Rewarding players in D&D is something that every DM has to figure out. If you give too big of a reward, the game is ruined. If you give too little, the players feel that their efforts are invalidated.
Rewarding players in D&D can be done through various means. Status, money, favors, and perks are some ways, but finding a balance is important.
We will go over the frequency with which to reward players, and then we will talk about different types of rewards that you can give players.
Rewarding players in D&D is necessary to give a sense of accomplishment. This is why players crave rewards and would prefer to get as many rewards, and as powerful rewards, as soon as possible.
This is a terrible idea.
Players have goals and desires in order to achieve them. Once the players have achieved these goals, they need to find new ones. A reward can be a goal that a player has been longing after, and if you give too many rewards other goals will be attained far to quickly with little to no effort.
Just think for a moment if a level 1 paladin had a holy avenger and +3 plate mail. The game would be kind of boring for a long time, and the player may not want to play long enough for the game to get interesting.
We can do the same thing by giving items to our players too quickly. It doesn’t have to be an extremely powerful weapon, but what if they have a dozen +1 swords with different side powers? What more is there really to gain except a +3 sword at level 7 and that would be far too quick!
When in doubt, give your players less.
It is much easier to give players rewards than it is to take them away. See our article on what to do if you gave a player an overpowered item. It is a hassle. You will be able to tell that players need more rewards from 2 factors.
- They are weak and doing terrible in combat with good strategies.
- Players are asking for more.
These are the only 2 factors that really matter. If you realize that your players are trying but failing due to a lack of equipment, you should reward them. This doesn’t have to just be equipment based as well. Players may not be able to gain enough information, privileges, or contacts to gather enough information to make a good plan.
Aside from you noticing, players can complain and ask for more. Very rarely do players start complaining before you notice something is off, so when players start complaining you really will need to address this and give your players more equipment.
If you are concerned about what items to give players, this guide on shopping will tell you right away when to give players options to purchase other weapons. You can chose to give the next level of rarity (common, uncommon, etc) 1 level before they would be able to buy the item, or just use the character levels in the guide as a benchmark.
Making sure that you have the correct balance of when to give your players rewards is important, but this will come with experience. Just when in doubt, give the players less and adjust afterwards. If you gave your players an overpowered magic item, here is an article dedicated to helping you with that problem.
Now let’s talk about when to reward your players!
When to reward
Rewarding players in D&D cannot just be done out of the blue. Players have to do something in order to earn their rewards. More specifically, they have to achieve an outcome that they set out for themselves. Railroading will not give any satisfaction.
If you are concerned about railroading, check our article about it here. Given the fact that you are reading these articles though, I doubt you are the kind of DM to railroad your players.
This may seem obvious at first, but think about when players get rewards. They killed a random monster, so should they get a reward? In game logic says yes, but it usually tells you to give out gold or items. It wouldn’t make sense for a wolf to have 3 gold pieces in it, so what else can you do?
For common enemies, the reward can be information related to their main goal. Have everything that the players do help them work towards the climax. This way if your players didn’t gain any loot that they wrote on their character sheet, they still felt that all those encounters were worth it.
Every encounter should have a purpose, even if that purpose is just rewarding the players with some information.
The climax and quest turn ins are obvious ways to reward the players so I won’t give you the revelation that yes, at the end of the quest, mission, or venture they should get some sort of reward.
But what rewards can you give players?
Types of rewards
When rewarding players in D&D most DMs think of gold. Gold and magical items. While yes, you can reward them with gold and magic items, there are more ways to do so.
But if you are interested in gold or magic items as types of rewards, you can just get a random generator from places like this, or you can look it up in your DMG and roll randomly.
These rewards are hard to manage, but if you look at our frequency section it will help you learn how much to give out and when. As for different types of rewards, you have a few options.
- Special items
- Unique acquisitions
These are the 5 different types of rewards that differ from the normal experience, gold, or magic item reward options.
We will talk about them 1 by 1 since there is a lot to cover in each section.
Players need more than just magical items. A magical sword is nice, but what about special items that they would need? This is where rewarding players in D&D with special items comes into play.
If your players are level 2 and are fighting a night hag, you might want to give them something different than a +1 weapon. A +1 weapon is great, but it is a little powerful for level 1. Instead, you can give them the proper tools for this job by solving a riddle, puzzle, or another part of the journey.
The reward would consist of the tools that they need for that fight. Namely, silver weaponry and even special chalk, or a small necklace that has each bead contain a magic circle of protection. This way the players have the tools, but are not going to become drastically powerful and still have to be creative with what they have optained.
Other special items can help players that don’t normally get love. namely, the casters. Casters do not get many items like fighters who need the items more, so why not give them a few scrolls or a spellbook every now and then? For a wizard, this gives them the opportunity to become more versatile and for other classes, it is a 1-time versatile use.
Special items do not have to be consistently powerful. They can be put aside like any downgraded item would, but you don’t need to give players magic items that are permanent like a +1 weapon.
In addition to this, you can make a small custom item that will be consumed upon usage. This solves many problems, and when you use different items you can help expand the player’s options without making them too powerful.
These are great ways to go about rewarding players in D&D, but these are still just items. You can do better than just giving your players items as rewards.
Do your players like NPCs? If not, you might want to look at our article dedicated to helping you create amazing NPCs, but if so, then you can use them as a reward!
Letting your players have new contacts is a reward in and of itself. Imagine this, your players are in a mystery and they cannot find out the answer. Despite using clues, and following our article on creating mysteries, your players are stumped and about ready to give up.
Then, they get a brilliant idea! Detective Trench is still in town, and he can help us get the information on 1 person while we stalk the other!
NPCs are able to give the players more options to solve quests, and encourages them be creative, but still let you be in control as a DM. Favors from an NPC rarely ruin a game, and are more than likely going to make the game more interesting for everyone.
Completing a quest for a future favor or just rewarding players with favors from NPCs will get your players to interact with the world more and become more creative, but you don’t just need favors where players exchange 1 favor token for a task.
Favors can be permanent.
If the players took their time to save the town blacksmith, the town blacksmith might give the players a permanent 15% discount on his wares! That is a pretty good deal, and something that the players will always keep in mind. They may run out of usefulness for a normal town blacksmith, but even at level 15 they will try to have him craft weird things for the party and make this arrangement work!
Favors a great way of rewarding players in D&D, but what about making the players feel good?
When the players start, they are just some nameless vagabonds. They might have some friends, but society doesn’t care who they are. No one cares if you accomplish something. You are a nobody, and it doesn’t feel the best.
When players start to do more, the town, then city, country, and even the world might know about them! This status increase is seen in many of our movies, books, and various assortments of media. It feels good, and being recognized is a reward by itself.
With recognition can come a few new things. Players can get more quests, gain information easier, and have access to greater resources. These can give all the benefits that favors gain, but this is permanent. In addition, players will feel rooted to where they have a reputation. The players will want to defend the place and not just wander aimlessly.
Status can also be represented by statues, parades, or other honors that the players get. If players get their very own parade, most groups will love this and that alone is worth the reward.
This is a more roleplay centered reward, but status can have a huge impact on the game. A more universal way of rewarding players in D&D that we don’t think about though, is knowledge.
Magical tomes, scrolls, etc are all considered items that the players can utilize. Knowledge is a different kind of resource that that isn’t tangible.
Have you ever been frustrated in a game because you didn’t know something? You didn’t know how to get past a certain stage, or found out later information that made some previous encounter make sense? The feeling you gained once you learned this knowledge was rewarding, but let’s explore these two ideas a little bit more.
Your players do not know how to progress in the mystery. They are unable to pick up the most obvious clues, and you decide to reward their most creative efforts. The players did something that wasn’t actually helpful, but you want to reward the attempt. Therefore, you plant some extra knowledge for the players.
The players then learn about a piece of information that helps them solve the puzzle. This rewards leads to a greater reward, and they are happy with gaining knowledge.
Other types of knowledge can be found in progression. Players don’t normally know about the next stage, so giving them clues and hints about what is to come from their endeavors will be rewarding. It will give your players something to contemplate on and then an edge in the future. Knowledge might even unlock an area that was inacessable to them!
Knowledge can also make the game easier. A great example is when players fight a troll. If they do not know the troll’s weakness, it can be a massive problem. When players do know a troll’s weakness, they find the fight far easier. The same can be applied with other previous scenarios.
You can give the players books about other adventurers who fought different creatures and defeated them. You could also use those books to tell of how some adventurers failed in defeating a monster. The second is even better since it doesn’t tell the player how to play, but instead gets their mind racing with other adventurer’s past failures.
Yet, there are still more ways to go about rewarding players in D&D!
Unique items are the most unique way of rewarding players in D&D. A little obvious joke there, but unique items are usually 1 time big acquisitions that do not appear in every game.
Every game has a +1 sword. Wopedy do. Not every game has a self-propelling wagon that does not need horses.
Transportation is a great unique item that players will usually only get once. I in our most recent game gave my players an airship that can go into space. It is called a spelljammer, but they don’t go into space. They made it into a hotel.
Unique items don’t break the game and let your players do more of what they want. In my situation, the players wanted to stay rooted in a town. They gained a unique type of transportation and used it for a little bit before they wanted to enhance their bar.
Transportation is a very unique acquisition, but what about a home? Not every game has a home, and a home is a great way to encourage your players to not be murderhobos.
These are all wonderful items, but what about truly unique things that no one really does?
You reach a certain point in D&D where most ways of rewarding players in D&D have already happened. You don’t want to give them too much more, so why not go for a strange new reward?
At this point, your players are already most likely fairly high level. You can give them extra abilities through quests or even give them a permanent increase in something relevant to them. You can do this by having your players interact with divine beings, gods, or even demi-gods.
The abilities do not have to be powerful, or they can be game changing. If you want your game to change and are comfortable with yourself as a DM, then I highly recommend this type of change. It can make the game extremely interesting, but has a chance to break the game if done incorrectly.
There are many different types of rewards to give your players that are not just exp, money, or magic items. Rewarding players in D&D does not have to be a pain, and can be done in many different ways.
The one rule to remember is that giving your players less is better than giving them more.
This can change if you are able to base a campaign around unique rewards that break the game, but most DMs do not wish to do this for obvious reasons. Even then, you should be giving out other rewards far less often than more often.
It is much easier to give your players more than to take things away from them. Frequency is important when considering what to reward your players, so do not give them too much too quickly or you will regret it, but always give them some sort of reward.
I hope that this has helped you give your players more rewards and more interesting rewards.
This has been Wizo and keep rolling!