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On Rewards and Balance

Written by Paul Rehac - Published on August 22, 2014

So I’ve talked a lot about the beginning and end of a campaign, from character and session creation to developing a villain to hate. What I haven’t covered with you is what to do at the end of a campaign. In this article I would like to specifically talk about the inbetween variety of ending. Most of us have been playing long enough that we’ve founded a group of good friends and great players, the kind that you stick with even after a campaign comes to an end.

 

Normally, when you come to the conclusion of a campaign the DM can feel free to throw out any kind of reward he’d like; the game is over and balance isn’t an issue, afterall. But what do you do when the party wants to stay together for another adventure? The unlimited wish and millions of gold pieces is looking a little less likely, now. On the other hand, your players have worked hard, and they deserve to feel like they’ve earned a great reward, so where do you find the median? That’s what I’ve come here to tell you. The key is in providing character-oriented rewards.

 

For example, I recently ran a campaign involving an estranged noble’s son. When the campaign finally came to an end, the king presented the titleless bard with a blank crest. It took the player a moment to put two and two together, but when he figured out he was ecstatic. I could see his thoughts developing, plans for his character forming and a smile broke out on his face. Mechanically speaking, the most the reward did was provide him with access to a prestige class, and some contacts and revenue he didn’t have before– Nothing too game-breaking.

 

The other option is to take a simple item and dress it up. Take a +1 Corrosive Scimitar. It’s magical, and obviously much stronger than a mundane item, but it’s nothing game-breaking. Throw that in a pile of loot and the players will be happy enough to take it, but present it to your players as an end-game reward and it might fall a little flat. But what happens when you give it a name, or a history? How would they react to a one-of-a-kind item?

 

After honoring all of you with a rousing speech and a great feast, the Duke calls the four of you to his private study. There he presents each of you with a special reward. To you, Eric, he presents a beautiful sword, the hilt and blade curve in opposite directions marking it as an Eastern blade. The hilt is wrapped in silk and golden wire, the crossguard and pommel made of gold and embedded with emeralds. You recognize this as the Fang of the Third Wind, an ancient and deadly weapon gifted only to the captain of the Sultan’s Elite Guard.
Now that sounds like a weapon worth months of travel, pints of blood, and a lifetime of danger to get. There’s no need to spoil your players, just do what you’re meant to as a Dungeon Master: tell them a story. I can guarantee that it’ll make your players happier and your rewards more satisfying than ever before.

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Written by Paul Rehac

Paul Rehac

Hey! Paul here. I’m a writer and a gamer — have been for almost ten years now! As a dungeonmaster I focus primarily on storytelling and immersion, and do my best to make every game as captivating as possible. As a player I’m all about the character and the roleplay, and I’m more than content to never roll a die.

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3 Responses to “On Rewards and Balance”
  1. Mike says:

    I can see the looks on the players’ faces now, in the moments soon after receiving the Fang of the Third Wind, when they ask for the stats for this new legendary weapon: “Just a +2 equivalent?! Really?!”

    You ABSOLUTELY need to make the stats match the legend, but not necessarily too far outside of the players’ level-appropriate range. 3-5ish level end-of-campaign reward might get by with a +2, if you want your named and historied sword to be just another bit of kit on the market when +3s are more level-appropriate.

    Now if it was a Legacy Weapon (See 3.5ed D&D Weapons of Legacy for more info), that’s much more appropriate… but in summary, a legendary weapon that will more or less level up with the character.

    If you don’t go with a Legacy type item, something that’ll be slightly game-breaking for the next couple levels would be best. So your level 3 campaign-enders with a sword made for a level 6 character will be breezing through encounters… until they hit level 5 and they get a little tougher… and hopefully by then they’ll have built an identity and attachment with that quest reward, and then they’re making the game challenging for themselves! Challenging can drive story. (Epic quest to strengthen the enchantment anyone?)

  2. I think that “being told, as reading about it” are actually beyond the proverbial point. That is no criticism of Paul Rehac, who did another wonderful article here. It is simply that players, and the mentally reduced version I simply call gamers ( those who consider pen&paper RPG the same, as Action RPG video-games ), actually expect “us GM_DM_ST” to dish them the perfect solution for whatever problem without expecting any payment or gratitude in return…

  3. MythicParty says:

    Fair points guys. But it should be noted that even Paizo think the simple +’s for magic items needs some fixing. I.e. this bit from the upcoming Pathfinder Unchained book:

    [i]”Even the most staunchly traditionalist player will appreciate the book’s math-lite system for on-the-fly monster creation and the new system for generating dynamic magic items that go far beyond a simple +1 to add lore and interest to the campaign.”[/i]

    http://paizo.com/products/btpy97vo/discuss?Pathfinder-Roleplaying-Game-Pathfinder-Unchained-Hardcover

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