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So I'm creating my first D&D 5e campaign and I want there to be an even balance between combat and non-combat with a slight bias to the non-combat style of missions. However I'm unsure about how to deal out XP for these situations and how much is a suitable amount. Also should I some characters get more XP than others for certain missions? For instance if you're trying to steal an artifact from a temple then a rogue will be very good at this while a barbarian will likely not be able to do much and so deserves less XP than the rogue but is this a fair way of managing things?

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The DMG gives you several alternate XP/leveling options on pages 260-261.

You may benefit from "milestone" leveling rather than doling out XP per encounter. Thus characters level up when they accomplish story specific events, so the exact path they take isn't dependent on being murder hobos. You can also get rid of XP altogether and just level characters up when you feel appropriate.

Characters can earn XP for defeating creatures via negotiation, stealth, or intimidation, not just for direct combat (called "noncombat challenges" in the DMG) if YOU deem it so. You should explain this up front and possibly "over reward" non-combat interactions initially to get players in the habit of looking for non-combat solutions. If YOU only give out XP for killing things then expect your players to try to kill everything. Train your players.

It sounds like you may be planning to award XP to characters based on individual achievements (thus the barbarian you mention wouldn't get XP if the rogue does all the thieving). Collective XP will let the barbarian share in XP for things when rogue did the majority of work, just like the rogue can get XP when the barbarian slaughters a room full of guards. Many GMs add up the total XP awarded and divide by number of players, then possibly add some individual character XP awards for good roleplaying, MVP, etc, rather than try to attribute XP to each character for every specific task. The DMG also addresses allowing characters to level up at different rates, though this is mostly due to a player missing a session rather than not contributing as much in a particular session.

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    \$\begingroup\$ as an extension, I have a list of my players and then put a mark next to their name whenever they do something good, excellent RP, etc - at the time to give out XP, I do this calculation: XP = marks * (25 * level), so a level 2 PC with 3 marks gets an extra 150XP \$\endgroup\$ – Jamie Brace May 25 '16 at 14:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ This could do for some better formatting - you've got one giant paragraph that mentions both milestone-levelling and collective-experience. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. May 25 '16 at 15:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, T.J.L, I wrote this out rather quickly. Hopefully this makes it more clear. \$\endgroup\$ – Jason K May 25 '16 at 15:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 Milestone is what I was going to recommend until I read this post. \$\endgroup\$ – Sh4d0wsPlyr May 25 '16 at 18:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ Consider also that rewarding individuals for performing tasks in ways only they can may cause arguments about how to solve challenges based on who will get the most XP. People may feel some classes are at a disadvantage. I'd stick to inspiration as the default way of rewarding characters for being cool. \$\endgroup\$ – SirTechSpec May 25 '16 at 19:19
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You can also award XP based on how important the non combat event was toward progressing the general adventure. A technique I have found to work fairly well is to take the party's average level as a base CR. Tiny inconsequential events (ex: talking to a shopkeeper in character) are worth CR minus 2 as an experience award. Moderate events (ex: finding an important clue, or procuring a map of the area to be adventured in) are worth CR minus 1, while events upon which the adventure hangs (ex: Tracking down the BBEG's lair, unmasking the Evil Prime Minister) are worth a full CR. Award experience per the CR values given in the Monster Manual and DMG.

Thus if the party has an average level of 4, then finding an important clue has a CR of (4-1) or CR 3, and is worth 700 xp. If the characters were 3rd level, it would be worth 450 xp.

The nice thing about this is that tying the CR for the event to the party's level will tend to scale it with the characters, so that they never lose the incentive to find non-combat solutions, or to forgo non-violent interactions with the environment. Note that my values work for my campaign. Adjust and season for taste.

One last thing, if you do adopt an approach that rewards non-combat interaction, make sure the players are aware that you are doing so. If you don't tell them, they have no incentive to try alternative behaviors.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Good point. I have edited for clarity and added a concrete example. Thanks. \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis May 25 '16 at 14:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ Excellent, reads great now \$\endgroup\$ – Premier Bromanov May 25 '16 at 14:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks. BTW, I noticed that you deleted your original comment once the edit was made. Is this standard practice? I'm a relative newbie here, and couldn't find anything relevant on Meta or in Help. \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis May 25 '16 at 14:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ comments are not permanent and we like to keep extended discussion in a chat room, rather than in comments. You've likely seen a mod post something along the lines of "moved this conversation to a chat room", where he deleted the rest of the comments. Personally, I like to remove comments that no longer serve a purpose. So, my comment became more or less redundant. I'm not 100% what common practice is for that, but mods clean up comments all the time, but can't be expected to catch everything. If you have more questions, feel free to take the tour or hop into a chat room \$\endgroup\$ – Premier Bromanov May 25 '16 at 14:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ The tour and chat \$\endgroup\$ – Premier Bromanov May 25 '16 at 14:40
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I will answer this on a generic level, as I have not gm'd a dnd game yet, so keep that in mind and fill in appropriate game system constructs for yourself.

In general, I dont feel like its a good idea to hand out experience points on a per enemy or interaction level. In other systems, particularly TDE, I will hand out the same experience points for everyone at either the end of an adventure or at critical points where it makes sense. Every player will get the exact same amount of experience as everybody else. Why? I have found that if I hand out experience individually, I risk to get several problems:

  1. Kill-Stealing/Opportunity Stealing
  2. Split of Power
  3. Adventure Design

Now what do I mean by this? The first point may be detrimental to cooperation. Your players may start trying to rush into situations without prior thinking, just to get extra experience, or similarly, trying to outplay each other in timing the moment to get more experience faster. Now this is probably not what will happen to you if your players like working together or if your encounter design is difficult. It may, depending on the "Social encounter" design, still occur though.

More pressing is a split of power. If a player happens to consistently have more opportunities than other players playing into the pcs strengths, a player may rush ahead in level of power, making balancing the encounters harder.

The most important factor I feel is mission desin and its impact on the "fun" of your players. I believe the GMs job is to make the games equally fun for everyone present. This also plays massively into the way you design your adventures. If you design them in a way that does not allow everyone to play important roles, the respective players will probably be dissatisfied afterwards. If it happens once, no problem, but more often... So, If you want to do this, make sure you have have at least some opportunities for everyone to shine, at the very least you'd have more opportunities in the next adventure for those players disadvantaged in the current one.

In the end, its up to you, BUT I would advise on giving the whole group equal experience points and encourage the development of ideas and tactics more than actual mechanical performance. The only exception I would make is for good roleplay. Good ideas should result in an overall increase of experience to be handed out, not specific for individual players.

TL;DR:

If you have a competitive group or want to encourage it, while at the same time you're willing to spend extra effort on balancing each adventure in itself and towards the previous/next ones, go ahead and hand out individual experience points. As a modification for this, try not only to hand out XP for the actual interaction, but also for Ideas.

However, I'd pool up experience and hand out the same amount for everyone, except for special occasions where you feel good roleplay needs to be rewarded, similar to what @Jason K wrote.

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I play RoleMaster but the idea of XP is similar.

The answer is in the word. I give experience points for relevant experiences. I dole them out (in order) by:

  1. Milestones: Accomplishing a mission or reaching a certain plateau
  2. New experiences: first time ever in town, picking a lock, meeting an owlbear, etc. (2nd time in a town, not such a big deal),
  3. roleplaying: more on that later,
  4. Hits taken or received (relative to monster difficulty),
  5. Spells successfully thrown (relative to caster's level),
  6. criticals (RoleMaster is a critical heavy playing system),
  7. ideas/specials ("It was my idea to trap the gelatinous cube in the giant squirt gun."),
  8. kills, and
  9. treasures (treasures are their own reward, in my opinion, and players usually don't get any XP for gold and magic items).

Rearrange or add to the list based on what is important in your campaign.

I also, with each new level, give the players a blank "Experience Sheet" form which has areas for hits taken, given, spells, ideas, thing encountered, etc. It's their job to keep track of things they've done individually on these sheets and I collect them when I'm going to award XP. (It's funny what some of them will put down to wrangle extra XP sometimes!) When I really like the way a character is playing their character (i.e. a character sniveling in front of a noble, polishing his boots, acting as a decoy) I make sure that the player wrote it on their sheet or I write it on a master sheet I keep for just those occasions.

Because I place the group activities highest (just watching an Owlbear rip apart your fighter is an experience), the individual experience is fairly well grouped with the more immersed individuals ending up getting a little bit more.

Hope this helped.

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It as been awhile since I have been able to DM, however, I have always believed in a very simple system. Most of what I was taught growing up with the game is posted here, just in different variants.

I have always taken the campaign as a whole. The completion of the campaign creates x amount of experience.

Roleplaying is required by all members. Those who actually role-play their characters get experience points for doing so. Those who are along for the ride will find the struggle to level up harder.

Character Class tasks: A fighter is expected to fight, wizard expected to fight with magic (offense and defense) or use their spells to detect the out of the ordinary things In the world. Clerics are expected to fight, heal and protect from the supernatural. Rogues are expected to fight when it is advantageous to them (sneak attacks, back stabbing, etc...), detect traps, remove traps, pick locks, etc...

These tasks are rewarded on a simple method. If they are a bystander and watch, they get experience points for the experience (small amount) but those who actually are involved in the character class task get rewarded for success or failure with more xp for success.

Attacking and killing creatures is part of the total campaign xp. I truly believe in the keep it simple stupid method. (KISS).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This answer doesn't really add much to clarify why players should or shouldn't get differing experience levels. If anything, it highlights that martial classes like fighters and barbarians have fewer opportunities to gain XP compared to something like a rogue, since rogues have so much more stuff they "are expected" to do than fight. \$\endgroup\$ – Adam Nov 22 '16 at 20:50

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