Tenkar has been talking about XP awards and I figured now is a good time to lay out how I handle XP. Early on I grew to dislike XP for gold, and somewhat later XP for treasure, never had a problem with XP for overcoming monsters.
However not awarding XP for Gold or Magic Item left a huge whole in what the players earned per session. I was and still am big on "roleplaying" i.e. acting as if you are there as your character. So in place of Gold and Magic Item XP, I had a roleplaying award.
The formula was 100 xp times the character level time a factor. If I wanted a slow campaign, I used 50 xp as the base, a faster campaign, 200 xp as the base.
At first the factor was based on my judgment on how well the played "acted" as his character. That didn't work so well. I dislike having to play pageant judge week after week and players invariably protested low awards. More importantly some players were successful in my campaign acting as themselves with a particular character abilities.
I decided that good roleplaying wasn't about being a good actor, but about acting and reacting as if you were really there in the setting. This accommodated players who developed distinct personalities for their characters, with players who played a version of themselves.
So what about the factor? I started to pay attention to what were the personal and party goals. When one of them was accomplished, I gave a bonus award that session. The base award was a factor of 1. I would use a factor of 4 for some really big noteworthy accomplishment. The rest were inbetween.
The virtue of this system that it largely stripped my campaign of preconceived notions of what it ought be about. The goals were not my goals, but what the party set for themselves. Of course I manipulated that by the various clues, hooks, and situations, I created but I always left the final choice of goals in the hands of the players. In addition I rarely try to do anything formally about what the goals are. Instead I tried to play careful attention to what they wanted to do and use that as the basis for my awards.
5th Edition DnD has an explicit options for the above in the DMG. It called milestones and it uses the Encounter XP charts as a foundation for the amount of the award. In the Monday Night campaign I use the milestone awards combined with the xp value of any creature killed as the foundation of what I hand out.
In my view the benefit of using milestone awards is immense plays directly to the strengths of tabletop roleplaying over other types of roleplaying and games. With a human referee, players have the freedom to explore anything they can explore with their characters. With milestones, they don't have to feel like they have to kill and loot to get ahead. Instead they pursue whatever they find interesting.
To be honest for most that still ends up involving killing and looting. But hey now they don't feel they have to do it. Which is a good thing right?