XP for Absent Players

DM Dave1

Adventurer
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 had someone pull out their phone as we were engaged in what his character was doing in the scene. I guess I was the only one engaged. I was so flabbergasted, I just sort of trailed off and moved on to the other characters.

Anyway, strongly considering a no electronics rule at session zero in the next campaign I start up (except at breaks or for emergencies).

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).
While I award equal XP to everyone who attends a particular session, I agree this kind of behavior is breaking the social contract. Work as a team, people. In this specific example, I'd be tempted to whip up a wandering monster or two to harass the PC who stayed behind - not that player issues should be dealt with in-game solutions (which is kinda what the XP withholding does, too), but it would be a reminder that the seemingly "safe" play isn't always so. After a pattern of such behavior, the player (EDIT: after fair warning to change their ways) would be asked to leave the group in a one-on-one conversation with me.
 
Last edited:

Mort

Community Supporter
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. :)
The player is, intentionally, not helping the rest of the party - that's really all there is to it.

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.
Designing a character that consistently deliberately detracts from the fun of the table is being a jerk, the player either needs to stop or not be invited back. If they players are having fun with the behavior then that's fine, but if a player is being disruptive and sucking out the fun - hiding behind his character isn't going to cut it.

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.
The character learned that holding back is awesome, threat neutralized, no risk to him. He certainly gained experience.

The player should learn that such behavior will not be tolerated by the other players.

I've long since found that trying to deal with this particular issue "in game" just leads to silly resentments and petty behavior.

A chat out of game, however, tends to resolve the problem.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I had someone pull out their phone as we were engaged in what his character was doing in the scene. I guess I was the only one engaged. I was so flabbergasted, I just sort of trailed off and moved on to the other characters.

Anyway, strongly considering a no electronics rule at session zero in the next campaign I start up (except at breaks or for emergencies).
Hmm. I run mostly online so I can't have a "no electronics" rule. Players could be fiddling with their phone or tabbed out in adult video sites for all I know. Dead air is super painful and obvious though and for whatever reason we don't get much of that. I can't put my finger on why. Maybe you'll see something useful to try when you play in my upcoming one-shot.
 

Retreater

Adventurer
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, in this example, is what my group would call "a garbage-tier" player. Give him the XP but tell him he's being a fungus and to stop being such a loser. If he does it again, kick him out of the group. I personally don't have time for wangrods at my table.
 

cbwjm

I can add a custom title.
I think I must be lucky in that I have never run a game or played in a game where people don't work together. Everyone seems to be of the understanding that there is an adventure and were all running through it together so I've never had a case where someone stays outside a quest location because it's "safe".

I have had games where some people pull out their phone, something I've been guilty of as well, never had it happen as the player was engaged though, that's just bad form. I'm sharing all of my DnD beyond content with my current group so right now everyone is using phones or tablets. Even if that wasn't the case, not sure if want to instigate a no electronics rule, in general my players ha e been engaged when it counts.
 

S'mon

Legend
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.
If I'm running a game where non participation is acceptable behaviour, it needs to be an individual XP game. In a group XP tally game "everyone fights -nobody quits".
 

Fanaelialae

Adventurer
Where I see it constantly, even though we use individual xp for the most part.

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.

Taking the A-Team into hypothetical territory for a moment: what if B.A. didn't do much in combat either?

Fair enough, but if that player's character is contributing in other ways and taking its share of the risk then all is good.
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.

Fine if I'm the DM, but not so easy if I'm just another player.
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. :)
It sucks that some of the people you game with do those kinds of things. If someone insisted on that sort of behavior with my groups, we'd make it clear that this sort of behavior isn't tolerated. If they continued to insist, they simply wouldn't be welcome back.

That isn't to say that people in my groups don't use phones. Some of them use apps to manage spells, or want to look something up in the game's wiki. They might send a brief text message, if it can't wait. All perfectly valid uses. But I've never seen it become disruptive, and I've certainly never seen a player on social media sites while gaming. I can understand having a greater interest in hanging out than with the game itself (had a few of those types) but if you're completely disengaged and focused on your phone you're not even hanging out. Why is that person even at the table?

Given that your group is using individual XP and yet some players are still exhibiting this undesirable behavior, don't you think that individual XP is (at best) just a band-aid? Don't get me wrong, if you're fine with the behavior so long as you get extra XP, and everyone else at the table is happy with the situation, whatever works for you. However, it doesn't seem like a functional solution for anyone looking to eliminate the root behavior of disengagement.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Counter-Nomophobia XP Award
If you do not take out your smartphone during play outside of designated break periods, you gain +10% XP over what you earned over the course of the session.

Adjust percentage according to the severity of smartphone addiction that needs to be combated at your table.
 

Legatus_Legionis

< BLAH HA Ha ha >
We always did it that XP was only awarded after the module was finished.

For each session a player was able to participate, they got 1 share of the XP.

If they were able to be at 7 of 8 sessions, they get 7 shares of XP.

It does not matter if half those sessions were just traveling or getting rumours etc from the local taverns. It all was to advance the story.

So having one player miss 7 sessions, but was only there for the climax (where most of the XP/treasure was had), also only get 1 share.

Otherwise, players would want to "skip" the boring parts and only show up for the big battle/treasure room.

This also rewards those players who were at the game during all those other times.

PLUS, I always give extra XP for Role Playing.
AD&D DMG, 1995, page 70, Chapter 8 "Individual XP Awards - optional"
or
AD&D DMG, 1989, page 48, Chapter 8 "Individual XP Awards - optional"
 

Kinematics

Explorer
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.
This touches on something I mentioned earlier: People are conflating two different issues here. The original thread topic was dealing with XP distribution for absent players — people who are not actually at the game session. Then people brought in issues about giving XP to players who are at the game, but not contributing in whatever manner. That is an entirely separate issue, and its solution has nothing to do with the use of XP to incentivize attendance, or to minimize tracking headaches, or to keep the game balanced.

It's using a symptom of a problem (ie: a player getting XP who didn't "deserve" it) and using that to define how you handle XP, when that's really the wrong tool for the job. You can, for example, still use milestone leveling while telling a problem player, "No, you don't go up a level. Because you were being a hindrance to the game, and/or Because I said so."

The choice of XP handling should be chosen because of how you want the game to work. It shouldn't be influenced by how you want to handle out-of-game issues.
 

Larnievc

Explorer
For more than 30 years I've been awarding half XP for players who miss the gaming session. What are considerations for changing this approach and awarding the same XP to everyone, absent or present?

ETA: Playing 5E, don't care at all about characters all being the same level.

Part of me argues that missing some of the XP isn't a punishment since they're getting some of the reward for their character's participation, but I can see the counter-argument that the character is still facing all the same risks (indeed potentially more risk by letting someone else play the character) but getting less reward.

I'd say our usual thought process has been the second option that Kinematics listed in post 30 below. And I'm reflecting on the posts here to see if I want to change it.
Everyone I’m my game get the same experience.

I can’t be doing with player inequality.
 

Larnievc

Explorer
After all, it's not like you're going to kill off their character when they aren't even there.
Dunno about that. A guy in my group died and rolled up a new guy (level 10). Played one session, went on holiday: his guy was there when a cave dragon breathed and failed his DM made save.

Dead but resurrected (two sessions later).

It does happen.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
This touches on something I mentioned earlier: People are conflating two different issues here. The original thread topic was dealing with XP distribution for absent players — people who are not actually at the game session. Then people brought in issues about giving XP to players who are at the game, but not contributing in whatever manner.
I did this in part because I see xp as a character reward, independent of and not associated with the player. Doesn't matter if the player's there or not, if the character contributes it gets xp.

Hence my points about characters who don't contribute getting the same xp as those who do being a problem, and on it went from there.

It's using a symptom of a problem (ie: a player getting XP who didn't "deserve" it) and using that to define how you handle XP, when that's really the wrong tool for the job. You can, for example, still use milestone leveling while telling a problem player, "No, you don't go up a level. Because you were being a hindrance to the game, and/or Because I said so."
As soon as you do it that way you're heading straight into the morass of "DM favouritism" accusations; and that never ends well.

Instead, track individual xp by encounter - and even sometimes ask the players "Who all got in on that?". (I just keep a list of PC names; for each encounter I add a column by the list with tick marks for who got in, then figure out the actual numbers later)

The choice of XP handling should be chosen because of how you want the game to work. It shouldn't be influenced by how you want to handle out-of-game issues.
Character risk-taking and involvement are very much in-game issues; I'd like to encourage action rather than cowardice, and the xp system I use reflects that as best it can.
 
I award both group and individual xp. XP is awarded for achieving goals (determined by the players). Everyone gains group xp, upon achieving a goal that the group has pursued together. Individuals gain individual xp for goals they have pursued separately from the group.

Characters whose players miss a lot of sessions tend to have somewhat less xp than characters whose players are present more often, but not by a lot, and small differences in level have not had a noticeable impact on player enjoyment.
 

Maestrino

Villager
Philosophically, D&D is a game. To have fun. That you play with friends. So, if one person has to miss a session now and again, I'd rather not punish them when they're already missing out. They gain XP with everyone else. XP isn't keeping a score to "win" D&D - it's just a method of determining when you get to unlock the next cool ability for your character, and when the bad guys get tougher.
 

mortwatcher

Explorer
Counter-Nomophobia XP Award
If you do not take out your smartphone during play outside of designated break periods, you gain +10% XP over what you earned over the course of the session.

Adjust percentage according to the severity of smartphone addiction that needs to be combated at your table.

I personally have no issues with players using their phones as long as it is game-related

we have this vast resource of information of rules/rulings that can be quickly looked up to clarify thing, spells that can be clarified etc.

personally I find it much easier to find what a spell does by quick google search than browsing through the book and a person looking something up in the book is as much disengaged as the one looking something up on their phone imo
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I personally have no issues with players using their phones as long as it is game-related

we have this vast resource of information of rules/rulings that can be quickly looked up to clarify thing, spells that can be clarified etc.

personally I find it much easier to find what a spell does by quick google search than browsing through the book and a person looking something up in the book is as much disengaged as the one looking something up on their phone imo
I don't have an issue with it either, but some people do, and that's perhaps a tool to try out to see if it improves the situation.
 

DM Dave1

Adventurer
I personally have no issues with players using their phones as long as it is game-related

we have this vast resource of information of rules/rulings that can be quickly looked up to clarify thing, spells that can be clarified etc.

personally I find it much easier to find what a spell does by quick google search than browsing through the book and a person looking something up in the book is as much disengaged as the one looking something up on their phone imo
I'm on the pencil and paper side of things when playing in person... though I have used my phone from time to time to look stuff up quickly. It's just that D&D is an escape from my otherwise device filled work day and it actually feels good for me to be away from the screen for a few hours at a go.

To prevent the dreaded "look up the spell in the PHB during my turn" syndrome, I encourage all players to print a custom spell sheet from www.dnd-spells.com (or equivalent). Then please try to actually read it between sessions to gain more familiarity with these things that are of some import to your character and increase the speed at which you can take your turn.
 

Maestrino

Villager
For that, I have to say - D&D Beyond's character sheet is freaking amazing for spellcasters. Don't remember what a spell does? Click on the name - the details pop open in the window. No page turning. The drawback is you have to pay D&D Beyond to access all the content, and it's only for 5e.
 

Advertisement

Top