There are two categories of experience point awards: group and individual. Group awards are divided equally among all members of the adventuring party, regardless of each individual's contribution. The idea here is that simply being part of a group that accomplishes something teaches the player character something useful.
From a strictly game mechanics point of view, this ensures that all player characters will have the opportunity to advance in experience points at roughly the same rate. Individual awards are optional, given to each player based on the actions of his character.
All characters earn experience for victory over their foes. There are two important things to bear in mind here. First, this award applies only to foes or enemies of the player characters—the monster or NPC must present a real threat. Characters never receive experience for the defeat of non-hostile creatures (rabbits, cattle, deer, friendly unicorns) or NPCs (innkeepers, beggars, peasants). Second, no experience is earned for situations in which the PCs have an overwhelming advantage over their foes.
A 7th-level player character who needs one more experience point to advance in level can't just gather his friends together and hunt down a single orc. That orc wouldn't stand a chance, so the player character was never at any particular risk. If the same character had gone off on his own, thus risking ambush at the hands of a band of orcs, the DM could rule that the character had earned the experience.
The DM must decide what constitutes a significant risk to the player characters. Often it is sufficient if the characters think they are in danger, even when they are not. Their own paranoia increases the risk (and enhances the learning experience). Thus, if the party runs into a band of five kobolds and becomes convinced that there are 50 more around the next corner, the imagined risk becomes real for them. In such a case, an experience point reward might be appropriate.
The characters must be victorious over the creature, which is not necessarily synonymous with killing it. Victory can take many forms. Slaying the enemy is obviously victory; accepting surrender is victory; routing the enemy is victory; pressuring the enemy to leave a particular neck of the woods because things are getting too hot is a kind of victory.
A creature needn't die for the characters to score a victory. If the player characters ingeniously persuade the dragon to leave the village alone, this is as much—if not more—a victory as chopping the beast into dragonburgers!
Here's an example of experience point awards: Delsenora and Rath, along with their henchmen, have been hired to drive the orcs out of Wainwode Copse. After some scouting, they spring several ambushes on orc raiding parties. By the third shattering defeat, the orcs of Wainwode decide they've had enough. Leaving their village, they cross the range of hills that marks the boundary of the land and head off for easier pickings elsewhere.
Although Delsenora and Rath have caused the orc village of 234 to leave, they only get the experience for overcoming the 35 they bested in ambushes. Although they did succeed in driving off the others, they did not face them and were thus not exposed to personal risk. Even if they had raided the orc village, the DM should only give them experience for those orcs they directly faced. If, in the village, they routed the guards, pursued them, and caused them to run again, they would only receive experience for the guards once during the course of the battle. Once beaten, the guards posed no significant threat to the party. However, Rath and Delsenora have accomplished their mission of driving out the orcs, making them eligible for the XP award for completing a story goal.
To determine the number of XP to give for overcoming enemies, use Table 31. Find the Hit Dice of the creature on the table. Add the additional Hit Dice for special powers from Table 32 and find the adjusted Hit Dice. Add this number to the current Hit Dice value, so that a 1 + 1 Hit Die creature with +2 Hit Dice of special abilities becomes a 3 + 1 Hit Dice creature for calculation purposes.
This formula produces an experience point value. Multiply this value by the number of creatures of that type defeated and add together all total values. The result is the total XP the group earns. It should be divided among all of the group's surviving player characters.
For example, the player characters manage to defeat three orcs, a rust monster, and a green slime. Each orc is worth 15 XP, since they are one Hit Die each and have no special abilities. The rust monster is worth 420 XP. It has five Hit Dice but gains a bonus of +2 for a special magical attack form (rusting equipment). The green slime is worth 175 XP, since its base two Hit Dice are increased by 3 for a special non-magical attack form and immunity to most spells and weapons. The player characters divvy up a total of 640 XP.
Not all powers and abilities are listed on Table 32 . When dealing with a power not on the list, either use the special entries or compare the new power to one already defined.
The other group award is that earned for the completion of an adventure. This award is determined by the DM, based on the adventure's difficulty. There is no formula to determine the size of this award, since too many variables can come into play. However, the following guidelines may help.
The story award should not be greater than the experience points that can be earned defeating the monsters encountered during the adventure. Thus if the DM knows there are roughly 1,200 experience points worth of monsters, the story award should not exceed this amount.
The story award should give a character no more than 1/10th the experience points he needs to advance a level. This way the character will have to undertake several adventures before he can advance to the next level.
Within these guidelines you have a great deal of leeway. One of the most important uses of story awards is to maintain what you feel is the proper rate of advancement for player characters. By monitoring not just their levels, but also their experience point totals, you can increase or decrease the rate of character advancement through judicious use of story awards.
Finally, you can award points on the basis of survival. The amount awarded is entirely up to you. However, such awards should be kept small and reserved for truly momentous occasions. Survival is its own reward. Since story and survival awards go hand in hand, you may be able to factor the survival bonus into the amount you give for completing the adventure.
Once you have calculated all the experience points due your group of player characters (and you should do this, not your players), divide the total by the number of surviving and (at the DM's option) resurrected player characters. This is the amount each surviving character gets.
Although characters who died during the course of an adventure normally earn no experience (one of the penalties of dying), you can allow a character to earn some experience for actions taken before he died, particularly if the character died nobly,
through no fault of his own, or at the very end of the adventure. In such a case, it is
simpler to give the character a flat award than to try to determine separate experience totals for those actions the character was involved in and those he was not.
As an option, the DM can award XP for the cash value of non-magical treasures. One XP can be given per gold piece found. However, overuse of this option can increase the tendency to give out too much treasure in the campaign.
Individual Experience Awards (Optional Rule)
Individual experience point awards are given for things a player does or things he has his character do. Intelligent play is worth experience; good role-playing is worth experience; actions that fit the group's style are worth experience.
Although some of these awards are tied to abilities, giving out these experience points is purely a discretionary act. It is up to the DM to decide if a player character has earned the award and, within a given range, to determine the amount of the award. These awards are normally given at the end of each session, but this isn't a hard-and-fast rule—the DM can award individual experience points any time he feels it appropriate.
Individual experience point awards are divided into two categories. First are awards all player characters can earn, regardless of class. After these are the awards characters can earn according to their character group and class. This information is given on Tables 33 and 34.
When awarding individual experience points, be sure the use warrants the award. Make it clear to players that awards only will be given for the significant use of an ability or spell. "Significant use" is defined by a combination of several different factors. First, there must be an obvious reason to use the ability. A thief who simply climbs every wall he sees, hoping to gain the experience award, does not meet this standard.
Second, there must be significant danger. No character should get experience for using his powers on a helpless victim. A fighter does not gain experience for clubbing a shackled orc. A mage does not gain experience for casting a house-cleaning cantrip. A thief does gain experience for opening the lock on a merchant's counting house, since it might be trapped or magical alarms might be triggered.
Third, experience points should not be awarded when a player is being abusive to others in the group or attempting to use his abilities at the expense of others. Player characters should cooperate to succeed.