Ways to Reward Your D&D Players

Obviously, the best way to reward your D&D players for participating is to have a good game ready. But when you’ve found a good group and want to dig deeper to enhance the experience, here are a few methods for rewarding your players. Some are DM-specific, but others can apply to any player or the whole group.


Narrative Payoffs for Good Note-Taking
In the discussion following last week’s column about creating a more immersive D&D experience, several commenters talked about how rewarding it can be for players to take careful notes. This is great advice!

Paying attention is its own reward, but a DM can help encourage players to take good notes by throwing little details in that pay off much later -- or come back to bite them because they should have remembered. The level of detail note-takers should strive for depends greatly on how intricate the campaign is, but this may train players to recognize that recalling details can help avoid a lot of hassle and even save fictional lives.

In my opinion, every player should take some notes instead of making one person do it. If multiple people take notes, there’s a better chance for more details to be recorded overall, and one player may pick up on something that another missed. Also, unless someone really wants to be responsible for all note-taking, it’s not fair to make one player be the party secretary.

Create Custom Items
Many DMs create magic items, weapons, or other special equipment intended for specific characters in their game. It takes more effort than simply pulling something out of the Dungeon Master’s Guide, but it can add a lot of dramatic weight to what otherwise might be a generic roll for something on the magic item table.

A custom item can be your cool and thoughtful gift to the player and character. It also can be hilariously and/or tragically cursed, or some combination of all those things, if that’s how you want to play it! If you don’t have a lot of experience inventing magic items, you might need to tinker with it some to make sure your creation isn’t too powerful and won’t cause a lot of unintended consequences, but that’s part of the fun.

Make Real Items
Here’s one you can do regardless of whether you’re a player or a DM! If you enjoy handcrafting things, you can take this a step further and create real objects for your players to use as game props or mementos of your campaign. This might mean making a replica of a weapon a character carries or presenting your player with a wearable version of one of their character’s signature costume pieces or accessories.

In last week’s discussion, commenter Imaculata posted a photo of the handmade pirate treasure map he made for his players. “...The prop had a secret that required the players to fold it in a specific way, to uncover the real location of the treasure. It looked pretty amazing. I used coffee stains to make the map look aged.” That’s a great example of what you can do if you are so inclined and believe your players will appreciate it.

Have Things Made
For those of us who are not particularly skilled at crafts, hiring someone with the skills to make such items can be just as meaningful. Many artists who are willing to take commissions to draw a D&D character based on a detailed description. Other artisans such as jewelry makers, leather workers, and blacksmiths often are happy to take commissions in a similar manner. (It can get pricey, but that’s to be expected. After all, they invested the time, effort, and money to get that good at their art, and they deserve to be paid fairly for their work.)

If you don’t want to make or pay for all this yourself, you can turn it into a group activity instead. Then everyone can get exactly what they want, and finance it themselves, but it’s part of an initiative that the whole party participates in. It doesn’t have to be anything extremely elaborate. For example, I’m in a game where our characters had a jeweler make a dogtag for each party member while we were there to buy diamonds for a Revivify/Raise Dead emergency stash. The tags have the party name inscribed on the front and the character’s name and “in case of death” instructions on the back; we have a couple of DNRs (“do not resurrect”) and others have names of people, organizations, or temples to contact. It would be relatively easy to have them made for real, so I’m going to look into those logistics to share with my fellow party members.

Find Opportunities to Personalize Experiences
Beyond customizing objects for characters, a DM also can customize characters’ experiences. I saw a great example of this recently when my party had to roll Wisdom saves or be afflicted with madness. Instead of making affected players roll for random options on the Madness Effects table, our DM chose effects specifically targeted for each member before the game and wrote them on cards. This made the effects more personal, so the ramifications could be much more upsetting, which was delightful. I’m honestly a little sad that I made my WIS save that time because I’m still curious what would have happened to my character.

Have any personal insight on these methods? Stories about how they helped your game -- or went terribly wrong? Tell me in the comments!

contributed by Annie Bulloch
 

Comments

I have made a lot of aged treasure maps in my day. In one campaign I spent a few hours making one and placed it the workshop of a enemy wizard. The party bust in I describe the room including a desk covered in papers. The party wizard fireballs the place including desk. After the battle I pull the map from my bag and slowly rip it up in front of them as I describe the burned ashes that are now on the charred desk.

100 worth it to show the party actions have consequences.
 
Just last night, my DM presented my character with actual pages that he wrote, aged, and burned himself. They're full of clues about a problem we're investigating right now. I was delighted and read the whole thing aloud.

My fellow party members also want to make those dogtags I mentioned. I think we're going to the nearby pet store where there's an automatic engraving machine for literal pet tags. :D
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I sometimes artificially "age" handouts. A little water and lemon juice, crumple and tear the page edges while still wet. In some cases I've done a word document, done an image and pasted into paint.net (free "photoshop" software) and then smudge the letters to replicate water damage and obscure critical parts of the text. Blood can be replicated with ketchup if I don't want to use a color printer, etc.

Any other suggestions for making unique handouts?
 

Fanaelialae

Adventurer
I've started doing session hand outs recently, and they seem to be a hit with all three of my groups. A number of my players have commented that they really enjoy getting them.

I note the session number and in-game date at the top.

I list potential adventures below that, including a brief recap if we ended mid-adventure. Things like, the herbalist is offering some healing potions to anyone who can bring her the herbs she needs, and scouts reported seeing an eerie looking barrow mound in the hills to the east but gave it a wide berth because it made them uneasy.

Then I'll list 3 or so rumors they've heard. I've made it clear to the players that not all rumors are true. This is where I foreshadow events, offer adventures that require a modicum more effort than standard, and sow a bit of trouble from time to time.

After that I list special offerings that merchants in town are carrying. Limited availability and unique items mostly.

Lastly, I include special town projects. Basically, people in town who are looking for a donation that will help improve things, like opening a library.
 

mrpopstar

Explorer
I sometimes artificially "age" handouts. A little water and lemon juice, crumple and tear the page edges while still wet. In some cases I've done a word document, done an image and pasted into paint.net (free "photoshop" software) and then smudge the letters to replicate water damage and obscure critical parts of the text. Blood can be replicated with ketchup if I don't want to use a color printer, etc.

Any other suggestions for making unique handouts?
Soak maps, warrants, and other in-game documents in some tea! #perfectlyaged

;)
 

Leif

Adventurer
Yeah, I always used iced tea for a document soak to provide that brown aging effect. And you can use a butane lighter to burn the edges of the page after it dries, but you have to be careful not to burn too much of the paper, or worse, light the house on fire! Do this outside if possible, preferably in the middle of a big vacant parking lot or on a beach.
 

jasper

Rotten DM
I give out $1 props with my magic items. Your cloak of protection aka baby bib. Tome of what ever, coloring book. Turn down the shock collar to 1. Let eat chocolate instead of exlax. hmmm. Going soft in my old age.
 

CM

Adventurer
After the party tracked a group of arsonists from Neverwinter's "safe" district into the Scar area (a monster-infested ruin), their quarry split up. One of the trails ended at a rather large bloodstain and a boot with a foot in it (and a bulette burrow).

Their stomping around was enough to attract the already-sated beast's attention, so it attacked. The fight was harrowing but they slew it. The goblin rogue volunteered to dig around inside it. I told them they found the rest of the arsonist, and reached into my pants pocket.

I pulled out the zipper bag below the table, retrieved the warm, crumpled, dripping red mass of paper and plopped it in the middle of the table--The arsonist's hit list:

(fake blood warning)
[sblock]
View attachment 98617
[/sblock]

I think they laughed a full minute before anyone dared to touch it.

It still lies on the wall-o-memorabilia.
 
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We're running the 6 book AP "Giantslayer". After each book we have a recap party session night. One part of that is I have the players vote for who at the table was the best at this or that... in character speaking, knowing their character when their turn comes around, best away from table roleplay (chat), etc... Each winner last time got a $20 giftcard to Paizo. I've got something super cool planned for the next one.

I should also mention that one of my characters actually forged a knife, making each part of it himself. The knife was from his character's backstory. He brought it one night, passed it around the table, and then when I handed it back he said "no, keep it. Thanks for GM'ing." So stinkin' cool!!
 

Draegn

Explorer
Yeah, I always used iced tea for a document soak to provide that brown aging effect. And you can use a butane lighter to burn the edges of the page after it dries, but you have to be careful not to burn too much of the paper, or worse, light the house on fire! Do this outside if possible, preferably in the middle of a big vacant parking lot or on a beach.
Instead of a lighter try using your kitchen oven. The paper will dry uniformly and toast evenly.
 

jasper

Rotten DM
What I give them one bathroom break per session. I even let them have 6 sheets of tp. And occasionally I turn the cattle prod down to 1.
 

Wednesday Boy

The Nerd WhoFell to Earth
Soak maps, warrants, and other in-game documents in some tea! #perfectlyaged
You can also soak the paper in water, then sprinkle it with instant coffee crystals. It makes aged spots and you can wipe it around to darken the paper. My girls and I do that to make treasure maps.
 

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