What Are We Rewarding?

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1070

At a previous job my employer would take daily attendance. Yup. It was like being back in grade school, and I think that’s what the employer thought of its employees too — unruly things that must be controlled.

When I see GMs award XP for attendance, it hearkens me back to that old gig.

The bigger picture I’m musing on here is what do we really want to reward players for?

I’ve pared my bonus XP stuff down over the years. I used to give XP for attendance, bringing snacks, and good roleplay.

But I feel now the game must be its own reward.

If we must prop players up with rewards just for showing up, it makes one wonder how much they want to be there in the first place such that we must dangle a carrot to lure their presence.

If I were a player who showed up and got a shiny experience point for that, I would not care. I showed up because I like the game, the GM, my fellow players. I value my time and cannot be incentivized to burn it for carrots.

We might be on the same page here, but I think you might disagree on rewarding roleplay with incentives.

Classic teaching offers gold stars for good performance, right?

My approach is to always be improving as a game master so that play is its own reward. I’m not pushing a personal agenda in a passive aggressive way via extrinsic rewards.

Instead, I believe if I can demonstrate by example how much fun interacting with NPCs in-character can be, and how much fun portraying another character can be, then the roleplay will happen.

If I’m serving up a boring plate of limp vegetables, then propping interest up with XP rewards for showing up and participating won’t solve the core issue.

Say we’re playing Monopoly. The $1500 we start with…. Is that a reward for showing up, or simply part of the game? Do we give certain players extra money because they made good moves, or does the game take care of that itself with more income and options?

My aim is to be a good enough GM who is always improving so that players want to show up because they have more fun at every game. I believe that’ll have the best return on effort in the long run.

The rewards we offer say a lot about how we treat the game and our fellow gamers.

To encourage great gameplay, I challenge myself to offer great gameplay in response. Thus, a positive feedback loop spins up to make our sessions ever better.

That’s me. How about you? Do you offer bonus XP for attendance and good roleplay? If so, please let me know why and how that’s been going for you. I’d love to hear other points of view on this.