In video games the Achievement has become ubiquitous. It pops up at the bottom of the screen with a ringing soundbite and a glitzy trophy like you’ve won something, even if your biggest accomplishment has been not cutting your hands off with safety scissors.
But it’s the impressive, unforeseen trophies that mean the most. Achievements for oddball discoveries, like tipping the bar-wench $10,000 (Borderlands 2) or killing the enemy by throwing his grenade back at him (Day of Defeat) or mastering every other achievement category in the game (Gears of War 3)
These are the achievements you brag about later. And these are the kinds of trophies you can bring to your tabletop game.
Reward For What Your Table Lacks
My first piece of advice is to dole out printed achievements on physical cardstock (more on why later) for behaviors you want to encourage in your game. NOT for attacks, even if they are badass or difficult to pull off. If your players notice a relationship between how many trophies they get, and how many villagers they cut in half, your game world will become depopulated as the players become the horsemen of the apocalypse.
Likewise, if all of your achievements have to do with communication, emotional intelligence, and openness, your game table will turn into a group therapy session.
Keep Your Achievement List Short
Many achievements will require an active count, so I would advise keeping the list short. I started with less than 20 ‘chievies and I still found it taxing to remember who changed clothes for the 4th time while everyone else was trying to slay the troll. (Achievement: Clothes Horse – Changes Clothes 5 Times “The clothes make the man…“)
My advice is to have a cheat-sheet with the names of the achievements tucked into your campaign book. Give each player a designation, and a letter or number to the right of the achievement to indicate how many times each act/deed has been made.
It’s also important to make achievements difficult or unlikely. As an experienced DM you should adjust for whichever game system you’re running. Giving out an achievement for every critical hit in 4.0, for example, will make the trophy feel cheap. Whereas giving an achievement for anyone who doesn’t screw over the party at the end of a successful Shadowrun heist is a bit far-fetched.
If they look like they’re working together, think again.
Achievements Should Be Physical, But Not Necessarily Monetary
The first time you hand a player a tiny cardstock square with a trophy and clever phrase printed on it, you will believe in miracles again. Players come alive when you validate the last 5 hours they wasted on plotting a pretend siege on 1-inch grid paper.
In my last campaign I gave out an achievement for botching five attack rolls in one encounter. The player had a string of improbable, math-defying misses, and his d20 betrayed him more times in one round than should have been possible at his level. The name of the achievement was called “F*#@ Lady Luck!” and the player who received it went from angry and spitting, to laughing and proud in 2 seconds.
This is my reason for recommending physical tokens or scraps of paper to give to the players. It’s something they get to keep and take home, and it’ll remind them of your campaign. Being rewarded gold, EXP, or items for a quest well-done are great. But in my experience, the sense of satisfaction the players get from a tiny printed trophy is worth more than all the magic potions in the alchemy shop.