I've done a few combats recently where the PCs and their enemies were not the only participants in the fight. I wasn't sure how to budget XP in this case.

In the case of an NPC ally to the PCs, I see two options.

  1. Draw the NPC up as a PC and increase the number of members in the party.
  2. Draw the NPC up as an NPC and take its XP into account when budgeting.

I'm not sure if either option is correct, or if there are others.

But the ambiguity doesn't end there - what about if there's more than one side in the fight and nobody wants to team up? I'd rather not treat it as one combat budget divided over two factions. Unless the factions immediately unite, it's going to be an absurdly easy combat. Would I be better off budgeting for two encounters than happen at the same time, and hoping that no PC gets ganged up on too much?

In general, how is XP budgeting done in complex combats with NPC allies and/or more than two factions?

  • \$\begingroup\$ I've put some more thought into the amount to budget. My current thought is to add a fraction of an encounter's XP, determined by that group's position in the combat. What I mean by that is that the first faction adds full XP to the budget. Second faction adds half. Third faction adds a third. So if a single fight is worth 1000, a fight pitting the PCs against two separate groups would be 1500 (so each group is 750). Against three groups would be 1833 (giving each group 633). I think that's as far as any other formula I'm likely to find. Comments? \$\endgroup\$
    – valadil
    Commented Nov 22, 2010 at 16:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ are the NPCs actually PC characters or are they NPCs that have a monster-style stat block? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 15:05

7 Answers 7


As far as the allied NPC is concerned, I think you are correct. The other option is to simply increase the amount of XP by whatever he would take, and then still give them the same XP.

For the multi-fight combat, you can set up the scenario to make it less likely the NPCs will all gang up on the PCs. For their experience, you can give them the experience for NPCs they personally kill/knock unconcious, or ones they do a percentage of the damage to, or give a percentage of XP per NPC based on the percentage of damage they do (this last one requires a LOT of bookkeeping and math - just to be forewarned).

As for XP budget, I would definitely make it more than the standard encounter. How much more I think depends more on the set up than anything else. If it is likely that the PCs will only be fighting about half of each force at a time, make it double (or even more if you want to be really mean). Otherwise, you should budget it based on how many of the individuals you think are likely to focus on the PCs at any given time.

Hope that helps.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I hadn't considered adding up XP after the fight is done. That's probably a good idea if the fight doesn't go how I planned (ie, if the party successfully allies with one group immediately and slaughters the other group, I'd give them the fraction they did earn (plus a bonus for quick thinking and diplomacy)). It doesn't really tell me what to put on each side of the battle though. \$\endgroup\$
    – valadil
    Commented Nov 19, 2010 at 20:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ For the other idea, does doubling it work? I feel like they'll face a potentially bigger threat. But if they're only fighting half the force at once (effectively a normal sized fight), they'll deal with that and then finish off what remains from the other half of the combat. Full XP in that case seems high. Maybe the second half is only worth half as much? \$\endgroup\$
    – valadil
    Commented Nov 19, 2010 at 20:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Valadil: That was kind of my thought was that they would only get the XP for what they had effectively killed (your opinion on what "effectively" means stands, of course ;) ). They could face a larger threat, but part of the encounter is to deal with that potential threat, correct? At which point, maybe giving them some extra XP (say, 10% of people they don't kill, or the equivalent) may be worth while. I think that you would need to structure the size based on the % of enemies you think the PCS will likely face during the battle. \$\endgroup\$
    – aperkins
    Commented Nov 19, 2010 at 21:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ When you say "you are correct," there are two choices he presents... Which one are you proposing? \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 2:21

Increasing the number of characters in the party mainly increases the complexity of the fight, not its difficulty. 4e very firmly treats combat as sport. That's the idea behind the XP budget: to present a fair challenge. With that in mind...

Option 1: Allies as PCs

If the ally is run as a full-on PC, the game operates exactly as intended, with no adjustments required. The downside to this approach is having to run an extra PC, which typically takes significant time and effort.

Option 2: Allies as NPCs

I'd suggest a different XP allocation method in this case: add the xp "worth" of the allied NPC to the enemy XP budget. So if fighting the ally would have netted 100xp, and the basic XP budget of the encounter is 500xp, make it 600 to account for the help the ally offers. Then don't award this extra XP to the party - the ally effectively eats its contribution of XP. This way, the opposition is a bit stronger to account for the extra combatant (which would typically result in an extra enemy of the same level as the ally), but the overall difficulty and reward is unaffected.

This may seem like a fool's errand, and in a way it is: the ally and the extra enemy cancel each other out. However, this lets you have a more massive fight, and PCs are bound to find a tactical use for an extra set of hands.

Multi-sided combat and other trickiness

XP budget rules don't really allow for such interesting fights, so any solution would be based on the particular encounter. Here are a few examples:

  • In a proper 3-way fight with no alliances, the sum of halves of opposing forces XP budgets should match the expected enemy XP budget. Half of their efforts will be aimed at PCs, the other at NPCs.
  • In a fight where PCs can try and lure the enemy to their cause, this can probably be handled like an in-combat skill challenge, with difficulty and corresponding XP reward matching that of the enemy they try to recruit. This doesn't change the XP budget: the enemy is still defeated, just in a different manner.
  • In a fight where enemies are joining in every round, they are worth less XP: it's easier to defeat them one at a time. Exactly how much less is up for debate, I've usually reduced their value to 50%.

XP budget limitations

As PC get more and more powerful, both with character level and player skill increasing, XP budget becomes less relevant. Try as 4e might, balanced and mathematically thought-out as it is, good play overcomes it. And that's great! You'll find you can throw more and stranger challenges at your PCs. As you get a feel for their capabilities, XP budget becomes a mere suggestion, not a strict guideline. At that point, the game transcends the Combat as Sport model, and becomes Combat as Fun.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I'd like to add "vocal" support to this. Option 2 is relatively elegant. \$\endgroup\$
    – Squish
    Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 13:53

In response to Lechlerfan and the question in his bounty; here are my thought's on the topic, as looking in the DMG 1&2 and the RC do not address this particular scenario (as far as I can find in the sections concerning XP rewards or NPC allies). The books actually don't mention NPC allies that I can find, other than during NPC creation where it says you may want to make NPC allies as fully fledged characters.

First: Why do we divide XP at all?

Dividing the total sum of XP per encounter by the number of players is to keep the players progressing at the same pace and to reward them equally for working together to accomplish a challenge. (Each character likely contributes in their own unique way and this rewards their individual contributions.) In my opinion it also keeps PC's from leveling too quickly, they do need experiences to gain XP and improve skills (the term "experiences" here obviously refers to the actual sights, sounds and interactions they have).

Second: What do I do about NPC allies?

Some options to consider:

  • Temporary NPC Ally:
    • Temporary NPC allies should not receive the XP if they are not going to be around long enough to Level up. Though still divide the total XP amount as the PC should only be rewarded for their contributions.
    • Do allocate the NPC XP if they will be around long enough to level even once.
  • Permanant NPC Ally:
    • Definitely award XP to a permanent NPC. You want to level them along with the PC so they stay roughly as powerful as the PC. (Suggestion: You could have them be a level lower or so to make the PC feel more important/powerful.)

If you feel the need to reward the player more than the NPC (and why wouldn't you?), perhaps counting them twice during the XP split would be an option. So, 1 PC and 2NPC just completed an 800xp fight, if you divide equally each of the 3 characters receive 266XP. However, if you count the PC twice and divide by 4 the PC gets 400xp while the NPC's get 200 each.

Third: How do I build the encounters?

Here are 2 options for building the encounters.

  • Build the Encounter to be accomplished by 1 player.
    • At this point you know the encounter should be able to be completed by 1 player and therefore you can disregard the NPCs and just give all the XP to the player. (Sub-par option in my book as it makes things too easy if the player has help)
  • Build the Encounter with NPCs in mind.
    • This is what I would do in Lechlerfan's situation. Assume that the NPC's will be hanging around for a little while, treat them as "players" and create the encounters to challenge a player group the size of the party, NPCs included. Then dole out XP as you would for a group if the NPC Allies were actually players.

To summarize exactly what I would do from these options, I would assume the NPCs are part of the party and create encounters to challenge the party as a whole. Then to make sure the Player(s) level at the game's recommended speed, I would give out XP as if the NPC's were players (Divide total XP by number of party members). I would then only keep track of NPC XP if they are intended to level with the PC throughout the game.

To remark on your worry about it feeling like you are penalizing the player for using NPCs do to a perceived "loss" of XP, explain to the player why you divide XP. Explain that if there were actual players there you would be dividing the XP the same way and that his character is getting his fair share of the reward for his contributions to the challenges. If he decides to go about it alone for a while he will either succeed and be rewarded for accomplishing a harder task, be forced to retreat, or die. The latter scenarios may show the player that having allies is good and worth the "lower" (though not really) XP per encounter.

Again, there is nothing in the rules I can find that discusses XP allotment to NPC allies and these are just suggestions to a unique problem.

PS: I was under the impression you wanted to dole out XP the "traditional" way, i.e. adding up standard XP per monster/trap/skill challenge and then dividing among the player participants.

There is a second option however... Don't give out "XP" at all. Just follow the rule of thumb that PC's are supposed to level after 8-10 encounters. This way you skirt the entire issue of "Where did all my XP go?" and your player levels up at the game's recommended pace regardless if (s)he utilizes NPCs.

From DMG1 page 121 (emphasis mine):

Tell the players that they gain a level after they complete 8 to 10 encounters. Don't count really easy encounters, count really hard encounters as two, and don't worry about precise XP totals.

One note about this is that the rules encourage you to treat completing a quest (presumably the action of returning to the challenge issuer victorious) as worth the XP of a normal encounter. So, in the above example would be 6-8 encounters with 1-2 quest completions.

Sorry for such a lengthy answer, but I wanted to cover all the options I could think of (plus since this isn't in the Rules I basically just wrote a section of the rules book ;) ).

  • \$\begingroup\$ I like the second option :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Wyrmwood
    Commented Mar 1, 2014 at 1:29
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Wyrmwood the one under "PS"? \$\endgroup\$
    – MC_Hambone
    Commented Mar 1, 2014 at 8:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, should have said the "PS" option. \$\endgroup\$
    – Wyrmwood
    Commented Mar 1, 2014 at 19:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ sweet! I actually just adopted this method for my game. I have 9 players that participate on a random basis, so to keep them together I am playing fast n loose with leveling up hahaha \$\endgroup\$
    – MC_Hambone
    Commented Mar 2, 2014 at 6:02

The way my group has handled allied NPCs is such:

They are present and take care of enemies off to the side through the use of DM storytelling (aka the enemies the ally engages exist solely for storytelling purposes and thus do not give experience or alter the encounter in any meaningful way exp wise for the players) but the actual encounter is built for the PCs and the allied NPC only will jump in if the players need him to.

This frees up the DM to just focus on interesting encounters before getting to the table and then roleplaying it out when at the table. It also never feels like the NPC is a burden XP wise for the players. Just eyeball roughly what you think that ally could in theory be handling so the players can focus on the big picture. Or vice versa. Maybe he has a history with the big bad and is fighting him while the players tend to the minions and as they finish their ally is wounded and they must jump into the fray.

The best advice Ive gotten over the years DMing is such: Dont let the rules get to the point where it interferes with fun. Know why the rules exist but know as DM you can take liberties that are fair and in favor of drama in the fiction if its appropriate. Everyone at the table owns a piece of the story.

EDIT: Additionally, make the NPC whatever level and power you feel is appropriate. You can pull your punches and the players would never know. Just make it coherent as to who the NPC is.

EDIT2: Use NPC allies as a means for you to flex your creative muscle. Surely the ingame world does not grind to a halt when your group engages something. Use the NPC as your avatar to provide background flavor.


I like the traditional rule that NPCs gain a fractional of the XP share of a normal PC, since they are ostensibly following the leadership and commands of PCs (either individually or collectively). Thus they learn less from a given encounter. This way they still gain XP and advance in levels, but a little more slowly, and doesn't penalize the PCs quite as much as if they were independent characters.

The problem with this, of course, is that it comes from the days when gaining a level normally meant doubling your experience points, so half as much XP was a good rule of thumb and just meant being one level behind. In 4e that ratio actually changes, starting out below 50%, rising throughout the lower levels and then fluctuating around 82-83% after 10th level. You wouldn't be going far wrong by giving NPCs a three-fourths share of XP.

But, as Magician noted, if you don't make at least some account for the NPC and his/her share in the XP budget of the encounter, combat will seem much too easy.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Does this apply when the NPCs are under their own leadership? If orcs attack in the night, the town watch raises the alarm, and the PCs run in to help, I would not penalize those NPCs guards for following PC orders. (I'm not asking to nitpick, I'm just curious if you'd apply this rule in this case as well or if there's another one for this situation.) \$\endgroup\$
    – valadil
    Commented Mar 1, 2014 at 13:56
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I see NPC experience as only being relevant if the NPCs are going to stick around long enough for it to be worthwhile for keeping track, which means they are almost necessarily going to be PC followers, henchpersons, or hangers-on. If the NPCs are one-trick ponies the PC are likely never to meet again, I don't see the point of creating permanent records for them, and as a matter of personal taste I try to avoid situations where the players are fighting alongside NPCs that are more powerful than they are. So I'd say that situation has not arisen for me and is unlikely ever to do so. \$\endgroup\$
    – Robotman
    Commented Mar 1, 2014 at 18:51

I may not have an answer as elaborate as the others, but I have done this in my campaign before.

What I do is during each encounter I keep track of useful activity between the NPCs and the players, followed by dividing it up and rewarding the players the EXP they deserve (based on activity).

For example: If the PCs hit an enemy worth 1000xp 3 times, and heal once that's 4 activity. If the NPCs hit the enemy 5 times, and heal three times - that's 8 activity. Total being 12, that's 333 XP the players get.

Hope this gives you some ideas (and no - it's not that hard to keep track of, even though it sounds like it could)

  • \$\begingroup\$ I haven't heard of this type of activity tracking before. Are the players aware you do it? Does it change how they play? \$\endgroup\$
    – valadil
    Commented Mar 1, 2014 at 13:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ No, I don't believe they are aware. I also reward bonus EXP/Action Points/other rewards for role playing their character, which ends up outweighing what they'd go through to get extra activity. \$\endgroup\$
    – Othya
    Commented Mar 1, 2014 at 14:02

In a similar situation I granted the solo PC I was working with a mixed batch of allies, so I budgeted how many PCs I wanted to make up encounters for... and then budgeted the NPCs to fulfill that many XP total, for a single ordinary "stop the muggers" style combat event.

The PC did not have to befriend them or involve herself deeper with them, however, she did. So, yes, I treated it like split XP, with NPCs who continue to get focus time occasionally winning loot (represented as a trait or power that resembles PC loot of that type) or occasional mild upgrade to their NPC card.

Less abstract example:

NPC "troublemaker" is an archer type. PC involvement results in some beyond-the-normal-watchmen tactics, and some minor loot. She gave him one of the loot pieces.

I assigned a fixed amount of time before he traded it away for a monetary-equiv boost to his arrows, then added a bendy-arrows shot to his sheet as an encounter power (magic arrows don't grow on trees for NPCs) - and the NPC to the "brag sheet of random souls in a pub" for the town.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .