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© 1998-2001 Dru
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Divvying Up the Loot
The villain's dead,
the dungeon's sacked, and it's time for the characters to start divvying
up the treasure. The DM sits back and pops open a soda, knowing that this
is going to take a while....
There are several ways
to split treasure. Some are irrational, some are rational; some favor
the sneaky and some favor the whole party. Which works best? That's up
to your players. Here are some options.
S/he Who Steals
Last....: The least acceptable way of divvying up treasure is
through intraparty theft—basically, taking what you want from each
other without getting permission first. The DM should try to discourage
this as quickly as possible, although in some cases there simply isn't
much the DM can do. Intraparty theft sows discord and dissatisfaction.
Rational characters—even evil ones—should realize that stealing
from a party member virtually guarantees that the victim will never, ever,
help the thieving character again ... pretty risky for a career adventurer.
Besides, the thieving character may eventually get kicked out of the party
by the rest of the characters! The old idea that you don't make a mess
in your nest applies here—good or evil, it's more important to be
able to trust your adventuring companions than to steal that nifty Wand
Treasure?: Sometimes a character who steals treasure without
others noticing gets to keep it. This tends to tick off the other players,
but if their characters didn't see the theft, they can't do much about
it. It's up to the DM to decide whether the other characters will notice
or not—in some cases a perception roll may be called for (we use
the Players Option's Wisdom/Intuition statistic), and in other cases the
DM may be able to arbitrarily declare that a character has noticed the
theft, the presence of a new magic item ("Hey, I never noticed that
glowing green sword before!"), or the suspicious bulge where the
treasure has been secreted.
When the character snitching
the treasure is a thief by class, the DM may want to let the pilfering
slide. After all, thieves seldom get to practice their profession in the
game—a little pickpocketing while they're vacationing in the big
city, maybe, but most of the time they're relegated to the unpleasant
role of trap-finders and lock-pickers. If the other players complain,
the DM can point out that they are traveling with a thief, after all.
They should be grateful the thief isn't stealing directly from their pockets.
Moreover, if the thief found the treasure while doing advance scouting
for the group, the other characters hardly have grounds for complaint!
Advance scouting is dangerous!
In this scenario, whoever finds the treasure keeps it. If somebody's responsible
for killing the wizard, that person gets to claim all the wizard's possessions.
If somebody opens up a drawer and finds a jewelry box, that person gets
to keep the jewelry. This method rewards initiative, but the group will
probably concentrate on money-grubbing rather than on teamwork or strategy,
knowing that unless they get their booty now, they stand a good chance
of coming out of the dungeon poorer than when they went in. In some cases
Finders Keepers may be worth keeping (the character who fought a one-on-one
duel with a major opponent may feel some justification in keeping that
Sword of Sharpness that darn near lopped her head off), but in general
it's not a very satisfactory method of treasure division.
Luck of the
Dice: This is one of the most common means of dividing treasure,
especially in one-shot and pick-up games. Typically, money is divided
evenly and magic items are split according to the luck of the dice. However,
the money can be reserved until all magic items are divvied up, and then
split among the characters who didn't get a magic item, or who had to
choose from the dregs.
To start the process,
each character rolls a die (our gaming group rolls a d100 to minimize
the chance of ties) and is listed from high to low, according to their
rolls. The character with the highest (or lowest) roll starts by choosing
whichever magic item s/he wants first, and so on down the list. Some characters
may not get any magic items, if they rolled poorly and there are fewer
items than there are characters. Be certain to include significant non-player
characters in the list. If an NPC risked life and limb to help your party
out, s/he deserves a shot at the treasure, too!
If the end of the list
is reached and there are still magic items left, the party can either
reroll, start from the top of the list again, or work back up from the
bottom. Working back up from the bottom is preferable, because the person
who rolled the poorest chooses last and then immediately gets a second
choice, with the process working its way back up the list. This gives
the poorest roller a sort of compensation prize—two choices in a
If characters have a
choice among magic items they can't use or don't really want, they can
either pass their turn or take a magic item anyway. Magic items that can't
be used by a character may still be useful to a henchman or may be sold
or swapped for something else. (In some cases, other party members may
not want the character to sell the magic item, in which case they should
be given the option of purchasing the magic item first.) Spare magic items
also make excellent gifts to nonplayer characters. For example, the last
thing a mage might need is a suit of +1 chainmail, but that mage may want
to choose it anyway and give it to a local guard captain. The captain
will undoubtedly make sure the mage is never disturbed by trespassers
or obnoxious salesmen again, and will probably pay close attention the
next time the mage needs a favor.
After all of the magic
items are divided, the characters may want to swap. Characters can offer
their own magic items or money to each other if there's an item they really
wanted but didn't get a chance to claim. Sometimes a magic item might
be given to a character in exchange for "a favor," to be called
in at some later date.
to Class: This is one of the most rational ways of dividing magic
items. In this scenario, magic items are first divided according to who
can use the item best. If there's only one mage in the party, it makes
sense to give all the "mage-only" magic items and scrolls to
her. If there's only one cleric in the party, give all the "cleric-only"
items to him. If one fighter has magic armor and the other doesn't, the
new set of magic armor should either go to the one who doesn't have the
armor, or the fighter who already has magic armor should take the new
set and give the fighter without the armor his cast-off set.
When all the logical
divisions have been made, any leftover magic items can be split by dicing
off for them.
Need: This is perhaps the most rational way to divide magic items
and treasure, but it's only possible in an extremely cohesive adventuring
group in a campaign setting. My gaming group learned how useful this method
is several years ago—although it requires a little sacrifice on
everybody's parts, in the long run it's an excellent way to min-max the
First, money can be
either divided evenly or divided according to collective party agreements.
In one campaign I ran, the players all took 10 percent of the cash off
the top of each new treasure haul and saved it for the "Resurrection
Fund." This fund was used whenever a party member died. In a campaign
I play in, mages are all allowed to skim enough money off the top of the
treasure haul to pay for replacing the magic item charges they used. The
other characters' theory was that they'd rather have the mages blowing
charges off their wands for the good of the party than have them hoard
the charges for self-defense. (We mages haven't managed to convince the
party to pay for our lost scrolls and components yet, however!) Parties
may also decide to give more money to a character who's just suffered
a financial loss or has a special need for funds for some reason.
Second, magic items
should be split according to need. Like the class scenario, this means
that magic items that logically belong to one character or another should
be given out that way. But in addition, the entire party should critically
examine how its magic items are divided and see if the division makes
sense. Enhance each character's strengths and try to patch up any weaknesses.
For example, mages with low hit points need high armor classes to prevent
them from being hit in battle, so they should get first dibs on Rings,
Bracers, and Cloaks of Protection. Is one fighter's armor class incredibly
high while another's is abysmally low? Swap magic items around until they're
both at about the same level. Is one fighter extremely fast? Give that
fighter the Sword of Quickness and a place on the front line. Who is the
least likely to be knocked unconscious in battle? That's the person who
should be carrying the bulk of the healing potions! Is there a thief in
the party? Give the thief the items of invisibility and silence. In short,
make each character as efficient as possible. Of course, some characters
will have magic items they don't want to give up, and that's fine within
reason—but not at the expense of the entire party's well-being.
Characters should remember
their NPC contacts, too. In a long-term campaign, sometimes it's more
useful to the party to give a Ring of ESP or of Truth to their secretary
or doorman than to keep it themselves!
There are a few other
considerations to mention when it comes to splitting treasure. One fairly
common adventure scenario is that the person hiring the adventurers offers
to pay them with one single big treasure—maybe a diamond the size
of a halfling's head or a fully charged Staff of the Magi. What does the
party do then? There are four likely decisions. The first two options
are best in a single-shot or pick-up game. The third and fourth options
are best in a campaign.
First, the party could
sell the item to somebody for its cash value and split up the proceeds.
That could cause some problems if somebody wants the item—like the
mage in the group, perhaps! In that case, the second option is that the
person who wants the item buys it from the party for its cash value, paying
in cash or a combination of cash and magic items, depending on what the
person has available. That way the mage gets to keep the Staff of the
Magi, but the rest of the party can divvy up the mage's cash and lesser
magic items among itself.
The third option is
to keep the item as "party treasure." For example, a big gem
might be put into a bank or castle stronghold until one of the party members
can afford to buy it from the party, or the group as a whole decides to
use it (perhaps as the basis for a magic item that will benefit the entire
party). The Staff of the Magi might be given to the party's mage with
the understanding that its charges will be used to benefit the entire
party, and that if the majority of the party ever decides it's time for
a retributive strike, the staff gets broken—regardless of what the
mage might think.
The fourth option is
to give the magic item away. Sound silly? Not if the local temple will
give the party some free healing or a couple of free Raise Deads in exchange
for that handsome donation, or if the local mage's guild will give the
party a little spell and potion help whenever it needs it in exchange
for that Staff of the Magi. A group I'm in gave the Temple of Tyr a Mirror
of Mental Prowess, asking only that we were permitted to use the mirror
whenever we needed. Why didn't we just hang it in somebody's bedroom?
Are you kidding? We knew the temple could keep such a powerful magic item
much safer than we could—and it never hurts to curry favor with
the clerics. Sometimes a party will benefit more not from the treasure
itself, but from the favors it can purchase.
So next time your group is getting ready to split the haul, take a moment
to ask yourself if you're divvying up the loot as efficiently as possible.
In the long run, a smarter, fairer way of splitting the goods can only
benefit your group.
originally written June 21, 1998
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