5E Dungeons & Dragons is all about challenges and rewards.
Challenging the characters with monsters, traps, puzzles, intricate roleplaying encounters, and epic boss battles, and then dishing out awesome rewards when they overcome those challenges.
As a DM, I love to see my players’ faces light up with excitement when they receive awesome loot – it’s one of the biggest joys of playing 5E D&D! Too often, however, rewards fall flat, create imbalances, or become repetitive or oversaturated.
In this article, we’ll discuss how to reward the player characters and what rewards to give your PCs in 5E!
General Tips for Rewarding PCs
Before we dive into specific rewards, there are some quick tips it pays to keep in mind when rewarding the PCs in your 5E D&D game.
Probably the most important thing you should do is start slow.
While giving out cool rewards feels awesome, giving too much too soon will end up working against you. Either you’ll feel forced to give out bigger and better rewards each session, which can have drastic consequences for your game, or you’ll leave the players disappointed when you suddenly reign in your generosity.
You need to treat your players like children and try not to spoil them! Start with small rewards and gradually – very slowly – build up to better and more significant rewards, so they’ll keep their excitement, and you can keep your game balanced!
You also need to be aware of when you reward the player characters.
Significant rewards, such as big piles of gold or magical loot, should always give the players a sense of accomplishment – which means they should be given out after significant challenges. A pile of gold just lying around in the middle of an empty dungeon is going to feel like charity – and while the players may not complain about that, they’ll also not feel that they actually earned it.
So if you want to give the players a cool new magic item, make sure it’s in that trapped chest at the end of the dungeon, well-hidden in a secret chamber they’ll have to work hard to find or won’t be bequeathed to them by the Emperor until they’ve performed some awesome, heroic feat!
You also want to make sure that you distribute rewards evenly.
Giving one player a legendary magic item at 2nd level and leaving the rest of the party empty-handed is not going to feel good – and may cause intra-party imbalances and resentment.
It’s okay not to reward all characters evenly all the time, but try to make sure that you’re not giving out rewards that end up with 1-2 players while the rest of the party looks on with envy. If you see that a PC is falling behind, make a note to sneak a reward fitting for that character in the next session!
The Best Rewards for PCs in 5E
With those general tips out of the way, let’s dive into the different rewards you can give your players – and when to use them!
Gold & Other Valuables
The first one is obvious and easy: money! Whether it’s gold pieces, valuable gems, expensive art, or even property, giving cash rewards is easy and unavoidable. And perfectly fine when it comes to getting a few gold pieces out of the dead bandit’s purse or finding valuable antiques in the ancient temple.
The issue with using money as a reward is that there’s typically not much to spend it on in 5E D&D – at least not if you go by the basic rules.
Chapter 5 in the Player’s Handbook provides a variety of equipment PCs can spend cash on, but unless the party is buying a ship or boat, the most expensive equipment in there is the plate armor at 1,500 gp – which will be nice to get, but once you have it, where do you go from there?
Chapter 6 in the Dungeon Master’s Guide gives us some more options for shopping, as we get prices for manors and castles, but once again – if the players aren’t interested in settling down, what then?
It’s an issue we tackled in our book Wanderer’s Guide to Merchants & Magic, which provides more than 20 ready-to-play magic shops where characters can buy magic loot and prices for all the magic items in the basic rules.
If there’s one way to make money as a reward feel better, it’s giving the players access to magic shops, where they can convert their currency to cool, useable items!
Using magic items as a reward is probably most DMs’ go-to, and for good reason. Magic items are a huge part of fantasy TTRPGs, and any player will be excited to put their hands on a fun, awesome magic item.
Fun is a keyword here – when giving out magic items, we want the items they get to actually be fun. For more on that, you can watch the video below or read this article!
The big issue you get with giving out magic items is over-saturation and power-creep. If the campaign runs long enough, you’ll get to a point where the PCs have filled up their three attunement slots, which means you’ll continually have to give them stronger and more powerful magic items to impress them.
There are a few ways to handle this. First off, as we discussed earlier, start out slow – don’t spoil them too early. Secondly, allowing the characters to sell their magic items in magic shops lets them convert magic items they’re “done with” to gold pieces, which they can spend on other stuff.
Another way is also to let the PCs’ magic items become stronger, so it becomes about quality instead of quantity. In our newest book Milando’s Guide to Magical Marvels, we provide some options for this. There are evolving items, which grow stronger as you gather more or complete certain tasks – or which can be upgraded at a monetary fee, at your discretion.
Secondly, we introduce magical runes, which can be applied to items that are already magical to make them stronger and give them new features. This is a perfect way to give the characters a way to get stronger magic items without having to come up with new and stronger magic items all the time.
Mounts & Companions
Another cool way the characters can spend their hard-earned cash is on mounts and companions.
We get a few examples of such creatures in the official rulebooks and adventures, and we’ve added five more mounts and five more companions in Milando’s Guide to Magical Marvels.
Especially the smaller companions, which can be useful but aren’t truly powerful, can be great rewards – to be found or purchased – for the PCs at lower levels.
Mounts, which are often more powerful and can make a difference in combat, should probably only be available temporarily or given to the PCs at higher levels, where their impact won’t be as great.
Boons, Hexes, & Spellmarks
All the way at the back of Chapter 7 in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, we get “Other Rewards”. These are Supernatural Gifts, Marks of Prestige, and Epic Boons, and can vary from a permanent increase to an ability score, AC, saving throws, and similar effects, to temporary charms that’ll allow characters to cast certain spells for a limited time.
These boons can be fun to deal out, but especially for the permanent ones, should be given sparingly, as they can quickly create power-creep and imbalances. Charms are mostly fine, as they’re temporary, but permanent rewards can quickly create imbalances in your game.
In Milando’s Guide to Magical Marvels, we’ve added a lot more of these types of rewards, as we introduce hexes and spellmarks.
Rooted in dark magic and wild magic respectively, hexes and spellmarks give characters new, potent abilities, but also come with significant drawbacks. This makes them more balanced and also – in our opinion – a lot more fun than just a simple ability score increase or proficiency.
In Milando’s Guide to Magical Marvels, we also introduce another way to “reward” player characters: dark transformations. Basically, we’ve created mechanically sound options for letting players become liches, lycanthropes, shades, and vampires – dark, powerful transformations that will drastically change what their character can do.
This can either be done through allowing a character to take the relevant feats – each dark transformation comes with a chain of feats that must be taken in order – or perhaps even by giving them one or more feats as they level up. Word of advice; it’s probably good to discuss this with a player beforehand, so you’re certain that they actually want to play a lich or a vampire!
So let’s try to summarize what we’ve been through in this article. First, three rules to live by:
- Start Slow – Don’t spoil the players with loot too soon!
- Timing – Make significant rewards feel earned, don’t give them out of the blue!
- Divide Evenly – Don’t shower some players in loot and leave others wanting!
As for the different types of rewards, here’s what we’ve looked at:
- Gold & Other Valuables – keeping the majority of loot to valuables is fine, just make sure there’s stuff to spend it on!
- Magic Items – some of the best rewards are magic items, just make sure that you take it slow with them – and consider making them upgradeable!
- Companions & Mounts – cool critters and creatures to serve as mounts or companions are really cool rewards to receive!
- Boons, Hexes, & Spellmarks – minor, permanent bonuses can make the characters feel rewarded and empowered without competing with magic items!
- Transformations – in rare events, allowing a PC to undergo a full transformation to get new fun features can be an unforgettable reward!
That’s it for this one! I hope you (and your players!) got something out of this article! If you want to support what we do here and see more stuff like this, you can join our mailing list here, support us on patreon here, and subscribe to our YouTube channel here.
J. A. Valeur