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The other GM in my group and I are both big fans of giving XP rewards for things done out of the game. Ex: We have an artist who will draw and design all sorts of stuff to "fluff out" our campaign.

We noticed participation spiked when we offered rewards like this. Eventually, we even offered XP to our "scribe" for recording everything that happened each session. At the most, though, this gives bonus XP for up to two of our players. We do not plan to remove these bonuses, but want to be fair to all our players.

What are some fun things your players can do out of game that you can reward as GM? The goal is to have them be engaged in our game even when we aren't playing.

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I've found that most level-based systems work best when everyone is the same level. Instead of giving XP, consider giving "plot coupons" or something similar, that let the players influence the game in small ways: "This city guard is from my home town, and we kinda know each other," "Fortunately, the old man we saved last session is actually a priest of the god of light, and is willing to resurrect (party member) for cheap just this once," or "Actually, I did remember to bring 100 feet of silk rope with me." –  Oblivious Sage Apr 30 '13 at 15:30
    
Purely cosmetic rewards are great! Look at Team fortress 2 with hats, and guild Wars 2 with skins!! Let people in your party earn customized, unique looking armor skins for their standard gear! –  acolyte Apr 30 '13 at 17:23
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How would you do cosmetic rewards in a pen and paper game? This seems like something that would only be a solid reward if we had an artist draw a representation of the characters new gear. –  pblock Apr 30 '13 at 17:25
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7 Answers

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Earthdawn explicitly includes a system where players who keep a scribe or cartographer among their characters to chronicle their journeys get a reward.

My one caution to doing something like this is to make sure that there is something that everyone can do, or distribute the rewards evenly (or at least sanely cap them) so that there's no huge boost to one player at the exclusion of others.

In my experience, everyone can bring something to a group, regardless of their abilities. You can have one guy handle the bookkeeping (I like to keep a running tally of everything players have gotten through the game so that if people die they can make a character who's back on level, should the setting make sense that way) for the players' party; checking his notes against some cursory ones you have can help tell you if a player "accidentally" (or sometimes legitimately) forgot that they'd already applied certain changes to their characters. It also helps catch up players who had to miss a session (not always necessary, but again, it depends on the game).

Cartographers and scribes are also important. I like to give these roles to the more analytical players in my groups; they're the ones who are obsessing about where everything is in combat, and letting them draw maps and track whatever they care to write down (I have some players who will do this in meticulous detail, like a log on a video game) will give them something to do other than metagaming, which tends to be a problem with them otherwise, plus it gives me a lot of reference for if everything's working correctly.

Then, finally, there are artists and chroniclers, as I call them. They're the fine arts people of the group who essentially help to create a log of what's going on. They make all the drawings and such for characters and important things within the campaign (usually with my feedback, though I had one player who basically made the rough sketches of an anime based off a Shadowrun campaign without requiring any feedback, though it was interesting to see how they got different things from the story than I intended them to). Chroniclers may not be comfortable in another role (they may not know the system well, or be rookie roleplayers), but they're more than happy to keep a less mechanically informed history of events, and they're crucial to GM's for making sense of what your players know and what they don't-for instance, if you accidentally let some important information slip out without meaning to.

Finding in-character things for these people to do is important as well; the fighter or cleric may be the guy in charge of recording injuries and maps, since he's up ahead taking and dealing out damage, while the wizard is responsible for handling the finances and making sure that people are keeping up on their training outside combat. The bard, obviously, will be the one to recount stories, but other characters may enjoy doing it as well (barbarians who share tales around the campfire, stuff like that). In my experience, the more you can handle in-character, the better, especially since it helps give extra depth to the characters.

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The idea of mirroring these duties in game won me over. I can see the "roles" of the players bleeding through to the game in a very, very good way. –  pblock Apr 30 '13 at 16:29
    
I think that's why I love Earthdawn so much, because I not only like the system but it also does some pretty clever things. Of course, in-universe everyone has to be an artisan to participate in society, but that just provides more justification for players' records. –  Kyle Willey Apr 30 '13 at 16:32
    
The bit about out-of-game tasks to give players something to do besides metagaming is great. I've used tasks like this before, but that advantage never occurred to me. +1! –  SevenSidedDie Apr 30 '13 at 16:34
    
I run a lot of Savage Worlds - so I hand out Bennies for good recapitulation of the previous session or even tidying up the game table –  Timonides Apr 30 '13 at 19:53
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I was first introduced to this idea in the Amber Diceless Roleplaying Game, which encouraged player involvement by awarding Good Stuff (a mix of character-building points and general karma) for out-of-character actions.

The main ones used there were more fitting for the Amber setting - drawing character cards (Trumps) of the characters, or writing in-character diaries for the character, which worked fantastically for our game, since in addition to having us think of the characters between session, created a running documentary of the campaign. Additionally, this scales up to however many players want in, though it's not necessarily as useful for a dungeon-crawling sort of game.

Other options for us involved the rather prosaic driving duties - a player who regularly picked up transportationally-challenged players and drove them to and from the sessions was rewarded, as were the players who build the campaign website (now sadly offline, I really need to put it back up).

I don't have the Amber Diceless book any more, but if you can get your hands on it (there's a PDF version being sold at DrivethruRPG) you can look up their suggestions for player rewards.

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I've used XP-for-journals in a dungeon crawling game and it worked great actually! The more creative writers really got into it and did some great unreliable narrator stuff. –  SevenSidedDie Apr 30 '13 at 14:34
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The "Artist" and "Scribe" are quite useful the campaign, and I also agree with lisardggY's suggestions about transportation and centralized documentation to follow the game. That said, here are my additions:

  • While the specific game escapes me (I believe it was a White Wolf book), they suggest offering XP to whomever brings snacks for the table.

  • As a personal belief, if for some reason I'm not able to run my games in my home, I tend to offer a small bonus to the host of the game session.

  • Fleshing the Backstory: Most of the players I encounter have their central theme designed more like a video game than actual people until they play for a while and get some momentum. Thus I have started offering rewards for people who come to game with meaningful data on their character.

  • Stationary Supplies can be a very eroding stock. Anyone who consistently has pencils, erasers, especially blank char sheets, quick references, etc.

Side note: Just make sure that the XP bonuses don't ramp up too quickly. In some games the balance gets upset quite quickly even with the smallest offerings if they happen regularly.

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The single most irritating task that I would like to delegate is that of scheduling the game. If you have a group that meets on a set day, you don't need this. But groups who meet whenever everybody has free time have a lot of scheduling overhead. I've known a lot of GMs who can't handle that overhead in addition to the game prep and I've seen a lot of games fall apart just because of the tedium of scheduling. There's this implicit assumption that the GM also hosts and schedules, but offloading it to a player and rewarding that player seems like a really good idea to me.

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I am that GM. Scheduling for irregular games is like herding cats and I've just stopped doing it. Players can organise the games, and I'll run them, but no more carrying both the momentum of meetings and game prep! Rewarding a player for doing this is a really good idea. –  SevenSidedDie Apr 30 '13 at 16:35
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One GM I remember wanted proper Mediaeval 'influences' for his magic system, and handed the design to a history student; he got a system where the strength of your spell would be affected by the time of day, day of the week, and weather, and could also be improved if in the vicinity of the right plants or animals. Both interesting and authentic: worth a bonus: and it was also fun to research. Another player, with military interests, rolled up a character who owned a castle, and the GM said 'You can only use it if you draw up the floor plans yourself'. (Actually the player went way too far with killing zones, traps and murder holes, so the GM ruled that his elder brother died, and the character had to move to another castle, larger but conventionally designed; and hand over the previous castle to his despised and ambitious younger brother. But that's another story.)

The moral is to use the skills available, not just the ones you think would be good. Any player in your campaign is presumably interested in one or more aspects of the universe: why not ask them how they would like to flesh it out or improve it? Do, however, make sure somebody doesn't spend weeks on a project only to find the campaign has collapsed or just come to a natural end.

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For our group, we usually went for non-xp or level related rewards. Usually, we tried to keep them related to the real-life activity.

We were playing in a magic rich campaign, so if these rewards seem high, remember these items were relatively common (though expensive) in our world:

  • The player giving rides to everyone would find himself with a fairly regular supply of short-lived (they'd expire after limited in-game time) Haste potions, to do with as he pleased.
  • The cartographer would get a choice of one of several items per session, such as find-item scrolls, detect magic wands. Since he put in a lot of work and proved useful to the party, the rewards both scaled up, and were often augmented by in-game tips from other players (the highest reward were single use teleportation items)
  • Snack providers would get bonus healing potions

etc... As a DM, I particularly liked that the rewards:

  • didn't mess up my planned levelling-up curve
  • fit in with the game-play
  • it was fairly easy to account for the rewards
  • usually it was items the players would try and stock up on anyways
  • since they were all consumable, usually with an expiration date, the players were encouraged to deplete their own supplies regularly.
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As a general rule, I try to offer whatever the game's meta-currency might be instead of XP. XP can cause the kind of runaway power cautioned about above and can turn into punishing people who don't have the time or inclination to participate outside of game that way instead of rewarding those who do.

By "meta-currency" I mean if a game has a way to offer rules-bending power to players, that's the meta-currency. Many games expect a certain quantity of the stuff to flow around the table all the time, and they are frequently less valuable and more fluid than XP.

For example, in BtVS, I used Drama points; in DFRPG, FATE points.

I most frequently gave points for blogging a session, but when someone would draw maps, portraits, coats of arms (for SIFRP, not Buffy!) etc., that would be worth points too.

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