An Alternate Reward System for Playing Your Role

For Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax, “role-playing” didn’t mean funny voices or acting out your character’s unique personality. It meant playing your role, whether that was cleric, fighter, or magic-user. Role-playing awards might mean re-roll tokens, or an xp bonus, but were not given out for dramatic performances.

With that in mind, here is an alternate reward system for role-playing, with roll bonuses, saving-throw re-rolls, and allows abilities to increase. It fulfills two different goals. The first is that it incentivizes certain class- or role-specific behaviours, by rewarding appropriate actions and making it easier to increase class-elated abilities. The second is that it allows for more player-determined advancement, by allowing players to choose which abilities they will try to increase.

As much as I stand behind the sentiments in the last post, I also like it when characters can improve and overcome their faults, or hone their strengths. And this is a rather simple way of allowing a player to indicate what they find interesting or important about their own character, instead of being locked into a fixed, undeviated improvement path based on class, level, and what spells are found during adventures. Players should be able to make choices about improvements before 9th level, I think.

Each character class has five experiences that help define their role. When you do one of these five actions, mark the circle next to it. Do not mark it again until after you erase it.

You may erase all your marks to get certain bonuses, at any time:
* Erase all your marks to get a bonus to a single roll equal to the number of marks you erased.
* If you have 2 or more marks, erase them all to re-roll a saving throw.
* If you have 3 or more marks, erase them all to attempt to increase one of your favoured abilities.
* If you have 4 or more marks, erase them all to attempt to increase any one ability.

When you attempt to increase an ability, erase all your marks and choose which ability you would like to increase. If you are erasing 3 marks, you may only choose one of the two abilities favoured by your class. If you are erasing 4 or more marks, you may choose any one of your six abilities. Once you have chosen an ability, roll a d20. If you roll equal to or less than the ability’s current rating, it does not increase. But if you roll higher than the ability’s current rating, it increases by 1. Favoured abilities are listed next to the class names, below.

The seven B/X Classes listed out in alphabetical order:

Clerics (Charisma and Wisdom):
○ When you defend someone weaker than yourself (fewer hit points).
○ When you heal or rescue a fallen comrade.
○ When you ignore attacks in order to heal, bless, consecrate, or turn undead.
○ When you survive a battle against the servants of enemy gods.
○ When you tithe half your wealth to your temple (minimum 100gp).

Dwarves (Constitution and Strength):
○ When you defend someone weaker than yourself (fewer hit points).
○ When you donate half your wealth to a Dwarven institution (minimum 100gp).
○ When you find a trap before it is triggered.
○ When you slay a superior foe (more hit dice).
○ When you survive a battle where your side was outnumbered.

Elves (Strength and Intelligence):
○ When you defend someone weaker than yourself (fewer hit points).
○ When you rescue a fallen or captured comrade.
○ When you recover magical items, scrolls, or spellbooks from a dungeon.
○ When you spend half your wealth on magical research (minimum 100gp).
○ When you use magic to defeat a superior foe (more hit dice).

Fighters (Dexterity and Strength):
○ When you lead retainers into battle and they all survive.
○ When you rescue a fallen or captured comrade.
○ When you slay a superior foe (more hit dice).
○ When you spend half your wealth carousing (minimum 100gp).
○ When you survive a battle where your side was outnumbered.

Halflings (Constitution and Dexterity):
○ When you ambush a superior foe (more hit dice or greater numbers).
○ When you get to the other side of a lock or blocked passageway.
○ When you slay a superior foe (more hit dice).
○ When you spend half your wealth carousing (minimum 100gp).
○ When you survive a battle without losing any hit points.

Magic-Users (Constitution and Intelligence):
○ When you cast a spell to directly aid a comrade.
○ When you recover magical items, scrolls, or spellbooks from a dungeon.
○ When you spend half your wealth on magical research (minimum 100gp).
○ When you survive a battle without losing any hit points.
○ When you use magic to defeat a superior foe (more hit dice).

Thieves (Dexterity and Intelligence):
○ When you ambush a superior foe (more hit dice or greater numbers).
○ When you find a trap before it is triggered.
○ When you get to the other side of a lock or blocked passageway.
○ When you spend half your wealth carousing (minimum 100gp).
○ When you survive a battle without losing any hit points.

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5 Comments to “An Alternate Reward System for Playing Your Role”

  1. Which D&D system did you have in mind for this system?

    Regardless of edition, I think the most concerning would be increasing an ability score. You could be looking at some pretty significant power creep depending on how often your players are able to rack up 4 marks.

    Also, some of your criteria are very much outside of player control. A Magic User is far more likely to survive a battle without losing any hit points than a Rogue might have oportunities to pick locks or detect traps, which is heavily dependent upon the DM and his dungeon build.

    Another question, for Magic Users, when you slay “defeat a superior foe (more hit dice)” Are you intending that the Magic User is defeating the foe entirely by themselves with out any aid from the rest of the party?

    Also it seems unfair to expect a Thief or Rogue to spend half of his wealth “carousing” at high levels this is a great deal of GP, so much so that taverns would start running out of ale. Besides, that might not be what their character is about, despite being a thief or rogue, they might be more of a Robin Hood type Rogue who steals from the rich in order to fight the system. That’s a character option totally in line with the role of Thief or Rogue, but that doesn’t mesh up with your model.

    Did you have an expanded system that covers other races and classes? Paladins, Rangers, Humans, Half-Orcs (depending on edition) etc?

    Role-playing does require a character to play their role, but I find this rarely falls apart in combat or when exploring a dungeon. I’ve seen it happen, but usually with just bad players who I doubt would do much better with this system. I find it’s most difficult to get players to get through social or Role Playing encounters where what’s most required of them is talking and skill checks. Is that not a problem at your table? Or is your table not very heavy? That is to say, do your players not worry about the “who, what, when where, and why” of their adventures and just like hacking and slashing stuff?

    I don’t mean to tear apart your system of be a negative nelly. I just want to more clearly understand the system you’ve built into your game, it might work spendidly at your home table, but I don’t think it would work everywhere.

  2. Hi Nerd, thank you for the comments. You raise some important points for anybody reading this who might be thinking about using it.

    We play Basic D&D, although I haven’t actually tried playing with this rule yet.

    I’m not particularly worried about high ability scores. In fact, the main goal is to have a way other than just levelling up or finding magic items to make your character better. Enforcing a role is secondary, and really just used as the criteria for stat gains. It’s a way for players to strive towards a goal, like trying to increasing that Con 12 to 13, and thus getting a hit point bonus. Or increasing that Str 8 to 9 so the 10% xp penalty goes away.

    We roll 3d6 in order. I don’t think this system will put any characters in the 4d6-drop-the-lowest category, even after months of play. If the character with three stats lower than 6 manages to increase an ability every game session, more power to him. If the player who has two 18s wants to get a 19, none of his other abilities are ever going to increase. For reference, this rule is based on my experience with skills in Call of Cthulhu.

    I expect this system to be used with standard B/X dungeons, and group consensus to decide when exactly criteria has been met. This is supposed to encourage team-work as well, so if a fighter and a magic-user work together to take down a dragon and decide they both slew it, great.

    Out of the dozens and dozens of player characters that have come through the Black Peaks setting since we started playing in 2009, the only really altruistic character we’ve seen so far is a cleric. So I’m not worried. But if a player really wanted to donate to charity instead of having a party, I’d be cool with allowing them to consider that “carousing.” We actually play like that anyway.

    I’ve also written this to go along with an alternate leveling system, where you complete quests instead of tallying up how many coins you recovered. If there’s one thing I really hate about Basic D&D, it’s the coins. Hence, half your money. Characters should be broke allatime, otherwise why the hell are they going into dungeons?!? Most of the people who go into dungeons die in them.

    I don’t have any lists for other edition classes and races, sorry.

  3. 3d6 in order? Holy crap. Well I guess some miscellaneous ability point bumps are really called for then. My table is pretty much always 4d6 drop the lowest. Back in the day, when we were real munchkins about the game, we did 4d6 drop the lowest and reroll 1’s. Those were some insane ability stats!

    I’ll admit that I have never played Red Box. I was still very fledgling when I picked up AD&D back in the day, and didn’t get serious about the game until 3.0/3.5.

    I don’t know if your heroes should be broke all the time, after all sometimes your heroes a truly heroic and they’re trying to prevent something bad from happening, like trying to save a kidnapped villager or even save the world. Although save the world campaigns get old really quick too.

    There were no Paladins or Rangers in the Box set? Were they introduced in AD&D? Or is there an edition in between Box set and AD&D that I’m forgetting? I thought Monks were introduced Pre-AD&D then taken out for AD&D and brought back for 3.0, I must be missing an edition in my history….

  4. Fuck yeah 3d6 in order! Check out the post before this one (Awesome Characters are Not as Awesome as They Appear), where I talk about characters in our game and their ability scores.

    Man, the early history of D&D is so complicated! You started with AD&D 2nd edition, yeah? It had fewer extra classes, most of which first appeared in Original D&D supplements and then were also in 1st edition AD&D. Basic D&D, first released 3 years later, was designed to be a much simpler, introductory version of D&D, so it has only the cardinal seven I list above. It’s really simple, geared explicitly towards exploring for treasure, and easy to add house rules to. It’s a very different game than 3.x or 4E, though.

  5. Hotelnerd, check out http://redvan.wikidot.com/ for a metric ton of session summaries, forum discussions and other pages that’ll give you an idea of what Red Box has been like for us. Or at least for Johnstone and the other active players. I’m pretty much in retirement for now. 🙂

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