Monday, August 20, 2018

Instead of Gold, Why Not Give Players What They Actually Want?

How many times have your players slain the troll, defeated the wicked cult, or successfully put the corrupted crypt guardian to rest, only to find hundreds of pounds of raw treasure? Chests full of silver, coffers crammed with gold, and sacks of raw gems that are worth a fortune... once you haul them back to civilization, that is.

There's how much?! Woo, boy, I hope you've been doing your squats, Ragnar.
Even if your game ignores encumbrance rules, it can be frustrating to sit down and do the bean counting for changing your copper and silver into gold, selling off your gems, and doing all the conversions just so the party can turn around and commission magic items, spending almost all of the treasure you just gave them. So ask yourself why you're bothering with all that hairy change when, instead, you could just give your players what they're going to buy anyway, sweetened with a little pocket and saving money?

Rewards They Won't Want To Hock

If your players are going to get magic items, chances are good they already have one or two specifics in mind. Your fighter's going to want a weapon of the type he specializes in (or just likes), your wizard's going to want a stat booster, your monk will want an amulet of mighty fists, etc., etc.

So instead of making them carefully save their allowances, just give them what they want in an appropriately-leveled hoard.

A full adamantine suit! Dibs!
This strategy might require a bit of balancing on your part as the DM (since you're the one handing out toys), but it accomplishes several things. First and foremost, it allows you to make the items they use feel special. It's not just a random flaming scimitar that they traded a bunch of gold for; it's a dragon fang, one of the weapons wielded by the founders of the Sisters of Fire they discovered in a lost catacomb. That circlet that increases the magus's intelligence? That was forged for use by the commanders of the Arcane Army of Za-Los, and stolen by ghouls that you slew in the collapsed citadel.

And so on and so forth.

Finding these items gives you the ability to give them a story, and to tie that story to your players. That makes the loot feel special, and it incorporates it into the PCs' personal stories. In some cases, they might even become a signature piece of gear, or the characters may become so attached to the items they're reluctant to part with them even if they find something mechanically stronger.

Even better, if they don't need to hock their old stuff to be able to get more gold to buy the new stuff, then they can keep those treasures they've used without worrying if it's hampering their progress.

There are other benefits of using this strategy, as well. The first is that you no longer have players hoarding their gold coins and misering over them (to the point that they're still hunting their own food and sleeping in the wild even though there's an inn less than an hour away in a well-guarded city). If they want to spend money on getting fancy dress clothes, a house to live in, or the trappings of the treasure hunter, that isn't going to be what prevents them from getting that suit of armor they're going to need when they face that big dragon in two more levels.

Second, this prevents you from having to come up with how your players managed to find someone capable of crafting a +3 wounding short spear in the middle of forest country. Especially when they don't have the time for such an item to be made, according to the rules, as crafting objects of power isn't something you can do over a lunch break. Because sure, there are merchants who deal in specialized items (and I even made some of them for 100 Merchants to Encounter), schools of arcane learning where such crafters might be found... but it just doesn't feel as special as finding it right after you did the task for which you're being rewarded.

Hell, an industrious player might even grab the item during the fight if they're facing the ghoul king in his throne room, or fighting a dragon in the cave with its hoard.

How You Can Get These Items To Your Players

The obvious way to do this is to sit down with your players, and ask what sort of course you see their characters taking as they play (or just watching their play style to predict which items would be the most useful for their characters). Then, once you have their wish list (or a pretty good guess as to what would be on it), you sprinkle the items around the dungeons they crawl through. Perhaps the bandit captain is wielding a masterwork longsword he took from a slain knight. In a secret compartment of the crumbling Aethril Keep you find an enchanted bow made for the Commander of the Watch, and hidden away to keep his enemies from finding it.

And so on, and so forth.

There are other ways to slip your players some goodies, too. One is the idea of the legacy weapon. Because sure, when the fighter first found that sword, it was clearly of masterwork quality. However, as they fought and slew with it, something inside the sword slowly woke. Runes began to appear along the fuller, drinking in the blood it spilled. As it grows, the edge becomes keen, and the steel begins to glow a malevolent red when battle is joined. It heals the wielder, and then once it has drunk enough blood, the consciousness within it awakens to properly meet the who has broken its slumber.

Not every magic item needs to be huge and epic, though. For example, slaying the Hound of Hellfire Marsh and saving the local populace from its predations may not net you much in the way of treasure... that is, until the local lord thanks you for your service. Depending on his wealth, he may offer the party the services of his armorers, the pick of his beasts, or even give them objects that have long been held in his family, but not used in generations. A ring born by General Cassadar wrought in the shape of a shield, and which acts as a ring of protection +2, for example. Or, perhaps there's a deeper secret of a wizard takes it as a bonded item. A simple knight's brooch that, when the word is spoken, unfolds to cover the wearer in a suit of fine plate armor.

And stuff like that.

Whether your rewards come from a merchant prince, the royal family, a wizard's college, a swamp witch, or even a farmer who inherited the item from ten generations back, the point is that it feels more like a reward, and less like a purchase you just made. And there are untold numbers of ways you can make it work. Return a hatchling to its mother, get your choice of item from the dragon's trove. Free a genie from bondage, be allowed to wish for something within a limited range. Be accepted into a certain order, and get the right to wear/wield the items associated with membership.

Just remember, you don't always have to give your players exactly what they want. Make it unexpected, sometimes. Throw in some extra goodies. You know your paladin wants a holy avenger, but make him work his way up to it. You know your warpriest uses a morning star, and has all their feats specc'd for that weapon, so get creative with the kind of enchantments are on the weapon(s) they find. Your bard wears leather armor, but if they came across some enchanted mithril they wouldn't say no. Don't give them completely random stuff they won't be able to use, because then you're right back to the adventurer pawn shop. If they're employed by a powerful organization, let the rent out certain potent items for dangerous journeys, neatly side-stepping the issue of how much gold it cost them to get said item.

And, every few levels, ask them what sort of stuff they're on the look out for. Just to give you fresh fodder the next time they do something worthy of a significant reward.

If you enjoyed this bit of advice, then you might also find some value in the following posts:

That's all for this week's installment of Moon Pope Monday. Hopefully it gave some folks out there some ideas, and got the wheels turning! If you'd like to see more of my work, head over to my Vocal author page, or just go to my Gamers page if you want to see only my tabletop stuff. You could also stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I help in bringing the world of Evora to life. If you want to get updates on all of my content, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, I can't keep this blog running without all of your support. So consider giving me a one-time tip by Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or signing up as a patron on The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to give me a little something every month.

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  1. This is a terrific article with excellent ideas and examples. Thank you for sharing it with us all. I'd never considered these ways of player rewards.

  2. I ended up making an app to simplify the rolling if exotic loot.