Bonus points – reward your players for awesomeness
I like it when players in my D&D games do awesome things. Being an economist by training, I know that incentives matter. Therefore, if I want my players to do more awesome things in our games, I should give them an incentive to do so.
Whenever a player in one of my games does something that, in my opinion, is awesome, I will give them a bonus point. They can save these points over time or spend them as they get them.
The rules for bonus points are simple (and open to DM reinterpretation on the fly). A player can spend a bonus point at any time (no action required) to add one to a die they’ve just rolled or to subtract one from a die that was just rolled against them. Common uses of bonus points include:
- Turning a miss into a hit
- Turning a 19 on the die into a critical hit
- Turning a 19 on a death save into the spending of a healing surge
- Turning a failed skill check into a success
- Making an attack that just hit you miss instead
If a player wants to do something that would stretch the rules a little too much, I might also allow them to spend a bonus point to make it work.
For my online game, bonus points are just another property on the PC’s token. Players have a button on their tokens to spend bonus points, and I manually add them as needed.
For my in-person games, I created tokens following NewbieDM’s method (even using his bonus point images) of gluing printed one-inch circles of photo paper onto metal fender washers.
So, what earns a player a bonus point? Whatever I feel deserves an extra reward. Some situations in which I’ve given out bonus points include:
- A party of new players completing a quest (just to make them feel good about their accomplishment and to get some point tokens in their hands)
- A PC approaching a room full of archers behind arrow slits by teleporting through the slits into their midst, all by his lonesome
- A PC avoiding the bottleneck of climbing down the narrow stairs into the bandits’ hideout by doing a Dungeoneering check to look for loose floorboards and then hacking a new entrance to the underground lair through the floor of the room above
- A PC deciding to play Robin Hood when confronted with an NPC who was price-gouging poor refugees, thus derailing the adventure for a while as I put together an impromptu map of the NPC’s home with guards and a treasure chamber (this escapade was worth two bonus points!)
- A PC surrounded by bad guys telling the wizard in the party to go ahead and shoot the whole area – he’d be fine! – at which point the wizard promptly critted that PC while missing all of the enemies
Basically, whenever my players do something cool that breaks from the standard mold of, “Let’s see, my optimal tactical position is here so that I can use this particular power and try to push the bad guy into a flank…” I want to reward them. Creative behavior, in or out of combat, makes the game more fun for everybody.
I’ve started doing this in my Living Forgotten Realms games, too, now that the Rewards Cards are gone (and the Fortune Cards aren’t out yet). It’s a little extra something for creative thinking. So simple, and yet it really improves the fun at the table.
Bonus points are a house rule I highly recommend. I know I’m not the first person to use them, but I don’t care – they rock!