Player Appreciation: Holiday Gift Giving

With the gifting season upon us, do you have a group of players that are on your nice list? The kind of good persons that might benefit from the gifts of a benevolent omnipotence? Such as only a DM/GM can provide, perhaps?maybe your players would better benefit from being kidnapped, thrown in a bag of holding, and beat like a piñata for killing all your shopkeep NPCs? 

I kid on that last part.


I forget where I came across this idea—probably a reddit thread, and I wish I could give credit to my original source—but I’m now in the third year of putting this idea into action. It’s simple: give your player characters gifts during specific time periods, of which there’s hardly any better time than real-world gift giving seasons. 

It’s something my players have come to really appreciate and anticipate at the end of every year. Originally, I just wanted something to show appreciation toward my players, for sticking with the game. I think this really hits that mark. Continuing the tradition, I admit I get a good feeling giving my players a little present without having to justify it in the game or the story; just something to say “Hey thanks for playing the game with me.”

Now, all that sentimental stuff is fine and great but the next question is how on earth to implement these things, and just how far to go with it? 

I would suggest not going for broke, giving your third level characters a +3 Holy Avenger just to be nice. Honestly meet them where they are, and give them something that will excite them or enhance their characters a bit.  Most of the time I sit down with a list of Common and Uncommon magic items (if they’re a bit higher level I may throw in a rare item), small boosts to personal homebrew mechanics implemented in the campaign, and even the odd +1 stat bonus.  This year I also applied a 10% XP bonus, because I’m someone that still uses XP, and my players always love getting more of it.

I also like to add a a little randomization to it. It’s not as fun to ask someone what they want and just give it to them. Adding that touch of surprise—or wrapping paper if you will—to the gift is part of the fun for me. 

Keeping it simple, I add these gifts to a 20-row roll table and ask my players to roll against the table twice (re-rolling any duplicates).  The players won’t know the results until everyone has had a chance to roll.

Make sure to avoid putting negative or undesirable outcomes on the table. All the gifts on the table should range from “Hey okay” to “oh shit, really?” 

This year I threw in a couple +1 bonuses to ability scores, a free common rated magic tattoo, inspiration points (a homebrew mechanic we use), random magic items from the DMG, random treasure from the DMG, a couple of greater healing potions, and a skill proficiency of choice.

Every year I create a magic item that cannot be bought or found in the game in any way. This year, that magic item was inspired by an alternate rule in Chapter Nine of the DMG called “Healing Surge.” I took that concept as inspiration and converted it into a once per long rest bonus action.

In this version, the “Healing Surge” is an area-of-effect heal to the entire party within range, all the while consuming a finite resource from the activating player—the activating character’s unused Hit Die. It works by expending hit die as normal, only the value of the roll is distributed to each character in a 20ft sphere. Once used, the token has a 25% chance of being destroyed. It’s a powerful magic item, especially for a level 4 character. However, it also carries with it a bit of risk. By expending a finite resource, and wasting it early in the adventuring day, not only is the token later unusable, so is their ability to heal during a short rest.

It’s a strong benefit—without a doubt—but it also could give the player pause as they may get five uses out of it or just one. Either way it’s just as easily lost forever, and they’ll never be able to get another one.

With six players in my current game, their rolls gained them the following:

  • Three stat bonuses of +1
  • One Uncommon magic tattoo (The player chose to replicate the Goggles of Night to give her Dragonborn 60ft of darkvision).
  • Two rolls for inspiration points
  • Two greater healing potions
  • Two custom magic items
  • One random treasure roll, that resulted in 20 silver.
  • One skill proficiency

Nothing entirely game breaking here, but substantial enough to get players excited and ramped up with the next session. The stat bonuses might be somewhat controversial, but I like to throw difficult scenarios at my players and the stronger they are the more difficult I can make those scenarios, so I look at it as a win/win.

I’m not sure how novel this idea of DMs gifting their players is, but I highly recommend it. If nothing else it show your players that you appreciate the commitment to the game you all share, while perhaps giving them a slight edge during the next few sessions.

If the party is a bit more naughty than nice, perhaps have Krampus come by instead to give that chaotic evil character in your party a stern lashing and a bag of coal for all their efforts. Perhaps that will teach them to leave your NPCs alone. Ultimately, the universe is yours! If GM benevolence is too meta for your table, there’s plenty opportunity to tie it to your world’s mythology. A deity or agent of chaos that comes by once a year and leaves all the good persons of the various worlds a treat (or temptation) with no end of consequences to its use. Sometimes it’s just as simple as celebrating a real-life event or time period with something thematic and special in the game, with the opportunity for all the players to get something fun!

But for now, this is me signing out.  Happy gaming, everybody!

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