Our group has run into irreconcilable differences of opinion, unfortunately. One of the players was not present for our first session of a new campaign and was not awarded any XP for that session.

The GM was new as well and decided to award XP as recommended by the published adventure module. XP was actually new to the group, the previous (and only up to that point) GM we'd had simply informed us when we'd leveled up.

The player that was absent considered this unfair and the DM didn't agree and considered it unfair to the other players to give XP to someone who wasn't present (regardless of the reasons).

I feel the GM has the right to run the game how they see fit and the exchange between them was frank but polite, but I don't know that the XP award method was clearly communicated before the game started because… well we hadn't really started yet.

I feel this question is slightly different then How do I deal with absent players missing out on levels or XP? because the question seemed to be addressing occasional or serial absences while this one is about coming in after the campaign has started.

So, if all XP can potentially do is cause bad feelings, why bother with it? Why shouldn't the DM just track XP 'behind the scenes' and tell the players when they level up?

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    \$\begingroup\$ "The GM was new as well and decided to award XP as recommended by the published adventure module." - So did they give the absent player XP or not? I presume they didn't, based on other stuff you've written. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 6, 2014 at 0:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ While the situation is different from this question, I'm not sure how the answers to each question would be different. They're predicated on the same set of concerns. Could you clarify what you're looking for in answers to your question that aren't available in the existing answers to the other one? \$\endgroup\$
    – BESW
    Apr 6, 2014 at 1:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ Was the player's character present without his player? That is, was the character at risk despite the player not attending? \$\endgroup\$ Apr 6, 2014 at 1:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ Your question seems to lack an actual question. As a result it's just pulling opinions. What objective question can we help you with? \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Apr 6, 2014 at 5:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ @highbandwidth I laud your diligence and self-awareness, and if there's an actual discussion (as opposed to a SE-compliant question) you'd like to have on the topic, the Role-playing Games Chat is always open. \$\endgroup\$
    – BESW
    Apr 6, 2014 at 10:19

3 Answers 3


This one is heavily down to opinion and group dynamics, and there isn't a black and white "this is how it should be done" answer.

Some groups prefer to ensure they're all at the same level - personally I now do this by removing XP altogether and leveling the group up when it feels a good point to do so, but if you're using XP that means keeping everyone relatively close together.

Other groups are quite happy with XP being used as individual rewards, and unhappy if they see others receiving the same reward when they were not there.

In this particular case, it seems to be a communication issue - it seems like a safe assumption that it hadn't been clarified how XP was going to be handled, if you had not been made aware yourself.

Whether each person GMing for the group should handle things their own way, or whether the group as a whole should have a single agreed mechanism (for handling absentees, or for XP as a whole) that everyone sticks to, is again a matter for individual groups to decide. There's no overall right or wrong way to handle it. I'd suggest everyone sitting down and sorting it out for once and for all whether it's a GM call or a group house rule everyone sticks to. Sitting down and talking it over as a group is almost always the best solution to any issue.


This brings 2 scenarios to mind for me.

  • First, you start them at 0 XP and allow them access to 'bonus' xp to catch up (awarded for excellent Roleplaying for example.)
  • Second, you could just award them "absentee XP". There are a few different thoughts on how to do this, but my personal implementation is that anyone who is not present for a game that awards XP gets 75% of what the present players receive.

The problem with the first option is trying to work in that bonus XP for the guy who is a little behind. If you are going to offer bonus xp for something like good role playing, that option has to be available to everybody for it to be fair. Of course, if it is available to everybody, those that shine in that area will likely get bonus XP more often than others and eventually out level the group. However, Starting the player who missed the game at 0 seems the most fair to those that were present and participated.

The idea behind the second option, absentee XP, is that the person who missed the game is not rewarded as well as those that are present, but still rewarded enough that they won't all too far behind the group unless they have a problem with chronic absence. I use the 75% xp method so that if the player ends up falling behind I know that I should likely talk to them about why they are missing so many games. (Obviously you'd take into account how quickly they fell behind, and how many games in a row they missed with out warning, or good excuse.)

There are other ways of doing the absentee XP thing as well. One method that I have heard of and like, yet haven't tried is: Make the absent player play in a number of games equal to their absence before gaining back their XP. So let's say Bobby misses 2 games in a row and in those 2 games you hand out 500xp to each player. When Bobby comes back to the game he needs to play 2 consecutive sessions before you award him that 500xp he missed (he still gets the xp for the nights he is there, you only with hold his absentee XP until he catches up in attendance). This method is trying not to punish the absentee player too much (and cumulatively it it better than just giving 75% of the XP for the nights the player is missing). It's all about showing the players that if you show up you get rewarded on time, while at the same time allowing those that miss games here and there to remain at the same power as the rest of the group.

Remember, these are games that are meant to be fun. No one wants to be left behind, and in some cases it's actually really important that you keep everyone at the same power level. Having an option for absentee players to catch up is important, and the buffer between them showing up to games and getting that XP to catch up ought to be enough of a push for them to make an effort to show up to games. I mean, no one wants to be gone for 3 weeks, and in the 3 weeks it takes them to get that xp they missed all of their friends level up! Sure they will still level, but they will have to watch their friends playing with new abilities while they cannot.


It would definitely be unfair if the absentee gets the same experience with the other players.

Absentee's character may get underpowered, but he still needs to be punished. Otherwise, the other players may get angry with the injustice and the group may see more absent players since there is no punishment for missing the game. Missing a session's worth XP may seem like a harsh punishment, but without any discipline, it will just create a mindset like, "Well, I was busy. But I still get the XP so it should be okay"

The player shouldn't have been absent. It's his fault for missing the game, and if he reacts badly to not being given any XP, it might be the hint of a potential troublemaker player.

There are other ways of gaining XP than killing monsters. If GM gives out bonus XP points for roleplaying, accomplishing tasks, etc; and if the player is dedicated, his character won't be underpowered.

If he isn't okay with receiving no XP because nobody told him about it, then it is time to create a rule which everyone agrees on. If other players are okay with it, he may be given just a slightly lower percentage of the XP but next time, there shouldn't be any pat-on-the-back punishments. Absentees can make it difficult for everyone to enjoy the game and your best bet is a punishment for it.

Also, don't forget to set up a game calendar that everyone agrees on. It's also not fair if the GM just makes up session dates and expects everyone to be free those days.

It seems I sounded like one of those fascistic DMs. Let me clarify. XP is something you should spend effort to earn, so you will feel the sense of accomplishment when you level up. I'm not telling DMs to control their players through fear and intimidation, I'm telling they simply shouldn't reward XP when the player hasn't done anything. Not only it cheapens the value of XP, also not all players will be okay with it when they realize their hard work means nothing. Also, players won't be able to bond if there are arguments about absentees and the game will played with a weird tense atmosphere.

As a reply to the edited question, I would also suggest the XP pool method. It works like this, nobody has an individual XP, all the XP gained is shared by the players and everyone has the same amount of XP. When someone creates an item or casts a XP-consuming spell, the XP is taken out of the pool. So, it turns into a group decision. When somebody gets rewarded for good roleplaying, that XP is added to the pool. It tends to work better in harmonious groups where people know each other well. Efficiency of punishments and methods depend hugely on the players.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Punishment is best left to the justice system. This is a game environment where we are all there, hopefully, to share in some good times, being on time is important not life threatening.The group could have an honest discussion about how they wish to proceed but if I were given an ultimatum and told I would be punished for not following the code of conduct I would look into finding a new group immediately. It's absurd to punish the whole group of players at differing times for Failing to comply only to have team work fail due to very uneven advancement. \$\endgroup\$
    – Vethor
    Apr 6, 2014 at 7:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Vethor I have seen it happen. GM was too relaxed on absentees and every game we had at least one player who was "busy". Awarding same amount of XP to absentees will only encourage that kind of behavior. If a player thinks it's unfair that he didn't recieve XP for a game he didn't play, that just sounds like a grumpy player to me. When I say "punishment" I'm not talking about jail time. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 6, 2014 at 8:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @OnlyD20CanJudgeMe There are plenty of alternate ways to deal with it, including that people who can get along together can actually see this as not being a problem to fight over. You are describing one situation; what might have been appropriate in that situation (punishment?) is inappropriate in a number of others. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 6, 2014 at 9:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JonathanHobbs The thing is, I don't see it as a punishment. Not giving XP for a player who missed the game is what seems normal to me. It just doesn't seem fair to the other players when XP is handed out to both dedicated and absent players at the same rate. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 6, 2014 at 9:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ @OnlyD20CanJudgeMe There's a very different way to think about it, but comments probably aren't the place for discussing this. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 6, 2014 at 9:27

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