One problem I keep running into with my campaign is that I have tunnel vision. I see the story, I see the characters, I see the players, and I have a tendency not to think about the existence of other things without some effort. One major side effect of this is that we’re 5 sessions in and nobody has received any loot. Well, aside from some weapons I gave them identical to their normally equipped one, except made of pure light and with a +1 bonus. I’d always planned to give the party some sort of specialized magical means of fighting The Evil Dark Things, but this wound up being a last-minute afterthought when one player asked about the lack of loot. I was astounded at how boring a weapon made of light turned out. It’s easy to see I got out of it what I put in.
Problem Solved. Problem Acquired.
I know at least part of the problem stems from me internally labeling the non-RP stuff “boring” or “banal”. I think about all the items from random treasure tables my D&D groups have received over the years, all the grey and white “sell to the vendor” items in WoW, all the time spent looking these things up and figuring out where to store them or selling them off, and it just seems like work for no reason. (The only exception to this I can think of is the one time our DM determined that we found a rare painting on an Ettin we killed, and we collectively determined he’d been storing it in his butt.)
I made a conscious decision at the start of my campaign to handwave a lot of things I’d experienced previously that I thought were too little payoff for too much effort. “Junk” loot was one of these. Encumbrance (at least, measuring items down to the ounce or gp) was another. We have a relatively standard marching order and everyone knows who has what watch when they’re at camp. I also decided not to use XP to determine when the PCs leveled, instead resorting to milestones or “whenever I tell them to”. All these save us a lot of time. They do that particular job very well. Problem is, I’ve come to realize I’m neglecting two very important reward systems for my players: loot and XP. Not everybody craves only to drink roleplay straight from the tap like I do; in fact, I’d say I’m in a pretty small minority in that respect.
Lifting The Unintentional Sanctions
I’m still not entirely convinced I need to change how our group does XP. While computing XP after each battle (or session) gives an immediate sense of reward, it has some drawbacks. One is that doing it during the session is just going to eat up time and pretty much buzzkill the session while we do the accounting. I could have the XP to add to the total for each monster ready beforehand, but then there’s the potential of wasted effort if they don’t kill everything. Do I give those I thought contributed to the battle more a greater share? If the party splits and I have non-participants, do they get left behind? I want the whole party at the same level so they aren’t frustrated and I’m not dealing with forces I understand even less than the regular forces that I barely understand.
The Loot Problem seems a little less hard to define, at least on its surface. One problem I’m running into is that giving them loot that isn’t immediately useful in some way may be useless to them. I know the dread wizard Wal-Mart’s influence is felt throughout the Forgotten Realms, but something tells me there isn’t one in a pocket-prison dimension in the Shadowfell. At the very least, not a 24-hour Supercenter. If I give them money, I don’t know where or how they are going to spend it. I’d rather not load them up on stuff that won’t be useful, although giving them items that could be used together (rope, a series of lead pipes, explosives, strawberry jam, etc) might work out for some puzzles or roleplaying challenges. One thing my previous DMs were very good at that I need to start emulating was to give each player an item or two that had enough flavor that you cared about it. It was simply unique in some way, it had its own backstory, or it tied into a PC’s backstory. I still remember my cleric carrying around an ancestral flail given to him by his tribesmen, and favoring its use even over more powerful weapons. Some of that was my DM, some of that was me giving it personal meaning. That’s what I want to engender with the items I give out. I realize they won’t read each individual caltrop and iron ration a story before tucking them into their backpack every night, but I can do a lot better than this.
Time To Go All Wonka On Their Asses
Whatever I do, I want to make sure that my players get rewarded for their actions, and I want them to feel like the time they invest at my table is well-spent. This and “make combat faster plz kthx” has been the topic of most of the player feedback I’ve received thus far. If I ever want to get our RPG team to the later stages of Orming, I would be wise to attend to these needs. I’ll just add another title to my ever-growing list: “Garlukk: Demigod of Fun”, “Chickenmaster”, “Concierge Of The Bloodthirsty And Materialistic”, and now “Lootmaster Electrolyte XP”.
I’ve got what players crave. Or something.