XP for Absent Players

Fanaelialae

Adventurer
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.

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.

So, it's individual xp all the way, and by encounter. If nobody's close to bumping I'll let 'em pile up for a few sessions before giving them out; and in any case they're only received after an overnight rest - you wake up in the morning having learned from what you did yesterday.

And a question for those who want everyone always the same level: if a PC pulls the Sun card from a Deck of Many Things and gains 50K xp on the spot, does that PC then have to retire until everyone else can catch up?
You can incentivize behavior using XP without using individual XP.

In my game, for example, whenever someone roleplays well, I add to an "RP pool". The players are of course aware of this. At the end of each session, I multiply the pool by a level-determined factor, and award that much XP to all players (including those who were unable to make it).

As such, players are aware that by role playing well and driving the game forward, they will level faster. However, quieter players don't get left behind by players who enjoy the spotlight. Role playing becomes a team effort, as opposed to every man for himself.
 

digitalelf

Explorer
Yeah, I don't give XP for missed sessions.

And I will never understand all this non-sense about "missing a session is its own punishment". But whatever...

YMMV and all of that.

I run 2nd edition AD&D games.

This is what XP is in a 2nd edition AD&D game:
2nd Edition AD&D DMG said:
an AD&D game player competes against himself. He tries to improve his role-playing and to develop his character every time he plays.
Experience points are a measure of this improvement, and the number of points given a player for a game session is a signal of how well the DM thinks the player did in the game—a reward for good role-playing.
This is of course in addition to XP for defeating monsters and such.

So XP (in 2nd edition AD&D) is ALL about rewarding a player for their participation within the game.

Oh, and if a player is going to miss a session, we either:

A). Don't get together that week (provided we know of the absence in advance).

or

B). We do and/or play something else (e.g. video games, board games, or card games).
 

Imaculata

Adventurer
I use group exp because I want to encourage a feeling of teamwork. When a player does some really cool roleplaying and earns the party bonus exp, their reaction will be:

"That was a cool moment and you earned us bonus exp, good job!"

...instead of...

"That was a cool moment, and you awarded yourself some bonus xp... why didn't my cool roleplaying moment earn me extra exp too?"


I don't want this to turn into a competition, and since I play 3rd edition, levels matter a lot. It is what I use to determine the challenge rating of encounters.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
You can incentivize behavior using XP without using individual XP.

In my game, for example, whenever someone roleplays well, I add to an "RP pool". The players are of course aware of this. At the end of each session, I multiply the pool by a level-determined factor, and award that much XP to all players (including those who were unable to make it).

As such, players are aware that by role playing well and driving the game forward, they will level faster. However, quieter players don't get left behind by players who enjoy the spotlight. Role playing becomes a team effort, as opposed to every man for himself.
This is exactly the sort of thing I've been railing against - it incentivizes passivity!

If on an ongoing basis player A is driving the action (be it via roleplaying, taking risks, or whatever) while player B is just sitting there riding the bus, how on earth does player B deserve the same level of reward?

That's right - she/he doesn't. But it's given anyway.

And if I were player A in this instance and realized this was how the reward system worked I'd be right gassed off about it.
 

S'mon

Legend
This is exactly the sort of thing I've been railing against - it incentivizes passivity!

If on an ongoing basis player A is driving the action (be it via roleplaying, taking risks, or whatever) while player B is just sitting there riding the bus, how on earth does player B deserve the same level of reward?

That's right - she/he doesn't. But it's given anyway.

And if I were player A in this instance and realized this was how the reward system worked I'd be right gassed off about it.
Well some players like being passive.
Now if your whole group is passive, you likely have a problem. But if you have 6-7 players and they are all instigating, roleplaying etc like crazy, IME that is usually just as big a problem. IME several less active players actually tend to work well as balast and contrast to 2-3 more active sorts.
I find the more proactive and engaged players usually enjoy earning rewards for the whole group, and don't resent it. They might resent it if a wallflower player really is not contributing in group activities like combat, but I have also seen two very active players clash over contradictory plans, or even the case of one player resenting that other active players have plans of their own and don't defer. Some players like being the Big Dog with a bunch of follower types. It takes all sorts.
 

Fanaelialae

Adventurer
This is exactly the sort of thing I've been railing against - it incentivizes passivity!

If on an ongoing basis player A is driving the action (be it via roleplaying, taking risks, or whatever) while player B is just sitting there riding the bus, how on earth does player B deserve the same level of reward?

That's right - she/he doesn't. But it's given anyway.

And if I were player A in this instance and realized this was how the reward system worked I'd be right gassed off about it.
It doesn't incentivize passivity. Also, I'm perfectly open about how my system works and none of my players have taken issue with it.

Sure, a player could ride the coat tails of more active players, in theory. I can't think of a time that I've actually seen that happen. They realize that if they contribute, everyone (including themselves) will level faster.

Some players would rather be B.A. than Hannibal or Face (relatively quiet until it's time for combat). I don't have a problem with that. Back when we used individual XP, we did have an issue with multiple people competing to be Hannibal, to the point where it sometimes threatened to become a RL problem. (This is an A-Team reference, just in case anyone isn't familiar.)

I certainly don't see a reason that Hannibal or Face deserve to advance faster than B.A. simply because they enjoy taking center stage in scenes. Driving the action is its own reward (in that you get to steer events in the direction you envision). B.A. does participate, he's just not interested in stealing the show, outside of perhaps during combat.

There are many reasons a player might not really participate. It could simply be because that player is reserved and needs some time to warm up to the group (speaking as someone with rather bad social anxiety, for whom this has been an issue). It could be that this player isn't really interested in the game but just wants to hang out with their friends, and that those friends aren't bothered if he gets a "free ride".

However, if a player really lacks any interest in your game and is bringing down the group as a result, then it's probably something that needs to be dealt with by having a chat outside of game. I can't imagine the player who is completely unmotivated when group XP is involved but suddenly becomes highly motivated as soon as individual XP is used.
 

DM Dave1

Adventurer
It doesn't incentivize passivity. Also, I'm perfectly open about how my system works and none of my players have taken issue with it.

Sure, a player could ride the coat tails of more active players, in theory. I can't think of a time that I've actually seen that happen. They realize that if they contribute, everyone (including themselves) will level faster.

Some players would rather be B.A. than Hannibal or Face (relatively quiet until it's time for combat). I don't have a problem with that. Back when we used individual XP, we did have an issue with multiple people competing to be Hannibal, to the point where it sometimes threatened to become a RL problem. (This is an A-Team reference, just in case anyone isn't familiar.)

I certainly don't see a reason that Hannibal or Face deserve to advance faster than B.A. simply because they enjoy taking center stage in scenes. Driving the action is its own reward (in that you get to steer events in the direction you envision). B.A. does participate, he's just not interested in stealing the show, outside of perhaps during combat.

There are many reasons a player might not really participate. It could simply be because that player is reserved and needs some time to warm up to the group (speaking as someone with rather bad social anxiety, for whom this has been an issue). It could be that this player isn't really interested in the game but just wants to hang out with their friends, and that those friends aren't bothered if he gets a "free ride".

However, if a player really lacks any interest in your game and is bringing down the group as a result, then it's probably something that needs to be dealt with by having a chat outside of game. I can't imagine the player who is completely unmotivated when group XP is involved but suddenly becomes highly motivated as soon as individual XP is used.
Why do your players hate Murdock? :p

I can't imagine a table where someone doesn't contribute. That seems to be a failure of the DM to engage EACH player, right? A good way that I read recently here on the forums: after describing a scene, the DM might say "What do you do?" but instead of saying that to the whole group, pose the question to a each character: "What does Hrothgar do?" That ensures everyone is contributing on some level.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
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.
With APs, that's more or less the case - they're pacing mechanisms designed to pace the advancement of the PCs to achievements within the plot. If they take longer to take care of this issue in the plot - they stay at that level longer. If they manage to resolve it quickly, they can level quickly.
And I think that's fair. The incentive becomes resolving the dilemmas raised by the overall plot line, not leveling, per se.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
With APs, that's more or less the case - they're pacing mechanisms designed to pace the advancement of the PCs to achievements within the plot. If they take longer to take care of this issue in the plot - they stay at that level longer. If they manage to resolve it quickly, they can level quickly.
And I think that's fair. The incentive becomes resolving the dilemmas raised by the overall plot line, not leveling, per se.
Right, this is what the DMG refers to as "story-based advancement" (DMG, p. 261). This is good for event-based games (the DMG's word, I'd prefer "plot-based") because XP is taken away as an intermediary mechanic and replaced with tying leveling up to "accomplishing significant goals in the campaign." This incentivizes focusing only on those goals and little to nothing else which is great if you want to keep the players and their characters on a specific path or plot-line.

In such a game, I would probably be trying to find ways to achieve the story goals in the most efficient way possible while still trying to achieve the goals of play as that is one of the things that is being incentivized. That might include skipping combats or negotiating the party's way through them, provided killing those particular NPCs/monsters are not also story goals. As a DM in such a setup, I would set my expectations accordingly and ready myself for having to set aside content that I spent time preparing.
 

Mort

Community Supporter
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.
Yes, exactly. I play with friends and they make it if they can - missing the game is its own punishment, I don't compound it.

As for 5e being more forgiving of level differences - I'm not sure I 100% agree.

5e has jumps in power. 3-4th isn't that different (but there is a jump - what with a feat/ASI etc) but 3-4th to 5th is very large (3rd level spells, 2nd attack etc.). Same goes for 7-8th vs 9th etc.

Basically, If you tier jump (4th vs 5th, 10 vs 11th etc.) the difference is huge - even for 1 level.

This last Gen Con I played quite a bit of Adventurer's League. Level differences in the party were not fatal - but they were quite noticeable and reinforced my choice to not impose that onto my group.
 

Fanaelialae

Adventurer
Why do your players hate Murdock? :p

I can't imagine a table where someone doesn't contribute. That seems to be a failure of the DM to engage EACH player, right? A good way that I read recently here on the forums: after describing a scene, the DM might say "What do you do?" but instead of saying that to the whole group, pose the question to a each character: "What does Hrothgar do?" That ensures everyone is contributing on some level.
Our resident Malkavian hasn't had much time in the past few years to game with us (single dad). His presence is missed, but we've never found anyone who can quite fill his shoes.
 

Flexor the Mighty!

18/100 Strength!
If you PC is involved they get XP. We used to always play it that PC were there and ran as NPC even if the player didn't show. Now we are running it where if you aren't there your PC is back at base camp if at all possible. That way you don't get killed when you aren't there, which has happened several times. But its sometimes unavoidable as in their current side quest.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Yes, exactly. I play with friends and they make it if they can - missing the game is its own punishment, I don't compound it.

As for 5e being more forgiving of level differences - I'm not sure I 100% agree.

5e has jumps in power. 3-4th isn't that different (but there is a jump - what with a feat/ASI etc) but 3-4th to 5th is very large (3rd level spells, 2nd attack etc.). Same goes for 7-8th vs 9th etc.

Basically, If you tier jump (4th vs 5th, 10 vs 11th etc.) the difference is huge - even for 1 level.

This last Gen Con I played quite a bit of Adventurer's League. Level differences in the party were not fatal - but they were quite noticeable and reinforced my choice to not impose that onto my group.
What mitigates concerns about cross-tier capability differences is the certainty that they won't exist for very long, sometimes not even an entire session, particularly if the challenges are geared toward the higher-level PCs. The lower-level PCs wrack up the XP. My experience with players in this regard is they LOVE it. It's the fastest they'll ever level, particularly in that D&D 5e "sweet spot" with dramatically slows progression.

What also offsets these concerns in my view is simply that the PCs aren't in competition with each other. They're on the same team. So I'm glad Ragnar Two-Tier with his two attacks per turn deigns to adventure with a lowly mook like me. He makes our team better. And soon I'll be able to be better on offense, too, thanks in no small part to the vicious monsters he slays for which I gain experience at a very high rate.

So, really the only objection that holds any water in my view is "I just don't like it." And that's fair enough - everyone likes what they like (or doesn't as the case may be). But after every D&D 5e campaign of mine having level and tier differences, these oft-touted concerns are really a bit overblown in my opinion.
 
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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
It doesn't incentivize passivity. Also, I'm perfectly open about how my system works and none of my players have taken issue with it.

Sure, a player could ride the coat tails of more active players, in theory. I can't think of a time that I've actually seen that happen.
Where I see it constantly, even though we use individual xp for the most part.

They realize that if they contribute, everyone (including themselves) will level faster.

Some players would rather be B.A. than Hannibal or Face (relatively quiet until it's time for combat). I don't have a problem with that. Back when we used individual XP, we did have an issue with multiple people competing to be Hannibal, to the point where it sometimes threatened to become a RL problem.
I'd posit that's a better outcome (provided people can keep in-game and RL separate; and if they can't then it's time for new players); unless most of the group happen to be roleplaying quiet characters there's naturally going to be some conflict.

I certainly don't see a reason that Hannibal or Face deserve to advance faster than B.A. simply because they enjoy taking center stage in scenes. Driving the action is its own reward (in that you get to steer events in the direction you envision). B.A. does participate, he's just not interested in stealing the show, outside of perhaps during combat.
Taking the A-Team into hypothetical territory for a moment: what if B.A. didn't do much in combat either?

There are many reasons a player might not really participate. It could simply be because that player is reserved and needs some time to warm up to the group (speaking as someone with rather bad social anxiety, for whom this has been an issue).
Fair enough, but if that player's character is contributing in other ways and taking its share of the risk then all is good.
It could be that this player isn't really interested in the game but just wants to hang out with their friends, and that those friends aren't bothered if he gets a "free ride".
Coat-tail riders bother me...not so much if I'm the DM (I can remain neutral and let the players sort it out), but certainly as a player: if, say, I and another player (let's call him Joe) are driving the action and taking the risks while the other two ride our coat-tails and do everything they can* to minimize the risk to their own PCs then I bloody well expect Joe's and my characters to advance faster than those of the others - if only as a trade-off to the fact that because we're the ones taking the risks it's much more likely that our PCs will be the ones who end up dead.

* - and this can IME often include just hanging in the back and doing nothing.

However, if a player really lacks any interest in your game and is bringing down the group as a result, then it's probably something that needs to be dealt with by having a chat outside of game.
Fine if I'm the DM, but not so easy if I'm just another player.
I can't imagine the player who is completely unmotivated when group XP is involved but suddenly becomes highly motivated as soon as individual XP is used.
My take goes the other way: group xp is extremely DE-motivating for the active players, eventually leading to a lowest common denominator situation - and a rather dull game. :)
 

Mort

Community Supporter
What mitigates concerns about cross-tier capability differences is the certainty that they won't exist for very long, sometimes not even an entire session, particularly if the challenges are geared toward the higher-level PCs. The lower-level PCs wrack up the XP. My experience with players in this regard is they LOVE it. It's the fastest they'll ever level, particularly in that D&D 5e "sweet spot" with dramatically slows progression.
Unfortunately, AL has a different way to level (basically 1 advancement point per hour played, 4 points per level needed levels 1-4, 8 points 5+ (or something like that) - though I understand they're changing that for the next season), you don't benefit from faster leveling, you slog through exactly the same regardless. It would be the same if you used milestones, no? Everyone levels, but the ones behind never actually catch up, unless the DM arbitrarily levels them up faster (in which case we no longer have a discussion).

What also offsets these concerns in my view is simply that the PCs aren't in competition with each other. They're on the same team. So I'm glad Ragnar Two-Tier with his two attacks per turn deigns to adventure with a lowly mook like me. He makes our team better. And soon I'll be able to be better on offense, too, thanks in no small part to the vicious monsters he slays for which I gain experience at a very high rate.
The players are not in competition with each other, true, but there is the irritant of watching Ragnar "Hey y'all watch this" as you provide cover. And again, depending on leveling method (as with AL) you may not actually catch up.

Was it a huge problem? Not really, and with AL, I think it's unavoidable. But it reinforced my preference to keep players the same level in my home game.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I can't imagine a table where someone doesn't contribute. That seems to be a failure of the DM to engage EACH player, right? A good way that I read recently here on the forums: after describing a scene, the DM might say "What do you do?" but instead of saying that to the whole group, pose the question to a each character: "What does Hrothgar do?" That ensures everyone is contributing on some level.
DM: "What does Hrothgar do?"
Player: <no response, didn't hear DM, is busy on Wastebook>
DM: "Hey, [Player]! What does Hrothgar do next?"
Player: <looks up from phone> "Oh, I don't know - what's the situation?"
DM: >facepalm< "I just described it..."

I see this all the time...but, while annoying, it bothers me far less than this:

Situation: the PCs for whatever reason need to get into a cave. They know there's a monster in there that's bigbad enough to be a serious threat and quite possibly cause death or other serious problems e.g. level drain.

Player A: "We know it's in there, we've got to take it out because there's no way in hell we're gonna sneak past it. There's not much room for open-field tactics, all we can do is buff up, sneak in as far as we can, then charge and hope for the best. Best if we can bottle it up and not give it too much room to move."
Players C, D, and E: <general agreement, along with some good suggestions and ideas etc. as their PCs prepare to stand in>
Player B: <in full knowledge the party's main tactic is to try to pin the foe in its cave by force of numbers> "I'll stay out here in case it tries to escape."
Player A: "How does that help us - if it escapes that means we're all dead, and if you're out here you're one less body to help pin it in the cave."
Player B: "You can all go in there to die if you want, I'm staying out here where I'll be safe."

<some argument follows, after which the PCs of Players A, C, D and E enter the cave, pull off their plan, and kill the foe (at cost of C's PC's life and some expensive gear owned by D's PC) with no help at all from Player B's PC>

Please tell me how or why Player B's PC deserves ANY xp for that battle. And while you're at it, tell me why Player C shouldn't be rather gassed off with Player B (be it in or out of character, either way works), whose participation in the battle would likely have made enough difference to keep C's PC alive.

And the above example is a rough paraphrase of a conversation I've actually had at the table, more than once (though in different in-game situations that don't always involve a monster in a cave), in one of the Player A, C, D or E positions.

No risk, no reward. It's only fair.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Unfortunately, AL has a different way to level (basically 1 advancement point per hour played, 4 points per level needed levels 1-4, 8 points 5+ (or something like that) - though I understand they're changing that for the next season), you don't benefit from faster leveling, you slog through exactly the same regardless. It would be the same if you used milestones, no? Everyone levels, but the ones behind never actually catch up, unless the DM arbitrarily levels them up faster (in which case we no longer have a discussion).
It depends on what you mean by "milestones." The DMG definition still has milestones tied to XP which is granted for completing "certain events or challenges." Since those are pegged to the same XP as a hard or medium difficulty encounter, those will scale and lower-level PCs will level up faster.

What most people mean when they say "milestones" is what the DMG actually calls "story-based advancement," which I discuss in a few posts upthread. In that scenario, since levels are tied to completing story goals with no XP as an intermediary, then yes, you ain't catching up. In this scenario, it's probably likely the DM is going to keep everyone the same level.

According to what you say about AL advancement, that sounds like a variation on what the DMG calls "session-based advancement" which essentially incentivizes attendance. That makes some amount of sense if you're trying to drive people to show up to the gaming store.
 

Mort

Community Supporter
DM: "What does Hrothgar do?"
Player: <no response, didn't hear DM, is busy on Wastebook>
DM: "Hey, [Player]! What does Hrothgar do next?"
Player: <looks up from phone> "Oh, I don't know - what's the situation?"
DM: >facepalm< "I just described it..."

I see this all the time...but, while annoying, it bothers me far less than this:

Situation: the PCs for whatever reason need to get into a cave. They know there's a monster in there that's bigbad enough to be a serious threat and quite possibly cause death or other serious problems e.g. level drain.

Player A: "We know it's in there, we've got to take it out because there's no way in hell we're gonna sneak past it. There's not much room for open-field tactics, all we can do is buff up, sneak in as far as we can, then charge and hope for the best. Best if we can bottle it up and not give it too much room to move."
Players C, D, and E: <general agreement, along with some good suggestions and ideas etc. as their PCs prepare to stand in>
Player B: <in full knowledge the party's main tactic is to try to pin the foe in its cave by force of numbers> "I'll stay out here in case it tries to escape."
Player A: "How does that help us - if it escapes that means we're all dead, and if you're out here you're one less body to help pin it in the cave."
Player B: "You can all go in there to die if you want, I'm staying out here where I'll be safe."

<some argument follows, after which the PCs of Players A, C, D and E enter the cave, pull off their plan, and kill the foe (at cost of C's PC's life and some expensive gear owned by D's PC) with no help at all from Player B's PC>

Please tell me how or why Player B's PC deserves ANY xp for that battle. And while you're at it, tell me why Player C shouldn't be rather gassed off with Player B (be it in or out of character, either way works), whose participation in the battle would likely have made enough difference to keep C's PC alive.

And the above example is a rough paraphrase of a conversation I've actually had at the table, more than once (though in different in-game situations that don't always involve a monster in a cave), in one of the Player A, C, D or E positions.

No risk, no reward. It's only fair.
Player B is violating the implied contract at the table that all players contribute to the fun of the group. This in no way means all players are in agreement all the time, it just boils down to "Don't be a jerk."

If Player B tries to pull the "well that's how my character would act" routine then the DM and the players need to remind Player B that designing characters that don't work with the group is also being a jerk. If the player changes, great, if not, well they shouldn't be invited back (I suppose that's a form of not giving them xp).
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Player B is violating the implied contract at the table that all players contribute to the fun of the group. This in no way means all players are in agreement all the time, it just boils down to "Don't be a jerk."
I guess I see "being a jerk" as something that has to be intentionally done; you can't be a jerk by doing nothing - even though you can at the same time be annoying. :)

If Player B tries to pull the "well that's how my character would act" routine then the DM and the players need to remind Player B that designing characters that don't work with the group is also being a jerk. If the player changes, great, if not, well they shouldn't be invited back (I suppose that's a form of not giving them xp).
And here I'll - perhaps paradoxically - come to the defense of Player B. "That's how my character would act" is perfect defense for absolutely anything a character does provided it's true to the character as previously played. Full stop. No debate.

BUT: the rest of the players are also fully entitled to respond accordingly in character, be it by kicking B's PC out of the party, forcing it to pay for C's revival and D's lost gear, or whatever. In other words, actions have consequences.

That's all in character. Metagame, the system should reward and incentivize taking action; and in this example giving B's PC xp for that battle does the exact opposite.
 

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