D&D 5E How do you award XP and how often?


I prefer milestone these days. But back when we used XP, I liked to get it as we went along, not at the end of the session. The fun of using XP is of seeing that goal come into focus, and when you level mid-game it's fun and exciting, with high-fives all around.

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Back in 3.x, when I was actually awarding XP, I used a system that was 1/2 attendance + 1/2 monster + bonuses. It worked but I didn't use that in my 5e game. There I initially started with the printed XP awards, then switched to an unformed semi-milestone system.

Now, in my PF2e campaign, I using what I call "Heroic Tokens" awarded at specific points (arc endings, adventure climaxes/boss fights, etc.). The tokens come in various denominations/flavours, so if I want to reward my players, I can give them something other that levels. The tokens themselves come in two main categories - coins, which are essentially souped up inspiration/hero points, and gems which are permanent plus-ups (like gaining a level, or a bonus feat). And the players get to decide who claims what token.

I try to bind the awards to "Have the players learned something important?", but also try to make sure that there's never too long a period between points, and that the characters are always capable enough for what's coming up. I think it's working well, and the players don't seem to have any complaints.

It's closer to milestone than anything else, but it plays a lot like video game powerups.


Way back when, I awarded XP when the adventure was done, as an attempt to simulate the characters reflecting on their actions and improving. XP for defeating monsters, traps/puzzles and (I think) gold. Or bowling*.

However, I'd often forget some encounter or such so somewhere along the way (I think late 3E) I started awarding XP at the end of an encounter or significant task - defeating/bypassing monsters, solving a puzzle or trap, doing a scene in character, advancing the story, ingenious idea or the like. If it wasn't a monster, usually an XP award as if it were a CR of the character's level. The longer I've been doing this, the less concerned I've been about "getting the award right". I just want to get to the point in the game where everyone's having fun and has a handful of abilities to get things done but I can still challenge them.

* I mentioned it in another thread. Our group went bowling Tuesday nights, and you got XP if you participated.


When I use XP, which really depends on the type of game I'm going for, I really like the PF2E encounter based XP system.

For an easy encounter you get 60xp, medium 80, hard 100 and extreme (deadly) 120. Once the players have 1000xp they level up.

You can tweak the numbers depending on what advancement speed you want and give out extra packets of 30 or 50 xp for little roleplay scenes or minor objectives. Or a big major quest reward of 200 or 250xp.

I'm hoping to run a more exploration focussed adventure and will give xp for every location discovered, for instance


Never was fan of xp. First, book keeping. Then there was frustration if you are at the end of the session 5-10-15 exp short for level up. Second, how to fairly give xp rewards for non combat stuff? We would fairly regularly have session or three with zero combat, sometimes even zero dice rolls.

Personally, i think that XP are atavism from older editions where it did kind of made sense ( not all classes progress at equal speed, xp cost for item creation). Nowadays, i don't really see the point in keeping that system around.


Victoria Rules
I stuck with XP in 5th for a long time until I realized that it doesn’t matter when everyone levels at the same rate.
Everyone levels at the same rate, yes, but do they always get the same xp for everything or do some characters tend to get more than others due to being more involved, luckier, or whatever?


Victoria Rules
As for the OP's questions (which are rather edition-agnostic, not sure why the thread's tagged '5e'):

I give xp for:

--- monsters defeated (which doesn't necessarily mean killed, talking your way past them counts too, but double-dipping by talking your way past them on the way in (and getting xp for that) then killing them on the way out is not going to work)
--- other hazards - traps, environment, etc. - defeated or avoided or rendered harmless
--- particularly creative thinking (the player does the thinking but the character gets the xp reward!)
--- the first time a character does something "big" related to its class, e.g. the first time a Cleric casts Commune or a Fighter deals a stupendous amount of damage on a crit, that sort of thing (these awards are usually kind of a token amount)
--- "dungeon bonus" at the end of each adventure (to in small part replace xp-for-gp, which I've never done)
--- things the adventure tells me to; for example, if the adventure says something like "the character who does this gets 500 xp" then so be it.

I track who gets xp for which encounters by little tick marks next to the character's name on a chart, where each column is a combat or encounter. I do the actual calculations whenever I think of it, either during a break in the session, or during the week, or if a player asks me to. Unless I've left it too long since the last time I did 'em, it doesn't usually take me very long.

I give out xp when it appears enough of a backlog has built up to make it worthwhile, and-or if I know someone is close to bumping. That said, I only give them out when the characters wake up in the morning. (ideally, every morning they'd get whatever xp they earned the previous day, but life's too short)

As for the OP's questions (which are rather edition-agnostic, not sure why the thread's tagged '5e'):
B/c some OPs are only interested in responses to their post that are in the context of the specific edition they are currently playing? In this case, they are very specific as to the answers they seek: My question is a simple one, in your 5E games, if you use XP awards...

Of course, anyone is free to create an edition-agnostic thread with a similar question.

In our current game, the DMs have been awarding XP per session as long as the party is (and... importantly... the players are) Getting Stuff Done™️. Absent characters do not get XP.

We do have some interesting (convoluted?) math involved for determining XP quickly. Essentially, we have awarded XP based on one session to get to level 2, two sessions to get to level 3, three sessions to get to level 4, and four sessions to get to level 5.
After level 5, the XP awarded per session will be the total required to get to the next level divided by 5. For example, it takes 7500 XP to get from level 5 to 6, so each session is worth 1500 XP. Once any of the PCs hits level 6, each session will be then worth 1800 XP (since 9000 XP are required to get from level 5 to 6). Etc.

A little more detail:

XP are awarded at the end of each session. If a PC levels up at that time, they gain HP (and can roll with advantage if they've saved up an Inspiration), new abilities, and spell slots - and can do all that leveling up stuff between sessions, although are encouraged to roll HP in front of everyone so we can cheer or groan along with them depending on the result. Any new spells gained at a new level, however, do not come online until the character takes a long rest.

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