I used to play systems where XP is usually allowed to the group and shared equally no matter how well the players roleplayed or got involved in the story. But now I started Shadowrun and karma (or XP) is given based on multiple things such as:

  • Achieving at least two third of the mission's objectives
  • Good roleplay
  • Guts
  • Smarts
  • Motivations
  • Right place, right time
  • Humour and drama

I should allow an average of 5 karma points per missions (up to 10) based on the above list. But if some players are really not into roleplay and don't really talk at the table and just do the mission, he'll end up with 2-3 karma points per mission while the rest of the group will get around 5 or 6. At some point this player will either ask why he's not getting points like others and it's going to reflect in the game balance.

So my question is, how do you deal with systems that reward characters based on player's involvement to the campaign while keeping every players happy and keeping the party on the same level.

  • 8
    \$\begingroup\$ Have players that act like adults. \$\endgroup\$
    – okeefe
    Commented Jan 6, 2013 at 19:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ Why would you want to keep(ing) the party on the same level? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 7, 2013 at 11:50
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Specifically about Shadowrun. If your party is cohesive, all on the same level, and everyone survives more than a few sessions; you are doing it wrong. Shadowrun works surprisingly well with long-running players standing next to just-born characters, and the less the party trusts each other and everyone they meet, the better. At least in my experience. \$\endgroup\$
    – DampeS8N
    Commented Jan 7, 2013 at 13:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DampeS8N Having characters survive more than a couple of run is wrong in Shadowrun? \$\endgroup\$
    – user4000
    Commented Jan 10, 2013 at 20:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MrJinPengyou It is good to have a regular supply of new dead runners to pile up in an alleyway. Make good blankets for my orks. \$\endgroup\$
    – DampeS8N
    Commented Jan 10, 2013 at 21:17

8 Answers 8


So my question is, how do you deal with systems that reward characters based on player's involvement to the campaign while keeping every players happy and keeping the party on the same level.

Individual awards don't happen in a vacuum.

One thing about "individual" awards is the player getting the reward is often setup for it in some way. In other words Player 1 gets some excellent role playing in the session, but they got it because of an assist by others (GM or other players). Humor award? Same thing, often the humorous situation is assisted and/or enhanced by the actions of others, as often other players as GM. In my experience, any of these actions that lead to a player getting an extra award are, as often as not, facilitated by the actions of others. In effect making a chain of actions that lead to the bonus.

I sure don't want to get into tracking all that so I can reward everyone in the chain, talk about a headache. Dropping the rewards was not an option for me. So what I started doing was awarding everyone the bonus. This worked well in Shadowrun as one extra karma for each bonus was good and I could put a cap on how many are earned per session/run if I wanted to. In this way a normal run nets (let us say) 3 karma and I allow another 3 possible for "individual" contributions. So if the run goes well everyone gets 6 and they have fun doing it.

This did not cause any issues with my players. I was upfront about how I was doing it and why I wanted to do it that way. They did buy into it. In this way I avoided the worst possible scenario, a party with some very powerful characters and some very (comparatively) weak characters just because of karma awards.

One possible pitfall of this is that all party members get stronger quicker. I don't see this as an issue as I find it easier to deal with than having despairingly different power levels within the party.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1, rewarding the group is a really good idea, and will even improve group cohesion: what's not to like? And your cap on "bonus XP" is by itself a solution to your possible pitfall, so... \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 6, 2013 at 2:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ This is essentially how I handled it too. It's too hard to be consistent and fair, and some players are just more into it than others. Declare that +X pts awarded to the team due to the roleplaying with so-and-so; let the party decide how to divvy the points out. They may choose to divide them evenly, give them to one player if they admired their RP work, or use them to help level up a key character. \$\endgroup\$
    – Bryce
    Commented Jan 7, 2013 at 6:07

But if some players are really not into roleplay and don't really talk at the table and just do the mission, he'll end up with 2-3 karma points per mission while the rest of the group will get around 5 or 6.

What I do is give them other ways to make up for the unearned points.

Good roleplaying enables several traits on you game; IMO they are mainly:

  • Encouraging interaction with other players.
  • Adding flavor to the world.
  • Build up a better story for the character.
  • Some extension or variation on the above...

But in the end, it all adds to a more immersive experience for everybody. So ask yourself: How can this player contribute to a more immersive experience?

You might come up with better ideas for your party, but I'll throw a couple here:

  • If your player knows how to draw, let him draw his character for extra points.
  • If your player enjoys writing, let him write a background story for his character.

In the end, this might just help the player define his character's motivations better and later use them inside the game.


In Scion/WoD it was suggested to award for those things, 1xp a piece. While a different system than you are inquiring about I believe the method we used worked quite handily. In short, at the end of every session I would treat it sort of like an award ceremony. "The Timely Joke Award goes to Player 1. Bad-Lamma-Jamma move of the night goes to Player 2."

Granted, I would start with a minimal base XP and then find two or three things everyone did worth the XP. Seemingly the players enjoyed this approach because it wasn't so much about getting extra cheese after the maze so much as a constructive review of how they played that night. So in a session where I wanted a mean of 4xp I would start with 2xp and go around the table twice, then throw out one or two special ones ("Unexpected Solution" and "New Plot" come to mind).

Why it Worked (for me at least): Everyone walks away with achievements, and it does not float (much) favoritism.

The game I have the biggest problem doing this with is 7th Sea. They say give a drama die to a player who does something extraordinary in some fashion, regardless of the dice. At some tables certain players will dominate the witty remarks, swashbuckling daring-do, or masterful puzzle unraveling because it's a more metagame related reward. Then the trouble gets to be figuring out the weight of what a given player did compared to their normal actions if you don't want them to get ahead too quickly.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Damn, I thought the above solution of rewarding the whole group each time was perfect, but this is also a great solution that improves group cohesion (a big possible issue with this kind of RP-XP) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 6, 2013 at 2:08

One potential solution is to make the Roleplaying award based upon a vote. This avoids the issue of GM favoritism. It doesn't eliminate favoritism overall, but does avoid GM favoritism, and can reduce the emotional impact of dissimilar awards.

One should, however, also remain aware of the relationship of reward cycles and player behavior: What is rewarded tends to be what gets done. If a player can't rise to the standard, then it can create resentment; in some cases, however, it simply results in acknowledgement of the defect. In order to maximize the positive reinforcement effect, however, the GM needs to be clear why each experience point award is given - if the system instructs awarding a karma for good roleplay, then when awarding Karma, award it saying something to the effect of, "Ok, Fred, Joe, George, 1 point for good roleplay tonight." Do not say, "Darryl, no RP award." Negative reinforcement works far less well than positive; a lack of negative with positive of others tends to encourage like behavior. (This is all well grounded in educational psychology theory. It also is used strongly in games like Burning Wheel.)

If you have a player who is incapable of rising to the standard, you can lower your standard, or you can work with the player to train them. You can also work with the deficient player on the needed skills if they are willing.

The one thing not to do is to provide alternate routes to the same total. Each category should stand alone, and either be met or not. Providing alternates simply makes experience awards meaningless for shaping behavior, and cheats those who are meeting the category.

If you want even advancement, just award a flat award every session, and ignore the guidelines. It's perfectly reasonable to drop a category as well.

In 33 years of GMing, I've only had two players (of over 50, total) complain about asymmetric awards. Of those two, one was a cheat and a liar, so I utterly discount his contribution. The other was emotionally unstable and constantly seeking unmerited reinforcement. It usually isn't going to be an issue as long as it's clear why the awards are dissimilar.


This sort of reward system has the potential to be imbalanced when the group dynamic includes one member who is the designated face of the party.

To combat that sort of dynamic one thing I've done is made the NPCs address specific PCs. If the group is trying to figure out when the city watch changes shift by speaking to a former coworker of the fighter, it makes sense that that contact would speak to the fighter and not the bard. Face the player your npc is talking to. Address him by name. When the bard speaks up too much, ask the fighter "who's this guy?".

Also keep in mind that contacts are not a one way resource. They should approach the pcs as well and when they do they should address their contact rather than the whole group. If you have a shy player or a socially aggressive group give te contact a secret that he'll only share with his close friend.

The reason I suggest this is that it sets you up so you can prep a social encounter for each player. It gives everyone a chance where they're first in line to be the one speaking in a social situation. If they blow it they can still speak up at any other point in the session, but this should make it easier for them to earn their roleplay reward.


Ignore the XP rewards in some missions if the disparity between players is too great (in view of everyone's total XP). If some players continually refrain from roleplaying, make a decision with the gaming group about whether to give up giving XP for roleplaying or continuing to do it, with the condition that the otherwise uninvolved players at least make an effort to roleplay when called for.


I'll suggest something similar to what @Roflo said; tailor your XP to your game.

If you think the XP awards are slanted too much towards Roleplaying for your group change the bias. If there's other things that the group can do (problem solving, background writing, interaction) then up the awards for those instead - admittedly in an ideal world (to me) players would spew out story, drama and characterisation all the time, but this isn't what every group works with. However make sure they're aware of what you're doing.

TL;DR Several ideas and options:

  • First off: Be up front about any karma changes to your players; make sure they're on-board.

  • Decrease the XP for roleplaying, but try and draw the quiet ones in with NPCs that talk to THEM, situations where they have to do more than shoot someone in the head, then if all is well you can up the karma cap for XP again.

  • Work out what the group do do, and work the quiet players into this instead, increasing the karma cap for these activities whilst possibly setting an overall karma cap for each session so no-one gluts out. Juggle the points to indicate how the group plays. The quiet ones are genius tactical combat wombats? Give them bonus karma for that clever flanking move and so on.

  • Or, let them suck up the lower number of karama points and tell them that they need to engage to get those juicy karma points, but at the same time encourage them to do this, give them opportunites that they can't mistake; again, give them NPCs they can bounce off, work with, wave those pavlov karma points to them when they do engage and (hopefully) see the changes they'll start doing more than considering what sort of ammo to buy next.


A route around the parity issue is to give out the same XP/Karma to each player, but to then reward good individual roleplaying/gaming in some other way.

For example, in my D&D campaign, whenever a player would do something particularly smart, or say something that cracked the group up, or otherwise notably contributed positively in some way, they got a token that represented either a dice rolling bonus or a 'do-over' re-roll (for example, to re-roll a missed saving throw). The characters all stay at the same power, but individual players are rewarded. I'd hand out maybe 2-3 of those per gaming session. I never had a problem with them hoarding the tokens, but if they did you can just tell the players no more until they use the ones they got.

One benefit of this is it's immediate feedback, and can help those players who might have trouble role-playing get a better handle on it. Another benefit is if the players are playing multiple characters (like our groups tend to do) it directly rewards the player, not the character. So if the player does something notable that isnt tied to a character (for example, bringing chocolate chip cookies to the game), the token can be used for either of their characters.


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