Players love to be rewarded just in the course of playing. I won’t wade into the argument between “participation trophy” versus ”90% of success is just showing up.” However, there is a narrow middle path that should make your player happy.
I worry about giving players too much good stuff: that Potion of Invisibility sounds like fun, but when they use it to bypass an elaborate encounter, it’s not. Or maybe their characters are advancing too quickly and outstripping reasonable balance.
But tabletop games are about so much more than gaining mechanical advantages or character sheet advancements. Players can feel like they got something even when it doesn’t change your game at all. Here are a few ideas.
Honestly, I don’t really get it. Perhaps it’s because my family never had pets. I never even had a Tamagotchi. I am thus personally unattached to purely imaginary pets.
But I have never failed to find at least one enthused player when a creature (real or fantastic) decided to follow the characters around. Although familiars or animal companions may provide benefits in some games, there are plenty of pets that don’t matter (or seemingly exist in the same way that all other possessions disappear into a backpack) to the game.
2. Honorary Titles and Praise
I’m not saying that questgivers should be empty-handed when the characters return to them. However, it’s always a plus to be recognized for their efforts. Take the experience, fancy item, and ”the Brave” as a package deal.
And make it matter to everyone else. When the players decide to go to the store, mention that other residents recognize and cheer them in the streets.
After returning a treasured heirloom to the bartender, the party gets a tip from the bartender about a valuable artifact rumored to be at a nearby location.
Compare that to the players looking at a job board and being told to go retrieve a valuable artifact at a nearby location.
Both functionally work the same in the game: they’re both hooks for the players to go on their next adventure. However, the latter feels mechanical, whereas the former feels special.
Tabletop games are largely driven by what players do in response to what they learn. How much is information worth? It all depends on how it’s presented.
4. Skins (or ”cosmetics”)
Not literal skins. Skins like in video games, where you can dress up your avatar with no actual gameplay impact.
I have never offered a player a new hairstyle or eye color. However, it could be just as cool for their sword to glow red when pulled from its scabbard. I had one party all get tabards with a picture of a mole drawn on it as a uniform.
Like the honorary title, this can be a reward that keeps giving as long as you remember to keep calling it out.
Seriously. Feed your players cookies. Who doesn’t like cookies?
You probably shouldn’t hold out on your players if they don’t achieve their in-game goal: in fact, that may be a double-whammy to actually have them miss out on real-life rewards as well.
But really, when you hit big in-game milestones, celebrate as actual humans. Once when I finished a year-long arc, I cooked dinner for my players. A good time was had by all.
A common core gameplay loop in tabletop RPGs is advancement. The players get a quest, get stronger doing it, and receive additional rewards to strengthen them for their next quest.
But there are so many rewards other than magic items and experience points. Those rewards appeal to just one of many reasons why we play these games. Think about how to tap into the other player motivations, and those are all good rewards, too.