Excerpts Archive | 5/14/2010
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Dividing Treasure
Player's Strategy Guide Excerpts

There’s more to playing D&D than combat tactics and rolling dice. Even if your group spends most of its time gathered around a layout of Dungeon Tiles, you inevitably encounter situations that can’t be solved with cleave or fireball.

The final chapter of Player's Strategy Guide covers a range of those situations, from navigating skill challenges to sorting through treasure. Even when you have a perfectly optimized character, poor decisions made in these areas can wreck the game as fast as a total party kill.

This chapter includes the following sections.

  • Storytelling: How to cooperate with the DM and the other players to create a compelling story.
  • Being Part of the Party: How to build a stronger party through the group’s story.
  • Rising to the (Skill) Challenge: How to tackle this tricky part of the game.
  • Knowing When to Rest: Learn when to say when.
  • The Campaign Journal: How and why to track the important details of the campaign.
  • Treasure and Rewards: Tips on acquiring loot, dividing it between the characters, and customizing your stuff.
  • Don’t Be a Jerk: Our closing words, and the most important message of the book.

Dividing Treasure

We’ve seen more arguments and more crazy schemes about treasure distribution than about any other part of the game. It’s hard to blame players for taking this element seriously.

Agreeing on a method of splitting up the loot you find should be one of the first discussions your group has after building the party. Trust us: The sooner you talk about how you plan to assign ownership of the magic items, gold, and gems you’re going to find, the happier everyone will be later.

Every group has its own method of dividing treasure; to be honest, most of these are probably well-intended but flawed systems that unintentionally create inequitable comparisons, bruised egos, and selfish behavior. Here are a few common methods that we’ve seen used, and their strengths and weaknesses.

The Even Split

This method aims to give each character an equal share of the loot recovered during the session. Whenever you divide up treasure, each character gets precisely the same amount of gold (or gold equivalent), right down to the last copper piece. What could be easier?

Good: Nobody complains about an inequitable distribution of wealth. Also, this method seems intuitively fair, particularly to new players. If players can’t get along or agree on anything, this method prevents argument over who gets what.

Bad: This method runs into a simple but unfortunate mathematical truth: Once you factor magic item values into the equation, splitting the loot equally becomes impossible without extensive bookkeeping and getting rid of items the party needs.

Let’s look at a typical haul for a 1st-level group’s first session:

+1 vicious longsword (worth 520 gp)
Two pearls (worth 100 gp each)
One potion of healing (worth 50 gp)
70 gp in coins

This represents treasure parcels 4, 5, and 7 (see page 126 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide), which is a reasonable haul for one night of adventuring.

Obviously, giving the longsword to the fighter (thrilled to find an item from his wish list) makes dividing the rest of the loot impossible. The sword’s worth more than all the rest put together.

You could sell the longsword and add the resulting gold to the pool, but this decision effectively eliminates all magic items from future treasure hoards. If characters carry only the items they can afford to buy with their meager split of the gold, the entire party becomes weaker.

Some groups use long-term bookkeeping to achieve an even split, tracking each character’s haul from session to session to ensure equality. But isn’t that exactly the sort of chore that we play D&D to escape?

Note: Even if you use a different method of distribution for items, we recommend using this one for all the gold, gems, and other currency discovered. Even if one character gets a magic item and another doesn’t, both should get the same amount of gold. It makes the game simpler.

The Random Draft

This method relies on the dice to decide the fate of the treasure you find.

When you divide treasure, each player rolls a die. The players then choose one item apiece from the loot list, starting with the highest roll and proceeding down until all items are gone. If there are more items than players, reverse the order after each player has an item, allowing the lowest-rolling player to choose a second time, then the next-lowest-rolling player, and so on.

Good: Like the Even Split method, this process theoretically achieves equity over the long term. Assuming an even distribution of die rolls, everyone eventually gets to pick first, second, third, and so on. After all, how can you complain about unfairness with random die rolls?

Bad: The drawbacks to this method are less obvious than in the Even Split, but they’re just as insidious and potentially even more divisive.

First, there’s no guarantee your party will achieve an even distribution of rolls. When you get lucky and roll the highest three times in a row, try telling the other players that this method is fair.

Also, who decides how often you roll? If you roll every time you find an item, only the high roll really matters, since you often find single items. But if you save up the rolls until you have a whole level’s worth of magic items, that means some items sit around unused for several encounters. How is it a good idea to let the +3 rod of obliterating wrath gather dust when the warlock desperately needs a new implement?

The worst part of this system, though, is the greedy, party-destructive behavior it encourages. If you don’t see any items appropriate for your character when your turn in the draft comes up, you might reasonably select an item anyway, thinking that you could always sell it or disenchant it. Not only does this waste a newly discovered item, but how does the next player in the order feel when you take his or her ideal item just to trade it in for a 20 percent payout? Trust us, that player won’t remember you kindly when he or she gets the same opportunity in the next random selection.

Over time, the Random Draft method can not only create a magic-poor party, like the Even Split method, but it can also easily foster ill will between the players. Use this system only if your group can handle the competitive mindset it creates, or if the players at your table are incapable of cooperation when dividing up treasure.

Fixed Draft

This method replaces a random order of selection each time with a fixed order of selection that lasts for the entire campaign.

As with the Random Draft, each player rolls a die at the start of the campaign. The high roller becomes the “active selector” and automatically gets the first item found. The next item goes to the player who has the second-highest roll, and so on down to the last player. Then you reverse the order, as described in the Random Draft method, taking turns up and down the fixed order you determined at the start of the campaign until your characters retire.

If you find multiple items in the same hoard, you can either determine their order of assignment randomly or let the active selector choose among the available options.

Good: This method improves on the Random Draft by eliminating the chance of any player picking first (or last) more often than another. It also clarifies the frequency of selection: Every time you get an item, the next player takes it.

Bad: You’re still stuck with the worst drawback of the Random Draft method: the greed factor.

Variant: Some players give the active selector the right of first refusal for the next item, rather than automatically assigning it. If no one chooses it, the first player in order automatically gets it. This slightly improves the chance that each character will receive a useful item, but it makes every non-crucial item found a potential disappointment.

Excerpt Schedule

Monday Friday

April 19

Character Foundations

April 23

How to Build…

April 26

Tell Us About Your Character

April 30

Sample Party

May 10

Winning Tactics

May 14

Dividing Treasure