Dividing Treasure

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on March 26, 2012

DM – You’ve defeated the skeletons. As you search the bodies you realize that one of them was carrying a +1 frost weapon.

Ethan the Rogue – As the striker I should get the magic weapon. The more often I hit the faster I can drop monsters.

Barrack the Fighter – Now hold on a second. I may not be a striker, but as a defender it’s important that I hit monsters ignoring my mark. I think I should get the magic weapon.

Delian the Paladin – Excuse me, guys; this was an item from my wish list. I’m working on a whole cold-theme and already the feats Wintertouched and Student of Moil. Using a frost weapon will give me bonuses when I make cold-based attacks.

Sterling the Warlord – You’re all forgetting that it’s my turn to get the next magic item so I believe the frost weapon is mine.

How often does this happen in your game? As soon as it comes time to divide the treasure everyone tries to lay claim to the best stuff. This is usually a bigger issue when a party is lower levels and there aren’t as many items to go around, but even when the group advances into the paragon tier there can still be some bickering about the division of items.

Over the years I’ve seen many groups handle the division of loot in many different ways. There are certainly pros and cons to all methods and it’s really up to the groups themselves to figure out which method works best for them.

Equal Shares

This is usually the best way to handle things. All coins are divided equally and magic items are distributed evenly throughout the party. No one PC can claim a second magic item from the loot until everyone else in the party has one.

  • Pros: Dividing everything equally seems the fairest way to do things. By ensuring that no one can claim two items before another PC as one you’re less likely to have one player complain that their PC was overlooked. This is how things work during D&D Encounters and for the most part it works pretty well.
  • Cons: There are two huge cons doing things this way. 1) Not all items will be equally suited for every PC, and 2) not all items are the same level. Everyone usually wants a magic item or implement, magic armor, and magic neck item. Getting an item that fills another slot before filling these three is not usually desirable, especially if everyone else is getting one of these. So when one of these three appears in the treasure horde there’s often fierce competition to determine who gets it. Some players will actually pass on an item they can use that isn’t a weapon, armor or neck item knowing that there will be fewer competitors to argue with when one finally shows up. I’ve actually had games where no one will claim a magic item unless it’s one of these three. All of the players would rather put the magic boots, gloves, or belt into their backpack as “party loot” than claim and equip it.

Sell Everything

All treasure (except artifacts) have gp values in D&D. This method has all items tracked by their gp value and everyone gets an absolutely equal share of everything.

  • Pros: This is often the only way to stop fighting. When a +1 weapon worth 1,000 gp is discovered the PC who claims ownership must buy out the rest of the party’s interest in the weapon. In a party of five, the owner would owe the other four PCs 200 gp each. Since the party is likely to find more treasure during their travels this doesn’t have to be an actual cash transaction at the time the item is found. Someone keeps a ledger and runs a tally of who owes what. When the party has some down time they figure out who owes who.
  • Cons: I see this as a very petty way to divide loot. This says “we can’t get along and have to nickel and dime the other players to maintain order at the table.” It creates an extra and unnecessary level of logistics at the gaming table. This is a good way to handle non-magic treasure like gems and art objects, but not magic items.

Wish List

Each player provides the DM with a wish list; a list of all the magic items he wants his PC to possible find during the adventure. When the party finds treasure the DM or player will announce that it was from his wish list and his PC gets it.

  • Pros: Unless two PC have asked for exactly the same item (which happens), this makes ownership disputes a thing of the past. It’s from your list, you get it. End of story. This is how most DMs I’ve played with during home games run things. They intersperse a few other random items, but the showpieces are most often right off of someone’s wish list.
  • Cons: This puts a lot of control of who gets items in the hands of the DM. If the DM isn’t paying attention he may inadvertently reward some players more often than others. This method can also backfire if some players don’t provide wish lists. When the DM tries to come up with suitable loot, the intended player isn’t interested because he doesn’t think it’s an item he’d like. Although this method can save the DM considerable time, it cheapens the whole experience of defeating monsters and sifting through their treasure for something new. There are no more surprises. It’s anticlimactic if you know the treasure is going to be the +3 Sunblade you requested or the +3 Dwarven Armor the player next to you requested.

Common Sense

Despite the name, this is the method I see used the least. When an item is discovered the party gives it to the PC that it’s most suited for regardless of its level or how many other items that PC might already have.

  • Pros: A striker with a really awesome magic weapon or a defender with really high defenses will help the party as a whole. If the Warlord usually commands the Ranger to attack every round then it makes more sense to give the Ranger the magic weapon and not the Warlord even if the Ranger already has three other magic items and the Warlord has doesn’t have any. Things will even out in the end.
  • Cons: Some items, like magic weapons, are usable by any class so it’s not always so clear cut as to which PC it’s most suited for. In these cases the party will usually determine ownership randomly. This method for dividing treasure will result in some PCs having more items than others which can create some in-game and out-of-game jealousy. DMs need to be mindful of this and try to keep things balanced.

Roll Off

In a game where the dice determine so much already, why not let them determine who gets the next magic item. Everyone rolls a d20 and the highest wins.

  • Pros: This method is often combined with all of the others listed above whenever there’s a dispute for really versatile treasure like magic weapons. It’s up to the DM to decide if everyone can roll off. When multiple items are found we’ll often have everyone roll off. Highest roll picks first, next highest roll picks second and so on. No matter how much logic might have otherwise been used to lay claim to an item, players who roll poorly and get nothing are not usually as disappointed as they would be if using any of the other methods listed above.
  • Cons: A player with really hot dice can end up with a lot of treasure before anyone else has a single item. A healthy does of the Equal Shares and Common Sense methods often keep this con in check.

Pay for Play

This is certainly a controversial method but it needs to be included. PCs are rewarded based on the significance of their contribution to the battle that yielded the loot. Those PCs who really stood out get a greater share than those PCs who were unconscious or missed with every attack.

  • Pros: With so many intangible criteria likely in play, the biggest up side to this method is people will really strive to play their character. In the few occasions when I’ve seen this kind of method employed the role-playing was fantastic. Everyone knew that they needed to stress the importance of each action and explain how it was helping. The fight usually took longer but they were a lot of fun and very memorable.
  • Cons: With each class filling a different role it’s exceptionally difficult to come up with a consistent measuring stick that you can apply equally to all PCs. Is a striker who kills three monsters entitled to a larger share of the loot than the leader who healed four PCs during the fight? What about the Fighter who took over 100 hit points worth of damage while protecting the Wizard? If your group decides to try this method I’d recommend using something akin to the Renown Points in D&D Encounters. Things like reviving a dying ally, killing multiple minions, and moments of greatness will net each PC points and then use the points to determine who gets what share of the loot.

With treasure being so integral to 4e D&D it’s important that the loot is divided at least somewhat evenly regardless of what method you use. At low levels getting the shiny new item may be a big deal but as PCs advance I’ve found that the players become less enamored with loot. This is especially true if you’re using the inherent bonuses system. DMs should keep a close eye on each PC’s inventory and make sure that one PC isn’t getting too much or too little of the treasure. The goal is to have fun and if one PC is capable of doing things no one else is because he’s got twice as many magic items, the other players will feel belittled. On the flip side, if one PC is always getting left out of the loot distribution they won’t be able to contribute in a meaningful way which will hurt the party as a whole in the long run.

How does your group divide treasure? Have you run into problems and had to switch from your preferred or usual method to one of the others listed? What other methods of dividing loot have you used?

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{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Norcross March 26, 2012 at 11:34 am

There’s also a small variant on “Sell Everything” that works very well – you auction all magic items. Start the bidding at whatever the selling price would be. If nobody wants to bid that much, then you just sell it and divide the money. If someone does win, it just becomes part of their share of the treasure.

Here’s how it works: assume a party of four finds 1000 GP, a magic item worth 100 GP, and another worth 200 GP. Noone wants to pay 100GP for the first, so it goes into the pot. Someone is will to pay 100 GP (the selling price) for the second, and another bids 150 GP. So now the total value of the treasure is 1000 GP + 50 GP (selling price of item #1) + 150 GP (value of item #2 to the highest bidder) = 1200 GP, or 300 GP per person. So three members get 300 GP each, and the other gets 150 GP plus the item. If they can’t sell item #1 right away, they get 12.5 GP less apiece and the item goes into storage until they can sell it and split the proceeds.

Sometimes the total treasure is smaller. If the money part of the treasure was only 200 GP, that works out to only 100 GP per person. In that case, the winner of item #2 adds 50 GP of his own money to the pot, and the other three still end up with 100 GP each – so everyone still gets an even share (including the bidder, who effectively got 150 GP – 50 GP = 100 GP, plus a bargain on an item he wanted).

This way means you don’t have to keep a tally of who owes what (especially if you limit bidding to only what the characters have on them at the time, including treasures which can be sold later – an which can be sold for 100 GP would count as 75 GP toward a bid, and when it is sold everyone – including the bidder – would get an equal share so no need to keep track of that). Also important is that the treasure is given to whoever actually wants it the most – also no problems with one character getting an item he doesn’t want just because he was next in line. You should even take items out of the split if a majority of the characters want – for example, a healing potion which could benefit any of them doesn’t need to be bid on and could just be kept for use by the group (and not necessarily counted against the share for the character who used it, because keeping the wizard alive still helps the entire party). It would not be added in when dividing up the loot.

2 Norcross March 26, 2012 at 11:35 am

edit: in the first example the bidding would start at 50 GP (the selling price) for item #1. But you get the idea.

3 BeanBag March 26, 2012 at 12:28 pm

I am running a Underdark campaign and saw many, many problems with each of these so I am running a modified LFR parcel system.
Solves all of the “I want that, I am evil, and I kill you for it” problems.

For example
So after the encounter, all items go into a parcel (A).
After the adventure resolves, the party looks at the treasure parcels (A-F).
I add in “Gold only” and “Consumable plus Gold”
Anyone can choose any parcel, no more than one item per level.

4 Egon March 26, 2012 at 12:57 pm

I know that D&D 4e is heavy MMO influence (not necessarily a bad thing), but what ever happened to role playing for gear. Do you really need a DKP system. A lot of good stories come out of splitting the loot, and lets face it in some games its the only time the players get into character outside of an inn or throne room.

5 Ameron (Derek Myers) March 26, 2012 at 1:08 pm

@Norcross
I really like the idea of bidding on items combined with the caveat that you can only bid what you have on you at the time. I was originally planning to write a section of this article that talked about how to carry all the loot, but it got so long I figured I’d save that for another day.

@BeanBag
Considering all the LFR I’ve played over the years I never even though to include that method for dividing treasure. Good call.

I agree that when you’ve got characters that are evil you’re more likely to see literal in-game back stabbing for items. I see this happen a lot in D&D Encounters when people play evil PCs. Since no one knows any of the other players in real life everyone wants to take the best swag and is fine with screwing over the other players to get it.

@Egon
I agree completely. The in-game discussion for who gets what loot, and the subsequent attempts to identify said items, has often led to fantastic role-playing. Sadly this rarely happens in 4e D&D.

6 Alric March 26, 2012 at 1:37 pm

In past campaigns, we employed a method described in Capt. Bligh’s novel, Mutiny on the HMS Bounty: a game called, “Who shall have this?” when players argued over treasure.

In the novel, Bligh and his castaways were sometimes able to catch sea birds that drifted too close to the launch boat they were stranded in; to be fair, the castaways would cut up the bird into various parts, and to prevent people from fighting over the most nutritious parts of the catch, one of the men would hold up a random portion behind Bligh’s back. The man would ask Bligh, “Who shall have this?” and Bligh, not knowing what was being held up, would call a man’s name at random.

In a D&D game where treasure could realistically go to any hero and player’s couldn’t negotiate a solution themselves, we’d divide the spoils into roughly equal portions. I’d hand a list of the portions to a random player, the player would point to the list behind my back and I’d start naming heroes. Nobody really had cause to argue after that.
Alric´s last blog post ..Creating an RPG campaign for children, Part II

7 Vance March 26, 2012 at 2:17 pm

I ask the players if they want to provide a Wish List up front. If they do, great – I’ll try and include those items if it makes sense to the story (or at least doesn’t detract from it). If they don’t, I go through and find items I think they would like or appreciate.

Once the items are revealed, I let Common Sense take over. The PC’s decide how they divvy up the loot, and I encourage them to do it in character. If the PC that I intended the item for isn’t interested and it goes to someone else, that’s fine! I’ll try and find something better suited to them later, or ask them to give me a wish list or suggestion.

So far this hasn’t been a problem, as my players are all good friends and find ways of working together and being fair to each other.

If it really came down to settling an argument, though…I’d go with Equal Shares, or a Roll-Off if it couldn’t be determined who had a better claim.

8 Evil Garden Gnome March 26, 2012 at 2:25 pm

We continue ‘combat’ into item distribution. So, since we only roll initiative at the first of combat, the order is set. The person AFTER the one who scores the killing blow gets first pick of treasure and it proceeds from there. You can only kick a second piece after everyone has something. Any gold/money is evenly distributed.

The only issue is that speedy characters often get early picks, but the players have a good spread of needs and all have wish lists. This makes distribution pretty easy. I try to spread the loot so everyone gets what they want in a reasonable time frame by tracking the total magic level of each player and comparing it to the party average. Also makes rolling new characters very quick when you tell them the gold to spend, total magic level and max single item level.

9 William March 26, 2012 at 2:27 pm

@egon
The problem with roleplaying for loot is that some people are naturally better at role playing, or at convincing other people to see their sie of things in general. Some people are also a little selfish. The whole point of this article is to address way of divding loot when the typical roleplaying situation doesn’t work out. Maybe you haven’t seen players get bitter over loot division; in that case I’m jealous. In 20 years of dnd with over 20 different players, loot division causes more problems than anything else (except an a$$hole PC, but that’s a different topic).

Our group did wishlists for a while, but some people simply refuse to create one. Typically out of laziness, but whatever, to each their own. To compensate, the DM tried to figure out what that PC would want, but those pieces are often useful to everyone which causes the problem this article tries to address.

Our Current DM simply gives out cash and let’s the PCs buy what they want. It’s not as interesting or fun as finding real items, but it also avoids bogging down the game with a debate. It’s not better or worse than any other system, but it works for now.

10 Svafa March 26, 2012 at 4:58 pm

I’ve never run into issues with loot distribution. My group tends to be fairly generous, for which I’m eternally grateful.

I do try to tailor the loot to specific characters when I can, or at least limit it to between two characters. In the described scenario with the Rogue, Warrior, Paladin, and Warlord, I’m going to give out a very specific +1 Frost weapon. If all four are using one-hand swords (and not inclined to use another weapon type), then I’m just not going to give out magic weapons and I’ll make them purchase those while I give out magic armour, shields, boots, or similar.

11 Svafa March 26, 2012 at 5:07 pm

Alternately to the above, I might also try and make the weapon undesirable to some of the party. Possibly using a curse, but not necessarily.

For instance, a +1 magic weapon is great for any class, but if it constantly glows a faint light, the Rogue is suddenly rethinking his options and content to stick with his old weapon over the one that negates his stealth.

Or perhaps, since you have a character building a cold theme already, the weapon deals cold damage to the wielder when used. Maybe the other members figure it’s worth the risk, but maybe they’re willing to overlook the upgrade to let their party member with Cold Resistance take the weapon instead, as he can use it with no ill effects.

12 Matthew March 26, 2012 at 7:23 pm

Instead of saying “+1 weapon” maybe say “+ 1 Morningstar” No one but the cleric uses that weapon, so they know it goest to him. For the ever-faithful longsword that multiple characters use, maybe make it a +1 dragonborn longsword, so if the eladrin warlord tries to use it, it doesn’t work, but the dragonborn paladin finds that it functions for him. After all, you wouldn’t find just a generic +1 weapon in a horde. It would be a specific type of weapon.

13 Marcus10kill March 26, 2012 at 8:34 pm

This used to happen far more often in earlier renditions of D&D when half the party wanted the same long sword but is rare (at least with the gaming groups I have played with) now because of the way 4e is written. The weaponry and items in 4e are best suited to specific character classes and races so if the magic item is a long sword only the fighter classes that are best suited to that weapon want it. The rogue isn’t interested he wants a short sword and the Dwarven warlord is waiting for a magical hammer or an axe.
I’m a fan of the equal share method and always make sure an item I hope the party wants to keep favours a certain character class. Most of the time this works out and the players know that as magic becomes available there will eventually be something that suits their character. I do like the way D&D encounters is written in that the magical item is a +1 armour or weapon suitable to the players in the party. Most DM’s with years of experience have been doing this since way back in second addition. The methodology has been uncommon in the small press RPG market for a number of years now is it’s no surprise that the larger companies like WotC are also using equal share division of magic items in D&D encounters.

14 Kiel Chenier March 26, 2012 at 10:37 pm

Damn, just…damn.

I feel like this is definitely an issue with public play events (Encounters, LFR, D&D game days) where the party is made up of strangers and the game format inadvertently encourages competition.

I can also imagine that this may be an issue with younger players, who may be just getting into the idea of playing a ‘cooperative’ game that rewards teamwork. Giving up treasure (especially magic items) might seem like a loss).

But if you’re an adult and you actually need a system to divide treasure, that seems kinda telling…

Bottom line kids, don’t be a dick. You’re playing D&D. There is always going to be more treasure.
Kiel Chenier´s last blog post ..100 Campaign Starting Adventure Hooks (1-10)

15 Matthew March 27, 2012 at 2:56 am

I have a bit of the opposite problem! My cleric would gladly always give up his share of the treasure *L* He’s not in it for the money, but to help people.

16 Al March 27, 2012 at 12:04 pm

Probably 4e greatest weakness is the integral need for magic items (and their bonuses) that factored into the leveling process. One of the things I love most as a DM is the inherent bonus system. This way as a DM you can add items for flavor and keep magic items somewhat mysterious.

As a player, when playing with a consistent home group we never seemed to have a problem with giving the item to whomever could make the most use of it. In the case where 2 people would both benefit we left it up to them to solve. Sometimes some would negotiate in character other times they would just roll off. In public play I can/have seen this be a bit more problematic for something like LFR. But for Encounters I sort of agree with Kiel and “just don’t be a dick”, really making a fuss over an item that will be used for such a limited time with a character that will never be played again is incredibly childish.

I also really hate the idea of wish lists both as a player and DM. If there is an item that a character absolutely wants/needs, that there is great source of adventure material.

17 TJ March 27, 2012 at 12:13 pm

I’m a new DM (and new to D&D). I’m currently running the adventure from the Red Box – the Twisting Halls. A couple of the players have experience with previous editions and seem to want treasure after every encounter. But it doesn’t make sense in some cases, and the adventure only mentions treasure for 2-3 of the encounters.

My question is, should I just stick to what is in this published adventure as far as treasure is concerned? Do all published adventures state what is given out as treasure, or is that something that I will need to determine as a DM?

18 Marcus10kill March 27, 2012 at 1:26 pm

Stick with what’s in the Red Box TJ the adventure was play tested numerous times and what your playing is has the appropriate amount of treasure the writers felt was suitable for the game.

To address the second part of your question all published adventures state what is given out as treasure although they may give the DM some latitude to decide on the items. The only exception to this is some small press downloadable game adventures and I’m going to stick with D&D in this comment may lack information on treasure largely do to poor editing before they go to print.

19 TJ March 27, 2012 at 1:30 pm

@Marcus10kill

Thanks for the reply. I had also picked up the Essentials Dungeon Master’s Kit and was reading through the guide. The section that discussed treasure parcels is what confused me. But that seems to really apply to adventures/encounters that I create myself.

I’m glad that I’ve found this blog – it is proving to be a very useful resource.

20 Al March 27, 2012 at 2:00 pm

@TJ

In previous versions, after every battle players would “loot the bodies” for anything from currency to magic item to mundane items (weapons, armor, gear) that they would turn around and sell. 4e tried to implement a system that gets rid of the trivial aspects of rewards.

21 Eamon March 27, 2012 at 3:54 pm

Apparently, I play Encounters at the nicest store on the planet. There wasn’t even a debate last week when we found a Belt of Vigor: my party straight-up demanded I take it for sticking to my Defender role and soaking up the damage.

Personally, I’d say roll for it and then people who really want it can RP asking for it or trading with something else of value.

22 Gevaudan March 27, 2012 at 4:56 pm

My gaming group has had an ongoing 2E campaign for the past 11 years or so. It started in Ravenloft, then went to Greyhawk, and then expanded to the planes. We call it Greyvenscape. The characters are now roughly 14th to 16th level, and we have amassed great piles of treasure and power (political and otherwise). Example: we took the mithril doors from the Tomb of Horrors (we haven’t gotten around the bleeding effect, though, so we can’t exactly use them for anything but doors right now). As a result of our treasure hoard we wrote up a 10-page Treasure Compact to govern it (this is what happens when some of the players have law degrees). The Compact is basically using a combination of the equal shares, sell, common sense, and roll off methods. Not only does it govern treasure distribution, but it categorizes the treasure as to stuff that is available for distribution, for borrowing but not taking (like a library system), and “Dark Items” which are things such as artifacts and evil magic items. The Dark Items require complete party sign off before they can even be studied by another member. The Compact also categorizes our underlings as to what rights they have to treasure and who pays them (party vs. individual). We have also tried to protect claims to treasure from solo adventuring or when only part of the party acquires some stuff (and have an emergency clause to handle treasure when having to call in a non-adventuring party member when disaster happens). Provision is also made for violations of the Compact. The treasure claims of former party members who left before the Compact went into effect are also protected. From what I recall, this thing took the players a couple weeks to draft together on Google Docs. Even though, as a player, I am a signatory, I predict it will somehow destroy us all.

23 Sunyaku March 28, 2012 at 12:06 am

The bidding system is a nifty idea– we normally use a combination of common sense and roll off.
Sunyaku´s last blog post ..The Avengers DnD Builds

24 Alton March 28, 2012 at 12:27 am

@ Eamon

We do that at our store also. We determine who is best for the item, and then roll it off.
Alton´s last blog post ..Review: The Last Garrison – A Dungeons & Dragons Novel

25 David May 11, 2012 at 10:45 pm

I was thinking of having the DM roll 1d10 and having the players guess the number in clockwise order. Closest without going over gets the item.
David´s last blog post ..One of the Greatest Stories Never Told

26 Ryan June 2, 2012 at 6:17 pm

I find wish list works best for the group I DM for. Everybody gets what they want they just have to be patient.

In all it makes all of their characters more effective so they have no complaints. Since most of my players use different weapons if two players have the same magic weapon on the list they still know who it should go to.

Magic Items are listed in the Players Handbook in 4e, I beleive that this is totally intentional. In 4e each items can drastically make the player character’s better overall.

27 Peter June 24, 2012 at 1:03 pm

There is one other way that I’ve been using In my party that might interest you. We don’t have a name for it, but here’s how it works.
We keep track of how much treasure each PC has collected over the course of the party’s adventuring career.
For instance:
Bill: 3800 gp
Mark: 2100 gp
Kate: 2200gp
Peter: 3150 gp

this is the total price of the items each of us has claimed as his own so far.
Anytime we find a new item, we put it in the party’s bag of holding. When it is time to split the loot, the item goes to the PC who is willing to “pay” the most for it. And by “pay” I mean who’s willing to give up a part of his future share.
So given the example above, if we find a +2 longsword that costs 1800 gp, we have an “auction” of sorts. Bill says “I’ll take the item for 1800 gp”. But Mark wants it more so he takes it for 2000 gp. So the list becomes:
Bill: 3800 gp
Mark: 2100 -> 4100 gp
Kate: 2200gp
Peter: 3150 gp

This means that Mark is willing to give up a bit of his future treasure in order to get this item.
When we divide gold, the players with the less total get more gold.
So, in the above example if we have collected 5000 gp, we will try to distribute it in a way that the total becomes more or less equal for all PCs.

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