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Day 18: Rewarding the Player Characters

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Player rewards can be broken down into tangible, intangible, and story rewards. In my games, I like to try to give out a balance of all three, but some in- and out-of-character considerations will occasionally affect what I distribute and when.

Tangible Rewards

Tangible rewards are your gold, loot, magic items and artifacts. My parties are usually good about splitting gold evenly. Some are even willing to lend theirs among the party so that certain PCs can get the item they’re looking for, with the general expectation that they will be helped in kind down the road. Loot I tend to hand wave, allowing PCs to pick up whatever items the enemies were wielding, but I also limit what I arm my enemies with in the first place, knowing that it will very likely end up in the hands of the party after all.

In my monthly intro to D&D class, I have over a dozen players aged 8 to 15, so gold is really the only option to avoid constant bickering among them, though the adventure I’ve been running has some plot-important magic items. I feel like it’s an important lesson to learn that not everyone is always equal and deal with that in a mature way, though I’m not sure what age that lesson is appropriate for.

Even among adults, it seems, magic items are the tangible rewards most likely to cause an argument among the group members. To help with this, I try to stagger how much I give out and when I do, make it very clear that the magic item really “belongs” with a specific character. The masterwork thieves tools obviously belong with the rogue while the +1 shield of turn undead is obviously meant for the paladin. It the item is more generic to begin with and usable by more than one character concept, I’m more likely to introduce more than one of them.

As far as artifacts are concerned, I only tend to award one or two in an entire campaign after a major plot point has been accomplished, or perhaps in order to prompt one. Artifacts are best done as items that are shareable for the group, otherwise they should really be tied into one PCs’ specific background or future story arc, or come with a significant price (or even curse) if they are “freestanding,” as it were.

Intangible Rewards

Also known as experience points, intangible rewards are the ones I like receiving the most when I’m a player, so I try to indulge my group a little when I’m the GM. The key is not to overload the party so that XP becomes taken for granted, and also to be conscious of how their newfound abilities will begin to change or break down the gameplay.

The biggest barometer for how much XP I give out tends to be how often the group meets. For a monthly game, I’ve been content with simply awarding one level per session, knowing that after a full year I’ll still have only level 12 PCs. For a bi-monthly game, I like to give out the “quick” rate or “double” the standard rate of XP. For a weekly game, I’ll try to stick to the standard rate, but give about 10-20% extra to reward good role-playing.

Sometimes, though, I like to deviate from the experience point paradigm a little bit and offer (in lieu of tangible rewards) additional types of intangible rewards. For instance, additional skill points related to a specific characteristic, or a talent from a restricted list, a specialized spell, or even forbidden or taboo knowledge. These are easily justified as rewards given by specific NPCs who are able to impart their wisdom to the characters or perhaps use their expertise to modify the PCs’ gear.

Story Rewards

I don’t think that story rewards can be emphasized enough, for the simple reason that they are the ones most often forgotten but also the richest in terms of how they can move the story forward.

Legend of the Five Rings represents many story-type rewards in its Advantages section, so I will include some examples here: allies, blackmail, titles, class, fame, blessings, or even specific destinies. Other ideas include bases of operations, business enterprises, or even armies to control. These may be correlated to the power level of the Player Characters, but interesting roleplaying opportunities can still be had when they don’t quite match up. Story rewards may be more or less appreciated depending on the type of players at your table, but actors and storytellers will enjoy them especially.

Like I said before, the trick is to balance all three different types and not to overload the players with them. Sometimes it’s good to deny the PCs what they really want, just so that when they finally get it it’s all the sweeter. Talk to your group and see what their characters’ goals and desires are. Chances are you’ll be able to mine their character backstory for especially poignant rewards.

How do you handle rewards, be they XP, magic items, or gold? Link your answers in the comments below! You can find the rest of the 30 Days of Gamemastering Challenge prompts here. And stay tuned for tomorrow’s post on my worst RPG session ever. Thanks again for reading!

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