How To Make Skill Items As Treasured As Magic

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0854

How To Make Skill Items As Treasured As Magic

Reward players with treasure that enhances their skills.

Sometimes we get focused just on just combat-related rewards, or treasures that grant cool powers like invisibility.

Mix things up by offering skill items. Here’s how.

Step 1: Make A List

Run through the skill list of your game system and make a list.

I’m a spreadsheet and tables guy. You might prefer index cards or mindmaps or doodles.

Let’s go with a table for the purposes of this recipe on how to make skill items awesome.

Make a column for each PC beside the skill names column. Note which skills each PC has and the rank. (This also makes a great reference during gameplay to cut down on numbers talk!)

Step 2: Choose Your Targets

We have four options for each PC:

  • Skills high in rank or ability that we could make even higher for grand storytelling
  • Skills low in rank we could bolster to make PCs suck less in this area
  • Middling skills we could improve so they get used more by the player
  • Skills without rank we could now offer the player and expand their PC options with

Some game systems are skill-heavy. Others aren’t. The goal though is to pick enough to affect gameplay so it’s more fun for your players.

Let’s say two per player for a D&D game. That’s eight treasures to build for a four-PC party.

What our strategy for picking the skill items?

First, I’d look at any skills that would enhance your plans, plots, and adventures. This feeds directly into the fun by making game content more accessible to players.

For example, is the party missing investigation type skills thus foiling your infotaining plot ideas?

Second, I’d consider if missing skills or low skills are making any players dissatisfied.

If there was a new or improved skill you could give a character that would help your player enjoy your game even more, what would it be?

Third, what unusual skills or skill aspects, if added or improved, could unlock fun gameplay?

For example, maybe the skill item enhances tracking so a PC can get a lot more details from tasting, sniffing, and examining the ground. This extra information helps sink your plot hooks deeper! It also gives your players more details to roleplay and plan with.

Fourth, what skills never get picked or have not been built to expert levels in past gameplay?

Let your skill item become a playtest for under-used character options.

Step 3: Design The Features, Not The Item

For each skill targeted, decide how the item might enhance or grant it.

Avoid locking your rewards into items for now. If you come to sessions with strong ideas for item features, you can then watch as gameplay unfolds to find opportunities to make your treasure drop contextual.

For example, a PC can improve their Tracking skill by learning from an expert tracker or legendary ranger.

That’s what you bring to the table. Just that seed.

Then, if the PCs visit a library, you make it a book. If the PCs visit a dungeon, you make it carvings in a cell wall. If the PCs hire a guide, you make it roleplay and lessons around the campfire.

So determine how you want a skill to improve, not the exact method. Leave that up to gameplay opportunities.

Like any “item,” please imbue with flavour. Add niches, facets, history, flaws, and any details you can think of to make the skill boon special.

For example, perhaps the new guide teaches Krug some tracking secrets, but only for hunting pesky goblins and orcs because the guide hates those creatures. Maybe there’s a small chance the PC gets problematic information that complicates things in a fun way. Perhaps the technique requires special material like vinegar.

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Game Balance Tips

Sometimes your method of granting skill perks gets shared with every PC. Now it’s not so special to your target character.

Look at the target character sheet and find something unique on it. Perhaps it’s the PC’s race or another skill or a special ability.

Then make the skill buff dependant on this unique thing. It only works for elves. Or you need to speak orc to understand certain underpinning cultural concepts.

Another approach is to make it a one-use item. The scroll goes poof after it’s read.

A third option is to make it a mundane enhancement item that might require special training. While this could technically be offered to every PC, only one PC can use it at a time.

Finally, make skill-items the object of quests. Instead of just dropping them into treasure passively waiting for discovery, create hooks for so PCs take action to seek these rewards. Turn skill items into adventure!

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Make an Encounter of It

One last step for bonus points.

Try to turn each item into an encounter.

Have an NPC wield the item so the PCs see it and want it.

Or make a puzzle where the PCs can find and figure out the skill-item so they can use it immediately to remove an obstacle. Or have a creature spot the skill-item at the same time and try to destroy it.