(DM Only) How to Handle XP Awards in Encounters

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This topic came up in my Q&A thread, but it's so important I thought I'd address it here:

When it comes to awarding XP, many DMs and players are having issues with the math--PCs seem to level at odd times and close out sessions being 50ish XP short, etc., etc. But since the purpose of this whole thing is fun, let me share a little of my background thinking and also suggest what to do about it.

In short: Relax and do what's fun. Let people advance when they get *close* to a level, and let your assumption be that it's just a matter of numerical error.

In long:

First, let me observe that dealing with XP is extremely dicey when writing these things. We'll be dealing with players who've been to every session, a few sessions, none at all, etc., and I tried to write the adventure to appeal to all levels of experience. So as a DM, what this means is that you have to be a little lenient/fluid as regards the XP at your table.

My intention: The way I did the math and set it up initially was that characters level up to level 2 basically at the end of chapter 2, to level 3 at the end of chapter 3, then finish out the season fairly close to 4th level. Players who have also played the Game Day should have a little head start, and can actually hit fourth level before the final battle. (Whether it still works out mathematically that way is open to interpretation.)

Also, unless there's a compelling fun reason for your PCs to level up only at extended rests, I'm totally cool with PCs leveling during short rests. Though keep in mind a level isn't a *reset* of all your HP and healing surges and daily powers--you just add on what you get for the new level.

There is absolutely no intention to make people scrimp and worry over the math. I'd say that if you have players who are chomping at the bit to go up to the next level but are still 50 or 100 xp short, go ahead and advance them. People should level up as is appropriate for their fun level and your story.

Thanks, Erik! I had a feeling that mentioning this on the forum would result in a satisfactory answer. I know the math can be tricky, especially when balancing so many factors of "this player might not have played this session or that one" in figuring out what level a PC should be.

The only compelling reason to have PCs level at extended rests is RAW. As written, I am pretty sure that PCs are supposed to level only at extended rests.

I think at my group, I'll let the PCs level at both milestones and extended rests, with milestones not resetting any surges/dailies spent that day.
Good call, Mortaine. In my own campaigns, I ignore that whole "only at extended rests" thing, and it doesn't detract from the game any. Limiting it to milestones makes great sense.

It's also partly the format of the one-encounter-a-week program: It can be kinda lame to run through 6 weeks of playing every week before you hit a new level, even if you're playing less than a standard home game might play.

On RAW: I've never been much of a hardcore RAW kind of guy. I tend toward the old school TSR style of thinking of all the rules as guidelines, now go out and have fun.

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