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Roleplaying Tips Supplemental #2

Alternative Forms Of Character Rewards

Please find below various tips, stories and comments about Issue #50's request for alernative forms of character reward. [Issue #50]


Johnn Four
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From: Warren L. ( follow the D&D link)

Picture this:

A ramshackle lean-to. Scattered about its interior are various armor pieces that seem over-sized and not all that well maintained. Many of the pieces still have bloodstains from their former owners. The weapons also have a more gruesome look about them and more than one battle-axe still has the skull of some creature still stuck to the blade. Now presiding over this motley collection of equipment is a half-orc with the typical chipped tooth and foul temper. This half-orc "merchant" operates in the shadier area of Waterdeep's market.

My purpose in setting up this encounter:

I have a half-orc player who really role-plays his character well and is a master of combat too! I wanted him to have a chance to really role-play his character when dealing with a merchant who expects him to show his dominance if he wants a fair price. After all, that is how I see orcs bartering... If the half-orc merchant feels he is the alpha-male (dominant) then you pay a higher price. I kind of pictured the whole barter scene as a argument bordering on combat... (I thought of Klingons and how they argue and talk.)

Krusk, our party member, started out wanting to buy a suit of armor. The merchant answered back...( in a confident Klingonish voice ) " I don't believe you are strong enough to wear that armor and wield your puny excuse of a weapon..." This set the mood, tone and, well, everything else... The two argued over the price, their honor, their strength and everything under the sun. In the end the player got his gear, the merchant his money and the player his 30 minutes in the spot light... It was one of the most fun merchant encounters I have ever run...

From: ShadeWest

In my campaign, knighthood isn't a matter of choosing the right class or rolling the right social status. Being knighted is a privilege bestowed on a character for great deeds. It's usually best to do this at the end of a long adventure, or series of adventures, and give it to the whole party at once. Be sure to have a grand ceremony scene for them, and have a few of the prominent NPCs of the campaign there to witness the honor. Also be ready for the party to want to flaunt their new authority later in the campaign, though. Balance it with some of the hassles of celebrity.

Knights can expect hospitality, but landed ones are expected to give it as well. I have several NPC nobles who are real moochers. I use an adaptation of the old Companion Set Dominion rules to determine how much PC money Lord Groff & Company can waste during a visit. Those PCs who don't settle can still expect fans, in the form of children and peasants who interfere with a quick or discreet getaway. Political rivals may plot against the King's new golden boys. The PCs may be expected to serve duties with their new positions. People may expect the PCs to play hero for them. Don't forget the "gunslinger effect," and the admirer who gets himself into trouble just by sticking too close. Of course, any PC with a reputation can suffer these effects, not just knights.

From: Jim K.

Nice issue on tips for encouraging PC development.

I'm rewarding character development by tailoring adventures and encounters to the players' concepts. For example, one of my players came up with this character background: her ranger left her homeland and people, who are a primitive hunter-gatherer folk, because the land had 'dried up.' That is, for unknown reasons, the hunts and foraging expeditions didn't produce as much sustenance as they used to, and her people are beginning to suffer. I've worked that into adventurers and encounters, and the players are heading towards a meeting with 'the Druids of Green Isle,' whom the ranger hopes can shed some light on the problem. When the time comes I'll decide on the reason and use it as an adventure lead-in.

Another player, a fighter, is the heir to a highly successful weapons-manufacturing business, and the likely inheritor of the family business. Lately, they've discovered some cheap imitation swords and axes, and she is starting to look into it. Who is making the imitation weapons and why?

I try to get players to make up homelands for their characters, and in time the party will have an adventure in the homeland of each PC. This seems to be a good motivator for players to come up with interesting backgrounds.

From: Miguel V.

Character development starts at the beginning.

Whenever I GM, I always try to give the players at least a week of lead time to come up with character ideas (and several weeks when I can). This lets them come up with a backstory. I reward the players with extra points based on how much detail they add to their history, their personaility, their hopes, etc. The reason I reward them is because the more information I have, the more plot hooks I can come up with. This also helps ease the uncertainty people feel with a new character before they get into the character's head.

Naturally, some players do very little or nothing, while some players get some good ideas and go hog wild with them. That's why I keep it a subjective reward. If they turn in something like it's a class assignment or if they are just writing something to get the points, I'm not going to assign them much. But if they lose themselves in their character and come up with lots of ideas, I'm going to be more generous.

From: Roger

I have been giving Brownie Points for excellent roleplaying for years.

It is a simple and totally arbitrary format where the GM hands out points for good roleplaying and excellent ideas.

If the players botch a die roll, they can spend a point to make it work. It allows people to "make the incredible" happen in games without having to roll a 20.

This is particularly good for time sensitive rolls, like chasing the bad guys, or trying to pick a lock before the water trap fills up to the ceiling and drowns them.

The players know I reward them, and they often will go trolling for points by working hard on good roleplaying... :)

From: Russell S.

Here's a reward we use.

Spotlighting within the campaign journal. Like many gamers, we keep a monthly newsletter. This covers a monthly recap of the plots and other details of the campaign. We have also instituted a monthly spotlight feature whereby a player who has preformed particularly well gets a kind of character specific article.

This may take any reasonable form the player wishes. Commonly we have autobiographic pieces or a character's view on a specific storyline/adventure written by the player.

Other times the spotlight displays an illustration, sometimes commissioned at a convention or from within the group. On really rare occasions we've had ballads, lists of top 10 coolest/lamest actions committed or polls like "if you could cast a movie about the character who would you pick". It's always kept light, and voluntary and has generally been accepted quite positively.

Stories/recountings of heroic exploits are far and away the favorite with portraits following up no too distantly.

Here are the rules:
  1. The spotlight is chosen by the campaign's GM. Players may suggest a candidate for the spotlight but the GM makes the decision.
  2. A player-character can not have the spotlight consecutively, they become ineligible for the next month's spot. (this has had the odd effect of sometimes having the same player get the spot with different characters though, so we may amend it to player or character.)
  3. A player gets to choose what form his/her feature will take and any request that isn't criminally offensive will be honored. (Criminally offensive is apparently definable by the game group and not the GM or spotlightee.)
  4. Portraits, articles are to be provided by the spotlightee but routinely, that is more often than not, involve at least one other player's contribution.

From: Aylene B.


I really enjoy the weekly tips. As a fairly new gamemaster I hope that they will help me to run better and more interesting games for my players. You asked for examples of rewarding characters outside of tangibles. I have a good example from my ongoing online email campaign. It is a mixture of tangible and intangible. The character is a barbarian of the "Horse Tribes" from the fantasy world, Windaar, created by my husband and myself.

In order to reward excellent roleplaying and interaction by a player who has been limited in the past I wrote a legend about a warrior of the Horse Tribes who played a big role in an ancient battle. Then the player had the opportunity to complete a mission thus earning the ancient warrior's shield. All of my players enjoyed reading the legend. Obviously the shield is a tangible reward; however, in linking the player to an ancient warrior the reward was also a deepened understanding of the fantasy world and more player buy-in.

By adding the "legend" that the warrior who uses this shield will one day unite the Horse Tribes and rule over them, it developed a possible plot arc for the character. At the start of the campaign this character had just escaped from captivity as a galley slave so he had neither possessions nor honor (in his eyes). This was a step in restoring both.

From: Jeff T.

In my campaign the PC's have actually made friendships as rewards. For example, they recently rescued a small farming village from the depredations of some unusual undead. They are now great heroes in the eyes of everyone in village and they can expect, food, lodging and healing whenever they pass by. Unknown to them is the fact that their reputation is spreading by leaps and bounds, not only for this action but also their actions in destroying/capturing two pirates vessels that had been plaguing the area, wiping out a huge infestation of wererats in a large town and ending the threat of orcish raids upon local merchant traffic. I find the PC's really like it when they enter a town that has heard word of the 'brave heroes' and they are treated with respect and even awe. Big ego inflater to say the least. Of course the PC's have to careful in how they act while they are in these towns, being egotistical and bullying will undoubtedly serve to ruin their reputation and word will spread just as quickly that the adventurers are crude brutes! Anyway, just my two cents on your topic. I hope you found it useful. Thanks again for all your hard work on the newsletter and web site.

From: Bill

I've been enjoying your RPing newsletter for a few months now. Your last issue (#50) made me think of the experience trick that I use, or rather stole from Amber Diceless - the Wish List. In games that use spendable experience, often there is some trouble with players buying things that are not justified by their experiences in the game. Some players also don't know what to buy, so they just spend it on whatever they think they'll need, which is usually combat abilities, which precludes good role-playing opportunities.

With the Wish List I take care of the problem from the beginning. However, you may want to warn players or give them a choice beforehand, since many may not like having their character's experience taken out of their hands. At the beginning of the session, each player should tell the GM what they would like on their Wish List, in the order of importance. As the character accumulates experience, the GM should spend the points on these items as events justify them. When there are enough points to buy it, the GM tells the player at the end of the session.

Along with this come player extras. If the player wants to write an in character diary, or draw pictures of the major characters, or otherwise contribute to the game, the GM can pay him for his work with an extra experience point or two. This works well for the game, since a player who contributes an in character diary will most likely fill out down time activities that explain how he works towards items on his list.

This does put a bit of extra paperwork on the GM, but if you have a good character filing system it should be very easy. It only takes me a few minutes after each session to account for the points, and in an online game it's easy to pull up the character notes file, allocate a point or two as an event occurs, and get back to the game. Hope somebody finds this helpful.

From: Matthew F.

I once had a campaign where the party was a group of skilled thieves. In one session the players broke into a Dwarven mine only to find its inhabitants enslaved by the minions of their arch-nemesis. Despite the odds they decided to liberate the Dwarves and attack. In the process, the one Dwarven PC made several affinity checks and was able to rally the slaves against the common enemy. This action was critical in turning the fight! When all was said and done, the free Dwarves taking notice of their dwindled numbers (about 20) declared the PC as their new king.

Now this turned out to be a lot of fun as far as character development is concerned. This selfish character is now responsible for twenty more additional mouths and he cannot refuse the act because the Dwarves are needed to escape the mines. In addition he also had to worry about the rest of his party and how they would react to the situation. (I really pumped the royalty thing to drive a small wedge into the party. Instead of obeying all commands the Dwarves acted in what they thought to be best for the king.) After several sessions and a bit of pushing on my part this character is completely different now compared to the first half of the campaign. This was the one and only time I have ever seen a characters alignment change for the better.

Selfish characters should constantly have to choose between good and evil; however, there is no reason that the consequences/rewards of either can not be equally difficult or beneficial!

From: Jay T.

Again, thanks for a great column! I suspect that having you as a GM would be pretty interesting. Keep up the good work.

The players I used to GM for were a little more character- driven that experience point or treasure driven. When we'd build the characters, they'd come up with motivations, and personalities, to go along with that nifty longword, or the black cloak that hides features. The best reward for them tended to be allowing them to achieve what they wanted with their characters. One guy, actually my best friend, loved to play "tortured soul" type characters, heroic but flawed. I thought he would cry when I he was given the chance to be the hero in a very public scene. It was not without great sacrific on his part, but the look of satisfaction on his face as he did the "hero-thing" was without a doubt worth more than any 1000 XP.