Ideas for rewarding experience outside of combat

Adventurers get most of their experience points by killing monsters.

An orc is worth 100 XP. A drider is worth 2,300. An adult black dragon is worth a whopping 11,500.

But all the other stuff adventurers do - tracking down NPCs, recovering treasures, exploring dungeons, roleplaying their characters - are generally not counted whether you’re playing Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder.

But we have some ideas.

Instead of resting all the weight of the game on taking down monsters and dungeon bosses, you can also award XP for a variety of other happenings in your game.

The idea is to reward players for more than simply rushing into combat with swords drawn and intent to kill. Perhaps they’ll try a few new things if you reward them for it.

Completing quests. Other editions of D&D often provided XP totals for accomplishing quests set forth by knights, nobles, shopkeepers and anyone asking for help from a band of worthy adventurers. Maybe it’s time to bring that idea back to 5th edition.

Finding magic items. We’re not talking about finding that +1 longsword in a dungeon. But when you find a magic item of significance (a long-lost magic orb sought by a king, magic stones worshipped by a group of natives or a magic dagger that’s also being sought by a cult of assassins), it can be quite an accomplishment.

Claiming treasure. When a particularly large cache of gold, gems or weapons is discovered, you could sprinkle in a little XP.

Exploring dungeons. In addition to the XP earned by slaying monsters in a ruined castle, underground dungeon or cultist temple, throw some extra XP just for having cleared the place out. It’s a feat all its own.

Meeting with NPCs. Interactions with the characters of your campaign world should be a bigger deal. You can make it that way by awarding some XP when adventurers turn an NPC into an ally, rescuing them from harm or denying an opposing NPC an asset or benefit.

Solving puzzles. Working through a complex dungeon puzzle is a lot harder than swinging your greataxe.

Good roleplaying. If you’re playing 5th edition, you’re supposed to award inspiration for good roleplaying. But dropping a little XP whenever someone performs particularly well in-character will also encourage plenty of RP at the table.

Avoiding combat. If you were going to award XP for a combat encounter, consider awarding the same amount of XP if the party avoids the fight through negotiation, stealth or intimidation.

Illustration by Yngvar Apslund

Individual achievements. Typically, you’ll reward XP to the whole party whether they finish an encounter or accomplish any of the tasks above. But when a thief picks a particularly hard lock, the druid manages to forage some food in the forest or the bard plays a song to soothe an angry mob, drop them some individual XP.

Completing a chase. Running through the streets to catch a bad guy is a blast. It’s also hard to do successfully with all the possible things that could get in your way. If you do indeed get the bad guy, you should get some experience for that, too.

Doing something cool. This isn’t so specific. But sometimes players think outside of the box and do some wild stuff, thwarting enemies and destroying traps in ways you wouldn’t normally think. There’s also the occasion where a player makes a risky move in combat that pays off or scores a critical hit in just the right moment.