While there are several different connotations for the term, one definition for “slush fund” is an account in the general ledger of a company that uses the double-entry system of bookkeeping. Essentially, the slush fund is used to record transactions involving funds commingled from other accounts, and as the default place to record transactions and expenses that shouldn’t properly be recorded elsewhere in the ledger. Strangely, the concept of a slush fund has applications for a Dungeons & Dragons game, which can inspire superior role-playing.
The fourth edition of the D&D game (4e) is especially suited for this function, due to the formulaic nature of encounter design and character advancement. The Gentle Reader will remember that the 4e Dungeon Master’s Guide recommends that each experience level be divided into a number of combat, skill challenge and quest encounters, the total XP award of which is enough to bring the heroes to the next level. This post suggests that while the 4e experience point (XP) system allows for the dungeon master (DM) to reward heroes for victory in combat, success at skill challenges, and broad completion of campaign quests, a formal mechanic for rewarding superior role-playing – like the individual XP awards presented in legacy editions of the D&D game – is absent.
It could be argued that 4e role-playing XP is awarded through the skill challenge and quest XP mechanics, an argument that this writer accepts – to a very limited extent only. It has been this writer’s experience that superior D&D character development doesn’t come from accomplishing a story goal or skillfully negotiating during skill challenges; rather, it comes from the way a player acts and reacts to the other characters and the DM’s setting on an ongoing basis. It takes sustained effort by a player to do that, and that effort should be encouraged in a game intended to be role-playing intensive. But how can that sort of effort be encouraged under the 4e XP rules?
One solution involves the DM setting aside a quantity of XP in a slush fund – perhaps a sum roughly equal to an encounter of the heroes’ level – and use it to reward superior role-playing, either as individual awards or, if keeping everyone at the same XP total is important, as additions to the group’s collective XP. Awards from the fund should be doled out gradually, during the course of each experience level, becoming an “encounter” in itself that is sprinkled across the others planned for that level.
The sort of role-playing worthy of an award from the fund will vary from one game to the next, but role-playing behaviors such as those listed below might be included:
- Speaking in character more often than out of character;
- Making decisions that are consistent with a character’s beliefs and values, but that may not be beneficial to the character;
- Displaying emotional reactions (within reason) to in-game events when in character;
- Vividly describing a character’s actions in combat, using the flavor text provided with each character power as a guide;
- Remembering, or keeping written records of, the names of various non-player characters (NPCs) and campaign locations, so that the player can interact with other heroes and NPCs as a native of the campaign would; or
- Interacting with the personalities of the other heroes in ways that will help bring those other personalities into the game’s spotlight.
Regardless of the level or quality of role-playing in a D&D campaign, if all players make a concerted effort to improve their role-playing in the ways described above, the quality of the game can only improve. As a reward, the party may be able to avoid the danger and time investment of one full encounter en route to their next experience level. If they fail to raise their role-playing standard, they’ll have to face that added danger.