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A friend of mine's character just died, and as we chatted he lamented all the bad luck he had over the course of the campaign. One thing that stuck out (other than his death being at the hands of a rather careless player character) was that he said his DM didnt give him XP for fights where he got knocked out.

As a DM of 5th edition this seemed odd, so I chimed in with "Thats a pretty harsh house rule." and then my friend explained that his DM is extremely anal about playing RAW.

So I petition the collective knowledge of RPG Stack, I have scoured the PHB and the DMG about XP gain, and the rules about being KO'd and I have found nothing that says a character gets no XP for a fight if they are knocked out, am I missing anything? Is it possibly a rule added in one of the supplements?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm pretty sure a previous edition established a position on this, one way or the other; if I'm remembering correctly, perhaps this DM simply assumed that either 5th edition kept that rule (if it was against KO'ed characters) or conversely, that its omission from the current rulebook indicated a reversal (if it was in their favor). \$\endgroup\$ – Dan Henderson May 11 '16 at 0:41
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No, as far as the rules are concerned, being knocked out does not affect whether you gain experience. The DMG has this to say about experience on page 260:

Each monster has an XP value based on its challenge rating. When adventurers defeat one or more monsters-typically by killing, routing, or capturing them-they divide the total XP value of the monsters evenly among themselves.

There's nothing there (or anywhere else) that would prevent a knocked out character from gaining experience. Obviously, the DM can houserule however they please, but this is a houserule, not a rule from the book.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer makes me want to create a party where one of the characters sleeps through every conflict, and levels up to level 20. \$\endgroup\$ – Yakk May 11 '16 at 13:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Yakk A character that survives sleeping through 20 levels of encounters without A. being killed in their sleep or B. being kicked out by the other PCs must be very good at something, certainly. \$\endgroup\$ – MrTheWalrus May 11 '16 at 20:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MrTheWalrus So... Gilligan? \$\endgroup\$ – 40355 says Reinstate Monica Dec 12 '17 at 15:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Yakk Sleeping through the encounter is not participating in it, and shouldn't grant XP - not experiencing something is not experiencing it. Actually participating, but being defeated should still grant XP - failure is sometimes the best teacher. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Jan 18 '18 at 16:40
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The protestation by the DM that this ruling is somehow RAW does not have explicit support in the rules. Nothing on page 260-261 of the DMG reflects a lack of XP eligibility if the PC is knocked out. As you noted, it is not in the PHB. (It's not in the Sword Coast Adventure Guide either, nor do I find it in Xanathar's Guide to Everything).

There is general guidance in the DMG about the DM having the options to adjust rules for the DM's table (DMG, p. 5, "Master of Rules.") and this overall guidance:

The rules serve you, not vice versa. (DMG p. 235, addressing the Dungeon Master)

The DM awards Experience, which leaves how XP is awarded within the remit/discretion of the DM, but I find this particular approach to be needlessly harsh on the players involved. This ruling does not appear to match designer intent as commented upon by Christopher Perkins in a tweet (He has been involved in producing various published WoTC adventures. Thanks to @J.A.Streich for citing the tweet).

Only if the characters directly contributed (for example, by goading the enemy to cast the spell).

From that one can infer that the intended general case is that participating in the battle/encounter makes one eligible for a share of the XP from that battle by default.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ this edit made it much clearer as to what you meant. there were some grammar issues that made it unclear before. \$\endgroup\$ – MC_Hambone May 11 '16 at 0:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MC_Hambone I see how I came in backwards. Sorry I came off so crabby, if I'd answer in the other order it would have made more sense. BESW's edit got it right. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast May 11 '16 at 0:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ Citing "Rule Zero" is a weak argument, especially in light of the OPs assertion that the GM in question believes he's following an actual written rule. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. May 11 '16 at 1:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast You may find this meta thread and this one useful for the future. If you've seen them before, I encourage you to re-read them with this experience in mind. \$\endgroup\$ – BESW May 11 '16 at 2:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ @T.J.L. Since our querent isn't the GM, it is quite possible that the GM in question is mistaken, obtuse, or has this habit from another edition/game and can't tell the difference. Simply being an unknown to you and me will not guarantee that someone is right. Also, Rule Zero is a rule. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast May 11 '16 at 2:34
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If they participate in combat, they get their share of the experience. Page 260 of the DMG states that when adventurers, referring to the whole party, defeat a monster, they are to evenly divide the XP among themselves. The DMG makes no reference to PCs losing experience due to being knocked out in combat, and it should therefore be assumed that they earn their XP even if they are KO'd.

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Death The Ultimate Experience

The death could have been caused by a player choice. If a character threw themselves at a danger to save another party member or the whole party, didn't they learn some big lessons that we should reward players for? The Character learned self-sacrifice, the player exercised roleplay, and the story just got a whole lot more interesting.

Even if the death wasn't a big heroic moment, but a Leroy Jenkins charge, then the player and character both (hopefully) learned a lot about making wiser choices.

Metagame

The player presumably damaged the enemies and helped in the fight, no matter how briefly, and that decreased the difficulty of the encounter for the other players, and XP totals should reflect that. I suppose if it was a Leroy moment, and they didn't get a single hit in against the enemies, maybe the XP should split among the living, but otherwise no.

I don't see much to be gained by denying the dead character one encounter's worth of XP earned. The player will already be behind because the party will likely face other things before they can get the dead character resurrected (at least at lower levels). The lopsidedness can be interesting unless it gets too lopsided, at which point the player who died, being miles behind the rest of the party, will begin to feel useless.

Rules

The rules are ambigous. They read only:

When the adventures defeat ... monsters ... they divide ... XP ... among themselves. (DMG 260)

It isn't clear from that what the intent was. There is no ruling from Jermey Crawford about fallen heroes XP. The only thing we have to tell the designers' intentions is this tweet from Chris Perkins who wrote the big adventure modules like Curse of Strahd and Tomb of Annihilation. So, this isn't a official rules stance of WOTC, but his answer was:

Only if the characters directly contributed (for example, by goading the enemy to cast the spell). #WOTCstaff (https://twitter.com/ChrisPerkinsDnD/status/757940391849013248)

So, if a character contributed at all they are calculated into that division. If 4 adventures fight a dragon and 1 dies, you still divide the XP 4 ways. Each getting 1/4 of the encounter's XP.

Odd Incentive Otherwise

An odd incentive arises if you don't divide the XP among even the fallen. You create a situation where near the end of the encounter, a party member killing or letting die another party member to gain 1/nth more XP (where n is the number of party members who entered the encounter) to split among the remaining.

Think about it, the dragon is almost dead, and so is the barbarian that is right up against the dragon. The wizard's player thinks ("I can take out both of them with a fireball, and the party will split the barbarian's XP and the dragon's hoard. Sure!"), as opposed to thinking "How can a lay down a fireball so that I don't hurt my party? Or at least doing as little collateral damage as possible?"

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This answer not only covers all of the bases, but the last section does a nice job of explaining a potential down side of not sharing XP with the whole party. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jan 19 '18 at 14:26
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That's ultimately the DM's call to make, BUT it seems strange to learn nothing from a fight where you got KO'd.

I mean, consider even this extreme example: You're with your group, walking peacefully, and someone manages to creep behind you without you noticing, and smack you on the head with a cudgel, or whatever, thus putting you out of combat before you could even do a thing.

Would you deserve a lot of XP for the combat, and for "defeating" enemies ? No, of course. However, would you have learned something, after you wake up with an aching head ? Yes, probably: Cover your head better, so you're not that easy a target next time, and, maybe, pay more attention to your surroundings ?

This, my friend, is what is called EXPERIENCE: The sum total of past experiences (whether failures or successes). So, there would be no "shame" in giving you at least a small "token" experience sum - unless you specifically choose, for your character, to act like you've learned absolutely nothing from your errors, for instance (which COULD be a reasonable choice, for a low-wisdom character, or for someone being overly stubborn, or whatever).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ A character learns to "pay more attention to [his] surroundings" by accumulating XP, leveling up, and increasing his bonuses to the appropriate abilities. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Feb 9 '18 at 21:20

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