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In our group, while playing D&D 5e we use the system in which every character that made to next story milestone gets a level. It is good because the party is at the same power level and it is easier to adjust level of challenges. Also, gaining a level is pretty big thing and denying it to a player because they show less commitment than others (say, player gets less XP for role-play and their character doesn't make it to next level) wouldn't be comfortable to me.

But "equal for all" advancement system has its downsides too. After 2 years of playing I feel that the party has little incensive to show more commitment. I'd like to see more role-playing, more devising clever tactics and looking for non-obvious solutions.

What systems could you propose to provide a player with lesser-than-level reward for role-playing and other things I mentioned? I'd like it would reward only the player who deserves it so that every player would be motivated to do one's best.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ There are 2 questions here: How to incentivize role-playing? …and… How to incentivize tactical thinking.? \$\endgroup\$ – Tim Grant Mar 31 '18 at 12:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ Possible duplicate of Awarding Experience for out-of-game activities, bias towards players with more time, how to fix? \$\endgroup\$ – Oblivious Sage Apr 6 '18 at 3:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ObliviousSage: definitely not. I want to reward in-game activities: role-playing and creative problem-solving. Not about out-of-game activities like reports writing, props creation or fanfics authoring (played with that commited friend too). \$\endgroup\$ – Forseti Apr 6 '18 at 10:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ And yet your question is ultimately about how to reward players, just like the question I linked. What you're rewarding the players for is less relevant. \$\endgroup\$ – Oblivious Sage Apr 6 '18 at 13:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ Difference is that rewarding for in-game activity also includes immediate reward, like Inspiration mentioned in the accepted answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Forseti Apr 6 '18 at 16:23
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Inspiration

There is already a mechanic in the game that can be used to reward good roleplay (or whichever quality you want to motivate in your players):

Inspiration is a rule the Dungeon Master can use to reward you for playing your character in a way that’s true to his or her personality traits, ideal, bond, and flaw.

[...]

Your DM will tell you how you can earn inspiration in the game.

Once a character has inspiration (multiple instances do not stack), they can expend it for a fairly major benefit:

If you have inspiration, you can expend it when you make an attack roll, saving throw, or ability check. Spending your inspiration gives you advantage on that roll.

Additionally, if you have inspiration, you can reward another player for good roleplaying, clever thinking, or simply doing something exciting in the game... [by giving] up your inspiration to give that character inspiration.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Indeed, it's right in the PHB. I forgot about it since we never used it. Perhaps we should now. But I'd rather houserule that Inspiration can't be passed to another player. BTW: do you know the reasons Inspiration can't be stacked? Would it promote inappropriate player behavior or something? \$\endgroup\$ – Forseti Mar 31 '18 at 11:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Forseti I think it's to motivate players actually using it rather than stacking them up and steamrolling difficult encounters. \$\endgroup\$ – David Coffron Mar 31 '18 at 11:56
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Are you sure it's what they want?

I'm not a big believer in system/mechanical incentives to try and mould your table into role-players or combat strategists. I think such systems (including 5E's Inspiration) can do more harm to a table than good.

You've said in your question that you're uncomfortable using XP as this tool (since you're using milestone XP)...why do you think any other systemic tool will be better? They all have the same downsides.

That being said, I have found that the best way to encourage role-plying is simply to engage the characters in role-play. Don't let the "face" characters with high Charisma make all the social plays. Have the town guard address the fighter or the mage directly. Give them a reason to be suspicious, or flattering of them. For those at the table that are uncomfortable with such direct engagement, small steps are the best. Just get a sentence out of them, anything that isn't "I roll Persuasion". You will probably be surprised how quickly they adapt.

As for tactical play, that is entirely down to encounter design. Fill the battle-field with interesting terrain, or unusual features such as weapons the characters can utilise, or defenses they can raise or lower. Encounters in the water, or air. Encounters where the lava is rising under their feet, or where they're getting strafed by wyvern-riding orcs. Don't be afraid to look to your favourite board or video games for inspiration.

You may be doing all of this, and still they're doing nothing but tanking the melee opponents and soaking the damage. If so, that simply might be all they want from the game. We can't really tell from here.

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For encouraging role playing, I like rewarding players who explain their character's plan. The player who says "I try to sneak past the guard" rolls a base Stealth check, while the one who says "I hide in the shadows and toss a pebble down the hallway opposite the guard, then slip past him when he turns to look at the sound" gets a +1 on her check. It's especially nice in social encounters, where if someone can explain HOW their character is going to intimidate the kobold they'll get a little boost to their roll. It doesn't rely on experience points, doesn't punish players who just aren't comfortable with that sort of thinking, and doesn't imbalance the game very much.

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