When I started running D&D for my friends out of my apartment, I tried to simplify the game as much as possible. The fewer things I had to think about, the more I could focus on the story, the players, and the rules I knew we couldn’t play without. There was still a lot of looking up rules and referencing manuals back then, but not so much that it interrupted the flow of our fun. When considering what to ignore during my game prep, calculating experience was one of the first things to go. And rightly so! Math takes time: time we would rather spend playing. Having the party level up when certain story beats wrapped up or villains were defeated made a lot more sense.
Now that I’ve got a little more experience (pardon the pun) under my belt, I prefer to calculate XP for players at my table. I keep track of it on simple Excel documents I share with my players via Google Drive and other avenues. The calculations don’t take much time, and I’ve found that I can encourage my players to be more engaged and prepared at the table by implementing a little system I developed.
A common complaint about XP is that level progression feels slower than earning levels when you reach milestones in the story. But when my players heard that they could potentially DOUBLE the XP they earned every session, that complaint vanished. And all they had to do to earn it was practice a little etiquette at the table. By simply observing a few good behaviors, they could potentially level up sooner than their friends! And the contest was on…
Here's how to use the system at your table. First, tally up the XP values listed in the stat blocks for all the monsters they defeated, as well as a percentage (I usually recommend half) of any encounters they avoided by good rolls or roleplay. Whether or not the players perceived the threat, make sure to award them the XP. The assassin disguised as the barmaid counts as an encounter even if she didn’t get one of the party members alone. Be sure to award some extra XP for surviving, disarming, or avoiding traps as well. Also consider awarding a bonus amount of XP if a story milestone was reached. Add up the XP for all the Party’s Accomplishments for the session and determine the total XP.
Whatever that number is, divide it evenly amongst the players who attended the session. Don’t play favorites here! Everyone gets the same amount for making time to play on a regular basis. Players need to have those efforts rewarded just as much as their characters do. If you have 4 players in your party, divide the XP 4 ways. Each player’s share of the total XP will henceforth be called the “base XP”.
Now each individual player has a chance to MULTIPLY their XP based on their performance as a PLAYER. That’s not to say their performance in an artistic, theatrical sense, but rather their habits and behaviors before and during the game. Each good player behavior multiplies the base XP by a certain amount, stacking with other multipliers granted by other good behaviors, culminating in a chance to DOUBLE the base XP value! The good player habits are as follows:
Attendance x 1.2
Players who are respectful of the dungeon master and their fellow players’ time by showing up early or on time earn a 1.2 times multiplier to their base XP. I’m usually pretty generous with this one, allowing players who inform me ahead of time that they’ll be running late to still earn this XP, so long as we did not have to waste any game time calling or texting trying to find out where they were.
Social Interaction x 1.2
I tend to run very social games, with lots of NPCs, side quests, and subplots. I spend a lot of time working on these elements for my players, so it delights me when they engage with them. I’m especially grateful when the party tries to use social leverage and subterfuge rather than relying on murder-hobo violence to solve their problems. Players whose characters regularly engage with NPCs, ask questions, and make an effort to discover more than meets the eye earn a 1.2 multiplier to their base XP.
Exploration x 1.15
If you’ve been running D&D long, you’ll be familiar with the pain of having painstakingly designed an intricate dungeon just to have the party beeline to the end and walk back out the way they came, ignoring some fun elements you wished they’d have seen. I encourage my players to open closed doors, look for clues, seek out new NPCs, and hunt for treasure by awarding characters that consistently take such risks a 1.15 times multiplier to their XP.
Good Roleplay x 1.2
Nobody is forced to roleplay at my table. People are welcome to interact with the game only as much as they want to. Roleplaying takes effort, after all. But for those players who put in the effort to play their characters in a thoughtful, consistent manner, I offer a reward. Players who stay engaged and don’t make us repeat ourselves, whose characters are able to use the names of NPCs and locations in our campaign, and interact with the other players’ characters in meaningful ways can earn a 1.2 times multiplier at my table. (This is also the easiest way for a character to earn Inspiration from the DM!)
Keeping Up With Your Sheet x 1.15
Characters change a lot over the course of the campaign. They unlock new abilities, acquire new items, learn new spells, expend ammunition, and much more. It is a lot to keep up with, and no Dungeon Master can do it all for all their players. Consequently, players who keep their character progression, choices, spells, and inventory up-to-date earn extra XP for their characters, to the tune of a 1.15 times multiplier. My players use dndbeyond to keep track of their information these days, which makes things much easier on both them and me, but I’d award the same XP for managing a sheet on Roll20, Fantasy Grounds, or even good ol’ pencil and paper.
Being Active Online
This one will vary depending on your group. My main group uses Discord to communicate with one another for scheduling, attendance, party decisions, and announcements concerning the game. Others use Facebook Messenger, text groups, online forums, or other mediums. However you communicate, it is important that the group stay active on that platform, not waiting til the last minute to participate in important decisions. Even if they don’t feel the need to comment regularly, as many people have varying degrees of comfort with that sort of thing, I do reward those who stay abreast of the conversation and vote on time-sensitive matters like whether or not to skip a session. Players who stay connected can earn a 1.1 times multiplier to their base XP.
So let’s say there were four players at my weekly game: Adam, Betty, Chad, and Dave. They earned 10,000 XP as a party by killing an Adult White Dragon. Divided four ways, each player ends the session with a base 2,500 XP.
Adam hadn’t finished up levelling his character sheet before game time, and we had to spend the first few minutes of the session getting him squared away. No bonus for Keeping Up With His Sheet, but he was very attentive during the session, made dynamic decisions, and kept in contact with the group through the week, making my job easier. Since he earned merits in all other categories, he earns a bonus x1.85 multiplier to his base XP, making his new total 4,625 XP!
Betty and Chad are both always on time (easy, because we play at their place), always engaged in our discord chat, and are always eager to push the envelope when it comes to roleplay and exploration. They almost always earn the full x2 bonus each week, except under unusual circumstances. Both of them earn a full 5,000 XP!
Dave has fun playing D&D with us each week, but has a lot going on outside the game. He’s taking online classes to get his degree, and his band takes up a lot of his free time. He likes to unwind and play with his friends, but it’s hard for him to properly prepare and communicate his changing schedule. Even when he does get to play, he’s usually late, and doesn’t always have his sheet updated. Still, as the party’s bard, he’s always sure to be involved in the goings on in game. He still earns a x1.55 multiplier for Exploration, Good Roleplay, and Social Interaction. His total for the session is still 3,875!
These numbers aren’t radically different over the course of just one game, but players will begin to see a definite lead forming for those who personify a considerate, prepared player over the course of a campaign. To catch up to them, players will begin to emulate those behaviors. Soon, a definite change will be felt at the table.
When I start a new campaign, I present this XP system to my players before the first session. We take the time to discuss each point and I answer questions they may have. I also promise them to be open about how I calculate the XP, showing my work and which multipliers were earned. I also make it clear that these multipliers are bonuses awarded for exemplary behavior. Everyone who shows up and participates will receive full XP for the session! These are simply rewards for the players who go above and beyond.
My players regularly check my spreadsheet to make sure they each received the full x2 multiplier. They come to my table on time, well-prepared, and eager to engage. I’ve remained consistent and open about how I’ve awarded the multipliers, and not one player has ever questioned or contested the amount of XP they earned. Often, if a player misses out on a fraction of the bonus XP, they strive even harder to earn it during the next session!
Below you’ll find a copy of the XP system I send to my players before each campaign, and a sample spreadsheet similar to the ones I use to track XP in my games. I hope this system works for you as well as it works for us!
Rob Franklin has been behind the screen running Dungeons & Dragons for seven years. Recently having turned his passion into his profession, he loves to share his experience and enthusiasm for tabletop roleplaying. His opinions can be found here and on twitter @dndwannabe.