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Source GameMastery Guide pg. 100
Chapter 5

The Role of Rewards

Source GameMastery Guide pg. 102
Much of the famously addictive appeal of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and its predecessor games lies in its variety of reward mechanisms. These most obviously include experience points, treasure, and magic items, but also such in-story advantages like information, property, status, titles, even the possibility of eventual godhood.

Rewards mark the PCs’ victories. The act of scribbling down a new item or quantity of coins on a character sheet solidifies one of the game’s key pleasures. These moments cement the players’ commitment to the game by connecting them emotionally to what has just happened, while at the same time hooking them with the promise of future gains. Players revel in the success they’ve just scored, while also looking forward to the future triumphs their characters will be able to rack up after leveling up, using new gear, or making use of a long-forgotten scrap of lore.

Expect responses to rewards to vary from group to group and between individual players. Some players enjoy constant rewards and actively alter their play styles to maximize the benefits they receive. Others regard them as a bookkeeping necessity they’d rather keep in the background. Observe your players’ responses to see where they fit on this continuum. As you make decisions affecting reward distribution, seek out the sweet spot of compromise that makes the experience as compulsively entertaining as possible for the majority of your players.

Generalizations don’t always hold but can be useful as a starting point in determining what your players will enjoy. Younger or less experienced players often tend to prefer frequent rewards, with no benefit too small to lovingly describe. Even the most jaded players can remember their first few sessions, when a measly clutch of copper coins wrenched from a stinking kobold warren seemed like the most awesome haul ever. Older players, especially ones who are squeezed for time and can only meet for short sessions, may prefer to move the rewards process to the background. In this mode, shopping, swapping, and leveling up usually occurs outside of precious session time.

Whatever their amount of experience, some players remain more oriented toward rewards than others. Players heavily invested in their characters' abilities and in slaying monsters tend to want their rewards as soon as they can get them. Becoming more powerful is their biggest thrill. A steady stream of small power boosts suits them just fine. They don’t want to go into the next fight until they know they’ve squeezed every last iota of potential ability from their past accomplishments.

Players more focused on characterization or story progress may look at reward management as a form of homework. They’re more interested in seeing what’s on the other side of that hill, or talking to the crazy hermit, than stopping every scene to add up their XP totals or divide treasure. They’ll find it easier to stay engaged with the game if you bundle rewards together, dealing with them all at the same time.

The diagram on the next page lays out in graphic form the various considerations to take into account when deciding how much emphasis to give to rewards over the course of a session. Factors on the left side of the continuum lead to giving out awards in occasional bundles. Factors on the right side argue in favor of giving out rewards throughout the session.

Starting Treasure

Source GameMastery Guide pg. 108
By default, we tend to think of starting characters as inexperienced beginners who have scraped together a few coins to equip themselves with mundane items for a new life of adventure. By adjusting what beginning characters start with, you can use starting treasure to define the characters, making them part of the world they’re about to explore.

What is a Reward

Source GameMastery Guide pg. 110
With a little added effort, treasure can be much more than just numbers temporarily penciled onto a character sheet. You can also extend the definition of treasure by making a variety of intangible benefits available to the characters.

PCs Controlling Rewards

Source GameMastery Guide pg. 114
In some cases, the PCs themselves can take on the responsibility of providing their own rewards, using character abilities and resources gained from their adventures to create exactly the weapons, armors, tools, and treasures they desire. While mundane items might be created using various Craft skills, many PCs set their sights upon more extraordinary goals, such as researching and designing new spells and crafting magic items.