Adding Favours to Treasure Bundles

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on April 14, 2010

“Your reward for rescuing the Duke’s daughter is a magical weapon, a suit of enchanted armor and a favour.”

As D&D characters become more and more powerful they always seem to become filthy rich along the way. At first they reinvest their newly gotten gains in themselves, purchasing new weapons, armor and magical items. But after a few levels they have everything they need and they start accumulating wealth. Massive amounts of wealth.

I have numerous characters at or above level 10 and all of them have thousands of gold pieces recorded on their character sheet. And the money continues piling up as they continue adventuring. Now I can spend the cash for the sake of spending the cash, but honestly there’s nothing that these character want or need. They already have magic items in every item slot of their character sheet. Eventually these PCs hit a point where any monetary rewards become inconsequential. I mean what can you buy with 20,000 gp that you couldn’t buy with 15,000 gp?

As a player I find that the material rewards that accompany high level adventuring aren’t nearly as satisfying as the rewards that accompany those first few levels. So as a DM I’ve come up with a solution. I’m going to replace monetary rewards with favours. When the Duke’s daughter is kidnapped and he hires adventurers to rescue her, he’s not going to offer them the expected 250 gp each. Instead he’ll offer the party a favour. If they’re successful then the Duke is in their debt and they can call upon him for a favour in the future.

This actually accomplishes a few goals simultaneously. First and foremost it gives the PC a reward other than gold pieces. If they already have thousands of gp, then this kind of reward could be more valuable to them in the long run. Second it encourages role-playing. I’ve often commented on how a lot of gamers minimize the role-playing in favour of the number crunching. By rewarding the PCs with favours in stead of gp it removes one of the numbers commonly crunched and forces the PC to role-play and interact with the NPC in order to get the reward they’ve were promised. This also opens up fantastic opportunities for the DM.

Once the PCs have a few favours in their bag of holding, the DM can put the party in situations where they can actually star calling in their favours. The outcome of an adventure shouldn’t hinge on using the favour, but there should be a clear advantage or short cut if they do. It also encourages the players to be creative. As they start banking favours they’ll want to keep track of what goods and services each person in their debt is capable delivering. It may be a few levels before they need to charter a ship, but when that time comes they know they can visit their friend – the captain of the Wave Crasher – and he’ll repay the favour he owes them by whisking them to their destination at a discounted rate or possibly even free of charge.

As excited as I am at the possibility introducing favours to my treasure bundles, I’m not going to do away with monetary rewards all together. As I mentioned above, during those first few levels PCs need every gp they can get their hands on. But after a few levels it’s time to start swapping out gold pieces from the treasure bundles and replacing them with favours.

Depending on how many favours you introduce into your campaign it may becomes necessary to track how much each favour is worth. If you’ve replaced a 100 gp treasure bundle with a favour then whatever the PCs decide to use the favour for should fall into the 100 gp ballpark. A simpler way to track the value of favours is to note the PCs level when they earned the favour. If they were level 3 when they earned the sea captain’s favour, then cashing it in when they’re level 10 probably won’t seem all that spectacular. It should still give them an edge, but if it the PCs have let too much time pass before calling in their favour then the DM may want to adjust the type of compensation accordingly.

My expectation is that by introducing favours as rewards the PCs will do what they can to keep in touch with the people indebted to them. This likely means more role-playing. And if the PCs begin role-playing more often because of the favours, I’m a lot more likely to forget the favour’s “value” and just assume that when they need to call it in, they get what they want.

What are your thought on the idea of favours as rewards? As a player would you feel cheated if you merely got “future considerations” for completing your objective or do you see this as a reward better than gold?

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1 Swordgleam April 14, 2010 at 9:44 am

The only campaign that I’ve been a player in for more than a few months, we always had to blow all of our gold from any given adventure rez’ing someone who got killed along the way. So I have never experienced the problem you describe. =P

That said, I am a big fan of non-monetary rewards. Making connections with key NPCs should be a bigger motivator than gold even for the most blindly avaricious PCs – power leads to wealth just as easily as wealth leads to power, if not more so.

2 kyle April 14, 2010 at 7:52 pm

I think this is a great idea but knowing my players, they will just complain and that there not getting as much gold as there supposed to at there lvl.

3 Dungeon Newbie April 15, 2010 at 3:39 am

I have one thing to say before I talk about the favors thing: I’m impressed. Most sites nowadays are usually never updated, and when I saw this site I thought the same since D&D is kinda “out of date”(at least for an eleven year old Singaporean like me), but when I saw updates and new posts, I was SHOCKED. Ever since, I’ve been going to the site regularly so keep up the good work.:D So anyway, back to the favors thing. I’m interested in D&D(unlike most eleven year olds) but I never had the money to buy the core books. Still, I make a good guess reading game manuals with D&D style playing and reading sites such as your own. From my limited point of view, I think that favors can be too easily abused. For example, let’s take the favor from the duke because you saved his daughter. What if later on, the PCs come across a really cool monster that the DM wanted them to think their way around and that he spent hours making(or choosing from the Monsters’ Manual)? The PCs could just say, “I call in the Duke’s favor and ask him to send some soldiers to kill the monsters for me.” The DM would either have a really good monster that he spent hours making wasted on some NPC soldiers, or he could break the golden DMing rule of saying yes and make a player upset by denying his perfectly reasonable request or by having the monster slaughtering the soldiers. So, I think that favors should be limited. I’m not against them, don’t get me wrong, but I think they should be hard to get and limited in use(the favor about the Sea Captain letting the PCs hire his boat for a discounted price or free is excellent).

4 Arcade April 15, 2010 at 9:01 am

Hey Dungeon Newbie,

Great question to ask. (and amazingly eloquent for an 11 year old) The rule for things like this is that it’s always up to the DM to decide the extent of the favor so it doesn’t get abused. In a case like this, if the mighty heroes of the story can’t defeat the creature easily, the Duke is going to tackle the creature for the characters and watch 20 of his men die before they take it down.

The Duke could send a small group of archers or pikemen to assist the players. The players still need to do most of the fighting, but the extra attackers will cause a little damage every round or provide better flanking opportunities. Or maybe the Duke sends his most trusted sage along to see the monster and provide knowledge to the party about its powers and weaknesses.

On the other hand, the players will need to be careful to try and keep their allies alive. The Duke won’t want you using the soldiers to rush the giant dragon who will breath fire on them in the first round and kill everyone. The Duke would only send his men if they have a good chance of coming out alive, and he’s trusting the heroes to make sure that happens.

5 Shimmer April 15, 2010 at 1:30 pm

I have considered this idea for a new sandbox campaign some friends and I are running. I find it to be a good idea. I’m wondering if a favor, however, needs to be equated in gold. If the PCs do something heroic to aid an NPC or NPCs, they should be recognized for it. I enjoy the idea of it being somewhat tangible. Sometimes the PCs don’t really remember things unless they have it written down, or it is “deducted” somehow from their “income” or “treasure.” I’m still not sure it needs to be deducted from the funds.

There are lots of things to give the players that don’t involve gold. Rituals, Wondrous Lair items from AV2, or Grand Master Training (etc) from the DMG2. These are all things that the players can use somehow, but still aren’t necessarily tangible. With the duke example above, I almost believe that this should be part of the story instead of quantified. I would have set it up so that if the players are owed a favor from the duke, that plays into the next (or future) adventure they are on. Cashing it in now, or later, doesn’t need to matter cause it doesn’t have a price tag on it. The level of which the favor is shouldn’t impede the players’ progress. “Forgetting” the level of the item later in the game, I think could be pretty needless—they know they’ve helped that duke, the duke should act in kind.

I say this, maybe, because my other group has a very treasure-conscious outlook. Every penny spent is a penny that is not going to improving their armor, implement, etc. Or not having the ability to cast that high level ritual when they want to most. The cash amounts in the DMG should be the amount that the players get to do what they want with. Each character gets cash to spend how they want; if they aren’t a ritual caster, oh well, maybe they’re into collecting figurines of wondrous power, or maybe they constantly give their money to the church. Which brings me to my other comment: perhaps the inverse of favors is called for instead: buying the duke’s favor, or army, for a purpose could be just as good of a use of gold as a supped up fullblade. You find out there are two camps of hobbos guarding the warrens you need to enter, go to the local duke and ask him to assault the camp on the west while you take the one on the east. I realize you need equipment, food and repairs for those soldiers, so here’s 1,000 gp. Oh, also, can you keep the soldiers there for an extra 500gp for a week, so we can camp safely on the outskirts of the warrens?

There’s plenty of room for role-playing there too (interaction with the duke, with the soldiers during camp, a mild amount of heroic re-enactments of what’s going on in the warrens, etc). To preempt Dungeon Newbie’s point (I’ll also point out his surprising eloquence), the DM needs to have a fluid idea about his monsters and what they can do; the PCs should be building half the story too. So if you had a big mini-boss in each of those hobgoblin camps and still want to see them play out, move the mini-boss from the west camp inside the warrens for a later battle, and tick off a good portion of hobbos they need to meet to get inside for their crafty use of persuading the duke for some support. You still get to have fun with your mini-boss, the PCs get to believe they are strongly influencing their advancement to the end goal (most of which is true), and you still get some interesting use out of gold.

The real point here is: how can you encourage your players to better use their gold, instead of constantly having it stack up. To Dungeon’s Master: don’t get me wrong, I think this is a interesting idea (favors), and I have been thinking about it quite a bit, so that is why I am brainstorming so much in this post. But I just know that many of the people that I play with count their fantasy money better than their real money, so the bookkeeping on “favor” can get real fuzzy real fast for them. What I would want to do if I see them stacking up their platinums, is try to give them reasons to spend it, rather than spending it for them (and I do like the idea of them spending it on Raise Dead : )

6 Ameron April 15, 2010 at 3:48 pm

By rewarding things like favours I think more players would keep playing the same characters long term. However, if the favour is not tied to one specific PC then as long as a few original members are present when you finally need to cash it in you should still be fine.

I agree that some players will not see the value of these favours. It’s up to the DM to make it clear that having a power player in your debt is better than gold (usually).

@Dungeon Newbie
First off, welcome to Dungeon’s Master. Your comment is excellent. I hope you keep coming back to our site and I hope that you keep on commenting.

When we decided to launch Dungeon’s Master we made a promise to ourselves that we would provide new content as often as possible. Usually that’s once a day, Monday-Friday. Because we post so frequently and because we try to actually say something meaningful when we do post (and not just post a bunch of crappy filler articles), we’ve built a pretty decent and loyal readership.

I agree that favours can be abused. It’s up to the DM to determine when a request is reasonable or too far off the mark. In your example you suggest that the PCs call in their favour by asking he Duke to send his army to fight monsters for the PCs. I don’t think I’d allow that (as a DM). However, if they PCs asked the Duke if one or two of his best trackers could lead them to the secret entrance to the monster’s lair, I’d probably allow that. In the end, it’s really up to the DM to make the call. Arcade’s comment provides some excellent guidelines.

Excellent examples. Thanks for jumping in.

My suggestion to give the favours a value in gp is just something I thought would be useful to the players and the DM. But I agree that it’s going add another administrative task and likely anger players who feel jipped. I’m not saying that the only non-monetary recognition should come in the form of a favour, but it’s another way to add some flare to the camping.

I’ve used favours exactly as you suggest. The favour becomes the focus of some campaign story-arc in a few levels. The PCs don’t have to cash it in, but the Duke might be usurped, thereby making their favour useless, if they don’t get involved. I like your idea of buying a favour. I’ll have to “borrow” that idea.

“But I just know that many of the people that I play with count their fantasy money better than their real money.” Sad, but true.

I hate to force a PCs hand, but my guys never seem to spend their cash. I usually end up stealing it from them and in many cases they don’t even care. It’s only during those first few levels that they really want every copper. But by the upper heroic levels they’re rich and content.

7 Steph April 19, 2010 at 9:25 am

This is a great idea! Another way to make that gold seem more important is to make sure they have to spend it. Perhaps there is something they need to do for a quest that requires a great deal of money. Your PC’s may need to bribe a very rich NPC or buy a service from the “bad side of town” that not many people know about. One thing I like to open up to my PC’s eventually is the ability to teleport to various location, for a price of course. The more money they spend the more likely it is that they will end up where they are suposed to, when they are suposed to, without any side effects. This of course leads to some very interesting encounter possibilities when something goes wrong!

8 Jedo April 20, 2010 at 6:06 pm

The idea of the characters accumulating favors made me think about Season 2 of Farscape. Over the course of the season, in various episodes, they would come to the aid of a variety of aliens, each who was an expert in one particular kind of skill. But then toward the end of the season (in a multipart set of episodes called ‘Liars, Guns and Money’ part 1, 2 & 3) they are in a real jam, and so the go back and call in all their favors to assemble the group (a bit like The Seven Samurai/Magnificent Seven) to help them pull off their risky plan- one where each of their special skills was needed.

So for a campaign, the DM could have them build up favors with different kinds of specialists. Then for a big boss fight that the characters have time to prepare for (like assaulting the evil overlords castle) that seems way outside their league, they could then revisit each of these NPCs and get them to help out.

9 Tourq April 22, 2010 at 9:34 am

I have never not offered favors for completing certain quests, but after reading this I think I’ll more effectively use favors as a plot hools and opportunities.

Sadly, half of my group would just assume the money.

.-= Tourq´s last blog ..Gaming Tools, #4 =-.

10 Ameron April 23, 2010 at 8:21 am

My primary campaign, set in Eberron, just hit level 12. The PCs are racing against other factions to find 5 lost artifacts across the continent. I think they’ll end up spending their money exactly as you’ve described – teleporting or charting an airship. Both are expensive, but allow the party to cover vast distances very quickly. If they decide to pinch their coppers, then they’ll loose valuable time.

My players have acquired favours in many geographic locations. Now that they’re likely heading back to all those places it’s time to see how useful those favours will be. Some do indeed have specialized skills that the PCs may be able to use to their advantage.

At first I had to offer the favour above and beyond the normal monetary rewards. But after they had a few chances to call in the favours they saw how useful and valuable they actually were. That’s when I started reducing the amount of gp in the bundles.

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