So I wanted to create a new adventure hook I could use over many campaigns and figured, "Hmm, most medieval settings would have bounty boards set up in towns, offer prices for people willing to go out and deal with local problems". Sooo I got out my Monster Manuel and Dungeon Masters Guide, and 2 hours searching online, and here's my actual problem.

When sorted via challenge rating (DMG pg 136) monsters have their value set via the 5 different currencies which you roll to the d100 to determine which currency you reward players with. However, lets use Goblins (MM pg 165) and Kenku (MM pg 194)as the example. Both are CR 1/4, which places them on the Individual Treasure: Challenge 0-4. However, common sense would tell me the following:

Assume a town has a problem with Kenku and Goblins.

Kenku are known for their greed and will do anything to possess pretty things. While many beg, others steal or commit other crimes to earn such possessions. When you defeat a Kenku, it is logical to find gems, coins and possibly art objects in some form in its home whatever place it may be.

Goblins on the other hand are also motivated by greed, however their tendencies towards forming large groups or smaller packs prevents any 1 goblin from achieving a large amount for himself. However they have a tendency of training animals such as rats and wolves (or sometimes a Worg).

While a Kenku or even a group of kenku can cause quite the problem in a town, if there is a goblin problem, the town will often rather have the goblins taken care of over the Kenku. As such, on a Bounty Board a pair of goblin ears as proof would be worth more than a Kenku Beak as proof, despite them both being the same CR and belong to the same treasure Table.

So how can I make the Bounty Board both fair to the CR and make sense with the D&D Lore?


5 Answers 5


An in-game solution would be to use Divination spells to narrow down the difficulty level.

I see that most other answers are not answering your actual question, and instead are offering contrary advice.

A common factor in many systems of spells with Divinations is the Twenty Questions concept. You ask a question, you get a Yes, No, or Unknown types of answers, maybe with a short comment; and you only get so many questions per casting. Higher level divination spells typically yield more detailed results.

Having a database of known variables (ie: people on tap of various skill levels and known accomplishments) to compare the answers to can allow a company (or guild, club, religion, government, and so forth) to roughly estimate just how challenging a particular quest would be, without actually being too specific or exactly right: sort of like predicting the weather. You ask if so-and-so could finish the task, and work your way up the variously rated people until you get a 'yes' response.

Repeat this question and answer process with a number of different skill sets, and you will get a profile of who could accomplish this task with what skills. Cross index by the history of missions these people have accomplished, or even ask another set of questions about if this quest will be more difficult than other quests on record. Once all this information is gathered, then a good estimation of Quest Difficulty can be made.

This process leverages the capabilities and resources of a large organization to accomplish a fairly large amount of information gathering in a short amount of time, something which a typical individual could not accomplish on their own.

An example of using divination spells to determine challenge level is given as follows. This particular example is set in a guild, but a similar board (or even multiple boards) could exist in nearly any village, town, city, school, church, and so forth:

Galrand the Sorcerer Grenlick (he's a "professional locksmith" and his name is actually Steve, but that's how nicknames go sometimes), showed up to work one day only to find a stack of new re-Quests in his inbox to sort for the Bounty Board. He groaned. He hated the drudgery of trying to assign appropriate ratings to those things. Steve walked over to his boss's cubicle to complain, only to realize that this was his week off. The cheerful note on the magically bright-yellow square of parchment only hammered the point home. "Thinking of you, Galrand, while I'm on vacation!"

Steve fumed and cursed his boss internally. That black-hearted half-pint, smelly poisonous toadstool... nice and kind and totally handsome boss; Steve quickly amended his thoughts as Xiao-Wu the Mentalist wandered past with a stack of packages, and gave him a look in passing. She was really cute, but great and little godlings did the whole mentalism thing put one off. He smiled wanly as she suddenly paused, looked back, and threw him a wink and saucy smile.

Steve sluffed off for a bit at the water cooler to recover, before he finally wandered down to the Guild pool to see which diviners are currently available. He hid in the shadows to avoid being spotted, pointedly ignoring the posted notices above his head of "Nextly come, nextly served. No skipping!" and Equal Opportunites, Equally shared..

Steve muffled his snickers as Bob from the Prospecting Division fell prey to Grunhilda the Orcish Prognosticator who was the next diviner who became available. He had never liked that snob anyway, and Grunhida's divination methods tended to be... painful. And bloody.

Seeing that Aliannashia the super-hot-elven-priestess-of-some-super-hot-elven-goddess-that-he-can-never-remember-her-name-of was just finishing up with some nobody, Steve slicked back his hair, scooted into line, and sucked in his belly a bit.

Seeing him, she rolled her eyes at his toothy grin, and waved him over with a sigh. "I don't need to cast a divination to know that you aren't getting a date with me, Galrond."

"Hey, don't knock it until you've tried it." Steve replied with a 'hurt' tone. "And it's Galrand."

"Whatever." She rubbed her slender fingers against her temples as if warding off a headache. "Why are you here this time?" she asked with a resigned tone.

Steve presented the stack of re-Quest forms to her with another grin. "Official business!" he chirped smugly. She somehow managed to get them out of his hands without touching him, a real trick considering his manual dexterity.

"Woohoo. Lucky me. Come on, then." She gracefully trudged back to her desk, while Steve followed, appreciated the view, and idly wondered how trudging gracefully even worked. Once settled she took the first of the stack and set it in the gem encrusted miniature magic circle chiseled into her desk. After some mumbo-jumbo nonsensical sounds and graceful (of course) passes and waves of her hands, the parchment floated slightly and her voice changed subtly, "SPEAK. ASK."

Steve stuck strictly to business, and asked the recommended series of questions: 'if so-and-so performed this quest, would they see success' working his way up the chain of increasingly skilled guild adventurers until he received a "YES" response. Then he recorded down the name and officially-estimated rating level of the re-Quest based on the Guild's extensive workup of each person's abilities. For tricky re-Quests, he had to try people with obscure and rare skill sets before he received a divinely inspired "YES". Aliannashia changed the papers mechanically as he handed them to her. Finally, he snuck in his usual, "Will I get a date with Aliannashia?"

There was a pause. He glanced up to check if she was still in the magical trance, and was shocked when he saw actual eyes looking back at him... but not her eyes. "WE REMEMBER YOU. YOU'RE PERSISTENT. THIS IS THE 71ST TIME YOU'VE ASKED THAT. SHOW UP TO A FEW OF MY SERVICES AND WE WILL CONSIDER TO HAVE A WORD WITH HER."

Steve gaped in shock for what seemed forever, before he managed to force out a whispered, "Yes, Ma'am," gathered up the stack of parchments and fled.

After he recovered, and checked his appearance in the washroom mirror, he stamped the re-Quests with the appropriate color and number of stars; then headed into the common room to post them all on the Bounty Board, while he internally debated with himself if getting a date with Aliannashia was worth suffering through some sermons.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 3:02
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ One comment: binary search. You ar enot looking for a yes, you are looking for the point which separates the yesses from the noes. Start asking about the person in the middle of the list. That rules out half the list in one question. Then ask about the person in the middle of the eligible section. And so on. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 26, 2020 at 11:41

Don´t make it fair.

No, really. If you balance everything to be fair and equal, you take away the entire challenge of figuring out which contract is most lucrative, or which is the easiest money, or the biggest pay-off for a few hours of work.

Just introduce a bunch of contracts that make in-game sense, and let your players figure out which one they find most interesting to take given the challenge, opposition and rewards.

If you balance everything, you don't give them more choices, you just make the choice mean less. Put in slaying the dragon for 5gp and a fresh apple-pie alongside the 10gp Kenku and the 15gp Goblins and let the players discuss which of those they want to pursue. (tip: you don't need to prepare the dragon hunt)

With 5th edition, money matters much less than previous ones. So don't feel obligated to give your players a certain amount of it; just give what makes sense and them decide if they want to be mercenaries going after the highest reward or do-goody heroes who'll go after the biggest hurt.

  • 26
    \$\begingroup\$ Whether you need to prepare the dragon hunt depends on what your party is like. Some groups would pick the dragon just to be perverse, or because taking such an obviously bad choice seems funny, or any number of other silly reasons. Even a more serious group might decide that the dragon hunt's reward obviously must actually be "5 gp, a fresh apple pie, and the dragon's hoard of treasure". \$\endgroup\$
    – Douglas
    Commented Dec 5, 2017 at 22:08
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @Douglas true, but given the other things on the board, I was considering a very low level party, in which case even if they do go after the dragon there is little need to prep; you can just wing it as the dragon will kill the whole party in 1 action if it feels like doing so. \$\endgroup\$
    – Erik
    Commented Dec 5, 2017 at 22:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Erik Forgive me if I'm wrong, but I think you may have misunderstood what I was asking. Essentially I'm trying to figure out how to determine what the reward you would receive from the bounty board. It goes without saying that a bounty board would offer a higher reward for tackling a dragon than a kenku problem, they have wildly different CRs, and as such players would get much more from the dragon fight then a local den of Kenku. \$\endgroup\$
    – KDodge
    Commented Dec 6, 2017 at 14:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Kale That's what Erik is getting at — it does not go without saying that dragons get a higher bounty. Some people don't understand the scope of a problem, or are cheapskates, or poor, or want it solved but not that badly. The Earl who needs some goblins driven out urgently might offer a phenomenal amount to ensure it gets done, far more than the pauper or cheapskate who wants a dragon slain eventually and/or can't afford more than 5gp for the bounty anyway due to poverty. Or the dragon bounty may be posted by a presumptuous king who thinks proper knights would act despite low reward. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 6, 2017 at 15:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ In other words, because people can be unreasonable or make poor judgement or have different amounts of money to throw at problems, Erik is suggesting a bounty board that makes sense (i.e. feels realistic) is one that is full of unreasonable, unfair, or disproportionate rewards, some in good ways and some in bad. A bounty board where absolutely everything is in exact proportion and fairness ironically doesn't make sense because bounty boards don't work out that way in practice. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 6, 2017 at 15:17

Don't make it fair; Make it appropriate!

The value shown as a reward is based on the perceived value of the threat. But it also needs to take into account the means of the victims. If the goblins steal most of the wealth, then the village will have little to give the adventurers. And I'm sure the villagers would like most of their valuables back!

If the value of the reward is tied too closely to the adventure, you are tipping your hat to what lies ahead.

This board could also lead into a much bigger story hook, not just side-quests.

Maybe the people offering the biggest reward are just setting a trap? They know the party is a sucker for a certain type of adventure so lure them into something deadly.

Or the simple task of finding a missing farm boy is only worth 2sp. But when you find the kidnappers you find they are part of a larger kidnapping ring. Tackling them you find out they were part of a slave trade. Those slavers were selling to a high ranking official who is using the labor to unearth a relic. That relic will open a gateway to a chaos realm. And on and on and on. Not bad for only offering 2sp!

All that glitters is not gold pieces

The reward doesn't even have to be money. Maybe the reward is teaching a spell that no one else knows. Or some other skill that will be important down the road. Perhaps a map that has been passed down for generations? Maybe it's really a deity that will grant a boon, or just some really good Shepard's Pie? Indy brought back the Sankara stones just because it was the right thing to do.

  • 14
    \$\begingroup\$ Not only does the means of the afflicted community come into play (like treasure tables as a whole - how did some goblins just preying on farmfolk get gold and gems and even magic items?) , but how important this job is to them. A weak creature easy to kill (if you can catch it) but extremely annoying to their daily life might fetch more because the townsfolk are really fed up, while a dangerous monster which doesn't do much more than make the livestock nervous now and then isn't going to have much of a bounty placed on it despite having a high CR. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 5, 2017 at 20:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ @pluckedkiwi Agreed - to a herding community the coyotes are going to be more disagreeable than the vampire who haunts the woods that nobody goes into anyway. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 6, 2017 at 19:51

Who is putting up the money?

Remember: you are the creator of this world, but more often than not it is your NPCs that do most of the influence, especially when it comes to money.

Where does this magic money for the bounties come from? Three possible sources

  1. The local nobility/church/wealthy merchant Someone with a lot of money and an agenda is filling the whole purse. Nobility's agenda could be, or APPEAR TO BE, keeping the town safe from bad things. Even the most wicked noble lord or an evil aligned church may not want peasants to die by the handful. This is the most common reason in my worlds for a bounty board to be stuffed with money.

  2. A mysterious figure with bank No one is quite sure who put up the money. All the innkeeper can tell you is that a strange figure came up on behalf of their "employer" with a promissory note or a magically locked chest or something guaranteeing payout for X list of monsters. Their motivations could be just as mysterious: are they keeping the town safe, is this some kind of subcontracted-genocide, are they targeting one goblin in particular, trying to run people off their land? Who knows? And who cares? -- unless your PCs do care, and then you suddenly have a mystery to solve.

  3. the villagers themselves like a co-op (or even early crowdfunding), all the town's people put their pence and horses and whatever crap they had into a big pot, and whosoever kills the bad thing gets the meager prize. This can tug at the heartstrings of your more four-color good aligned characters and set them at odds with your more capitalist types.

Once you determine who is putting up the money, how much a Kenku is worth as versus a Goblin or a Dragon is up to them and their agenda

An honest nobleperson might really just want the town safe for once (it does happen sometimes). They would probably rate the Goblin and Kenku about the same if they are causing the same problem. The dragon would be worth far more, because its so much more difficult.

A mysterious figure who is in fact some villainous mage type may value the Kenku higher than the goblins, because she intends on enslaving the goblins later on to her project. Perhaps the Kenku are even aligned against her for reasons.

If the deity/magical being is in fact the Dragon itself, it could play out one of two ways: either the Dragon is not on the board at all, because it doesn't want to be harassed by PCs, or the Dragon bounty is made out to be the most lucrative, so that PCs will come in droves like its Blue Apron or something. The Dragon may also value the Kenku and Goblins based on which creature, if any, it wants to recruit to its cause. For example, if the Dragon wants to run a pick-pocketing guild or something like that, it may recruit the Kenku and keep the bounty low on them or eliminate it entirely. On the other hand, if it is annoyed with both races, it will reward any goblin/kenku slaying adventurer handsomely.

Financially speaking, let your PCs figure out which venture they are more or less likely to lose money on. If they need to buy a gold's worth of food for each party member (4 gp for a four person party) to travel one way to the goblins (8 gp for a round trip), and are only getting 6 gold out of the mess, and they don't expect to find treasure on their corpses, then they will lose money on that venture. In fact, they might find who ever put up the board and negotiate with them, and excellent RP opportunity for the party members. The goody-two-shoes might argue that they do it at cost, the rogue might demand triple the payout, the wizard might try bartering for some shiny magical thingy, and the face is going to have to sort out all their demands and bring them to the guy with the money in the most polite/intimidating/scheming/whatever way possible.

The board can be an adventure in itself in this regard.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Valid points, your points are definitely helpful considerations that should be thought about when building the bounty board. \$\endgroup\$
    – KDodge
    Commented Dec 6, 2017 at 15:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KaleDodge Many thanks. That list of who put up the money is not exhaustive. Any one, and .a number of people could have put up the money, and its possible that the people who put in the money are not the ones setting prices. Non-cash prizes are also possible, but currency is of course the most universal. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 6, 2017 at 15:53

It sounds to me like you have come up with your own answer, more or less.

Goblins are worth more than kenku per head, but those going after them run the risk of encountering multiple goblins together or trained animals as an additional challenge. If kept within the same approximate CR range, the difference should be easy enough to make up for by the increase in pay. Higher risk, higher reward.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 3:03

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