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Recently, Bonus XP seems to have fallen out of public favor. It obviously has no place in, say, power min-max metagaming campaigns where surmounting nigh-impossible challenges is the main point; yet, even in more roleplaying-heavy and/or non-serious campaigns I frequently find it advised against.

On one hand, I understand it's primarily used as "training wheels" to encourage new players to be creative. Yet, at the same time, I can't see any good reason to not use it, especially since particularly notable moments that are inevitably remembered for years to come seem deserving of some recognition (and I sure as hell don't feel like designing a Renown mechanic... er, actually, that does sound cool. But, I digress). And, besides, I rarely give it in large enough quantities to unbalance the game (the sort that are commemorated in large illustrations for custom screens and game mats among my group).

So, for what objective reasons based on things such as game balance, player psychology, and the likes would it be a bad idea, if any? I'm not interested in "well I stopped using it at my table in '98 because I didn't feel like balancing it". I am looking for "I noticed this incentive made my player do x undesirable behavior" or "Small rewards like these, in any quantity, often break system y". An example would be "I noticed my players intentionally put themselves in harm's way to get a climactic escape and earn the incentive instead of just playing pragmatically". Tl;dr: Objective, tangible cons to using this system, not subjective opinions on why it's bad.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Warning: Answers submitted without citations to one's own or others' experience may be deleted for being insufficiently supported by observations. Answering from unsupported argument or opinion is not what the question is about. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 3 '17 at 15:08
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Awarding it to each player has in my term as DM never been more than a way to watch infighting flourish. That said I still do something similar.

Treating it like a team game has served me very well for 30 years. Awards for single player heroics or near scrapes alike; however I award the xp to the WHOLE group. This is why:

  1. the player that did the work gets a round of high fives from the team.

  2. the xp award spurs the player to attempt to repeat this kind of play.

  3. and far more importantly EVERYONE wants to be "That Player" that everyone talks about.

So over the years the heavy roleplay game I have run has gotten very player centric, with towns talking of the great deeds and losses of their favorite heroes. This not only drives the game far more forward but I do less work as a DM. Players come to me with heroic plans and great quests they need to do for the cities and queens and kings that patron them.

They want, no need, the xp awarded for the great plan, the escape from near death, countless peoples saved, the killing blow, the returned treasure and the love of the populace.

Trust me, award it to the group — they'll act as a group and fight that much harder for the mere strip-end of the bonus xp.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the edit 7, I wish I had a better writing hand, I am more of a speaker ;) \$\endgroup\$ – Vethor Apr 5 '17 at 3:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ This is a great answer, and exactly the kind I'm looking for. It covers an issue had with incentive systems, due to a hard reason (player psych), and backs it up with prior experience. \$\endgroup\$ – Papayaman1000 Apr 5 '17 at 4:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ Rewarding the team magically makes them a team. It was a stroke of dumb luck, I wanted to make sure that everyone felt like they weren't getting cheated so at the end of the session I asked the group what they thought was particularly outstanding play. I got great responses and then I awarded the group xp for each of those things, xp I made up based on how it had made me feel as well. After the following session the "team" clamoured about their fav scenes, I realized I had just built a way for them to tell each other how good play was, made the game 100% better. I kept the mechanic ;) \$\endgroup\$ – Vethor Apr 5 '17 at 12:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ I really, really like the idea of bonus awards are group awards. The individual who earned it gets both the bonus, plus, hopefully, accolades. The hardest part would be making sure that everyone has opportunities to produce these awards (your end of session jam sounds good), but the friction should be diminished significantly. \$\endgroup\$ – Chemus Apr 5 '17 at 17:14
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I don't know if there's a definitive answer for this, but I can share my own experience with this.

I used to give bonus XP for the killing blow. Nothing much, between 1 and 10 XP depending on the relative power of the creature. This lead to large falling outs between the players as one would do 20 damage or so to a target and then it would be finished off by a few damage from a bow. Taking this as feedback, I switched it so that the player that did the most damage got the bonus XP. This just bred feelings of inadequacy as early level mages don't deal nearly the damage a barbarian can put out and later levels the barbarians barely get a look in.

Now I try to give all the players rewards (XP and items) at the same time. As it avoids any feelings of DM favour or inadequacy.

If you're talking about bonus XP for the group, then that happens all the time, but it's pretty indistinguishable from normal rewards (I tend to assign XP at the end of a session). As for marking an epic situation, I really don't think you need to as they tend to mark themselves. As you said yourself, people talk about them for years.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Hmm. I will admit, I'd never thought of kill credit (though my experience with that mechanic in video games tells me it's a fast way to disintegrate a team, as shown here). I simply like to mark the epic situations because, hey, if talking down a dragon from evaporating your party gives you XP, then why not award it for pulling off a feat so incredible it makes your foes tremble as they hear your tales? Come to think of it, that last bit gives it nice flavor. Your renown makes foes easier to strike down, but also attracts stronger ones hunting your head... y'know, like leveling up. Hmm... \$\endgroup\$ – Papayaman1000 Apr 3 '17 at 11:36
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If you are using this as a way to reward new players vs older ones, the problem arises of potential jealousy between players.

Since you posted this with a D&D tag, the issue of uneven levelling can come up with newer players higher level than veterans. While it's okay, it can create a rift between the two groups.

That would be the biggest "con" I can see.

Note: my answer assumes all the players had equal playing time, that some are not "catching up" to others.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ In hindsight, it was implied at best, but I'm working with more experienced players. What I'm asking in particular is: Is it still appropriate for older players, or does it do more harm than good at that level? \$\endgroup\$ – Papayaman1000 Apr 7 '17 at 4:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ If used sparingly, I see nothing wrong with it. Especially when someone does something really THAT AWESOME. Be cognizant that not every player is equal and some may not be or or have the flashiness. Cleric. Clerics are rarely flashy, but they make others look DANG GOOD... and that often is overlooked. Sparingly = good. Often = bad. \$\endgroup\$ – JP Chapleau Apr 7 '17 at 14:44

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