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What do you reward your PCs?

First time as a DM. I want to maintain the balance, but when completing an adventure or boss fight are most people content just getting gold or treasure? Or is there a list of rare weapons or magic weapons in one of the books? Is there a gold sink to excite players to spend that gold on? What do you guys do?

Conan characters start very competent and become after a few hundred XP VERY competent at what they do.
So I cannot recommend handing over some “magical weapons” or such. Considering, that it is getting harder and harder to challenge a party of somewhat experienced Conan PCs, you don’t need to make them even harder to challenge by raising their damage-dealt-per-character-turn scores.

Regarding Gold (uppercase, as this is in Conan a very abstract measure of “things that are worth something”), the PCs usually need to spend for their Upkeep (3 + Social Status - Renown = something between 5 and 0 (for high Renown), average about 3 Gold per Downtime phase).
Then they need to spend Gold for actually healing their Trauma and Wounds (they can only be temporarily treated, but not healed during an adventure phase, only in the Downtime phase). That could be anywhere between 8 (nearly dead and nearly insane) and 0 (not a scratch), on the average you can calculate about 3 Gold per PC for that.
As the Upkeep costs covers ALL replacement of equipment the characters had before the adventure, they only need little additional Gold for purchasing more or different (probably better) equipment. - Though, some character types need to use a lot of resources that are one-use, like alchemical Ingredients, Medicine, Thieves tools, etc. Those they usually want stocked up higher than their basic toolkit presents (usually three resources per kit). So you can calculate about 4 Gold for loads of arrows and other one-use stuff per character (and that is already a bit generous).

Depending on how your group is playing, they might want to spend more Gold on finding Patron NPCs (not the sorcerous patron, but the more mundane ones), on gathering Rumors and Useful Knowledge (very important, I find, but sadly often underused).
And they want to spend Gold on cultivating, raising their Renown.

So offering them a Reward of 10 Gold per PC is generous, 15 Gold is very generous, I wouldn’t recommend awarding more than 15 Gold per character, as they rarely need to spend that much on anything.

Letting them find a Patron “for free” is a valuable reward. Or letting them gain favors with local thieves, priests, nobles, etc. Or giving them a very good horse (a bit higher stats than a normal one) or a trained cavalry horse, if they haven’t one already, that could be a well appreciated reward.

It is important not to fall into D&D-like “treasure and magical items” thinking.

And then there is usually the immediate reward of awarding Fortune points for high stakes scenes the PCs made it through.

But the most appreciated reward is for most players XP. And that is the one a Conan GM needs to be a bit careful about, as, see above, Conan PCs start out already very competent, and with 1000 or 2000 XP spent on Talents and some Skills, they are even more competent, and that means even harder to challenge.
There is a rule of thumb that the PCs should get about 50 XP per hour of gameplay in a session. That is about right. Slightly less is not wrong, slightly more once in a while is fine, too. Much more than 50 XP per hour, I really cannot recommend.

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Thank you that helps a lot! I was thinking of throwing in some weird weapons eventually, like a Axe enchanted with one use of the Spell that brings a newly severed head to life. And then introduce later when its body comes looking for it.

Do you think something along those lines, unique but more horizontal progression would skew the game too much?

Such a magical enchanted weapon is a thing that would be very, VERY rare in the world of Robert E. Howard’s Conan.
Sword & Sorcery fiction is about human beings overcoming nature, beasts, men and monsters - often with their bare hands or simple tools.

It is definitely not the “materialistic” D&D-like power fantasy where not the character makes the difference, but the equipment.
D&D-like fantasy has since it’s very origin been a kind of fantasy where not what you know, what you have learned matters as much as your collection of magical gear and weapons. (In AD&D a “simple” +1 dagger in the hands of a Magic-User is the equivalent of having +4 Levels in melee ability.)
Sword & Sorcery is quite different from that. - And, to be precise, it is more often Swords AGAINST Sorcery. That is, sorcery of any and all kinds is inherently evil, cursed, corrupting and originates not from this world. Sorcerers are the most depraved, ruthless scum of the Earth who make reckless deals with beings of purest evil for personal gain in power - and thus need to be slain be some honest blade.

That is one of the reasons why you very rarely find anything like a “magic item” in Sword & Sorcery fantasy, that is not evil, not tainted, not a plot device to be destroyed or at least taken out of the hands of the powerful evil person who wields it in the first place.

And about that: what is the actual use of having a weapon that brings a severed head back to life? And at that only once, as a one-use spell? The immense cost in - probably human - sacrifices to get the spells embedded into a weapon, the deals with otherworldly beings that rip the sorcerer’s soul apart, all for making a weapon with a “gimmick”?

Probably not so fitting for a Conan game.

Magical stuff is supposed to be rare, very rare, untrustworthy, corrupting and dangerous - and mysterious. Not silly.

I would say so.
It would make the very distinctive Conan game into a D&D-like game.
But that is my personal view on Conan, Sword & Sorcery Fantasy as distinctively different from typical EDO Fantasy (Elves, Dwarves, Orcs Fantasy) like D&D.
And I most certainly DO LIKE D&D and I’m currently playing in a D&D campaign.
But if I wish to play D&D-like, I use D&D.
Conan is quite different.

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If you want to keep the tone and flavor right then never have magic items. It might, maybe be fitting to have a weapon created by ancient and long lost techniques that has a different quality that normal but even that would be stretching it for me. Even then, it would be a once in a lifetime find.

In terms of gold, one of the best trope based rules I found is in Barbarians of Lemuria which provides additional XP if the character comes to the next session broke (regardless of how much wealth they accumulated) with bonus XP for an entertaining story of why they’re broke and then additional bonus XP if that reason provides a link to the next adventure. In Conan, where XP needs to be fairly carefully controlled this could easily translate into some extra Fortune at the start of game.

Which then provokes the need for adventure for Gold and the cycle perpetuates.

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That is a good idea to avoid giving out even more XP,

"Fortune favors the broke" - I will give that house rule some practical use.

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It’s like a reward for leaning in to the riches to rags trope. I mean how many fortunes did Conan lose over the course of his career? :slight_smile:

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Akbitanan Steel is probably the closest to magic any weapon will ever get. Conan the Mercenary book pg. 20 has rules for it. Finding this steel should probably be the result of some form of several session adventure in order to get it as well.

Magic isn’t something people play around with in the world of Hyboria. If someone raised the dead it would likely cause mental trauma for those around the scene.

Using the OP’s example of raising the dead. Even hardened warriors do not normally see the dead rise in this world so it would likely leave an indelible mark upon their psyche. It would probably give them resolve damage. (You could go with 6d6 mental damage make a discipline d3 test to take half. Add on the Piercing or Vicious qualities if the head was a known person to them to add to the horrific tone of the encounter.)

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