I liked two of the prompts for today, so I’m going to start with the alternate one: reward.

Why are your players on this mission/adventure/quest? Reward of some sort. For the basic D&D game, sometimes that’s kill the monster/get the treasure — be it gold, magic items, or weapons. Adventuring is acquisition (with a healthy dose of murder). You go out hoping for more and better stuff. Reward, however, can be much more than a magical sword, and some rewards can be much more satisfying.

Rewards can be personal: I’m adventuring to find my lost sibling/parent/lover. Saving said person is the reward. Less specifically, maybe you’ve been chasing a knowledge for a long time, and the opportunity to confirm a theory, find a lost city, find an ancient relic that everyone says is myth but you know better…these are personal to the character. Some can also be professional. Finding that lost city is a sure shot at tenure at a university, and maybe fame and fortune, as well. But it could also be knowledge — in Prometheus, Elizabeth Shaw discovers the link between mankind and the Engineers. It’s a massive professional and personal success. Her boyfriend, Holloway — even knowing the import of the discovery, is wrecked because there were no Engineers left. To him, the reward was talking to them, learning from them. And when it was taken away, it crushed him. That failure is a risk that can used to make the adventures more real and emotional for character and player, and can be used to motive them. Maybe there are no Engineers here…but what about our there?

Professional rewards might include money, a job, or social advancement. If you’re a soldier in Her Majesty’s army in the 1800s, showing bravery in some dusty colony could earn you promotion or medal, maybe a title if you’re an officer. If you’re a cleric in a D&D world, maybe you gain your own temple (it’s a pretty lucrative gig, that!) You kill the evil king of a country…now you’re the (hopefully not) evil king. A scientist or academic of any stripe is usually looking for that secure gig at a university or prior to universities in a king’s court as an advisor. Tenure, for many, is the reward; for that philosopher academic getting a cushy position sucking up to the king and setting policies for the proles is the reward.

Reward isn’t always money, or swords, or other loot.

Speaking of weapons…

There are a few character that their weapons help define them. James Bond’s Walther PPK (so iconic they went back to the much less powerful pistol from the P99 of the Brosnan era and Casino Royale.) Captain America’s shield. Indiana Jones’ bullwhip. Rick Deckard’s blaster in Blade Runner or Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon (it’s not just a means of transport, it’s a weapon when in space combat.) Sonny Crockett’s Bren Ten (he would use a Smith & Wesson auto for three of the five seasons, but ask any gun bunny what his weapon was — you’ll get Bren Ten.) Ghost in the Shell‘s Togusa and his Mateba revolver. Darth Maul’s dual lightsaber.

Weapons can give you a quick thumbnail of the character, what they’re about, and what they can do. Maul’s double lightsaber hints at his more wu shu style of fighting. Togusa’s Mateba shows him to be a bit of a traditionalist and sentimentalist. There was even a quote by Silvester Stallone way back when he did Tango & Cash along the lines of “you can tell a lot about a character by the gun they use…” I think that’s way overstating it, but totemic gear is something that many fictional characters and RPG charaters have in common.

We had a character in a Hollow Earth Expedition game who’s weapons were a Smith & Wesson Registered Magnum (#3) and a Winchester lever action in .357 magnum. The game was set in 1936, so this was an experimental cartridge that only hunters or “men of action” might have. (Gen. Patton had one of the original Registered Magnums, as well.) He was an expert with these weapons and gained extra die when using them. When he lost them for a time, that was his personal goal — get them back. (See reward above.) But the type of weapons also showed he was serious about his hardware for the time, and had the money to meet that need.

A D&D character in a recent campaign had a warpick made from a dragon’s tooth. She had helped kill the beast, so her armor and warpick were made from the creature. The craftsmanship to do this meant it was one-of-a-kind stuff. when she lost the pick, it was a real blow to the character, who had a much better sword, but she tended to always use the pick. It was her weapon.

Other totemic items might be a vehicle or armor. Thomas Magnum’s Ferarri 308. James Bond’s Aston-Martin DB5. Mad Max’s V8 Interceptor (otherwise known at the Ford Falcom XB.) Starbuck’s Viper Mk II (also a weapon…) Jake Cutter’s Grumman Goose. That cyberpunk hacker in a Shadowrun game’s deck. There are all sorts of totemic items that can define the character. We had a character in our Hollow Earth Expedition game that only drove Delage — one a hopped up, blacked out, stripped down racer that he used for his nighttime crimes. Gaining these totemic weapons — like the dragon tooth warpick — can be an adventure to itself, or an unexpected reward. (“Hey, can get get some one to skin the dragon and use the hide and scales as armor..?”)