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

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Magic Wordsmith
How I award XP varies by campaign and which aspects of play I wish to incentivize to encourage playing to the theme.

Most commonly, players earn XP by slaying monsters or moving monsters' and NPCs' attitudes toward the characters at least one step in a positive direction. Exploration is incentivized by hiding treasure - you won't get rich looting corpses in most of my games. XP is awarded when it is earned i.e. right after the combat or social interaction challenge is concluded. You level up the moment you earn enough XP.

In some campaigns, I might have the players spend gold to earn XP. Or bury treasure to earn XP if it's a pirates game. Or if it's pure hack and slash, I take off the XP for social interaction encounters. And so on. Whatever pushes the players toward the agreed upon theme better.

For the first 4 levels of a megadungeon campaign I did gold for XP. Started with a 1:1 ratio, but then realized that was a little too slow, so I bumped it to 1:2.

Once the party achieved 4th level, they had enough gold to stop worrying about paying for things, so I switched to milestone.

I wanted to bring to life the idea that the characters weren’t considered special for the first few levels. If they wanted to become heroes, they’d have to work for it, otherwise they were just seen as weirdos who couldn’t hold down regular jobs.

I give it after every session because I only have time for two session every two weeks. So I give it to my players after each of those. I give XP for killing monsters, fulfilling quests (doubling it when they do it without bloodshed), I give XP for gold and items found. I don't do the whole exchange gold for XP thing like back in the day, they get it and are free to spend it afterwards. I divide it up evenly amongst characters because even if one person laid eyes on it and grabbed it, the group still helped that player/character get there, you know? It's working so far for my group and they are having fun with it.

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