Both of the campaigns testing Heroes By Trade have come to stopping points this week so I am taking some time to get feedback from players. One of the things that has come up is that people don't feel like there are sufficient rewards for doing things in the game. When there is an XP system in place players can feel rewarded by getting XP towards a new level even if a new level doesn't happen right away but HBT doesn't have XP and I have no intention of using it. I tend to give out levels periodically rather than requiring specific game events to trigger them - I don't really like the idea that if there a few sessions with a lot of travelling or roleplaying but lacking big developments that the players don't feel any sense of progress.
One of the things about HBT right now is that gear and cash rewards don't work very well. Magical items are reasonably rare things and aside from getting one of those every sword is the same as every other sword. HBT keeps track of cash in very loose terms on a scale from Destitute to Monarch rather than by counting copper pieces and I like it that way because economies based on adventurers having enough cash to buy a small kingdom and then spending that cash in a small store never make any sense. In the campaign I ran the characters ended up reasonably wealthy but once they had enough to buy a small boat and to bribe a guard getting more cash held little appeal. While it was good that they were focused on the story rather than farming dragons for gold pieces it seemed to lack something.
The solution I am hoping to implement is something akin to masterwork items or exotic materials in DnD. That is, those who are lucky or rich can find weapons, armour, or tools that are of a quality that is far beyond the norm. I feel like having extraordinarily rare materials such as mithril, starmetal, adamantium, silversteel, heart of ent, etc. be the main way that these tools exist is a good mechanism. They cannot be mass produced due to rarity of the materials but they allow for small steps up in power for the players. The increase in raw numbers doesn't need to be big as long as there is a steady stream of useful upgrades punctuated by the occasional jackpot of a magic item.
In addition to adding in mundane but useful gear I intend to change the way magic items work. Right now all the magic items have a list of abilities that are unlocked based on the character's Presence. Each item is roughly the same in power as all the others though they do different things. My new theory is that every character can attune to a single magic item and gain its powers but they can attune to a greater number of items if they have very high Presence. However, there will be some magic items that are incredibly potent and have multiple powers that can be attuned to which synergize with one another. The idea is to differentiate between simple magic items that are cool and do something neat and artifacts that are the subject of stories and fables across the land and which can only be properly used by a legendary hero.