In my last few games of D&D, I've run into the same problem a few times: how do you reward the players without giving them items?
This usually arises due to one of a few things:
One player was the only tank/physical class, thus got all of the physical items, while others got fewer. While catching them up to speed (and to ensure better future distribution), I need a better way to reward that player.
The players just finished a longer campaign with large end rewards, and it is too soon to give high quality rewards, but they still deserve something.
The players are a bit OP with magical items, and I need to catch the monsters up, while still rewarding them.
The rewards have grown a bit stale, and a new magical item feels boring, even with lore or cool effects.
While I'm not 100% sure how to fix this, I have gotten a few solutions, though I really need need more. I'll put a few that I like below:
Give Players Recognition – In my play through of LMoP, I knighted my players as very minor nobles at the end. For their extreme services in the service of Phandalin (clearing multiple orc and goblin camps, clearing a goblin castle, defeating redbrands, reclaiming Wave Echo Cave, etc), Sildar gave them the title of "first lords of phandalin" and essentially boosted their status while they built an adventurers guild.
Give Players Property – In the same game as above, my players were in the middle of building a guild base as they completed their quest. This was the end of those characters (the players wanted to start fresh), so, since the one doing the building, Halia Thornton, just gained a LOT of income from Wave Echo Cave, they returned the favor by furnishing the guild base for free.
Give Players Allies – I haven't tested this one as much, but my players have enjoyed having friends, pets, and other companions on their journeys. This is easy to accidentally go overboard with (or turn into DMPCs), but giving some faithful friends, with enough roleplaying, can make players feel great.
Advance General Interests – This one may be harder to do right, but if the party has some unique side goal, advancing their interests is a good reward. For my players, this simply meant helping them build the guild or get the word out. For others, it may me lore, progress towards finding a family member, hints for later treasure, etc. It's not bad to give them a treasure map to a longer, more challenging dungeon, and have one big (better timed) reward at the end.
Give Unique, but Similar Items – Sometimes your players just need a general push. Do they have a powerful item with little development? Why not give them one very similar, but with a unique design, style, and maybe single aspect? Or, why not have them find a book of history for the weapon? If the player loves RP, then the +1 longsword is easily beaten by the +1 "ridged blade of the black prince" that comes with a long backstory and tragic death. Maybe you can throw in a minor enchantment as well, now that they have discovered its past.
That's all I have for now, but for all of you, how do you reward your players with more than physical items?
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More about Dungeons & Dragons OnlinePost: "Non-Item Teasure – Rewarding Success Without Gear" specifically for the game Dungeons & Dragons Online. Other useful information about this game:
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