Carrot on a stick! Rewarding players for creating character background.

Motivating characters to create a background for their characters has always been a goal for me as a Game Master. I typically reward extra experience before the adventure begins for creating different details of a character’s background. So much so that I mentioned it as my favorite house rule in Day 24 of #RPGaDay2015.

As I prepare for our upcoming D&D 5t edition campaign I began to look at possible ways to reward players’ efforts. However, the experience points needed to go from 1st to 2nd level are so low, that I could very well have players start at level 2. This wouldn’t usually be a problem, but I want to test the system at all levels, including 1st, even if for just one session. So I began to look for other rewards and came up with the following ideas. I’m reproducing the text just as I would had in out to the players.

This will be something I include in a larger player handout including notes on classes and races for the campaign, list of NPCS, maps and the history and details of the region where the campaign will take place.

I’d love some feedback… Do you think it’s too little or too much? Are the ideas presented game breaking? Would this motivate you as a player? Let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading!

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Character Background Rewards

A well rounded character with an interesting background is not only easier and more engaging to play for a player, but far more interesting to his or her fellow players. A background helps the Dungeon Master (DM) create plots and stories that integrate your characters’ history, desires and hopes. But you don’t need me to tell you this; you are all seasoned players that create wonderful characters for many games. What you really want to know is what rewards I’ll be handing out for creating your background and adding other details about your characters to the game.

Rewards will be unlocked and become available for your characters according to how many of the following background categories you unlock. To unlock them you must fulfill the requirements of each category to the satisfaction of the DM. The categories are:

  • Image – Provide an image of your character in a digital file to the DM
  • Story – Write down your character’s story, it doesn’t have to be a short story, a series of bullet points would suffice.
  • NPC – Create an NPC related to your character. This cannot be an existing NPC from the campaign that you tie to your character’s story, but a brand new original NPC. Describe the character separate from your story; it should either have a stat block, an image to represent it, a list of motivations and flaws, or some other detail that can be useful during the game. It can certainly have more than one of the previous details, but for the purpose of unlocking this reward you need just one. The DM will be the final arbiter of the usefulness of the NPC to the plot and how it is integrated into the story, and while the idea is to incorporate your concept into the game, the DM reserves the right to make some changes to the NPC.
  • Miniature – Find a miniature, metal, plastic or a paper, for your character. I have plenty of miniatures you can pick from including pre-painted D&D minis and the Reaper Bones Kickstarter miniatures; we can coordinate for you to check them out. Also it could be a paper mini, or a Pathfinder Pawn.
  • The List of 12! – This is a simple exercise, make a list 3 plots you’d like to encounter, 3 enemies you’d like to face, 3 items (mundane or magical) you’d like your character to have, and 3 goals for your character to achieve, during the camping. Be as specific or general as you want. The DM will interpret your list with the details you provide.

You can unlock some categories and not others, or go for all five, that’s up you. For each background category you unlock you receive one of the following rewards in order, from the 1st reward if you complete only one category, to the 5th reward if you complete all five.

  • 1st Reward – Earn 75 Experience Points1
  • 2nd Reward – Earn 1 Inspiration Token2
  • 3rd Reward – Earn 75 Experience Points1
  • 4th Reward – Earn 2 Inspiration Tokens2
  • 5th Reward – Earn 2 extra point for customizing ability scores3

Rewards notes:

Note 1- The experience point total needed for gaining level 2 is 300 XP, so if you unlock the 1st and 3rd reward you’ll be half-way to 2nd level before the adventure begins.

Note 2- Inspiration Tokens function just like regular inspiration (PHB p. 125), you can use it yourself or give it to another player, except that unlike regular inspiration, you can have Inspiration Tokens and earn regular inspiration, thus breaking the rule of only having one inspiration at a time. You cannot use inspiration and the Inspiration Token on the same roll. Once you use an Inspiration Token it is permanently spent.

Note 3- You receive 2 extra points for customizing ability scores, your new point total to spend on your ability scores is 29. All the other rules for customizing ability (PHB p. 12) scores apply, ability score point cost, 15 being the highest ability score before applying racial increases, etc.

All the background categories you wish to unlock must be completed BEFORE the first game session. Once the campaign has begun no rewards will be awarded for completing any remaining background category.

We need an alternative to DriveThruRPG

If you are closely following what’s happening in the RPG scene, you have probably heard about the kerfuffle about a product called “Tournament of Rape” which was sold at DriveThruRPG for a few days before being removed. At first OneBookShelf (the company behind DriveThruRPG and RPGNow) tried to talk down the problem, before they took action. And there’s now a new policy in place which shall prevent issues like that in the future.

BUT this policy might create more problems than it solves. At first OBS will be reactive not proactive. The publisher still decides what to upload and the uploads will not be screened by OBS. Customers of the site can flag content they deem offensive and then OBS is taking steps. When the site update goes live, a press of a button is all it needs to flag a product. Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?

Alas there is number of people who think they have the wisdom to decide what is good for the rest of us and take steps to enforce their world view. And the internet gives them the power to enlist countless people to their cause, a lot of which are not even remotely interested in our hobby. Under the new policy, flagged products are immediately suspended from the store. Which means, if someone doesn’t like your work, he or she can easily flag you on a Friday to make sure your weekend sales are gone. Poof. Can this be misused? Yes. Will it be? You betcha!

All this would be not that bad if there were alternatives to OBS’ sites. But alas they basically have a monopoly on the sale of digital RPG products at the moment. This makes it the perfect target for the kind of bullies mentioned earlier. Don’t get me wrong. I agree with the removal of “Tournament of Rape” from DriveThruRPG. But I also fear that a system as the one OBS now put in place can easily be misused. It would be better if OBS screened products themselves to decide if it’s within what they seem appropriate for their store.

That’s why I am hoping for an alternative to the OBS monopoly. We need at least a couple major marketplaces for digital RPG products which may or may not cater to different target audiences. Perhaps one for family-friendly material, another for more adult-themed products. But the current situation is problematic. Publishers are now basically at the whim of OBS which might be easily bullied into action by certain parts of the hobby (and beyond).

Update: I have read a couple of good arguments and changed my mind. At least regarding the reasons why OBS should remove a product. If they think it’s not fitting for their store, they should remove it. But not when some people feel offended. Some people may be offended by something like “Carebears – The RPG”. Is that a valid reason to remove it from the store? I have my doubts. Noone is forced to buy stuff they don’t like.

A Time Of War

An old friend recently offered to run a Battletech RPG campaign for us. As a long-time fan of the board game and the Battletech universe I was actually overjoyed and immediately started to think about my character. The whole group talked about the idea and in the end we decided that we wanted to play Inner Sphere mercenaries. And start the campaign just before the Clan invasion.

Initially the plan was to use Mechwarrior 2nd Edition since it was written with the early Clan invasion era in mind. But later my friend told us that he preferred using A Time of War, the most recent edition of the Mechwarrior rules. Even though I own the rules basically since day one, I haven’t had the chance to play the game yet and from what I remember it was a great improvement over the somewhat weird 3rd Edition.

catapult

The group will consist of three players (the GM’s wife, my girlfriend, and me). Since our group is a bit small, we’ll each run our primary characters (which will be Mechwarriors) but also take control of secondary characters like technicians, aerospace fighter pilots and so on. Hopefully we’ll create characters this weekend but it will probably take a few more weeks before we can start the campaign. We already picked our ‘mechs (yes, our GM is very generous man). The GM’s wife chose a Thunderbolt, I picked the Warhammer (probably in the Liao variant), and my girlfriend decided her character should pilot a Catapult. One of the lancemates will be a NPC and we thought it would be nice to have at least some scout-capability, so the NPC will get a Phoenix Hawk. Our GM already told us that there will be opportunity to upgrade and/or modify our ‘mechs later, so I hope I can get my hands on a Nova Cat later (which is my favorite Clan mech). I keep my fingers crossed. Smiley

warhammerI am extremely excited to play a roleplaying game in the Battletech universe. Battletech was basically the game which brought me into roleplaying, since it were my BT-playing friends who introduced the concept of roleplaying to me back in the early 1990s. I have played most of the BT computer games, and have played the board game sporadically over the last years and even introduced my girlfriend to it. She’s not an avid fan but she enjoyed the boardgame and is always up for a roleplaying game where she can cause massive destruction and wield big guns. Zwinkerndes Smiley

Has anyone of you already played or run A Time Of War? If so, could you share your experiences? Is there some advice you can give novice players? Please post your comments below!

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