Save My Game
The Haves and Have-Nots
By Jason Nelson-Brown

This column provides advice for DMs whose campaigns are in trouble. Do your players constantly bicker or complain about issues both inside and outside of the main campaign action? Do your best ideas fall flat? Have you set up a situation that you now wish you hadn't? Worry no more, because Jason Nelson-Brown has the answers to save your game!

Treasure: Who Needs It?

This installment of Save My Game examines what happens when some characters in a party need a lot of equipment to maintain their fighting edge and others don't. What's a DM to do if a couple of PCs need a disproportionate amount of the loot? What's the fairest way to make sure everyone has what he needs?

Problem: It's Not Always about the Stuff

In my current campaign, two of the PCs (a fighter/Order of the Bow initiate and a fighter/kensai) depend on their equipment to get the job done, and the other two (a monk/fist of Zouken, and a psion) do not. This situation means that the need for cash isn't exactly balanced within the party. The monk can make do with almost no cash -- all he needs are his fists and some food here and there. The same goes for the psion -- his powers are innate. (Being an Elan makes it easy to live broke, doesn't it?) But the archer type and the kensai really need cash to advance their equipment so that they can continue to take a beating in battle. Will this kind of situation cause problems in treasure splits? -- Adapted from a post by L33tN1nJ4Sabin on the D&D message boards

Treasure distribution within a party is a key issue in many campaigns, and one that the DM has only a limited ability to adjudicate. Should the characters who are dependent on equipment get an edge in treasure distribution? Or should the distribution be completely unbiased? Let's take a look at this question from a couple of different aspects.

Solution 1: Who's Really Best?

The primary issue in a case like this one is how much any given character depends on stuff to be successful. If the PCs are stripped of their equipment and dropped in the middle of a wasteland, the monks, sorcerers, druids, and psions suddenly jump to the head of the class in terms of power because they can do the most with the least. Their class features are not, for the most part, focused on using some piece of equipment better -- in fact, most don't require any equipment at all. Conversely, at least a few class features of just about every other class become useless when the appropriate equipment is unavailable. Consider, for example, the fighter's weapon-based feats, or the ranger's combat style, or the cleric's ability to cast spells wearing heavy armor, or even the wizard's book-based spellcasting.

Viewed from this perspective, the characters who don't depend on equipment are much more versatile than those who do. If the other characters are to keep up, they obviously need to draw enough of the treasure to ensure access to the right stuff. Whether any treasure is left for the other characters thereafter becomes a moot point.

Solution 2: Who Benefits More?

On the other hand, the mere fact that a character can get along better than others without equipment doesn't mean that she doesn't need or want equipment to maximize her effectiveness. After all, every character takes a beating at some point in the campaign -- even the pixie sorcerer who is invisible all the time and takes pains to stay miles away from melee! Heck, the party monk is likely to get beaten up far more often than the archer/fighter just because the monk has no choice but to get up close and personal with the melee mashers of the monster world.

From that perspective, the treasure split should be as close to even as possible. Every character can benefit from treasure, provided that you offer a wide enough selection to interest everyone in the group.

Solution 3: Keep the Treasure Varied

That last point, then, is the key issue -- make sure the treasure includes something for everyone at least most of the time. Lots of magic items are of universal value and therefore can benefit any character. Just because the monk and the psion aren't as interested in a +3 flaming greatsword as the fighter is doesn't mean they are any less interested in an amulet of health +4. If anything, the extra hit points and bonus on his Fortitude save are more important for the psion than the fighter, who is much less vulnerable on both counts. In like manner, items that boost spellcasting ability and increase bonus spells, power points, and save DCs are essential for maximizing the utility of a spellcaster or psionic character. And a canny psion who chooses his powers carefully could even roll around clad in full plate and shield. After all, armor does not interfere with psionics, and the nonproficiency penalty for the armor and shield is almost irrelevant if the psion rarely uses the affected skills or makes attack rolls. Thus, creative thinking might lead the psion to covet equipment that you might not expect.

Likewise, a monk's basic class abilities are so melee-focused that she really needs a variety of miscellaneous items to round out her arsenal. She can make ready use of items that enhance her ranged attacks or grant her special movement. In addition, an item that would improve her unarmed fighting capabilities (such as an amulet of mighty fists or bracers of striking) would be most welcome, as would an item that would allow her to penetrate DR (such as weapons that are aligned or made of special materials). Furthermore, since a monk lacks the fighter's bevy of combat-focused feats, her unarmed damage may start to fall way behind if she can't find magical means to compensate. And it's much more expensive for a monk to boost her AC than it is for a fighter. Magic armor and shields are bargains compared to bracers of armor, amulets of natural armor, rings of protection, and the like. Viewed from this perspective, a monk might actually need more money than a fighter-type character.


Characters whose abilities don't depend on specific equipment can get by with less than other characters and still function. But if they want to excel, they have just as much need for loot and magic goodies as any other character does. So whether the treasure cones from plundering a monster lair, or as a reward for completing a mission, or from the dead body of a former party member, make sure everyone gets a fair share. Magic items found on dead NPCs or PCs are likely to be uniquely valuable to particular characters, but other PCs or cohorts can probably make good use of other specialty equipment the deceased may have had. Even though a party consisting of a druid, a wizard, and a rogue (as described in the companion post by Stembolt) probably wouldn't need the +1 full plate belonging to a defeated foe, the rogue might be able to put the +2 spiked chain to good use, depending on the character build. And anyone could use the cloak of resistance, the boots of striding & springing, the Heward's handy haversack, the belt of dwarvenkind, the gauntlets of ogre power, and almost everything else the dead character had. Finally, the whole party can always benefit from throwing any unwanted items into the great loot-grinder in the nearest town and watching the gold pieces pour out!

About the Author

Jason Nelson-Brown lives in Seattle with his wife Kelle, daughters Meshia and Indigo, son Allen, and dog Bear. He is an active and committed born-again Christian who began playing D&D in 1981 and currently runs one weekly campaign while playing intermittently in two others.

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