Recently I’ve started watching the show Burn Notice, which is really awesome and I recommend it to peeps to check out.
The main character, Mike, is a former spy who has been “burned,” forcing him out of the business. He is trying to clear his name and figure out what the hell is going on. While attempting to do this he takes on odd jobs and uses his various skills to help desperate people get justice. What really caught my eye about the show is that while in many of the episodes money is offered he refuses, which makes him look quite like the spy version of Robin Hood, but often times he refuses money or goods in lieu of a favor. Often times other people will require the same of him.
Uuuummm.. The RPG Carnival Promised Me Loot!
In many of the games I’ve played in, and ran, the importance of favors as an alternative to “X” amount of gold or “Y” magical weapon of awesomesauce is forgotten. Often times I’ve been in a game where we rescued a princess and the King or Noble presented us with the formula I stated above, but how awesome would it have been had the king granted us clemency or said “I owe you one”?
Not only are favors an awesome source of flavor and plot/character development, they allow the players to really reach out and think creatively on how to use said favor or boon.
Now it is true that a player could call on the favor and just ask for the flaming bastard sword of the armpit +2, but encourage them to find another thing; hell even if it is an item have them be a bit more imaginative about it. Having the player ask for a ballista or catapult for whatever reason would personally get my more excited then the sword of the armpit.
Using favors and boons also establishes ties and links to NPCs and allows both the players and the GM to flush out and develop the game world even further.
Pathfinder RPG actually has a few good examples of this in the Game Mastery Guide on pages 88-89. They show it as favors, skill gains, etc and that would work as well.
For me loot needs to be interesting and have a story and a purpose other than just “making my character/players stronger.” For me that also includes forgoing items completely for some possible awesome interaction with a NPC that develops the game even further.