My friends and I have recently decided to take up playing D&D after a 4-5 year hiatus and have started by making level 4 characters and jumping into Thunderspire Labyrinth (H2) (Only campaign I had left from so long ago)

By the end of the module, they were only a few hundred away from level 10 (party of 3, bumping it up to my making a 4th for one encounter where it was absolutely needed) and that's not including any random encounters or sidequests other than Paldemar for the Mages of Saruun (Which I felt were pretty necessary).

Considering this is a campaign meant to take them from 4 to 6 (maybe 7), something seems seriously off about the amount of exp per encounter. We had planned to play through Pyramid of Shadows next, but at this point we're better off just starting on P1 rather than H3. I know the common solution is to just not use experience as a lot of people choose to do, but I really don't like that idea. My friends and I are hardcore video game RPG fans (mmo and otherwise) so experience points are pretty much a necessity in all the party's eyes.

The module gives me the amount of collective experience the encounter gives based on the experience per monster. So as an example, Encounter H8: Murkelmore's Chamber has 2 level 6 brutes, 1 level 5 controller, and 1 level 7 Elite soldier. The encounter has a total of 1300 experience collectively. I deal out the experience by splitting it 3 ways for 3 party members

I should say that even being level 9 on the final encounter, the party still almost died, but I don't want to start H3 now and end up being mid-late paragon by the time we finish. So I'd really appreciate it if you guys could help me discern a solution to this problem.

What can I do to decrease the rate of levelling without removing experience points from the game?

  • \$\begingroup\$ I should say that even being level 9 on the final encounter, the party still almost died… Yeah, it was a near-TPK when I ran it—one PC escaped. It's a bad module. \$\endgroup\$
    – okeefe
    Commented Jun 15, 2014 at 17:51

5 Answers 5


It appears from your example that you've been playing the adventure with a group of 3 characters, without tuning down the encounters.
If you do so, faster leveling is expected.


D&D 4e's adventures use encounters that have been balanced against a party of 5, which is the expected number of players. If you have a party of 6 or a party of 4 (or, like in this case, a party of 3), you're supposed to add or remove monsters from the encounters so that the XP parcels scale accordingly.

Your 1300 XP budget encounter should be worth 1300/5=260 XP per character and your characters got 1300/3=433 instead. You should have built an encounter worth 260*3=780 XP

I know this almost nullifies the book's utility. Your statblocks are not that useful when you need to remove almost half the monsters from any encounter.

My personal suggestion

Modify the encounters so that your group is comfortable with their difficulty and then deal out less XP than the encounter is worth (e.g. the example encounter still gives people 260 XP each, even if the rules say otherwise).

  • \$\begingroup\$ This is generally a good answer, but in particular Thunderspire is ridiculously overbudgeted even for its intended party size. I broke it down when I used the adventure, and as written it expects parties to miss vast swathes of the "sandbox" or they'll majorly overlevel. \$\endgroup\$
    – BESW
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 9:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ @BESW I'm looking at page 93 of this pdf and I guess, including the whole sandbox, you're right. But, the querent was "not including any random encounters or sidequests other than Paldemar for the Mages of Saruun". \$\endgroup\$
    – Zachiel
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 10:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ This answer does a good job at explaining why the party gained so much XP, but I would probably be upset if I was one of the players and the DM followed this suggestion. \$\endgroup\$
    – DCShannon
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 20:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ If you have a good group, it should be fairly easy to explain that you are giving the appropriate amount of XP (out of the listed potential XP for 5 players). \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 14, 2014 at 5:35

The biggest problem you will face is that they already have the xp they do. Part of the issue is not scaling down the encounter, and although I don't run many modules in the games I run, I am going to as much guess as ask if the players are doing every ounce of optional content. Sometimes the optional content in a module is designed so only a small portion of it is done.

That said... if you are already close to the end of the module, as I read it, then it's hard to readjust and fix the problem. One typical solution is to scale back the xp you give for in module content. On the occasion that I do use published content, I tend to scale it back a hair so I can give xp for role-playing rewards.

Although you should expect them to be higher level as a group of three defeating encounters for a group of five, you may want to talk to the group and find out how they want to deal with it. They may have a suggestion, and if it comes to not giving xp, or giving hardly any xp then it is better it come from an out of game session from one of your group.

Another thing I would guess is that they are under equipped for their levels. Replacing xp with appropriate rewards to bring their gear up to their level is not bad, and may be a good means of getting the players to accept what might otherwise feel like they are being robbed.

The last suggestion is going to take more work on your part... Redesign the encounters for their party size, but also their new levels. If you rebuild it based on the work in the DMG but ensure that you keep the feel of the encounters the same you may be able to breath some personalized life into it. Scale the monsters up until they are appropriate levels, and alter the encounter to fit their numbers. Then no one loses out at all, you just make the module content work for you. Just don't forget to scale the loot too.


Embrace the problem: it's trivial to scale monsters according to MM3 maths. It's even simpler to use ddi to find monsters with interesting abilities of the required level and refluff them to be appropriate to the encounter. This way, your prepared adventures can take you through paragon without any trouble what-so-ever.


The only thing I can recommend in this circumstance is to create a bridging side-quest to hop the party to the required power level for the higher campaign module. To take a module that expects the party to be a lower level would significantly reduce the challenge for the party. Either that or you can adjust the challenges to suit the current party by increasing the number of enemies or their power. Considering the party size, every challenge they face will be tougher than expected for their level because the encounters are estimated based on a larger group. You should consider reducing any encounters that expect a "full party" at their level (a "full party" being 4-6 members with a balance of abilities). Until they are strong enough to meet the next module, you would be best going with either several random encounters or a small side-quest. Perhaps something to tie in to the characters' backstories.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Eh? This seems to be trying to solve the opposite problem to the one the question is about. The partying is gaining XP too quickly, not not quickly enough. \$\endgroup\$
    – Quentin
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 7:57
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I think… maybe, that you meant to suggest skipping H3 and going straight to H4? And that's why you suggest a bridging quest? But you forgot to say that you're suggesting that? If that's not what you're suggesting, then I can't make sense of this answer either. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 8:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie no such thing as H4 exists, being H3 the last heroic (H) module of the series. The next module in the campaign would be P1 (paragon 1). However, "higher campaign module" and "the next module" both seem related to "not H3, the next one". I agree it should be explicit to avoid confusion. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zachiel
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 13:10
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I thought this was clear and made perfect sense. He's talking about getting them ready for P1, as the question suggested. \$\endgroup\$
    – DCShannon
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 20:25

What can I do to decrease the rate of leveling without removing experience points from the game?

Re-build the encounters and/or reduce the number of encounters total. These are the "fairest" options.

If you do not wish to re-build or reduce, per @Zachiel's suggestion just give each player 260 XP (or whatever the appropriate amount) after the encounter. If you have a good group, it should be fairly easy to explain that you are giving the proper amount of XP (out of the listed potential XP for 5 players). This a bit of a kludge, though, and if you have enough time as a DM, you should rework encounters as initially suggested. Asking players to do more combat for less reward may lead to some unhappy players.

If you choose reduced XP for stock adventure encounters, but your players (or you as DM) dislike reduced XP because it doesn't "properly" reward players, also consider having "extra" XP dropped as currency or gems (or maybe even magic items of appropriate value.)

Lastly, if you are a more free-wheeling DM, give them whatever XP you believe is appropriate.

For instance, if you know you want your players a level 7 by the end of the campaign, take the total amount of XP needed for all player to level up to level 7 and divide by the number of encounters between where they are now and where they will be later. So:

  • Player 1 - 10,000 XP to reach level 7
  • Player 2 - 20,000 XP to reach level 7
  • Player 3 - 30,000 XP to reach level 7

Total XP (60,000)/ Enounters (roughly 20) = 3,000 XP per enounter or 1,000 XP per player per encounter.

You can jazz this up by giving them more or less XP for each encounter as well. If the budget XP per player is 3,000 XP per encounter, two encounters would be 6,000 XP. But if one is easier and one is harder, you can give 2,000 for the easier one (666 XP per player) and 4,000 for the harder one (1,333 XP per player) -- just so long as they total 6,000 XP.

Don't like those leftover numbers? Surprise! Trap/Good Roleplaying Bonus/Whatever!

So that's 600 XP for the first encounter and 1000 XP for the second encounter (4800 for 3 players) plus 400 extra XP (Tricky Trap = 300 XP + Good Roleplaying = 100 XP --> 1200 "bonus" XP for 3 players).

Ultimately, the amount of experience you give players is up to you as a DM. You have the power. Use it wisely.

Note that as a rule you shouldn't take XP away from players once they have it. If they are level 10 now, they should stay that way. Introduce other hindrances as you see fit if they are too powerful, but there are few things worse that taking back XP...

  • \$\begingroup\$ By this logic, you can give them an arbitrary amount of XP and act like it's 'appropriate'. I could give them 26 XP for the example encounter because that's how much each player would get if 50 players defeated the encounter. But they didn't. Three did. If you're going to give them however much you feel like, just come right out and say it. If you're going to give them how much they earned, give it to them. \$\endgroup\$
    – DCShannon
    Commented Jun 14, 2014 at 5:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ I believe I stated to give them however much XP as a DM "you feel like". As far as "earned" or "appropriate" XP is concerned, I agree that players should normally recieve the XP stated in each creatures stats. The BEST solution would be to re-build every encounter to appropriate specs for the players. But I disagree that a DM should not be able to be flexible on this matter. There is a difference between arbitrary rule changes (26 XP) and tailored modifications (260 XP). \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 15, 2014 at 15:43

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