Well, we dropped the ball. That didn’t take long. Better late than never though in our 5th article for the RPG a Day Challenge 2020: Tribute. This is going to be a pretty stream of consciousness article, a bit different from the usual. Now, I’m not sure what you think of when you hear the word tribute, but two things rush to my mind… The first being the cast from the Hunger Games, and the second is this guy…
In both cases, tributes correlate directly with a sacrifice. A personal sacrifice of your life, or the number of monsters you control in a children’s card game respectively. There’s some tough choice that a character has to make to achieve an outcome they desire. And here’s something about myself as a Game Master… I love putting my players in this position. Simply put, you ask your players to put something on the line to aid in their quest.
The costs can vary greatly, but asking your players for a tribute can provide so much weight to an otherwise bland moment. Perhaps an informant can give you some secret knowledge, but he’ll only speak if you hand over your prized sword, passed down through your family through ages. Another route to go could be protecting a loved one, perhaps after a player’s action is taken, a stray spell goes straight for them, and they don’t have the ability to respond in-game to save them. Game Masters, you can offer to let them run and take the damage, but in doing so, they leave themselves wide open, doubling the damage with no save. They can save their loved one, at extreme risk to themselves.
Tributes should be used to create dramatic tension. Do characters give up something to help achieve their goals? Or are they unable to and must take a longer path. To make this work to any effect, however, you have to weigh the tribute with the reward. In all cases, the reward must be objectively better than the Tribute. What matters is that the Tribute matters enough to the player to make the decision difficult.
Let’s say the character Kevin has a magical tiger as his familiar that’s been with him as long as he can remember. An ancient ritual has started below a city, threatening the lives of everyone within it. The only one with the power to stop it is Kevin’s Tiger. But by doing so, the tiger would surely perish. What happens? What would you do if you were Kevin?
Giving the characters hard decisions and seeing the outcomes of their actions is the most rewarding part of Game Mastering for me. Will they take a route that comes with a great sacrifice, or chance a path where they lose nothing but failure is much more likely? Would they offer up an ally as a tribute for an easy win, or instead burden themselves to save another. Will they find another path that I didn’t expect (My favorite path!), that’s the true joy of asking for tribute in your games.