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This is my first time being a DM, and one of my players (the reason I became a DM), is constantly going out on their own, hunting or stealthing ahead of the group, to kill things before any one else has a chance to. The other players aren't doing anything about it, and so far I haven't come up with any decent reasons to stop him, only been giving him miniscule amounts of XP, but it is very disrupting to game play.

How do I deal with this using in-game methods?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the site. Take the tour. It might be useful to include more details (beyond simply He uses stealth) as to how the character has managed such consistent success alone; an anecdote is fine. (An individual PC shouldn't be able to consistently take on challenges designed for the whole party unless there's a whole lot of luck on the PC's side!) The more information you provide, the better the site can help. Thank you for your participation and have fun. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Jul 19 '16 at 10:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ Why are you giving them XP for kills? And why are monsters so weak that even a single person can easily kill them? \$\endgroup\$ – Superbest Jul 19 '16 at 16:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ Are you sure the player's motivation for going solo is only for XP and not something else like trying to be the center of attention? \$\endgroup\$ – LeHill Jul 19 '16 at 17:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm confused about (IRL) timing of this. Do you and the player meet up before the others come over? to play? Or are the other players hanging out and eating potato chips / playing video games /otherwise killing time while the two of you have an extended "scouting" session? Or does the "scouting" take place in 5- or 10-minute chunks between "main party" encounters throughout the session? \$\endgroup\$ – Bob Gilmore Jul 20 '16 at 20:16

12 Answers 12

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The goal is to build an incentive system where "I'm going to farm for a while" yields less XP than "we're all going to advance the adventure together". That way, adventuring together is the most effective way to get more powerful.

Step one, disincentivize solo farming. Every build has a counter. He's stealthy? Monster with blindsight. Wizard with alarm's throughout the area. Divinations. The ultimate sentry, who put so much into perception and investigation, and has a background of Sentry (you'll have to make that background) that, within their limited area of expertise, they are a god; they have clear-cut the area, burned the undergrowth to the ground, and hid 1,000 pit traps around their camp.

Know what's really boring/doesn't give you a lot of XP? When you fall in a pit and break your leg, and have to wait for your party to rescue you (accumulating XP as they go).

Immobilization traps can be great for this. They won't straight up kill him, but the humiliation of being repeatedly rescued by the rest of the party (who are accumulating XP in the process) should very quickly wear him down.

Adventurers form parties because adventuring is dangerous. If this guy is able to cut a swath through your encounters solo, it's because you need to up the challenge of those encounters.

On top of that, life doesn't stop for the rest of the party while he's gallivanting around. Maybe they stumble across some treasure. Or get ambushed. If they get ambushed by something that would have been really useful to have that rogue to face and they waste a lot of resources unnecessarily, then the others will start pushing the problem player to stick with the group.

Every time he says he's going off on his own, I'd say, "Okay, you go scout through the forest, yadda yadda yadda, we'll come back to that. Everyone else..." Anyone who aggressively steals the spotlight should be delayed before they get that spotlight.

Personally, I don't like messing with the XP system too much (as others are suggesting). By and large in my games, people in a fight get XP, even if, really, the fighter just cut through everything. You get the same XP for avoiding a fight (stealth should not get penalized). You get half XP for being forced to retreat from a fight (you didn't win, but you did learn something). There are also story rewards: you found the lost treasure of [whatever], rescued the mayor, whatever. Finally, every player gets "bonus" XP for being particularly effective at a crucial moment, roleplaying well, overcoming a personal challenge or weakness, or, and this one's key, increasing party cohesion.

Finally, the carrot: build encounters around this guy. He wants to stealth around? Have him scout along a cliff, taking out archers that are threatening the group below. Everyone else is engaged in their own combat encounter with [insert whatever], everyone's on the same initiative, everyone's playing, everyone's getting XP. And make it clear he's getting more XP than he would on his own, since he's getting XP for the rest of the party's combat encounter (since this is really all just one combat encounter).

The only real problem I could see with a guy like this: he doesn't just want to be powerful, he wants to be more powerful than the other PCs. If that's the case, you're going to have to have a carefully worded talk with him. And if he's still a problem... you can either kill him until he gets the idea (and institute XP penalties for death, either on resurrection or on new character creation), or kick him out of the group.

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The easiest way is to stop giving out XP at all. D&D very prominently features the so-called milestone rule in their Hoard of the Dragon Queen/Tyranny of Dragons adventures.

They later refined that into the "Story-Based Advancement" rule that can be found in the DMG page 261, "Level Advancement without XP". They also introduced something else also called a milestone rule in the DMG, so there is some confusion. I'm talking about the milestones in Hoard of the Dragon Queen, later called story-based advancement in the DMG.

The Story-Based Advancement rule says you advance a level when you have hit a certain advancement/milestone in the adventure regardless of how you got there. There is no extra XP for encounters. For example "you advance a level once you reach Fort Placeholder of Duke Whatshisname through the jungle of Death". Regardless of how many survival checks you failed and how many random encounters you had to fight through. I found this very intuitive as suddenly a random encounter actually is something to avoid to not waste resources, instead of a XP farm happening.

From my perspective, our games got much better once a random bandit encounter was a nuisance and a waste of spell slots rather than a happy XP pinata.

In addition, as all characters reach the milestones at the same time, teamwork and intra-party balance got much better.

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Two possible solutions:

  1. If the problem player continues to hunt ahead of the party on his own, sooner or later he'll get in over his head and run into a large Troll or band of Orcs. At which point he'll wish he had more backup! If he's lucky he'll only lose a bunch of hit points before retreating. Not so lucky, he'll be captured or killed. Either way, lesson learned.

  2. The problem player doesn't encounter any monsters, however the rest of the party does blunder into a Bugbear ambush, giving them a chance to earn XPs. (The idea being the Bugbears waited for the scout to pass unmolested so the main party would be caught unawares.)

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I see several easy ways to fix that:

  • Split XP between all the members of the team (it's not clear if you already do that)

  • Don't reward with XP easy confrontations. What an "easy" confrontation is should be considered at the scale of the whole team. It will make "farming" dangerous, so if a character needs power he has to get the help of the others.

  • Stop using the XP system (see nvoigt's answer)

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I know you asked specifically about in-game methods, but in-game methods for altering player behavior are notoriously unreliable. If you punish the character for scouting ahead, the player is less likely to realize why everything is suddenly so hard, and more likely to assume you're just a mean DM. This sounds like a problem that needs to be talked out out-of-game. You could talk to the problem player in private and tell them that their constant scouting ahead may be disrupting gameplay and distracting attention from the other players.

Or, if you prefer not to confront the player directly, you could do what my DM has done in the past to deal with similar problems. When a player wants to go off farming XP, my DM simply doesn't allow it. That kind of meta-gaming relies on the characters knowing about the XP/Lvl system, and most gaming groups frown upon such behavior. A simple "Why would your character do that?" has usually been enough to make the player recognize the lack of character motivation, and thus discourage meta-gaming, in our adventures. And even in this case, where they may be able to come up with a character motivation like "I'm obviously just trying to keep the party safe", you could point out that engaging in combat with everything you find, without the party's help, sort of defeats the purpose of scouting ahead. Isn't the idea to tell the party about upcoming threats, so you can all face or avoid them together? At that point, it would be pretty disingenuous of the player to continue XP farming under the guise of reconnaissance.

Remember, the priority is for everyone to have fun, and one person taking the spotlight by gallivanting off on their own, leaving the rest of the group to watch from the sidelines, isn't fun for anyone else.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 Other answers tend to generally discourage the stealthy character from scouting ahead at all, which is less than optimal. Yours focuses instead on discouraging the stealthy player only from solo engagements with whatever he finds, which solves the XP disparity problem without diminishing the benefits of having a stealthy character in the party. \$\endgroup\$ – Dan Henderson Jul 19 '16 at 16:44
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Play the encounters as if they were balanced for a party. A single character should then logically be handed their backside on a plate and either retreat or die.

If you are designing encounters in such a way that a single clever player can defeat them then IMO the PC is entitled to the XP and the problem is that the DM is failing to produce a challenging game for the players' party.

Simply refusing to give out XP is sweeping the problem under the carpet by refusing to allow good play to beat your bad planning.

I realise (in retrospect) that this is a bit harsh given that the DM is a newbie so I would add that perhaps the problem is that the DM is afraid to play out the logical consequences of reckless behaviour by a player character. Don't be. This is a game about going into danger and if a player is simply bailed out by a DM "pulling punches" then they will never learn to be more careful (why would they?). The "in-game solution", if this is what is happening, is that the opponents are armed with lethal weapons!

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1; if a single player can survive an encounter I've planned for the party, I've severely underestimated the party. \$\endgroup\$ – phyrfox Jul 21 '16 at 4:13
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A lot of answers involve beating the guy over the head with rules. What about just dropping a note to a particularly paranoid or Good character. Have them notice his exit, and cause him to wonder enough to follow on his own accord. Perhaps the new wealth gets noticed?
Is there no other greedy character, to exploit?!! ;)

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Don't give individual XP awards. Therefore, the party is all in it together. Also, it's easier to compute the XP at the end in one batch without individual break-outs. That's the obvious answer.

Another response which was traditional in play, but today might be considered radical, is to implement the classic caller/leader role. That is: Assume by default that the whole party sticks together unless the group as a whole, as communicated through the caller player, agrees to some other course of action. I still do this and find it indispensable -- especially the more players I have at the table (frequently 10 or more). More in the post below on my blog:

On Callers

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Our working model to give experience is based on two main sources of experience points:

  • story milestones (whole group)
  • interpretation (single player)

You kill all the dogs, kobolds, bandits you find on the road? fine, 0xp.

You do it alone? 0xp.

You kill the dragon? 0xp anyway.

You save the princess? 3.500xp to each player.

You save the princess without killing anyone? 3.500xp to each player.

You acted like your character, alignment, background imply, without toxic behavior, even when that isn't convenient? 100 bonus xp to the player.

The main source of experience must always be the missions, but a little incentive to play the character properly could help a lot to keep the game fun.

This is what keeps our player from being a simple number-crunching blood-crazed killing machine to an actual person with a likely personality.

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You've noted you're a new DM. The first thing I would check for is to make sure you and this player are both using the rules correctly. If he's saying stealth works in a certain way, make sure he's reading the entire rule and that you are too.

A second consideration is how you're playing your monsters. I've been the dude out scouting, when I find the lone orc sentry at the guard post I'll off him, but when I see a room full of them I am usually headed back to the party. Keep in mind most monsters are aggressive and not as smart as humans so if the PCs are attacking their den (where they keep their children) they're unlikely to get 'spooked' by something a stealthy PC does.

The third consideration would be your encounter/dungeon setup. Less of an issue if you're using premade modules, if you're writing your own you might want to google some (even old ones) to get a feel for how the dungeons and encounters are set up. Reward smart decisions (killing the dude by the alarm gong first) and penalize stupid ones (uhh...not killing him first? Or hitting it themselves?). Monsters aren't geniuses, but they're crafty/devious.

I'm not up on a lot of the things in new editions, but 2nd edition used to have a set XP value for a monster and then a "bonus" per hit point. We always used the base value as the party pool and then estimated the per hit point by character so the bonus for killing things alone was fairly small.

I don't know the party's background, but if they're just a group of people who met outside a cave, they have no reason to trust this dude who is constantly sneaking around unless he's reporting in on the loot he finds. If they have a background as like childhood friends and the PC isn't living up to it (or his alignment) that would call for a warning from the DM and potential penalties if he continues to act out of character. If he's using shiny new magic items in front of the party that he never mentioned, they might wonder where they came from and trust him less.

If your party is new, they may not pick up on some of the stuff above (or if they dislike RP and mostly want to massacre things), so you may want to nudge them. You could introduce an NPC to a dungeon and require him to tag along and express some doubts about that particular PC.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Answers are for answers only. If you wish to comment, do the work to gain the privilege. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 22 '16 at 18:06
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A logical way to deal with this is simply to arrange things so that scouting ahead really does mean scouting ahead by reducing the opportunities for easy XP and making it more dangerous to be anything other than very cautious.

For example perhaps that tempting lone sentry is really bait for an ambush or the enemy realises that there are scouts out and has put in place traps and other countermeasures. This doesn't mean that you should 'punish' a player for playing in a way you don't like, just tune the risk/reward balance to make the game work for everybody.

Similarly you could place obstacles which require some or all of the rest of the party to cooperate in order to advance to prevent any individual from getting too far ahead.

Having said that if a party includes a wood-crafty or stealthy member it does make sense for them to scout ahead to some degree. Part of your role as a DM is to set up the scenario so that the risk vs reward balance for in game tactics makes for a fun game and if they are doing this as a smart group decision there may not be any real reason to discourage it too much.

One way to approach this is to make sure that all of the PCs get reasonably equal opportunities to make use of their specialist skills and avoid situations where one PCs skill set gives them a distinct advantage for long periods of play.

For example while the 'XP scout' is off on his own you could give the other players an interesting opportunity for loot of XP which the lone player misses out on.

Also as others have said, if a lone player is able to make significant progress on their own perhaps you just need to bring the difficulty of encounters up a notch. If they encounter a force they cannot take on by themselves blocking the way then they are pretty much forced to rejoin the group.

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So your player can scout ahead and take down a band of enemies meant for the whole party? Is he/she that strong?

If the player charges into a group of enemies designed to challenge the whole party on their own, they'll probably be killed!

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to rpg.se! Please take a look at the tour, it's a useful introduction to the site. Stack Exchange is a Q&A site, not a traditional discussion forum. This means each answer needs to be a fully formed solution to the problem being asked about; can you edit your post to flesh out your solution, please? \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Jul 22 '16 at 0:51

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