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I'm creating an encounter and planning to use traps. The section of the DMG that provides trap rules and sample traps (120-123) does not provide XP guidelines for traps. Noncombat Challenges on page 261 seems like it might apply, but that relies on CR of a combat encounter as its logical base, and I'm not sure how to apply that to a trap.

Where can I find guidelines for trap XP?

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On page 121 of the DMG there are two charts to tell you the DC's and Damage by Severity level. If you really wanted to find a way to apply a CR to them and thus, EXP to them, you could take the numbers from that chart and cross reference them to the encounter building charts on page 82 to come up with a CR by damage output perhaps. That's sort of an unorthodox way of doing it however.

4E gave you non combat encounters like traps and skill challenges that awarded EXP. That seems non existent in 5E save for the brief section about Non-Combat Encounters. They purposely give no direct guideline for it however. I believe it's up to the DM to decide the weight of getting past certain traps. Me? I've worked them into my encounters and they are, thus, part of the ending XP I award them for each milestone since I'm not awarding them EXP per creature killed. My methods are a bit different but it allows for non combat encounters as they gain levels once they reach certain narrative or event milestones.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Accepting this one as it's the best answer for the question I asked. Seven-Sided Die's answer addresses the underlying principle, so I voted it up. \$\endgroup\$ – kevin.matheny Mar 9 '15 at 0:13
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You shouldn't. D&D 5e doesn't grant XP for dealing with traps, any more than it grants XP for "defeating" other environmental hazards like not falling into a lava pit or off a cliff, or not dying of thirst while crossing a desert. Disarming or cleverly circumventing a trap is its own reward — you get to access whatever it was guarding — just like not being swept away by the river at the bottom of a cliff or reaching your destination across the desert is its own reward.

Making traps grant XP can easily result in them becoming dull "roll to farm some XP" non-encounters. It also encourages making them non-optional, when the most interesting way of dealing with a trap is often to creatively circumvent it rather than simply disarm it with a skill check.

But other editions give XP for traps?

Those are different games with different designs. Besides, only two editions out of (a conservative count of) seven give encounter XP for traps: 3rd and 4th. (Second edition does optionally give rogues XP for using their special abilities, which happens to include disabling traps, but that's not an example of making traps give encounter XP any more than the rest of the optional per-class XP rewards — like researching a spell — are.)

With those two most-recent editions very obvious to the 5th edition designers, the fact that it lacks XP rewards can only be deliberate, not an oversight. And, with the 5e designers explicitly saying that they draw inspiration for the game from older editions than 3e, the role of traps in 5e matching the role of traps in AD&D and earlier is no coincidence.

The role of traps in those older editions is as an element of environment to be explored and dealt with using thought and available resources. Fifth edition's design including traps with that role makes them a core component of what 5e calls its Exploration pillar; they are obstacles to deal with creatively and with player agency to choose, just like any other obstacle the players discover (including monsters, which players are not required to always deal with using violence!).

You can give XP for non-combat challenges at your discretion

The very loose guidelines for giving experience for non-combat challenges (DMG p. 261) can be used to have traps give XP in your campaign, but I won't recommend doing it per-trap as you may be used to different D&D games doing it. Notice that the examples given in the guidelines are large achievements — a tense political negotiation, establishing a trade treaty, navigating the pitfalls of an entire location — not little things like dealing with a spring-loaded spear trap.

Instead, if you opt to use this discretionary rule, save "trap XP" for dealing with some fiendishly-complicated device that involves players exploring and experimenting to find the solution to it, not just a skill check. Navigating the Clockwork of Time to locate its malfunction — while avoiding getting crushed by enormous gears, smashed by weights, and impaled by broken springs — is the sort of thing that involves traps, but where it's the whole enterprise is what's worth XP, not any one trap. (If that kind of "trap dungeon" doesn't sound like fun, obviously don't use them.)

Finally: it's your game

If you really want to, give XP for traps. No 5e DMing police will stop you. Just beware that it has been left out of this edition for reasons which might not be obvious now, and might only become obvious by seeing how not giving XP for them changes how you use them in your dungeons and how your players' behaviour around traps changes.

Not discovering these things is missing some of the value of this edition. But, some of the other value of this edition is that it is very bendable to suit your and your group's preferences. Pick between those with knowledge of what you're doing, and you can't actually go wrong.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you. I think this is probably the best approach from a meta level. From a purely mechanical aspect, Airatome directly answered the question, so I accepted that one. It was a really close call, though. \$\endgroup\$ – kevin.matheny Mar 9 '15 at 13:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie I am not sure I agree with this thought process really. A DM isn't setting up a compaign of traps to grind on, and this is what rogue types excel at. Why shouldn't they gain experience for doing exactly what their skill base is designed to make them good at? You gain XP for dealing with encounters in any which way (fighting, negotiation, sneaking past, etc etc) why not treat traps like encounters? \$\endgroup\$ – Escoce Mar 9 '15 at 19:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Escoce Second, third, and last paragraphs. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Mar 9 '15 at 19:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ The Lost Mine of Phandelver specifically grants XP for avoiding or triggering traps \$\endgroup\$ – Dale M Apr 24 '15 at 2:38
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If you have access to the Hoard of the Dragon Queen campaign books, there are examples of non-combat XP values for traps and more in the Rewards section of (at least) Chapter 2 and 3.

I think they are good examples of how you could choose to use non-combat XP effectively, given that the campaign is published by WotC.

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The best campaigns I've ever been involved in never awarded a set amount of experience points based solely on encounter or NPC/monster stats. These things certainly factor in, but intelligence of approach, group cooperation, role-playing (what a concept!), and cleverness/effectiveness of solutions/outcomes should play a major role in experience awards. Otherwise the game tends to become a one-dimensional "conquer this foe, defeat these obstacles, collect this treasure/XP" affair rather than an open-ended "determine the best approach given the resources, adapt and overcome as the difficulty unfolds, choose when and what to compromise, build characters and alliances" campaign.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to rpg.se! Please take a look at the tour; it's a useful introduction to the site. RPG.se isn't a forum and answer posts are not for general discussion, only for attempts to solve the problem in the question. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Mar 9 '15 at 4:02
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I don't know about 5e, but in 1e traps are an obstacle behind which it is assumed that there is something worthwile getting and that thing is what grants xp. After all, no one sets out just to find traps all day, do they? Similarly, just casting spells is not an objective in itself for spellcasters, so we don't give xp for that. You have to achieve something with your actions to get xp. YMMV.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I appreciate the perspective, but editions post 1 have had XP awards for traps and hazards, so this seems like a reasonable question to me. \$\endgroup\$ – kevin.matheny Mar 8 '15 at 18:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @kevin.matheny I was't questioning the question, just making a suggestion that you could look at the issue from a different angle. Perhaps the lack of xp guidelines for traps is because Merls shares that perspective and the lack is intentional? I don't know but it seems at least possible. \$\endgroup\$ – Nagora Mar 8 '15 at 18:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ the problem is that you aren't answering the question. It's tagged 5e, and is asking for specific guidelines for that edition. Your answer doesn't even attempt to clarify whether such guidance exists before suggesting falling back to 1e, and to be honest there are so many differences between the two editions that you might as well be drawing from a different system altogether \$\endgroup\$ – Wibbs Mar 8 '15 at 18:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ This would be a good answer if it were grounded in knowledge, but guesses are always bad answers. I believe it is actually correct, even, though it doesn't "show its work" in a relevant way and, if it's correct, it's just sheer luck. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Mar 8 '15 at 19:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Nagora As I say: I think you're correct, but regardless, guessing is always a bad answer. We want expert solutions, not stabs in the dark, so though this answer is a legit answer (neither off topic, nor random typing or spam), downvoting it for being an guess is what the site encourages. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Mar 8 '15 at 21:44
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Change the xp reward mechanic. Throw out whatever system 5e uses and use this instead: give xp for damage dealt and for damage taken. For example, every point of damage dealt grants 10xp at the end of the encounter; double the reward for damage taken.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This seems unfortunate, as it rewards those who play carelessly and take a lot of damage at the expense of those who are careful enough to avoid much at all. \$\endgroup\$ – user17995 Sep 29 '15 at 20:00

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