There are some things that work to enhance your game regardless of what system you are using. Right now I'm running a Pathfinder game but doing a lot with the D&D Next open play test like so many other gamers at the moment. I always want the players to feel connected to the environment they're operating and want the world to feel realistic around their characters. One of the ways I do this is to allow them to gather parts, components, and agents for magical and alchemical uses at a later time. The component gathering idea works in many fantasy systems if you just apply a few simple basic ideas, and has many rewards for the DM and players.
In my current campaign I have seven PCs which I wrote a little about here. There are many characters in the party with spell casting abilities including a sorcerer, cleric, summoner, and alchemist. Keeping the players attention on their encounters and environments is easy when some material they come across may grant their characters a spell casting edge or save some coins or time on magic item and alchemical item creation. My players never know what may grant a benefit or what that benefit may be, but they know it's there so they make sure to ask a lot of questions, this allows me to have their characters make lots of Knowledge and Profession skill rolls, among other skill roles which gives those skills another use besides monster identification.
A few examples to help you implement this in your game would be appropriate now so here are some examples from many of my home games. What game they apply to is really up to the DM but since many ideas carry over across systems in the fantasy genre, a little imagination should allow you to apply these ideas to whatever system you run your game in.
- The flesh of a regenerating creature could be the material component cost to any healing potion or the blood could be the ink for a scroll of any healing.
- If a scroll having to do with necromancy is written on ghoul flesh you could allow a caster level bump to any spell cast from it or increase the range or duration.
- A scale of a particularly tough beast could substitute for the component cost in any sort of protection potion or perhaps a potion of with the scale as a component functions at a higher level than it should. Additionally some types of hides like dragon hide could have whole suits of armor and shields constructed from it.
- Any part of elemental can be applied to allow for a bonus in effectiveness or a reduction in cost when applied to any sort of elemental effect casting magic item of the same type of element. How does it help the caster with the Craft Wondrous Items feat if he uses a part of a captured Greater Water Elemental that he defeated earlier in his career to enchant a Decanter of Endless Water?
- If a prepared rogue takes his action to scoop up a bit of green slime in his bottle made of stone, how many applications of an extremely effective acid can be made from the sample?
- Can a bit of the dust left behind by the death of a Greater Shadow substitute for the gold piece addition to a Shadowed effect on a suit of armor. Obviously you need some high quality armor, but sprinkle over the leather or worked into the iron forged into the chain the bonus is applied, and the creator saves gold.
If you start applying a few of these techniques for acquisition of items for alchemical and magical item crafting, one of the positive effects is that you might find your PCs taking those Item Creation feats or Crafting skills that sometimes can be overlooked when a player is building their character. In many games I've played in before Item Creation feats and crafting skills where not always valued choices for characters. They either costed too much XP, time, or material costs to be effective choices for PCs. Feats like Spell Focus or pluses with a weapon or implement were better choices because of their immediate effectiveness on combats. If you apply these options your players will quickly realize that those feats and skills might allow them to come better prepared for an upcoming battle, for less money and time.
In most systems this option will add the most value to alchemical items. If you increase the potency, duration, area of effect, etc., of alchemical items your players will be much more likely to spend their gold on one shot magic items. In most systems by the time the PCs can afford to purchase these items their effectiveness is greatly diminished. This is because the characters have advanced to a level where their opponents have much more ability to resist their effects. This will give the DM more options for rewards from an adventure besides gold and magic items. You reward the characters by granting them the ability to craft their own more potent versions of the items that they want. It also encourages the players to give the DM suggestions for what they want to do with a gathered special material. That keeps the player engaged in another way in your game.
Another reason I enjoy adding this sort of option to my game is that it helps as a substitute for just heaps of treasure. In my home brew world where I explore every option to keep a low magic feeling to the setting this is particularly important. This process reduces the amount of magic that you might issue as a reward. One way to create the feeling of a low magic world is to eliminate any need for mundane magic, and keep magic as something truly special and well…magical. You can have truly wondrous magic items that were crafted by the hand of the characters and the imagination of the players. So the magic but mundane dagger +2 that the DM might leave in a treasure chest becomes a +1 dagger of frost crafted by the player from with the blood of an ice devil held suspended in a crystal in the clear handle of the weapon, and given the named Icicle.
You can also consider as another option allowing players to have their characters craft items that have requirements above their character level. You can keep the item cost for creation as it is listed in the rules for whatever system you are using but allow the special materials to allow for crafting of items that PCs would not normally be able to accomplish. If you're worried that this sort of mechanic might create problems in your game balance, then use it at first on disposable, consumables, or one-shot items.
I know that I don’t run a game the same as every DM out there and that is why I'd love to hear what sort of options you would or do apply in your games. Feel free to comment on what systems and what home brew mechanic you use in your game according to the rules in the comment section. Until next time, Roll Hard!