Treasure is the boon and bane of many NERO chapters. It’s a very important thing to pay attention to because it is the most tangible reward for playing the game. Players want it, then they want more of it. They rob each other for it, and they measure their success by it. They compete over it and they cooperate for it. Often, you’ll hear players coming out of a module, components in hand, saying “Well the adventure wasn’t very exciting, but at least I scored some good loot.” But treasure is often an afterthought to directors, who are focused on writing and running plot. This article examines treasure, distribution, inflation, and rewarding players for playing.
How Much to Put Out, and Where
The maximum amount of treasure your chapter distributes during a NERO event is based on several factors such as the length of the event, the level of the characters in attendance, and whether or not characters are expected to pay for training (“auto-max out” vs “coin max out”). Theoretically, the treasure formula is supposed to ensure that if everyone participates and treasure is distributed fairly, everyone will get a significant cut and should be able to pay for their training (if necessary).
There are basically two avenues for treasure distribution. The first is “general” or “field” distribution. This is treasure that goes out in the pockets of wandering monsters, merchant NPCs, wave battles, and other venues that theoretically any player has access to. The second route is “plot” or “targeted” treasure, which goes out through modules and other plot structures. You (as a director) have more control over who gets what when it comes to the plot treasure.
At the beginning of the NERO weekend, divide up your treasure between field and plot treasure. How much you put in each pile should be based (in part) on your chapter’s style. If your chapter runs a lot of modules, you’ll want to put something like two thirds of the treasure in that pile. If your chapter focuses on things going on “in town”, the field pile should be heavier. I reccommend putting more treasure in the plot pile, as it will reward people who participate in the meat-and-bones of the game. (also, players tend to remember modules more than random fights) The plot pile should then be divided into the number of modules or other plot “scenes” that will take place during the event. It may be helpful to have plastic bags which you can use to pre-assemble treasure packages for specific modules.
Be sure that when the plot pile is being passed out, it’s being distributed fairly. Many chapters have lost their loyal players or new players because it seems like one team is getting all the attention and/or loot. Make sure that even players who are peripheral to the weekend’s stories have an opportunity to participate. Often, out-of-chapter players who don’t know anyone locally and “lone wolves” who don’t travel with a team will need you to hold their hands a bit so they can immerse themselves in your weekend.
Risk and Reward
One of the main concepts in the distribution of treasure is rewarding the risks characters take. When someone undertakes a challenge and puts their character’s life, reputation, or resources on the line, they hope that after all is said and done it was “worth it.” Treasure is one way you ensure that it was.
Of course, not all the treasure has to consist of coin, magic items, and formal magic components. Information, contacts, and other resources can be considered treasure too. But be careful – though information and friendships can be bought and sold, they have a different value to each player. If a player doesn’t care about the clues he just found, its hardly a reward. If you are sending players on a mission where their reward will be something more intangible, make sure to let them know in advance so when they get to the end and didn’t get a measurable prize, they aren’t let down. If the treasure for the module is the true name of a lich, for example, the local players who have been questing after it may be very excited, but a player who is just visiting will shrug and say “So?”
But DO come up with alternate rewards that sound fun. For example, a module’s reward might be an opportunity to have lunch with the King. Or play cards with the head of the Rogue’s Guild. Or have a one-on-one duel with the chapters Big Bad Evil Guy. Or have a local tavern named after you. Or support the seditionists coup against the nobility (which cues a different sort of wave battle).
Low level monsters, in theory, should have less gold than high level monsters. This theoretically keeps people fighting monsters of their approximate level. Higher level players, who may have acquired quite a hoarde, aren’t encouraged to go out of their way to kill goblins and kobolds for their silver. Low level players will be encouraged to team up to take on Death Knights and Mummies so they can get a larger cut than they’d expect from killing a kobold in single combat.
This logic does not, however, mean that valuable formal magic components should only go out on high level monsters. (The “everybody should get a slice” rule) If you send out “good” treasure (read: large quantities of money, magic items, and formal components) on only the toughest monsters, then only the toughest characters will earn them. It’s important to let those lowbies get a significant slice too! If you only hand out good treasure on difficult modules, monsters, and high-level plot, then you’re effectively saying that you have to play for several years before the game becomes fun and rewarding.
Who Gets the Treasure?
It’s pretty obvious that some people get more treasure than others. In some cases this is appropriate – higher level players are capable of casting many more spells and doing much more damage than people lower level than them. They also (theoretically) need more treasure than low level players. There are numerous factors other than level, however, which you should keep in mind. Teams, especially large teams, tend to rake in coin and components. By pooling resources, they’re able to be much more effective in how they use them.
Consider that at an auction, a player without a team may have to save up for years to buy something that costs hundreds of gold. A player on a team could afford it much faster because she has the benefit of other players collecting treasure for her too. Because teams have more resources available to them, its less necessary for them to trade with others. This leads to hoarding treasure rather than spending it. The solution is to make sure “lone-wolves” get targeted with plot and treasure and to make sure teams have expensive things to buy (see Making Gold Valuable, below). In some ways this ensures that everybody has fun.
Some players have developed a sixth sense about where to find treasure. These players know how to sniff out an NPC that consistently drops good treasure and hit him like a lucky slot machine. Often, as a director, you’ll want to give the combat roles you play more weight. After all, the directors are usually the most skilled NPCs and should probably be challening the most skilled players, right? But be careful not to be the only one on the field who’s dropping gold when everyone else is dropping silver. Make sure that all creatures do occasionally drop gold and components. In short: Be careful that every NPC isn’t consistently dropping good or bad treasure. This will encourage those treasure-hunter PCs to play the field rather than targeting one NPC over and over again.
One way to monitor whether or not things are going fairly is to ask your players how they did at the end of the weekend. Directly asking them how many components / magic items they found (as opposed to how many they actually ended up with) will reveal if everyone’s getting a cut, or if only a few players are raking it in.
Making Magic Items Cool
One common complaint is that magic is too common, and it doesn’t have the glamour in our game that it does in fantasy novels or movies. Tyrra is a high-fantasy setting, meaning that magic is fairly common. Where a magic sword had a certain mystique in the Lord of the Rings, its somewhat ordinary on Tyrra. Magic items are, in many ways, merely cool gadgets, like cell phones or iPods. “Check out this little widget – it casts Life three times a day and clips onto my belt!” It is likely that the awesome items you wish were in NERO are not your regular run-of-the-mill magic item. Finding a magic item is always cool, but its not going to make you the talk of the town. Nobody writes songs about Life 5x/day items. So how do you make your weekend treasure feel awesome?
For one, make it a part of the plot rather than a product of the plot. Its not difficult to foreshadow the appearance of an item and to give each item some character. For example, our propmaster at Avendale found these four cool mugs which were shaped like skulls. Coincidentally, we had four Troll warlords who were slated to do battle against Avendale that weekend. We had NPCs talk about these items. We made sure that the enchantments were related to the personalities of those warlords. For example, the shaman-necromancer had one with a few necro effects, the tribe’s diplomat had charm spells imbued into his. Since they were trolls, each mug could cloak flame once or twice. Each item was flawed so that you had to display it openly in order to activate it. After all four mugs were found, on future weekends we sent out Trolls hunting for the people that wore them. If players wanted to negotiate with the Trolls, they were wearing great bargaining chips right on their belt. That’s not just a reward, it’s part of the story!
One item common to the fantasy genre but uncommon in NERO is is magic wands. They’re an easy prop to make, and you can give them a lot of character. Logistically, make the magic item flawed so that you need to hold it in your hand to activate it. (So in order to throw the packet, you need both hands free – great for scholars who aren’t typically in melee anyway) This evokes the image of a wizard much better than activating an item in your pocket.
Another tool you can use is item histories. Players can get detailed information about an item by casting a Lore or Delve History on it. Don’t neglect these spells as ways you can make items special and distribute information! If you type up a paragraph about the history of each item, you can make every item a conversation piece and a cool part of your chapter’s atmosphere. Where do general-distribution magic items come from, anyway? Why did that Ogre have a magic pearl necklace? Item histories are your way of telling us.
If you use item histories, it’s a good idea to have a bunch of very generalized item histories on hand for when you don’t have time to prepare something for each item. “This item was created in the year 450 by King Richard’s court wizard, but was lost when his camp was robbed by goblins. It’s been traded between monsters for almost two hundred years, but not a single one has figured out how to activate it.”
Once your players are keen to this idea, item histories are another method you can use to pass out clues for the weekend’s story. For example, by casting a Lore, maybe you see a brief snippet of something that happened to the item. “You see Archwizard Mogadore handing this wand to his lieutenant and saying ‘make sure you keep the adventurers away from the High Glade at midnight! muahahahah!'”
As any chapter owner knows, coins are expensive. Every piece of silver and gold has a real world cost, and since we send out so many coins, this cost adds up fast. Often, you send coin out, but never get it back (fun fact: silver, ironically, costs more per coin than gold). So how can you cut down on the cost of treasure? Not all the gold you send out needs to be in the form of coins. Take a browse through a thift shop, craft store, or tag sale and you will see dozens of cool little trinkets that you could easily imagine as being a part of Tyrra. Ugly jewelry, in particular, can often be bought quite cheaply.
LARPs are supposed to be immersive. We’re trying to make people feel like adventurers, not just describe it to them. This means that you should never have to imagine the treasure you’re getting, you should be able to touch it and feel its weight in your pocket. I think its super-cool when I receive a bracelet or necklace as treasure, but I think its equally as lame to get a tag which says “bear pelt” but no prop which makes it feel “real”. (even a 6 inch square of fur would satisfy me, but you usually just find a tag) Am I supposed to show off a tag to my friends? Can I make that tag part of my costume? No!
Make your treasure real and it will enhance the overall atmosphere of the game. If you don’t already have a system in place for the appraisal of items, here is one simple way to make the Evaluate Item skill useful. When you assign a GP value to a prop, write it down on a card, then fold the card in half and seal it shut. Brass fasteners or paper clips can be used so you can open this packet and then seal it again. Small envelopes might work as well. Write something like “only open if you know how to evaluate items” on the outside, with a physical description of the item. When you give out the item, instruct its recipient to keep the item and the tag together at all times, or the item is “lost”. The tag should say as much too – “This item only has value if the physical prop and the tag are together.”
Making Gold Valuable
Why is it that you send out so much gold but never get any back? Why is it that adventuring teams will pay seemingly exorbitant amounts of gold for formal magic components? It’s because the value of gold is slowly decreasing due to inflation. Every event, we put more gold into circulation than we’re taking out of circulation. In order to maintain its value, we need give players things they need to save up for and spend money on.
Many chapters are experiencing instances where gold isn’t much of a reward, but the relatively scarce formal magic components have very high value. Formal components are the real currency. So how do you make gold more valuable? Create a demand for it.
Two popular ways include letting players buy holdings, and hosting auctions. Many of characters are willing to spend money on things which they think gives them more prestige. Even if you don’t use the NERO estate system, give your players the option to start their own enterprises and put their name on the map. Set a listed price for starting a farm, opening a tavern, building a keep, et cetera, and you can be sure some people will make that their goal. It also gives your chapter more versimilitude, more realism. Just as risk should be proportional to reward, you should also reward players for investing their resources. This can be as simple as writeups between events describing what’s going on at their tavern, or as complex as modules tailored to their estates and holdings. The most organic way of making their holdings “real” is to make them a part of the plot.
Auctions are a great way to get back large portions of gold. Sweet magic items can sell for hundreds of gold, which is worth a lot of real-world money. Teams will often sit on huge quantities of gold until something they really want comes along. Offer them something they really want, and you can be sure they’ll fork over the coin you really want. Announce the auctions in advance, (like, before the event) and allow players to sell stuff too. Some of your players probably have real-world crafts and talents which they can sell. This is yet another way to encourage people to bring their cool skills into the game.
If you have spare props or costume lying around (yeah right), these can sometimes sell for more than something with an expiration date. Another way to make your game’s economy interesting is to introduce new elements and variables into it. At the Avendale 606 season, we used a lot of “Elemental Keys”, these little plot widgets that had a number of possible uses within our season plot. Most NPCs would buy them, and they could be traded for valuable information. They’re a “non-treasure” reward (at least as far as the weekend GP count and component count is concerned) which was useful in just about any of Avendale’s storylines… We hoped this would create a market for them, and that the Elemental Keys were things people would really want and pay each other for.