• Resources are back! Use the menu in the main navbar. If you own a resource, please check it for formatting, icons, etc.

XP for Absent Players

Seramus

Explorer
A player recently had his mother die. He had to fly out and attend the proceedings. It makes me physically sick to imagine telling him his character in my game has to be “less effective” because of it.

If a player consistently has bad attendance or is not engaged during the game, I talk to them about it after the game.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
I've played in games that use milestone levelling, and it was hot garbage. There's already zero consequences for combat in 5E, since it's nearly-impossible to die and everyone regenerates overnight. If you couldn't get XP for combat, then there would be no reason for combat to exist. It would just be a time sink that everyone tries to avoid.

That's not what I want from a D&D-like experience, considering that combat is the one pillar where every player can participate on equal footing. It should be something to look forward to.
Interesting- could you elaborate on this?

It has been my experience that regardless of the system (milestone leveling, group XP, individual XP, modified XP systems, and so on) that D&D players tend to focus on combat, and that, if anything, it is often hard to get them to enjoy the other pillars as much.

In other words, because of the nature of most D&D tables, and because of the way the game is structured to emphasize areas of combat (including accumulation of money and magic via combat, as well as resolution of the vast majority of difficulties), I have never seen an issue being that players avoid all combats.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Looking at all the posts here from DMs who either don't use xp at all or who always even it out so everyone gets the same, I have to ask what it is you're trying to reward or incentivize.

Simple player attendance? If someone shows up and plays on his phone all night, or does nothing except gabble about hockey instead of focusing on the game, why should that player get the same reward as the person who focuses on the game all night and helps drive the action? There's no incentive to drive the action - in fact there's a disincentive, as the player(s) driving the action is (are) by extension most often putting their characters at greater risk in so doing. This makes the 'optimal' path that of sitting back and riding the bus rather than helping to drive it, because you know you're going to get the same reward anyway; and how is that any good?

Simple "character attendance"? By this I mean a vague in-fiction extension of player attendance. If a character hangs in the back and does nothing of use in an encounter or even an entire adventure, why should it get the same reward as the characters who actually did what had to be done to overcome the challenge? Again, this only serves to disincentivize taking risks and getting after it, as you know you're going to get the same reward no matter what you do...which leads to the same 'optimal' path, that being to take as little risk as possible relative to the rest of the party.
For some folks, standard or milestone XP isn't viewed as an incentive because it doesn't produce the desired behaviors within the group. At that point it's at best a pacing mechanism, but if that pace doesn't line up with the speed of advancement they want for a campaign, then it's not even that. If it's neither of those things, then it may as well be abandoned.

Commonly, people who don't use XP go with story-based advancement in which level is tied to the achievement of story goals without XP as an intermediary, session-based advancement in which level is tied to frequency of game attendance (again, without XP at all), or level by DM fiat, which is when characters level up whenever the DM decides for whatever reason he or she likes. In the latter case, which is very common in my experience, the method incentivizes no particular behavior at all.

So, I get why people don't use it. They just might not think about it too deeply as to why. They might just get a sense that it doesn't work for them and pitch it. And that's fair enough in my view.

Forcing everyone to be the same level? Sorry, but in a 5e (or 0e-1e-2e) environment this one holds no water at all - the system is more than flexible enough to handle some in-party level disparity, and balancing encounters to the party average is - at most - all you ever need.
That is correct in the context of the games you mention. For D&D 3.Xe and D&D 4e, not so much. Some folks DMing D&D 5e may be engaged in legacy thinking in this regard, carrying over presuppositions from other games they have played and, as a result, have not bothered trying to play with characters of disparate levels. Even the D&D 5e DMG comes right out and says it's not an issue, at least when it's just a few levels' difference, so it's not like they have to take out word for it.
 

Retreater

Adventurer
I've played in games that use milestone levelling, and it was hot garbage. There's already zero consequences for combat in 5E, since it's nearly-impossible to die and everyone regenerates overnight. If you couldn't get XP for combat, then there would be no reason for combat to exist. It would just be a time sink that everyone tries to avoid.
If all that you get out of combat is XP, then you have a problem with your combats - not milestone leveling. There have to be stakes, connections to the plot and characters, etc.
I think gunning for XP is bad for the pacing. I like to run faster-paced campaigns. Levelling is too slow for our group - considering we get to play only once or twice a month. My game time is too sacred to waste on pointless, endless skirmishes.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Interesting- could you elaborate on this?

It has been my experience that regardless of the system (milestone leveling, group XP, individual XP, modified XP systems, and so on) that D&D players tend to focus on combat, and that, if anything, it is often hard to get them to enjoy the other pillars as much.

In other words, because of the nature of most D&D tables, and because of the way the game is structured to emphasize areas of combat (including accumulation of money and magic via combat, as well as resolution of the vast majority of difficulties), I have never seen an issue being that players avoid all combats.
I'm not Saelorn, but I have some thoughts on this as it relates to a campaign I was just in and that recently wrapped up. The advancement method was "level up every session regardless of attendance." So, when you think about it, essentially it was about experiencing content more than anything else. To my mind, that means "work efficiently to experience as much content as possible during the session."

To that end, I was very much willing to have my '80s lizardman G. Gecko stealth around potential combats or awkwardly try to social interaction my way to achieving a goal because combat simply takes longer. I had no incentive to fight in most situations because there was nothing really to gain. If I could steal the treasure without fighting or achieve a goal by talking, then that means we cover more content in a session.

So in my view, and without necessarily agreeing with everything Saelorn is saying, you're more likely to get what you incentivize than not.
 

S'mon

Legend
I find having a single XP tally makes players think of themselves as a team. It's good for high fantasy. Individual XP leads to more individualist play. It's good for swords & sorcery.
 

Saelorn

Adventurer
If all that you get out of combat is XP, then you have a problem with your combats - not milestone leveling.
In a normal D&D-type game, the stakes would be survival. You need to efficiently overcome these opponents, because they're trying to stop you, and if you're sloppy then you'll eventually be overwhelmed. It's engaging, because you can't afford to make sloppy mistakes.

Fifth Edition doesn't have those stakes, because the monsters are chumps and everyone gets free healing anyway. The core combat mechanics are critically flawed, in such a way that the only thing holding the system together is the XP reward.

And occasionally you have a boss fight, which is relevant to the interests of the characters, and that's fine and engaging. But again, the system isn't set up to support a boss-only campaign. The system is designed around five junk encounters for every one that matters, and failure to support that results in massive character imbalance.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
I'm not Saelorn, but I have some thoughts on this as it relates to a campaign I was just in and that recently wrapped up. The advancement method was "level up every session regardless of attendance." So, when you think about it, essentially it was about experiencing content more than anything else. To my mind, that means "work efficiently to experience as much content as possible during the session."

To that end, I was very much willing to have my '80s lizardman G. Gecko stealth around potential combats or awkwardly try to social interaction my way to achieving a goal because combat simply takes longer. I had no incentive to fight in most situations because there was nothing really to gain. If I could steal the treasure without fighting or achieve a goal by talking, then that means we cover more content in a session.

So in my view, and without necessarily agreeing with everything Saelorn is saying, you're more likely to get what you incentivize than not.
Sometimes?

It really depends on the social milieu and the individuals, doesn't it; people are neither perfectly rational actors that respond to incentives and disincentives like machines coldly calculating the utility, nor are they Pavlovian dogs that will salivate immediately upon the ringing of the XP bell.

There are certainly people that view D&D as some sort of ... competition, I guess? How do they maximize the benefit to the character in the minimum amount of time?

But I don't know that everyone does. Others view it as an opportunity to get together and have fun playing a game, and creating a shared fiction; the character's progress is ancillary to the creation of the shared fiction.

Given the huge amount of emphasis placed on combat in most D&D games, I'm not sure that having characters slightly less likely to believe that combat is both the alpha and omega of all problem solving is a bad thing; I think a better question is, "Do traditional XP systems overly incentivize D&D's predisposition to cause players to think that every session is just combats loosely joined together by thin bits of narrative?"
 

Saelorn

Adventurer
In other words, because of the nature of most D&D tables, and because of the way the game is structured to emphasize areas of combat (including accumulation of money and magic via combat, as well as resolution of the vast majority of difficulties), I have never seen an issue being that players avoid all combats.
It's less that they avoid all combat, and more that they skip straight to the boss. Boss fights can still be fun, for a variety of reasons: increased difficulty, possible loot, plot-relevance, and the likelihood of triggering an arbitrary level-up flag.

But trap them in a room with a bunch of sand worms, and you'll get nothing but eye-rolls and groans of boredom as they tediously slog through another meaningless fight.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
It's less that they avoid all combat, and more that they skip straight to the boss. Boss fights can still be fun, for a variety of reasons: increased difficulty, possible loot, plot-relevance, and the likelihood of triggering an arbitrary level-up flag.

But trap them in a room with a bunch of sand worms, and you'll get nothing but eye-rolls and groans of boredom as they tediously slog through another meaningless fight.
Oh, I agree. Sounds like the fights are tedious! But maybe the problem is the combats, and not the XP system?
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Sometimes?

It really depends on the social milieu and the individuals, doesn't it; people are neither perfectly rational actors that respond to incentives and disincentives like machines coldly calculating the utility, nor are they Pavlovian dogs that will salivate immediately upon the ringing of the XP bell.

There are certainly people that view D&D as some sort of ... competition, I guess? How do they maximize the benefit to the character in the minimum amount of time?

But I don't know that everyone does. Others view it as an opportunity to get together and have fun playing a game, and creating a shared fiction; the character's progress is ancillary to the creation of the shared fiction.
Of course. People will vary. But I think it's a reasonable expectation to have as DM that you're more likely to get what you incentivize. That's especially true if the DM explains this thinking to the players directly. Which is why for most of my campaigns, I give XP for combat and social interaction and there's almost never any treasure after a fight. You have to poke around and explore for that. This creates an incentive to engage in all three pillars. (You'll almost never see my players try to loot the dead compared to other groups. I don't like that well-known phase of play so I don't incentivize it.)

Given the huge amount of emphasis placed on combat in most D&D games, I'm not sure that having characters slightly less likely to believe that combat is both the alpha and omega of all problem solving is a bad thing; I think a better question is, "Do traditional XP systems overly incentivize D&D's predisposition to cause players to think that every session is just combats loosely joined together by thin bits of narrative?"
I make no judgment as to whether combat is a good or bad thing in the abstract. It's going to depend on the campaign. But the rules set on its own certainly does suggest combat is the cause of and solution to all of life's problems (channeling Homer). That's particularly true of standard XP, especially if the DM is not granting XP for noncombat challenges (DMG, p. 261).
 

Saelorn

Adventurer
Oh, I agree. Sounds like the fights are tedious! But maybe the problem is the combats, and not the XP system?
Sure, but that's part-and-parcel of 5E. The (failed) attrition model is the number one complaint about the game. For the amount of work required to fix that, it would be easier to just play something else.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
Sure, but that's part-and-parcel of 5E. The (failed) attrition model is the number one complaint about the game. For the amount of work required to fix that, it would be easier to just play something else.
Maybe! But let me throw this idea out to you-

A. Combat is unfun, and we aren't getting XP.
B. .... so let's add an XP system, which leads to ....
C. Combat is unfun, but we get XP, so now we will spend time doing unfun stuff because we have to.

Maybe it's just me, but I sense a .... problem ... with this. :)

I think the videogame term for this is "grind." Personally, I don't want to grind. I don't like grinds. I avoid them at all costs. That sandworm fight is going to suck, regardless of the paltry XP I get.

I have better things to do; that's why I modify my 5e, run ToTM, use a few diceless tricks from other systems, and so on. Also the gritty variants so I don't have to use resource attrition to make a single combat fun, quick, and interesting.


...which may or may not work for you. Just thinking that Unfun is Unfun, regardless of the XP bonus at the end. :)
 

Retreater

Adventurer
And occasionally you have a boss fight, which is relevant to the interests of the characters, and that's fine and engaging. But again, the system isn't set up to support a boss-only campaign. The system is designed around five junk encounters for every one that matters, and failure to support that results in massive character imbalance.
Therefore, I change the system. I use roleplaying, investigation, and exploration to fill up the bulk of the adventure. Then I add in a few flavorful combats with lackeys to set the tone and let the players feel badass as they stomp the opposition. I cap it off with a boss fight, which I usually build with new rules (taking design inspiration from 4E). Then I'm ready to let the characters get rewards - story rewards, treasure, and a level.

XP as it's written feels like bean counting to me. D&D 5E already has a "combat is the way to earn XP" mentality and doesn't properly reward any other aspect of the game. Sure, I could create an XP system of (for example) "engage in good roleplaying = 300 XP, uncover a truth about the campaign world = 250 XP," but at that point, I'm already re-writing the rules anyway. It's easier to through it all out and use a new system at that point.
 

pogre

Adventurer
My players love XP in D&D. I do not award XP for missing a session. However, I have a catch up mechanism for players who have missed sessions. I give the normal award of XP for the top level PC present at a session and then a 10% bonus to other PCs for every level they are below the top level. Example: 15th level PC gets 5,000 XP, 14th level gets 5,500 XP, 13th level PCs get 6,000 XP, etc.

I have the luxury of a big pool of players, similar to iserith. And I did do a milestone for our transition for Heist to Dungeon of the Mad Mage - bump up to 5th. However, our experience has been an 11th level PC still has a lot to contribute to a party with an average PC level of 14. Balancing encounters is fairly simple using average party level (much like AL).

Personally, I would be fine with milestone leveling and keeping everyone even, but my players much prefer the XP mechanic.
 

Kinematics

Explorer
I'm surprised by this statement, which seems quite a violent reaction to the OP, Morrus. I'd see it as more a question of rewarding those who prioritise and commit to attending a gaming session, which the DM may have worked hard to prepare, over for example, staying in because you're a bit tired, or attending a work leaving do or some other social occasion. I think there is a clear distinction between unavoidable absence and selective absence. For unavoidable (pre-notified) absences I often cancel the whole session.
There is definitely a difference between unavoidable absence and "I don't feel like it today" absences. Those are two entirely different issues.

I have encountered both in my time. Unavoidable absences are far more common. Things like being called in because someone at work was sick, or swapping shifts so that you can get the vacation days you want next month. Family events, such as taking children to scout meetings, family deaths, family visits, etc. Or just plain old being sick. With just a half dozen people at the table, you're going to encounter these things numerous times per year. You can't grant XP to "incentivize" people to not get sick.

On the other hand, there are those who join the game, play a bit, then decide that they're not feeling up for gaming today, and then next week, and then drop out, and then complain that you haven't invited them to the next game you start up. They casually miss games because 'reasons'. In that case, XP is (usually) not your solution, because the problem runs deeper than game attendance.

The only time I've found that rewarding attendance is relevant is in something like an MMO, where you need to organize people to show up to events on a regular basis even if they don't have any personal stake, or keep attending after they've gotten what they came for. It's the subtle shift from playing a game to working a job. It's that thing that you are given to get you to keep showing up even when you don't really want to. And if that's how you're treating your D&D game, I don't want to be a part of it.

So I feel that the idea that XP be used as an incentive for attendance is wrong from numerous perspectives. Either it's not actually an incentive, or it's an incentive for the wrong purpose.

I will note, though, that this is a different issue than the question of standard XP vs milestone advancement in game. There are different play styles that might prefer one or the other. However the choice should be made for in-game reasons, not out-of-game reasons (ie: reward/punish attendance).

Of course, "should" doesn't mean "must", either. I'm aware of highly unreliable players that you're still trying to get to be part of the game, that may require unusual design decisions to accommodate. Players who spend too much time on the phone, or constantly interrupt the game to tell some "amusing" story, or otherwise just don't want to contribute (perhaps only being interested in combat, for example). Finding solutions for that type of thing isn't always easy, and perhaps an XP punishment system is useful to you. However I'd consider those specialty cases, and not examples for a general rule.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
My players love XP in D&D.

{snip}

Personally, I would be fine with milestone leveling and keeping everyone even, but my players much prefer the XP mechanic.
I agree. Personally, I have run Gygax-ian XP systems (wherein there is a large group of rotating players, and each player has a large number of PCs, and there is a constant mix-and-match approach, and only XP works). I have run "standard level" (everyone levels at the same time) and "milestone XP" (everyone receives XP at the same checkpoints) and group XP (there is a pot of XP evenly divided into the group for accomomplishing X, Y, Z) and "treasure only XP" (XP only awarded for GP) ...

and it's all good. It depends on the table and the time, and the goals of the campaign. I don't think there is a one-size-fits all.

(As a DM ... I prefer either the Gygax-ian approach based on GP for large groups with multiple PCs, or "standard level" for a regular group running one PC per person).
 

DM Dave1

Adventurer
But trap them in a room with a bunch of sand worms, and you'll get nothing but eye-rolls and groans of boredom as they tediously slog through another meaningless fight.
That sandworm fight is going to suck, regardless of the paltry XP I get.
Wait, is there something wrong with Sandwyrms that I'm missing? The party of level 11 to 13 adventurers in our campaign just pulled up on an enormous beach on the island they need to explore. Sandwyrms in the Tome if Beasts are 2300 XP each, so, yeah, I was planning that maybe a few of them pop up. Plus, they have Spine Traps, Jerry. Spine Traps!

EDIT: sorry, i misread. you were talking about sandworms, not sandwYrms. We'll be ok. Phew.
 

Mallus

Hero
For the past... oh lets round up to 20 years, I've either used full XP for absent players or no XP all at (the party levels when I say & are all the same level).

The exception to this is a 2-year long AD&D campaign, where I counted every XP to the best of my ability, out of a combination of nostalgia and OCD.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I've used some combination of story/session/milestone leveling since 3.0 was released and finding incentives for the players has never been an issue. I set up conflicts and obstacles, the group figures out how to overcome those obstacles. I don't care if that's "kill 'em all and let the gods sort it out" or an elaborate plan to gain allies and foment a revolution.

If the story we are telling as a group is not compelling enough to get together and be engaged, then I need to adjust something so that they are engaged. I get that some people are motivated by shiny, shiny XP but I want the flexibility to run one session where all the action is social or exploration and the next is a combat filled extravaganza.

As far as encouraging specific behaviors or styles of play, I don't. NPCs will react in ways I think appropriate, events will unfold based on action or inaction, but as long as you're not playing an evil character (something I just don't want to deal with) I will adjust my style to try to fit my players. I've hit a couple of players over the years that my style didn't work for them, but not every DM will work for every player.

As far as 5E not being lethal, I'll have to tell my players that. They'll be quite relieved the next time 3/4 of the party is unconscious and the wizard is down to a handful of hit points and relying on cantrips while the barbarian will fall over dead if she stops raging. D&D 5E is as deadly as you and your group want it to be.
 

Advertisement

Top