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D&D 5E What kind of XP awards does your group currently use in 5E?

What kind of XP awards/advancement do you use in your 5E D&D game?

  • Monsters killed (straight up)

    Votes: 11 15.9%
  • Milestone (as described in DMG)

    Votes: 10 14.5%
  • Monsters killed, but granted at Milestones

    Votes: 2 2.9%
  • Session-Based Advancement (as described in DMG)

    Votes: 3 4.3%
  • Story-Based Advancement (as described in DMG)

    Votes: 19 27.5%
  • Something else or variation on one of the above (please explain below)

    Votes: 24 34.8%

  • Total voters
    69

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iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Mainly, tying the filling of the progress bar directly to your in-game actions. Watching a progress bar fill up on its own is satisfying. Making a progress bar fill up is significantly more satisfying. If you award XP in batches and don’t specify what the players did to earn it, they get the former effect, but they don’t get the latter. And you can get the former from session-based advancement too.

A side-effect of tying XP awards to in-game actions is that it encourages the players to seek out more ways to perform the actions that they get XP for. They want to make the progress bar fill up, so they will actively try to do more of the thing that they know makes it fill up more. Now, to some, like @Oofta, this may be a negative side-effect (in which case, session-based advancement will probably be more appealing), whereas to me it’s a hugely positive one. As I pointed out in the other post, it is a powerful tool for setting the tone of a campaign.

In theory, story-based advancement ties progress to in-game behaviors, but doesn’t have the bar-filling element. In practice though, it tends to be pretty arbitrary which story-based achievements result in a level increase and which ones don’t. It is, in my opinion, the worst method for character advancement of the three, though it does require the least work on the DM’s part, which I believe is the main reason for its popularity.
Yes, my experience with "story-based advancement" is that it often feels like you're leveling up whenever the DM feels like it rather than having set a goal and achieved said goal. It's less satisfying to me because achieving a goal I set beforehand is an accomplishment. Milestone XP (which as you know is what people typically call "story-based advancement" is better in that there is a known goal and reward for accomplishing it. Still, for pure Get Stuff Done energy from the players, XP per challenge takes the cake in my experience. Let them loose and the game flies along.
 

In theory, story-based advancement ties progress to in-game behaviors, but doesn’t have the bar-filling element. In practice though, it tends to be pretty arbitrary which story-based achievements result in a level increase and which ones don’t. It is, in my opinion, the worst method for character advancement of the three, though it does require the least work on the DM’s part, which I believe is the main reason for its popularity.
The upside to story-based is very much it's ease of use, but it also works best when players are already playing the game in line with the tone of the game. The bar-filling element is pretty minor if you get it for doing the same thing you would have been doing anyways, and getting players to care about the bar itself can take them out of the moment.

It's a negative tool when it's used to solve a problem that isn't present.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
For me giving out XP at the end of every session would be a pain. The end of sessions are already always a pain. We are always hurrying because we are about to (or already have) gone over time. Often we are mid-adventure, or even mid-combat(!) which means we have to carefully note everyone's hit points, remaining spells/slots, position on the map, etc. . . So trying to add giving XP to that or (worse to my mind) stopping the flow of the game to award it as it happens would not be to my taste.

The best I can imagine with those approaches, if I were to try one, would be awarding XP for the last session at the beginning of each session or awarding it via email between sessions.

I guess I am also old school in that I always imagine going up a level required some downtime in addition to XP.
 
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Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
When it comes to tone of the game, I don't see how rewarding XP for specific behavior really makes much of a difference.

I mean, I respond to and reward PCs for their actions, why would I need anything else? Play murder hobos? You get a reputation and people are distrustful of you. You may have to deal with the repercussion which can include everything up to vendors refusing to do business with you, a mob with pitchforks and torches or a mercenary group hired to hunt the PCs down.

Of course the easiest way is what I do which is say "no murder-hobos" as part of the pre-game prep. As far as any other tone or "feel" if I can't establish that as a DM without an external to the game world carrot I would feel like I was doing something wrong.

I set up scenarios, organizations, conflicting goals of different factions. I set things in motion. What the PCs do with all of that? Completely up to them. I want to focus on what their PCs would do. I'll have the world respond to the PC's actions appropriately. I've even gotten to the point where I don't like inspiration points because it's too much of a meta-game reward.

The excitement doesn't come from accumulating something that doesn't exist for the PCs, the excitement comes from rescuing the dragon from the princess.

Standard disclaimer: different strokes for different folks, if you're having fun you're doing it right. Just explaining my preferences.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
The upside to story-based is very much it's ease of use,
Yeah. It’s definitely easier for the DM. But personally, I can’t empathize with wanting to use a method that is less rewarding for the players just to make my own job easier.

but it also works best when players are already playing the game in line with the tone of the game. The bar-filling element is pretty minor if you get it for doing the same thing you would have been doing anyways, and getting players to care about the bar itself can take them out of the moment.
I disagree. The effect of seeing your actions directly rewarded with progress towards advancement is subtle, but significant. Even if that reward is being given for something you wanted to do anyway, it still triggers that dopamine release. Most people will still have fun without it, but the difference it makes is much greater than most people consciously realize.
 

Voadam

Legend
I’m not talking about bonus XP for out of game behaviors (or the IMO deplorable practice of giving bonus XP for “good roleplaying”). I’m talking about setting up the XP award structure to encourage certain types of play. XP for encounters encourages a play style where you seek out dangerous challenges. XP for treasure encourages a play style where you try to avoid encounters (because they tax your resources for no direct reward) and prioritize challenges with the lowest risk and highest monetary reward. XP for completing quests encourages a play style where you take on quests for their own sake, regardless of potential monetary reward. XP for new locations discovered encourages a play style where you explore the uncharted sections of the map, but probably don’t return to areas that you’ve already filled in.

And of course, you can mix and match as you like. Since I like my games to be focused on heroic adventurers who take on quests and face deadly dangers, I award XP for encounters and quests completed. For a less heroic, Sword-and-Sorcery style hex crawler campaign, XP for treasure and locations discovered might be more appropriate. What you award XP for can have a big impact on the tone of a campaign.
This is specifically why I prefer story or milestone or x number of games style xp.

I am personally happy with many different styles and enjoy different aspects and approaches to the game. I want my game to be designed to be open to whatever styles are fun for my players and me, I do not want to try to psychologically drive them to engage in one specific style or another. If everyone is interacting with small town gossip and relationships and having fun doing so I am happy to have the game go that direction. If everyone wants to roll dice and kick butt to blow off real life steam that is fine by me. If people want to be tactical sneaky guys carefully avoiding combat to pull off a heist I can roll with that style.

Partially the default style for my games is driven by the adventures I choose to run which involves events and plots and combat, partially it is driven by on the spot improv and sandbox play.
 

Retreater

Legend
In my sole remaining 5e game playing Barrowmaze, we are doing XP for monsters killed but also allowing the PCs to trade XP for GP "wasted" in town. It's a fast leveling system but will slow down in the middle tiers of play based on the region's economy.
 

Yeah. It’s definitely easier for the DM. But personally, I can’t empathize with wanting to use a method that is less rewarding for the players just to make my own job easier.


I disagree. The effect of seeing your actions directly rewarded with progress towards advancement is subtle, but significant. Even if that reward is being given for something you wanted to do anyway, it still triggers that dopamine release. Most people will still have fun without it, but the difference it makes is much greater than most people consciously realize.
On the middle point: I've seen it backfire when it's stuff the players were doing anyways. It feels like a sarcastic gold star for showing up to work on time, rather than a reward for doing something good. But maybe that's just "using it badly" as opposed to "it not being useful in this case" - but it can at least be used badly.

It's also a very meta kind of rule, and not a necessary one, but how much an individual cares about that will vary.

I should also point out that 'setting the tone' isn't the only use of xp. For example, open tables or other less-consistent games xp might be necessary since pc's won't all be hitting the same milestones and/or story beats. XP becomes a must-have in that scenario.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Yeah. It’s definitely easier for the DM. But personally, I can’t empathize with wanting to use a method that is less rewarding for the players just to make my own job easier.


I disagree. The effect of seeing your actions directly rewarded with progress towards advancement is subtle, but significant. Even if that reward is being given for something you wanted to do anyway, it still triggers that dopamine release. Most people will still have fun without it, but the difference it makes is much greater than most people consciously realize.
I don't know. I dropped XP long ago in an edition far away. Didn't seem to decrease enjoyment at all, in fact my players appreciated getting rid of it since it was a distraction and extra bookkeeping (their words).

What works for one person may not work for another. Don't know if you've ever tried alternatives (and not telling you one way is better than another) but my players get plenty excited about achieving goals for the sake of achieving goals. 🤷‍♂️
 


Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
This is specifically why I prefer story or milestone or x number of games style xp.

I am personally happy with many different styles and enjoy different aspects and approaches to the game. I want my game to be designed to be open to whatever styles are fun for my players and me, I do not want to try to psychologically drive them to engage in one specific style or another. If everyone is interacting with small town gossip and relationships and having fun doing so I am happy to have the game go that direction. If everyone wants to roll dice and kick butt to blow off real life steam that is fine by me. If people want to be tactical sneaky guys carefully avoiding combat to pull off a heist I can roll with that style.

Partially the default style for my games is driven by the adventures I choose to run which involves events and plots and combat, partially it is driven by on the spot improv and sandbox play.
The players getting to decide tone is said better than I did. I agree, I don't care too much about tone (within certain bounds, I don't want anti-heroes for example) as long as they are excited and engaged.
 


Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
This is specifically why I prefer story or milestone or x number of games style xp.

I am personally happy with many different styles and enjoy different aspects and approaches to the game. I want my game to be designed to be open to whatever styles are fun for my players and me, I do not want to try to psychologically drive them to engage in one specific style or another. If everyone is interacting with small town gossip and relationships and having fun doing so I am happy to have the game go that direction. If everyone wants to roll dice and kick butt to blow off real life steam that is fine by me. If people want to be tactical sneaky guys carefully avoiding combat to pull off a heist I can roll with that style.

Partially the default style for my games is driven by the adventures I choose to run which involves events and plots and combat, partially it is driven by on the spot improv and sandbox play.
To each their own, of course. Like I said, if that’s a negative side-effect to you, I imagine session-based advancement will be more appealing.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
For giving out XP at the end of every session would be a pain. The end of sessions are already always a pain. We are always hurrying because we are about to (or already have) gone over time. Often we are mid-adventure, or even mid-combat(!) which means we have to carefully note everyone's hit points, remains spells/slots, position on the map, etc. . . So trying to add giving XP to that or (worse to my mind) stopping the flow of the game to award it as it happens would not be to my taste.

The best I can imagine with those approaches, if I were to try one, would be awarding XP for the last session at the beginning of each session or awarding it via email between sessions.

I guess I am also old school in that I always imagine going up a level required some downtime in addition to XP.
Interesting comment on end of session stuff. My group hard stops at 11 pm Eastern. Fifteen minutes prior to that time, we're all looking for that "cliffhanger moment" to end on (which can include an exciting turn of events mid-battle). Barring that, we look for a satisfying resolution or readiness for a new thing next session. When we see it, the session's over. Because I award XP after every challenge is resolved, there's really nothing to do unless we just resolved a challenge in which case some simple math is all it takes before we call it a night.

As far as downtime to level up, there is a variant rule for that in the DMG (as a downtime activity), but it's not an expectation of this version of the game. One can, however, set some limits around it - must long rest first, must pay money, must spend downtime days, etc. But I find that's something to do when there is a thematic or structural reason for it. Otherwise, one may as well just have the PCs level up on the spot as they earn it in my view. The player is excited for it and the party gets a little bump in power so they can push a little further (than they probably should do!).
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
On the middle point: I've seen it backfire when it's stuff the players were doing anyways. It feels like a sarcastic gold star for showing up to work on time, rather than a reward for doing something good. But maybe that's just "using it badly" as opposed to "it not being useful in this case" - but it can at least be used badly.

It's also a very meta kind of rule, and not a necessary one, but how much an individual cares about that will vary.

I should also point out that 'setting the tone' isn't the only use of xp. For example, open tables or other less-consistent games xp might be necessary since pc's won't all be hitting the same milestones and/or story beats. XP becomes a must-have in that scenario.
Again, the tone-setting thing is a side-effect (which I see as a significant benefit, though others might see as a drawback). The main advantage of XP is making progress towards leveling up a. Visible (which is also achieved with session-based advancement) and b. A direct result of your actions (which story-based advancement tries to achieve but in my opinion usually fails to.)
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I don't know. I dropped XP long ago in an edition far away. Didn't seem to decrease enjoyment at all, in fact my players appreciated getting rid of it since it was a distraction and extra bookkeeping (their words).
Like I said, I think most people don’t need XP awards to enjoy the game, but the benefit they have, while subtle, is significant. The difference it makes isn’t obvious like getting rid of bookkeeping is, so it doesn’t surprise me at all that players might appreciate the lack of bookkeeping and not consciously appreciate the lack of progress as a direct reward for their actions. And hey, if it works for your group, how much that difference actually matters is pretty academic. Keep doing what’s fun for you!
What works for one person may not work for another. Don't know if you've ever tried alternatives (and not telling you one way is better than another) but my players get plenty excited about achieving goals for the sake of achieving goals. 🤷‍♂️
I have tried other ways, and they have their own benefits and drawbacks. I use the method I do because I think it creates the best player experience overall. YMMV.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Some see leveling up as a reward. Others as a progression. They are both right. But it's also a pacing mechanism. When the tenor and scope of what the players are dealing with expands, that's a good time to level them up. Or to be more specific, that's a good time to TIER them up, and hopefully you have been leveling them up at an appropriate rate that it's time to do that.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Fifteen minutes prior to that time, we're all looking for that "cliffhanger moment" to end on (which can include an exciting turn of events mid-battle). Barring that, we look for a satisfying resolution or readiness for a new thing next session.

Oh we try that too - but is rarely very clearly or easily judged for us. 🤷‍♂️
 

Again, the tone-setting thing is a side-effect (which I see as a significant benefit, though others might see as a drawback). The main advantage of XP is making progress towards leveling up a. Visible (which is also achieved with session-based advancement) and b. A direct result of your actions (which story-based advancement tries to achieve but in my opinion usually fails to.)
If the xp come from your actions (as a direct result), it's setting the tone. Because even "you get xp for taking actions" is setting the tone in the sense of "I expect active play, and not passive play." The only way for xp rewards to not influence tone is for them to happen regardless not only of what actions you take, but whether you take actions at all.

If setting the tone can be a negative (as @Voadam so eloquently explained), then awarding xp for actions can be a net negative.

And if the choice of what you do is irrelevant, including whether or not to do anything, it becomes less meaningful than a participation trophy. It can even feel like a waste of tie and energy to note it down. That might seem like an extreme case, but it also seems to be the experience of quite a few people.
 

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