Random treasure gets the shaft in 4th Edition. In fact, it’s so frowned upon with the way treasure works in 4th Edition that the developers encourage DMs to actually request wishlists from their players that detail items they want for their characters.
How I’ve Been Doing It
For Port Havenholde, I’ve changed up the way treasure is allocated quite a bit. I’m still working on integrating “history” into the treasure I hand out, but it’s slow going. I’ve spent so much work developing the gears and mechanics of the world, that I’ve neglected the fluff. It’s sorely missed so far, especially when my players want to roll History checks and whatnot and I’m scratching my head like, “I don’t know – I’ll get with you on the forums.” Part of this is lack of planning, and part of it is that I simply don’t know and I’m making it up as I go. That’s not so good with the sandbox style, and it’s something I plan to remedy soon.
For now though, I’m working on dealing with this treasure issue. I’ve learned early on that I do not want to hand out magical items. Quite simply, I don’t want PCs fighting over who gets what item and how to deal with that. So for this purpose, I hand out gold and treasure PCs can sell for gold. I’ve literally handed out one traditional magic item – a suit of +1 eldritch serpent chainmail that was lost due to a TPK. Instead, I’ve opted to hand out gold, a few potions here and there, and treasure items that are significantly valuable. Typically, when I decided a parcel that would normally be a “Magic Item of Level X” comes up, instead I hand out an art object equal to the value of that magical item. So, instead of handing out Magic Item Level 4, I hand out an art object worth 840 gp.
A couple things:
1) This allows the PCs to sell those items for an evenly distributable amount of gold – and a significant amount above a normal parcel of gold. That gold can then be used to purchase or create magic items.
2) This keeps PCs from having to figure out who actually gets the +1 armor while everyone else gets shafted. Because of the nature of the constantly changing party-makeup, I like that at the end of the adventure everyone can evenly distribute that loot instead of “owing somebody next time”.
3) These extra valuable treasure items also double as the “historical” items of my campaign world – these still need to be fleshed out. After all, when I say, “you find a ceremonial headdress made of platinum and gems, it’s easily worth 2600 gp” you pay attention and then I insert my historical clue/tidbit like Ben Robbins suggests.
4) I don’t have to worry about studying your character’s sheet and trying to figure out which items to place in the damned treasure parcels. I also don’t have to ask you what you want and break the mystery and suspense of finding treasure.
5) I also don’t have to worry about neglecting one player’s character… “Wait? A sword? So, Nathaniel the Fighter gets ANOTHER item and us Wizards don’t get anything??? It’s useless to me, so I guess we give it to him.”
Now… This is how I have been doing it.
How I’m Going To Start Doing It
Tomorrow, we’re playing another session of my Port Havenholde campaign. Today, I’ve worked a lot on fleshing out the method I have been using and adding some more details and randomness (like the old days of D&D) to treasure. I’m keeping the same basic principle, magic items that PCs generally need for their characters to be effective in 4th Edition will be purchased with gold they gather from treasure and treasure item parcels that replace the normal magical item parcels. This means, you are still more likely to get a ceremonial silver-plated sword worth 1000 gp than you are a +1 magic sword. This way, each person in the party gets 200 gp to put toward whatever magic item they want to buy.
There is one small catch to this. Wondrous Items.
I’ve inserted a chance (albeit small) that something unique, cool, interesting, and most importantly actually magical will be found among treasure out in the dungeons. I am going to use wondrous items. These are items that can generally be used by anyone. This basically solves two problems with my former method. First, it adds some magic back into the treasure. Second, it is things usable by anyone so I don’t have to worry about fitting it to particular classes or characters, and in addition it’s usable by any party most likely. My players have come upon a method of “sharing” potions and other consumables. They’ve determined that a basket should be placed in the Admiral’s Rest (Port Havenholde’s adventurer inn) and when a party comes back from adventuring, you put any consumables found as treasure in the basket for all to use. Any adventurer who goes out to adventure can take whatever they want out of the basket, so long as they bring it back if they don’t use it up. Give a potion, take a potion. They came up with this on their own! Awesome idea!
I don’t know if this will follow-on to the wondrous items they might find, but the reason they are there in the first place is because of that sharing basket.
Now, remember, it’s only a small chance the party will find a wondrous item – these also double as history items, but if they don’t find a wondrous item, they still find a treasure item valued at what the magic item would have been worth.
The other thing I changed is the non-magical item parcels. In the DMG, a parcel looks like this:
2 Magic Item, level 2
or, like this…
6 180 gp, or one 100 gp gem + 80 gp, or one potion of healing + 130 gp
That’s easy enough right? Simply choose a parcel (there are 10 examples, 4 with magic items and 6 with gold, gems or potions of healing) and a variation, and bam! You got loot.
I’ve already talked about how I ditched the 4 magic item parcels pretty much entirely. Instead, I’ve changed the parcels to look like this:
1 (1-5) 1000 gp in coin or treasure, (6) or a level 5 wondrous item
It reads like this – if I roll a 1 to determine this parcel is selected, I then roll a d6. On a 1 through 5 result, the PCs get 1000 gp in coin or a treasure item (like a silver-plated ceremonial blade or something) worth 1000 gp. On a result of 6, they get a random wondrous item (I then roll randomly among that level of available wondrous items and whatever comes up is inserted into the loot).
You may have noticed a couple things in there I haven’t discussed – notably the randomness of this system. Well, basically, I have a series of rolls that determine which parcel to use, and then within that parcel which variation to use. It’s quite simple. I’ve kept the 10 different parcels the DMG offers (of course I’ve changed the them to represent my new system). So, I roll a d10 to determine which parcel is inserted into the loot (typically 1 parcel per encounter – if I want the loot to be all at the end of a dungeon, like a hoard, I’ll just put it all there and roll numerous times). Once I’ve determined which parcel to use, I roll a d6 to determine which variation to use. For the magic item parcels, it’s easy; 1-5 you get gold or treasure, 6 you get a wondrous item.
Now, the next thing I wanted to change (besides treasure or wondrous items instead of magic items, and adding randomness) is the other 6 parcels. Basically, it kind of drove me nuts that the only potion offered in the DMG parcels was potion of healing. I wanted to change that. So, I had to customize the parcels a bit. I took all the consumable items in the Compendium and ordered them in terms of their value. I then took those values and added them into the parcels. So, instead of getting a “potion of healing”, you will get one random consumable valued at 50 gp. From the same table as above, check it out:
8 (1-2) 120 gp in coin or treasure, (3) one 120 gp consumable (4) one 100 gp consumable and 20 gp in coin (5) one 75 or 80 gp consumable and one 40 gp consumable, or (6) two 50 gp consumables and 20 gp in coin
You can see this is quite different from the 1st level number 8 parcel in the DMG… The first thing I did was get rid of “or gem”. Let’s face it, PCs don’t care if you give them 100 gold coins or a 100 gp value gem. They want cool treasure items or straight up gold. I don’t need to be told to differentiate gold coins from gems. If I want to add gems to the loot, I just convert the gold coins straight up.
Secondly, I’ve added in more variations AND instead of just potions of healing, I’ve given a wide range of possible consumables that the PCs can get in the loot. These all add up to the total amount of GP they should be getting for that parcel, but sometimes they’ll get interesting consumables instead of treasure or gold.
Again, I roll a d10 to determine which parcel is given (1-4 are treasure items or wondrous items and 5-10 are consumables and/or gold coins). Then, I roll a d6 to determine which variation of that parcel is given – on a 1-2, coins and then 3, 4, 5, or 6 gets a variation of consumables and coins.
So this is what a full table looks like:
Level 1 Encounters
1. (1-5) 1000 gp in coin or treasure, (6) or a level 5 wondrous item
2. (1-5) 840 gp in coin or treasure, (6) or a level 4 wondrous item
3. (1-5) 680 gp in coin or treasure, (6) or a level 3 wondrous item
4. (1-5) 520 gp in coin or treasure, (6) or a level 2 wondrous item
5. (1-5) 360 gp in coin or treasure, (6) or a level 1 wondrous item
6. (1-2) 200 gp in coin or treasure, (3) one 160 or 200 gp consumable (4) two 100 gp consumables (5) one 75 or 80 gp consumable, one 20 gp consumable and 150 gp in coin, or (6) three 50 gp consumables and 50 gp in coin
7. (1-2) 180 gp in coin or treasure, (3) one 150 or 160 gp consumable and 20 gp in coin (4) one 120 or 125 gp consumable and 55 gp in coin (5) one 100 gp consumable, one 50 gp consumable and 30 gp in coin, or (6) two 50 gp consumables, one 20 gp consumable and 60 gp in coin
8. (1-2) 120 gp in coin or treasure, (3) one 120 gp consumable (4) one 100 gp consumable and 20 gp in coin (5) one 75 or 80 gp consumable and one 40 gp consumable, or (6) two 50 gp consumables and 20 gp in coin
9. (1-2) 60 gp in coin or treasure, (3) one 50 gp consumable and 10 gp in coin (4) one 40 gp consumable and one 20 gp consumable, (5) two 30 gp consumables, or (6) one 25 gp consumable and 35 gp in coin
10. (1-2) 40 gp in coin or treasure, (3) one 40 gp consumable, (4) one 30 gp consumable and 10 gp in coin, (5) one 25 gp consumable and 15 gp in coin, or (6) two 20 gp consumables
Again, I roll a d10 to determine the parcel. Then, I roll a d6 to determine which variation of the parcel.
Does this mean that a party may in fact get lucky and find several very valuable treasure items? Well, yes and no.
Yes, that is entirely possible. Such is the nature of sandbox gaming. One party might find a hoard of treasure items and another find a few coins and consumables in the same amount of game time.
But, there are some other things to factor. For one, treasure items and wondrous items will generally NOT be found on random encounters. These parcels are reserved for dungeons. Most of the time, monsters will not bring their treasure out into the “field” with them. So because of this, when rolling to determine treasure for random encounters, I roll a d10 as normal, but if the result is 5 or less, I add 5 to the score. If I roll a 3 for example, that would actually be parcel 8.
Secondly, there may not be treasure at all. In most cases, I will roll a d20 to determine whether treasure is available in the first place. On a 10 or better, the PCs get loot. On a 9 or lower, they get nothing.
The exception to this rule is of course “bosses” and certain dungeons where I want there to be certain treasure items. In these instances, I’m not rolling for random treasure, but I’ve already pre-planned the treasure.
Anyways, that’s how I’ve done it. This is a brand-new system and I’m sure I’ll tweak it. In the meantime, comments are welcome!