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XP for Absent Players

Fanaelialae

Adventurer
I give absent players full XP. They miss out on loot however, unless the other players are feeling particularly generous. I usually come up with a brief description of an adventure that the PC went on while absent, which both explains where the XP came from and allows me to drop hooks and seeds for future adventures.

I do this because gaming is (or at least should be) fun. As such, it's "punishment" enough for the player to not be able to play. I certainly don't want to create some perverse incentive for them to skip out on real world obligations, just so that they don't fall behind in game.

Part of the reason is that I've seen this sort of thing turn into a vicious cycle. The player misses a session or two, causing them to fall behind. When they return, they feel less competent than their companions, which dampens their interest in the game. This causes them to miss more games, further reducing their interest until they drop out entirely.

That said, 5e tends to be fairly forgiving in terms of level disparity. However, that doesn't mean that the player will feel it is. Objective truth and subjective feelings don't always align.

One possible suggestion, if you don't like the idea of giving "free" XP and your players don't mind homework, might be to have the player write up what their character was doing while absent in exchange for the XP. That way if the player doesn't care about level disparity they don't need to do it, while someone who does can spend a bit of free time to close the gap, while possibly also giving the DM new material to incorporate into their game. Just a thought.
 

Giltonio_Santos

Adventurer
I award no XP for absent players and have found 5e to be very forgiving in regard to that choice. AD&D 2e, which is my other D&D of choice, is likewise very forgiving of groups with uneven XP distribution, making it a non-issue for my group.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I've got more players than seats at the table (generally 8 to 10 players for 5 seats). If you can make it, great; if you can't, someone else will take that seat and we'll catch you some other time.
Ahh, now this makes a big difference! If I was running a game where the expectation wasn’t that every player shows up to every session, then I would likewise only award XP to players who were present for whatever accomplishment it was awarded for. At that point it’s not a punishment for non-attendance when attendance is a baseline expectation, it’s a resource you character earns during the seasons they are present for.
 

Shiroiken

Adventurer
Depends on your edition of choice, and the group's overall preference. Prior to 4E, everyone having individual XP totals was the norm, so missing a session meant you fell behind a bit. 4E generally assumed that everyone was the same level, meaning that everyone has the same XP or used milestone leveling. 5E officially only grants XP to players present, but this isn't baked in the way 3E had it (where you could spend/lose XP).

If you're running a West Marches type game, with infrequent players, having variable XP is fine. If you're trying to run a story based campaign, allowing characters to slowly separate in level can be fairly detrimental. My group prefers to have everyone be at the exact same XP, so only 1-2 players have to keep track.
 

CleverNickName

Adventurer
In one campaign, we don't use XP at all. The party gains a level when they reach a particular milestone in the story, and it doesn't matter how many gaming sessions you missed. Nobody is "punished" for missing a game (except that they have to spend the evening "Adulting" and miss out on playing D&D with their friends).

In another campaign, we use XP and characters that are absent for a gaming session don't earn XP at all. If you miss more than a few gaming sessions, you could fall behind. But it's rare for a player to miss a game because we use a shared online gaming calendar to schedule our gaming sessions, and we all work together to make a game happen. We will move a game to someone else's house if they can't find a babysitter, or we will move the day/time of the game a bit, or someone will play someone else's character for a while until they can make it to the game, that sort of thing. But it does happen every now and then, and so far nobody has complained about feeling "punished" by missing out on XP.
 

Mistwell

Hero
It's just so much easier to level everyone at the same time and rate. This concept was a fundamental change from 1e AD&D (and B/X) which leveled everyone differently based on race/class, and it's carried a step further with things like event based leveling rather than tracking specific XP. It makes planning adventures a lot easier when you know everyone is always the same level. And that ease far outweighs any benefit that comes from staggered experience points dependent to each PC and how often they played.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Ahh, now this makes a big difference! If I was running a game where the expectation wasn’t that every player shows up to every session, then I would likewise only award XP to players who were present for whatever accomplishment it was awarded for. At that point it’s not a punishment for non-attendance when attendance is a baseline expectation, it’s a resource you character earns during the seasons they are present for.
I just don't view that as a punishment though. The way I see it, experience points are something a player earns for engaging in the particular behaviors the DM wants to encourage, not something to which a player is entitled by signing up to a game. If you miss a session, you just get after it with that much more gusto and try to make it up. It's all in the players' hands, assuming it's not an event-based game.

Personally, as long as the group is consistent with how and why they use a particular method of advancement, it doesn't really matter to me. In some games in which I play, the DM just levels everyone up, whether you attend or not, every session. It doesn't really incentivize anything. It's not my favorite, but it's fine.

In my games, I do generally prefer experience points, specifically standard XP or maybe milestone given certain conditions, rather than session-based advancement, but that's chiefly because I want XP to drive play toward the central theme or concept of the campaign more precisely. I would also consider story-based advancement, though really I'd prefer not to run event-based games and that seems to be what that is meant for. It's really only session-based advancement that directly ties attendance to level with no hope of making up for sessions you missed. And that's not my bag.

As an aside, my current setup of a player pool larger than my max number of seats per session grew out of not liking to cancel sessions because we couldn't make quorum and a hatred of having scheduling discussions. Now, if I want to have a game, it's a very rare day indeed when we don't have enough people to at least make quorum (four PCs). So those two problems have been nicely solved.
 

dnd4vr

Adventurer
Like many others, we award and I have as DM, half the XP for absent characters (players only get a strong, "What the heck, dude, you said you were coming!?!). ;)
 

Draegn

Explorer
My players have characters ranging from second to thirteenth level. They either play their main characters or their alternates when they are present. When away their characters are considered to be working on down time projects for which there is the possibility of experience.

Often times I run mini plots in between our bimonthly group meetings which allow my players to have stories to talk about and share information that they might have learned while away from the group.
 

Kinematics

Explorer
First option: The "pink bubble". If you miss a session, you are protected from any harm, but also gain no benefit. Your character wanders around with the rest of the group (so no risk of being left behind if we teleport to another world or something), but can't contribute in any way (ie: spells, skills, knowledge, etc). There's no risk of your character being killed, but you also gain no skill/XP/etc.

The pink bubble works well for any skill-based system because there's no obvious comparisons between characters, and you aren't dealing with key abilities being gated behind level accumulation. If you didn't get a chance to level up your sword skill this week, oh well. There's no sense of "falling behind", unless you miss a ton of sessions. It didn't really transition to level-based systems like D&D, but still works if you don't want to let someone else play your character.

Second option: Allow another player to play your character. This is what we do with most level-based systems, including D&D, as long as you're only going to miss the occasional session. This means you gain XP with the rest of the group, and the group gets access to your spells/skills/knowledge, but your character is subject to the risk of injury or death or loss of items, or whatever else might happen. In fact, there's probably greater risk, because other players won't be as well-versed in your abilities as you are.

This option assumes you can trust your friends to play your character fairly. It comes with the assumption that the DM won't allow any abnormal behavior, such as looting your character, or using him as a bomb detector, or other obnoxious things.

Third option: Set up a side adventure for your character with the DM. You lost your chance to be part of the "main" adventure (which may involve more loot and/or XP), but you can still have fun doing something, and it often allows small quest hooks to be dropped in that can be used with the main group later. Rather than "no XP", this is more of "less XP" if you get explicit XP rewards. If you do milestone leveling, then you should still be keeping up with the rest of the group.

Extended leave: Character is removed from the roster and does not advance any further, or on a slightly slower track (eg: 1-2 levels behind the main party). Is not available as a playable character for the rest of the party (as in option 2). Don't have a lot to say on this option, as usually it meant a permanent removal of the player, or by the time they got back we were on a different game, so they'd be making a new character anyway. Occurs when someone's work schedule changes, or someone in the military goes on a 6-month tour, etc.


I don't like the concepts of punishing the player by withholding XP (even if couched in terms of "encouraging" the player to not miss sessions) because it reminds me too much of my MMO days, where attendance became a club to beat people with, and it almost guaranteed that it was eating away at real life because you were punished in a myriad of ways for not being in game. When I see those types of arguments, I think, "You're the type of person who ran a guild and made my life miserable."
 

Dire Bare

Adventurer
Should you award XP to absent players? There is not right or wrong way to do it, and it should be discussed at the table to make sure everybody is on the same page before the game begins.

The need to earn XP to level your character is a fiction of the game. Even in the modern rule books they discuss alternate ways to handle character advancement such as milestones or leveling once per session. However, in my view, earning XP to advance feels good . . . . and is a "reward token" to encourage attendance at your games. I would never advocate making somebody feel bad or guilty for having a life and missing a game, but part of the game system is that "earning" your way ahead. YMMV, of course.
 

SubDude

Explorer
After all, it's not like you're going to kill of their character when they aren't even there. If something dangerous is on the horizon, they can just skip the risk and still gain all of the reward. I'd rather not give players any reason to skip a session, if they can do anything to avoid it; after all, if too many people miss at once, then the whole game falls apart.
That's actually why they get the half. They're still with the party in the adventure. If he dies, he dies. Only ever happened to a ranger's beast companion, so far, but always a very real threat.
 

Azzy

Cyclone Ranger
I give full XP. It's easier for me and the players. And the players haven't complained.
 

ccs

39th lv DM
XP:
In games where I use xp, xp for a session gets awarded to only those present.
If you're not there your character will not be played.

It's a simple equation. XP is earned by your participation & contribution to the game.
Your absence isn't fulfilling either of those. So no XP is earned.

Treasure:
I've done my job. I've put x treasure into the adventure. Or there's whatever's listed in the module....
How much of it the party finds/claims? That depends upon players & what they do.
How treasure gets divided up is purely up to the players.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Second option: Allow another player to play your character. This is what we do with most level-based systems, including D&D, as long as you're only going to miss the occasional session. This means you gain XP with the rest of the group, and the group gets access to your spells/skills/knowledge, but your character is subject to the risk of injury or death or loss of items, or whatever else might happen. In fact, there's probably greater risk, because other players won't be as well-versed in your abilities as you are.

This option assumes you can trust your friends to play your character fairly. It comes with the assumption that the DM won't allow any abnormal behavior, such as looting your character, or using him as a bomb detector, or other obnoxious things.
This is exactly what we do, and players know it going in.

Sometimes the absent player's PC is played by another player, and sometimes it's kinda by committee. And if the absence was known ahead of time and the player left instructions or guidelines with the DM, those are kept to as best as possible.

ccs said:
XP:
In games where I use xp, xp for a session gets awarded to only those present.
If you're not there your character will not be played.
Doesn't that kind of blow up continuity in your game, though, to have characters stop functioning mid-dungeon for no obvious reason, and then re-boot for again no obvious reason?

It's a simple equation. XP is earned by your participation & contribution to the game.
Your absence isn't fulfilling either of those. So no XP is earned.
As opposed to your character's participation and contribution to the party? This can happen just the same with or without a player attached.
 

ccs

39th lv DM
Docking XP for absence creates parties with uneven levels,
Not gaining XP when you're absent =/= being docked XP.
Ex; End of week 1, you have 5k xp. Week 2, you have to work :( & thus gain 0xp. Week 3 you can play. As play begins you still have that 5k xp you did at the end of the 1st week.
Now if when you came back on week 3 & I told you that you now only have 4500 xp....

Were I to award you a share of the XP those present on week 2 earned? Those players could rightfully claim to have been docked.

Uneven party lvs have never posed a problem in the groups I've played with.

which makes encounters harder to balance
Not really. When I write an encounter I do so for the average party lv. Or for the characters I expect to be present that night.
What sometimes causes problems (especially at higher lvs) is when people have to miss at the last moment.
Or when something specific to one player is in motion & they suddenly can't make it.


and in turn you make your players feel bad
I've rarely gamed with anyone who couldn't handle the concept of having to be present to get XP.

but don’t actually change their attendance habits.
No amount of XP/or the lack of can control illness, family things, work schedules, etc.
What we do is make sure to set the game on a night & time that generally works for everyone. And we communicate with each other about dates we know will affect game night (for ex; the other week I was off at GenCon.) This, not some concern over xp, goes a very long way in stabilizing attendance.

Now if you're one of those flakey types who thinks that they can just waltz in & out of our game? We'll solve that attendance issue by dropping you. Because even though the games running at the local shop, it ain't the AL & it's only open to others on a case by case invite basis.


In contrast, giving absent players full XP makes your life easier as a DM and has no downsides.
That's not been my experience.
I've been in xp based games where the DM wanted to keep everyone at the same xp. Those losing a portion of xp that they earned to absent players expressed their dissatisfaction. Having the majority of the table unhappy vs (maybe) just the person absent seems like a downside.
AND there's the fact that I don't believe in rewarding you for actions not taken. I won't hold it against you for having to miss a session. But I'm not going to reward you for it either.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
Generally when I prep I do so assuming a full party, but regardless there will be a range of threats of varying levels and it will be up to the players to decide how to engage with them. When they are down a member directly engaging does become more difficult, but that's a choice they choose to make. If a party member goes down, is low on hit points, or suffering from a disease or poison the situation does not change to suit. It is part of the peril of being an adventurer.
 

Zardnaar

Adventurer
First option: The "pink bubble". If you miss a session, you are protected from any harm, but also gain no benefit. Your character wanders around with the rest of the group (so no risk of being left behind if we teleport to another world or something), but can't contribute in any way (ie: spells, skills, knowledge, etc). There's no risk of your character being killed, but you also gain no skill/XP/etc.

The pink bubble works well for any skill-based system because there's no obvious comparisons between characters, and you aren't dealing with key abilities being gated behind level accumulation. If you didn't get a chance to level up your sword skill this week, oh well. There's no sense of "falling behind", unless you miss a ton of sessions. It didn't really transition to level-based systems like D&D, but still works if you don't want to let someone else play your character.

Second option: Allow another player to play your character. This is what we do with most level-based systems, including D&D, as long as you're only going to miss the occasional session. This means you gain XP with the rest of the group, and the group gets access to your spells/skills/knowledge, but your character is subject to the risk of injury or death or loss of items, or whatever else might happen. In fact, there's probably greater risk, because other players won't be as well-versed in your abilities as you are.

This option assumes you can trust your friends to play your character fairly. It comes with the assumption that the DM won't allow any abnormal behavior, such as looting your character, or using him as a bomb detector, or other obnoxious things.

Third option: Set up a side adventure for your character with the DM. You lost your chance to be part of the "main" adventure (which may involve more loot and/or XP), but you can still have fun doing something, and it often allows small quest hooks to be dropped in that can be used with the main group later. Rather than "no XP", this is more of "less XP" if you get explicit XP rewards. If you do milestone leveling, then you should still be keeping up with the rest of the group.

Extended leave: Character is removed from the roster and does not advance any further, or on a slightly slower track (eg: 1-2 levels behind the main party). Is not available as a playable character for the rest of the party (as in option 2). Don't have a lot to say on this option, as usually it meant a permanent removal of the player, or by the time they got back we were on a different game, so they'd be making a new character anyway. Occurs when someone's work schedule changes, or someone in the military goes on a 6-month tour, etc.


I don't like the concepts of punishing the player by withholding XP (even if couched in terms of "encouraging" the player to not miss sessions) because it reminds me too much of my MMO days, where attendance became a club to beat people with, and it almost guaranteed that it was eating away at real life because you were punished in a myriad of ways for not being in game. When I see those types of arguments, I think, "You're the type of person who ran a guild and made my life miserable."
We call the pink bubble no hole.

You get xp if another character runs your PC. I except about 75 to 90% attendence.

Can't do that I'll replace you if another player wants in.
 

CapnZapp

Adventurer
Generally, I don't even use xp, just leveling up the party on occasion. Everybody stays the same level.

In other games, you get full xp. Not attending means missing out, and that's punishment enough.

Currently however I'm trying something new. Or old, I guess: an xp for gold sandbox.

There I don't have gold fall from the heavens on a player character who missed a session. We'll see how it ends up. My expectation is that the other players will share their loot, because it is in their interest to not have a straggler in their group. The party is after all only as strong as its weakest link.
 

mortwatcher

Explorer
I do milestone XP. My goal is to keep everyone on the same level and I am not going to bother with calculation XP after every encounter, and it also discourages murderhoboism (although it is always an option).

If I was doing regular XP, I would still award it to absent players. I have yet to see anyone trying to metagame their absences, people play because they want to play.
 

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