2 Ways to Make Your Mundane Items Marvelous

Imagine awarding a bit of equipment as treasure, and instead of the party fighting over the Wand of Orcus and Staff of the Magi in the treasure pile, they all fight over the 6 iron pitons.

Ok, that’s an exaggeration, haha. But the point is, we can do a couple of simple things to make minor mundane treasures highly sought after and coveted by our players.

If we can pull this off, we greatly reduce pressure to offer ever-more-powerful treasure, because players will be ecstatic about the minor stuff.

This also makes it much easier to avoid Monty Haul syndrome and keep our campaigns balanced.

Last, our game worlds make more sense. We often want minor foes to offer rewards upon defeat, but it doesn’t make sense that they’d all have magic items or gems and jewelry. And coins are boring.

So what’s a GM to do?

Here are two ways to make our mundane items marvelous.

1. Create the Problem, Offer the Solution

Players will not value 6 boring iron pitons if they have little use.

However, if we create a compelling need for them before they’re awarded as treasure, we immediately increase their value to players.

For this, we take a Lock & Key approach. What puzzle(s) does the treasure solve? What problems does it mitigate or clear up?

For example, many doors in the dungeon have not aged well and the locks no longer function. We create a situation where the PCs are being pursued or followed. The party suddenly getting a way to block doors would be a huge boon.

Or, perhaps dwarves regard the piton as an important symbol of trust and status. Players showing up with iron pitons discovered previously could take advantage of this and try a ruse to secure dwarven aid.

2. Integrate With Character Backstories

I loved yesterday’s tip from RPT GM Andrew who takes everything players offer in their backstories, and uses that as the starting point. He then adds lots of details to backstories to further connect characters to the setting, the plot, and fellow party members.

Likewise, a player might not have listed iron spikes in their PC’s history, but you are free to add them and reveal this to the group during play at the right time as a revelation.

d6 Ways Mundane Items Might Be Important in a Backstory

  1. Family Heirloom
  2. Symbol of Status or Authority
  3. A Token of Friendship or Favour Owed
  4. Used in a Rite of Passage or Cultural Ritual
  5. Used as Lock & Key for Major Historical Event (that’s about to happen again)
  6. A Religious Symbol

There are more ways we can add value and desire for minor treasure. But designing adventures and encounters so such treasures can solve obstacles in the party’s path, and adding such items to character backstories, are sure ways to get players gleefully adding previously boring rewards to their character sheets.

Have more fun at every game!

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