D&D 5E How Do You Reward Attendance and Participation?

First: fiancee's point is valid - which is one of many reasons I'd never ever use any sort of milestone or story-based levelling: it does discourage going off-mission.

It's the side quests and off-cycle encounters that give a campaign depth, and show that there's more to the setting than just the one-story AP they happen to be playing through.

I only do milestone leveling AND I encourage side missions. There really isn't any reason you wouldn't ("would" was a typo) get a milestone by going off to the home town of one the PCs and saving the day instead heading to the front line and going with the "main" story.

One thing I've almost completely phased out is the random encounter though. Sometimes, having dangerous bandits show up on the road serves the purpose of communicating to the group something about the nature of the region, but a lot of times random encounters are just filler that takes time away from advancing the narrative or compelling exploration. I get that DnD invented random encounters but a this point they feel far too "video gamey" in an outdated way, to me.
 
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dave2008

Legend
First: fiancee's point is valid - which is one of many reasons I'd never ever use any sort of milestone or story-based levelling: it does discourage going off-mission.
Hmm, I think I am using these terms incorrectly. I have said that I use milestone / story-based levelling (and stated it has not discouraged off-mission adventures/investigations), but perhaps I need a different term? I level my players when they have accomplished enough to gain a level. I don't set specific goals required, or track XP, but I guess it is the same conceptually as XP based leveling. Is there an name for that? Maybe accomplishment-based leveling?
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I only do milestone leveling AND I encourage side missions. There really isn't any reason you would get a milestone by going off to the home town of one the PCs and saving the day instead heading to the front line and going with the "main" story.
I just can't grasp this as a concept.

Saving a PC's home town is just as much an act of adventuring as is fighting on the front line. The characters are using (and thus becoming better at) their various skills and abilities in either situation, and the roads they walk don't usually have signposts saying "This way to the real adventure, that way to the fake one", do they?

So why do they only get the milestone for doing one, but not the other?

Or - is the bolded word supposed to be "wouldn't" instead of "would"?

One thing I've almost completely phased out is the random encounter though. Sometimes, having dangerous bandits show up on the road serves the purpose of communicating to the group something about the nature of the region, but a lot of times random encounters are just filler that takes time away from advancing the narrative or compelling exploration. I get that DnD invented random encounters but a this point they feel far too "video gamey" in an outdated way, to me.
They're video-gamey if they're run by RAW, that's for sure, particularly when they don't otherwise make sense - but I'll still throw random dangers at them if they're in a dangerous area e.g. if they're travelling through a jungle then sooner or later some random bit of local wildlife (snake, predator, whatever) is going to pose a threat

And sometimes IME what starts as a completely random encounter can take on a life of its own. Example from a couple of years back: a party was travelling through a big forest toward an adventure site they'd been told of. En route a random encounter comes up - they're ambushed by a group of Lizardpeople. Party handily wins, but instead of moving on they decide to backtrack the Lizzie's to their home base and sack the place - meaning that instead of running the Dwarven tomb complex I was expecting to, now I'm suddenly running an assault against a cavern complex full of Lizardpeople; and all from a "random encounter"!
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Hmm, I think I am using these terms incorrectly. I have said that I use milestone / story-based levelling (and stated it has not discouraged off-mission adventures/investigations), but perhaps I need a different term? I level my players when they have accomplished enough to gain a level. I don't set specific goals required, or track XP, but I guess it is the same conceptually as XP based leveling. Is there an name for that? Maybe accomplishment-based leveling?
OK, please clarify for me:

Do you pre-plan the points at which they'll level up, as seen in a published AP? Example: they'll hit 2nd when they defeat the Sandpeople, 3rd after they clear out the caves the Sandpeople were guarding, 4th when they've followed up and exposed the smuggling connection between the Sandpeople and the Tanquair Merchant's Guild, etc. If yes, does this mean - again as in a published AP - they get nothing if they decide to deal with some neighbouring troglodytes after finishing the caves, instead of following up the smuggling angle?

Or is it more free-form e.g. they get a level per adventure or mission regardless what said mission might be? If yes, then the off-mission discouragement argument becomes moot as there is no pre-set mission to be "off" of. :)
 

Or - is the bolded word supposed to be "wouldn't" instead of "would"?

Typo. I definitely meant "wouldn't."

They're video-gamey if they're run by RAW, that's for sure, particularly when they don't otherwise make sense - but I'll still throw random dangers at them if they're in a dangerous area e.g. if they're travelling through a jungle then sooner or later some random bit of local wildlife (snake, predator, whatever) is going to pose a threat

Sometimes you have to impress upon the party how dangerous a place is or let them know who lives there but even then I usually plan out exactly what they're going to face and how it's presented instead of randomly deciding that they're going to face a potential combat. I generally have encounters or scenes in mind and choose to present them when and where it's most interesting in the session.

And sometimes IME what starts as a completely random encounter can take on a life of its own.

Sure. One of my ongoing NPCs was a random guard that the characters decided to befriend. He didn't even have a name, but i had to whip up a background, family, wife, home, etc, on the spot because they decided to take this guy under their wing after bumping into him.
 

If your players have apathy towards attending your game, then they really don't enjoy your game that much. Playing the game is far more important than gaining character benefits. You might want to consider your style of DMing to see if it matches up with the preferred style of the players.

As for milestone XP taking away from side quests, I'd suggest other rewards for completing such. It could be magic items, blessings, contacts, or even just some treasure. If the players know that such things are available, they'll have to decide which is more important to get first: xp or the other benefit.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Typo. I definitely meant "wouldn't."
Gotcha.

Sometimes you have to impress upon the party how dangerous a place is or let them know who lives there but even then I usually plan out exactly what they're going to face and how it's presented instead of randomly deciding that they're going to face a potential combat. I generally have encounters or scenes in mind and choose to present them when and where it's most interesting in the session.
For me, random is random - that's why I have dice. :) If something comes up it's easy to bang an encounter together; and I've learned not to pre-plan too much because a) no plan ever survives contact with the players and b) if done at all badly it can end up coming across as very "pre-packaged" rather than just being an element in a living breathing world.

But I don't roll for encounters nearly as often as the modules and-or rules usually want me to. :)
 

dave2008

Legend
OK, please clarify for me:

Do you pre-plan the points at which they'll level up, as seen in a published AP? Example: they'll hit 2nd when they defeat the Sandpeople, 3rd after they clear out the caves the Sandpeople were guarding, 4th when they've followed up and exposed the smuggling connection between the Sandpeople and the Tanquair Merchant's Guild, etc. If yes, does this mean - again as in a published AP - they get nothing if they decide to deal with some neighbouring troglodytes after finishing the caves, instead of following up the smuggling angle?

Or is it more free-form e.g. they get a level per adventure or mission regardless what said mission might be? If yes, then the off-mission discouragement argument becomes moot as there is no pre-set mission to be "off" of. :)
It is more like the 2nd option. I definitely do not pre-plan points for level up. Also, in general they can only level up during downtime of a month or more (though there are exceptions) to train and practice. However, I also don't reward leveling regardless of adventure or mission - it is body of work based. They might level up after an "adventure" or several "missions" but not any random mission or adventure.

That is why I realized I was using the wrong term and will probably use accomplishment-based leveling in future discussion of similar topics.
 

ChaosOS

Legend
I use milestone leveling but gold rewards are contingent on attendance & relative productivity of a session. While my west marches game has shown 5e is pretty resilient to characters of different levels (a huge upside of bounded accuracy), there's still an inherent equality from having everyone the same level. By contrast, with gold rewards, people are already advancing at different points based on the price of the things they want to buy - two characters could have a net work of 10k gp, but if one wanted an 8k gp thing and the other a 12k one would have advanced but the other not yet.
 

jasper

Rotten DM
I would do story content. Morrus is regular, he has a deed to Halaster Tower. Quickleaf is a semi regular since he was around for Heist he gets free drinks at Troll Skull Manor. Jasper shows up every quarter he gets a generic +1 weapon.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
It is more like the 2nd option. I definitely do not pre-plan points for level up. Also, in general they can only level up during downtime of a month or more (though there are exceptions) to train and practice. However, I also don't reward leveling regardless of adventure or mission - it is body of work based. They might level up after an "adventure" or several "missions" but not any random mission or adventure.

That is why I realized I was using the wrong term and will probably use accomplishment-based leveling in future discussion of similar topics.

It's story-based advancement (DMG, p. 261). A lot of people refer to this as "milestone" but that's not accurate in the context of D&D 5e. You may also be doing a loose form of session-based advancement if you are really basing it off how many sessions have been played since last level-up. But it sounds like you're basing it on goals achieved ("body of work"), even if it's not as explicit as I would personally prefer. The more explicit one is with what earns XP/levels, the more the players tend to focus on those things to the benefit of the play experience (provided you're tying XP/levels to things that are fun and help create an exciting, memorable story).
 

BrokenTwin

Biological Disaster
I prefer to have everyone stay at the same level as each other regardless of participation, but people who actually attend reap the rewards earned in the session, like loot and contacts. If the party decides to share the wealth with the missing players that's their prerogative, but I do make it known that doing so is optional.
It helps that I run a system (SotDL) where loot is helpful, but it's not D&D 3.x magic-item-treadmill levels of mandatory.

I've been tooling around the idea of running a open sandbox, new characters start at level one style game, but that hasn't happened yet.
 

Flexor the Mighty!

18/100 Strength!
I don't run milestone so you get XP since your PC is playing. If the player is not there we assume he wandered off to drop a deuce. That way you don't get killed along with the rest when they do something stupid and get half the party killed. Including the designated "door checker", aka the PC of the absent player. In the game I'm running there is not a vast power difference between levels and a few levels difference between various PC makes little difference in the game.
 

plisnithus8

Explorer
We had to address what to do when players were missing. As the DM, I didn't want to have to find a side quest in the middle of a dungeon or have the missing player's PC ghost around or act without the player's input. So we decided to use a magic rock. If you aren't at the table, your PC goes into the rock. That way other PCs can carry it around and your PC reappears when you show back up at the table. The players don't have any control of how the poke ball is used. It's worked pretty well. The players named the rock the Pokeball.

But sometimes we'd show up to play and people would cancel at the last moment. So I got to the point I decided to keep adding players to my group. The group now has 11 total (me included) so what we do is have a second DM and a related campaign which are different planes -- Avernus & Waterdeep). When there are enough players for 2 groups, we split up by rolling initiative and letting players pick which campaign to play in that session (or sometimes we DMs just place them in a group for narrative reasons or draw randomly). The PCs just pop out of the poke ball (which exists simultaneously in both settings) to the appropriate setting. The other DM and I sit at adjacent tables in the store we play in and coordinate storylines, leveling up, etc.
If we don't have enough players for 2 groups, we just pick one campaign and all play. If one of us DMs can't make it, we have a back-up DM in place.

We use benchmark leveling, and everyone levels up, even if the player hasn't been in a while; we decided being punitive wasn't worth it.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I guess I have players who prioritize coming to the game and others who don't. I understand family, work, health obligations (obviously), but some show up late, cancel last minute, or just "forget," etc. When I brought up whether they still want to play, I get excuses, promises to change, but nothing changes.
So I suppose canning the player is the way to go?

A long time ago, back in grad school, I was in a game that ran on Sunday afternoons, starting at 1 PM. There was a player who could not, would not, show up on time. They were engaged, enthusiastic, a fine player, but... always late.

One of the other players always baked something fresh for game-brunch. Coffee cake, cinnamon rolls, or the like, from scratch - and she was a really good baker. She, the baker, laid down the rule - if you are on time, you get fed. If you are late, you may not partake of the baked goods, and you must sit and watch everyone else eat tasty food.

The rule needed to be enforced exactly once. Even well-warned, that first game the late player was again late. And was not allowed to partake of the chocolate chip coffee cake for that game.

That player was never late again - they always showed up on time, ready to play, engaged and enthusiastic as ever.

Which goes to show - if you want people to show up on time, find their intrinsic motivators, and use them.
 

Lakesidefantasy

Adventurer
I use XP. Absent players lose out.

However, I have a system that worked well
normal XP for the highest level PCs
normal XP +10% for PCs one level below the highest
normal XP +20% for PCs two levels below the highest
etc.

Nobody falls too far behind.

I'm blessed with a group that does not need incentives to show up. There are times when real life just gets in the way. The players like this system - maybe it will work for you.

I used this exact system throughout the Curse of the Crimson Throne which lasted five years and took the players' characters from 1st to 18th level.

It worked fine, but to be honest we didn't need it much as most of the time we were all pretty equal in experience points.
 

Larnievc

Adventurer
My fiancée and I had nearly a three hour conversation about what I should do to improve my next campaign, whenever it comes around.

I have been using milestone XP for several years now, which (I feel) has at least partially contributed to apathy from several players. (Why bother making an effort to come if you get all the character rewards anyway?) Also, it's made players want to rush through content, avoid side quests and exploration, roleplaying encounters, and wandering monsters.

How do you make the game more than just a "greatest hits" of an adventure when using milestone? Or should I go with XP awards and not give XP to those who miss?

The concern is that I'm getting ready to run an AP, and I don't want characters to have to level grind to get to the appropriate level for the game.
I give out xp but they all have the same total. People who can’t make it still get xp.

I give out combat and story awards.
 

I have been using milestone XP for several years now, which (I feel) has at least partially contributed to apathy from several players. (Why bother making an effort to come if you get all the character rewards anyway?) Also, it's made players want to rush through content, avoid side quests and exploration, roleplaying encounters, and wandering monsters.

How do you make the game more than just a "greatest hits" of an adventure when using milestone?

These seem like table problems, not milestone problems. I don't mean that as an attack but I've been running milestone (i.e. DM sez when) since I first heard it suggested (3E sometime?) and I've literally never seen any of these issues, including the "players don't go off-mission", because if anything, my players go off-mission MORE on milestone than they did pre-milestone, because they're no longer concern that messing around doing what they think is cool will hold them back from getting XP!

I used to give out tons of XP for RP and stunts and stuff, and that, in my experience made players who weren't good at doing what it took to get that XP feel apathy or less involved. Especially in 3E, where the XP tables became one XP table, so if you were a level or two behind, that was clearly down to less XP, not down to being a Mage or whatever. Now I see everyone involved, because everyone is excited to be playing an RPG.

It may also be that you're running milestone very literally - i.e. achieve a major goal, get a level. I don't run it like that. I run it as "You all level up when it seems reasonable that you would". The other 5E DMs I play with IRL all run it the same way (to the point where I hadn't considered you might not until now). Not "because you defeated the duke", but because it seems like, after so many sessions and events, you should level up (though that may well coincide with defeating the duke). That your players are mission-obsessed suggests to me that you might be running it in a very literal way, so they can see a goal and know that means a level-up. Which is probably not ideal. For me it's more about hours at the table than actual progress on missions that leads to leveling with milestones (though both factor in).

Also re: character rewards, if leveling is the only thing your players care about well, that's your problem right there.

Magic items aren't a given in 5E. They aren't needed. They aren't part of the calculation (really). You don't have to have a Cloak of Resistance +2 at level X or you break the math (unlike 3.XE, where that was explicitly the case). So you can reward people with them for stuff - especially for going off-mission, if that's the issue. Indeed, thinking about my main 5E campaign, virtually all the best magic items the PCs have, have indeed come from going "off-mission".

Inspiration points or Hero points replace the small XP rewards of the past very well, but have the benefit of not making players feel excluded in the same way. Give them out freely and explore alternatives to the default Inspiration system.

In-setting titles and respect can mean a lot to players, even ones you wouldn't expect, too. So can fat stacks of cash. Even if the players have no idea what to do with it.
 

SirGrotius

Explorer
Tons of great ideas in this thread! I've had some good experience (pun intended!) implementing the following:
  1. Personal stories and goals for each character (e.g., a character should be working toward something important to him/her, e.g., a laboratory for arcane experiments)
  2. Quest and encounter specific XP awards - the two complement each other
  3. Magic items and other goodies, e.g., characters love stuff, I also occasionally create small props, such as colored glass, weathered notes, etc. that are part of the story
At the end of the day it's a balance of engagement and leveling. Everyone needs a hook, and people also like growth.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I use milestone leveling but gold rewards are contingent on attendance & relative productivity of a session. While my west marches game has shown 5e is pretty resilient to characters of different levels (a huge upside of bounded accuracy), there's still an inherent equality from having everyone the same level. By contrast, with gold rewards, people are already advancing at different points based on the price of the things they want to buy - two characters could have a net work of 10k gp, but if one wanted an 8k gp thing and the other a 12k one would have advanced but the other not yet.
How does this uneven treasury allocation work in practice? Are you-as-DM forcing how they distribute treasure within the party?

Usually IME they find what they find, and after that the method and handling of treasury division is completely up to the players, preferably in-character. (almost always it ends up as equal shares for all, based on how much of the adventure the character (not player!) was around for)
 

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