Rewards to Give Your Players Instead of Loot: Part 1 Information

Hey everyone, Jarred from Monsters & Multiclass here. Recently I have been thinking on what drives players to complete quests. Usually, when a DM wants players to do something they will dangle money or magic items over their heads. Three months alter the party has 10,000 gold and enough magic items to take down Tiamat, and they've lost all sense of challenge. And that's only at level 7! So how do we get around this? I'm only going to cover one of these in this article, but in an effort to eliminate clickbait articles here's the short list of what I'll be going over.

  1. Information
  2. Favors
  3. Property
  4. Boons
  5. Catharsis and Good Feelies  
“It is a very sad thing that nowadays there is so little useless information.” -Oscar Wilde


This feels like the most obvious one. Information in TTRPGs is everything. It’s something that happens so often we may not even think about it as a concrete reward. So when might your party need information?
Say your party found a text and it’s impossible  for them to transcribe. Perhaps they need to know how to stop the summoning of an extraplanar evil. Or maybe it’s as simple as finding the whereabouts of an old friend. Your PCs need to find something out and someone else has this information. This puts the NPC in an advantageous position to get something they need. I could probably make an entire article about NPCs needing to be well structured and have goals… Eh, that’s for another time! For now, I will assume you are already doing that. When PCs meet a new NPC who has information they need, the NPC shouldn't need to give the party any more reward than the info they seek.

Part of what makes interesting quest design is offering a moral quandary and quests to gain information should be no different.

One of our party members in my homebrew campaign, Embers On the Wind of the Ever Shifting Dunes, is on a personal quest to halt the mining of Sun Gems in his homelands.

He really does get upset every time I only say "Embers". It's impressive roleplaying and I don't think he's a jerk at all. 

He received a rumor that there may be some trade going on in the city of Talront, which they were in at the time. The party wanted to join in on one of these drop-offs orchestrated by a local criminal organization. It was agreed that they could join but they were not offered any reward. This was their first time working with this group and the leader of the organization wanted to know they could trust them. The only thing they were getting out of this, was the possibility of information. And it was plenty. The job turned a little more extreme as well once they got the full layout. They had to sneak into a house, find a safe full of papers, and get out without being caught. They didn’t know what information they’d find on those papers, but they knew it was information the crime boss wanted; It was information they wanted as well.

They found that the delivery was actually for some psychedelic mushrooms and had nothing to do with the Sun Gem trade. This is okay, not everything has to end in a new hook! The information they received from the break-in played into the larger political intrigue they were dealing with, so it wasn’t all for naught. During this quest, not once did the party members receive money or magical item rewards, nor did they expect to. They had plenty of motivation just from the information and it’s still discussed months later as being a memorable quest.

And yes they did take some of the mushrooms. 

My party wasn’t very worried about working with a crime boss. Yours may, and that’s even more motivation to make a quest similar to this one. Aside from crime, there are plenty of questionable positions you can place the party in. You will find that information is very often motivation enough for them to compromise on their morals.

PCs love having to make decisions. It allows them to feel like their actions directly influence the world. Lure them in with information for plots that mean something to them and you will see their minds start to race with questions and decisions. Is the information worth it? Are there ways to get it without helping this person? Can you trust this person? By the end of it they won't be saying "Man I wish we at least got some gold out of that." They will be penniless and filled with agency, which is truly the greatest reward.