View Full Version : nijineko's personal guide to story awards of xp in d&d.

03-27-2011, 01:59 PM
i am sorry i did not get to post in that other thread, so i will start a new one.

i would like this thread to stay strictly away from the topics that closed down the other thread. so much so that i won't even go in general descriptions of it. just please be aware.

as this is my personal guide, it is going to be full of personal opinions and things based on my admittedly odd world view. as such, some of it may seem nonsense to a lot of other people. please bear with it. thank you in advance.


What are story awards? In my experience, story awards are awards given for completing a side quest, discovering a plot point minor or major, achieving a goal major or minor that is essential to the plot, or in other ways accomplishing (or creatively circumventing) something the DM expected of you.

In contrast, what are not story awards? Roleplaying awards, Combat xp, encounter xp (usually non-combat), and in older versions of D&D - gold or treasure xp.

In reverse order, a brief explanation is in order.

Gold or treasure xp was once awarded at a set rate based on the amount of treasure or gp equivalent that was found adventuring.

Encounter xp is typically awarded for successfully solving or circumventing an encounter, and in some cases simply surviving it. This can include traps, puzzles, diplomatic or other skill-dependent encounters that do not involve combat directly. Complex encounters can actually become mini-quests or even full blown side-quests.

Combat xp is usually awarded for beating an opponent, or surviving one, or even running away. When faced with overwhelming odds, the party should be rewarded for doing the smart thing and fleeing, if appropriate. Otherwise one might be tempted into a TPK.

Roleplaying awards are given for two reasons, again, in my experience. One, to reward someone for doing an exemplary job roleplaying a given moment or scenario - also to be given to those for whom roleplaying is not the forte, but make efforts. Two, ad-hoc awards given for those inevitable times when the pcs break or ignore the intended plot.

In fine, accomplishments should be rewarded, based on roughly how involved, complex, or difficult it was to accomplish regardless of whether it was part of the intended plot or not. However, I confess openly that I would be very unlikely to reward behavior that I found personally morally ambiguous or offensive... regardless of game context. I would be slightly more lenient towards ethically ambiguous or offensive behavior, but not much. My own flaw as a DM, perhaps.

But my point is that the plot is not more important than the players input. Creative thinking, pursuing a goal or interest, even if that is not any of the 5 or so plot hooks that the DM dangled in front of the group, should be rewarded appropriately. More often than not, the players twist can be incorporated into the existing plot anyway, making it more interesting for everyone.

The only time it becomes a problem is when the DM cannot conceive of a way to work in what just happened, and just shuts the game down. Who says that was the main villain? Someone else was really pulling the strings, yeah, that's it. If the DM wants to show off the polished gem of inestimable beauty of a story line or plot they have created, then go write a book or an adventure / campaign module. Don't railroad a party through it by force - that way leads to despair for everyone. [/unintended rant]


As this is the guide for story awards, it will focus on that. However, a brief mention of how the system is designed is in order. This mention will not discuss the relative merits or flaws of said system, nor of the design philosophy either.

The basic D&D system assumes that encounters will be designed to use up roughly 10% (or 13.3bar%) of the party resources, and thus awards a similar amount of a level's worth of xp. Please feel free to correct me if I am off, I am writing this solely from memory without referencing my books or other resources.

Doing the math in my head, and assuming that the award is supposed to equal 13.3bar% of a level's worth of xp, then that translates to about 8 "standard" encounters per level up. Regardless of my accuracy, or how one feels about the system, it can at least give a common baseline from which we can deviate at our will and pleasure and to our own personal liking.

"Standard encounter", what a laugh. There are so many variables, from environment to player options to mix of characters to play style, that I categorically refuse to attempt to define what makes an encounter. It is worth noting that in designing an encounter, you need to know what ranges of ac the party can affect, what ranges of saves they can force, and what er/dr/immunities they can actually affect... and likewise for the DM combatants. It should be common sense that throwing a party against an incorporeal creature when they have no access to ghost touch, and limited spells (with only a 50% chance of affecting the target, to boot) should be considered a much higher encounter level than the MM suggests.

I like to make it easy on myself. I will lay out my plot, and break it down into a branching tree outline form by encounters. I usually aim for 10+/-3 encounters per level up. I identify each plot point and assign a DC to them. Each puzzle, each trap, each NPC encounter. I will build in side quests and mini-quests (I usually have a passel of templates that I pull from and mix'n'match). For skill based encounters, I look at how powerful the party is, and decide if the encounter should be easy, medium or hard for the given level of the party / individuals, and assign a skill DC or DCs accordingly. Combat encounters are planned in a similar fashion looking at spells, psionics, and class features, as well as combat stats.

This is all kept pretty simple, without going into too much detail. It is worth keeping track of the max ac, average ac, max attack, average attack, max saves, and average saves of the party as well as individual characters on a separate sheet for reference purposes just for these times. Compare it to the ranges of attacks, saves, and effects accessible along with your monster stats, and suddenly your encounter designing process is much easier.


The Pseudo formula for calculating story awards is as follows:

Consider the stats of your end boss / villain / encounter. (The real one, not your fake plot twist one just before that.) Calculate the min and max values needed to hit the AC, Save fail point, and so on. This gives you a range of numbers from needing a natural 20 to hit, to needing a 2 to hit, one for each save and for AC. Generate a second set of ranges including any ER, DR, and hardness adjustments into the calculation. You need to know both ranges, cause some players will figure out ways around ER, DR, and hardness, while others won't. These are your target values.

Consider the stats of your player characters at current. It helps if you do the work of calculating the Hit vs AC and Save ranges they can cause against an opponent.

If you have sub-bosses, or other major encounters plotted along the way, you will want to to a representative value of each major juncture of the campaign. This should result in your having about 10 (made up statistic) values for various enemies in increasingly difficult target ranges.

Next, compare your villain values with your pc values. This will give you a general idea of how hard that villain will be in combat. You can even do something similar for non-combat situations by setting skill DCs for NPC encounters. I usually set three DCs per NPC encounter. The lowest will give some info, the medium will give enough to get by on, the highest will give some special extra or shortcut. One can give ad hoc circumstance bonuses or penalties for good or poor approaches and methods of interacting with the NPCs as needed to cover player ingenuity.

By comparing the character values with the various villains values, you also get a general idea of what level a character will need to be to up the character values to be a good match for the encounters at a given point. Jot down these level approximates along with your plot notes.

With your newly derived level approximates, you then assign your various plot points appropriate amounts of story xp. (Again, I usually have a poor, fair, and excellent xp award depending on how well they accomplish, or circumvent, my encounters.) The exact amounts of xp are derived from the number of encounters you have planned versus the amount of xp they need to be at for any given point in your campaign.

This may seem like a lot of work, but if you do this, then even if they go seriously off course, you can determine a way to patch them back into the plot, or patch the plot back into the direction they are going, as the case determines, and you have a baseline understanding of what xp they need to be at no matter where they wind up. Even if you having to drop out a section of your plot, you still know how much xp they will need to be at by the next major plot point you are able to patch them back into, and can thus plan extra encounters accordingly.

Well, this is a little disjointed, but I hope my thought processes, with all of it's flaws and merits, is useful to some of you.

04-02-2011, 01:47 PM
That's a very interesting system.

What I generally use is in the 3.x Dragonlance Dungeon Master's screen:

Noncombat Awards
Challenge Type (=CR Award)
Simple (=Party Level-2)
Easy (=Party Level-1)
Average (=Party Level)
Difficult (=Party Level+1)
Formidable (=Party Level+2)

Mission Goals
Goal Achieved---Award Earned
Personal Goal, Minor---Current XP divided by 8
Personal Goal, Major---Current XP divided by 6
Party Goal, Minor---Current XP divided by 4
Party Goal, Major---Current XP divided by 2

Roleplaying Awards
Roleplaying Outcome---Award Earned
Mostly Favorable---25 XP per character level
Unfavorable---50 XP per character level
Extremely Unfavorable---100 XP per character level.

04-02-2011, 11:08 PM
i don't have hard fast numbers, except for the level by this encounter formula. some will be ahead, some behind, depending on success or failure. i do tend to award more for spectacular successes or failures.

i've noticed that when i have xp goals on my side of things, it practically plans my encounters for me. i know what range i'm trying to give them, and can slot thematically appropriate monsters of the right mix to grant the xp needed. success or failure will depend on the players, the dice, and me, and i can hold up my end.

Soft Serve
04-04-2011, 01:34 PM
Interesting and amazing post Niji. I can see how this kills some momentum damage later when you need a quick encounter and don't want to flip through your various fiend folios and monster manuals.

04-04-2011, 01:52 PM
I also wanted to add to that topic. Really wanted to say I have a very GENERAL way to do it. Assess its difficulty and measure that against the xp of defeating a monster of similar difficulty. I also give bonus xp for great RPing or really creative ideas. But I do it in a very ad hoc off the top of my head way.

Soft Serve
04-04-2011, 01:58 PM
I also wanted to add to that topic. Really wanted to say I have a very GENERAL way to do it. Assess its difficulty and measure that against the xp of defeating a monster of similar difficulty. I also give bonus xp for great RPing or really creative ideas. But I do it in a very ad hoc off the top of my head way.

Second. Although I am known to be too generous with my xp rewards sometimes. Niji's system could easily put an end to that for me.

04-04-2011, 03:10 PM
not to horn in on niji's post, wanted to add to it. I am not TOO generous, but usually if it is a non-combat encounter I have planned on the PC's overcoming, I'll specifically plan out how much to give out. But if they find some crazy way out of a combat encounter that I like, I'll give them usually the amount that combat would have given.

As for general story xp, like for finishing a quest, I just go by the 4e guidelines.

04-04-2011, 10:48 PM
i don't mind in the slightest. the more this and related ideas are discussed and expanded upon, the better of a toolkit we will all have to make use of.

my method is kinda odd, and (just to play opposite-advocate) when looked at from a session to session point of view, takes away some spontaneity. if one knows what goal of xp one is trying to have the players be at by a certain encounter in the story line, then i've noticed that for some it can sometimes be inhibiting in the granting of bonus xp, or make some reluctant to penalize for some reasonable cause, so that the players don't fall too far behind or get too far ahead. i myself have never minded disparate levels in a party. makes people cover for each other.

i like it because it is goal driven. i know that cr is an art, rather than science. so i don't sweat too much if the cr is up or down a few levels. environmental factors skew cr anyway, and the rules don't give suggestion for how to modify cr for the presence or absence of an effective means of dealing with the monsters. example in point: some of my characters are going through the against the giants adventure arc. we are now in the fire giants stronghold. the first two levels were a pain in the rear for me to deal with. my old tactics have been leaked and are no longer effective, especially with the presence of large numbers of casters. i haven't developed new tactics quite yet. but when i got down to the third level, it was all my game. natural rock caverns... anything starts to get hairy, and i drop the roof on them courtesy of a stone to sand spell. ^^ one change in environmental factors and i'm taking on higher cr groups than i should be able to. but up on the upper levels i can barely hold my own and frequently have to flee from cr appropriate or even slightly under groups. maybe i should just take out enough of the lower cavern that the upper levels just fall in.... ^^'

one advantage of my method is that i have a baseline. i know what xp range they should be at for every major encounter. having the baseline allows me to fine tune and make adjustments. i can add or skip encounters depending on how much flair they accomplish things with. if they totally trash an encounter, i'll bash 'em with xp, and they will feel so good. and i'll quietly skip and encounter or two to meet the goal. once i have the baseline, it is easier for me to judge the impact of deviating from it. and i also feel more comfortable doing so, to boot.

it's like the whole boy scout thing. you never do use everything in your pack, but you sure do feel more confident knowing that you could deal with all manner of stuff!! =D so i don't mind the prep work in advance.

now to be honest, there are certain campaigns where i'm just free-for-all too, and i don't use my system, but rather go ad-hoc spur of the moment. so, i use multiple methods, depending on the campaign and circumstances. ^^

Soft Serve
04-05-2011, 10:00 AM
not to horn in on niji's post, wanted to add to it. I am not TOO generous, but usually if it is a non-combat encounter I have planned on the PC's overcoming, I'll specifically plan out how much to give out. But if they find some crazy way out of a combat encounter that I like, I'll give them usually the amount that combat would have given.

As for general story xp, like for finishing a quest, I just go by the 4e guidelines.

That is typical of how my games are run. An encounter is an encounter and completing it is worth XP. Naming the ways to complete it (Encounter, Combat, Skill Challenge, etc) makes no difference. Flair and finesse? Of course you add for that.

04-17-2011, 06:05 PM
congrats on the rubber band ball. may it bounce its way off of many a distracted player's heads. ^^

Soft Serve
04-18-2011, 02:31 PM
Considering I made it at work, mine should probably be the first head bounced upon...

04-20-2011, 12:33 AM
heheheheh. just make it a chained bounce for half damage on surrounding opponents or co-workers. ^^

04-21-2011, 12:27 AM
My system is no system. I award xp on the basis of a percentage of the average level. I think they party did a 20% job, they get 20% of the next level.

I use to be into the whole math thing to the point of having an experience calculator on my C-64. Yea a custom basic program that calculated XP. I have concentrated on simplifying the process until I got where I am now.

04-21-2011, 09:00 PM
I already mentioned all of this in another thread. Hmmm, mostly.

04-21-2011, 11:37 PM
^^ some questions sprint forth eternal, i guess. ^^