Rewards: Player vs. Character

In my post talking about character death a couple of days ago Björn Jagnow left a pertinent comment on my Google+ posting of this that got me to thinking.  He talked about how experience points (XP) are not a reward for the character, they are a reward that is tangible for the player.  The rewards that are tangible from a character’s perspective are the coins and treasures that they pick up.  The bigger and better weapons or armor they can afford, the expanding circle of supportive contacts they can call on.

I personally had never thought about the rewards system in that way and it has me questioning a few things about what I have been doing up until this point.  For example, if a character died in my game and the game utilized an XP/leveling system I had been allowing players to rejoin the game at the lowest end (XP wise) of the lowest level character that remained in the game.  Now what am I saying here if I do that?

Cover of the Pathfinder Advanced Players Guide.  I must Reward the players
Players. Love them or lose them.

I now clearly believe what Björn has said to me.  When I read his comment it was one of those situations that I felt like someone had taken a blindfold off me and I could see what was going on behind the scenes for the first time.  My players have a tendency to lay claim to the items on the dead character for their next character but what if I turned it all around?

I am now thinking that a character death is perhaps something that should not alter the XP for the character in any way shape or form.  After all those are rewards for my players and how well they have played in my games.  Sure, some people follow the letter of the law and just give them out for character accomplishments but I am a little more free-form with my style.  If we have a great night of role playing and I thoroughly enjoy it even though the players do not make it through a planned XP encounter they will still receive one from me.

However, with that change I also feel that I have to put in place a restriction on the player’s “claiming” previous equipment for the new character.  That has to be the kicker for them.  The whole negative to joining with a new character is that they only get the equipment that they can afford with the expected wealth for that level.  After all, why would a group of adventurers simply hand over a pile of expensive magical items and coins to someone they have never met before.

This change is one that I think is particularly suited to these XP/leveling style games, perhaps also games like Shadowrun as well.  Games like FATE Core and Traveller though allow for a more fluid dynamic that allows for a starting character to participate in any setting straight off the “production line” if you will.  In fact, Classic Traveller has the advantage of (as long as you do not die in character creation) being able to start with a very advanced sort of a character.

The other change that I think that I am going to have to make too is to tailor my treasure a little bit better.  If XP is the reward of the player and money and equipment is the domain of the character.  I previously pretty much believed in pure random treasure for my Pathfinder creations.  I felt that the equipment found could have been left by anyone so why tailor it?  If the players did not like the loot they could sell it and buy what they wanted.

Image of a summoner and his eidolon
Coltyn and Grellyk certainly get excited when they get their mitts on the loot

But imagine the delight of the character if they found, perhaps not the exact suit of armor they were seeking but one that offers them similar capabilities and new and surprising ones too!  Or the Paladin finds a journal of a Pathfinder who was hot on the trail of a holy weapon of his particular deity.

These are easy changes to make in a game and for some reason I have up until this point felt that succeeding to this style of game would make my players soft and lazy.  Nay I say.  Today I make a stand and I see the error of my ways.  Let both the players and the characters rejoice as I have seen the light!  Let me know if you think that this is the right way to go or was I doing it right previously?  I would be very keen to hear the arguments of everyone for how they handle these issues.  Keep rolling!

3 Comments


  1. I have mostly tried to tailor treasure to my groups, at least in terms of something they can use. I don’t always do it, but I do feel like it makes it more fun. And I don’t mind a fast-leveling game, so I can be pretty free with the XP when we have had fun/there was good role-playing/the characters accomplished something in-game, even if it just a really good conversation or breakthrough in figuring out what is going on.

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    1. Do you ask the players what you they are seeking in the way of treasure or do you simply tailor it to their class types?

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  2. Good read, Mark. Your ideas sound very reasonable to me. Especially the part about not allowing players to claim previous equipment for a new character. You’re right that party members wouldn’t just hand over valuables to an unknown character, maybe after spending some time with the new member but not right away. It would be very nice if we did find goodies we’ve been wanting in treasures. Personally I’ve been looking for an undercutting axe. 🙂

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