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I'm a real new DM here. If a character does not participate in a battle, do they still get the XP from the fight?

My main issue is that I had a character refuse to participate in a fight due to moral reasons (Let's say they killed an old man). I did not give that player XP for the fight because as he did not participate, I felt that he should not get the XP, though there was bonus XP for RPing. The player argued that everyone should have gotten the exact same XP regardless of what happened. This is my first time doling out XP in any sort of long term campaign, and I wanted to get a second opinion as it were.

DMG, p260 says: Experience points are divided equally between adventurers, which I do, but later on that same page, it says "Typically adventurers earn experience only for encounters they participate in" and while they were mainly talking about absent players I interpreted it as the character must participate to earn xp.

Long story short, it feels a bit weird to give that character the old man murder XP (because he didn't do anything, and because his character was morally against it), but is there enough evidence to say that they should get it regardless of PC participation?

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If you don't want to give him "old man murder xp" give him "Roleplaying XP" for sticking to his character's convictions. You can also feel free to adjust this (you are the DM) as you see fit.

For example, for the main group members of my party, I typically give them half xp if they are not present for a session (but their character is there "in game"). Technically speaking, they should either get an equal share or nothing per the rules (depending on if you interpret it as the character being present or the person) but I don't want levels to get too far out of whack and I don't want to penalize people for not being able to make my schedule consistently (one of our players travels for work a lot, and two of the last four sessions just happened to land on those days).

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for the rationalization of "Roleplaying XP". Regardless of the logistical reasons of keeping everyone on an even power keel, it is a good way to explain an XP award for actions that were not lock step with the party. And +1 to the player, if I could, for sticking to his ethical guns. :) \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis Jul 6 '16 at 14:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 If you don't want to give him "old man murder xp" give him "Roleplaying XP" for sticking to his character's convictions Of all the options, this looks to me like the best fit. Reward good play, sort of like how Inspiration works. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jul 7 '16 at 4:15
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Taking a bit of a different tack here. Remember that unlike previous editions, 5e allows the GM considerable leeway in leveling characters. It is even suggested as an optional rule in the DMG (p 261), that the DM just periodically levels the party up when he deems it appropriate.

You can do away with experience points entirely and control the rate of character advancement. Advance characters based on how many sessions they play, or when they accomplish significant story goals in the campaign. In either case, you tell the players when their characters gain a level.

So if the nitpicking of XP on a small scale proves to be more of a hassle than it's worth, simply level the party up when you feel it to be the right time. Not that this is necessarily a problem in your campaign, but it could even alleviate some "murder hobo" activity by de-incentivizing killing as the first solution to a problem.

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As you've taken on the responsibility of the DM (which can in its own right be more fun than being a player), there's really only one piece of advice someone can give you:

Award experience wherever you think it should be earned

Did the player role-play sufficiently outside of combat to receive the experience? If so, don't hold back XP simply because he wasn't in combat. However, if he just stood by watching his companions do all the work, don't feel bad not giving him anything either. It's all up to you. As page 4 of the 5e DMG states

The D&D rules help you and the other players have a good time, but the rules aren't in charge. You're the DM, and you are in charge of the game.

That being said, I want to echo a point keithcurtis brought up: In 5e, not giving XP and simply leveling up the party when it feels right is entirely within the rules. I'm a huge advocate for this method and I'll explain why.

Players can get too wrapped up in levels that they forget DnD is about adventure

Alright, there are some people who play DnD for the combat and leveling, and if those are your players, by all means keep the numerical XP scale. But I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that most players play DnD for the atmosphere and role-play, it is an RPG after all. I'm currently a player in a 5e campaign that's been going on for years (we started in 3.5 and ported our characters over to 5th); we switched to the periodic leveling system when we jumped to 5e and we'll never go back. Our immersion and investment in the game skyrocketed. None of us felt like we had to seek out encounters or we wouldn't level up because it wasn't true. We could simply play our characters how we wanted to without worrying about 'if I sit this out, I'm not getting XP'.

Periodic, non-XP based leveling lets the players simply be players. They can focus on what they want to focus on and, as the DM, you can level each of them up when you feel like they've earned it.

But regardless of whether you switch or stay with numerical and trackable XP calculations, remember that you're the DM and it's up to you (and nobody else) whether or not that player has earned role-playing XP. Be fair, be fun, and don't wrongfully punish someone for acting in character, but at the end of the day, 'you do you' can honestly be the best advice.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ It's all good :P You made some very good points and I cleaned up the wording of my intro to sound less like "always do everything you want." I also added the quote from the DMG itself \$\endgroup\$ – Kyte Aryus Jul 8 '16 at 0:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for taking all of that on board. :) I've cleaned up my comments. Have an updoot. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jul 8 '16 at 1:09
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If they are present for the fight in some form (even for sleeping the whole fight like I did once...) then yes.

Usually XP is usually awarded as a group to keep everyone in line in terms of power. After all, the rogue might not have been able to learn about a political connect if the fighter had not protected him. People missing sessions cant be avoided so either award them despite not being there to keep them in line, or let them gain that missing XP elsewhere.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ That last point is very important. If a player misses a session and misses the XP then they are now behind in power. If they miss another session, they are even further behind. Very quickly it gets to a point where they would rather not turn up at all than play with a character a lot behind the rest of the group. \$\endgroup\$ – Greenstone Walker Jul 6 '16 at 5:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GreenstoneWalker It should be pointed out that, unlike 4e to some extent, 5e is much more able to deal with varying levels across the party. As long as your players don't mind small (and I stress SMALL) gaps in power (unless across tiers, e.g. Level 11), multiple levels in the party should not be a problem. The problem really lies in harder bookkeeping, ad in players going through the level-up procedure at different times. \$\endgroup\$ – Ladifas Jul 6 '16 at 6:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for mentioning the important fact that while XP is evenly distributed between adventurers, you still have to be present/contributing to the fight in some form \$\endgroup\$ – Olorin Jul 6 '16 at 8:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Fering The question was edited to remove the second and third questions, but this still sounds like a coherent answer when I cut out your answer to the second (absent) question and leave the other two in place, so I've made that edit. Could you check it to see how it sits with you? \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jul 6 '16 at 9:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ I had answered and then noticed the question was changed within minutes of my answer \$\endgroup\$ – Fering Jul 6 '16 at 14:36
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According to the Dunegon Master's Guide, all party members receive experience from defeating a monster, regardless of their contribution.

When adventurers defeat one or more monsters - typically by killing, routing, or capturing them - they divide the total XP value of the monsters evenly amongst themselves. If the party received substantial assistance from one or more NPCs, count those NPCs as party members when dividing up the XP.

So NPCs have to provide substantial assistance to get a share of the XP, but the same isn't true for PCs.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You should also include what happens when a PC is not actually present for the fight, as the question does not specifically state that he is there but not taking part in it (which is what you're assuming). \$\endgroup\$ – Olorin Jul 6 '16 at 7:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Olorin Where did I assume that? \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Jul 6 '16 at 8:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ You're quoting the DMG section that says XP from defeating monsters is evenly shared between the adventurers that defeated the monster. Nowhere in the answer or quote is the possibility that one of the adventurers was entirely absent from the aforementioned combat handled. \$\endgroup\$ – Olorin Jul 6 '16 at 8:31
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In your particular case I would take the following approach:

Did the PC stand idly by while the others butchered the "old man"?

  1. Yes -> give him the XP award, but call his alignment into question - severely! (Openly or not, depending on how your group functions, but be sure to make a note that he is slipping, and make sure that he is aware of this).

  2. No -> did he walked away?

    2.1 Yes -> then he gets nothing (but still call his alignment into question, but not openly. Mention it to him discreetly, because it is no one else's business - again, this depends on your group). It is still sever: he walked away from a murder to which he was opposed.

    2.2 No -> then he is involved in the encounter. Give him the XP, but consider his actions during the encounter and advise him accordingly.

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