I recently heard this on an episode of WebDm and i thought it was really good advice not just for helping murder hobos but for keeping players on book if you need or for influencing your players in general. It’s a technique used by game developers all the time and is generally looked down upon as poor design in the gaming industry but I feel it can be used in moderation to get players and keep players playing in a way that is fun for everyone at the table.
What is this magical technique I keep referring to without naming directly? Why it’s the good old skinner box technique!! Also known as operant conditioning, the general idea is that you give the rat cheese for pressing the button and the rat keeps pressing the button. We DM’s use this all the time without knowing mostly in the form of XP. Items and loot can count but the way one gives XP is the most obvious and probably has the most profound effect. We see this more in loot in MMO’s where a developer might artificially increase playtime and thus subscription income by decreasing the drop rate of a vital piece of loot thus making players grind for the item. We can use a similar method in D&D. The way the Dungeon Master hands out XP is crucial to the pacing of the game, too little and the game feels slow and sluggish and it’s too long between any sense of gaining power for the players. If the DM gives out XP too quickly though the players can quickly out pace the monsters in a given campaign. Now this can be easily corrected by including more or harder enemies but it’s more work than it should be. There needs to be a balance between actions done and xp rewarded. And it is a reward, just like cheese the players will find the easiest button to press and they will press it until the cheese runs out.
So how do we get players to press the other button? More cheese! Instead of handing out XP for combat encounters only, try handing out xp for role play moments. Moments of good in character dialogue, good investigation queries or moments of heroism or altruism. And I don’t mean some bonus xp, I mean the same ammount of xp as an encounter of the same level and of probably normal difficulty. Maybe remove a fight later or make it easier and give less xp. But make your players feel rewarded foe doing something other than mindlessly killing for killings sake.
My last point is on making sure your players know what they’re being given xp for. You can do this in a multitude of ways. One way is to tell them when they finish something how much xp they get. This gives that feeling of instant gratification and lets them know for sure they are getting xp for something other than killing and they’ll begin to expect it and seek out situations like that. Another way is to break it down on a sheet of paper at the end of a session if thats more your style. Something like
Encounter 1 (bandits): 350 xp.
Encounter 2 (haggle with merchant): 300 xp
Bonus - Scanlan (Inspirational singing): 20 xp
This both gives a summary of what happened that session but also shows exactly how much xp the party gets.
Try these tricks in your game and see if your players don’t want to start talking to people rather than killing everything in sight. Happy gaming everyone!!
Let it be known that on Sunday, boxed-hobo and I went on a french fry date as Jean and Marco a la friedcheesemogu‘s fanfic Say You Will (Or That You Wish You Could). We smuggled in 20 McNuggets and three large fries in a bag in my backpack to the movie theater and ate them. Thank you friendcheesemogu for writing that fic. I hope we made you proud.