My simple XP rules: 1 XP per encounter

I know I’ll never fully embrace OD&D because I hate using charts. I prefer simple, easily internalized rules, like 3e’s Base Attack Bonus, rather than 1e’s Attack Matrix charts. 4e’s XP system still has a big ol’ level-advancement chart at the center of it, along with XP entries for every creature in the Monster Manual (which I often don’t use).

The 4e XP system has been formalized and math-checked, which means one of D&D’s central problems is more obvious than it has ever been: it suffers from “inflating-numbers-that-don’t-do-a-goddamn-thing-itis.” At level 1, you fight 10 battles in order to collect 1,000 XP. At level 10, you fight 10 battles to collect 20,500 XP. The specific amount of XP per battle changes, but the number of battles doesn’t.

There’s a historical reason for that. In old D&D, your XP was tied to your income. Since high-level characters won richer and richer treasures, XP totals per level had to rise. Now that characters don’t get 1 XP per GP earned, however, there’s no reason that XP needs to stick to that inflationary model.

Besides, calculating XP is kind of a pain: it involves flipping around in various books to add XP from monsters and traps, and dividing by the number of PCs.

I can’t be bothered to calculate XP, but I’m not ready to totally dump the idea of leveling up. Having the DM bestow levels arbitrarily takes away some of the treadmill charm of D&D. So here’s the super-simple XP system I use nowadays.

Every level costs 10 XP.

Most battles provide 1 XP. Boss battles provide 2 XP.

Same with quests and skill challenges: 1 XP, or 2 XP for major quests/challenges.

There are some minor variations here from the standard XP system:

  • XP differences between hard and easy battles are not so granular. Personally, I think this is fine, especially since the difficulty of a battle often has as much to do with circumstances and terrain as with the XP budget.
  • Quest XP is vastly higher in my system. In standard 4e, a minor quest gives about 1/5 the XP of one encounter, and a major quest as much XP as one encounter. This is probably a tiny fraction of the XP gathered from battles along the course of the quest. Video game RPGs, on the other hand, often give huge quest XP bonuses. This is great, because it’s weird when saving the world grants much less of a reward than fighting a random encounter.
  • It’s impossible to forget. You can give XP on the fly without consulting any charts. In fact, the players can track the 1 XP for each battle: all you have to do is grant the extra XP for quests and boss battles.


  • 11 Responses to “My simple XP rules: 1 XP per encounter”

    1. […] my houserules XP system (every level requires 10 XP, every encounter provides 1 XP) the effects of the 10% XP bonus can be […]

    2. Rory Rory says:

      I should probably use this system. As it is, tracking XP is such a pain I will often put it off several sessions. Then it is even more annoying to do when I finally award it and I sometimes miss things.

      The one thing I like about using actual XP is that characters do feel more rewarded for fighting tough battles or for generally being more badass. Sure, there are several factors in whether a battle is tough or not, but a HUGE one is CR. That’s one of the reasons I rarely use CR +0 encounters; even with favorable terrain and other tricks, it just doesn’t make up for the hit points and damage of a higher level encounter, making such battle incredibly easy cake walks (that still take an hour to play out).

      I also find that in a session with a fight, often a good chunk of the XP from that session comes from story rewards. That’s because I give minor quests out like candy. Pull a fun prank? Minor quest! Impress someone? Minor quest! Discover the location of a villains lair? Minor quest! That sort of thing.

      I also give out minor quests for bringing snacks to a game. I would probably have to dial that one back if every quest is 1 XP.

    3. katre says:

      XP for snacks? I can get behind that! I love both XP _and_ snacks!

    4. Claire Claire says:

      ha ha ha I agree about XP and snacks! BUT if the same person brings snacks to every session, does their character level up way faster than everyone else? “I MADE 20 BATCHES OF BROWNIES ALL SHALL LOVE ME AND DESPAIR.”

    5. Claire Claire says:

      I guess they’d have to bring like 200 batches of brownies to get significantly higher than everyone else, if you made snacks like 0.1 XP or something.

    6. paul paul says:


    7. LS says:

      I’ve been thinking about this since you mentioned it in a post the other day. I really love it, but I’ve been thinking a lot about how I would want to modify it, because I love giving out XP for non-combat encounters, but I feel like this system might prevent me from doing that effectively.

      Tentatively, I’m thinking that each level requires 20 XP, and XP would be dolled out as follows:

      1 point: Successfully avoiding a trap / puzzle / significant obstacle / role playing encounter.
      2 points: Normal encounter.
      3 points: boss encounter.

      Going to try and develop it further before I implement it in my game though.

    8. paul paul says:

      LS, doing it this way definitely allows you to give more non-combat XP without accelerating the rate at which people get levels.

      Myself, I also give out a ton of XP for quests, impromptu skill challenges, and the like. In the session I ran yesterday, we only had one combat (an assassination attempt on one of the PCs, who is the king of a city-state), but the players also got XP for a bunch of self-directed quests: setting up a citywide horse race, retrieving a book from some necromancers, and winning the support of the merchant’s guild.
      (note to players: 4 XP for last session!) At that rate, it will take two or three sessions per character level.

    9. Rory Rory says:

      I give quest rewards out to the entire group, just like combat rewards. So if the same person brings snacks every sessions, everyone benefits!

      D&D (and most rpgs) tends to be less fun when there is a discrepancy between levels. Also, giving out individual XP tends to breed resentment and metagame thinking, where players compete with each other to get the most XP. I much prefer metagame thinking where the players work as a team to compete with me, the DM, to get as much XP as possible :).

    10. John says:

      “Also, giving out individual XP tends to breed resentment and metagame thinking, where players compete with each other to get the most XP.”
      XP calculus was an important part of Hackmaster 4.0, but the largest determinant was Player Rating: players that played better (more involved, used IC roleplay, played their PC’s quirks and flaws, etc…) got a larger percentage of their base XP. A “Carrot and Stick” for motivating players.

    11. […] week during my morning blog reading. I found this post over at Blog of Holding. According to Paul, Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition is normalized so that […]

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