Monday, October 21, 2013

30 Days of GameMastering Challenge--Day 18!

Lindevi's beating me to the punch in her "30 Days of GameMastering" challenge.  Let's fix that!

How do you handle rewards, be they XP, magic items, or gold?

Full disclosure?  I hate bookkeeping.  Even while teaching, the act of grading papers and filing student records nauseates me.  Keeping track of player XP and doling out parcels of magic items is tantamount to extra work on my part, which I can't stand.  To me, each second that you spend with the details of minutia like XP tallies is less time that your party is actually out earning that XP!

As such, I very rarely use a true "advancement" system by rule.  Rather than tallying up XP for each character individually, I have a hard and fast rule of "level up every third session".  That way, players still get to watch their favorite characters advance and grow more powerful, while eliminating the need to tally XP or penalize players for having life get in the way.

Loot!  Glorious loot!
For the same reason, I very rarely dole out magic items en mass either.  Rather, I tend to favor the "inherent bonuses" option common in D&D 3.5e and 4e, which provides the same mathematical bonuses without suffering any mathematical imbalances.  If a system doesn't offer such a system and magic items are an expectation, I try to encourage my players to build a "wish list" of items that they feel would fit well with their character over time.  Having a list for each player lets me prepackage items that the players actively want, which satisfies them and makes my job as GM easier.

However, when I do hand out magic items, I do my best to ensure that they're unique and flavorful.  Warlord Kang's daisho from our run-through of The Flood, for example, was inhabited by the spirit of Kang's murdered brother, inciting any who wielded it into an unholy rage.  Maerlyn's Grapefruit, from my Dark Tower/Deadlands crossover was scry on others or to cast any spell...but with potentially disastrous results.
The key thing for rewards, though, is that they have to feel special.  A generic +2 sword?  No one gets excited about that.  But when those elements have a background, unique powers, or plot significance?  That's when the cream rises to the top, friends.


  1. I agree with you on these points, but I have different reasons. In my opinion, XP and loot are artifacts of the gaming origins of D&D and there's a reason that no other mainstream RPG still uses it, at least not to that extent. It's because it's boring and it makes the game less about characters in a story and more about characters in a game.

    A happy side effect of "level up every third session" is that players no longer feel that they always need to kill every last bad guy in order to get a few more points of XP. In turn, they tend to make more intelligent, and less bloodthirsty, decisions.

    For loot, this too is a side effect of being a game of increasingly becoming more powerful. I don't know of any novels, fantasy or otherwise, where the main characters kick down the dungeon doors, kill everyone inside, loot the bodies, sell the stuff in town and repeat. Having a goal of uncountable treasure is an interesting thing. Dealing with loot is just boring bookkeeping.

  2. I'm right with you, brother. It cuts down the bookkeeping and keeps the players focused on the action--especially in games that don't feature a lot of "kill 'dem guys and take their loot".