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I run a weekly campaign with one session every Sunday. My core group (4-5 people) always show up, with the occasional person who joins from time to time (either playing a new character they wanted to test, or playing NPC's/monsters/etc). This composition works great for us.

Generally I have been holding experience until the end of the session and awarding it in bulk at the end of the session, which then levels people up afterwards (this was generally done to save time, keep people focused, etc). However what I am finding is that they typically walk away form the session and forget to level their characters (after having added the exp/etc). This has been leading to one of two situations.

(Please also note: I do this for a number of other things such as saying mundane items/common items are always available when inside a city, so please purchase them outside of campaign — again, to keep things moving at a brisk pace.)

  1. They remember when they come back, and proceed to level their character at the start of the next session (effectively delaying the start).
  2. They totally forget and only remember when they have something reminding them (similar to: wait, shouldn't I be level X?)

This means that it doesn't end up saving time. Session time is generally flexible, however I would rather use flexible time to do more campaign rather than updating characters/etc. I'd rather it was done outside of the campaign's time-slot so that we can play more.

My question: How do I motivate players to take care of their characters outside of the campaign's sessions, so as to not slow down the actual campaign? (e.g. leveling, healing, buying mundane items, etc)

It is worth noting that I am not giving the players additional work. Just simply the basic requirements to be able to play the game (e.g. updating their character as required).

My only thoughts so far would be to give Inspiration at the start of session for anyone who does not slow the campaign by having to level during a session, or by giving some sort of reward in the campaign (for instance, maybe if everyone was ready for the next session, I'll give them an extra 100gp per person as a reward in the dungeon).

I have already seen How can I get my players to do extra “homework”?, but it is more focused on additional outside work (homework), while character sheets (or other required mechanics/etc.) are much closer tied with just being able to play the game in general.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I've reopened this. A thorough reading of the other question beyond its title indicates that that one is about getting players to do “homework” that is extra, non-core activities. This question is about maintaining character sheets outside of session time, which a core activity, just at a different time. The answers so far are different and don't really answer the other question, too. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Mar 30 '16 at 21:41
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Sometimes, rewards and incentive are motivational enough on their own. In a tabletop RPG like this where bonus exp, gold, or any other non mundane item gifted to a player for doing something that is largely required by the player as a means of character maintenance after each session and before the next is going to lead to unfair advantages when 1 or 2 of your average group of 5 end up majorly ahead in exp or currency or wealth measured in possessions (items obtained). Even Inspiration is something not to be handed out lightly.

So when rewards and incentives create imbalance? What's left is rules and regulations. My group always does their leveling at the end of each session, after XP is awarded, if said XP is enough to progress them to the next level. Sometimes our sessions run for 5 or 6 hours and everyone is too tired to do all the math and additions required for level up. No worries, they have a full 7 days to level their character! Seven days is plenty of time. There should be time in anyone's schedule over the course of 7 days to level up a character. Minds can be slippery sometimes, however, and reminders are required.

So how do you effectively go about this while respecting your players time restrictions and motivate them in the process? You make a hard rule. Session start time is Session Start Time . Character leveling up is the players responsibility. Anyone not sufficiently leveled up by the start of the next session 7 days later uses the character they have as represented on their character sheet. If they didn't go buy manacles and a chain, and the start of your session doesn't allow for shopping? If they didn't add all the nifty new things they gained for reaching level 4 and the session is starting? Well they're missing out.

You might say "Well that seems harsh, Airatome, where does the madness end!?" Well; you supplement that with reminders, if possible. Our group plays over skype so there is a consistent group chat always active. Whatever forum you use to bring your players together as a group has a method of messaging your group. So remind them at the end of each session to level up and shop. Remind them a few days later to level up and shop. Remind them the day before your next session to level up and shop. Anyone failing their responsibilities to keep their character sheet current after positive reminders and reinforcement is then stuck adhering to the rule of Session Start Time.

They can then level up their character if there's a break, or after the end of the session, and catch up to where they belong. Additionally, time allowing, you COULD have a soft session start time 1 hour before the implemented hard start time for those who need to catch up in levels and spend gold and such. This will not only give the people who already have done so time to make it to the session's actual start time, allow you as the DM to help any players who need it with their level up and HP rolls, but also allows everyone to start on an even note after the soft hour has concluded and the actual session begins. No delays. No giving out gold or items or Inspiration to those who should earn them in the game not out of the game because of a character sheet.

Regardless of the optional 'soft start time' being used, implementing a 'Hard Start Time' along with positive reminders after, in between, and a day before sessions should motivate them in a way that does not sow discord or advantages/disadvantages among the players; because after all is said and done, they DO gain the level they were missing; it's simply their responsibility, not yours, to keep their character current.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ It's long, but I don't think it's bloated. My only issue is that you're suggesting a hard rule to keep the start time in tact, but then suggesting later that you open up the start time. It just seems like the ideas are opposed, but that's no problem for your answer I dont think. \$\endgroup\$ – Premier Bromanov Mar 30 '16 at 16:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ Perhaps my phrasing is mincing up the intention. The hard start time shouldn't be rendered obsolete by the soft start time. They should work in tandem if implemented. Soft start time to catch up those behind, 1 hour prior, to help with making the hard start time less severe. Anyone STILL behind after offering that kind of assistance? Well you knew this was coming. \$\endgroup\$ – Airatome Mar 30 '16 at 16:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ Sure, I think I was mostly pondering the question I just asked in the comments of the question: Is the time slot flexible? I mean, the extra hour is an extra commitment for the DM, which he may or may not want. Hopefully my question clears it up. I think your intention is clear, and I rescind my comment about my issues. It could be trimmed to be sure, but where and what to trim would be difficult for us to determine without undermining your intentions. \$\endgroup\$ – Premier Bromanov Mar 30 '16 at 16:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PremierBromanov Yea I can understand that. My point is the Hard start should be a table rule if this persists as an issue, but the soft start time is a kind of optional helping hand so that the hard start doesn't seem like an aggressive response to slacking players. This is supposed to motivate in a positive way, and hopefully that intention comes across properly in my above words \$\endgroup\$ – Airatome Mar 30 '16 at 16:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Sh4d0wsPlyr that bothers me for some reason lol. You have expert players who know what they're doing....know their responsibilities.....so why do they struggle with this one? Maybe try addressing the group as a whole and mention (if you have not already) that character sheets will be expected to be completed before each session from now on. Maybe they just assume their current behavior is acceptable? \$\endgroup\$ – Airatome Mar 30 '16 at 16:40
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I as a GM keep reference copies of all character sheets.

It is the responsibility of the players to update character sheets at least one full day before the start of the next session so I can approve or disapprove any changes. (Disapproval almost always stemming from an outright error in stats, for more mechanical systems.)

All die rolls during the course of the session are governed by my reference copies.

In the context of the question (level-ups due to experience and large, outside-of-roleplaying purchases such as trading generic loot for special or magical gear, etc) this create an incentive toward getting the work done so that the benefits can actually be used. Mechanically, that is one of the goals of leveling up: Do more cool things, hit harder, be tougher, and in general be more mechanically interesting, versatile, and competent. If the sheets aren't updated, none of that happens-- none of the new toys are in play.

If the players are absolutely and entirely unmotivated by that, this will not work. But if they are even slightly motivated (yet absent-minded) then this self-inflicted punishment should motivate them to get leveled up and prep'd.

If one really wants to turn the screws, one might make a sorry-not-sorry comment about how tough it must be going through an encounter designed for 5th level when half the team is still 4th level. Whether or not one has actually done that to the players....

This happens to flow from my own style of game management, where I keep a number of private spreadsheets open and available to me, stemming from character stats, so that I can perform hidden perception checks, etc without having to slow the game down and/or alert the players to the existence of a die roll. But it turns out to be useful in this context as well: My asking for the updated sheets in advance is a well-established precedent, and they know I'm not going to unlock it and update it during the game. I find in general it's easier to be a hard-ass once and early, than to have to constantly worry and cajole people.

(I'll also note that this doesn't work if for some reason the players are going "backwards," if they've been level-drained, are cursed, lost an item, etc. But even I'm not enough of a jerk to insist the players do that. But I'll have my reference copies, and do it for them!)

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    \$\begingroup\$ I assume this works the same way to punish players who do not? E.g. if its not updated in time the update is not approved until next session? \$\endgroup\$ – Sh4d0wsPlyr Mar 30 '16 at 16:46
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Talk to your players. Mention that this issue slows down the game and that you like to keep things moving. Ask why they think it keeps happening.

You've been thinking about this and they apparently haven't, so offer some possibilities. Do they mean to level up at the end, but forget? Sign off on their new sheets before they leave. Are they too tired after a session, then forget? Send a couple reminders every week (only to those who haven't done it if possible). Are they not actually comfortable leveling up on their own? Offer to meet at a separate time, or make sure to get it done before they leave for the night. Note that the problem, and therefore the solution, may be different for each player.

If you do all that and get nowhere, a more hard-line stance like "we start on time with whatever you've got" may become necessary. But based on what's written here, I'm not certain your players even know there's a problem with the way things are. Tell or remind them, then involve them in the solution. You'll get better buy-in than with a sudden edict.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for "I'm not certain your players even know there's a problem." I was reading the other answers wondering if I'd missed where the OP mentioned/hinted that this kind of conversation had happened, and if I was the only one who thought it sounded like a difference in expectations. \$\endgroup\$ – Blue Footed Booby Mar 31 '16 at 18:47
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Start on Time

The first way to motivate folks to be ready for start is just to go ahead and start on time. If somebody hasn't leveled up, then let them scramble to do it, or tell them they can't until next time.

"Workshop" Time

When I have a new player in the group, or any player who needs little more guidance, I'll try to set aside a little time with the outside of main game time.

Technology has made this pretty convenient. There are RPG-enabling web apps available for free that will let you video chat with players and even update player sheets online.

Carrot and Stick

You can schedule a little time to meet up online and get everyone squared away, while letting them know if they show up unprepared, the caravan will be departing on time, with or without them.

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One method I've used in the past (for various games) is to simply use "whatever is on the character sheet at the start of the session" as the source of truth. If a player has forgotten to level their character up, well, that's because the character hasn't had time to level (we usually house-ruled that levelling up required a short down-time). I also, usually, provided some time to help with advancement at the end of each session.

In the campaign I am playing at the moment, I do my character sheet updates via email with the GM, between sessions, getting a fresh copy of the sheet handed to me. Well, sometimes, I do this by scribbling on the sheet at the end of the session and handing it back to the GM, who then does the relevant changes to the source of truth.

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