I received a new comment in reference to this post about awarding experience from almost two years ago, and thought that since no one would see it, I'd post the answer here. The comment is from Tripper:
"I'd like to hear what progress you've made on it [the experience system], Alexis, since 3 problems immediately reared up in playtesting: 1) XP rewards for successful encounters that didn't devolve into combat 2) How to reward spells like Web and Sleep, and 3) The look on my rogue and wizard's faces when I told them I would not only reward them for stepping in front of the sword, but insist on it. As far as #1, leveling does concern more than just combat ability (primarily combat, perhaps, but not exclusively). For #3, I tack off my usual course and argue for the gamey side - soaking up damage is not part of the mage class and anyone who does is, let's be honest, not playing the mage particularly well."
To begin with, I'd like to say that I am still using this system after twenty-two months and it works excellently. I am so used to it now - as is the party - that there's zero chance of returning to the old, crummy way of doing things. Usually I play my games with two monitors, one that faces me and one that faces the party, and as the combat continues I keep track of everything on Excel, which is visible on the party's monitor. They can see me adding caused or taken damage to their characters as the battle goes on, and so they can catch any errors I make on the fly (or remind me of damage they did or took that I failed to note). It's actually pretty easy if you keep track of what they're hit points are at the start of a fight. I prefer to make notes on the fly, since if someone gets healed in the middle of the fight it is easy to get confused about the damage they've taken. Besides, since I have the excel file set up so that the damage is automatically translated into X.P. that the player can see pile up on the screen as the combat continues, it adds a competitive flair to the game. Everyone can see who's getting the most, who's ahead, how much damage they've caused and so on ... which inspires them to jump in if they're falling behind. It is a strange angle to the game that's never been there before, but both I and my players like it.
Addressing Tripper's questions in reverse order, I addressed the wizard but not the thief with my previous post, linked above. I must point out that wizards - in my world at least - get pretty powerful as they go up and there's a balancing system at work that does tend to slow their progress in the beginning. I have had a 1st level mage that I've played reach 3rd level by this means (don't get to play him often), and a 1st level mage in my world that has now reached 5th since instituting the system. It must be remembered that if the mage hangs back and throws spells, and does nothing else, they still get a share in the bonus X.P. at the end.
It occurs to me that the description of that bonus is not that clear. At the end of the combat, ALL the damage that has been TAKEN (not caused) by the whole party is added together and multiplied by 20. This is then distributed equally to all the players who have taken part, regardless of their actual contribution.
So, lets say we have four characters, Adam, Benjamin, Caleb and Daniel. In the fight, Adam takes 7 damage, Benjamin takes 10, Caleb takes 4 and Daniel takes 0. What's more, Adam, Benjamin and Caleb combined killed the 30 h.p. creature they were facing (we'll say they did 10 damage each), while Daniel threw a dagger and missed.
Here's a copy of how the table would be organized:
As can be seen, although Daniel does practically nothing, just being there earns him a little more than a 3rd of the experience Caleb receives. This is because, in my opinion, Daniel is risking his life by not helping his friends ... as that increases the chance that his friends will be killed, and Daniel will be pursued afterwards by the creature and have to fight it on his own. This and the simple fact that witnessing is its own kind of experiential growth. If the other party members have a problem with Daniel's involvement in combat, that's their problem. There's no reason why the X.P. system has to solve it for them.
The tendency might be to think this bonus X.P. needs to be mucked with and balanced to those who participate. I would encourage the gentle reader not to do so. In fact, it is already balanced - there's no need to over balance.
As Tripper points out, his wizards will do better to step in and as I said in the last post, take a hit for the team. But Tripper also feels that getting damaged is not part of a mage's class mandate, and that a mage who gets hit is not playing the mage well.
That, in my opinion, is bunk. The mage increases their fighting table, however slowly. A mage has combat ability, however weak. The mage is a humanoid like any other humanoid, and therefore bleeds, feels pain, and should feel guilty and responsible for the safety of other persons. Mages are not soulless bastards who are automatically exempt from risk because of their class. If they want to improve at life, they better get into the fucking game. There's nothing to be learned sitting on the sidelines.
A quick word about thieves - they go up very fast, so the X.P. system I play does, in fact, give a good reason for their needing less X.P. A smart thief can backstab their way up and still keep out of the main fights ... which my thieves tend to do. The low experience helps them. It's only that thieves are so used to coasting their way up to 8th level with little or no effort that its natural for them to bitch at having to risk something.
It sounds to me, Tripper, that your thieves and mages are whiny bastards, encouraged to be that by an X.P. system that refused to respect the risk-takers in the game. Poor little namby-pambies. Maybe they need to call their mothers out to dress their widdle wounds.
Second point: how to reward spells like web and sleep.
There are considerations the DM can try with awarding half the damage done to sleep or web victims to the caster, but I don't tend to play that. The extra bonus X.P. does help cover the effort of the mage who is taking no personal risk to cast a spell they already know perfectly and are learning nothing from casting. It has to be understood that nothing new being learned means no experience. I don't get smarter every time I drink a cup of coffee. If the mage helps the fighters slaughter the orcs quickly with a web, it reduces the risk and therefore ought to reduce the experience, not increase it.
But if that doesn't seem fair, consider this. It is SOOOOO easy for a mage to rack up additional X.P. from magic missiles and fireballs that the 9th level mage in my world regularly tops the list (or comes in the top three) after combats, even though the 8th level ranger has caused 80 odd damage and suffered 50. One solid blasting spell will reset the balance in short order ... so whatever my philosophy about experience, you don't want to hand more and more experience to a player who pretty much coasts once they reach a level where they don't run out of spells in the first three encounters.
When that mage does get into combat - with his 33 odd hit points and bad attack table - what usually happens is the mage takes a hit or two at a critical moment when the fighters are down, then staggers back when the fighters reassert themselves with healing (in the case of the paladin) or a potion. Remember that I play a combat system which stuns a player if they suffer a quarter of their present hit points ... so players are dropping back out of combat all the time as things get rough. Things might work differently for me on that account.
Once again, your mage may whine for awhile, but when it becomes obvious they're actually carrying the lead in the experience, that whining will go away. If you need support, turn to the fighters and ask them if they care about the mage's woes.
And finally, about X.P. rewards for successful encounters that don't resolve by combat. Well, I have this system I'm designing ... enough said.
I hope this was helpful. All I can say is that the players have gotten very used to it, and that worries about "experience being limited by the party's available hit points" hasn't been a problem. Combats end, and are followed by healing ... which allows for more X.P. at the next encounter.
My last session, the party tackled a 12-headed pyrohydra. It reduced most of the party into the single-digit or negative hit point range ... and actually killed the 6th level assassin who was brought back with a Death's Door spell. Total X.P. gained was in the 17,000 range - before treasure. More than the books would have given. Was fun.