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Polishing your gold – how to make rewards more rewarding

Written by Nicholas - Published on October 27, 2008

Nicholas is the columnist in charge of Nerd Watching and part-time Expy wrangler. He also works as the community manager, so keep an eye out for him on RPG blogs and forums.

Polishing Your Gold

Once your players have collected all the magical items in your treasure parcel — like so many delicious treats on Halloween — all they are left with are the houses that give out pieces of fruit and toothpaste. I may have carried that metaphor too far, but what we are talking about is the less attractive cousin of magical items: monetary rewards. If you are playing fourth edition, your choices of monetary rewards are limited. You could give straight out coinage or give gems and art objects which serve as the checks of the D&D world, in that they are exactly like money, with the addition of brainless hassle before you can spend it. Alternatively you can give out one of the four potions in the Player’s Handbook. Granted, if you have some extra cash laying around, you can expand your options to more potions and consumables by purchasing the Adventurer’s Vault. However, if you don’t want to drop the money or you are like myself and have already consumed the content of that book and are hungry for more, there are still some options available to make your monetary treasure more exciting.

The Dark Harvest

The traditional protocol of killing something and taking their stuff is often very narrowly defined to taking what is in their room and on their bodies. However, this overlooks all the valuables that are in their bodies. Dragons are the traditional example: their scales can be fashioned into shields and armor, their teeth can be carved down into weapons and — with your permission — their organs can be used as material components in arcane rituals. If you are running a 3.5 game, “Unearthed Arcana” (my personal favorite D&D book) has a section of metamagic components that are perfect for harvesting your foes.

Stealing the Precious

It may be crass but taking something valuable to the enemy makes it more valuable to the player. When players defeat any enemy who wears a crown, it is a fair bet that the first thing one of them will do is put it on, not necessarily because it is any more expensive than the other pieces of treasure they find, but just because it is a symbol of importance. Likewise, if they stumble into the shrine a dark god, they will find much more joy in prying the jeweled eyes out of his opulent statue than they would at getting those same gems in the coin purse of the head priest.

The Riddle of Gold

A simple way to increase the value of monetary rewards is to make them work a little harder for it. This is not a video game, where as soon as you defeat an enemy your reward pops up. You have the ability to make things more complex and interesting for your characters. Realistically, people put their valuables away. A clan of goblins might have a moldy box with a crude lock on it. A thieves’ guild may have a hallway loaded with deathtraps to slay the unwary fool heading for the vault. An elderly wizard in his tower might have riddles and puzzles to boggle your players, or a magical obstacle to hinder their characters. Getting to the biggest rewards can be a great opportunity for a skill challenge, and it will give some extra experience for the trouble.

Proxy Shopping

When you put down magic potions as treasure, all you are really doing is spending the player’s gold for them. If you are already doing that, why think so small? Substituting an appropriate amount of gold from their parcel, a grateful noble could buy a parcel of land to give the heroes to establish a keep. A village that is rescued might hold a festival in honor of the brave heroes and shower them with gifts. Perhaps a family member of someone rescued lacks the money to properly reward the heroes but offers his services on their next mission. This can be an easy way to balance a party if you know that they are heading off to an area they are not equipped for and can introduce a new personality for roleplaying. Anything in the game that has a monetary value could be substituted for gold, just be careful not to unbalance the rewards by doing this. If half of all your reward money is turned into ritual books, the party wizard will be getting these and an even split of the gold.

Making the rewards more rewarding

It can be difficult to excite a group of adventurers wearing enough magical items to fund an entire village’s retirement simply by giving them more gold. They’ll be happy to get it, certainly, and they will divide it up and shovel it into their bags of holding and go about their business. However, monetary rewards can be so much more than that if you are willing to think outside the box on what shape those rewards take and how those rewards are delivered to them. These coins and gems are meant to reward the character and the player for a job well done. If managed well, the player can feel more rewarded than he would by just watching a number go up on his character sheet.

Good luck and good rolling (around in your piles of treasure)

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Written by Nicholas

Nick DiPetrillo is the original author behind the games Arete and Zombie Murder Mystery available at http://games.dungeonmastering.com

Nick is no longer active with DungeonMastering.com, however he is an accomplished writer and published his first game in 2009.

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Nicholas is the columnist in charge of Nerd Watching and part-time Expy wrangler. He also works as the community manager, so keep an eye out for him on RPG blogs and forums.



12 Responses to “Polishing your gold – how to make rewards more rewarding”
  1. Yax says:

    I like the bit about keeping treasure hidden instead of being carried by monsters. Killing things and taking their stuff is fun but it’s not great for storytelling.

  2. Micah says:

    Don’t forget about harmless but interesting magical dodads. This is the stuff that players would never pay for, but love to have nonetheless. Things like quills that write in the air, or boots that allow the wearer to dance like a pro.

    Put these in instead of some of the money. They’re not as valuable as a +5 weapon, but they make for some of the best problem solving and roleplay moments.

  3. Francois B says:

    Hi all,

    When i saw the Dark Harvest, it reminded me of the “add-ons” i did in my KotS campaign
    Since i’m playing with alot of teenagers , ie WoW addicts, they easily grasped that monsters can be skinned or looted of valuable body parts

    With appropriate Nature or Dungeonneering skill :
    Drakes, added teeth and hide to resell to vendors.
    (added encounter) Stirges, added wings and siringe-like appendage
    Jumping spider, venom which can coat a weapon for 1 hit
    Kuthrick (not encountered), scales and sharp claws and toxic spikes (either extract toxic goo or 1 shot toxic daggers)

    So most monsters have these goodies imho. Great fun and some extra RP can be had with dealing with merchants of exotic merchandise.

  4. Yax says:

    @Micah: I like your ideas. I should have more kinda-useful but uber-cool items in my games.

    @Francois B: That’s also great.

    May I suggest:
    Fighter-type characters can wear “trophies” from their battles and gain bonuses to intimidation checks.

  5. Nicholas says:

    This is something that fascinates me about Dungeon Mastering, it really is a free back and forth. I write something to start a discussion and you guys come by and flesh it out in ways I never would have thought of. Even with the more official magazines moving online they don’t get that same exchange of ideas we have here at Dungeon Mastering.

    What I’m really trying to say is keep the comments coming guys and ladies!

  6. Yax says:

    Yeah, forums, blogs, and magazines definitely have a different feel. I’ve never been a huge forum fan although I do participate on them sometimes. I like blogs – obviously – the more focused discussions they stir.

  7. JMOxx75 says:

    This reminded me of a campaign that my older brother DM’d when we were teenagers. He had certain monsters and exotic beasts that we hunted for different body parts that we could sell for lots of gold. The problem was finding them. We would go on 2 adventures in the wild before we would finally find one. Our greed was so high that tracking these beasts/monsters was like a carrot on a stick for my brother to lead us into adventures.

    We were young but our goal was to make money by killing these things and selling their body parts. What my evil brother surprised us with is the buyer was an evil mage that required this stuff to build his ultimate doom machine lol. So in the end we were blamed for being co conspirators and chased by the authorities for a very long time.

    It did liven things up though.

  8. Francois B says:

    Now that gave me a very good idea ..

    then even boring encounters will have a consequence on the quest.. helping the bbeg without knowing, thinking there doing the right thing.. *evil gm grin*

    Nice, thanx jmoxx75

  9. phycoshane says:

    my pcs love at the end of a long quest for a npc like a wizard the wizard dos not just pay them he gives them cool wepons that suit their own characters like a cloak of shadows for the rouge and a +1 long bow that doubles up as a double bladed sword, also we all care what the wepon looks like and if it suits the character more than the rules for the wepon, i also use loads of cursed gems and iteams i think all this makes rewards more injoyable when you finally get then

  10. The Gouge says:

    When I’m dealing out things like magical weapons, I always make sure I tailor them to whatever, or whoever owned them before. Recently I had players that were about to be sacrificed, commandeer the sacrificial Greataxe and use it to kill their captors, but the weapon was evil-aligned so they had to work around the negative levels and it made their victory that much more satisfying. Now they have this magical axe that none of them really want but could maybe sell and buy some smaller, more useful things with. It just wouldn’t have been as cool to give them an axe that they could really use, it makes it seem like I am setting them up for victory whenever I do that. Now they think I’m just out to kill them whenever I get the chance….

  11. Corwin says:

    My current DM came up with a genuinely great way to reward without overpowering us.

    In a recent quest, through no fault of our own (I hope), an NPC died, he wasn’t well liked in the town and he had no know relatives, other than being the cousin of one of our party members.

    All of a sudden we have a beautiful house in the middle of the city we’ve been spending most of our time, and like any good group of players, we poured our money into improving our base of operations.

    It is now, currently a school for wizards and noble children (my doing), and the center for our trading company (we bought a sailing ship and hired a crew to pilot it). All in all, it’s been great.


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