The GM for one of the 5e games I’m playing got tired of doing all the math for standard XP tracking recently, and just switched us over to a milestone-based system (i.e., we’ll level up when it seems to make sense). One of the players opined that granular XP didn’t make much sense to him in the first place, in a level-based system where you weren’t allocating your XP to discretionary increases.

But my impression is that the main reason to track XP in D&D has generally been to incentivize optional objectives. In particular, “trash fights” feel worse if you realize you could have skipped them and you’d still level up as soon as you accomplished the main goal for the scenario. This is especially true if they don’t carry much monetary reward: if there’s no treasure and no XP, time spent on an incidental fight can feel wasted. Quests are similar: there’s a long history of awarding bonus XP for good-feelings quests without pecuniary remuneration.

Maybe that’s your jam: it’s not the worst thing in the world to train your players to try to use stealth, persuasion, and trickery to bypass fights. But if you’re disappointed, as a GM, when your players bypass a fight you prepared, it might be better to give some kind of reward. Similarly, doing good in the world might be its own reward, increasing reputation or eventually having karmic payoff, but actually telling the players to increment a number on the sheet immediately is a much more immediate way to train them to be heroic.

This system is just some quick spreadsheet work I did to try to reduce the granularity (and, thus, calculation and bookkeeping) of 5e XP awards as far as possible while still being more or less reflective of the standard XP curve. Basically, instead of leveling at an arbitrary point (usually based on finishing a chapter):

  • 20 XP must be earned between each level.
  • Fights of various difficulty award XP to each PC:
    • Easy: 1 XP
    • Medium: 2 XP
    • Hard: 3 XP
    • Deadly: 5 XP
  • A quest might also reward XP at a similar scale.
  • Optionally, at the level 5-10 tier, you might want to actually require 30 XP to level in order to stick to book standards (these levels have 50% more encounters required at the suggested XP ranges than other levels).
  • Optionally, at level 1-2, you might want to require only 13 XP to level (since those levels are so fast).

For example, a party that faces six Easy, three Medium, one Hard, and one Deadly encounters is ready to level up (1 x 6 + 2 x 3 + 3 x 1 + 5 x 1 = 20 XP).