• Hello game master! Welcome to our growing community. Please take a moment to Register (top right button, see how: Slides).

    If you use Campaign Logger, you can use the same login details - we've linked the app to this forum for secure and easy single sign-on for you.

    And please drop by the Introductions thread and say hi.

RPT Newsletter #1,187 | How To Adjust After Handing Out Too Much Loot

How much treasure do you usually give?

  • I never give out treasure. The PCs need to carve out their own treasure if they want some.

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Treasure? No, I only use mission rewards that are negotiated before.

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • I hold back on treasure, just giving out the minimum.

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • I regularly give out too much treasure and then have to balance back.

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • I like giving out much treasure. The game does not become boring for this.

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • I find new opportunities to spend the treasure on. Investments, castles, etc.

    Votes: 0 0.0%

  • Total voters

Stephan Hornick

Community Goblin & Master of the Archive
Platinum WoA
Wizard of Story
Wizard of Combat
Borderland Explorer
How To Adjust After Handing Out Too Much Loot
From JohnnFour | Published January 12, 2022

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1,187

Today I've got some great ideas for when we hand out too much treasure and game balance goes sideways a bit.
And in the Reader Tips section at the end, I've got a 5 Room Dungeon and Campaign Puzzle tip for you.

One thing in the 5 Room Dungeon tip resonated with me because I've been musing a lot lately on how RPGs are a different medium.
By medium, I mean things like TV, radio, print.
You can't put images on radio, and just doing audio on TV is boring.
So each medium has its ideal way of working.
And I believe RPGs are a brand new (well, 50 years old-new) medium.

When reading threads online about train-wrecked campaigns, I can't help but see a common thread of how we GMs do not treat our campaigns as a new medium.
Instead, we treat them like existing mediums.
This has negative side effects like players becoming mere audiences, railroading too much (some is ok) and writing scripts instead of games.

Next time you prep or play, give a bit of thought on how unique our medium is and what we might do differently to take advantage of all it offers.
For I believe this is part of what makes roleplaying games and GMing the best hobby in the world!

- Johnn

P.S. If you have a moment, please complete this quick one-question poll on what VTT you use the most.
We're gathering information for potential future integrations. Thank you!
What VTT Do You Use?

Section Divider

How To Adjust After Handing Out Too Much Loot
By Jonathan Hardin, sojournersawake.com

The characters search the room for treasure.
After rolling on a table, you describe the treasure only to realize the characters have become too powerful with it.
While this is exciting for the table, and should be enjoyed for a time, how do you rebalance the upcoming challenges so your players continue to have fun?
Indeed, the game is now at risk of becoming boring.
In today's tips, I will show you three simple ways to make that adjustment after handing out too much loot.

Invitation & Challenge
But first, let me introduce an idea to you.
When I speak of balance, I am not talking about what level monster the players are up against.
I am speaking of the balance between invitation and challenge.

The game master creates each encounter with some level of ease or difficulty.
If the encounter is easy, then the balance dials toward invitation.
Upon increasing the difficulty with the next encounter, the balance dials towards challenge.
Too much invitation and the game becomes boring. Too much challenge and the game becomes frustrating.

Turn images on to see diagram of Invitation vs. Chalenge

We can learn to adjust the dial steadily to create a dynamic movement in the game.
When you discover characters are swimming in treasure, enjoy the ease of invitation for a while.
Then adjust towards a challenge by introducing lateral problems created by the wealth:

This is not your average pickpocketing.
These are well-trained burglars and assassins.
They work for a powerful leader and see the party's wealth as the nicest toy at the party.
Keep the adventure rolling and use the wealth to get the characters mixed up in a quest to defeat the criminal underground.

Once you’ve won wealth, you attract all kinds of requests for aid.
Not all of them will be genuine.
Create encounters where each day a representative of a faction asks for donations.
See if the players determine who is truthful and who is a con artist.

This is more of an invitation, but it might pose challenges down the road.
Place before the characters chances to invest in property, business, and ventures.
Use up the wealth, create a fun encounter in building an investment, and then create more encounters for the future adventures.

The characters enjoy the wealth for a time only to realize later that there exists an owner.
They discover the location and learn the owner is in need.
Now cue the adventure series of encounters to return the powerful wealth into the rightful hands.
While some players may not go for this challenge, if the journey is described as dangerous and full of excitement, they might be convinced to part with the wealth.

After wearing this wealth for a time, the character enjoys its benefits. But after learning of its curse, and learning of it’s creator, the characters are then posited with a quest to return the wealth to its source and defeat the evil once and for all. This can be an entire adventure quest all on its own.

Finally, remember that no determination on your part is perfect.
Over time, you learn how to adjust the dials between ease and difficulty. That includes how to hand over treasure.
When you hand over too much wealth, allow time for everyone to enjoy the good fortune, smile, and then crank up the challenges.

May your story continue!

Stephan Hornick

Community Goblin & Master of the Archive
Platinum WoA
Wizard of Story
Wizard of Combat
Borderland Explorer
Reader Tips of the Week
Tips, ideas, and inspiration from your fellow RPT GMs.

Adventure is Everywhere
From RPT GM Noah

When I read the intent behind room one of your 5 Room Dungeon template it changed the way I looked at games and adventure stories.
When my friend explained there's a guardian, I just accepted that it meant an encounter.
When I read the actual description, it blew my mind.
My understanding is this:

Adventure is Everywhere, but it's behind lock and key, and the key to get access to adventure doesn't have to be felling a foe, it can be the ability to dispel a rune, or talk someone into something, or talk someone out of something.

Adventure is everywhere and only heroes can access it, because they're the people who developed some skill or another, and it lets them get hooked, nabbed by adventure, while laypeople walk by none the wiser.

This changed everything. I literally didn't read rooms 2-5 for months because I was just soaking in this idea that adventures exist but are inaccessible to most people, and that is why we focus on these people, the heroes.

I took a playwright workshop in Chicago, and they taught us that plays are different from other mediums, because it's difficult to do montages and the only way to get inside someone's head is with a soliloquy.
That's what plays want to do. They showcase the exact two hours (or however long the play is) where everything changed in some person's life.
We're not there to see their life story. We're there to see the day it all changed.
And we won't often see the resolution of this person's journey, just their resolve to go make a change. Then the play ends.
So they drilled into us, "Why This person? Why NOW in their life?"

And when I heard that adventures can only be started by someone who has the unique capability to bypass the guardian, it helped me focus on stories about someone who's higher-than-average skill in something allowed them to begin the epic of their life.

Once I read the rest of the rooms, I started to see some of how it all fits together.
Loot is given out at the end.
And what does loot do?
It increases aptitude which makes it possible to unlock more adventures that were already lying in wait, but the heroes weren't springing them yet.

Changed everything.

Stephan Hornick

Community Goblin & Master of the Archive
Platinum WoA
Wizard of Story
Wizard of Combat
Borderland Explorer
Campaign Puzzles
I received this request by email from RPT GM Philip:

Hi Johnn, my players asked me for a campaign-long puzzle: something they can work on in the background between (or during) sessions that provides a bonus when completed but doesn't stop play if left unsolved.

I love the idea of giving the players something to work on and think about between sessions related to the campaign, but I'm having trouble coming up with ideas.

Riddles can take a long time to solve, but I don't know how to work that natively into a campaign where it makes sense to leave unsolved for multiple sessions.

If I can get some ideas on this, it seems like the sort of thing that would be fun to include in every campaign I run.

Thanks for the insight!

Reply from Johnn:

Hey Philip!
Did you ever read the Tasks of Tantalon?
Every page is a puzzle. But the puzzles all build into a narrative and a grand puzzle for the book.
I've always thought this was a fantastic model.

Here's how I'd do it.
I'd do the grand puzzle first.
It would have several clues or pieces.
Each piece would be obtained by a dedicated adventure.
The pieces could be made up of smaller pieces, if desired.
You'd want to prevent player fatigue from repetition. But if puzzles sometimes make up the pieces instead of objects, that should keep things interesting.

For types of puzzles, there are a few.
One is gathering all the parts. I once used one of those wooden cube puzzles where the pieces can be assembled in the right way to make a sturdy cube.
Another is words. Anagrams, spelling clues, riddles.
A third is numbers. Sequences, formulas, math.
A fourth is visual puzzles. Hidden object games, jigsaw/assemble the picture. This one especially works well for a campaign puzzle.
For example, each adventure results in recovery of a torn up painting. When the pieces are gathered, the map to the solution is given. You need to ensure every piece has an essential detail or the party could solve it early.​
Language puzzles are fifth puzzle type, often overlapping with words. Crytpograms, for example.

So I'd pick my campaign puzzle first.
Then make each piece a separate adventure.
And then put puzzles as obstacles to acquiring the campaign pieces/clues.

That's a brain dump for you.


RPG Therapist
Staff member
Adamantium WoA
Wizard of Story
Well, I think I give out appropriate amounts of treasure ... but I also know I am typically wrong about what I think I get right so ... take that with a grain of salt.

Over time, I've tried extremes - and even a Monty Haul game can still generate fun moments.

I've also had great results with one of the most magic poor campaigns you could imagine:
If you take the original AD&D DM Guide (Red Demon cover) ... and make every magical item in it ... unique in your world... except for potions... you end up with an interesting campaign world where those items are scattered across continents and current owners... and every magic item is a quest for a legendary thing. Was a great peasants-to-demigods type game.

But here's the question: What IS the appropriate amount for your game?
It will vary game by game but I think there is an excellent yardstick to measure by which you can take from real life:

How much "treasure" do you need to accumulate month by month for your lifestyle?

The recently released Cyberpunk Red has a great system for this which I am sure I will reuse:
When you roll up a character, they choose their "lifestyle level", get an estimated cost per month... and the first month free.
After that, rent is due - what do you do? Just like real life, eh choomba?

Peasant farmers and such even work this way - harvests and taxes are those rents to pay.

Adventurers can choose a different path in life - but they better not be poaching in the king's forest...

So, "living" is the first bar to meet for what is appropriate treasure and GMs can crank this up or down as needed to constantly soak off more excess treasure if needed - town A has that honey mead for price X... but town B? well, times are tough and things are just gosh darn more expensive here.

Think of markup/discount of the standard item costs as a "dial" for adjusting the party's low-level constant lifestyle treasure spend.
And yes, I get that I (and probably everyone else) probably doesn't want to turn their game into a literal Papers and Paychecks.

A simple spreadsheet of item, cost, town multiplier would probably do the trick.

Or you can cheat and handwave by just describing cheaper items as lower quality and more expensive items as higher quality and letting the players choose to pay more or not... then just wing the over/under on the price compared to the manual.

One thing I saw that I really liked was to have a largish town start supporting multiple offers of the same service - each at different price and quality and reputation. Midkemia Press' "City of Carse" and Fantasy Master's "Town of Baldemar" both did this and I am sure others do as well. This also lets you put your NPC pieces on the board and get them tussling.

And if all else fails - give that pawnbroker / art or gem dealer a ring of contrariness and let the party just TRY to convince him their loot is really that valuable... watch a couple of episodes of Pawn Stars to see this in action...