RPG Design Patterns



Provide players with incentives to find ways to have characters overcome obstacles.

Also Known As

E.P., X.P., EXP, Character Points, Development Points

Related Patterns


The Success Reward pattern awards players for character success, whatever “success” means within a game’s context. A game follows the Success Reward pattern if all of the following apply:

  1. Character actions or goals may succeed or fail.
  2. The chances of character success or failure can be influenced by player decisions.
  3. A reward is given to the player if he succeeds in having his character achieve a goal or perform an action, but that same reward is withheld if he fails in that endeavor. (Note that a different reward may be given if the character fails without violating this pattern. In that case, the Failure Reward pattern is also being used.)

So, a Success Reward gives players a reason to want their characters to “win.”


You should consider the Success Reward pattern in your game if your goals include:

  1. A desire for players to strive to have their characters “win” at times. (If a Failure Reward is also provided, that just means that a player must choose whether “winning” or “losing” is more desirable at any given time. This choice will be highly dependant on in-game circumstances and your overall game design.)
  2. You are not averse to including a mechanical means of gauging the value of character success verses the value of character failure.

If you want players to have a real choice between characters winning and losing, you either need to forego the use of Success Rewards or balance them with appropriate Failure Rewards.


A game incorporating Success Rewards equates character success with player success. Such a system will push players toward a competitive attitude where winning some final victory for their character is their primary goal. If this is an important design requirement, than Success Rewards alone may be exactly what you need. If not, this tendency can be counterbalanced with appropriate Failure Rewards. In other words, a game does not give players any real choice in their decision to have their characters win or lose with Success Rewards alone. It only gauges their cleverness in attaining success.

Implementation Concerns

A great deal of psychological research has shown that the sooner a reward follows an action, the more effective the reward will be in encouraging the rewarded activity. This tells us that a Success Reward should have as short a delay as possible between the attained success and its resulting reward. Of course, this goal must be weighed against other considerations, such as the mechanical overhead the reward imposes on game play.


Let’s design a reward system for a game in which characters are all horse-jockeys. We want a significant portion of the game to focus on player competition, in that players will actually compete with one another to win horse races. Each race consists of having each player make10 rolls of a d12. On each roll, players will decide their actions, which will result in modifiers to either their current actions or future actions. At the beginning of the race, all horses start out dead-even. For example, the following modifiers may apply:

  1. Decide whether to hang back behind the horse in front of him or push forward. Hanging back on a roll gives a character a cumulative +1 bonus on subsequent rolls. Pushing ahead gives a character a cumulative -1 bonus on subsequent rolls.
  2. Pass another horse on the inside lane or outside lane of another horse. Passing on the inside provides a -1 penalty to the passing roll, but provides a +2 bonus to the next roll. Passing on the outside provides a +1 bonus to the passing roll, but no bonuses to subsequent rolls.

We’re not going to go into details about how the actual die rolls are resolved, because that’s not the point of this exercise. The point is that these modifiers ensure that player decisions impact whether a character succeeds or fails in winning the race.

Now, we want to introduce a Success Reward into our game. To keep the race moving along at a brisk pace, we decide that we don’t want a Success Reward to be given on every roll. Instead, we elect to give a reward at the end of the race so that winning actually matters to the players. After careful consideration, we decide to give players “Prestige Points.” Rather than have a “winner takes all” kind of system, we choose to give players a number of Prestige Points depending on how well they placed in the race.

So, the winner gets a number of Prestige Points equal to the number of jockeys in the race. The character that came in second gets one less point. The next place character gets one less, and so on. So that Prestige Points have an impact, we decide to allow players to spend them in future races. 1 Prestige Point = a +1 bonus on any roll. Essentially, Prestige Points represent experience in learning how to win races along with the chance to ride better horses as Prestige is gained.

Known Uses

Donjon awards experience points at the end of every encounter where an opponent is defeated. The levels of all conquered foes are summed and divided evenly among all participating characters in the form of experience points (see the Level pattern). Experience points are also awarded for non-combat situations as “goal awards” based on the level of the “donjon” the characters are exploring. Additional awards are given to players who do something that others find amusing or entertaining.

Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 awards experience points for defeating monsters and overcoming other obstacles. Every monster and trap is given a “Challenge Rating,” which represents the difficulty of overcoming it. This value is compared to a character’s level (see the Level pattern) via a table lookup to determine the resulting experience point value for the creature or trap. If multiple characters helped overcome an obstacle, its experience point value is divided accordingly. (The experience point values for characters of differing level must be calculated individually.)

Rolemaster Fantasy Roleplaying awards experience points for successfully performing actions. The total number of experience points determines a character’s level (see the Level pattern). Awards are given for “maneuvers” (such as movement over difficult terrain), casting spells, taking and delivering critical wounds, killing, ideas, and travel. The basic amount of experience awarded is determined by various table look-ups on an action-by-action basis. This reward is modified by various factors, such as the condition of the foe when combat began and how “routine” the activity has become.

Warhammer Fantasy Role Play awards experience points for meeting “objectives.” Major objectives earn characters between 100 and 200 points while minor objectives are worth 10 to 50 experience points. Major objectives include goals such as “foiling a sinister plot to overthrow a town’s council” and “eradicating a force of raiding goblins.” Minor objectives include “following a trail of clues to the next town” and “bribing a guard to gain entry into a warehouse.” Experience points are spent by players to buy new “skills” (see the Gifts pattern), increase “scores” (see the Attribute pattern), and progress to new “professions” (see the Class Tree pattern).

pattern/success_reward.txt · Last modified: 2011/05/05 08:42 (external edit) -

This page


Site toolbox