Wednesday, January 19, 2011

DM Advice - Balanced Treasure

This week’s DM Advice column is advice I am seeking from other DMs and it deals with a tricky subject – treasure. More specifically, it deals with magical items and magical treasure. How much is appropriate for a party based on the types of encounters they have overcome and the places that they have explored?  How can a DM devise a way to ensure that the party is always properly equipped without resorting to Monty haul tactics or DM fiat? Let us look at the challenges.

The first challenge on our list is the handy-dandy character wealth by level chart found in both the DMG and the Pathfinder Core rulebooks. This was printed so that the DM could get a good idea of what the characters should have based on their level. This was an excellent idea and very helpful for the DMs. The trouble is that the players also know this list exists and if they are well below the line they may very well call you on it and rightfully so.  I recently used the wealth by level chart to ensure that my players for all games were properly equipped with the right level of items.

Which brings me to the second challenge which is random treasure generation. The Pathfinder chart tells me that a character of seventh level should have an equivalent of 23,500 gp of treasure in magical items and other adventuring paraphernalia. In the words of Family Guy in the second Star Wars spoof when Luke learns that Vader is his father “Whaaat?”

In my day job, I am an IT Auditor. That means I like numbers and am a geek to boot.  Let us take a look at the numbers.

The book says that the normal treasure generation per encounter by level is approximately 100 gp per level. It typically takes about ten to twelve encounters to level. We will use the base encounters to level is ten encounters for our example. Ok so using this formula 100 * 10 = 1,000 at first level + 200 * 10 = 2,000 at second level and so un until you reach this formula:

$ per encounter
$ per level per encounter

We can clearly see that the average pc of seventh level should have accumulated 28,000 gp worth of treasure by now. The trouble is that is total. It includes money spent at Inns, on food, ale and other interests. How much does an average adventurer blow in tavern stays and bar hopping? I am sure that depends on the game.

Then there is the third challenge included in equipping the party. Magical shops. Ok so both books say that even a small thorp should have some kind of magical curio shop.  It also specifically says not to allow the party to have access to all items and instead decide what each shop has. So there may be 1d6 minor, 1d6 moderate and 1d4 major items in a small city. Great. Now what if you have a player who doesn’t want anything in the shop?

So now you have a player with a bunch of money walking around the adventureland less equipped than the rest of the party. As a DM it is your responsibility to ensure that you do not challenge that player with anything other than what he can handle right? What if what he can handle is a pushover for the rest of the party (who took the +1 swords and magical potions that were in the magic shop)? Is this your fault as a DM or the player’s fault for not getting what he didn’t want? Should you ensure that the magical shop has everything that your players might want?

In the end, I allowed everyone to catch up in all of the games by going through the DMG/Core book and selecting what they wanted after they ran it by me. Some of the issue was due to the players sharing the loot but some of it was due to the fact that the players have been plane hopping and have faced a lot of undead or constructs who seldom have treasure.

What would you have done? I would love to hear your thoughts on this matter.


  1. Personally I say screw it. The assumption that it is the DM's responsibility to ensure that players are constantly equipped to handle all encounters is wrong and makes things boring. A poorly equipped party is always equipped with both brains and feet. If the local market has nothing then they should look for another. That fellow with the bag of gold can always hire a couple retainers and/or buy something in the next town.

  2. @ Todd - I hear what you are saying and I agree with you in concept but are not the challenge ratings of the monsters and their defenses made to withstand any types of attacks that are not of sufficient power?

  3. I actually don't really connect the two. I give out treasure based on what I feel would likely be in the possession of what is carrying it, or defending it, etc. Seems to just work out naturally.

  4. @Greg - That is exactly what I have done for the past 20+ years in gaming and I have had no problems. This time though they've fought almost all undead and stuff that doesn't have much treasure. Just trying to get to the bottom of it.

  5. I say keep doing what you're doing!

    ...and if the monsters aren't dropping loot then either throw in some kind of treasure hoard they stumble upon, or have the the next few encounters against nobles or some other types that carry excessive treasure around with them?