XP for Roleplaying

Here are the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay first edition rules for awarding XP for good roleplaying:

These points are awarded to players on an individual basis and reflect how well they portrayed their character. Was the character played in an entertaining fashion according to alignment and career? There will be times when it is obvious that players are running their characters simply as extensions of their own personality, and this need not be a bad thing, but the gamesmaster must decide whether the character’s career, alignment and background mean that he or she really should be different. Give each player a rating (this is probably something you should keep to yourself), along the lines of Bad, Poor, Average, Good or Excellent, and award 0-50 EPs as a recognition of the way the character has been ‘brought to life’.

When allocating experience points for role-playing, you should bear in mind the player’s own conception of the character. For example, a player may have decided that his dwarf is taciturn and consequently have very little to say during role-playing encounters, but become very active during more action-orientated situations.

Generally, each player should receive 30 Experience Points per session for roleplaying, with some players gaining more and some less depending on the circumstances. Only those players who have impressed and amused you with their roleplaying should gain me maximum reward; conversely only those who have added nothing whatsoever to sessions should receive none You should avoid encouraging competition amongst the players – don’t always award the largest amounts to the player with the biggest mouth!

I’ve never liked rules like this for a number of reasons. One, I feel uncomfortable judging and rewarding players by how well they have entertained me. Especially since this passage suggests keeping it secret from the player. If this is an incentive system, how can it function if the player does not know for what they are rewarded experience?

That being said, I do like the idea of roleplaying XP, though I know this might be criticized by fundamentalists that believe XP should only be from treasure and monsters, preferably with more coming from treasure. If there are roleplaying XP though, I think they should be less subjective. Another flaw with awarding XP as suggested by Warhammer 1E is that in my experience such as system often leads to roleplaying caricatures rather than more balanced personalities, because caricatures stick out more. For example, a depressed character will be portrayed as moping all the time.

One idea that I have been playing around with is to allow players to select some goals for their characters, the completion of which will result in XP rewards. Something like minor, substantive, and major goals which would award 100, 500, and 1000 XP respectively. A 100 XP goal might be something like getting a hellhound pelt crafted into a suit of leather armor, fashioning a hat out of a shroom head, or transcribing looted dwarven books and donating them to the library of Ioun (all actual examples from my current campaign). Some might object that that some of these things come with their own reward (like getting a suit of armor) but the same thing is true of treasure.

The best part of this is that it seems like it would reward engagement with the setting. I’m always looking for ways that I can get players to be more self-directed. Adventure paths have trained players to just go along rather than venturing out on their own. Goals would need to be negotiated beforehand, and thus would not be arbitrary. A good goal, just like in real life, should be easily measurable. It also offloads some work from the referee to the players, which is often a good thing.

12 thoughts on “XP for Roleplaying

  1. waywardwayfarer

    That idea is pure gold! I’ve always been uneasy with role playing XP (very subjective) and “story award” XP (rewards for following the railroad to the approved ending,) but at the same time I wasn’t entirely satisfied with monster and treasure XP only. This is the sort of thing that should have been in the rule books all along.

  2. Ed Dove

    I, too, like the idea of somehow rewarding good roleplaying without having to make completely arbitrary decisions.

    I’ve tried to achieve that with an experience point award system that rewards good roleplaying without either subjective judgments by the referee or predetermined goals set by the players — and that still indirectly rewards overcoming monsters and recovering treasure — by awarding experience points for doing numerically quantifiable things appropriate to the character’s class. It goes like this:

    When a class-based die roll is made for a character under stress, they gain experience points equal to the modified die roll.

    A character gains an experience point for each gold piece (or equivalent) they dispose of performing any function of their class.

    A “class-based die roll” is any die roll that’s required, determined, modified or affected in any way by the character’s class. That includes To-Hit rolls, saving throws, class skill rolls (such as Thief skill rolls), spell effect rolls for spellcasters, and every other die roll that’s required, determined, modified or affected in any way by the character’s class, even the character’s Hit Dice rolls.

    A character is “under stress” whenever, because of either whatever they’re doing or the conditions under which they’re doing it, anything very bad could happen to anybody they don’t want that to happen to. So practice under completely safe, controlled conditions doesn’t earn experience points. But any situation involving any real risk does.

    A “gold piece (or equivalent)” is anything worth a gold piece.

    Something is “dispose[d] of” whenever it’s no longer available for further use as is by the character. That includes spending, donating, giving away, destroying, using to make something else, and any other action that makes the thing no longer available for further use as is by the character.

    And “performing any function of their class” is doing anything a person of that character’s class is supposed to do specifically because they’re a member of that class. That includes any necessary activities, officially specified obligations, and even merely generally expected behaviors. This is the only somewhat subjective part of the system.

    What do you think?

    1. Brendan

      I like the clear objectivity of this system, and the “under stress” clause seems to rule out most abuses. The one thing I would worry about is the extra bookkeeping necessary, as every roll would require XP to be recorded. That seems like a rather high overhead. Maybe would be okay if the player tracked it.

    2. Ed Dove

      Thanks for giving it a look, thinking about it, and telling me your critique! I really do appreciate it!

      You’re quite right that it’d be onerous for the referee to track every character’s experience using this system. That’s why I don’t do that. I do what you suggest.

      Each player keeps track of their own character’s experience.

      The only things I do are tell players how many experience points their character gets whenever I make a class-based roll for their character (because there’s something happening that they don’t know about) and keep track of NPC experience (which I usually actually do by just estimating after each play session is over).

      So it ends up requiring even less calculation and bookkeeping on my part than any other experience award system I’ve ever tried.

  3. Cygnus

    Great ideas here. Last year, I came up with what I thought was a good balance for using XP to reward engagement and also reflect how much the PC was challenged, but that system may be due for some re-calibration…

    1. Brendan

      The square root is kind of scary. I understand why you chose it, but it still adds an extra post-processing step. Have you had a chance to try this out in play since then?

  4. LS

    I’ve never really found in necessary to reward good role playing. Those who enjoy role playing will role play, and I like that. Those who prefer not to role play won’t. I see no reason to incentivize people out of their comfort zone. If somebody prefers to treat their character as a game piece, that’s their prerogative.

    I do reward players for accomplishing goals, though. And personal goals would be experience which only one player would get, so in that way, what I do is similar to what you suggest here.

    I use my simple XP system (http://www.paperspencils.com/2011/10/22/pathfinder-house-rule-simple-experience-points/) so level appropriate challenges grant 2 xp to all participants, particularly difficult challenges grant 3 xp to all participants, and more minor challenges grant 1 xp. Characters level every time they reach 20, 30, or 45 XP, depending on what leveling speed I’m using.

    Generally, my thoughts is that XP for completing a goal should be awarded at a rate of 1xp/per session the goal was worked toward. If a player spends all session working on it, they’ll get 1 xp. If they work on it for 5 sessions before success, they’d get 5xp.

    1. Mr. Blue

      Like most rewards, the idea is to encourage the behavior you want to see more of.

      If you (and your group) are perfectly happy with game-piece play, then that’s fine and dandy. If you and your group wants more dramatization, then encourage it by rewarding those sorts of behaviors.

      If you and your group want more sneaking around then give XP for hide checks.

      If you and your group want more bloody descriptions in combat then give XP for that.

      If you and your group want to focus on loot, then give out XP for finding loot.

      You get the idea!

    2. LS

      I guess my experience has been that role playing is not something you can encourage. Very few players are sitting on the fence about it. They either want to, or they don’t.

      Some players who want to may feel embarrassed about actually doing it, but experience points won’t do much to encourage that.

      And players who don’t want to role play (in my experience) are pretty sensitive about the issue. It just seems mean to reward other players for doing something which makes another player severely uncomfortable.

      But as with everything, YMMV. Group makeup is everything when you’re making this kind of decision.

    3. Ed Dove

      @LS: It sounds like you’re assuming the term “role playing” means specifically “dramatic performance”. But that’s certainly not what I mean by “roleplaying” in this context. And I don’t think that’s what Brendan means by it in this context, either.

      When I use the term “roleplaying” in this context, I mean simply making a character behave (playing) as a character of its class (role) should behave. That’s all. No dramatic performance required. Nothing to be uncomfortable or embarrassed about.


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