Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Giving rewards for the adventure

I have seen a number of blog posts lately talking about XP award systems. There is certainly no harm in tailoring the awards to fit your groups gaming style. I have read a number of interesting and clever ideas on those blogs, and in days gone by I would have cheerfully borrowed a number of them. However in the last few years I have come to a different conclusion that better fits my game; throw all those systems out. I do not get enough value for the time spent from them. I still hand out experience points, I just do not spend so much time doing it. I try to focus on two concepts in rewards:
  1. You reward the behavior you want to see. Rusty Battle Axe and the others are right on regarding this point. No matter what system or lack of system, keep to this truth. In all my experience as a senior manager, parent and DM there is no better way of saying this.
  2. Reward the characters in game. Let that sink in a minute. Please note I did not say players. Let the world react and reward the characters for what they do, or what they do not do. I find that the in game gratification is far more powerful and important than the out of game XP award.
OK, so I hear from some of you, "Duh, of course I reward the characters in the game. Tell me something I don't know." But do you really? I submit that you can get the behavior you want from players by rewarding it in game. Do your players not take enough risks? Do your players not role play enough? Are they not following alignment? Whatever you want more of, reward it in game. Now be certain to not use only coin and magic items as rewards, that grows old quickly. Honor, reputation, titles, friends, information, land, or even the attentions of a NPC of the opposite sex might all be just the ticket to get the behaviors you are seeking. Naturally the opposite is true, that penalties for behavior can be any of those opposites. So, how do I simplify XP awards? I eyeball it. I figure I want about 25 average encounters before a character levels up. So for every average encounter I give 1/25 of the XP need to move up a level and adjust it based on how tough it really was and if the characters were particularly clever in resolving. I never give rewards or penalties any more on role playing or alignment; I let the game world handle that. I use the extra time I used to spend on figuring the XP awards to make the next adventure better. What do you think, am I a raving heretic for abandoning complex XP reward systems (believe me I have been there and had copious formulas that allowed me to assign XP), or just maybe am I on to something?


  1. Not sure if it's heretical or not, but I'm totally with you either way. I recently awarded 500 XP to the sole survivor of a goblin attack who basically begged for his life and was stripped naked and sent home alive as an example. I have my reasons. Period.

  2. ze bulette:

    I thoroughly enjoy goblins; they are so versatile in how I can use them to annoy players. That is a good example of an alternate to death for failure. Nice. No hot iron branding though?

    Regarding the XP award: hard to know what any XP award means if you do not know what percent it is towards the next level. For me, if the character ignored reasonable warnings of a bad situation then perhaps survival was enough reward. Otherwise, I agree there are times that less than heroic actions earn XP. Either way I suppose this character learned something.

    Goblins, how can a DM not love them.

  3. I'll be tied to the stake right next to you, I guess. Hopefully, get a nice spice rub before they light the kindling.

    The foundation of my xp award process (if it merits that title) is giving xp per encounter, whether its a role-playing encounter, a combat encounter, overcoming a trap, or turning undead. Like you, I determined roughly how many encounters I thought it should take per level. I do add in xp for creatures overcome and, for our dungeon delver party, for areas explored, but the bulk of the xp comes from the per encounter awards.

    I look at xp along the lines of staff training and development. It represents on-the-job education and skill enhancement, which is why xp leads to increased levels and effectiveness. Not that I need a rational, but it is nice when I have a reason for what I do...even if I get tied to the stake and toasted as a heretic.

    Great post!


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