This article was first broadcast in Episode Twenty on 18th April 2018.
Ryu: So yeah, that last time the Killer DM killed Ostron pretty much wiped us out. The Cleric upped his rates
Lennon: I told Ostron we’d have some gold for him because of the whole kidney thing
Ryu: Don’t worry, I’ve got it covered.
Not all characters are played in the same way. That’s sort of a given unless the same person is controlling all of them, but we’re mostly talking about how characters deal with their bank accounts. While some characters will be able to stockpile money, looking for the chance to make a big purchase that will advance their character’s capabilities or status, others find themselves continually starved for coin. Wizards spend money to add spells to their spellbooks or craft scrolls, clerics buy powdered silver for the creation of holy water, and herbalists and alchemists invest their coin to craft potions and other useful consumables for the party. Of course, the rest of the party could contribute to these endeavors since they’ll indirectly benefit from them, but they may start to get annoyed if the wizard spends all of the party’s money on expanding his spellbook or the druid brews a variety of important-but-seldom-used potions.
Another issue that can crop up reward-wise happens when the party is fighting mostly against animals or unintelligent monsters. While many MMO and RPG video games don’t have a problem with every random wolf, slime, or fire beetle having some random coin in their pouches for adventurers to collect from their carcasses, most D&D players prefer a bit more realism to their games. It might be plausible to occasionally stumble upon the remains of an unlucky adventurer with lootable items that haven’t yet spoiled, but after the fifteenth unlooted body the party might quest off in search of the local bandit horde just so they can go “hey, guys, here’s some pointers”…and yet, without such “coincidences”, after three weeks traversing the wilds fending off countless fire beetle attacks, the party might arrive at their destination dead broke.
Yet another reward-related problem is that of diversity. The Dungeon Master’s Guide lists coin, gems, art objects, and magic items by way of tangible treasures (aka “loot”); while there’s other rewards, such as titles, land grants, blessings, and such, you generally don’t find those in a villain’s lair and cart them out with a wheelbarrow. But consider this: your party tracks a crazed wizard who’s been conducting experiments on the locals to his lair; as they approach the wizard, they pass through labs filled with alchemical equipment and reagents that would cost the players a fortune to assemble themselves, yet, while they find gold and magic items at the end, the party’s herbalist still has to spend some of that gold to restock their expended healing potions. Is it possible there’s an answer for all of these issues?
By adding a new class of reward, we can address each of these problems: skill based rewards, in the form of Resource Points, or RP. Resource Points are simply materials that a knowledgeable character can gather that can be used for particular tasks to mitigate gold costs, on a one-to-one basis. You can think of “25 rp for healing potions” as a shorthand for “25 gp worth of materials used in crafting healing potions.” This adds flavor to the rewards received from defeating particular opponents; a shaman will likely have alchemical and herbal resources on hand, a magic user will potentially have materials for creating scrolls to augment their abilities, while wizards will likely have the means to copy spells to their spellbooks in their studies. As long as somebody in the party can reasonably recognize the value of these components, they should be able to gather them up alongside other rewards. The key point is that a character needs to be proficient in a related tool, skill, or otherwise have a class feature that requires consumable materials (including spell components) in order to recognize the value of these materials. Familiarity with alchemy, herbalism, and poisoner’s kits can identify materials useful for those trades, arcana and religion proficiency can spot most items useful for spellcasting or magic item production, and so forth. Spellcasters especially will keep an eye out for expensive material components if they have the chance to collect them as spoils from a defeated opponent.
Let’s look at how this can address the second issue. Your party has been trekking through the wilderness, facing beast after beast, but not getting any gold. But it’s not like there’s nothing of value out there. Any creature with an element of inherent magic may be of use to an alchemist or magic item crafter; displacer beasts hides, giant fire beetle glands, cockatrice eyes, drake poison, and other similar resources can be gathered by the party for later use. Those proficient with the herbalism kit, brewer’s kit, or cooking tools will likewise find themselves passing by hard-to-find plants, providing a source of medicine, intoxicants, and spices for the price of the time it takes to pause and gather a bit, while those who regularly use calligrapher’s tools or disguise kits can readily identify plants useful for inks and dyes. The party may even be able to find those interested in purchasing some of their stock when they return to civilization, indirectly granting a reward of gold even if they never faced a creature that had any money on it.
Which brings us to another potential tool in adding to the variety of rewards: the fact that some items may be of value to certain people, but less so to others. A statuette by a particular sculptor will be more valuable to a collector than the average person. A particularly well-crafted alchemist’s kit can be used by anyone with proficiency, but a professional alchemist will be more likely to appreciate its elegance and quality, since they will use it every day. Similarly, normally worthless items may be worth something to the right people; for example, a community continually threatened by wolf attacks may start offering a bounty for trophies taken from wolves killed in the region.
One thing to keep in mind when granting these rewards is to make sure the party isn’t getting shorted on normal rewards as well; while granting some of their rewards as rp is fine, the party will still need gold for their other needs, such as upkeep for a building. Another important caveat is that not every campaign will benefit from these kinds of rewards. Campaigns that focus on exploration, survival, feature a lot of trade, or have characters who do a lot of crafting in their downtime will tend to benefit from these alternate rewards, allowing the characters to more easily create items they desire, or find a buyer for materials they don’t wish to use. Campaigns that have a more epic flavor or put the characters under time pressure will instead tend to suffer from these kinds of rewards; the party has more important things to do than track down buyers for these wares, and lacks the time to sit around brewing potions or scribing scrolls. For these campaigns, it’s best to limit the rewards to those the party can use without sidetracking. Valuable spell components would be appropriate if one your spellcasters has a spell that requires them, but otherwise you should probably stick to the more traditional types of rewards.
Ostron: Okay, so that sounds kind of neat, but I thought you mentioned something about my kidney?
Lennon: Yeah, we wanted to get you the gold but…*defeated sigh* we’re fresh out-
Ryu: Soooo we got you an actual kidney instead! Your blood type and everything.
Ostron: Oh…thanks. I mean, unorthodox but…
Lennon: Ryu…. where did that come from
Ryu: *gritted teeth* where do you think?
Lennon: Ooohhh kaaaaayeeeee…