Why You Should Be Giving Out Experience Points
Starting this out, I know I am going to get disagreements about this topic, but it is something I feel very strongly about and I think it is the better way of leveling your players. I understand the common complaints of experience points: It makes the players stronger than a DM may want, its a lot of math at the end of the game, XP only encourages murderhobos and on and on.
Let’s go over a few of the arguments, and then let’s talk about how to make it easier on you to give out Experience and why you should be doing it.
This one probably annoys me the most when it comes to people complaining about Experience Points in place of Milestones or something else equally bad. If you, the GM, are sending hordes of monsters after your players, they are going to get stronger. They have little to no control over what type of monsters they face, and they should be rewarded for overcoming those encounters.
If a GM creates an encounter, they should be willing to give that experience to their players for overcoming it. If I send 30 goblins after my party, I have to be willing to accept they’ll get all that experience NO MATTER HOW they overcome that challenge. Experience Points shouldn’t just come from fighting, but that’s something else we will get too. If GMs are sending encounters at the party, the party is realistically going to get stronger, as they rightly should. They are getting more experienced, hence the name.
Lot of Math
It's late, you just finished four to six hours of a game and you don’t feel like doing the math. I understand that I’m not a fan of doing a lot of math… luckily I have a calculator on my phone or my computer or my tablet. Honestly, it's hard to get away from a calculator. Yes, it can be annoying to go through each creature and look up their CR, but there is an easy fix for that. When you design your encounters, just add the total XP right there with the encounter monsters.
Math shouldn’t be slowing you down when it comes to Experience Points. We are playing games that deal heavily with math and WE ENJOY IT! What’s stopping us from giving out that sweet XP? Are you scared that your players will get too powerful? See my point above, the players deserve to get stronger.
If your excuse is that you are scared that your players will become Murderhobos, again you are doing encounters wrong. Players should get Experience Points WHENEVER they overcome an encounter. That means they get the same amount of XP for killing the monster, as they do for sneaking around or for talking their way out of the encounter.
If you are worried players will only use their axes, then talk to your players and tell them that they get XP no matter how they handle situations so long as they OVERCOME the encounter and are victorious. If they run away either because their words failed or they got their asses handed to them, don’t give them full Experience Points, but still, give them a few points… there is learning to be had from failure. BUT! If they go back and overcome that encounter after a failure, give them the rest of those Experience Points... they earned it!
How To Overcome These Challenges
Now, those are just a few of the more common arguments for not giving out Experience Points and there more. But I’m not writing an entire article about why I think those people and arguments are wrong. Instead, I want to talk about how you can start easily incorporating Experience Points into your game and how it can make your games better.
Numbers Are Fun
The first reason why you should even do Experience Points is that players… well actually everyone loves watching numbers increase. When they get closer to the next level, they are more likely to be excited for the next session and start looking over their character. When I know my players are just a session or two away from their next level, you can feel the excitement in the air. They want new abilities! They want to feel like badasses, and I understand that feeling too! When my players get stronger, my monsters get stronger… which means I get to play with new abilities! But you only get that excitement when players are watching their numbers increase.
If you are the only one that knows when the PCs are going to level up, you aren’t sharing that excitement with the group. You are hoarding that for yourself, and that’s pretty selfish of you. Letting your players watch the numbers increase on their character sheet keeps excitement for the game going; by making them play session after session with no idea when they’ll hit next level… they’ll start losing interest in progressing. They’ll begin thinking to themselves: what does it matter? Why should I deal with these encounters when they have no impact on my character?
Players need to see that the effort they go through is rewarded, and you should do that with Experience Points.
It Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated
If you don’t like the idea of adding in hundreds of numbers and then dividing by the number of characters at the table, you don’t have to. There are several ways you can avoid doing that that still show growth for your players.
Adventure Checkpoints might be a useful solution for your table. Instead of giving out experience, you give out ACP and it is pretty simple to just think back to the situation and decide how much progression or experience they attained. From levels 1 to 4, they only need 4 points to level up. For levels 5 to 19 they need 8 points to level up. If you hand out 1 or 2 points a session, they’ll be seeing those numbers increase and get a bit of excitement for their next level. Here’s a Log Sheet available on DMs Guild.
But even that isn’t good enough for me. I wasn’t a fan of ACP when I ran AL as it felt too arbitrary to me and my players. They had a lot of good RP, they had some good fights… but only 1 ACP? Why is that? Well, of course, the GM has all the information and we can determine what that session looks like against the entire story… players don’t have that ability. That can be frustrating for them.
So what’s another easy method for handing out XP?
Flip to page 82 of your D&D 5th edition Dungeon Master’s Guide (2014) for the next answer. If you don’t have one on hand because you are a normal person who doesn’t sleep next to all their books… just look at the chart to the right.
This chart, while imposing at first, should be your best friend. This is presented as a way to help you build your encounters, but can be used in a much better fashion… it can tell you how much experience to hand out to each player.
At the end of a session, you can just hand out experience without doing a bunch of math. Just flip to this chart and give the characters experience based on the challenge of each encounter they went through. Was convincing the King that they weren’t spies hard? Locate the character’s level and then give them that experience each.
A level 1 party who had an easy fight with some kobolds? Give them 25 experience points each. A level 5 party who nearly died trying to fight Cryovain? Give them 1,100 experience points for their victory. But remember… experience shouldn’t only come from murdering things. If they were able to talk to those kobolds and convince them that the dragonborn among them is their god… they still get those 25 experience points. They earned it, they overcame the encounter.
Do It Every Session
At the end of every session, hand out that XP. If you forget, message them all immediately and give them that XP. D&D, and many other TTRPGs, are focused on increasing your character level with experience and its an important part of the game. By characters growing stronger, players become stronger in your world and are given the freedom to do even more.
We LOVE numbers increasing, and there is a reason why so many video games give out experience points. Its because it is important for the enjoyment of the game. By showing the players they are getting closer to the next level, they’ll be even more excited session after session trying to get to that next goal… and then be excited when they start getting closer to the goal after that. It gives them something to attain for that is an exciting event for every player, no matter how long they have been playing for.
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