When I GM, I award bonus experience for roleplaying. My intent is to promote roleplaying from my players, who occasionally fail to remember that it's a 'roleplaying game.' It's generally a small amount, and I randomize it, to an extent.

For anyone who's curious, here's my exact method; Based on my personal opinion of how well they depicted their character, I assign my players one of three 'tiers' at the end of the game, in the form of a d4, d6, or d12. The first is if they didn't roleplay at all, or did so very poorly. The d6 is for active effort to roleplay, and get into character. The d12 is a reward for going above and beyond to depict their character. I then roll the selected die for each player, multiply the result by 5, and that is the amount of bonus experience they get. Everyone will fall into one of the three tiers. The only way to be denied this experience is if a player is caught meta-gaming, specifically to cheat. Luckily, the last has rarely been a problem for me.

Most recently, I've had a problem with a player who feels I'm not assigning him the appropriate tier. He's a new player to the group. During the first game, his character showed no emotion or interest at all in anything, and the player himself was only interested in optimizing his play. However, after learning of the bonus experience, in recent games he has begun copying other players' actions that earned them a d12 at the end of the game.

The problem: He feels he deserves the d12. I do not. However, I don't want it to seem like I'm forcing my roleplay style on him.

I would just do away with the system, except, it has actually accomplished what I intended it to do. It gets players to roleplay that otherwise don't.

Should I do away with it? Or should I keep it?


10 Answers 10


As you say, this house rule works well for your group. A new player objecting to a house rule they don't understand is no reason for you to change it.

And they don't understand the point of the house rule. They've observed their fellow players and seen the rule's results, and are trying to adjust their actions to fit what the rule is meant to encourage — and they've misunderstood. Instead of engaging in new, creative roleplaying, they're just copying what they see other players do in a kind of cargo cult roleplaying.

This is also the source of their frustration: they think they've solved the puzzle, and they perceive you denying them the reward for solving it. They haven't understood it though, and rewarding them for missing the point will not help them integrate into your group.

Having put in effort and missed the "target" of understanding the point of the bonus experience, though, you should meet them halfway:

"It's clever how you noticed what the other players did to earn the bonus experience. That's great, but it's only halfway to getting the point of the bonus. The bonus is a reward for individual creativity in roleplaying, so simple copying doesn't earn the bonus.

"Does that make sense? This is an important tool that has worked for us, and I want you to understand what it's for so that it works for you too."

You need to emphasise that you're willing to help the new player get up to speed with the group. Emphasise that, because that's what the conversation should be about — not about whether the rule is useful or not (you already know it is for your group), and not whether the player gets to challenge the award (that's not their job in the group dynamic). Just take it as given that this is how it works, that's not up for discussion and don't bring it up for discussion. Move past those givens without even mentioning them, and instead move right to discussing with the player the point of it and how they can reach that point.

P.S. — Contrary to recent online RPG community fashions that resist XP rewards, this is a common and widespread way for RPGs and groups to work, and entirely functional when done fairly and impartially. Current fashion is simply that — passing fashion. Fashion is not legit grounds to tell you it's a bad way to run your game.


This system seems arbitrary to the player, because it is. There are no objective criteria to be met, and all the decisions are being made by the GM who already has huge power over the game. It's hard not to see not getting the highest reward as being snubbed. Which is not to say you can't or shouldn't ever award things this way: without trust in GM's judgement the game can't function. However, there is a disagreement over this judgement, and replacing the contentious house rule may be the way to go - see below.

There is a deeper issue here as well: the desired behavior doesn't arise from the game itself, but from an external reward at its conclusion. But if it works it works, and I assume there's nothing in the system of your choice that'd encourage roleplaying.

I'd suggest replacing the current system with a similar one: each player gets two appreciation tokens at the end of the game, which they have to give to two different players whose roleplaying they have enjoyed. Each token is worth 1d4*5 exp, or however you choose to scale it. The main difference is that it's a democratic process and therefore doesn't give a single target for blame.

While it's possible a player would always award their tokens to the characters or players they like best, making it less than fair, others can balance it out by rewarding different players for their contributions. Ideally, though, if we're willing to trust GM to be fair, we should extend the same courtesy to fellow players.

It's still a crutch, though - roleplaying, like any other activity, should be it's own reward. It's also worth pointing out that while striving for greater things is good, it may simply not be something your players want to do. There are plenty of kinds of fun people get from RPGs. Some really only care to fight monsters, and that's fine too.

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    \$\begingroup\$ My only recommendation is that players are like puppies: immediately reward them with treats. Let players (and the DM) reward these dice when the good roleplaying happens. And if it's an awesome night, allocate more dice and continue on. \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Mar 2 '15 at 7:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ If you do this, please mention how you get around the risk of player-favorites making the process less than fair? \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Mar 3 '15 at 0:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ You had me up until the last paragraph. There are a great many activities where simple participation is not "it's own reward". \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Dec 28 '17 at 21:18

I've had good experience with a system somewhat like this, which like Magician's suggestion focusses more on letting the players reward each other, but had as an extra criteria that you had to explain why you were awarding it. This turns out to be the key point.

The basic gist was that each person at the table (including the DM) would get one token (which can be a dice of XP for you, or an action point, or whatever you find enough to be a minor motivator). Then either during the game or at the end of it, any person could donate their token to another person when something they did something really cool. But they had to explain why they thought it was cool. This was especially relevant when someone saved it until the end, as they had to bring some fun part of the session back up.

I've found that most players were rewarded more by the words of encouragement than the actual reward itself. While many players might not openly tell you they enjoy being praised by their peers (a social faux-pas, I guess) it really does work. Adding the small mechanical bonus allows you to circumvent the awkward "I'm awarding you one compliment for being awesome" in favor of the easier "This is a mechanical bonus, and this is a compliment to explain why I'm giving it to you."

It's also very useful to the DM as it shows you which parts of the game the players value the most. The token could be given for essentially anything as long as the giver of the token found that it made his night more fun. Because you play with these people more often you not only learn what kind of things they enjoy (because they give an award for it) but you will also find your other players will start playing to entertain the other people at the table to try and claim the reward/praise from them.

This is also why it's important to give every person the same amount, otherwise people will start playing favorites to people who have more tokens to give. Which is usually the DM.

Most commonly the token (and explanation/compliment) were awarded for great in character jokes, brilliant strategies played out in character, but also occasionally for rolling well with failure, doing sub-optimal but totally roleplaying valid actions and things that simply make everyone at the table go "wow".

As an example, I once collected multiple tokens in the first half hour of the session because our party was ambushed, and my characters' first action was to lift his entire backpack overhead and then fire off the artefact cannon inside into the guy in front of him, blowing out the entire underside of the backpack and scattering a flaming shell and all his burning belongings all over the ambushers. Simply because it was the kind of impulsive thing he would do and he did not want to waste the time to actually "draw" the weapon first.

Because of the reward tokens, that moment received some extra spotlight as everyone had to say why it was cool and give over the tokens. It also upped the bar for the remaining tokens a bit of course, since fewer were left and people would not give them out lightly after such a start.

Receiving a few compliments (and some XP) about how it's great that my character would ruin a lot of his (not very relevant, mechanically) stuff in order to display just how itching he was to get in the fight, really helped me realise that it was one of the things the other players enjoyed about the character. It motivated me to roleplay it more, mostly because of the kind words. I don't even remember what I used the XP for, but I still remember the story even though it's been at least 6 years, because of the reactions I got from the table.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This reminds me of Numenera. In that game, when the GM gives a player experience, that player then immediately gives half of it to another player, citing a reason why. As a result, the GM gives out experience based on the complications and difficulties individual characters face, but rewards for good roleplaying, making the game fun, bringing snacks, etc. are solely in the hands of the players. It seems to work well. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Mar 2 '15 at 23:43

I'm a fan of games that have reward systems based on character roleplaying and motivation - most of the ones I play have those baked into the rules so it's very clear how the group is supposed to use them and there really isn't questions.

That said, I've found generally when you have these kinds of rules, it helps if the whole group can see what action(s) kick off an award. During or after a scene of great roleplaying, you can give an award so that players know "Oh! That's what I'm supposed to do!" and then everyone does it more.

Since it sounds like the award you give is at the end of the session, maybe start by putting a D4 in front of every player. When they do something awesome and earn the next step up, change the die type - everyone can see "Oh, that particular thing they just did earned a new die type!".

Now, to be sure, "what I think is good roleplaying" is arbitrary, and that's why having a system of things to aim towards, whether it's a player generated "Flag" or a code of honor or something helps more.


Based on my personal opinion of how well they depicted their character

There are a variety of game systems that require players to explicitly define their character's motivations and values, Burning Wheel being an example. Character advancement is then tied to how closely the characters hew to these motivations and values.

If you're using a system that does not incorporate this sort of mechanic, you might try having the players each define a number of core motivations and key values that define their characters. Then when rewarding XP for roleplaying, you have something concrete and relatively objective to serve as a guide.


I'd say no. I dislike it intensely as a player as it's fairly insulting to say that I, the player, need to be rewarded for doing what I turned up to do. I would not play in such a game again, having done so in the past. The results have always ended up being manipulative - not necessarily deliberately so - and undermine my investment in the character. After all, it is the GM deciding what counts as "good" for my character. That's a big no-no for me.

In your specific case, you're putting it at one step removed by letting the dice do the dirty work for you, as it were, but it's still your opinion as to who's playing well or not. Whatever way you cut it, giving someone a d4 is a pretty clear judgement.

At the very least I think you should switch to giving everyone the maximum die and reduce for obvious transgressions - wizards that get into punch ups or supposed heroes who run away etc. (ie, assume good play and punish bad, rather than assume bad and reward good) Really broad-brush stuff.

But, if it's true that the amounts are small and not very important, I'd say "why bother then?"


Ok, My take on this is, that you shouldn't reward individual Players. This is a group effort and rewarding one Player over another can lead to Players competing for "the best" Roleplay and actually blocking opportunities to Roleplaying together instead of trying to do the best as a party.
I have tried both approaches and rewarding the whole group allways worked better for me as a DM or a Player. On top of that this kind of approach can lead to discrenpencies in Party-Level, which may or may not be a problem depending on your group, system or DM'ing style.
So in essence I would say keep the basic System, but reward your Players as a grp instead of as individuals.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Really? Huh. My experience is that one player roleplaying well natuarally creates opportunities for the other players to roleplay their responses, leading to more and better roleplaying all around. I guess it must depend on the group. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Mar 2 '15 at 23:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ I had the problem that often one player was hugging the DM's time and roleplaying with npc's but didn't really engage with the rest of the grp. \$\endgroup\$ – Andy Mar 3 '15 at 9:16

Extra EXP at the end of the game is something that's very optional. I know you're using it as a carrot on a stick for your PC's, but it's a crutch either way you look at it. Honestly, it should be done away with. Role playing comes from the characters and interaction and not everyone can be expected to contribute the 110% that some people do. There are those that like to act, get into character voices, write book after book of character background. And then there are those that just like to roll dice and play a game. Both are valid and both should be allowed. If you don't like some types in your gaming group, then you should try and get rid of them. But, in general, gaming is about having fun. So long as it doesn't infringe on other people's fun, it's all a game. So just have fun.

HOWEVER...there is a system I use in my Shadowrun games for how I reward PC's for cool and awesome things in game. It's called the 'Floating Karma' rule. At the end of a session, I list out the Karma everyone gets for the game. Then, based on how long the game lasted and how it went, I award the group 1 - 3 Floating Karma. This karma (which is Shadowrun's EXP system) is something that the players nominate. A character can only get one floating karma. And the players have to agree on why that person gets the floating karma. I've seen, a lot of times, that the people that role play and get into character a lot aren't the ones that get the most floating karma. Sometimes, it's the guy that's in the back being quiet. Or maybe it's just something wild and crazy that happened with Joe Everyday. Point being, it's something the players choose on their own. I just let them know it's there. Sometimes, no one votes on the floating karma at all, and it evaporates.


If it's accomplishing what you want it to, then there's no reason to change it. If you want to keep a similar system in place while also not feeling like you're forcing your own RP'ing style upon this player (or any player), maybe you could ask the players at the end of each session, "which dice do you think you deserve, and why?". This could mean a better insight for you into what about roleplaying the players enjoy, and bring about a dialog between players about roleplaying styles and enjoyment, without holding up the game.


I see what you're going for and think it's a good idea that you should keep, however, you should probably modify it in a manner that might better reflect the level of effort being required by the participant. I think the effort exerted may be the crux of the irritation for the new player and your lack of acknowledgement on the matter may be exacerbating the issue.

If you've a new player at your table who has a history of just focusing on combat and fighting with absolutely no focus on roleplaying works to improve their roleplay to 10% of what you want to see, you should acknowledge that effort with the highest die possible. Because they just made a large jump forward. Even though they are just imitating the others, that is still a large jump forward for them and is likely requiring a concerted effort on their part. Is the overt net effect of their roleplay comparable to your more experienced players? Probably not, but if you make the reward more about the effort exerted by the character to contribute to the group's roleplay then you incentivize them to keep up that behavior.

Overtime (maybe a month), you should scale their reward back if they've not moved beyond just imitation. If they inquire why, be direct about what you're looking for.

The first real world comparison that comes to mind for me is martial arts. I'm not going to shower accolades on a black belt for properly performing a punch, but if a white belt does it correctly, I want them to know it and encourage it. The effort to punch correctly comes from a conscious and intentional effort, because there are a lot of steps to pass through as well as breaking of bad habits that needs to occur. By the time that person is a mid-range belt, it should be subconscious and require no effort, thus there's hardly ever reason for it to be noteworthy.

Change is not easy and a lot of times in life, we improve by imitating the behavior we're trying to create in ourselves until at some point we're no longer imitating.

If you opt for this, I would recommend informing your table of this intended revision to the house rule so that they understand why the new guy is suddenly getting a d12 when they only got a d6. I expect that more often than not, your experienced roleplayers will earn a d6 unless they intentionally push themselves to go the extra mile (which was your intent regardless). The point being, the d12 is there for your experienced roleplayers, they just have to reach for it.


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