Effort Based Rewards in Roleplaying Games

It's very easy to just get people to turn up to the table, roll some dice, shout some numbers, and then go home again, but is that really the point of the game? If it is, we could just as easily be playing some of the awesome board games I have sitting on the shelves in my games room, or some of the many miniature games I don't have time to set up and play anymore (more of that in a future article though).

Running a new game for a new group of people got me to thinking about how to get the players invested, and how i should reward the ones that do get involved without punishing the ones that don't want to. My new group is comprised of 5 player, 2 who have never played before, one who has played other versions of D&D that's not 4e, and two guys who have played 4e with me before.

Now before I go delving in to the rewards for effort based XP and why I think it's a good idea, I'd just like to mention the fact that although I am running a D&D game currently a lot of the bits that I wrote will be primarily concerned with that game system, and I will probably use the system mechanics in examples for this and other articles I write. 

That does not however mean that the principles I talk about in these articles can't be applied to pretty much every single RPG out there. After all, they all have the same base idea at their core.

Right - on to what this article is actually about!

Experience Points (XP) is the greatest reward any character in a RPG game can be given. It is what allows them to advance up the level tree, to buy new skills, or to generally enhance their characters to match the dastardly machinations of the GM.

Sometimes though XP are not enough, or perhaps sometimes you don't want the characters to advance to quickly even though the players deserve a reward. Effort-based rewards can be split in to two clear categories: XP-based and Non XP-based.

XP Effort-Based Rewards

These are pretty straight-forward rewards. Your player does something that is extraordinary, involves super deductive reasoning, surprises everyone, or just does something fucking cool!

An XP-Effort based reward is where you give a player a set amount of bonus XP for something he's done above and beyond what you would normally expect that player to do.

I quite often use this one at the start of a campaign, where i give people extra XP for writing background with plot hooks and information I can use to help mould the story and involve everyone more.

I also generally award a small award for the person who writes the journal up. I always like a journal to be written of the game from a character's point of view. It gives insight into that character, the way they think, and it also helps to keep track of the story and where the players think the game is going. I'll talk more about the journal in another article as I think it's a very important part of the game group, and role-playing games in general.

Non XP-Effort Based Rewards

These rewards can come in many many guises from extra information in game to treasure and magical items. A character does something cool and you reward the character with something that they would think is cool.

You can really let your imagination and story-telling prowess run riot here. Is the gift you're giving the character a little foreshadowing to what's coming up? Is it going to tie them in to a new story line? Is it just a big fiery sword that looks ace when they hit things and does extra fire damage as they swing it around?

Which fighter doesn't want a strong hold, and a retinue of men at arms to do his bidding? Which Mage doesn't want to have access to the forbidden vaults at the college of magic, even if it is just for a day or two?

You may have noticed I said character when referring to who gets this reward type in the XP Effort-based rewards above.

This is by design. XP means nothing to a character within the game and has no real way of propelling the story forward, it is just part of the mechanic that allows the game to advance. It's awesome for a player to receive a little boost to his character knowing that the cool deductive reasoning that he plucked out of thin air. Remembering some obscure bit of info his character wouldn't have remembered in a month of Sundays is a great way to reward Sid the player, but it means very little to Regdar the Barbarian.


What does mean much more to Regdar is that +2 Executioners Axe of Frost with its permanent coating of ice on the blade that cracks and splinters every time he smashes the blade in to his opponents - sending shards of ice spraying across the battlefield and driving the chill of the Elemental Plane of Frost in to the very soul of his opponents.

Of course, Sid is going to be happy about the Axe as well, but the point being that as far as game mechanics the two forms of reward have different effects on the player and character.

So if Sid can remember it and it helps further the game, he might get 250 XP bonus at the end of the session, but if Regdar breaks his sword fighting an Umber Hulk, and then goes on to rip a stalactite from the floor of the cavern and use it to crush the skull of the beast, then it's Regdar not Sid that deserves the reward!

Anyway, that’s what I think about rewarding players for extra effort in and outside of the game, let me know what your thoughts on it are.

Until next time, see you on the flipside!!

Andy @ DMB

Andy Lawrence