If you’ve read the House Rules section of my blog, you know I don’t put much stock in XP. I don’t use it, and I rarely care for it. I like advancing characters based on story milestones and when “feels” right. Of course, you can’t just have the “Experience” section of the Dungeon Master’s Guide tell a DM to advance a player, “when it feels right.” You have to provide some more solid guidelines, as well. That’s why we have experience points.
And experience points give the Dungeon Master something. It lets him or her create an XP budget that measures the difficult of an encounter. This gauge is helpful for a starting Dungeon Master. It tells him or her whether the players will be crushed beneath the heel of the monsters, or cut the Achilles from it.
If you’ve DMed a few games of D&D for the same group, you know a party’s strengths and weaknesses. Fairly quickly, a DM can judge the difficulty of an encounter without counting up XP. You expect about five creatures in an encounter for a five PC party, and you can swap two monsters for one elite, or three monsters for a couple higher level monsters, and so on. Determining encounter difficulty becomes an intuitive process, one catered to your group.
That’s why I say minions shouldn’t be worth XP. Neither should hazards or traps. In fact, while we’re at it, monsters shouldn’t be worth XP either. Now, I’m not condoning the complete demise of XP (even if that’s what I do in my own game). Instead, I’m suggesting a new way for determining experience. Award XP based on the encounter’s actual difficulty.
“But isn’t the encounter’s difficulty already proportional to the experience amount?” you ask. Nope. And that’s because there are many variables in an encounter. Like dice. Turns out there’s a lot of luck involved when you’re rolling dice for everything you do. (Yeah, yeah, law of averages and all. Whatever.) Also turns out that terrain and other complications in an encounter affect the difficulty as well, and they’re not necessarily worth XP in the traditional way. A lot depends on the group. An encounter full of low hit point monsters like lurkers and artillery might be easier for a group with extra strikers than a group with a couple defenders. A lot of traps only get off one attack and then become obsolete. Those probably shouldn’t be worth the equivalent amount of experience of a standard monster.
And then there’s minions. If you haven’t read Chris Sims’s article on minions, I heartily recommend it. Minions are indeed spice, and they are the empty calories in my XP budget. Four monsters is rarely equivalent to a standard monster. Of course, there are situations—especially if you lack a controller or multi-attacker—where minions can really complicate an encounter, especially if you use like 10.
So ditch the normal experience allotment. Or calculate experience and then allow yourself to adjust it plus or minus 20 percent based on the circumstances that arise in an encounter. You could even poll your players and ask them to rate the encounter’s difficult on a scale of 1 to 5.
Just don’t let on that 5 means they get more XP. 🙂