|Not this level of tragedy, thank Orcus!|
I messed up with my D&D group and only realized it too late. We are towards the end-game of their (epic) Heroic Tier game and due to some oversight on my part, it eventually became a low-magic item game without Inherent Bonuses.
Now, I can remedy this by having them retroactively turn on the Inherent Bonuses, but that seems like a cop out. I messed up, so how am I going to fix this? Sometimes when sculpting an epic story that encapsulates the fears and wishes of your PCs, it is easy to overlook some minor details.
To fix this, I had to be creative. I wanted to save face with my players (who luckily hadn't had their efforts thwarted by my mistake and still had the same effective staying power of before.) The first thing I did was that through in-game means, they were able to chose one item they currently had (weapon, armor, whatever) and it was upgraded from a +1 to a +2. The other method was through alternate rewards.
It should be obvious from this blog that I tweak the hell out of 4e D&D. My home game is no exception here. I fudge rules for monsters at times (though not at the table unless called for and justified) to make fights and encounters and confrontations more epic. I don't necessarily stack the deck against my players, but I don't hold their hands either. My home game has reaped the benefits of my tweaking in that halfway through the campaign after a 6 month hiatus (due to me being in a different country entirely) each character gained a power that was unique to them in an RP and mechanical standpoint. Did this increase their overall power? Sure, but the world is about to end anyways and in-game the deck feels stacked against them as the hordes of Orcus roam the land.
When a new player was introduced, they had a concept in mind that had them be part of a preexisting in-game organization. To help them out, seeing as they didn't reap the benefits of the unique power, they got a free feat (Plate Armor proficiency) and a free power (Eldritch Bolt.) If you are curious to the organization or why a heavy armor wearing character knows some Warlocky goodness, feel free to ask in the comments section and I'll expand upon it there.
That isn't where my tweaking and giving out of free powers and feats ends, however. Keep in mind, that doing this can change the power balance in your game drastically. In my game I realize this, and also realize that the PCs need every ounce of aid they can muster, so it doesn't change much at my table.
But I've gone off on a tangent, haven't I? I had an oversight and it needed to be fixed. As an alternate reward for splitting the party (YES THEY SPLIT THE PARTY!) and gathering resources and people to build a small army, I had them learn something from their respective groups of recruitment. Typically this was a class feature/power from a class different from their own.
The party Cleric managed to track down and seek the aid of a traveling merchant who owed a favor to the party. After some haggling, the merchant agreed to help supply the growing army, but needed the Cleric's help in gathering some weapons and supplies. After doing this, the merchant decided to teach the Cleric how to haggle better with merchants (+2 Diplomacy when when dealing with merchants) and teach him the tricks of the trade (free once per Encounter use of the Artificer's Healing Infusion.)
The party Paladin sought off towards a village where Necromancy wasn't seen as a bad thing, and in fact actually helped out and protected the local populace. The party ran into this village and its Necromancer early when being confronted with this brave new world, and had to come to terms with both moral gray and the greater good. The Paladin was able to convince, but almost tanked the negotiations, the Necromancer to supply some undead to be the shock troops of their army. The Necromancer abliged and offered to control the troops on the field. While waiting for another party member to meet back up with her in the Necromancer's village, the Necromancer himself taught the Paladin the ways of Necromancy. (+2 Religion when dealing with undead and a once per Encounter "raise undead" minion.)
The party's sole Tiefling Hexblade traveled to attempt to find the elusive Tiefling refugees. Having been denied his pact with Bahamut (refluffed the Infernal pact as Draconic) by Orcus, and being scouted to be Orcus' host in this new world, the Hexblade was without a pact and quite powerless. The Tieflings only agreed to help the cause if the Hexblade made a new pact with their god, Asmodeus. In this setting, Orcus displaced Asmodeus eons past, and while Asmodeus is evil, he is more concerned with the expulsion of Orcus from his seat of power. Refugees were recruited, the Hexblade gained a new pact (strictly Infernal this time) as well as a +2 Arcana when dealing with Demons/Devils. As a result of his new pact, he also gained the full-Warlock's power of Cursing an enemy.
The last member of the party is a Blackguard/Binder Hybrid who belongs to the (just revealed corrupt) policing agency of the world. She set off to recruit the remnants (who didn't turn evil with the leader of the order) of her order to their cause. After an intense interrogation where she was pegged as a traitor, she was able to speak reason to her compatriots and was crowned the new Lord (Lady?) Commander of the Order. Because the order was feared throughout the world now and deemed evil, she gained a +2 Intimidate when dealing with citizens of the Nentir Vale, as well as learned from some of her colleagues a new defensive feint (she learned the Cavalier's Defender Aura and aura enforcement power.)
Now, I'm not suggesting that my solutions are perfect. I did up the power level a little bit, but that was intentional to level out my lack of forethought in dealing with assumed power progression by way of magic items and/or Inherent Bonuses. When I talked to my players after the session about it, they actually preferred the powers over the gear. This makes their character more versatile and has actually encouraged a tremendous amount of role play on their behalf.
TL;DR: Alternate Rewards can encourage role play and substitute the need for magic items in your campaign. There is a modicum of risk involved in upsetting the power balance of the game, but if done right brings high levels of reward.
Happy gaming, and until next time,
You can follow me on Twitter @Sorcerer_Blob or via the hash-tag #legend4ry. You can also find my blog and others at the Fourthcore Hub and at the RPG Blog Alliance.