In the campaign I am currently running I noticed something I was doing, thought about it, decided it was wise and consciously doubled down. As I have thought about it more, I can see how some Players might not like a DM doing what I am doing. So, I want to write this out to help me think about it critically and see what other DM’s might think.
Ok, basically I decided to reward Characters for the Player’s effort away from the table.
Specifics: I’ve had a lot of Bard type characters in my campaigns over the decades (in systems that formally bard classes and systems that don’t). Most want to use their use their powers to become famous and spread the word of the party’s greatness far and wide. I’ve had player build their character around this idea. As a DM my response has always been; great, let’s role some dice. If you spread some money around maybe you get a bonus. Maybe it works, maybe not, maybe it has a big impact on the campaign, maybe it doesn’t.
But in this campaign, I have a new player. Her character is a fighter archer type. No skills or special Bard Powers. After one of her first sessions, she said her Character writes a drinking song about the party’s resent heroic exploits. I say, great you spend the night drinking and singing at the tavern, the villagers have a great time.
A few days later I get an email from the Player saying, “Here is the song Freya wrote”. It turns out the Player is a writer and the email has the lyrics to the in-world song Freya wrote.
This is cool; this shows that the Player is thinking about her Character and the world outside of game time. That’s the kind of engagement all DMs want to encourage. I post the song on the campaign website; all the players love it.
Next session (days later in game) I mention that as the party is walking, they hear Freya’s song spilling out of a tavern as they walk by. The Player keeps writing songs, and I keep having them affect the game.
Freya attracts a famous Bard who offers to teach her. The party is in a distant town doing something that looks shady and when they try to convince the guards its not shady the guards say, “Wow you’re THE Roland from Freya’s song “The Horrible Cave” and the guard believes they are the good guys (they also have a writ from a distant magistrate, but the guards can’t read). The party has a baron that is a political enemy—Freya writes an embarrassing song about him and public option turns a little in their favor.
I never rolled any dice, I just leaned into what the Character was doing pretty hard because of the effort the Player was putting in, away from the table. I wouldn’t have been this ‘generous’ to a Player that used the perfect Bard-build (if such a thing existed in my game) or a character that had a million percent in the song writing skill.
As a point of comparison another one of the Players told me her wizard was looking around for an apprentice during off time and I decided that she had a 2-6 chance of finding one each month. But Freya got a mid-level ally without any dice roll just because I wanted to reinforce and reward the Player for writing songs (and it made sense-in world).
In retrospect I see this is something I have always done. I will have a Character that wants to build a stronghold have an easier time if their player maps out the stronghold ahead of time then if they just say they want to build a stronghold and expect me to make it up. Like-wise a character that wants to make a magic item will have an easier time if they come up with an interesting thematically appropriate specific idea with suggestion on components, then if they just say a want to make a super-sword that’s cool and kills people.
Is it fair to give benefits to a Character because their Player has some skill like writing? Hopefully I am rewarding Player effort not unrelated Player skills, but is even that ok? Is this some kind of favoritism or smart DMing?