March 21, 2013

Valuing PC Discoveries

Beng Mealea temple, Cambodia

Hello again, gamerdom! This is the follow-up to my post on the value of knowledge as a treasure in FRPG campaigns. In my last post I tried to explore how knowledge could be made to feel valuable to a player. Now I’ll go into how that knowledge is earned, and how to recognize when it’s been earned.

Some possible criteria for gauging the XP value or money value of new knowledge could include:

Innovation: the knowledge must be of something new, at least to the people the PCs are reporting it back to. 

One idea you often don’t find in a published setting, written up in the usual encyclopedic style, is just how little the peoples of that world may know of each other. There should always be questions that a travelling adventurer can answer better than anyone else – for the right price. Questions such as:

  1. What lies beyond X?
  2. How do we get to X?
  3. What are the threats along the way?
  4. What are the threats in place X?
  5. Where do we eat/drink/sleep in place X?
  6. What can we bring home from place X?
  7. Who’s really in charge of X and how do we get on his/her/their good side?

If these questions sound like some of them were taken from a travel mag, you’re right, they are.

Hard-Earned: the PCs must have gone through enough trials and perils to make the knowledge feel hard-earned. Look at the lists of survivors from the great voyages of the 15th and 16th centuries: sometimes less than half the original crew came back.

Useful: the knowledge must be usable to the persons the PCs will report it to. Who would want to know about a new trade route? Who would want to know where to get a rare herb?

This brings us to the last criterion for deciding the value of knowledge: it must be used, either by reporting it to a specific person or group, or by the PCs directly taking another adventure into the same place. If the PCs decide to go again themselves, XPs and gold earned go to making them better-prepared for the next expedition.

If they reported it, then the value depends on how much the PCs were able to deliver, and to whom. The more powerful the people they pass their knowledge to, the better the rewards – specially if the report was made under exclusive terms.

If the PCs delivered good specifics – detailed maps, detailed journals, ship’s navigation logs (rutters), glossaries of a foreign language, samples of valuable goods, a willing and capable envoy from the newly-discovered lands, etc. etc. they should earn more gold/XP from it.

As you can see, these last suggest character actions that players can take, and maybe roll a few checks for as needed, to see how much they can bring back from their voyage of discovery.

Additional role-playing can come in during the reporting stage, as the PCs navigate the power structures of their home base and make sure they and only they benefit from their discoveries. (I highly recommend Allan Cole and Chris Bunch’s The Far Kingdoms to see how this could work).

To spice up a voyage-of-discovery type of adventure, you could even have the PCs be agents in secret for different factions, each with their own agenda. Or perhaps have someone join the voyage with an agenda very different from the PC’s, but his/her presence is vital for some reason. Hawkwood’s Voyage, by Paul Kearney, is a good example of this: a voyage to find and settle a half-forgotten continent across the ocean gets hijacked by a ruthlessly ambitious noble.

Next up on this series: Disasters and Discovery!

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