Excite Your Players
Mastering the art of home brewing requires a genuine love of writing and a desire to excite your players. You want to introduce new monsters, spells, and magic items because you just can’t stop your imagination, and because you enjoy seeing your player’s excitement when they uncover something new and interesting. Homebrewing is a balancing act, however. If the enemies drop too much magical gear, it could unbalance the game and cause headaches later on.
What’s an overly imaginative DM/GM to do?
There are a few ways to satisfy your need to write creative, homebrew content, generate excitement in your players, and avoid overpowering the adventuring party. Offering homebrew trinkets is fun and can be tailored to fit your table’s specific tone. Trinkets don’t have to be relegated to corky odds and ends. If you’re running a campaign with darker themes, a trinket could reinforce the setting. For instance…
Item: A Pair of Wooden Coins
A pair of wooden coins that were once placed over the eyes of a dead man just before a funeral pyre. They should’ve been cremated with the body, but were removed at the last moment. As a result, the spirit of the dead man had no coin to pay the ferryman. When held, a faint voice can be heard asking,
“Spare a few coins to help a man get home?”
A trinket like that would give any adventurer the chills. This will give your world a little texture and flair. You can add appropriate monetary value to these items so the adventurers still feel like they’re getting something worthwhile out of these trinkets. You also generate potential for a fun plot hook to develop organically. A cleric might want to find a way to set the wandering spirit free, for instance. It could end up being a fun little side quest.
Another way to scratch the homebrew itch, collectible treasure. Items that share a common theme or characteristic and require collecting really excite players. For example, after clearing out a dungeon full of kobolds, the adventurers stumble across a treasure chest with only one coin inside. When held, this coin produces a clear musical note that can only be heard by the one in possession of the coin.
This mysterious coin is one of 5. Whether or not you tell your adventurers that right off the bat is up to you and your DM style. Perhaps, when they try to sell the coin, they find out that it’s part of a set. Maybe an identify spell could reveal that it’s one of many. However you want to reveal it, is up to you. Just remember, that each of the subsequent coins plays a different note. When all 5 coins are collected and are stacked in the proper order, the various notes create a melody.
Once completed, the melody of the magical coins could offer some benefit. A character might gain a musical proficiency, or a +1 to their wisdom ability modifier. Of course, once used, the magic of the coins is spent and can’t be used again for another 100 years. The nature of that benefit depends on you, your campaign, and your player’s level.
What are the benefits of writing collectible items?
The mechanics behind the “Musical Coins” offers a lot of benefits for both the DM and the players. Let’s dive into how this type of game mechanic can be helpful for a DM.
Collectible items give you (the DM) the ability to provide high-level treasure at low levels. You don’t want to provide a major benefit to a player too early in the game. This can throw off game mechanics. Instead, you’re setting up a minor side quest that provides a big payout when finally realized. The longer it takes to find all the coins, the better the payout should be. If all the coins are found in one dungeon, then the adventurer might learn a new cantrip or gain proficiency in a tool or language. If the coins are collected over the course of several months of gameplay, then maybe the magical melody increases an ability score +1 or allows the PC access to a new feat.
Another benefit collectible items provide the DM, is a large supply of plot hooks. Obviously, the characters might want to actively hunt down the other coins. They could track the rest of the who to a dungeon, and now you have a whole mission set up right there waiting for you. Alternatively, the other coins might be held by various villains; an evil sorcerer, a warlord, etc. The adventurers must defeat each of these foes in order to collect all the coins.
Do you like writing puzzles for your games? Collectible trinkets are an excellent opportunity for a DM to write some imaginative puzzle games. For instance,the Musical Coins need to be stacked in the proper order. Perhaps a mark along the edge of the coin reveals which place that individual coin has in the stack. Maybe there is a riddle written on each coin revealing the order. Alternatively, the puzzle could center around finding the coins instead. They might all be hidden in a series of puzzle rooms and the adventurers need to solve each puzzle to obtain the coin. Collectible trinkets really do give a creative DM plenty of material to work with.
But will the players really be interested in collectible trinkets?
To answer this question bluntly, hell yes!
Your players will absolutely obsess over tracking down and collecting items that belong to a set. It’s human nature to seek out new and shiny novelties. We’ve been doing it for as long as anyone can remember. That instinct is at the very core of why we have 9-to-5 jobs. If we didn’t like buying the brand-new (insert whatever you are interested in) we would just work long enough to make money for food and a little entertainment. That urge to collect undoubtably carries over to the world we create in our imaginations every time we sit down at our game table.
And you can’t forget about the mystery factor. There are 5 common questions in any story. The more of these questions your players have to ask about this trinket, the more interested they will become. They are, of course…
You can easily drop little hints igniting your players curiosity and compelling them to ask at least a few of these 5 fundamental questions. When the coins are identified, their name could stir up some curiosity. “These are, The Coins of Nebuchadnezzar”! Of course, the players must ask, “who is that guy?” “Why did he make these weird coins?” “What do they do?” “Where can we find the next coin?” By simply adding a name to this magical item, you have opened the opportunity for your players to ask 4 of the 5 big questions. This is how you generate excitement at the gaming table.
One of the most important and best parts about being the DM is the opportunity for creativity. You get to flex your writing skills and your imagination and bring it to a group of people that actively engage with your world. It doesn’t get better than that and creating a series of interconnected collectible trinkets lets you flex those writing skills. It also adds texture and depth to your world. Which lets your players immerse themselves in the lore.
Make some space in your DM journal where you can collect your ideas for collectible trinkets.