Tis the season for giving gifts!
Or in the case of the Dungeon Master, remembering to reward your players. There are many awards a Dungeon Master can bestow upon successful adventurers and plenty of them go beyond the usual gold, experience points, and magical items. Some of the most fun things you can do for your players are built right into the campaign world.
Here are some ideas for the generous DM looking to liven things up and let the players know they’ve done a good job:
The Scrub Fight – One of the hallmarks of the OSR mindset is that we eschew making every encounter “level appropriate”. We want the players to have a chance of getting in over their heads. We want to laugh manically as characters ignore all the warning signs and blunder headlong into dangers meant to challenge them when they’re much higher in level, and remind them that sometimes running like hell is the best solution. We want our players to know fear.
Sometimes maybe we want this too much. After all, characters who spend all their time nearly dying and seeing their friends horribly killed are going to start thinking about cashing out. That dream of a domain level keep was nice, but retiring at level five and opening a nice inn sounds pretty good after barely surviving yet another near total party kill.
The answer to this is remembering that non-level appropriate encounters go both ways. When your players have struggled up to the mid-levels reward them by keeping those one Hit Die monsters on your encounter table. Let them rip through a goblin patrol or bandit ambush without breaking a sweat so they can enjoy the fruits of their labors and feel like the hardened adventures they have become.
If you’re feeling particularly generous, take it over the top. Have kobolds swinging in on ropes, snarling goblins screaming war cries as they charge headlong into the party, give them maces made from the severed heads of their past victims. When the dust settles and the players are the only ones left standing, they’ll be beaming with confidence.
Maybe even a little too much confidence.
The Duelist – A close relative to the Scrub Fight is the duelist looking to make a name for his or herself. Adventurers who make it to the mid-levels will gain a reputation and inevitably characters who have reputations attract those who want reputations. More often than not, these challengers are not up to the task. Would-be adventurers looking for a short cut to fame will seek out the veterans and call them out and these novices possess more confidence than their untested skills deserve.
Challenges of this nature won’t be limited to fighters. Clerics of rival gods, aspiring magic-users, even thieves will be looking to make a name for themselves. Usually the player character will be more than a match for his or her opponent, but each victory will increase their reputation and draw new challengers. Not to mention annoying the local law enforcement.
The Bard – Adventurers develop legends. Legends get retold. Sooner or later successful adventurers will walk into a tavern and realize that the bard by the fire is singing about them. Some adventurers encourage this, some even start it themselves, occasionally they’ll try to suppress it. But such stories are irrepressible. Without intending to do so, even the most cutthroat company will find themselves the subject of folk tales.
These stories will take on a life of their own. Soon, stories of their exploits will show inaccuracies. Exaggerations will appear immediately. Eventually the party may begin to hear songs about adventures they’ve never had, possibly made up by creative minstrels, possibly the result of misattribution of another group’s adventures.
Fame of this kind will be the bane of a party seeking to keep a low profile, but even the most covert-minded player will gain some satisfaction from becoming a legend, and a cunning player will find ways to turn it to their advantage.
The Students – Adventuring is a dangerous business and wise adventurers do their homework. It is important to be as prepared as possible before venturing out into the wilderness and there is no better way to prepare than finding a mentor.
Successful characters will find themselves sought out by novices looking for advice. They will question them about minute details of their adventures and tips on how to survive. They may be literally following in the party’s footsteps, planning to visit dungeons the party has already explored. This will especially be true if the campaign includes a megadungeon and the students will try to procure maps from the players.
Students may simply be an ego boost for the players, or they may become a ready source of henchmen and replacement characters. If the students become successful the party may discover a profitable side to their advice, able to charge for their teachings and information. Though such fame is fragile and the players may need to move quickly should word come that their erstwhile apprentices are in trouble.
The Groupies – Fame is attractive. Successful adventurers will find themselves heavily courted by those vying for their affection. If the players associate in the lower classes, then tavern goers will buy them drinks and want to gamble with them. Savvy bartenders will offer them food and drink in return for stories, knowing that famous adventurers can be good for business. Of course, offers of a more carnal nature will be neither lacking nor subtle.
If the characters have the money or titles to move in higher classes, they will be invited to social events. Nobles will vie for their attention and the status that being around them will bring. Suitors more candid than those in the tavern will make their overtures, as will courtiers looking to embroil the adventures in courtly intrigue. Players will soon learn that in high society that the affairs of court and boudoir are entwined.
If the characters have saved the day on a particularly large scale, the DM should not be above cuing up “Hard Day’s Night” and initiating a chase scene with 6d6 screaming fans.
Here we see the famous adventuring party known as the “Bards on the Run”.