and content than the other.

But sometimes there are situations where it is impractical for all party members to stick together. For example if the rogue needs to do some sneaky infiltration stuff or the only character who can fly wants to do some aerial reconnaissance. If you do get in such a situation, then my recommendation is: Track Exp separately, but try to keep it balanced.

Why? Because the exp you distribute can be a useful indicator to measure how much DM attention those two sub-groups receive. If you noticed that some party members received less exp than others due to party splitting, then that can be a sign that you are neglecting them. So perhaps you should come up with a private encounter for those characters to catch up. Sure, exp is only a secondary indicator for quantity and quality of each player's entertainment, but in the absence of any other, more direct indicators, it can work as a proxy (I mean seriously, who has the attention span left to keep tracking time while DMing multiple sessions at once?).

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    \$\begingroup\$ One way to avoid splitting is just to ask the ones that want to split "When do you want to get together to play this? I don't want to ruin the rest of the group's fun just because you want to go on a side-quest." \$\endgroup\$ – NomadMaker Sep 18 at 12:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NomadMaker I elaborated a bit on situations where splitting the party is appropriate. \$\endgroup\$ – Philipp Sep 18 at 12:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, there are reasonable times where a party might want to split. However, I've had groups where two players (always the same two players) want to do something different, just because. I got tired of it. My fix worked in this case. \$\endgroup\$ – NomadMaker Sep 18 at 12:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ My situation isn't as elaborate. It's as simple as one group staying on the 1st level of a house, while the other goes to the 2nd level. However, it's a big house so they don't hear commotion, if there is any. And this wasn't anything I directed, the players did this on their own. I then would give each group a few minutes before I switched back to the other group. After talking to the players afterwards, each group seemed to enjoy this method. \$\endgroup\$ – One Eye Sep 18 at 14:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ -1. As a DM, I have tried tracking xp individually, and I would never do it again. It was a massive hassle, and having party members at different levels didn't do anything except make the players who were behind feel bad. \$\endgroup\$ – ThunderGuppy Sep 18 at 20:20
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Try not to let your characters do that

I've been in games where some characters split off from the group and went on their own side mission and got in a fight. What I can tell you is that it was a bad experience. It resulted in a long span of time where my character couldn't do anything because they weren't physically present.

This is only slightly unpleasant if it's just the rogue splitting off to scout the next encounter, but if characters get in a whole battle, that's a lot of downtime for the players who aren't there.

The worry is: if you start giving experience points (and, eventually, levels) to characters who split off from the party and get in encounters in small groups, it might make them want to do it more, so that they can gain more levels relative to the rest of the party.

The DMG writes: "A gap of two or three levels between different characters in the same party isn’t going to ruin the game for anyone", but a gap of two or three levels represents an extremely significant difference in capability.

I recommend that you spread the experience evenly (or use milestones!), and also that you try not to let your group get in combat when the party is split.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree they should not let the experience difference get drastic, but there are many GM tools that allow you to appropriately manage split parties, presenting both sides with engaging encounters. I feel like recommending against it is a difference in play style more than just sound advice. \$\endgroup\$ – Ifusaso Sep 17 at 23:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ That's not to say you can't posit that you've had bad experience with it, but I would generally recommend caution over total avoidance personally. \$\endgroup\$ – Ifusaso Sep 17 at 23:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ If the party splits, I try to divide time evenly, so no one gets bored. I don't want to prevent the group from deciding to do something dangerous. They know the risks with splitting up. It adds a bit of tension, especially with a group of 6. \$\endgroup\$ – One Eye Sep 22 at 14:04

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