Like many DMs, I’ve implemented a house rule allowing PCs to survive when their hit points drop to zero. But does this really help the party?
The player base in my Red Box game has expanded significantly over the past few months, so we generally have 6-9 players per session. As I divide experience points evenly between all surviving PCs at the end of a session, lots of surviving PCs means only a few experience points each. Characters only tend to get sizable lumps of experience when most of their fellow PCs die, such as when the inimitable Hamish was the sole survivor of a trek into what has since been dubbed the Swamp of Death.
Last session, six PCs entered the dungeon, and two of them dropped to zero hit points but survived. The party received a total of 715 XP. Divided six ways, that’s 119 XP each. Had both of the incapacitated PCs simply died instead, the remaining four PCs would have received… 178 XP each. Hm. A piddly 59 XP is hardly a worthwhile gain for the survivors. Meanwhile, the two incapacitated PCs had 780 XP and 252 XP respectively; not a lot, but significantly more than that 59 XP differential.
The problem, it seems, is that the party is simply too large for its individual members to gain experience at a decent clip. Perhaps they need to face stronger opponents—foes who will kill enough PCs that the survivors will get bigger pieces of the experience point pie! Clearly this calls for experimentation…