Dirty GM Trick: Reverse Rewards

Want to pull a mean trick on the characters?

For a different project, I just finished curating a list of Honor-type rewards.

On it were entries like:

  • Squireage
  • Knighthood
  • A Named Award

You might use such rewards to boost the party’s reputation and influence. Perhaps PCs get a bonus to their roll or an extra die.

However, there’s a catch.

To receive the honor, the PC or party must meet certain requirements.

For example, a knighthood might require ownership or title of land. A Named Award might require a special ceremony, speech, and place to prominently display the award to the community.

First, dangle the carrot: we offer the Honor.

Johnn: “Guys, for your bravery in saving the merchant’s son and daughter from the fire, the town would like to award you 500 gold pieces.”

Roghan: “What an honor. Thank you! I’ll be heading to the bar…”

Johnn: “Wait. There’s more. The town council would also like to award you a plaque that will be affixed to the northeast well. There will be a ceremony there tomorrow mid-morning. You’ll be expected to give a speech and praise the town council publicly for their wise and effective leadership.”

Roghan: “#$@!.”

Everything is going to plan. The players think they know what game we’re playing. They have to support the evil council in exchange for a huge bag of gold coins. Good one, Johnn.

However, that’s not the trick. The real trick is a Trojan Horse. And inside our grandiose reward is a plot hook.

At the ceremony, the bag of gold sits atop the well, over the covered plaque. Roghan’s mouth waters at the idea of how much ale the coin will buy.

The council uncovers the plaque to an apathetic crowd forced to attend. The bard, Lowder, gives a terrible speech and the crowd gets restless.

In his haste to end the ceremony to disperse and de-escalate the situation, a council member trips. Fortunately, he catches his fall on the lip of the well wall. Unfortunately, in so doing the bag of gold coins is shoved over, down into the well water far, far below.

Roghan: “NOOOOOOOoooooooo….”

Johnn: “The council’s parting words to you are, ‘Enjoy the gold! Spend it wisely.'”

Because the council’s evil, they chose to manipulate. They needed the party to go down the well and defeat an evil creature that’s recently laired there.

The council would’ve paid 5,000 gold coins for the service because nobles were getting murdered and property was being damaged. But then council leader Vilmorth had the great idea to offer the plaque and reward…and to go on a small trip….

Reverse Rewards don’t have to be evil or a nasty gotcha. The trick is that the hook for a new adventure, 5 Room Dungeon, or encounter gets packaged in a way that’s hard to refuse.

For example, perhaps a well-meaning town council (pun intended!) would also give a speech and publicly plead for the party’s help in tracking down a murderous monster. The public venue would make it awkward to refuse, but the choice is the party’s to make.

Reverse Rewards trick players into accepting treasure that comes with hidden challenges. By cleverly packaging plot hooks within rewards, we can lead our parties into new adventures they can’t easily refuse.

Have more fun at every game!

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