Penniless but not Powerless, Part 3: Achieving your Dreams

Penniless but not Powerless, Part 3: Achieving your Dreams

If you're enjoying the content here, check out our new site, Thoughtcrime Games. Thanks for visiting!

If you're new here, you may want to subscribe to my RSS feed. Thanks for visiting!

It’s gamefiend here, and I’ve got something for you. A way to “achieve” all your dreams with our alternate wealth system.

Last article we discussed using wealth tokens instead of gold for your characters.  You want to check it out in detail, but to rephrase:

  • Each level, characters can gett up to twenty tokens (4 wealth, 16 Karma).
  • No character can have more than a hundred tokens at once.
  • Characters spend the tokens instead of gold pieces to get items they wish and other effects as well (more on that later )

So…how does one acquire wealth and karma?  About half of the wealth your characters acquire should be gained in typical “parcel” format.  The party goes through encounters and gain wealth as karma as rewards. This half is what they earn from progressing through the story and meeting milestones, etc.

The other half the party earns by doing special things…yep, you guessed it, an achievement system!  If the characters want to earn the most possible wealth and karma they fulfill items from a bounty list.  The bounty system rewards “non-optimal” play and “optimal” play. You can place lateral thinking achievements in the bounty list for players who like that (“convince the princess that you are nobility”) or you can put straight number crunching bounties for your battle-hungry characters (“deal twenty points of damage in one strike”).

The bounty system rewards characters for doing more than going from point A to point B without forcing the characters to deviate.  The characters aren’t reliant on wealth in a way that they are punished for not getting everything they could (you can always up how much wealth characters get by default if they do feel this way) so they can choose how much they want to get into the system.  Of course, well-designed achievement systems are kind of addictive, and players may just want to see what they can do…but this is awesome too!

The Bounty System

We break down achievements at four levels:

Easy Level – things likely  done in the course of adventuring. Might require some luck but nothing extraordinary.  (“Get a critical hit”)

Moderate Effort – with a little  thought, you could do this on the fly.  (“bullrush an opponent into a wall”)

Substantial Effort – a player will probably need to engineer a way to accomplish this.  Requires some planning to accomplish.  (“Inflitrate the castle through disguise instead of stealth”)

Crazy Planning or Crazy Luck – something that is just going to require a wild swing of the dice (get three criticals in a row) or some serious game-planning, or both. It can also represent a slightly larger leap of logic than other achievements.

If we look at the bounty as a pyramid, the base of the pyramid are easy achievements; these don’t take much, but don’t offer much either. We ascend the pyramid until we get to crazy planning/luck.  We have a few of these, which are hard to do, but give the biggest payout of the bunch. To start:

We want at least five easy bounties, worth one point each.

We want four moderate effort bounties, worth two each.

We want three substantial effort bounties, worth three each.

Lastly, we have two crazy achievements, worth four wealth apiece.

Players can get their ten per level in any number of ways.  How they do it is up to them.

An Example Bounty

Assumptions are a standard, heroic tier game.


Grab an opponent during a combat.

Hit an enemy with an improvised weapon.

Beat the DC of an Intimidate check by 10 or more.

Beat the DC of a Diplomacy check by 10 or more.

Beat the DC of an Athletics check by 10 or more.


Score a critical hit against a dazed or stunned opponent.

Bull rush an enemy and knock them off a height.

Score a coup de grace during a combat.

Do all of the following in one round: Jump 2 squares or more, daze an opponent, give a beneficial bonus to an ally (can be healing or bonus to attack/damage/defense)


Defeat the Mad Mage in a ritual contest.

Defeat the gelatinous cube without rolling to attack against it.

Do all of the following in one round: Intimidate one opponent successfully, Bluff another opponent successfully, deal twenty points of damage.


Get 3 critical hits in one battle.

Do all of the following in one battle: Get petrified, get stunned, take twenty points of damage in  hit. (oh yeah, survive the battle too)

You could be looking at this and think : “Some of these seem like quests.” And you would get some sortr of prize for thinking of it in that way.  Bounties don’t need to be only combat activities.  Defeating the Mad Mage in a ritual contest could take a lot of forms, but it’s unlikely to be a fight as one knows it.

The next thing you’re thinking is:  Do I just give the characters all these up front? Probably not.  Witth the above list, you give them the easy achievements, and then you give them the others as the arise in the story. Notice that many of these achievements imply that  something can happen.  The second crazy achievement implies there is a battle where you can get petrified, stunned, and take twenty points of damage.  When the characters are in that fight, you can announceor give them the bounty.  Any player crazy enough to go through all that deserves the points.

Lastly, each bounty checklist should be able to last a few levels.  Three stretches it pretty thin. But two is about right.

Comments? Suggestions? Questions?  Let me know.

Similar Posts:

About the Author

A Jack of All Trades ,or if you prefer, an extreme example of multi-classing, Gamefiend, a.k.a Quinn Murphy has been discussing, playing and designing games straight out of the womb. He is the owner and Editor-in-Chief of this site in addition to being an aspiring game designer. As you would assume, he is a huge fan of 4e. By day he is a technologist. Follow gamefiend on Twitter