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Assume there is a troll guarding a bridge (for all bridges need trolls). Instead of attacking the troll, the party found some intrigue way of bypassing the encounter. I'm happy with it and award them full XP for the combat.

Now, a session or two later, the party comes back and kills the troll. Should they get the XP again?

Since this is hypothetical I don't know the reasons for killing the troll. Would the reason matter?

  • Quest to kill the troll given by local lord
  • Party wants to "farm XP" so they go hunt it down later with some justification-dance of their actions
  • Absent member of the party returns, and disagrees with leaving the troll alive, etc.
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The reason only matters if it matters to you.

XP is awarded for challenges overcome. Thus, if the troll presents a challenge both times, then yes, you should likely award XP both times.

So lets imagine that the troll guards both sides of a bridge. You have to cross both ways. The first time, you outsmart the troll, but make not allowances for the return trip. On the return, the troll is wise to your intellect and attacks. You should certainly get XP for both sides, as the troll presents a challenge coming and going.

However, if the troll is outsmarted, and then your party goes out of the way to kill him and steal his stuff, that may be something you don't want to reward (and honestly, may be something to talk to your players about outside of the session if that kind of thing isn't what you want in your game).

Basically, if the troll is an impediment to your hero's success twice, then yes, award XP twice.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I might also add that your players don't necessarily need to know what they were and were not awarded XP for if you give them a lump sum at the end of the session rather than as it happens. \$\endgroup\$ – Premier Bromanov Apr 25 '16 at 18:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PremierBromanov and honestly, 5e works pretty well if you just toss out the XP system and use narrative based leveling... \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Apr 25 '16 at 18:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ At this point narrative based leveling makes more sense to me, but the players get really excited when I tell them XP totals. I might have a conversation about switching systems and see how that goes over. \$\endgroup\$ – Guy Apr 25 '16 at 19:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ An encounter doesn't have to be a monster to be worth some XP. Would you award full XP each time a group bypasses a detected trap? That could lead to some abuse. \$\endgroup\$ – Meta4ic Apr 25 '16 at 22:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @meta4ic, no. Once they know how to pass over a trap it's no longer a challenge. If he troll didn't learn and a different solution wasn't required, ID award no XP. \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Apr 25 '16 at 22:23
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Intent Matters

This is a case that could easily be argued either way. I will address the second part of your question, about intent. Yes, intent matters, or at least a good case can be made that intent matters.

TL;DR - if your players are meta-gaming, you are entitled to shut it down.

The longer form of the argument runs as follows:

  1. Experience points, levels, stats, etc are out-of-game constructs that allow players and GMs to have meaningful discussions about what characters can and cannot do, but they are not something that the characters have access unless you are playing Order Of The Stick.
  2. As such, characters should not, and players should not overtly, base their in-game decisions on these mechanical, meta-concerns. Where that line is drawn is a GM decision, varying from game to game, but highly indirect and chunkily mechanical things like experience points seem like they would be out of bounds.
  3. Further, consider what happens if the intent is taken to the extreme, for, as you say, "XP farming": Could they sweet talk the troll, then immediately turn around and engage in combat, for extra XP? Could they sweet talk it today, sneak past it tomorrow, outrun it next week, and kill it next month gaining XP each time? Could they sneak past it so many times they get more XP than the troll is worth... and then kill it?

You can argue that the answer to all those questions in part 3 is "yes" based on the inherent challenge of the troll, but at some point it begins to feel like the GM, the troll, and the game world at large are being taken advantage of, no? Note, by the way, that this cannot go the other way: You cannot first kill it, then get all the other XP for other treatments of it. This contributes to the sense of abuse.

I don't think I would balk the first time, but if it became a habit I would start giving warnings, and ultimately I would either start reducing XP, or having the game world be such that these farming opportunities don't exist.

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    \$\begingroup\$ In the third case, players could be considered, well, trolls. \$\endgroup\$ – Trang Oul Apr 26 '16 at 11:36
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They get experience twice

A slight tweak to your hypothetical shows why.

They defeat the troll by outsmarting him; gaining XP. Disgraced, the troll King exiles him and appoints a new bridge troll. When they defeat this troll by killing it the party gets XP, yes?

The only difference is that these are different trolls; if they get XP twice in my scenarios, why not yours?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ ...or if a monster is resurrected and killed for a second time! \$\endgroup\$ – eyecosahedron Apr 26 '16 at 22:10
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Two Encounters Means Two Experience Point Rewards

Experience points are not some finite resource that every monster or puzzle has and then player characters "suck dry." Experience points represent the characters gaining knowledge and skill from their experiences. Is battling the troll fundamentally different than outwitting it? Would I learn something else from fighting a thing I've previously outsmarted? Yes, I think so. Therefore, experience points should be awarded twice.

The Indistinguishable Fight Argument

Additionally, there is Martin Carney's very related point:

If they fight and kill a troll, they gain XP for that. If they later fight and kill another troll, they gain XP for that, too. Why would two (different) encounters with one troll be less valuable than two (similar) encounters with two trolls?

Well put! Why is multiple, but fundamentally different encounters with the same creature less valuable than two practically identical encounters?

Yes, farming for experience points is a bit cheesy, game-y, and kinda frowned upon by those who like D&D for the storytelling qualities. Making multiple encounters with the same monster can be a great boon to plots, though!

Really, it's up to the GM to rule on this sort of thing.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The fact that the two challenges - outsmarting and then killing - are fundamentally different is the clincher for me. It's also worth considering: If they fight and kill a troll, they gain XP for that. If they later fight and kill another troll, they gain XP for that, too. Why would two (different) encounters with one troll be less valuable than two (similar) encounters with two trolls? \$\endgroup\$ – Martin Carney Apr 26 '16 at 17:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MartinCarney That's a really good point; I'm going to add it! \$\endgroup\$ – PipperChip Apr 26 '16 at 22:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MartinCarney agreed on the good point. Would you feel the same way if they outsmarted the troll and you gave them experience. Then, instead of proceeding, they said "Cool, let's kill it to get double xp!"? In my opinion I think there is argument that they /should/ get the second amount of XP, but I think I might have an ethical problem with it. That seems odd, considering its a troll. ;) \$\endgroup\$ – Guy Apr 27 '16 at 0:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ If they did that, I probably wouldn't give them double XP. But since XP is awarded at the end of the session, they won't be anywhere near the troll when they realize they still got full XP for outsmarting it. \$\endgroup\$ – Martin Carney Apr 29 '16 at 6:04
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I think if you are purely following RAW you will have to reward experience for both encounters.

As you correctly did, you rewarded creativity for bypassing the encounter.

If the party comes back to kill the troll later, you could perhaps change the rules of the encounter to better solve your problem (depending on what you want to do).

  1. Perhaps another adventuring party found the troll and killed it while they were busy.
  2. Troll maybe just wandered off, and is no longer guarding the bridge. (Did they kill the main boss in his lair? Nothing compelling the troll to stay? Probably wandered off).
  3. Award reduced experience for a repetitive encounter, that they already previously solved (I generally do 50-75% experience depending on difficulty, but this is a personal choice).
  4. I also am slightly vindictive as well, so sometimes if they bypass an encounter that would have been "Challenging" I modify it so on their return for exp farm, it is suddenly a deadly encounter (e.g. Perhaps one troll who was normal-challenging is now two trolls guarding the bridge, which would be deadly for the party).

I also generally like writing contingencies in advance to cover these situations. For example, if they kill the troll then something else opens up, if they bypass the fight, that secret way is locked. If they wait more than 2 days to return the troll is gone. I find these useful for dealing with situations I might not have seen coming, especially when handling a creative party.

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