In Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition (as with many RPGs) your expected treasure is factored in when determining difficulty. To say it another way, when designing monsters of a certain level, designers have a rough idea of what a player’s attack, damage and defenses are at this level. To reach this approximation, they factor in average equipment values. They expect for you to have that +3 sword by level 17. If you don’t, you may have a tougher time slaying the dire velociraptors coming around the corner.
Players know this, and so they’re very likely to focus their treasure wants and gold spent on items that increase their key abilities. However, a lot of cool stuff might get left ignored. Even if you keep your found treasure random, there might be a strong urge to sell these things to purchase the items they think they need.
I’ve always given some rewards outside of treasure as story points or creativity rewards. Things like titles, rank, land and the praises of a favored patron have always been ways to reward the players – things that don’t count toward the treasure for that level. They’re also difficult for the party to sell, or present a situation where players don’t feel like this is something that should be sold.
One of the other pieces of treasure that I think should fall into this group is vehicles and mounts. These two items generally have been included as treasure that has a clear price, value, and place on the treasure table. I don’t think they should be there, however. For one, their use is always limited in some respect. You can’t always take them into combat (depending on the terrain). You can’t take them with you into a city most the time. On top of that, in systems where items aren’t targetable, they are! Spend your money on this and it might get taken away the next encounter.
There’s also an issue with leveling. When you out-level your sword, you usually get a new one. When you out-level your horse, there isn’t a level 12 horse in the Monster Vault for you to buy.
However, I think these non-standard rewards are useful and fun. I want my players to have cool mounts and be able to use them, without having to play a ranger, and sacrifice half their power choices. I’ve recently introduced a new reward system, where if you do something awesome out of game, like make a significant update to our campaign wiki, you get a reward card. There are three different mount rewards you can gain with this card (among other things): you can gain a mount of your level, you can level your current mount so they’re at your level, or your mount can gain a new ability or trait.
So let’s look at the Dire Wolf, because one of my players has a dire wolf mount. It’s normally a level 5 skirmisher. My players are 17. The new DDI Monster Builder has gotten a lot of opposition for not being a monster builder, but a monster leveler. For our purpose this is pretty useful. I can bring up the Dire Wolf in the Monster Builder and slide the bar over to level 17. This adjusts hp, defenses, to-hit and abilities. Damage doesn’t scale, at least not on this monster. So we take a look at SlyFlourish’s Master DM Sheet. I can see that the Dire Wolf’s level 5 normal damage falls roughly in the Medium column and its damage against prone enemies is between high and high limited. I can use this to pick new damage for the level 17 version.
I’ll build my new monster in www.power2ool.com so I can adjust the damage. I’ll also adjust the attributes a little bit. I don’t want the Intelligence and Wisdom to rise on the average scale that the DDI uses, because its still a mount and it would be a very different experience if he was suddenly smarter than his rider.
Now there’s only one reward left on my card: new powers. Why would I do this? Well, a lot of mounts are early level to begin with. Their powers are very simple. Even if you increase their damage in higher paragon and epic it’s still a bit plain against the foes and NPCs you’re now interacting with regularly. Since these are non-standard rewards, I can regulate things a bit and make sure no one mount gets too many options, or becomes too powerful.
Here are some examples of abilities that may be appropriate to tack onto your high level wolf mount, as a reward: