Alternate XP systems

Brashnir2

Visitor
My group has mostly used Milestone leveling in 5E since we tended to chafe at the notion that killing things made you stronger, which tended to lead to situations where players would make moves to gain XP mechanically rather than doing things organically in the moment.

However, we also found that we missed the notion of using XP as a motivational tool the DM could employ. As a result, in recent sessions I have switched to a new method which has gone over extremely well in our group, so I thought I'd share it.

I call it Simple XP. The basic premise is that it always costs a player 100XP to gain a level. We tried 10, but it wasn't quite granular enough to get the desired result.

Players gain XP in-session at the table for doing things that the DM enjoys, respects, or feels was in-character enough for an award. Such things can be good roleplaying, rejecting metagame knowledge because the character wouldn't know the info, coming up with a clever plan, or completing a personal goal. The list goes on, but I think you get the basic idea.

And then at the end of the session, the DM awards a lump sum of XP to everyone based on how much was accomplished in the session. You can tweak this depending on how quickly you like your players to level, but my general rule of thumb is that everyone gets 10XP for showing up to the session, and +10XP for every party goal completed during the session. (maybe 20 or 30 XP for a particularly important goal) This allows the DM a chance to throttle party XP in such a way that they generally end up leveling in line with where the milestones would be anyway, while also offering the psychological bonus of awarding XP.


It's not a perfect system. A couple potential issues have arisen, which have been discussed with my group. The first is that it is possible for a player to level before another player. I think with the way the math works in 5E, this is OK. My table agrees.

Another potential issue is that players who miss sessions might fall behind. I always give XP to any missing players equal to the lowest number that any present player received to keep them in line with the rest of the group.

A third potential issue that we didn't find until we tried it is that players found the bookkeeping annoying - especially the ones who were using tablets for their character sheets on D&D Beyond. After the first session, I pillaged a board game (7 Wonders) for some coin tokens, and placed them into some finger bowls around the table. So now, every time I tell a player, "take an XP," They grab a coin. At the end of the session, they update their sheets with the coins + the session XP. This has completely eliminated the bookkeeping annoyance.


As for the positives, I find it very gratifying as a DM when a player who may have been a mechanics-only bystander in RP-heavy scenes starts to participate because they know that there could be an XP award for taking part. This has led to a lot more inter-party chatter at the table, which has led to a lot of fun moments that otherwise may have been missed.

And as much as players get that psychological endorphin rush from getting XP, I find that as a DM, I get it just as much from giving it out. As this has gone on, I've been awarding more and more for little things as my players have gotten more into it.



Does anybody else have any other alternate XP systems they have used to good effect? Can you explain how they work and why they add to fun at the table?
 
This is the system I'm currently using.

Characters require 100 XP times their level to level up (100 to go from 1st to 2nd, 200 to go from 2nd to 3rd, 300 to go from 3rd to 4th, etc.) It's the 3.x progression with one less zero. The reason for this is that it renders each experience point 1% of a level times your level. I wanted a catch-up mechanic, since even though I award the same XP to all players, the Deck of Many Things (or some variant thereof) will usually make an appearance.

Challenges are typically combat, social, or exploration. Each challenge has a level (which is its level appropriateness, but usually is just the average party level). I also give a rating from 1 to 10 which is a combination of the difficulty of the encounter and how well the party handled it. Its XP value is that rating times its level. For example, a party might have some great banter with some NPCs in the tavern, but it's probably not worth more than 10 XP since it's level 1. Whereas talking their way past a very dangerous monster is worth 10 XP times the level of the challenge the monster poses.

Because some of my players really love to hack, I added an additional layer to combat. Monsters are only rated 1 to 5 (easy to double deadly). However, they also grants a rolling bonus of 1 to 3, depending on the difficulty of the encounter. At the end of the current encounter, the current bonus is added to the encounter rating to determine how much it is worth, and then the bonus from the encounter is added to the rolling bonus. A short rest reduces the rolling bonus by 1, and a long rest resets it to zero. When they sleep, the players have the option (as a party) to choose whether they gain the benefits of a rest or not. As such, when they want to kill monsters, they can get that rolling bonus fairly high by pushing through encounters without resting. But if they don't want to fight, they know they can gain a healthy amount of XP by talking or sneaking past the creatures.

Finally, I grant them 5 to 25 times their level XP for endgame, which encompasses showing up, how well I feel they did overall, and goals accomplished.

I like the system because as long as I am awarding level appropriate XP (which is most of the time) I know that 1 rating is 1% of a level. As to why I don't do individual awards, it's been my experience that while it can be a great motivational tool in pursuit of the high award (it drew me out of my shell when I first started) it can also cause significant hard feelings for those who get the low award. So, nowadays, I just consider the groups overall efforts when awarding XP. Effectively, contributing at the table can only help the group's overall award.
 

Sadras

Adventurer
As for the positives, I find it very gratifying as a DM when a player who may have been a mechanics-only bystander in RP-heavy scenes starts to participate because they know that there could be an XP award for taking part. This has led to a lot more inter-party chatter at the table, which has led to a lot of fun moments that otherwise may have been missed.

And as much as players get that psychological endorphin rush from getting XP, I find that as a DM, I get it just as much from giving it out. As this has gone on, I've been awarding more and more for little things as my players have gotten more into it.
IMO, this right here represents one of the primary reasons of why an XP-giving system is better than simple milestone leveling.

At our table I as DM keep track of the party experience on our Obsidian Portal Admin page. Everyone has the same value as it is considered every character shares in the value of the RPing, combat and knowledge gained within a party. XP-giving moments (other than combat) are discussed at the table after the session. The only major distinction I have to the book is:

Short Campaign: Standard model.
Long Campaign: XP tally is reduced to 0 after each level up.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
My group has mostly used Milestone leveling in 5E since we tended to chafe at the notion that killing things made you stronger, which tended to lead to situations where players would make moves to gain XP mechanically rather than doing things organically in the moment.

However, we also found that we missed the notion of using XP as a motivational tool the DM could employ. As a result, in recent sessions I have switched to a new method which has gone over extremely well in our group, so I thought I'd share it.

I call it Simple XP. The basic premise is that it always costs a player 100XP to gain a level. We tried 10, but it wasn't quite granular enough to get the desired result.

Players gain XP in-session at the table for doing things that the DM enjoys, respects, or feels was in-character enough for an award. Such things can be good roleplaying, rejecting metagame knowledge because the character wouldn't know the info, coming up with a clever plan, or completing a personal goal. The list goes on, but I think you get the basic idea.

And then at the end of the session, the DM awards a lump sum of XP to everyone based on how much was accomplished in the session. You can tweak this depending on how quickly you like your players to level, but my general rule of thumb is that everyone gets 10XP for showing up to the session, and +10XP for every party goal completed during the session. (maybe 20 or 30 XP for a particularly important goal) This allows the DM a chance to throttle party XP in such a way that they generally end up leveling in line with where the milestones would be anyway, while also offering the psychological bonus of awarding XP.


It's not a perfect system. A couple potential issues have arisen, which have been discussed with my group. The first is that it is possible for a player to level before another player. I think with the way the math works in 5E, this is OK. My table agrees.

Another potential issue is that players who miss sessions might fall behind. I always give XP to any missing players equal to the lowest number that any present player received to keep them in line with the rest of the group.

A third potential issue that we didn't find until we tried it is that players found the bookkeeping annoying - especially the ones who were using tablets for their character sheets on D&D Beyond. After the first session, I pillaged a board game (7 Wonders) for some coin tokens, and placed them into some finger bowls around the table. So now, every time I tell a player, "take an XP," They grab a coin. At the end of the session, they update their sheets with the coins + the session XP. This has completely eliminated the bookkeeping annoyance.


As for the positives, I find it very gratifying as a DM when a player who may have been a mechanics-only bystander in RP-heavy scenes starts to participate because they know that there could be an XP award for taking part. This has led to a lot more inter-party chatter at the table, which has led to a lot of fun moments that otherwise may have been missed.

And as much as players get that psychological endorphin rush from getting XP, I find that as a DM, I get it just as much from giving it out. As this has gone on, I've been awarding more and more for little things as my players have gotten more into it.



Does anybody else have any other alternate XP systems they have used to good effect? Can you explain how they work and why they add to fun at the table?
We use session xp. Tiers 3-4 sessions and the group levels. Everyone levels at the same time.

Like you referenced, we do not want to have xp encourage in-character actions.

We want the players to decide for their character in the moment, in the character, from that POV not looking at some checklist of campaign goals or list of " things that make the GM like me."

That means sometimes they rush in with little or no plan - if that is in character - instead or trying to tick off the clever plan xp counter. Sometimes they quip and banter, sometimes they grumble- depends on what's up.

But one key is this - they expect to see (and do see in practice) the outcomes and rewards in play in the game world, not in xp. Good roleplaying, clever plans, completing personal goals show results in play, drive outcomes, open new doors, etc. The "motivations" to do those are the same as everywhere else - make thing happen, get the outcomes you want etc.

The lizardfolk druid decides to ho speak to the lizard woman "farmer" outside of town (no obvious links to story or plot or goals) not because its gonna earn them 10xp for roleplaying, it because they think it will be fun and very in-character. They later decide on a short side trek to investigate the special tree shrine not linked to the current story or plot cuz itsvin character... not for the 10xp. Both cases wind up with interesting results, potential allies, potential new plots and events. They see results in-gsme, not in the token jar of xp.

They could have passed both by, ignored them, moved on down the plots-n-goals do checklist but... woulda been less fun and less beneficial long term.

Works for us.
 

LuisCarlos17f

Adventurer
Sometimes I have thought about an alternative, not too complex, for XPs reward and challenge rating for encounters where a faction has a special advantage, for example Mulan causing a snow avalanche against Hun army or shooting a fire arrow over the Valyrian oil on the water to destroy enemy fleet, or Mowgli starting a stampede of oxes against tiger Shere-Khan to kill it.

An idea has been to give as reward actions points as the ones from d20 Modern.

Other idea is changing the leveling up, a division into two branches: level of power and level of ego. The level of power would be like the stats of a character from a videogame or wargame. The level of ego would all her memory: known languages, crating or arts proficiencies, social skills, studies. Using as example the sci-fi serie "Altered Carbono", the ego would all memory loaded in a cortical stack but there isn't yet a new body to resleeve.

But this idea needs a lot of playtesting to get the right balance. What if any PCs are primitive barbarians, but others are mecha pilots or superheroes? A gnome or a goblin driving/riding/piloting the steampunk version of Mazinger Z or a Dinobot would be a true headache. How should be the XPs reward if it's too difficult, or easy?
 

Sadras

Adventurer
Using as example the sci-fi serie "Altered Carbono", the ego would all memory loaded in a cortical stack but there isn't yet a new body to resleeve.
Bold Emphasis mine - also known as Alterado Carbon or Alterado Carbono. :p

Speaking about re-sleeving check out Eclipse Phase.
 

Brashnir2

Visitor
This is the system I'm currently using.
I like the system because as long as I am awarding level appropriate XP (which is most of the time) I know that 1 rating is 1% of a level. As to why I don't do individual awards, it's been my experience that while it can be a great motivational tool in pursuit of the high award (it drew me out of my shell when I first started) it can also cause significant hard feelings for those who get the low award. So, nowadays, I just consider the groups overall efforts when awarding XP. Effectively, contributing at the table can only help the group's overall award.
The first part is Why I went with my system. making it 100 XP makes it really easy to regulate how quickly the party levels.

While it can be true that the low rewards can cause players to be upset, I also try to go out of my way to give XP to a player who is a bit less active to keep everyone around the same XP. I have one player who is fairly new to the group, and therefore not as comfortable as everyone else, so I do try to go out of my way to give him XP when he does engage. I also tend to do a lot of "everyone take an XP for that." The flat math of 5E means that having someone a level behind for a session isn't a big deal, but I do take lengths to avoid a situation where anyone is so far behind that it's more than a single session gap.

I've also found that having the players "spend" their XP to level up also gives me the ability to create options which allow them to spend it in other ways. I'm planning for my next campaign arc to give out some magic items (similar to the Vestiges of Divergence from the Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting, but custom-built for each of my players) which require the user to spend XP to unlock the next item tier.
 

KenNYC

Explorer
I just quit a campaign because there was no XP. Milestone XP seems like I have no input into the progress of my character. I could kill Orcus tomorrow, but if the DM is not prepared for me to go to 2nd level then I am not going. Basically, I feel like an NPC since it is a character and I am a non-player when it comes to how my character progresses. The DM wrote a story, he wrote an entire world, and I am just needed to hit my marks. I am playing his character, we all are.
 

Saelorn

Adventurer
A short rest reduces the rolling bonus by 1, and a long rest resets it to zero. When they sleep, the players have the option (as a party) to choose whether they gain the benefits of a rest or not.
That seems very meta-gamey. What is the in-game reality which this mechanic is supposed to reflect? How does a character manage to sleep, without gaining any benefits of a rest?
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
I just quit a campaign because there was no XP. Milestone XP seems like I have no input into the progress of my character. I could kill Orcus tomorrow, but if the DM is not prepared for me to go to 2nd level then I am not going. Basically, I feel like an NPC since it is a character and I am a non-player when it comes to how my character progresses. The DM wrote a story, he wrote an entire world, and I am just needed to hit my marks. I am playing his character, we all are.
It's hard to imagine a campaign where killing orcas was a possible outcome for a session but it wasnt a milestone.

That said, a lot of what you describe in that post seems to be bringing in a whole lot of stuff that has nothing to do with being handed xp or not.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Something I liked when I read it but haven't tried was Rob Donoghue's Achievement based leveling.

http://walkingmind.evilhat.com/2018/07/14/achievements-and-levelling-up/#comment-195925

I was thinking that you introduce a bunch of milestones, and need to accomplish X of them to level, with each level bringing more. These would be chosen by system mastery (at low levels) and a combination of player-provided goals and campaign arc milestones.

So to get from 9th to 10th for a Wizard who is an ancestor of Tenser and facing an invasion of otherworldly abominations.

Complete four of:
[] Cast ten spells using 5th level slots in meaningful ways.
[] Put a spell by Tenser you don't know into your spellbook.
[] Research the magic-reflective aura the abominations had at a major library or with a learned sage.
[] Find an appropriate gift and propose to Jilliandra.
[] Help defeat three different types of the abominations and study their corpses.
(Plus any left over from 8th, but not before)

The first one, if it's not the one skipped, gives a minimum period of time to level - with one 5th level slot a day that's at least 10 days. The others are combonations of personal and campaign goals.

If I remember correctly, 7th Sea does something related to this, but it's been a while since I read it.

Don't know how it would work with 5e, but I think it would be interesting to try.
 

S'mon

Legend
I'm using:
__________
XP
PCs advance a level every 10 XP 1-3, 20 XP 3+, typically receiving 1 XP per significant encounter or achievement. Lower level PCs may receive additional XP, eg 1st level PCs adventuring alongside 5th level PCs may earn x2 XP.

Typical XP awards
Moderate encounter - 1
Minor quest achievement - 1
Major encounter - 2
Significant quest award - 2
Major quest award - 3
Deadly encounter 3-5
Carousing (100gp per PC level) - 1
Incredible carousing (1000gp per PC level) - 2
Doing a session account.- 1

XP Table

Level XP Needed
1 0
2 10
3 20
4 40
5 60
6 80
7 100
8 120
9 140
10 160
+1 +20
Beyond 20
At 20th level, every additional 20 XP earns 1 Advance that can be spent on either +2 to an attribute, +1 to two attributes, or a Feat. Attributes are still capped, though now at 22.
________________________

PCs have been averaging around 7-8 XP per session, so around 2.5 sessions to level after 3rd level. Which is quicker than my normal rate, but I'm enjoying it.

Advantages - it's a lot easier to track XP than in the core system. Advancement is a bit quicker. I can give encounter XP as what feels right, so eg a tough fight with weak foes always gets some XP; a big fight with lots of enemies killed doesn't give overwhelming XP. It avoids the 'weightless' feeling of milestone levelling, where advancement seems out of the blue & unrelated to achievements. Players still get to see the XP box fill up.
 
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That seems very meta-gamey. What is the in-game reality which this mechanic is supposed to reflect? How does a character manage to sleep, without gaining any benefits of a rest?
To begin with, I don't have an issue with metagamey mechanics. Lots of mechanics are metagamey, including XP.

In fiction, however, it can be explained as the result of poor rest. Not enough to cause exhaustion, but sufficient to impede recovery.
 

Staffan

Adventurer
A thing to consider if you want to make a different XP system is that the current setup is designed so different levels take different amounts of time. Here's a spreadsheet showing the XP needed for various levels, how many XP each character gets for a Medium or Hard encounter by the DMG guidelines, and how many of those it would take to level. Looking at Medium encounters, the system suggests 6 of those for 1st and 2nd level, 12 for 3rd level, and then about 15 per level up to 9th level, with 10th taking slightly longer at about 18. After that, it speeds up, with about 10 encounters per level.

Now, this is not a perfect representation, because the XP-per-encounter guidelines are based on number-of-foes-adjusted XP which are only supposed to be used to judge difficulty, to actually be awarded (e.g. 4 orcs at 100 XP each are considered 800 XP when determining difficulty, but only grant 400 XP when defeated) and one might surmise that higher-level battles would have more minions involved. But it does show that the first few levels are supposed to fly by, then slow down, and then speed up a little at tier 3-4.

Of course, when making your own XP/level/milestone system you can do whatever you want, but I think it helps to know what the original system actually does before replacing it, so you can make an informed decision about whether or not to keep this feature.
 

S'mon

Legend
A thing to consider if you want to make a different XP system is that the current setup is designed so different levels take different amounts of time.
I agree - for my homebrew system I kept the double rate advancement 1-2 and 2-3, but went flat after that since I wasn't so keen on the fast advancement in Tier 3.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
A thing to consider if you want to make a different XP system is that the current setup is designed so different levels take different amounts of time. Here's a spreadsheet showing the XP needed for various levels, how many XP each character gets for a Medium or Hard encounter by the DMG guidelines, and how many of those it would take to level. Looking at Medium encounters, the system suggests 6 of those for 1st and 2nd level, 12 for 3rd level, and then about 15 per level up to 9th level, with 10th taking slightly longer at about 18. After that, it speeds up, with about 10 encounters per level.

Now, this is not a perfect representation, because the XP-per-encounter guidelines are based on number-of-foes-adjusted XP which are only supposed to be used to judge difficulty, to actually be awarded (e.g. 4 orcs at 100 XP each are considered 800 XP when determining difficulty, but only grant 400 XP when defeated) and one might surmise that higher-level battles would have more minions involved. But it does show that the first few levels are supposed to fly by, then slow down, and then speed up a little at tier 3-4.

Of course, when making your own XP/level/milestone system you can do whatever you want, but I think it helps to know what the original system actually does before replacing it, so you can make an informed decision about whether or not to keep this feature.
However, I find that sometimes folks dig under the hood so much they start to imagine intent and purpose where it isnt. Its part of our dna to look for patterns, even if it means we see faces on mars.

But to contrast your thinking how important the level by level encounter count is to alternate xp systems... when they, you know, they, the designers in their DMG referenced session-based xp systems they went with...

1st to 2nd - 1 session
2nd to 3rd 1 session
3rd to 4th 2 sessions
Each level after that 2-3 sessions each.

They note that this will mirror the normal progression rate given four hour sessions.

So, see, they didn't say anything about speeding it up for 18-20th or one rate in tier-2 thru 9, higher at 10 only, then faster for 11 to... etc etc etc.

Seems like to them, those designers folks, they seemed to think what mattered, what the expectation was, was little more than " move thru the first couple levels in just a handful of sessions to get to the rest of the game which has a somewhat slower pace for the rest of the campaign."

So, I kinda get myself the idea that those peaks and valleys at 20th vs 9th vs 11th etc are a bit more mathematical flukes of numbers than intended changes in rate put in for "reasons that matter."
 

Brashnir2

Visitor
However, I find that sometimes folks dig under the hood so much they start to imagine intent and purpose where it isnt. Its part of our dna to look for patterns, even if it means we see faces on mars.

But to contrast your thinking how important the level by level encounter count is to alternate xp systems... when they, you know, they, the designers in their DMG referenced session-based xp systems they went with...

1st to 2nd - 1 session
2nd to 3rd 1 session
3rd to 4th 2 sessions
Each level after that 2-3 sessions each.

They note that this will mirror the normal progression rate given four hour sessions.

So, see, they didn't say anything about speeding it up for 18-20th or one rate in tier-2 thru 9, higher at 10 only, then faster for 11 to... etc etc etc.

Seems like to them, those designers folks, they seemed to think what mattered, what the expectation was, was little more than " move thru the first couple levels in just a handful of sessions to get to the rest of the game which has a somewhat slower pace for the rest of the campaign."

So, I kinda get myself the idea that those peaks and valleys at 20th vs 9th vs 11th etc are a bit more mathematical flukes of numbers than intended changes in rate put in for "reasons that matter."

This is pretty much where I am. My group generally starts our campaigns at 3rd level, since that's when a class truly becomes what it's going to be, so having a relatively flat leveling time is in line with it.

I know the old grognard tradition is to have things get slower as you advance, but at some point that becomes un-fun for the players. D&D already has issues with scaling that cause high-level play to bog down. Adding additional time on top of that to the leveling curve means you spend a whole lot of time at a single level as you progress, which can get a bit stale for the players. I try to give my players about ~30-40 XP per session in my 100XP system, which is right in line with the "level every 2-3 sessions," outlined above.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
This is pretty much where I am. My group generally starts our campaigns at 3rd level, since that's when a class truly becomes what it's going to be, so having a relatively flat leveling time is in line with it.

I know the old grognard tradition is to have things get slower as you advance, but at some point that becomes un-fun for the players. D&D already has issues with scaling that cause high-level play to bog down. Adding additional time on top of that to the leveling curve means you spend a whole lot of time at a single level as you progress, which can get a bit stale for the players. I try to give my players about ~30-40 XP per session in my 100XP system, which is right in line with the "level every 2-3 sessions," outlined above.
My campaign rule is tierx3-4 sessions is a level.

Current game started at 2nd, advanced to third after three, then to fourth after four (good break point.)

Now at 4th we actually hit a major multi-session challenge after 3 sessions and so we are waiting for that "three-session challenge" to end before we trip the level up to 5th. At that point tho, they will already be a session or two in towards 6th... but the journey from 5th to 6th will be six to eight sessions...

The reason we slow it down at 5th is that when we do faster pacing you rarely even get to use all your new toys once before you level up again. We want to see in play enough play sessions and challenges to get to use and get used to your new stuff for a level before you are leveling up more stuff.

otherwise, some of your gains from 5th may get spotlight-wise and in your own perception kinda lost in the shuffle by a quick 6th, etc.

Now, that said, our sessions are barely three hours long and tend to not include tons of combat scenes every session, so thats part of the reason we really liike having a few more sessions to let you "break in" your new stuff and let that "new level smell" get a good airing out.

That said, my special challenge "graduation day" from tier-1 to tier-2 to round out their level 4 to level 5 advancement is going great so far. They have gone through the prelims, the mid-card and are staring at the main event now and wondering "how the heck are we gonna pull this off?" and the real key to it may be the social encounters along the way. i think the ranger may be the only PC left with more than one spell slot and any HD left unspent as they finally stare into the defiled temple and the corrupted priestess with that severed head and infernal staff.

What could go wrong?
 

Brashnir2

Visitor
My campaign rule is tierx3-4 sessions is a level.

Current game started at 2nd, advanced to third after three, then to fourth after four (good break point.)

Now at 4th we actually hit a major multi-session challenge after 3 sessions and so we are waiting for that "three-session challenge" to end before we trip the level up to 5th. At that point tho, they will already be a session or two in towards 6th... but the journey from 5th to 6th will be six to eight sessions...

The reason we slow it down at 5th is that when we do faster pacing you rarely even get to use all your new toys once before you level up again. We want to see in play enough play sessions and challenges to get to use and get used to your new stuff for a level before you are leveling up more stuff.

otherwise, some of your gains from 5th may get spotlight-wise and in your own perception kinda lost in the shuffle by a quick 6th, etc.

Now, that said, our sessions are barely three hours long and tend to not include tons of combat scenes every session, so thats part of the reason we really liike having a few more sessions to let you "break in" your new stuff and let that "new level smell" get a good airing out.

That said, my special challenge "graduation day" from tier-1 to tier-2 to round out their level 4 to level 5 advancement is going great so far. They have gone through the prelims, the mid-card and are staring at the main event now and wondering "how the heck are we gonna pull this off?" and the real key to it may be the social encounters along the way. i think the ranger may be the only PC left with more than one spell slot and any HD left unspent as they finally stare into the defiled temple and the corrupted priestess with that severed head and infernal staff.

What could go wrong?
Your sessions are quite a bit shorter than ours, so I think we end up around the same timing at the table in the end. We have periods of much combat, and then periods of not so much, but I don't feel like it's so fast that people aren't getting to use their stuff. We also only play once every 2-3 weeks - and sometimes longer than that - so that makes leveling feel slower in our group.

Sounds like you have come up with a good system for your group - glad it's working out.
 
I use the standard XP system. However, I give out XP for accomplishing objectives. For example, they PCs could get XP for killing 10 monsters. But if the objective is to just get past them, they get the same XP if they figure out a method to bypass them. Objectives might be set by me as the DM or they might be set by the players themselves. Some objectives could be hidden or bonus for accomplishing more than the objective. I try to assign my objectives using analog Challenge Ratings that stand in for monsters. Traps, puzzles, hidden loot, etc. all are worth XP. Also they get XP for defeating not necessarily killing monsters -- I try to discourage murder hoboery.
 

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