Sometimes there is a big fight planned and xp is doled aside for it. However, if the party comes up with a reason or way to avoid the fight and get past to their objective - should the DM deny them their xp? I don't agree with that, if the group is smart or savvy enough, they deserve the xp for their efforts.
A long time ago I dispensed with xp for gold at the 1 x 1 ratio and introduced:
Xp for kills
Xp for exploring
Xp for deeds
Xp for treasure
and Discretionary Xp.
Kills are straight out of the 1st or 2nd edition MM/DMG. Exploring, 25 xp per area. Deeds are typically 15, 25, 40, or 75 and are tally marked during the game, given out to a particular player/character when they do something notable. Treasure is roughly 1:10 xp:gold, meaning there is a bene for getting the treasure but it's not so unbalancing. And finally Discretionary Xp I typically give out at the end of an adventure and is based on my own gut - ranging as low as 150 to as much as 1,000 - but only for higher level adventures.
What I do though, and as came up this meeting, the party avoided a fight with a horde of kobolds by laying out the field of battle, planning for it, arranging enough situations to slow them down and hobble them, and delaying the fight long enough for the party to escape the area. So they got the Xp and didn't have to murderhobo anyone.
Write up follows:
With the fires running wild on the outside of the palisade, we discussed an end game strategy since there was no way for us to put them all out on our side. The K’Morat had destroyed the aqueduct so the water in the cistern (over 1800 gallons) was fine for now but was only going to go down especially since we were tossing buckets on the walls at the tune of 5-8 gallons every minute through the small cracks in the palisade fence.
The K’Morat were going to eventually get in, and we needed to prepare for this eventuality on the off chance Korsdottr and the rest of the guards and teamsters didn’t have the hole wide enough for us to get into the mine.
With about 30 minutes or so until twilight and about that same amount of time remaining according to the voices calling out in the mine, we took a hard look at Fingelt’s camp and came up with a number of plans to help slow down the K’Morat as well as channel them throughout the camp so we could limit where they approach us and when.
We had the teamsters along with whatever ropes we had, leather traces, and sledgehammers start their efforts on the mess hall. With Darius’ insight the two men had the donkey’s pull at the building while they systematically assaulted the support beams with sledges in order to have it collapse into and towards the stables. Most of the northern wall fell as expected, taking the roof with it, making the entire building lean dangerously over but block off one pathway towards the cave itself.
Getting some of the sheathing from the collapsed lavatory and one of the buckets of nails and hammer, Larry (situated on the guard tower) kept the odd eye out on the K’Morat but drove over 40 of those nails through the sheathing scrap in a random pattern making a 3’x5’ single heavy caltrop. It was then tossed down to the floor where it was dragged to the space between the stables and the ore house and liberally sprinkled and disguised with cast of gravel and dirt from the slag pile.
Using some 2”x6” we nailed the main stable’s doors closed on the west side by the track spur, meaning if any K’Morat entered the stables from the obvious east side looking to cut through, they would be stymied by the held door. To add more injury to insult, we then liberally covered the space just inside the shadowy interior of the east door with twisted nails we had hammered into crude caltrops.
The teamsters then worked on pulling down the smithy away from the short palisade no the north side of the cave entrance to make any attempt to clamber over the fence that much harder.
The area in front of the main entrance to the caves was covered in rubble, broken wood scraps, and the 4 off hay bales that had still been inside the stables. The hay was scattered about and the area was hit with oil in preparation of being lit later.
Driving spikes into the ground, Negan set up as many obstacles as he could in front of the 3’x5’ nail studded plank of wood by the stables with lengths of rails stacked and leaning in order to slow the K’Morat up.
Once the smithy was down the same was done with the supply house. Then the one wagon was crudely hitched to the donkeys and dragged into the space between the leaning mess hall and the foreman’s house. The wheels were then smashed and the space on the west side was covered with more caltrops.
While this was going on Einar, Avulstein, and the two teamsters had not let up on the soaking and water throwing, managing to put out some of the fires but the distant ones on the north side of the gate and the bigger one by the lumber yard were out of control. The palisade was burning here, the ropes long gone; the lengths of wood leaning all about, and the flames were spreading.
According to Larry the K’Morat were now over 80 and were wheeling two battering rams around the side of the road and building up steam as they charged the encampment. One was the Conestoga wagon we were unable to save, loaded down with lengths of wood lashed to the front and being pushed by 15 or so of the running kobolds. The other was smaller but more nimble, driven by a half dozen of the K’Morat as they ran towards the walls as well.
It was time. We all ran back to the cave where the stones were shifting as Korsdottr was just about ready to help us in. The one teamster who was terrified almost pushed his way in first but was chastised that we get the food and supplies in first and then we get in. The K’Morat were running but were not here yet. It was tense, but he agreed and the first of the food stuffs were brought in and passed back one at a time to the waiting party members inside the cave. Larry stayed near the corner by the stables and waited.
And then the smaller battering ram hit first. It plowed into the fire weakened wall north of the gate and the K’Morat pulled their ram out of the hole while others were kicking and shoving the broken burning timbers out of the way. Knowing they were coming in. Larry ran back to us and we tossed a torch on the prepared hay – setting it ablaze and blocking the entrance to the cave palisade.
Meanwhile one by one, bags were pushed back into the cave and we heard more crashes in the front as the K’Morat hit the main gate (it didn’t open) and other places on the wall, making the holes larger. A few started to straggle in where they hit the closest buildings (dry goods, lavatory) in search of whatever. A few tore into the donkeys here (sparing the ponies) and then we heard yells from the stables as they stumbled on the caltrops placed there.
Meanwhile the last of the bags was passed in and the teamsters started crawling through the opening while Korsdottr was now on our side kicking the stones aside to make it large enough for Einar and Negar to get through eventually. Something hit the stables western door from the inside but it held nailed closed. And still more K’Morat were running around.
The first bunch had charged and picked their way through the mess Negan had set up by the stables when they hit the concealed board and nails and the first batch fell over in agony. The party was still crawling into the cave one at a time, with only about half of us still outside. We stayed low and tried to keep ourselves hidden. A few stones were sling but no one noticed where it came from and then while they were dragging the board of nails away and some 20 or so K’Morat were in the area, Negan called to Odin and summoned a Giant Rat in the midst of the kobolds.
It was pandemonium as they were bit and attacked the rodent, and others were coming over the broken wagon by the Foreman’s house and they too fell on caltrops and were cursing in their tongue. Down to just Negan and Larry, the half-elf motioned the fighter-cleric to go in next while he stayed low and watched the milling kobolds with slitted eyes. Negan crawled in, the area tight and more rocks fell around him but he made it through and just about the time the K’Morat had arrived at the burning mess and smaller palisade fence Larry dove into the hole and to the safety of the interior.
Meanwhile, Korsdottr, aided by the crew she had with her, moved three tight wooden boxes back into the tunnel they had cleared out. Then she had them give her a bucket of water which she tossed into the first box, was dumping another bucket in the next box when the first one near the front of the mine went off with an explosion and started another cave in, and then the third box was filled and we all backed away as the next two boxes exploded and sealed off the tunnel again from the K’Morat warriors.
All joined up again, there were the 12 guardsmen, and 5 teamsters, one of them Korsdottr. We moved away from the entrance area to where some tools and a mine cart had been established, some barrels of water and a couple hurricane lanterns lit and caught everyone up on what had been going on.
It was after 7ish and we talked with Korsdottr (who was a miner before she became a teamster) about how to get out. Right now, the K’Morat were most likely tearing the mine camp apart and enjoying a feast of donkey while sorting through the goods they had. Eventually they were going to figure out we weren’t there and they would turn their attention to the pile of rock in front of and choking the cave. We were ok now, but not in the long term. We were going to need another way out.
According to the map we took from Fingelt, they 4th shaft down returned back to the east and was abandoned as it was too close to the stream bed down there and eventually floods. If there were tools and time, we could try digging out that way and making it to the outside and away from the K’Morat before they notice.
So we pocketed the 10#+ of Fizzstone still here (normally used to make air but if submerged in water, has a tendency to explode wildly) and the lanterns, left the mine cart and followed the tracks west to the end – where there was a 14’ diameter lift here that went down a vertical shaft. Once all aboard we released the locking brakes and allowed the tension beams to guide the lift down into the gloom. It took almost 6 minutes to drop the 150+ feet to the bottom and once there we carefully stepped off into the foot plus of water festooned with floating blobs of fungi.
From the stains on the wall, it looks like the water had been deeper (3+ feet) but was now receded. We followed the main shaft till we arrived at an open node. A flat forge was here with some coal and wood bins. A number of mining hot spikes, sledges, picks, and more lanterns were here. We then followed the shaft to the east until we arrived where Fingelt had marked he was no longer digging east.
The stone here was shot through with numerous cracks and nature fissures. The best judgement was it was 18’ to the outside. Our first impression was this was not an option but Korsdottr disagreed. It would require work, maybe 40 hours’ worth unless we could get the flat forge lit. Then what would be best is the mining stakes (metal pointed poles we saw in the other area) would be heated up and driven into the wall. Then cold water is tossed into the space and the rock is easier to pick and crumble away. If done right we could cut the mining time in half or so.
So, what we decided was that Korsdotter and the teamsters would work down here and perhaps half the guards could help – this would free up 6 of the guards to go and explore the mines and try to find any sign of Fingelt and his people, or what happened to them, as well as be aware if and when the K’Morat get through the rubble earlier than expected. This left 11 people working down here: 2 to dig, 2 to work the forge, 1-2 on rubble and area policing – the other 5 or 6 would then swap on every 2 hours or so.
After a quick meal (we managed to snag over 40 days of potential food – giving the group of 17 of us 2 and a half days of food) we split up 6 of us to go explore – pretty much the entire group that had been outside with a few notable exceptions especially since we were going to be exploring the mines: Negan the half-ogre volunteered to stay back and lend his strength to the digging freeing up Merica the dwarven fighter/wizard to come with us; and Darius the fighter after being pummeled twice by falling crap was feeling unwell for spelunking but was willing to help with the forge work which allowed Dizzy the dwarven priest to join the exploring group.
So Avulstein, Conall, Dizzy, Einar, Larry and Merica (2 humans, 2 dwarves, 1 half-elf, and 1 half-orc) set off – starting with the two open shafts we hadn’t looked down on the 4th level.
The south one was fairly wide and open and eventually came to a 3 way split, but the two dwarves were unhappy with the lack of support beams above and suggested that unless we were very careful, we shouldn’t waste our time with such a dangerous area. Or as Merica voiced, “Fucking built like shit. Let’s go.” Can’t argue with dwarven knowhow. ;)
We then went to the northern shaft where it sloped upward slightly until the water was no longer on the floor. The stains on the wall showed it had one point been higher, but now was not. The walls had signs of bauxite interspersed with the iron ore, but outside of some signs of mining, the shafts and its side shafts had nothing for us.
So we then went to the lift and discussed what to do next. After talking about it, it was decided we would start back on the 1st level and check out the subsequent ones until we were too exhausted to keep looking and/or we found something. The trip up was longer than the trip down, taking us almost 25 minutes to pull the lift back to the top level but once there we locked it in place and stepped off, heading back to the mine cart and the entrance.
We listened carefully, not hearing any of the K’Morat digging in the rubble but maybe some filtered sounds of celebration. Good so far. As for the mine cart, it was about 1/3rd full with slag and ore. We pulled the two tilting pins and pushed the cart over where some of the contents spilled out. We dug around and found an iron cap on the top. There was a single large dent in the forehead section, followed by a 2” sharp scratch running straight down to the brow ridge. Not an obvious weapon but something really hit the helm hard. It was too filthy to tell if there were any blood stains on the interior, but we were on our guard anyway.
Larry was looking longingly at the mine cart and mentioned in passing that he’s really to see it go over the edge of the main shaft and drop to the base of the mine at some point.
It was almost 9 PM and we were going to check out the two side shafts here on the first level at least before deciding to rest for a bit or go down to the 2nd level to explore.