Bonus Rewards in D&D: Why XP Is the Wrong Way to Go

Bonus Rewards in D&D: Why XP Is the Wrong Way to Go

Awarding bonus XP has been a tabletop tradition for generations. But is there a better reward structure we can use?

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What the heck would you do if you already had a large group, and they all wanted to cash in for allies? Especially if they all wanted to cash in for combat allies? You would be looking at the party being an army, not a party, and that could be a nightmare to run in combat! I have one game where I could possibly run into a similar problem. I have had around 10 so different people play this game at one point or another. Thing is it is usually 2-3 people myself not included. Many of the characters have leadership, or the player has a second character, and at least one player has both 2 characters and one of which has leadership.

Drake the Dragonheart:
What the heck would you do if you already had a large group, and they all wanted to cash in for allies? Especially if they all wanted to cash in for combat allies? You would be looking at the party being an army, not a party, and that could be a nightmare to run in combat! I have one game where I could possibly run into a similar problem. I have had around 10 so different people play this game at one point or another. Thing is it is usually 2-3 people myself not included. Many of the characters have leadership, or the player has a second character, and at least one player has both 2 characters and one of which has leadership.

With the system I use, the party can only call upon one ally of each type per adventure. So if Player A calls upon his combat ally, then no other player can. They need to strategize together to decide who has the most appropriate ally for every situation. I implement RP reasons for why the other allies can't help at the moment.

Giving them cashable "handwave by rule of cool" points sounds fun - I might have to suggest that one to some friends! Interesting - with my fairly minimal (2 or 3 games) experience of DnD, I hadn't imagined this particular problem, but it makes sense that it wouldn't work out.

Dude, that's two D&D articles you've made that have changed how I plan on doing things. In big,m helpful, amazing ways. Thank you for these D&D articles! I love it, and this idea!

Something like this also exists in D&D 4th Edition, where players can gain "Action Points" as rewards. But it's not as elaborate as your system, it's very nice and I think I will borrow some of the elements ;-)
I tend to give extra rewards for two things: one is exploring and being curious. I tend to hide some riddles and secret loot stashes in the Dungeons and Adventures I am running, so that a player willing to experiment with the environment in creative ways will be rewarded. On the other hand, I give extra action points to players who make efforts to further the plot and "make things going" in the campaign. My group (and myself) always have too little time to play, and by rewarding the "instigator" type of player, I try to encourage them to move things faster forward.

Rhykker:

With the system I use, the party can only call upon one ally of each type per adventure. So if Player A calls upon his combat ally, then no other player can. They need to strategize together to decide who has the most appropriate ally for every situation. I implement RP reasons for why the other allies can't help at the moment.

So are the allies limited to only being able to get involved in events when someone has a point to cash in? I can see that becoming a problem when, for example, you know of an army threatening the Duke's land, it would make sense for the characters to go see him and get his help in removing the threat, and they couldn't for metagame reasons.

Anyways, a neat system, and I may take parts of it. I have an expanded form of Action Points I use (which are rewarded more frequently than the book suggests). You can use them to:
a) gain another standard action in combat
b) get a +4 on your roll (though I might change that for the random buffs you use; would you be willing to upload your table so I could see the distrubution?)
c) Have something of value in your pack. Especially in D&D, where everything is so carefully mapped out, it's nice to cash in a point and declare that you do have a length of iron chain stashed away, or a nice suit for a fancy dress party, or just about any other non-magical item.

To go along with this I have abandoned using XP altogether. I give out levels now based on milestones and accomplished tasks. For example, my party will automatically get a level after coming back alive from Torg's Dungeon after (or maybe not) accomplishing their goal. This is useful for a bunch of reasons.
1. It rewards completing tasks using non-combat techniques. Rogues feel bad when they sneak past an enemy and are worse off for it because they didn't earn any xp. Bards feel bad when they talk down the Duke and his guards and are worse off for it because they didn't earn any xp.
2. Levels always happen at the end of sessions (by design) and managing balance is much easier.
3. It works well for group where people come and go. Someone at a certain stage of the adventure is always level x.

While I am planning to start simply awarding levels as campaign milestones, as it stands I fully support XP rewards for roleplay and outstanding playership for many reasons. It publicly enforces in the players' minds that they will become more skilled and all-around better heroes the more proactive and imaginative they are, and the lazy and uninvolved eventually die because of the disparity. Not that I punish bad luck; the gods favor the earnest and tend to reverse the fortunes of the deserving. Maybe I run a rough table, but if you aren't wanting to be in the game I don't really want you to do well. I'm very stingy with treasure due to exactly how much my brightest players can do with under 500 gold and how well everyone generally builds their characters; often, players who know what they're doing have absolutely no need for even a +1 weapon until level 6 or so, level 10 for the best.

castlewise:
To go along with this I have abandoned using XP altogether. I give out levels now based on milestones and accomplished tasks. For example, my party will automatically get a level after coming back alive from Torg's Dungeon after (or maybe not) accomplishing their goal. This is useful for a bunch of reasons.
1. It rewards completing tasks using non-combat techniques. Rogues feel bad when they sneak past an enemy and are worse off for it because they didn't earn any xp. Bards feel bad when they talk down the Duke and his guards and are worse off for it because they didn't earn any xp.
2. Levels always happen at the end of sessions (by design) and managing balance is much easier.
3. It works well for group where people come and go. Someone at a certain stage of the adventure is always level x.

Modules I've read generally have solutions for this, including rewards for skill checks such as trap disarming and persuasion. While I feel Paizo doesn't understand the term "balance," their modules are fairly creativee and I've stolen quite a few ideas.

Thunderous Cacophony:

Rhykker:

With the system I use, the party can only call upon one ally of each type per adventure. So if Player A calls upon his combat ally, then no other player can. They need to strategize together to decide who has the most appropriate ally for every situation. I implement RP reasons for why the other allies can't help at the moment.

So are the allies limited to only being able to get involved in events when someone has a point to cash in? I can see that becoming a problem when, for example, you know of an army threatening the Duke's land, it would make sense for the characters to go see him and get his help in removing the threat, and they couldn't for metagame reasons.

Anyways, a neat system, and I may take parts of it. I have an expanded form of Action Points I use (which are rewarded more frequently than the book suggests). You can use them to:
a) gain another standard action in combat
b) get a +4 on your roll (though I might change that for the random buffs you use; would you be willing to upload your table so I could see the distrubution?)
c) Have something of value in your pack. Especially in D&D, where everything is so carefully mapped out, it's nice to cash in a point and declare that you do have a length of iron chain stashed away, or a nice suit for a fancy dress party, or just about any other non-magical item.

First off, I LOVE your option c). I love systems that encourage creative thinking, as this does.

And that's sort of the point of the ally system - to offer players resources they can put to creative use. If the RP situation calls for the allies to intervene, and there is no reasonable RP reason for why the ally couldn't help, then sure. But odds are, that would be written into the quest itself, and the adventure would be balanced accordingly. So normally, the mechanical use of allies is to make a quest easier in some way -- if the ally use would be part of the adventure itself and not an "I use my ally!" mechanic, then I likely wouldn't even count it as an ally use.

For those asking, here is the spreadsheet I show my players. I linked to the tab with the random buffs (called Blessings). If anyone wants to check out the other tabs, just beware that this isn't formatted for any random reader to understand, unfortunately. There are aspects of the sheet I had to explain, other information that I explained only verbally, and some hidden information in a "DM-only" sheet.

Rhykker:
snip

Thanks for explaining and uploading that chart. I peeked at the other tabs, and I have to say I laughed when I saw the "Incentives" offering wads of bonus points for updating the wiki; I've looked at Obsidian Portal, but I haven't used it because I know how hard it is to get a biweekly recap out of players (or me, for that matter), let alone an ongoing, up-to-date wiki.

Thunderous Cacophony:

Rhykker:
snip

Thanks for explaining and uploading that chart. I peeked at the other tabs, and I have to say I laughed when I saw the "Incentives" offering wads of bonus points for updating the wiki; I've looked at Obsidian Portal, but I haven't used it because I know how hard it is to get a biweekly recap out of players (or me, for that matter), let alone an ongoing, up-to-date wiki.

Hahah, yeah I was applying the same evil psychological tactics that Steam uses for get people to buy games. Our campaign wiki is basically entirely player-run, actually. I would just add the news and trivia articles on the main page, but otherwise, all the content is theirs. I wanted the content to be written from their point of view, not mine.

Some really great ideas in your article and thanks for attaching the spreadsheet! I would never have thought to make a game wiki page. It must be an awesome way to store things like character Bios, revealed information, etc.

A GM of mine came up with (or possibly stole, I didn't ask) a system wherein players would receive customized "perks" based on specific character actions they did in game to encourage the behavior in the future by giving them, essentially, a permanent bonus towards that type of action.

In DnD these things are probably covered by feats of some stripe or another, I guess the equivalent would be tailor-making unique feats for individual characters, but we were using FFG rules which have "Talents" that are more like new, rule-changing abilities or options rather than simple bonuses or penalty reductions (most of the time, anyway), so the perk system wasn't totally redundant.

I also moved away from XP to give levels at proper milestones. I've also tended to give minor benefits, such as temporary HP, +2 to your next attack, +2 to defenses on for a round, etc. They're relatively minor, but they still feel like a proper perk when the players do something I want to reward.

Of course, this works even better when you move away from D&D towards systems that incorporate a reward structure. Systems like Fate not only allow you to hand out points for doing something awesome in game, they actively encourage it as necessary for the mechanics to flow properly.

Nieroshai:

castlewise:

Rogues feel bad when they sneak past an enemy and are worse off for it because they didn't earn any xp. Bards feel bad when they talk down the Duke and his guards and are worse off for it because they didn't earn any xp.

Modules I've read generally have solutions for this, including rewards for skill checks such as trap disarming and persuasion. While I feel Paizo doesn't understand the term "balance," their modules are fairly creativee and I've stolen quite a few ideas.

If there was risk and a chance of failure to bypass the enemy, you should still get XP for it. You still encountered the enemy, he just didn't know it.

J.McMillen:

Nieroshai:

castlewise:

Rogues feel bad when they sneak past an enemy and are worse off for it because they didn't earn any xp. Bards feel bad when they talk down the Duke and his guards and are worse off for it because they didn't earn any xp.

Modules I've read generally have solutions for this, including rewards for skill checks such as trap disarming and persuasion. While I feel Paizo doesn't understand the term "balance," their modules are fairly creativee and I've stolen quite a few ideas.

If there was risk and a chance of failure to bypass the enemy, you should still get XP for it. You still encountered the enemy, he just didn't know it.

I would probably base such a reward on the perception of the enemy then. If it's easy to do, it doesn't earn much reward. But if you have to be a fucking ninja to escape, you need a reward.

 

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