Awarding Noncombat Experience

“Dragons! Shall we slay them for XP rewards?” “Nay, establishing trade routes is all the reward we seek.”

A few months back I wrote a post about why you should switch over from awarding experience points to milestone leveling.  One of the comments on that post was “I love math so I want to still use XP leveling, but I’m also building a campaign with little to no combat in it. How can I award non-combat XP?” The Dungeon Master’s Guide does cover this subject briefly under Creating Encounters (pg. 80) and Noncombat Challenges (pg. 261), but I am more than happy to provide my take on the subject.

The End Is the Beginning

The first thing that I recommend doing is thinking about what level you want the characters to be at when the adventure or campaign is finished. Multiply the XP number for this level by the number of characters. This gives you a target XP number that they need to achieve through their actions. For example, if you have six first level characters and you want to take them to fifth level your adventure needs to provide at least 39,000 experience points worth of rewards. However, players will often avoid some of the scenarios that you so cleverly created. You should keep a few more in your back pocket just in case.

Determine Objectives

Any adventure or campaign that you create is going to have a main objective that the characters need to complete. This is usually their quest. In a low-combat game the party’s main objective may be to restore the peace between two kingdoms on the verge of war. Ultimately, completing this main objective would be worth all of the experience points required for the players to reach your level target. However, no one wants to toil away at first-level for an entire adventure and then instantly jump up four levels.

So you have to divide the main objective up into smaller, more achievable objectives. These  should be tailored to the appropriate level that the party is at when they are tasked to complete them. At lower levels, the party should be able to complete them with relatively ease. As the players advance in level the objectives should also increase in either number or difficulty. Personally, I would recommend a greater increase in difficulty rather than number as the players advance. You will bore the players  with multiple tedious tasks.

Rating Objectives

I weigh three factors when determining  the difficulty of non-combat objectives: what skills are required to complete the objective, what resources are required to complete the objective, and how long will it take to complete the objective.  An Easy objective would require the players to make a low DC skill check, or no check at all. Easy objectives require only the tools the party has on hand, and take less than eight hours. An example of an Easy objective is researching the history of the war between the two kingdoms.

A Medium objective raises the difficulty of one or more of the factors. This objective may require the players to succeed on skill checks with a moderate DC or a combination of players may have to successfully pass skill checks. It may also require the party to gather resources. However, make these resources commonly available for purchase by the players or acquired without much difficulty. Medium objectives also require more time to accomplish taking anywhere between eight to twenty-four hours.

The difficulty increases when you get to a Hard objective. Completing this will require success on DC 20 or better skill checks. You may require that these skill checks may be completed in a specific order to work. A Hard objective requires the party to locate and retrieve uncommon resources. Ultimately, completing a Hard objective will take between one day and one week.

A Deadly objective ups the ante even more for the players. The DC of skill checks increase to 25. The resources required are rare and will require an arduous quest to find. Completing a Deadly objective takes between a week and a month of time.

Awarding Experience

All of the varying difficulties of objectives you create combine to form the main objective for each section of your adventure. Determining how much experience to award for each comes down to looking at your difficulty ratings and assigning a CR. Here is an example table:

CRSkill ChecksResources RequiredTime To Complete
1/8None RequiredTools on Hand<8 hours
1/4DC 10Tools on Hand<8 hours
1/2Multiple DC 10Tools on Hand<8 hours
1DC 15Tools on Hand<24 hours
2DC 15Common Item(s)<24 hours
3Multiple DC 15Common Item(s)<24 hours
4DC 20Common Item(s)<7 days
5DC 20Uncommon Item(s)<7 days
6Multiple DC 20Uncommon Item(s)<7 days
7DC 25Uncommon Item(s)<30 days
8DC 25Rare Item(s)<30 days
9Multiple DC 25Rare Items(s)< 30 days

Reference the Experience Points By Challenge Rating table on page 275 of the DMG and you’re done.

Tweak As Necessary

No matter how much advice I give you, it’s ultimately your game. (That’s why you’re not using milestone leveling, after all!) You can adjust these guidelines to better suit your group or your campaign. Maybe you want to assign higher experience point values to objectives that advance the story. Maybe you want to combine objectives and combat encounters. Go nuts. As long as you and the players are having fun there is no wrong way.

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