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I decided to reward players with extra experience if they wrote summaries of the game sessions in between our meetings.

Some players have the extra time to do this, and some don't.

What ends up happening is that about half the players consistently get a boost of experience every gaming session, while the other half does not.

I still want players to write summaries. Rewarding them with in-game experience was the method I thought of, but now I think this is not so good as it causes disparity between players. How can I balance this out, while still keeping the incentive?

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''Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.'' –  Sardathrion Jul 15 '13 at 13:56
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This is only a problem in game systems that require the PCs to stay close together in level; i.e., this is a problem in D&D 4e, but isn't a problem in Savage Worlds or D&D 1e. Since I don't know what you're playing: are you sure this is actually a problem for your system, or are you just assuming that it must be? –  SevenSidedDie Jul 15 '13 at 16:27
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This can also be a problem with in-game rewards. If you reward something like roleplaying, for example, then strong roleplayers will end up with more XP. –  Duncan Matheson Jul 16 '13 at 2:04
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In my current campaign, we frequently have players who can't make every session, and they don't get XP if they miss. We do reward XP for writing up the log, and the players who do so tend to be the ones who fall behind the others. The log allows them to "catch up" a bit. For this group & campaign it works as a light encouragement, generally rewarding involvement by the whole group. In other campaigns, one player always writes the log, and the player & party are rewarded differently. This will really vary with different situations. –  TREE Jul 16 '13 at 12:09
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5 Answers

up vote 45 down vote accepted

I know of two approaches to resolving this issue.

  1. Give everyone the experience: Instead of giving a player XP if they write a summary, give every player XP for each player that writes a summary. This keeps the footing level for all the characters, but also encourages players to write summaries (and to harass the rest of the party about writing summaries). You might even give an additional bonus to the party if all of them write summaries (something more special than yet another dollop of XP would probably work best).

  2. Give some other reward: The problem with experience is that, like DDT in fish & birds, it accumulates over time. You could instead offer some kind of reward that doesn't accumulate in the same way. You might offer action points (in a system that supports them), or "plot coupons" which allow their bearer to dictate one non-trivial aspect of the story (as long as it doesn't ruin stuff). You might even (depending on group dynamics; this would be a huge no-no for some groups) raffle off an exemption to contributing to snacks/drinks at the next session among those who write a summary.

Note that you can also combine the two approaches. When a player writes a summary, give the whole group some XP, but also give some other reward to that specific player. This combines the group-wide incentives of option 1 with the earned rewards of option 2.

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#1 is an answer to a question I didn't even realize I had! Thanks so much for that. –  Jadasc Jul 15 '13 at 13:36
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+1. #1 is brilliant yet obvious in retrospect, like all good ideas. Thanks! –  Glenn Jul 15 '13 at 13:56
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Complementing (1), XP rewards could be non-linear: 1 player makes a summary, and every body gets 100XP, 2 players do it and every body gets 200XP, 3 players do it and everybody gets 400XP, four players means 800XP, etc. This encourages more people to join in. –  sergut Jul 25 '13 at 22:21
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There is no fix for this.

You are trying to reward extra investment in your game.

Whatever form that reward takes (XP, bennies, etc.), by definition you want those who express extra investment to get them. (Although the other answer about giving it to everyone is a cool approach.)

Extra investment requires 1. time/effort and 2. caring enough to do it.

Therefore someone needs both 1 and 2 to invest extra. And the problem is, both of those are mixed together. When someone says "I don't have time," what they mean is "I have the same number of hours in a week, I just choose to prioritize other activities."

Don't believe that? In my group, we have three 40++ hour fully employed tech types, one lightly employed, one lightly self employed, and one unemployed. The ones who write the session summaries (and we do 10+ page PDF ones, not mini-summaries) are the three heavily employed folks. The unemployed guy has never done more than show up to play. (Our GM doesn't give out any XP or rewards for doing it, either.) "Not having time" is always a polite excuse for "I prioritize other things instead." That's not bad; your game isn't necessarily more important than watching Sharknado again or puttering in the garden, but it is what it is. I edit and PDF all the summaries, run our campaign blog, work for a fast moving just-IPO'ed startup, run another tech blog, run two local tech user groups, am a single dad, go to church, mow my lawn, and mod this SE, among other things. "No time" is the most common and most untrue excuse people give in this world. So worrying about "bias towards those who have more time" is a red herring.

So you can stop doing it, or if the problem is specific to them over-leveling from the XP, choosing a different reward or lessen the amount. But in the end, you are either rewarding people for additional investment in your game or not, and if you are, then some people will be more equipped and willing to put forward that investment.

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While technically everyone has the same number of hours in a day, in reality there's a big difference in feasibility of doing extra gaming stuff between a college student taking 6 credit hours and someone working 40+ hours a week. In my last group we had a college student who's on summer break and has no job, one who is a college student with a summer research job that's fairly low hours, and two who worked 40 hours a week. BIG difference in free time. Time and willingness are two separate axes but both are important. –  Yamikuronue Jul 15 '13 at 13:54
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Doing a summary does not take hours. It may as well take 5-10 minutes directly after the session. Its no big deal, but it helps the players to remember whats going on and stay in on the plot. It also help the GM, telling him how the players see the plot and what they think was important. mxyzplk's answer does not deserve a downvote, as it is valid and on topic. –  K.L. Jul 15 '13 at 14:23
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+1, I really do not get the down votes. This answer maybe harsh but that does not make it either a bad one or untrue. –  Sardathrion Jul 17 '13 at 6:47
    
People don't like answers that challenge their dearly held ideas about how the world should work with information about how the world does work... –  mxyzplk Jul 17 '13 at 12:23
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Reward them with something other than XP. You might instead hand out tokens that can be cashed in as a bonus to a roll, or perhaps a re-roll. Being able to re-roll a failed save is no small bonus!

If you use this approach, just make sure they dont stockpile the tokens. You can make them turn them in at the end of a session, or perhaps limit the number that can be used in a given combat.

I did this in my most recent past campaign and it worked fabulously. Tokens were given out for all sorts of in game and out of game reasons.

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Don't give rewards for out of game activities.

The purpose of the game is to have fun. If out of game activities are fun, people will do them without additional rewards. If they are not fun, giving in-game rewards won't make them fun, and punishes the people who don't want to do them.

I think it is reasonable to have the out of game activities influence the story, if the players participate creatively in the storytelling. This is possibly a bit unfair to people that don't have time (or interest), but should at least be understandable to them, and still contribute to the game as a whole.

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I understand and respect this viewpoint. But an out of game activity that is truly constructive towards the game deserves recognition and I think recognizing it in game can be appropriate. –  TimothyAWiseman Jul 15 '13 at 19:22
    
In what way is this an answer to the question asked? –  TimLymington Jul 17 '13 at 10:33
    
@TimLymington Not giving out rewards for out of game activities directly solves his problem. –  psr Jul 17 '13 at 16:29
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The last words of the question are 'while still keeping the incentive'. That you don't like the idea doesn't change it. –  TimLymington Jul 17 '13 at 16:38
    
@TimLymington - The incentive is making it fun. –  psr Jul 17 '13 at 16:41
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Other opportunities

Some people really don't like to write and would rather do other things with their leisure time. You could offer the players a "menu" of things they could do to get the rewards. For instance you could say to get the XP reward this week you must do one of:

  1. Write a summary for last week.
  2. Come in relevant costume.
  3. Provide some form of sketch or other player created art directly related to the last session.
  4. Chip in more than the minimum to the group snack pool. (This could be controversial as it essentially allows people to buy some XP with real money. But there are other non-money options on the menu, and I know I would heartily support it for my group. And if the players don't like it, drop this one.)

Only one reward per session. That way the people that don't like to write have other options, but everyone has to do something to get that reward so no one is getting it free. With several options like that, you might still have people that choose to do nothing but at that point they have rationally chosen to do nothing and should be allowed to fall behind as a result (especially in a game system where that isn't such a big issue.)

Is this a problem?

SSD mentions this in his comment, but I think I would go further. You are trying to get people to do something by providing an incentive. It is their choice whether to take that opportunity or not. The people that put in the work should be rewarded and the people that do not should not. In other words, a bit of power difference (and the chance for some characters to advance faster and the chance for some players to avoid some work) seems like it is the point.

As SSD pointed out, this can lead to problems in some games like AD&D 4e that really rely on the characters being very close in level. In something like V:TM a few more XP will certainly give one character an edge over another, but it won't cause huge problems for the game.

Other Rewards

Oblivious sage covered other possible rewards quite nicely. But I will add that many groups do not like plot coupons. I know that when I GM I really don't like handing them out. As a player, I like them better but even then they feel sort of forced rather than organic.

But something like 1 dice reroll that has to be used that game session could be quite good.

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