Year of 4E: Boons
The next two entries into the Year of 4th Edition are linked as rewards which could be given to players. Today we cover an alternative form of player reward: the boon. I absolutely loved the concept as a way to reward players without just slapping more treasure around. Let’s talk about this ephemeral thing.
The Concept Itself
Okay before we even get into the mechanical thing that was a divine boon in 4E, let’s just cover the concept. The boon is a reward which can be given to players that isn’t a sword or armor or wondrous item. It isn’t worth money and you cannot trade it in for something else. A boon is a mechanical bonus or neat ability that becomes a part of you, much like a new power or feat. It is inherent to your being once you get it. Provide service to a powerful god and you might be rewarded with such a useful boon, something that cannot easily be taken away from you.
Now that you know the idea behind it let’s get the fact that there are gold piece values associated with them. That is inherent to the system of 4th Edition. It is what the whole reward system is centered around: level and value. Without it there is a slight breakdown of design, but that is neither here nor there. These things also come in a tiered form, common for 4E stuff so that the rules can contain compact rules for 30 levels of play with possibly similar items throughout.
The important part of boons is that they provide a lot of different powers that are often only found within wondrous boots, belts, and the like. Teleportation, defense, more magical spells, healing. All of these can be found within the boons of 4th Edition. And, on top of this, there are legendary boons which grant huge benefits to any character type. For example the Silver Hands of Power allow you to maintain a daily ability if you roll a critical when using it, incredible for healers or tanks or casters.
One of the things I absolutely loved about the divine boon was how malleable it was at the table. It could be a reward multiple times over without having to work too hard on the story. Because these things get more powerful at higher levels, it is easy to reward players later by granting them an upgrade to the boon. Sure this can be done for any item, but for narrative purpose there is almost nothing keeping you from a deity beefing up that power at any moment.
More than that, these things are easily taken away. Items must be stolen or destroyed or lost. The boon can be revoked by the power that granted it. Why would they do that? What did you do to deserve it? These are wonderful story threads that you can include in game when you need or want. This becomes especially powerful when you consider games that concern the gods greatly or have divine characters that might worry their powers get taken away entirely if they aren’t careful.
Disappointingly Easily Incorporated
Okay, look. I know that the team spent a lot of time working on 5th Edition. I know that they wanted to get away from all the aspects of 4E that people didn’t like. I also know that in the DMG there is a small section on alternate rewards, including boons…I mean blessings! But this is preciously short and disappointing. I would have liked them to embrace the concept more fully, incorporating the idea of boons as rewards to help manage giving out treasure without the book keeping that comes with a burden of attunement.
Don’t take this the wrong way, I love what they stick in here! Charms are a clever thing as well! But honestly 5 more pages would have made a world of difference. I want to see blessings that grant characters extra hit dice that scales with levels, free cantrip or cantrip-adjacent powers (they even already scale!), or even free extra spell slots. There is SO MUCH ROOM for this kind of thing without even just emulating something like the cloak of the manta as an inherent thing.
What Can We Do?
The solution is pretty simple. Let’s go ahead and assume that we want to include such things in our game but don’t want to work too hard. The easiest thing is take wondrous items that don’t need to be attuned and turn them into boons, no item needed. Second, we can take attunement requiring items and simply consider them “higher-level” boons and remove the attunement requirement.
To get a little more complicated we can give characters a feat or part of a feat as a boon. Toughness is a wonderful boon to be granted by an entity of war to those who have pleased him! More than that it would be an incredibly appreciated reward for most players. We can also take the entirety of cantrips and each one provides a unique ability that could be granted to any character. Thaumaturgy would be quite interesting in the hands of a barbarian or paladin! We can also take low level class abilities (1st-3rd level) and slap them on characters as boon. Imagine having access to a second action surge as a fighter or having one as a wizard!
The point is the pieces are all there. The framework is easily imagined. The abilities and stats are all created. Why not formulate more definitively!?
What are your thoughts on boons? Does this appeal to you? Have you used them in old games or new games? I want to hear stories and opinions in the comments below!