Days of High Adventure
Bonus Rewards in D&D: Why XP Is the Wrong Way to Go

CJ Miozzi | 4 Aug 2014 19:00
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But if not XP, what else can we use as a bonus reward? The reality is that there is no easy answer, because the core rules don't offer a built-in system to handle this.

The system I adopted is elaborate - too elaborate to fully explain for our purposes today, and more elaborate than a bonus reward system needs to be. But the quick version is that I award bonus points, rather than XP, which can be redeemed in three different ways: on buffs, on magic items, and on allies.

The buffs are randomized bonuses to d20 rolls, be they Strength checks, opportunity attacks, or Heal checks. At the start of a session, players spend points to roll on the random buff table - and people love to roll dice for a chance to win big. The buffs appeal to min/maxers and the mechanically-minded, and last the duration of a single session.

Players can also spend points to increase the likelihood that the next magic item they find will be one from a "wish list" that they can optionally prepare. I'm the type of DM who tailors magic items to be a good fit for characters in order to eliminate any desire to sell them, but there's a difference between giving a player an item he'll find useful and giving a player exactly the item he was hoping for. I also seep my magic items in rich lore and give them evocative descriptions to make them even more special and personalized a gift.

The ally system is the most complex, but at its core can be explained as follows: every character has three allies that can be unlocked and leveled up by spending bonus points: a political ally, an information ally, and a combat ally. Every adventure (my adventures last 4-12 sessions), the party can call upon a single ally of each type from within their collective pool. A political ally may be a Duke or a wealthy merchant - someone who can exert power to aid the PCs, such as by lending them a sailing ship or bailing them out of jail. An information ally may be a wizened sage or an informant in the criminal underworld - someone who can offer information that will help the party in its current quest. A combat ally may be a pack of wild wolves that a ranger player befriended, or a group of street thugs that owes the rogue a few favors. Every ally is personalized to the lore of the character in question, comes with tremendous roleplay opportunity, and grants players another way to tie their characters into the game world in a manner that can produce appreciable results.

Of course, this is simply the system I use. What's important is to find a system that will work for your group. Player preferences quickly emerged with my system - one player exclusively spent his bonus points on allies. Another didn't let a session go by without rolling on the random buff table. Still another liked to dabble among the three.

You don't need to make things as complex as I did. What's important is to find a reward structure that won't break game balance and won't focus exclusively on increasing a character's mechanical power. Maybe you can award "clues." Maybe you can award a "handwave in the name of 'rule of cool.'" Maybe you can award a "setup for a dramatic roleplay moment." Find what works for your group and have fun with it.

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