The Seven-Sided Die

The odds & ends of roleplaying

XP for journals in old-school games

written by d7, on May 9, 2012 1:29:00 AM.

I’m engaging in an old-school heresy: I’m not awarding XP solely for monsters defeated/outsmarted and treasure earned.

I’m also awarding 100 XP for player journal entries. I know that XP is an incentive system, and here are my thoughts on why such things should be incentivised with experience points:

  • It rewards player engagement. A player who is willing to write a journal entry is a player engaging with the fictional experience of their character.

  • It doesn’t do violence to the XP curve: early on the squishiness of characters ensures that incautious and unlucky characters don’t survive regardless; later, 100 XP is a drop in the bucket.

  • It encourages reflection, which I can only hope results in a positive “study history lest you repeat it” effect that may directly contribute to improved player skills.

  • It creates a tangible artifact of play that I can re-use within the game world. It would be neat for another party to find a page of a fallen adventurer’s journal.

  • It’s better than them trying to hunt rats for that 1 XP needed to level up.

So is this heresy unforgivable? Must I burn my GM dice in atonement? Have you done something like this and had interesting effects on the game and player behaviour?


  • This heresy seems to have been tacitly approved. If you had proposed this suggestion to me 30 years ago, I think I would have been uncomfortable with the idea of in-game rewards being applied for out-of-game activities. I cannot say that I would have objected, or objected for long, but it would have seemed peculiar, I am sure.

    Now, and referencing your third and fourth points specifically, I feel that it is a very beneficial addition to play - particularly play that is so dependent on critical thinking, investment, and simulation.

    Comment by Runeslinger — May 22, 2012 9:43:20 PM | # - re

    • Seems like it! Or maybe just that everyone in the OSR is talking on G+ and not blog comments these days.

      There’s another advantage that I didn’t think of before: players who really like characterisation, and who don’t find the opportunity during play between counting torches and fleeing undead, have an outlet in the journal. I have one player who really enjoys the story of a character, and that’s coming out more in her journal than in the game.

      Comment by d7 — May 23, 2012 2:44:41 PM | # - re

  • I’m doing something similar for a 3.5 DragonLance campaign that I just restarted.

    I have a blog that is written from the perspective of NPC’s. As the campaign goes on, and the characters discover things, I’ll be filling in information here and there as we go along and dropping hints where I can.

    I find that the players really enjoy it AND they can use it as a quick recap before we meet as to what has happened in the campaign.

    Also, we have some folks that aren’t able to meet with us every session (I have one person that MIGHT be joining this week who has missed two sessions already), so I can see where this will be a way to catch/keep up with what is going on, especially on long campaigns.

    Comment by Lhiannan — May 25, 2012 2:02:26 PM | # - re

  • I wouldn’t call it heretical. I run a fairly old school campaign & I’ve been giving XP for session reports/fiction/ etc. I was a little hesitant at first but for all the reasons you note, it feels right. Back in the late 80s/early 90s we were giving the equivalent of XP for background write-ups, character sketches, etc. in GURPS, again because it increased buy-in or engagement or whatever you call it.

    Comment by Mike Monaco — Jun 20, 2012 8:10:05 PM | # - re

  • I used to do this. But I made the mistake of not increasing the award as they raised levels, so eventually the incentive became so low, they stopped doing them.

    Another player thought it was unfair, because he claimed he didn’t have time to write the log, so he fell behind on XP compared to the guy who did have time.

    Comment by stolph — Aug 10, 2013 2:19:58 PM | # - re

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