In this article, we’ll look at the concepts of treasure and reward. My goal in our current campaign is to attempt to make most of those items “focused items”: items that have some root in the characters. Our last campaign ran about two years, so players acquired a bunch of stuff. I noticed that a lot of it went unused. Players latched onto a signature item and generally used that one alone. Maybe my approach of throwing a lot of stuff out there and seeing what they liked wasn’t the best one. Of course, not all rewards have to be material, but let’s start with those.
Everybody likes new stuff. However, just like in the real world, we are more likely to give a meaningful gift if we know the person well. It also helps to ask them what they’d like. You can do this with your players, or better yet, have an NPC ask them what they might like. In my campaign, our barbarian wanted a Girdle of Giant Strength (hehe, girdle), and even mentioned that he wanted the one stolen from his father. Those couple sentences formed a great basis for a few sessions. Plus, I knew exactly what he wanted, and that it would fit perfectly. Try that with your wife.
Incorporating rewards into quests is a great way to make them more meaningful. One of my players mentioned that he might like a special sword for his swashbuckler. Now, he didn’t give me any more information, but it was still enough to run with. There were ghosts giving them some trouble in this particular campaign, so it made sense to give that sword some special power against the undead. Hide it in an abandoned tower far away from town, and you have an instant quest. Even better, it is linked closely to the campaign world. If that doesn’t make it more meaningful for the players, then I don’t know Arkansas.
One final thought on material rewards; they don’t all have to be life-changing. You’ll still need to sprinkle in healing potions, charged blasters, silvered weapons, and gems along the way. Even good gloves can have a lot of uses. Give them a little something every session, but consider making the big items focused rewards when you can.
Sometimes these are called “Story Awards.” They include meeting a story goal, information, or the gratitude and loyalty of NPC’s. While you want to dole these out during the session, it is also good practice to remind players of their successes. At the end of a session, take a few minutes to stress what they have accomplished so far. Repeat these points in your introduction to the next session as well. If players feel like they are making progress, they are more likely to come back.
Recurring NPC’s are another great source of intangible rewards. They can remind players how grateful they are for past heroic deeds. They may offer a free meal, lodging, or act as a patron. Let news of their heroics spread to strangers as well. They may be asked to tell their tales at the tavern or space station cantina. For some players, renown for noble deeds might even be more important than a magic sword.
Characters are more than just bags of stuff (well, most of them, anyway). And GM’s aren’t supposed to be random shelf-stockers. Consider rewards focused directly on your PC’s desires, and people will be happier on both sides of the screen.
Let us know your approach to focused rewards below.