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Slower Treasure Awards

I find that the basic 4E Treasure Parcel system is one that creates unnecassary administrative work for the DM and I have several alternate ways of handling the distribution of treasure so that life isn’t always predictable for my players.

The first method I use is to slow the distibution of magic items down.

First of all the DMG says that the PCs should “acquire four magic items ranging in level from one to four levels above the party level. In addition, they should find gold and other monetary treasure equal to the market price of two magic items of their level.” It is these assumptions that the Treasure Parcel system outlined in the DMG is based on, and the problems start with those 4 items.

So I will look at a level 2 party by way of example, the DMG says they should recieve a level 3, a level 4, a level 5 and a level 6 item and 1040gp by the time they reach 3rd level. Now in essence this should be relatively easy to accomodate, but the players often have different ideas about how magic items should be distributed in the party despite the DMs intentions.

So the slower distribution works around 2 ideas. The first one is combining 2 levels worth of treasure together and awarding that across the two levels. The second is that each 2 levels should have a major quest whose completion should allow the PCs to be given the choice of an item they want. (The quest need not end at the end of the 2nd level but can be concluded at any reasonable stage through the 2 levels.)

So looking at a level 1 party the DM would take the treasure allocation of level 1 and level 2 and combine that all together and spread it over the the approximately 19 encounters and 1 major quest that would comprise those levels. That means the following list of items: 1x level 2, 2x level 3, 2x level 4, 2x level 5 and 1xlevel 6.

Now in looking at that there is still a wild scattering of items that can prove difficult to manage, and this is where using the major quest comes in. As the material reward for the quest you can allow the PCs to pick an item each. But you need to keep this balanced, and we want to make it easier to distribute items not harder.

So here is the trick, firstly a level 6 item is worth about 3 level 4 items (you could take the difference out of the gold awarded if you really want). So if we turn the level 6 item into 3 level 4 items we now have 1x level 2, 2x level 3, 5x level 4, and 2x level 5 items to distribute to the PCs over 2 levels.

We then take all the level 4 items out, because they are going to be the PCs item picks for their major quest, this removes half the items from the two levels. Now I recomend letting them pick a level 4 or lower item each, this is because the difference between a level 4 and a level 2 item is largely arbitary so while the raw value of their items might end up being lower the “I have what I want” part of the item is often worth more at this point to the player than the nominal gold value (but you might need to keep an eye on this).

Now you only need to allocate the other items as part of the treasure hordes of various creatures, and are mostly now giving out gold. (Note the “major quest” reward might be in the hoard of the boss monster or given by the quests patron to give it some variety).

As a result of knowing that at level 2 every PC will get their pick of an item, you can allocate the remaining items essentially randomly if you want. Because you know everyone is getting something they want, you have removed the need to “look out for” each player. That random allocation can easily be managed as well by things like Asmor.com’s Quartermaster.

Another effect of using this slower allocation is that magic items are going to be turning up much less in the hoards of monsters, so finding them is more impressive than it would normally be, especially when you start combining the remaining treasure parcels together.

So here is an example of a “Slow Treasure Parcels”

Level 1-2 Treasure Parcels.
Major Quest Award: 5x Level 4 or lower items of the PCs choice.

  1. Level 5 Magic Item
  2. Level 5 Magic Item
  3. Level 3 Magic Item
  4. Level 3 Magic Item
  5. Level 2 Magic Item
  6. 290gp of treasure
  7. 260gp of treasure
  8. 200gp of treasure
  9. 180gp of treasure
  10. 170gp of treasure
  11. 170gp of treasure
  12. 120gp of treasure
  13. 120gp of treasure
  14. 90gp of treasure
  15. 60gp of treasure
  16. 60gp of treasure
  17. 40gp of treasure

You will notice that this gives 12 encounters with treasure as a reward. If you combine a few that easily becomes 10 encounters with treasure as a reward half of which have a magic item as well.

So now you have

10 encounters with treausure from the 19 you expect to run.

5 of those 10 will have a magic item (making finding them matter more).

And 1 major quest that will award each PC a magic item.

Because you know everyone is getting at least one item of choice for them, the rest are just things that you can use as appropriate to the encounter rather than as appropriate to the PCs.

Finally when adopting this strategy don’t be afraid to give that Major Quest item out at the start of the quest, in the middle of it, or at the end. Ask PCs to pick the item they “really want” to get in the next two levels and put it in a loot pile and so on. The idea is to be sure everyone gets one item they really want and then make it easier to allocate the rest of the items without worrying to much about the treasure being “fair” to each PC.

Categories: DM Theory
  1. Jon
    April 16, 2010 at 5:31 am

    Long time reader, first time responder. Anyway… As a DM, when the 4E books came out, I stared for what seemed hours at how to smooth this out. So, I’m just adding my take on the “administrative” work.

    I give the players two assignments. For your give 2nd level example, I ask what items players wish for from level 3-6. Then I ask them to look up all their items they have and add up their item value worth. With the value, I rank them from lowest to first. The lowest will get the 6th level item they’re wishing for, and so on. What I’m finding with this is that it aides to keep everyone on the same level.

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