Friday Favourite: Dividing Treasure

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on June 27, 2014

On Friday we comb through our extensive archives to find an older article that we feel deserves another look. From March 26, 2012, Dungeon’s Master once again presents: Dividing Treasure.

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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1 Joe June 27, 2014 at 12:46 pm

Don’t forget bribing the DM. While not at all fair in any way, how many DMs have ended up giving their best friend, girlfriend, or guy-who-bought-the-DM-pizza-this-week a better item?

Pros: The DM is likely to get free stuff.
Cons: Everything else about this method.

2 Dan June 27, 2014 at 3:05 pm

My home campaign is on a guild system. There are other members of the guild and a few of us have multiple characters. In this, we use a system of value to determine who gets what. After the guilds 10% cut, we divide the loot between the rest of the participants. When we find magic items, we put them in the guild portion unless someone wants them for themselves. When this happens, the character either pays the guild, or gives a portion of future loot to cover the debt. In our first mission, one character got a +2 longsword and a +1 breastplate. He owed the guild a lot of money, but was better able to handle future missions.
As for people fighting over loot, we have a varied enough party that this doesn’t become a problem. Considering sizes, classes, styles, and proficiencies, we have only had 1 or 2 conflicts, and they were quickly resolved. Another thing I like about this is that if we want an item for a character who didn’t participate, we can have them buy it from the guild rather than it getting sold in town and the profits split between the others.

3 Wired_Nerve June 28, 2014 at 9:57 am

If I as the DM have put an item in the treasure for a particular character I will tell that player and the group it is theirs. Period. But generally, treasure is left up to the party to split as they want.

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