I don’t award Roleplaying XP. I don’t even award XP I use milestone leveling, but still. I never have my players level up for simply being in character. This doesn’t mean I DONT reward their efforts to develop their character. I just choose other rewards it differently.
‘But why wouldn’t you award me that last 400 xp!? I’m so close to leveling!’
First off, it feels wrong. You may just be 400 xp away from level 5, but its weird that you would get access to Fireball after participating in an in-game pool tournament… My games are heavily story centric and having my players have this weird background power creep where one moment the wizard is using scorching ray in an epic fight against an oni, and 3 sessions later they turn the manticore into a hairless cat with a ball of fire! It would make sense if they were mastering their martial craft during that time. It doesn’t if they spent 3 sessions helping the goblins build their restaurant in town.
Secondly, I want the reward I give my players to reflect what they invest in. Think of it like Skyrim. If you use the big axe you get better at using the big axe. If you spend all your time making potions and selling them you get better at Alchemy and Speech. Rewarding the smooth talking bard with boom boom power is awkward at best.
So What DO you do!?
‘Well, if you only give xp for combat stuff it seems like you want murder hobos at your table.’
Nope. I can’t stand murder hobos, and again, my games are very story centric. I would be miserable if my players killed every NPC I send their way. I also don’t have a lot of fun in dungeon delving games so rewarding long expeditions in a whole in the ground sounds miserable. All I’m saying is that there is a way to reward a player’s roleplaying efforts without shelling out XP and levels like its candy. Here are my go to rewards.
B.F. Skinner’s tool of choice. This simple reward can be handed out like candy without the player gaining a fancy new ability. It also signals to the player that you want more of whatever they just did. Use it consistently to train*cough* I mean reinforce good roleplaying habits. It’s amazing how useful this tool is for shaping the behavior at the table.
*Sigh* yes you can award the adventurers stuff that shows off status like land, magic items, and other baubles. These don’t give the players as strong of a hit of dopamine as a simple token. If the players are roleplaying, making friends, and interacting with the world it’s fun to have the world give back. If the big bad barbarian took time to help the beggar girl get her toy back, have the girl place a flower wreath on his head as thanks. I guarantee you that the barbarian will wear that stupid flower crown with pride and kick the ass of anyone who mocks it. Even having the poor farmer buy a round of drinks for the heroes who saved his farm from an Ankheg feels better to the player than the farmer handing over a sack of 24 gp (has to be divisible by the 6 players after all) and saying chao.
Renown & Game Effects
The fastest way to kill roleplaying at your table is by having their attempts to influence the game world have no effect. The biggest reward I give my players is showing them the result of their actions. As they help the locals of a village, have them become more recognizable and warmly accepted by the people there. Have the smith dock 10% off the price since they helped his niece last week. Did the players prevent a war by simply talking to both sides of a conflict and aid in negotiations? Then have wares which once could only be obtained exclusively from one faction be found in the other as the peace they planted grows.
I don’t strictly follow the Renown system as presented in the DMG, but it is an easy framework to show the change in perception of the characters over time. This combined with showing that their actions do effect your world are the best way to reward roleplaying at the table.
Thanks for reading.