“That’s a good idea!” “Nice job!” “Way to roll that 20! Daddy needs a new Sword of Wounding!”
Recognition is when you give positive reinforcement to your Players for a job well done or even just for a fortuitous roll of the dice. It’s important to remember that you are on the side of the Players rather than rooting for the house. So go ahead and tell your Players when they did well or when they had a flash of genius; especially when that flash of genius was something you hadn’t thought of. However, there is more to it than this.
You’re the GM so your recognition of the PCs’ actions is just as important as verbally encouraging your Players. Yes, I’m talking about the Players and the PCs as if they’re different people. Stay with me on this. As the GM you can tell your Players if they done good and that’s just fine, but the real fun of the game is when what happens in the game itself. So you need to be sure to give encouragement from both directions: In-Character as well as Out-Of-Character.
Out-Of-Character seems to me to be by far the easier of the two for most GMs to accomplish. I’ve been in many games where the GM complimented me on a good idea and commiserated with me in the same breath over how it failed. Personally, as GM, I’ll reward imaginative, out-of-the-box thinking with In-Character success far more often than I will for a randomly successful die roll. I mean, I’ve never had a set of dice thank me for a fun game. Players on the other hand…
So when someone comes up with a good idea that really impressed you, lower the difficulties of the rolls that are necessary to accomplish it. Point them in the right direction. Give some benefit to thinking around problems instead of rolling through them. And there’s no reason not to tell your Players when you’re doing this! Even the rule-players (as opposed to role-players) will enjoy this because it puts some kind of cost/benefit rule into their minds regarding creative thinking! Everybody wins!
In-Character recognition is something you’ll have to be more crafty for and we’re not talking about more gold or XP or whatever. The sort of thing I’m referring to is having a big baddie who has been thwarted by the PCs once before acknowledge this during their witty banter. Something like, “I’ve underestimated you before, Mint-Berry Crunch. Trust me. It shan’t happen again.”
- The Ewok method; big battle won, locals through a party with the PCs as the guests of honor.
- Formal raising of rank for a PC in an In-Character ceremony before their peers, if such a thing is appropriate, can also work.
- Give a religious character an audience with their deity or even that deity’s right hand messenger if you’d like to work up to talking directly with god.
What’s awesome is that during any of these things more responsibility can be handed to the PCs and they’ll usually be happy to take it because they’re experiencing the rewards of success right then and there.
Further, if you feel up to it, you could even explore what I call The Ghostbusters Method:
“Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling! Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes… The dead rising from the grave! Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!”
Think about it. What better kind of recognition of the actions of a few could there possibly be except when the cosmos at large pauses and notices what they’re doing? Astrological signs like eclipses (Heroes), comets (A Clash of Kings, by George R. R. Martin), conjunctions (The Dark Crystal), or a guiding star (The New Testament) are really good examples. Things like these are good because they don’t directly alter what’s going on, but they let your PCs (and Players) know that the things they are doing now, while seeming trivial, will eventually be of monumental importance. It not only reassures them that they are on the right track, but tells them they are doing a good job on it. Of course they are. The heavens just did a double take.
The important thing you should take away from this is that rewards do not just come in the form of XP, gold, magic items, or other “on the character sheet” forms. These kinds of rewards don’t even need to be given in public! 1-on-1 Face Time will sometimes even aid in underlining the importance this sort of recognition to your PCs and Players because now it’s not just cool, it’s a secret as well. Be creative. Your Players will reciprocate in kind and your game can’t help but benefit from it.