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If a level 3 character single handily defeats a level 16 NPC (16 level fighter) in combat. How much xp would they receive?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Wan't there some rule about not gaining more than one level per encounter? That would put a hard cap on the amount of experience that should be given. \$\endgroup\$
    – DvdZee
    Feb 1 at 8:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the site! Take the tour! I think this question would be improved by providing some context. Where did the encounter take place? What kind of PC are we talking about? What did the PC do to win? Did the NPC make reasonable feat and gear choices? A purely technical answer is available to this question, but even the technical answer involves nuance. Consider adding details. Thank you for participating and have fun! \$\endgroup\$ Feb 1 at 13:20

2 Answers 2

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The thing with Experience Points is that it takes time and several encounters (as a rule of thumb: 13) until you have gathered enough to advance a level. If too many XPs are being awarded too quickly, it unbalances the game and also takes the fun out of it.

The table for calculating XP awards on page 38 of the DMG only covers encounters which are no more than eight Challenge Ratings higher than the character’s level. This is because, it is – or at least should be - practically impossible to win a fight against an enemy that much stronger, and also in order to put a limit on the XPs you can get for defeating a single monster or enemy:

As a guideline, the minimum and maximum awards given on Table 2–6: Experience Point Awards (Single Monster) for a group of a given level are the least and most XP you should award a group.

(DMG, p 39)

In the same section it says

an encounter in which the PCs defeat something far above their own level (CRs higher than their level by eight or more) was probably the result of fantastic luck or a unique set of circumstances, and thus a full XP award may not be appropriate.

In addition, the PHB (p 59) has a rule that prevents characters from gaining more than one level at a time

If, for some extraordinary reason, a character’s XP reward from a single adventure would be enough to advance two or more levels at once, he or she instead advances one level and gains just enough XP to be 1 XP short of the next level. Any excess experience points are not retained.

So, according to this, the maximum number of XPs a 3rd level character can get in a single encounter depends on the number of XPs they currently have and ranges from 4.000 to 6.999 (given that a 3rd level character has between 3.000 and 5.999 XPs and has to reach 10.000 XPs for 5th level).

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It will have to come down to a GM call.

Table 2–6: Experience Point Awards (Single Monster) in the Dungeons Master Guide on page 38 describes how many Experience Points a character gets for defeating a foe based on it's Challenge Rating.

However the formula breaks down for a gap that large, as the Encounter Difficulty should be Unbeatable.

If such a thing occurs it should probably fall under a Ad Hoc XP Awards (page 39) or Story Awards (page 40) and judged on a case by case basis.

As a GM i would probably judge this based upon the strain upon the player and their resources. The XP Award range for a level 3 character is 300 to 10800, so somewhere appropriate in that range.

There is a handy calculator at d20srd.org for calculating Encounters and Rewards.

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