In the D&D group I play with one of the players insists that when you reach a new level you have to zero your experience. However when I checked the PHB1 there is no reference to this. PHB1 uses the term Total Experience when talking about leveling up.

Do the RAW say you should use your total XP gained for the character, or zero it at each level?

Understandably zeroing your XP would allow for a longer campaign.


4 Answers 4


Your fellow player is wrong, and the book is right. You track total XP and never reset it to zero. This is the way it works in every version of Dungeons & Dragons.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Good to know. Now to bring this up with him and our DM. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 24, 2013 at 22:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ If I may pick a nit, in 2e a Druid foregoes all of their XP at 16th level and becomes Hierophant. It's detailed in PHB p 33 and p 37. \$\endgroup\$
    – Pulsehead
    Commented Oct 30, 2013 at 23:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Pulsehead Ehhh, that's such a weird corner case unrelated to the question that I don't even consider it worth mentioning. It's not only an exception to the norm, but it's also very clear that it's an exception. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 31, 2013 at 0:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ In my experience, it was common in 3.5 to do a "soft reset" of XP after leveling since the XP progression was "gain current level x 1000 XP to level". The XP table says you hit 2nd level at 1000XP, 3rd at 3000 XP, and 4th at 7000 XP, but many players would hit 1005 XP, level to 2, then "reset" to 5 XP, counting towards 2000 to level to 3. I think 3.0/3.5 are the only versions in which that works, though. \$\endgroup\$
    – minnmass
    Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 13:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @minnmass Ah, I can see that working in most editions actually (it just wouldn't be a regular number progression in most), but it seems like extra work to me. Still, that sort of thing could be the source of the OP's friend's confusion. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 14:15

This is absolutely untrue.

This would create a rather boring games. Consider for a moment that the average XP gap between levels is already 10 encounters (this guideline is mentioned in the DM guide). That means that you're doubling, tripling or more the gap between levels.

Yes it could perhaps allow for a longer campaign, but honestly, my experience is that 4e campaigns are plenty long. (we're at L12 after 2.5 years). This wouldn't move at all.

  • \$\begingroup\$ True, also our current campaign is off to a very slow start as to experience and encounters. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 24, 2013 at 23:13

As everyone has pointed out this is true of every version of D&D....except...

Well, I'm not sure about OD&D. Even in other early versions (I'm thinking AD&D1) I think it was less than explicitly stated than inferred. Specifically, the examples on not earning enough XP in one adventure to advance one level would show it. However, I'm not sure OD&D even had that (and books aren't handy.

However, as a fan of "every campaign is different" and "the number of variants of D&D is equal to the number of players plus one" I'd give a DM who implemented this a shot.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Well, the only reason anyone reading the rules would think XP reset is because that is how it works in many video games. Back in the 70's, there would have been no reason at all to suspect that they would get set to 0. You'd only think your XP would change if the rules said they change. \$\endgroup\$
    – starwed
    Commented Jun 3, 2013 at 0:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ It didn't reset in OD&D either. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 3, 2013 at 2:23

There might be some truth in what he says. IIRC in 3.5 you would lose all the excess XP you gained above the level cap. At least that is how we played it.
For example: you would need 2500 XP to reach level 3 and you ended the session with 2630 XP your Level 3 character would start from 2500.

As I am writing this down this might be wrong but on the other hand this mechanic can be used to keep different characters at more equal level. Though, you should fudge from time to time to make it work 100% of the time.

But in 4e no: you just keep track of all accumulated XP and never reset anything. With the exception of your character dying of course :)

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    \$\begingroup\$ There is no truth to this in the context of 4e, whatever previous versions held true. In 3.5e, you ought to be starting the session with 2630xp - your extra 130xp would not disappear. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 30, 2013 at 15:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a house rule, and while it would achieve the goal you describe, I think players would be happier to share XP gain equally across the party as they earn it, than to lose XP occasionally based on whoever was lagging behind. \$\endgroup\$
    – BESW
    Commented Oct 30, 2013 at 15:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ There is a rule in some editions that you cannot level more than once per [span of time, such as an adventure, but it varies by edition], and so you would lose enough XP so that you were 1 XP below the forbidden level. This is quite different from what you're describing though, as it is meant to prevent excessive jumps in level. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 30, 2013 at 16:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ So yes, you confirm my hunch about it. It didn't feel right to loose XP because you were getting ahead. The goal was to reward players for special feats or good role-playing with XP. Maybe this wasn't the best way to stimulate it. \$\endgroup\$
    – El_Jairo
    Commented Oct 30, 2013 at 16:47

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