How To Adjust After Handing Out Too Much Loot

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1187

Brief Word From Johnn

Today I’ve got some great ideas for when we hand out too much treasure and game balance goes sideways a bit.

And in the Reader Tips section at the end, I’ve got a 5 Room Dungeon and Campaign Puzzle tip for you.

One thing in the 5 Room Dungeon tip resonated with me because I’ve been musing a lot lately on how RPGs are a different medium.

By medium, I mean things like TV, radio, print.

You can’t put images on radio, and just doing audio on TV is boring.

So each medium has its ideal way of working.

And I believe RPGs are a brand new (well, 50 years old-new) medium.

When reading threads online about train-wrecked campaigns, I can’t help but see a common thread of how we GMs do not treat our campaigns as a new medium.

Instead, we treat them like existing mediums.

This has negative side effects like players becoming mere audiences, railroading too much (some is ok) and writing scripts instead of games.

Next time you prep or play, give a bit of thought on how unique our medium is and what we might do differently to take advantage of all it offers.

For I believe this is part of what makes roleplaying games and GMing the best hobby in the world!

– Johnn

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How To Adjust After Handing Out Too Much Loot

From Jonathan Hardin,

The characters search the room for treasure.

After rolling on a table, you describe the treasure only to realize the characters have become too powerful with it.

While this is exciting for the table, and should be enjoyed for a time, how do you rebalance the upcoming challenges so your players continue to have fun?

Indeed, the game is now at risk of becoming boring.

In today’s tips, I will show you three simple ways to make that adjustment after handing out too much loot.

Invitation & Challenge

But first, let me introduce an idea to you.

When I speak of balance, I am not talking about what level monster the players are up against.

I am speaking of the balance between invitation and challenge.

The game master creates each encounter with some level of ease or difficulty.

If the encounter is easy, then the balance dials toward invitation.

Upon increasing the difficulty with the next encounter, the balance dials towards challenge. Too much invitation and the game becomes boring. Too much challenge and the game becomes frustrating.

We can learn to adjust the dial steadily to create a dynamic movement in the game.

When you discover characters are swimming in treasure, enjoy the ease of invitation for a while.

Then adjust towards a challenge by introducing lateral problems created by the wealth:


This is not your average pickpocketing.

These are well-trained burglars and assassins.

They work for a powerful leader and see the party’s wealth as the nicest toy at the party.

Keep the adventure rolling and use the wealth to get the characters mixed up in a quest to defeat the criminal underground.


Once you’ve won wealth, you attract all kinds of requests for aid.

Not all of them will be genuine.

Create encounters where each day a representative of a faction asks for donations.

See if the players determine who is truthful and who is a con artist.


This is more of an invitation, but it might pose challenges down the road.

Place before the characters chances to invest in property, business, and ventures.

Use up the wealth, create a fun encounter in building an investment, and then create more encounters for the future adventures.


The characters enjoy the wealth for a time only to realize later that there exists an owner.

They discover the location and learn the owner is in need.

Now cue the adventure series of encounters to return the powerful wealth into the rightful hands.

While some players may not go for this challenge, if the journey is described as dangerous and full of excitement, they might be convinced to part with the wealth.


After wearing this wealth for a time, the character enjoys its benefits. But after learning of its curse, and learning of it’s creator, the characters are then posited with a quest to return the wealth to its source and defeat the evil once and for all. This can be an entire adventure quest all on its own.

Finally, remember that no determination on your part is perfect.

Over time, you learn how to adjust the dials between ease and difficulty. That includes how to hand over treasure.

When you hand over too much wealth, allow time for everyone to enjoy the good fortune, smile, and then crank up the challenges.

May your story continue!

Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

Have a roleplaying tip you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks!

Adventure is Everywhere

From RPT GM Noah

When I read the intent behind room one of your 5 Room Dungeon template it changed the way I looked at games and adventure stories.

When my friend explained there’s a guardian, I just accepted that it meant an encounter.

When I read the actual description, it blew my mind.

My understanding is this:

Adventure is Everywhere, but it’s behind lock and key, and the key to get access to adventure doesn’t have to be felling a foe, it can be the ability to dispel a rune, or talk someone into something, or talk someone out of something.

Adventure is everywhere and only heroes can access it, because they’re the people who developed some skill or another, and it lets them get hooked, nabbed by adventure, while laypeople walk by none the wiser.

This changed everything. I literally didn’t read rooms 2-5 for months because I was just soaking in this idea that adventures exist but are inaccessible to most people, and that is why we focus on these people, the heroes.

I took a playwright workshop in Chicago, and they taught us that plays are different from other mediums, because it’s difficult to do montages and the only way to get inside someone’s head is with a soliloquy.

That’s what plays want to do. They showcase the exact two hours (or however long the play is) where everything changed in some person’s life.

We’re not there to see their life story. We’re there to see the day it all changed.

And we won’t often see the resolution of this person’s journey, just their resolve to go make a change. Then the play ends.

So they drilled into us, “Why This person? Why NOW in their life?”

And when I heard that adventures can only be started by someone who has the unique capability to bypass the guardian, it helped me focus on stories about someone who’s higher-than-average skill in something allowed them to begin the epic of their life.

Once I read the rest of the rooms, I started to see some of how it all fits together.

Loot is given out at the end.

And what does loot do?

It increases aptitude which makes it possible to unlock more adventures that were already lying in wait, but the heroes weren’t springing them yet.

Changed everything.

Campaign Puzzles

I received this request by email from RPT GM Philip:

Hi Johnn, my players asked me for a campaign-long puzzle: something they can work on in the background between (or during) sessions that provides a bonus when completed but doesn’t stop play if left unsolved.

I love the idea of giving the players something to work on and think about between sessions related to the campaign, but I’m having trouble coming up with ideas.

Riddles can take a long time to solve, but I don’t know how to work that natively into a campaign where it makes sense to leave unsolved for multiple sessions.

If I can get some ideas on this, it seems like the sort of thing that would be fun to include in every campaign I run.

Thanks for the insight!

Reply from Johnn:

Hey Philip!

Did you ever read the Tasks of Tantalon?

Every page is a puzzle. But the puzzles all build into a narrative and a grand puzzle for the book.

I’ve always thought this was a fantastic model.

Here’s how I’d do it.

I’d do the grand puzzle first.

It would have several clues or pieces.

Each piece would be obtained by a dedicated adventure.

The pieces could be made up of smaller pieces, if desired.

You’d want to prevent player fatigue from repetition. But if puzzles sometimes make up the pieces instead of objects, that should keep things interesting.

For types of puzzles, there are a few.

One is gathering all the parts. I once used one of those wooden cube puzzles where the pieces can be assembled in the right way to make a sturdy cube.

Another is words. Anagrams, spelling clues, riddles.

A third is numbers. Sequences, formulas, math.

A fourth is visual puzzles. Hidden object games, jigsaw/assemble the picture. This one especially works well for a campaign puzzle.

For example, each adventure results in recovery of a torn up painting. When the pieces are gathered, the map to the solution is given. You need to ensure every piece has an essential detail or the party could solve it early.

Language puzzles are fifth puzzle type, often overlapping with words. Crytpograms, for example.

So I’d pick my campaign puzzle first.

Then make each piece a separate adventure.

And then put puzzles as obstacles to acquiring the campaign pieces/clues.

That’s a brain dump for you.

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