GM Advice: Not All Rewards Must Glitter

Not every reward has to be magic or gold. Sometimes rewards do not glitter, but are valuable nonetheless.


A GM doesn’t have to constantly reward his players with gold and magic items. Providing other types of rewards keeps things fresh and interesting while building the verisimilitude and depth of the campaign world.

  • Favours: Having a person owe you a favour can be very rewarding. Of course, the “power” of the favour depends on who owes it, but even the humblest peasant can provide neophyte adventurers with shelter, local knowledge and so on. Noblemen, powerful clergy and archmages can offer truly unique, priceless assistance to people to whom they owe a favour.
  • Information: Information is power. Having the right kind of information to bypass a deadly trap, slay a particular foe or to even find the dungeon is often the difference between glorious success and bloody failure. That’s well worth a few piece of gold!
  • Items: In games in which the PCs cannot simply buy whatever magic items they desire having a NPC gift or craft them the item(s) of their dreams is a huge favour. The PC may even be able to make the item slightly different to normal examples of such items perhaps by customising its appearance or slightly tweaking its abilities.
  • Property: Rundown buildings, small businesses and suchlike can make great rewards. They provide something for the PCs to do outside adventuring and can act as springboards to future adventures.
  • Renown: Success breeds fame and fame is often a handy thing to have. The PCs may receive preferential treatment in towns, the mention of their names may reduce many of their enemies to quaking cowards and so on. (Of course, this can also work against them as various shadowy cults, evil villains and suchlike can learn about them by listening to the stories of their heroics.)
  • Spellcasting: Sometimes the party doesn’t have access to all the spells it needs – perhaps the classic example is raise dead. Often, such spells have valuable or rare material components the party may also not possess. In this situation, having an NPC cast these spells for you is a terrific reward.
  • Story Progression: As well as clearing the dungeon and slaying its master, in a campaign with an over arcing plot the PCs can gain the information required to continue to the next adventure. Alternatively, the PCs could gain information that provides them with a substantial advantage. Gaining such information can provide the players with an amazing sense of achievement.
  • Titles: Some titles are meaningless while others may come with land and property. All have responsibilities and elevate the holder above the great unwashed masses.

Help Fellow GMs

Have you given your PCs rewards not on this list? Let us know what they are in the comments below and help your fellow GMs give better rewards today!


Off course, if you do want rewards that glitter, I (bravely and selflessly) recommend All That Glimmers — 152 pages of glimmering treasures — by Raging Swan Press.

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Creighton is the publisher at Raging Swan Press and the designer of the award winning adventure Madness at Gardmore Abbey. He has designed many critically acclaimed modules such as Retribution and Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands and worked with Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, Expeditious Retreat Press, Rite Publishing and Kobold Press.

18 thoughts on “GM Advice: Not All Rewards Must Glitter”

  1. In my games, my veteran players know that the real treasures are never going to be obvious. I like to equip my villains with libraries… maybe a spellbook is in there, maybe a diary of someone famous. I reuse old characters shamelessly, and not always my own. Hey, that’s a map! Anybody know where the Yavimaya river is…? Now they have to decide whether to pursue it… or accept the sage’s offer of a thousand gold…

    Another class of treasures is mundane items of value. Defeated the bandits that have been raiding in their own hideout? Great! You find, among other things, bolts of fine cloth, ingots of strange metals, bottles of perfume, preserved monster parts, pots and pans (the bandits knocked over a tinker) and a skull of an unknown creature. Has a decent sized braincase. Might well have been intelligent…

  2. This one could be included in spellcasting – spell components. My PCs harvest parts from any rare creatures and/or powerful when they defeat them.

    I have an old issue of Dragon Magazine that details uses for dragon parts. Once my PCs got wind of that resource, every dragon in my game world turned into dollar signs for them!

  3. I use a little of everything – whatever suites my players. I have had characters running around collecting sewing supplies and things like bags of powdered chalk. I knew they’d use it eventually. It’s always a blast to see them come up with solutions to current problems with crap they picked up ages ago! I have one player that has a character that works for a sage. He collects anything historical. He’s like Indiana Jones sort of. I let players take what interests them, and I let them get into their own trouble as a result.

  4. Also, always consider that when you do add a magic item, it does NOT have to match a description from a book. I have a character that was given a pair of Socks of Warmth, with an Everclean, and Everdry spell also added…….. so, his feat were always dry and clean, and the socks worked as a ring of warmth……. mind you, he did have several pairs of boots stolen, because people would hit him with detect magic, and then assume the glow was his boots……….

  5. I have also done metals that can carry a Charisma modifier if displayed in the right circumstances. Similar to titles in some respect, but more “heroes metals” than actual titles. This would likely fall under “Renown” above.

    I’ve also used signet coins or rings to give characters an item that proves an association or affiliation, which can likely translate into favors or reduced prices at known trades and guilds.

    All the rewards above are excellent examples, but I love being able to connect them more strongly to the story elements in the game – which I think strengthens their value to the players.

    1. Dave you are absolutely spot on. Any reward that grows from–and adds to–the campaign’s story is golden. It’s much easier to do that–say–with a lordship for an abandoned keep than it is with a +1 longsword.

  6. The PCs in one group playing in my OD&D campaign world were battling kobolds in a dungeon when they were surprised by a small band of goblins. They killed all but two in the first round, and those two fell to the ground and begged for mercy. The PCs allowed them to live, and it turned out the 2 were a mated pair, now without the protection of band. Since then, the PCs have taken meat into the dungeon each time they visit, and in return, the two goblins have acted as guides, helping them navigate through the cavernous layers of the dungeon so they don’t have to worry about mapping it.

  7. for me it has been rings this time around. going out against “the circle of chaos”. bring them down and taking the rings makes for a great tale

  8. so I am throwing a rubics cube at my players soon, not as a reward but as a magic message box. Message delivered on solving it.

  9. All good ideas but what about rewards for jobs?

    The local wizards are looking for the Gray Rogues who stole a batch of Alchemist fires. The lost of the vials isn’t as important as it made the wizards look bad and want to save face. they are looking for information or the eradication of the Gray Rogues. Offered the party some useful intel about how to by pass a door into the deeper dungeon.

    But what else could they have offered when the party is just looking at gp? Sure could offer alchemist items and maybe scrolls but in 5E I’m having problems not being able to think of rewards. I’m playing up a lot of barter in the game. No merchant has 1000 gp in coins hanging about. I’ve made good use of gems so far as a major way of avoiding tons of coins.

    I just recall in a Knight’s Tale they win a golden trophy which they promptly rip the head off to pay one dude and plan to melt down the rest to pay other debts. I like that visual. That has in part what I have been trying in my latest game. Job offers for taking a caravan point a to b is only a few gp (paid in silver) and food on the travel and not paid till reach other town where can sell goods to pay off the mercenaries.

    I’m just having problems not following into Job A pays 200 gp, job B pays 250 gp, and Job C 500 gp, in stead of gp what could be substituted?


    1. Hey there Dave, with regard to your last point, each job could pay the equivalent of the amounts listed as a maximum, but the PCs actually get a percentage of either whatever is transported and sold for a merchant, discovered for an archeologist, recovered for those wizards, bartered profitably for the alchemist (a town made of wood and straw may not want firebombs to deal with the local raiding orcs, but they do want tanglebags, whereas the town made of stone and slate is happy to use fire) and so on. That annual trophy may be a straight 100gp, but to the right collector who is missing just that one item from a complete set of regional jousting cups, it’s worth twice as much, except he knows someone who will pay 250gp for a pair of silver-and-ruby goblets he’s got if the PCs can travel across the marsh – is it worth the extra 50gp to face the bullywugs, who happen to grow freshwater oysters that sometimes have pearls in and are known to be particularly potent in “identify” spells, or should they barter for something else. May the ruby that will fuel a spell for an old mage/sage who can’t get out much? The one who speaks gnoll so well it could get you past the local bands, by either Diplomacy or Intimidation enhanced with a bonus for knowing just the right words and the way to say them, if he taught a suitable PC. These kind of rewards can go round and round forever!

      1. I love the quest chain concept here. It reminds me of video game RPGs like Legend of Zelda. Every time you think you are done, you get a new and exciting next step. From the GM perspective, it makes designing very different encounters much easier to connect together.

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