REPOST: Rewards vs. Gifts

Treasure serves many purposes, first, it enables a party to continue adventuring. Second, it can make them artificially stronger then what they are naturally entitled to be. And third, it is a reward. I stress this word, a reward, and it should always stay a reward, vs. just giving out gifts.

Introducing treasure is an art-form. There are no set rules about how to do it, but if you don't do it well then you'll run into problems. Now, I'm just going to assume that you know what happens when you give out to much treasure, as well as what happens when you give out too little. This post isn't really about that. It's about rewarding creative and inquisitive PCs.

We also won't be talking about money, art items, or gemstones. Specifically, we'll be talking about magic items. There are surprisingly enough, only a few different kinds of magic that you can dish out.

  1. Limited Magic: These items are always preferred. They have a limited amount of uses, and once they have been exhausted, they are discarded.
  2. Throw-Away: These items are things that players love deeply, but once they find something better, they forget all about them faster then a nice girlfriend.
  3. Campaign Items: These are items that can define a character, and are never upgraded. These things must be given sparingly because their very existence can throw a wrench into the most well planed gaming scenarios.
The DM should always sit down and design his treasure. We will always keep in mind: Rewards, not Gifts. There are two ways that we can go about this.

  • Using the Item: The monster or NPC will actively use the item against the party. Sometimes we DM's don't think, and instead of just increasing the NPCs level or numbers, we'll give them an enchanted sword of some kind, which is crazy! Always remember that magic swag is worth their XP value in gold, thus even a +1 Sword is worth 1,000GP so if you aren't willing to give them that kind of cash, Don't give them a +1 weapon. Everything that an NPC owns can easily find its way into the hands of the Players.
  • Hiding the Item: Magic items are treasured items. Many of them cannot be constructed by player characters, we have to hide these things in areas where we don't think that the players are going to go, but if they do, then they will be rewarded!

Hiding items is where some of the fun actually comes from. Hiding them well is a skill! Designing hidden passages to protected items. Hiding them in every day objects, or AS every day objects is a good trick, but in order to pull it off, you actually need to decorate all of your scenes with window dressing.

  • A cursed sword-1 has a hidden compartment in the handle.
  • Secret compartment in a treasure chest
  • A Hollowed-out book
  • Secret drawer in the heel of a boot
  • Tattoo or Painting is actually a cryptic treasure map
  • Hiding small things in an empty eye socket
A little imagination goes a long way. Magic items shouldn't be on the top of treasure chests, or in places that just scream "PICK ME UP!"

Magic Swords 101

Just a quick word on Enchanted Swords and other weapons/armor. Not all of our weapons need have a back story, especially if the item is something that the character will be upgrading in the future, but we still have to ask ourselves, "What is a magic sword?"

The Norse created magic swords by giving them names, however we aren't talking about Bob, Jim, or even Harker of Blood. The Runes are a magic alphabet, each letter gave the blade power. It was the letters themselves that formed magic names. Of course, this is advanced stuff! We needn't have actual magic words, but the name of the sword will be carved on the blade, this name should give a hint at special powers, and we should keep these powers consistent, thus we wouldn't give a +1 Sword the name of WOLFSLAYER, because it would take a long time to hack apart a werewolf with it, on the other hand, if it was a Sword +1, +4 vs. Lycanthropy, then this would be a good name.

An enchanted sword, even a +1, is sharper and lighter then your average sword, it is something to be coveted, but if you get angery because you created some crazy back story about how the sword was owned by King Luther and nobody seems to care, you are over thinking it. Now if it was an intelligent sword, well then THAT is cause to build a proper back story.


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