One Use is Still Useful
There are several suggestions that are provided in roleplaying rule books for alternative rewards outside of treasure. Many will suggest giving players political influence, taxable land, or access to restricted locations as interesting alternatives to piles of treasure. Something I have not seen talked about much however are single-use items. I’m not really talking about the ones that come to mind immediately, such as potions and scrolls, but rather, the very expensive items that can be used once, and therefore almost never get purchased by players. These items are usually too expensive for low level players, and even at high levels, they would dip into valuable savings that are set aside for greater magical artifacts with recurring value. Because of this, they are overlooked, and this is something DMs can use.
Poisons are one of my favourite one-use items to give as treasure. Not only are there a wide variety of poisons available in the Dungeon Master’s Guide in D&D, but it’s easy to find additional options in other book, and extremely easy to create your own. Some of the best poisons I’ve seen are the ones with unique effects, like dropping someone into a deep slumber, or turning them into a hideous monster. However, all the good poisons, that is, all the poisons with DCs that are actually challenging or have effects that are significant, are way too expensive. In 3.5, many of the poisons would be over 1000 gp each, and that was for a single dose. Wyvern poison, a viable poison in combat that can actually do some damage, costs 3000 gp in D&D 3.5. If you hit a monster and it made the save, your gold was wasted. I literally ignore the gold value of poisons when handing them out as treasure (found in a hoard or stolen from a thieves guild), but because they are usually illegal, I don’t give many opportunities for players to sell them. This means they have a deep well of poisons they can access for fun, without the feeling that the gold value would better serve them if they just sold them off.
Some wondrous items have single uses, such as Quaal’s Feather Tokens. These items, like poisons, are expensive and not usually worth the cost unless you’re very, very rich. By the time you have the gold to be spending on these, you usually don’t need the relatively minor magical benefits they provide. There are also items like Beads of Force which are very rare, and are used up. They are rare in 5th edition, and in 3.5 they cost 3000 gp each! No combat spell should cost 3000 gp. For this reason I like to give them out with treasure, again ignoring the listed value in the book. These items are “technically” worth that amount, and I chalk that up to the creation requirements, but if the players go to sell them, it is hard to find a shop willing to spend so much on a magical item that doesn’t ever sell very easily. I prefer them to carry around a bag of these items, so that they can feel free to use them without thinking they are wasting these valuable items; they can’t sell them and they have multiple of them, so they may as well make use of them!
Finally, I have, on occasion, taken a more powerful magic item and turned it into a one-use so that players can get a taste. For example, a Ring of Freedom of Movement prevents anything from trapping you, which includes webs, grapples, nets, etc. A Ring of Sudden Freedom of Movement is something you wear and can activate once as a reaction to break out of one bond. It’s a backup, emergency escape plan, and it’s incredibly valuable to have, but doesn’t have to carry the gold cost of the item it’s based on. If you’re looking for interesting treasure, take a look at the rarest items, and create something that uses that power only once. Your players will love getting to use really strong abilities, but you won’t risk ruining the balance of your game.