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In a lot of setting and systems, such as D&D, the aim of the game tends to be to explore and kill things. Money is spent on useful items and hirelings. However, a real adventurer would probably want to get drunk, carouse, and generally have some fun when they're in town. When every player (including the thief, who's meant to be a criminal) acts like a holier-than-thou paladin while resupplying, it's a bit out-of-character and strange.

I'd like to ideally reward players for making their characters happy, but I'm not sure what mechanic to use or how to balance it. Are there any other systems that do something like this, or if not, how could I balance it? I don't want to simply hand out bonuses like +1 to-hit or morale for it, or it's just another sort of buff and could get broken pretty quickly.

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This is a brilliant question; I'm looking forward to the answers. (Ever noticed that adventurers that own entire kingdoms still eat standard packed trail rations?) – Tynam Feb 28 '13 at 18:41
@Tynam: I had a character in a pathfinder game who ensured he had a decent suite with an excellent chef, and carried with him at all times so as to make an excellent meal: a loaf of bread, a pot of Seville marmalade, a small skin of wine, cutlery for two, and small spoon or stirring, 2 fresh eggs packed with care in unspun wool, a tomato (or love-apple), a small frying pan, a small saucepan, a spirit burner, a chafing dish, a tin box of salted butter of the Italian type, 2 bone china plates. Also a portion of honey comb as a sweetener, for my breath and coffee. – Alan Shutko Mar 1 '13 at 16:42
Alan, isn't that a Good Omens quote (of a quote of someone else, I believe, Cassanova?). – Greenstone Walker Mar 18 '13 at 2:26
Somewhat related: Benefits for eating good food – Jason_c_o Jun 5 '14 at 18:29

12 Answers 12

up vote 63 down vote accepted

I reward these players with plot. If the fighter gets drunk at the bar, he'll be the one to meet the next quest giver. If the rogue steals a wallet, there will be a love letter to someone's mistress.

I like this because it IMO it satisfies the players who are interested in these things. The guy who is just waiting for the next combat doesn't really care who is in the spotlight. The player who spends a portion of his loot to express his character's interest will be delighted that he gets to take point on a plot.

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+1 Plot hooks are the best reward I can think of. I've never met a player who didn't like more attention from the GM. – Matt Hamsmith Feb 28 '13 at 21:22
+1 Excellent idea, and it kind of reminds me how major Onepiece Sagas begin :) – Drunken_Guy Sep 19 '13 at 14:22

Don't just reward players for relaxing, make relaxing interesting. Let me explain.

First, don't just reward players if they spend time on leisure. Without suggesting there might be an alternative, ask them what their character does to relax. This might require some finangling so they aren't tempted to head off for the next adventure. Have the village hold a festival, if necessary - and do it between adventures. Yes, it's not a subtle method, but you should only have to do it the first time - because you'll be rewarding them for it, and if your players are anything like mine, they'll want to do it of their own accord.

Whatever reward you usually give out for roleplaying, that's what you should give here. After all, your goal in wanting players to define their leisure activities is to improve the verisimilitude of the game world and immersion in character, and that's same purpose and definition of roleplaying rewards. Whatever argument you use to justify roleplaying rewards will apply equally here.

That said, don't just "reward characters for relaxing," either - Reward them for relaxing in a way that is fun. It may sound harsh, but your players only care about the well-being of their characters insofar as it enhances their own. That's entirely reasonable: The entire game exists for their (and your) entertainment. They have no motivation to let their characters kick back for a few hours unless they get something out of it. Fortunately, there's a simple solution:

Make deciding how their characters spend their leisure time a creative exercise. Many players enjoy defining who their character is, and what makes them tick. If you frame your question about leisure activities in those terms, your players may well leap at the chance.

After all, what someone spends their spare time and coin on says a lot about who they are: A thief who tosses a bag of gold on the tavern counter and goes from standing to drunk as soon as possible is completely different to a thief that sprawls out on a grassy hillside for an afternoon nap. For that matter, you needn't limit this to purely "relaxing" activities: An ascetic paladin who dumps a bucket of cold water over his head and spends three hours doing sword drills could be a very interesting character, indeed.

I've done this in my Pathfinder campaign (largely by accident, but that's another story). As a result, I've had a pair of elves who've started a fine dining society, a rogue who dresses in frippery between second story jobs, a half-orc who can't sleep comfortably without the smell of horses, a pair of thieves who bet on themselves in illegal boxing matches, a bard who's spent hours working on designing better advertising flyers, a wizard trying to convince nobles to invest in a new bank, and more besides. The party friar even married a peasant couple, once.

Of course, all this hinges on our players being the type to enjoy portraying a character. Still, even if they aren't it could make a nice change of pace. It's worth a shot.

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Oh hey, a downvote. Downvoter, I'd like to improve this answer; In what way is it currently not useful? – GMJoe Jun 11 '14 at 7:44

Are you sure you want to?

First, are you sure you want to do this? I've been in some groups that focused on character and players did those kinds of things. They arranged in character fine meals, went to balls, had their characters get drunk, even had characters cry when significant NPC or other PCs died. Some groups/players like that sort of thing. But some don't.

If your group likes it, they would probably be doing it already, or they would start with a very gentl nudge. A very gentle nudge would be along the lines of an NPC just inviting them to a ball at a Royal Court. If they like that sort of thing, they can go all in and start describing in detail. If they don't, they would pass or go just to get the plot hooks without doing much real interaction.

The Simple Way

Shadowrun have concepts of "Lifestyle" that represents a lot of the little things like how pleasant their home is in a mundane way, how well they eat, how nice their day-to-day nonarmored clothing is. The Shadowrun characters pay for their lifestyle monthly and it has some very minor mechanical effects in some situations, but mostly it is something for the GM to play off of for storytelling.

You can readily adopt this by giving the characters the option of paying a general ammount for "creature comforts". Let them choose which Tier to be in, but then use it for all the background flavor. The one that chose the minimum wakes up tired and eats unpleasantly. The one that paid in the highest tier is well dressed, generally well rested, and eats well.

You can reward this choice with the way NPCs interact. Many people prefer to deal with someone clean and well dressed, and will tend to act differentially towards people that seem wealthy and high class. This is true to an extent in the modern day, but it was extremely obvious in earlier ages where the rich were very often also nobles, and a high enough noble could arrange executions. (Of course, there is also the converse, especially in a counterculture group, where they actively prefer to deal with people that seem less well off, but that just adds yet more roleplaying possibilities.)

Rewards Roleplaying

You can also just reward roleplaying in general, and this is just one small aspect of it. In some groups, it can be very appropriate to reward good roleplaying directly with XP. I've also been in groups that appointed by vote the best player for the session.

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I use a player-driven "brownie points" feature to encourage my players to go above and beyond. How the brownie points are represented has varied from game to game, but it amounts to making a list of things you can spend them on (such as attack or damage bonuses, plot devices like hints for a baffling puzzle, or at high quantities, a personalized plot or story effect), then finding reasons to hand them out.

At the end of every game, I give my players one to three points, depending on the size of the group, to hand out to each other. They're allowed to hand them out for any reason, but they have to give a reason (and "just 'cause" is not a reason). The major tendency, in every game I've used them, is for players who do more interesting roleplay or non-combat things to get the most brownie points.

For example, in a game where I'm currently a player and the GM is using a brownie points system, my character often receives points when I play up her love of mechanical things (I think I swept the board one session when I hijacked the fighter's fullplate while he was swimming and, with another character, turned it into an impromptu Gundam). Before that, the two fighters got tons of points for having a drinking contest even though we were heading out on an important mission in the morning.

By using brownie points that can be redeemed for a variety of in-game rewards, and which are handed out by the players to the players, you create an organic system of rewarding the fun, noncombat interactions between the characters and with the rest of the world.

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Handing out non-XP, non-gold points that can be spent on useful or fun things is a great concept. It's used also by some cRPGs to keep players, who reached the maximum level, in game. What I don't understand is the name You used - "brownie" only associates with cake in my mind. Was that You're intent? The "cake points"? – Artur Czajka Mar 16 '13 at 9:18
Nah, it's a reference to the saying "brownie points". In other words, a generic term for a type of currency only valuable in a social context. – thatgirldm Mar 16 '13 at 18:27

It's a long-standing "old school" D&D tradition to have gold turn into XP via "carousing" of various sorts, in imitation of popular sword-and-sorcery fiction. Basically you say "My character goes partying!" and determine how much money you waste on it, and that gives you a proportionate amount of XP. The details vary, but most such systems use a 1-for-1 exchange rate (using pre-3e XP tables). A common feature of such systems is that there's some sort of encounter chart with plot hooks. Because debauchery leads to trouble, which leads to adventure. Here's an example homebrew system.

This approach tends to work better for D&D variants that have fairly loose expectations about character power and equipment in the first place.

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You can introduce WoD's (and other's) concept of willpower points (or happiness points if you like to look at them like that). Give the characters WPs that they can use as fudge points, that is, acquiring bonuses, securing success or things like that. If a character spends a WP, he can get one of these advantages.

WP are recovered over time, and when players accomplish their objectives. If the character's life is happy, increase the recovering rate. If the character would be unhappy, slow or stop WP recovery.

You could even complement this with angst points. Impose an AP when the character suffers greatly (torture, loss of someone, not seeing the Sun for a long time, being far from home,...). Then, the GM can spend those angst points to impose a penalty on one roll.

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This is a good question - sometimes people run their characters a little too much like MMO killbots and it adds realism and immersion to the game to encourage them to take it easy from time to time.

If you are using anything like Call of Cthulhu Sanity rules (I know, that's not normally found in D&D, but I ran a 5 year long AD&D 2e campaign where we used sanity so nyah) it's a great way to recover your sanity. "I sit by the fire and sip some cocoa until I'm not feeling spiders all over myself!"

In Living Greyhawk we had a set of lifestyle rules where you paid for a certain level of upkeep - more and you got bonuses.

Lifestyle and Upkeep

The GP required to support PCs between adventures is called upkeep. For 12 GP per TU your PC gets adventurer’s standard upkeep. This pays for common room and board, replenishes rations, mends clothing and equipment, refills healing and disguise kits, restocks up to twenty normal steel arrows and bolts, and heals hit point and temporary ability damage between adventures. You may also pay more GP to live better than the average adventurer. For 50 GP per TU, rich upkeep gives the same benefits as standard upkeep and a +2 Circumstance bonus on Bluff, Diplomacy, Gather Information, Intimidate, Perform, Profession, and Sense Motive checks when your GM determines that your increased social status would grant you a benefit. For 100 GP per TU, luxury upkeep increases this bonus to +4. You may choose not to pay for your PC’s upkeep for an adventure. If you do so, the PC retains any damage into the next adventure and does not gain any of the benefits of standard upkeep. The PC may gain other penalties or benefits at the discretion of your GM. At the beginning of the adventure, if your PC possesses at least five ranks in Survival and succeed on a DC 20 Survival check, he gains the benefits for standard upkeep . He may still gain penalties or benefits at the discretion of your GM. If you fail this check, you may not then choose to pay for upkeep for that adventure.

Also, several systems contain a "Carousing" skill (GURPS, Traveller) that is useful to "do good at" relaxing (often gets you girlfriends, local information, etc.). That's a bit more focused partying than general R&R, but still. Make it a NWP!


Carousing (Social): Skilled in the art of socializing. The PC is a social butterfly and is often described as the life of the party. Their outgoing attitude and permissive be havior encourage others around them to loosen up and have fun. In this way they pickup and spread information and rumors, make social contacts and assist others needing help. Carousing would be an important skill for a tour guide, cruise director, entertainer, journalist or socialite.


Carousing - HT/Easy Default: HT-4.

This is the skill of socializing, partying, etc. A successful Carousing roll, under the right circumstances, gives you a +2 bonus on a request for aid or information, or just on a general reaction. A failed roll means you made a fool of yourself in some way; you get a -2 penalty on any reaction roll made by those you caroused with. If you do your carousing in the wrong places, a failed roll can have other dangers!

Modifiers: Up to +3 for buying drinks or other entertainment for your fellow carousers; -3 for Killjoy; -3 for Low Empathy; -1 to -4 for Shyness.

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To be honest, this was precisely (for me) the only justification for the XP system in AD&D (and derivates).

Whenever one of my players made something that made sense for a "real" human being (case in point: having or trying to have sex with a willing NPC, for example) I gave out a small amount of XP (not sure anymore but probably 1d100 or 1d100x2).

The amount was small enough not to make it a viable alternative to "traditional" adventuring in terms of progress, but still a nice litte touch that sometimes made them act a little more "human", which I appreciated.

I gave these out also for winning a chess game, or anything else that I considered "in character".

The nice thing is that XP in AD&D go to big numbers fast, so this dealing out 1d100 of these won't make a difference. Systems like GURPS, where a full adventure may grant you maybe 5 XP, really don't have a mechanical way to reward "small random acts of roleplaying" (and this is the only thing I regret about non-D&D experience systems).

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In D&D 4.0 I had a GM do skill challenges to do things like "have fun at the festival" (and awarded X.P. as per any other skill challenge). This is, AFAIK, as close as D&D comes to having a built in mechanic for this kind of thing. In other D&D systems the X.P. award for roleplaying is about as close as it gets.

As for other systems, Pendragon spends a pretty significant percentage of its game mechanics on personality (though it is certainly not focused on character happiness). Pendragon also awards characters Glory points, which are pretty close to being your character's "score" for the game (among other functions).

If you are inventing your own mechanic, I suppose just awarding "happy life" points for various actions might be enough to motivate some players. More-so if you make that the "score" for your game.

If that's not enough you could give some award for having a whole huge bunch of such points (say, +1 Wisdom bonus every really large number of them. This could replace the wisdom bonus for aging, on the theory that this bonus is really due to the average number of such points people accumulate over their lifetime).

If it were me I would focus the points of achieving major life goals, but the small awards from drinking the rare wine at the tavern or using a masterwork sleeping bag on adventures might add up too.

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In the groups I've played and in those that I was GM, all of them shared the same feeling: players love gold and XP.

OK, so I always work on a nice plot and help the players fit theirs roles in a way they feel comfortable and excited. This is the first reward: excitement over a goal.

While they are seeking for the bad necromancer, or rescuing the king's daughter, I always plan some traps and riddles. If they amuse me with their actions (which they always do :)) I write down some bonus XP.

When they finish the quest and I handle them the XP reward, I explain where their characters played and acted well. That is a great reward to them: they did the mission but also excelled at it, acquiring more XP.

Their eyes always shine on this moment, and I know they are happy.

With that in mind the players naturally start role-playing more, personifying the character and in consequence making the character happy as well.

Their reactions are so natural that it reflects on their characters.

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If you have a multi-axis reputation system where NPC's have affinity for similar PC's, then signs of items worn by the character or actions performed could play into that. The drunk at the bar could take issue with a sober character sitting there too long, or the Noble Lady could shun those who are wearing battered armor and rags, but talk to those who are in silks or well maintained matching armor. Beggars might ignore or beg... etc. However if these things become gateways to quests or such then they take on an entirely different aspect. One way around that is to have a hidden latency on the effect; characters usually dressed in silks that don rags don't fool the beggars until they've been wearing them for some time. (A disguise skill could mediate how fast the transition takes place in that case)

You could also have the player determine at creation time what demeanor the character has; if they choose Sober, they are easily incapacitated by alcohol, and if they choose Heavy drinker they get a penalty if they don't visit a bar once a week. If they choose clean, they might itch if they don't wear nice things, incurring a series of distracting messages, and the same could be happen for a character that chose dirty and wore starched shirts. I would tend to implement it as penalty avoidance rather than bonus acquisition. However if nice clothes cost money, there is a difficulty in balancing that cost against some reward. The usual death of these things is some clearly advantageous combination at which point everyone is wearing a farmer's hat, wizard robes and metal gauntlets. (or drinking in one particular bar only between levels 9 and 10...

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The characters don't exist; the players do. There's no such thing as character happiness.

It sounds like you're trying to reward roleplaying that includes how the players make their characters celebrate, relax, or do whatever they do to make themselves happy. (As an aside, you're presuming that the players want their characters to be happy.) I wouldn't do this with a mechanistic reward. Instead, work what they're doing in their downtime into the overall story of the game.

The forthcoming game Swords without Master explicitly includes the character spending and squandering all of the gold and valuables that were acquired at the end of the adventure. At the beginning of each session, they're basically back where they've started, looking for adventure.

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Character happiness doesn't exist? Well, the character doesn't exist, so his happiness, strength or hair doesn't exist either. But, if you consider that the character exists in fiction terms, then his happiness too. – Flamma Feb 28 '13 at 23:16
Which is why it's weird that the questioner wants to reward this. It would be better to reward something else, like interesting character downtime. – okeefe Mar 1 '13 at 0:39
+1 for pointing out that "relaxing and enjoyable downtime activities" only contribute to play by making the game more interesting - "painful and embarassing downtime activities" should be worth exactly as much reward. – GMJoe Mar 1 '13 at 4:24
I think the question is that the characters aren't behaving like human (or sentient) beings, but like robots. They go to the dungeon, explore, kill, loot, then go to the city, sell and buy. And buy only what is needed (cheap rations instead of quality rations,...). That's how the characters had no life, that's why he wants them to pursue happiness, to act more like real people act, to make them believable. – Flamma Mar 1 '13 at 8:55
@Flamma I understand both your points, but I think we're talking past each other. I still think the answer is for the GM to ask better questions about character downtime than to use a mechanical reward for presumed happiness. – okeefe Mar 1 '13 at 17:54

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