During the last session, my players sneaked into a camp at night. A lot of enemies (several tens) were resting in their tents. My players managed to set fire to the tents without being caught and so many enemies died in the fire. By considering the regular exp for each dead creature, this means a big step forward (about 4000 exp at level 7). My question is: is it correct to assign regular exp after these "indirect" kills, or is it better to assign only a certain amount for the clever strategy?


4 Answers 4


You should give the players full experience for the creatures they kill. If using clever tactics results in a decreased reward, you are effectively disincentivising playing tactically and encouraging your players to turn every encounter into a straight-up fight.

However, if you're going to be fair about the rewards of clever strategies, you should be fair about the results, too. Assuming being in a burning tent is roughly equivalent to standing in a patch of burning oil, the creatures in the tents should only have taken 5 damage per round. If it's equivalent to being covered in alchemist's fire, that's a mere 1d4 damage per round. Letting this tactic insta-kill anything stronger than a kobold is being extremely generous to your players. The idea here is not to cheapen your encounters in terms of either the challenge or the reward.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @Clockwork-Muse It's certainly possible that they did something to make death more certain. Given that everyone in D&D carries a weapon, though, it's unlikely that particular one would've worked. \$\endgroup\$
    – Miniman
    Jun 21, 2015 at 12:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Miniman -- I wouldn't call it equivalent, primarily due to the confinement -- a puddle of oil burning on the ground generates much less CO than a fire in a confined space with limited ventilation, and that CO in the tents would also build up more quickly. \$\endgroup\$
    – Shalvenay
    Jun 21, 2015 at 19:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ There are circumstances in which one person can kill millions of others without much effort. It would really not make very much sense that by, say, having a dam breach and kill a few thousand soldiers, you are now a level 20 warrior instead of level 1. How did breaching this dam make you so much better in hand to hand combat? \$\endgroup\$ Jun 22, 2015 at 15:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ @StevenGubkin If you're going to question that, you might as well question why killing people in hand-to-hand combat grants experience points while being professionally trained does not. Experience points are a reward for "playing the game right" - not a realistic measure of how much experience a character gains from their experiences. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Jun 23, 2015 at 0:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ To address the concerns people might have with "blowing up Alderaan" levels of XP, you could suggest a house rule (imported from older editions) that limit all-at-once XP gains to only what can level you up once (so if you are level 3 and get a million XP, you become level four, get XP enough to be level 5 minus 1XP, and the rest is lost). Should rarely actually come up, but it's a proven-workable rule for exceptional situations. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 23, 2015 at 15:30

XP in 5e is generally rewarded for two possible reasons.

  1. You reached an important plot point and the characters go up a level.
  2. The characters have defeated an encounter and receive XP for that victory.

Defeating an enemy does not necessarily mean that they killed the enemy. You can defeat an encounter by bypassing it completely, or using clever tactics to get indirect kills, or by bringing them down to 0 hp in a battle. All are valid ways of defeating an encounter and all are deserving of the full XP reward.

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    \$\begingroup\$ By convincing them to join your cause, by resolving a conflict with lateral thinking, by not being killed (e.g. simply surviving, by running away, surrendering, being taken prisoner, etc.), etc. \$\endgroup\$
    – Lexible
    Jun 21, 2015 at 14:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ Good answer (+1), but I prefer @Miniman's since he correctly also points out a likely mistake by the GM. \$\endgroup\$
    – o0'.
    Jun 21, 2015 at 22:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for character advancement via plot milestones. I personally find it easier and more convenient to do away with tedious XP accounting entirely and simply have my players level-up automatically for completing individual chapters of the campaign. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 22, 2015 at 8:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Dyndrilliac: It's the system I use in 3.5e too, however it does have the issue of financing XP-cost (for item creation, some spells, etc...); don't know if the issue also concerns 5e though. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 22, 2015 at 11:58

As GMNoob eluded to, we don't give exp for kills, we give it for getting through the trial - give them exp for the skills they did use.

Give them exp for the actions they took, not the results of those actions. There should never be indirect experience gain. Maybe that's exp for besting a character in combat. Or exp for avoiding combat by sneaking to the safe, picking the lock, and escaping.

Ultimately, its exp for using skills to achieve a goal. Exp for progressing your story.


I think you should set a good amount of XP for this maneuver, but the killing of creatures that a character did not challenge face to face must be lower, even inexistent if you are not aware, like planting a trap and a creature gets killed on it two days later while Im a mile away, maybe if you check the trap later to find the killing you could get some feeling of achievement, hence XP.

The XP of killing a creature represents much the fact that you are matching your skills versus the creature, feeling the danger, learning from your moves, their moves, but something impersonal like "set a clever ambush that defeats an army" should get a good XP, but get the formula 1000 infantry x 10 xp each... 200 cavalry x 20 xp each... its wrong (Army Generals would be overpowered! NERF!)

Think it that way, while setting fire and killing all the army its a clever tactic that must be awarded a good amount of XP, getting into a fight with every single soldier of the army and killing them by your own would be the greatest experience achievement! So full XP! But the probability of surviving on one tactic or the other are so different that you trade experience for survivability.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a reasonable argument if your group believes that experience points should represent practical experience. For a group that instead prefers to treat experience points as an OOC reward for "playing the game right," it's less useful - but this is definitely a good answer for the first kind of players! +1. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Jun 23, 2015 at 0:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ This is my vision for this situation, but whatever fills your bucket, no one is fully right or wrong, I only feel a great game inbalance/exploit on such a maneuver/tactic that would make a character unreallistic powerful, I used common sense not "the book says..." approach. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 23, 2015 at 5:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ Common sense is rarely as common as it seems, and not everyone who uses the book's approach does so because the book says to; Indeed, I'd be surprised if all the people passing over this answer obeyed the book's methods to the letter. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Jun 23, 2015 at 5:54

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