Abstract Assets: Rising Above Material Rewards

Game Ready Content and Philosophy Benefits Game Ready Commentary Treasure

Today’s post both continues a trend from the past couple weeks and dovetails into one of Chase’s ‘Cool Links’ from this week.  It also explores a concept that, as one blogger put it, you probably “don’t think you think about” when planning or playing your games.

What holds true or desired value in a campaign can differ from party to party, or player to player.  Traditional treasure- like gold pieces, character advancement, or special items- probably holds a cherished place in most gamers’ hearts.  Last week, we talked about some unique types of non traditional ‘paper wealth’ that didn’t include money.  Today we look at RPG rewards that transcend material wealth completely and offer more abstract, long-term benefits.

The achievement of many of these assets can only be accomplished- or appreciated- in a long-term campaign.  They will frequently require a lengthy investment of certain resources in the game, and an even longer wait for a return on that investment.  That said, don’t let their lack of immediate reward be a deterrent if you truly want to obtain them, or if you truly believe that your players will be grateful to receive them.  They may also serve as plot hooks, side quests, or even mission objectives.


I’m leading off with this one because it featured prominently in our last Cabin Trip, and really proved itself as a motivator for the entire group. In the case of that campaign, the party’s mission really had separate parallel objectives. First, discover the true identity of an infamous figure, and recruit said figure as an ally.  Those were the initial directions they received.  What quickly became apparent, however, was the greater underlying purpose of their quest: the salvation of themselves and their kingdom.

Redemption is being used here as an inclusive term for any instance of making something or someone whole again, and may apply to personal, spiritual, political, or social recovery.  It might be a prisoner earning a pardon, in exchange for undertaking a dangerous dungeon delve.  It may be the ill-fated creator of a genetic experiment gone wrong, chasing other mutants across a futuristic landscape.  A great example of seeking a “redemption” reward is Dr. Richard Kimble fighting to clear his name after being accused of murder in The Fugitive.  (Wow, can I write a post without referencing a movie starring Harrison Ford?  Stay tuned to find out.)  Other examples might include returning honor to a shamed ancestor, restoring order to a lawless frontier settlement, or rescuing a public leader that has fallen from grace.


I thought to combine this category with the preceding one, but decided it deserved its own entry.  The distinction, in my mind, was the difference between rising above a calamity or constraint (redemption) and removing one’s self completely from those same hindrances (freedom).  To be sure, they are not always mutually exclusive.  A convict who had actually committed the crimes he was imprisoned for could be redeemed spiritually or legally, yet still be shackled socially by his dark past.  His drive for redemption could, in fact, be one quest, while his bid for true freedom may be achieved at a later time.

Likewise, the same convict could simply seek freedom separate from his redemption.  That is, he could just break out of jail!  Similar efforts for physical freedom might be seen in classic works like the story of Rapunzel, The Man in the Iron Mask, and Earnest Goes to Jail. Wait, maybe not the last one.  I think I meant The Shawshank Redemption.  In any case, ending one’s incarceration is a common “freedom” reward.

This quest for freedom may extend to a wider social or cultural context.  In our recent Cabin Trip game, our heroes helped to release a largely subjugated part of the kingdom’s population, both politically, and, in some cases, physically.  The efforts of the party bestowed an equal social footing to a tribe that had been historically oppressed, giving them freedom from their status as ‘second class citizens.’   Likewise, our recent global history has seen many mass efforts for freedom from tyranny, dictatorship, or oppressive living conditions.  Sometimes that freedom takes the form of independence, sovereignty, or the freedom to change a society to serve the greater good.


Status doesn’t have to equate to social standing, although the award of a desired title or position could certainly fit into the category of an abstract asset.  A certain character, or indeed the entire party, may be questing to be made legal citizens of an insular region, knights of the realm, members of a secretive order, or even noble rulers of their own land.  Status is often accompanied by physical rewards- vassals, real estate, taxes or tributes, access & influence, control of resources- but they may just as easily improve one’s opportunities for advancement or success in the future.

In a more general interpretation, ‘status’ may describe the acquiring of legitimacy or official recognition, the endorsement of a public figure, or the controlling interest of a powerful entity.  Status may also be awarded in the form of world renown, or untold fame and glory.  Perhaps the heroes in your game want nothing less than to go down in history as the greatest heroes of their time.  Celebrations may be held in their honor throughout the land, and songs are sung of their daring exploits.  As described above, this kind of ‘status’ reward is often accompanied by material wealth.  And that’s OK too!


Some quests or missions are undertaken simply to gain knowledge.  One of my favorite Cabin Trip games to date was playing an exploratory team sent into an uncharted wilderness recently acquired by the Crown to discover all the land had to offer.  The express mission of our party was knowledge: what animals populated this land, what peoples called it home, what type of vegetation and natural resources could be found in abundance?  As it turns out, the people who “called it home” coup de graced most of our party while we slept, so our quest for knowledge was cut short.  However, the survivors gained some valuable insight in who to trust from then on.

This desire for knowledge may motivate heroes in a more specific fashion.  They may choose to adventure as archaeologists in search of historical evidence, or a spy network rooting out enemy secrets, or surveillance experts trading in information and codes.  Maybe they need to acquire very detailed knowledge, like a lost book of spells, the formula for vaccine against a potent viral outbreak, or the process for spinning straw into gold.  It could be a society who needs to (re-)discover the trades of weapon and armor smithing, to build their defenses against hostile neighbors.  Or perhaps your party is simply seeking “the truth”, whether about reality as we know it or a particular answer to a tough question.  These grand hunts for knowledge exceed a simple ‘Knowledge: Nature’ roll.  They often consume those who set out to find out.


Devotion seems to be a reward more often earned while chasing some other end.  The actions of a party may earn them a loyal retinue of followers, an elite team of skilled agents, or a score of lackeys who serve their every need.  Heroes that garner ‘devotion’ rewards through their exploits may do so in conjunction with other abstract assets like ‘Status’ or ‘Freedom.’  That same criminal (or criminals) who find a way out of prison and take other prisoners out with them may gain the steady devotion of that questionable crew.  If the party succeeds in achieving a legitimate status as a new guild, they may see a dramatic increase in the commitment of their fellows.  It may even come to pass that the brave actions of a hero gain him the favor of a fair lady; or vice versa even.  Female adventurers deserve groupies too!

These ‘devotion’ rewards could also embody a more altruistic allegiance.  The devoted city guard who constantly puts their lives on the line to protect it my find a supportive and devoted populace at their back when catastrophe comes.  An especially gracious and compassionate band of divine heroes may see a whole new congregation grow around them, as others become aligned with the powers they serve.  A wonderful example of this from history (or “history”, depending on your view) is the popular support and hope-filled loyalty inspired by Robin Hood.  His mission to undermine those who would steal King Richard’s throne and oppress his fellow countrymen garnered him a broad network of devoted allies who would shield him and supply his men.  Once again, abstract assets do not necessarily exclude the collection of more tangible, material rewards.


The final ledger line in this intangible inventory may be the long-term goal of every hero: security.  It may also be the hardest to achieve.  The idea of ‘security’ rewards certainly envelopes the notion of financial security; that is, when all is said and done, you’ve looted enough rooms to keep you in the lifestyle to which you’ve been accustomed.  In some games, this security is overlooked.  It may be that the system has no defined mechanic for wealth or currency, or it may be that (like me) you simply don’t enjoy accounting for every gold spent so characters seem to carry a ‘bottomless purse.’  Still, this financial security may translate into acquiring a piece of land to which you might retire, a furnished condo where one can take freelance cases only if they get bored enough, or a familial castle where the hero could simply live, and sire lots of little heroes to go adventuring in the future.

One could also follow this line of thought in a different direction: adventurers endlessly questing to provide security for their town, society, or family.  These social ‘security’ rewards sound more like ‘peace’, ‘protection’, and ‘safety’.  The party may destroy a monster that has plagued a community for years, thereby giving rest to a weary town and likely earning a devoted following as well.  Perhaps they’ve broken the violent grip of a marauding gang in a landscape ravaged by nuclear fallout.  They may broker a hard-earned treaty between warring nations, granting peace to the population of both sides.  It may even fall to the heroes to guide a populace out of a dangerous region that’s no longer habitable to a new and vibrant homeland.  Moses, I’m looking at you!


One Comment

  1. Posted 06/15/2012 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    It’s funny that you used that image, because I always wanted to play a character working toward a knighthood. The reward is essentially mechanically meaningless, but would make for a cool story. I guess I’ll have to be satisfied with having a character made Sultan eh? :)