Tactics and Tips03/27/2007


Loot. So simple an idea: You defeat enemies, you get treasure. But when it comes to player egos, there may not be a more potent force in disrupting your game. Overpowered items, characters hoarding anything and everything that they might use, good treasure getting thrown by the wayside because it doesn't fit a perfect character build . . . what's a DM to do?

Greg: So, about that dragon hoard . . . how come there was a +3 halberd, a +2 animated heavy shield, and a pearl of power, but nothing for my bard? I can't avoid a casual glance over to Alarion's or Jarvis's character sheet, where I notice that they have much better equipment than Adarrial. How about shipping some goodies my way once in awhile?

Andy: Hey, I'm just placing the items that the dice tell me to. It's not my fault that I rolled a 70 on the Minor Wondrous Items table.

Besides, it's not like you didn't get anything out of that adventure. What about the tiefling wizard's wand of false life? That's worth like four grand!

Greg: Yeah, and my character sheet is loaded with that sort of crap. This wand with 12 charges, that scroll with three 4th-level druid spells that we might just need if we ever fight an army of shambling mounds, a Murlynd's spoon. "Hey, let's give it to Adarrial. He can use it!" I'm the Mikey of the party, only I don't like everything.

Andy: Have you ever thought that this might be your own fault? After all, you're the one who chose to play a bard. You should've known that you wouldn't get many sexy magic items.

The fighter gets first dibs on magic weapons, so he takes the shiny new longsword before you get a chance. He also needs a good AC more than you, so he gets the best ring of protection. Then the rogue gets first dibs on magic light armor, the wizard gets the magic staff, and the paladin gets the cloak of Charisma. What exactly are you expecting to get?

Greg: So the truth comes out! You don't care about bards, and you don't care about making sure I have fun. Here I am, trying to play nice by filling in a niche role, and you do nothing to support me!

Andy: Careful, I think you just busted my Indignant-o-Meter.

Greg: And are you seriously still rolling treasure randomly? Come on, that's so 1978!

Andy: I guess I just figured that my treasure hoards should be realistic. I mean, just because nobody in the party uses a trident doesn't mean that there aren't any magic tridents out there to find.

Greg: I challenge you to find one non-merman PC who uses a trident. Do it. I'll buy pizza for a year if you do.

Andy: That's "merfolk," you misogynist punk.

Besides, if this is such a sore spot, you shouldn't have waited so long to tell me. I guess I always figured that you were happy being the caretaker on "The Island of Misfit Wands."

Greg: Hey, make it so using a pissant wand takes something less than a standard action, and I'm all over it. But when I spend my action toput a keen edge on Jarvis's sword, and then he gets to attack three times and dish out 57 points of damage (all while not critting, which makes my action pretty useless), something doesn't seem quite fair.

Playing a secondary role doesn't mean I should always get sloppy seconds on magic items too. You need to put some treasure in there that is undeniably ticketed straight to my poor, still-wielding-a-+1-shortbow hands . . . pronto.

Andy: That's a fair point. For the next adventure, I'll try putting down the percentile dice and just placing a few magic items that might be a little more appropriate for your character.

Greg: That's better. 'Cause if you don't, maybe I'll just sell all that miscellaneous cast-off stuff nobody else wants to carry (but sure want the buffing benefits of, when it's time for my turn in the round) and buy myself something pretty.

Andy: Okay, now it's time for me to get up on the soapbox. Maybe the reason you don't have any nice gear is because Mr. Packrat can't bear parting with any of his poor little "cast-off" magic items. Alarion didn't just find that suit of +2 mithral full plate armor -- he paid for it out of his own share of treasure.

I know it's cool to find your best magic items hiding in a treasure chest, but there's only so much of that stuff I can place. Some of the treasure out there has to be in gold and gem form, after all, and I've said since Day 1 that you guys are welcome to buy any magic item in the game as long as I okay it first.

Greg: I'll have my secretary draw up a list of items post-haste. Oh, Duran. . . .

A few months later . . .

Andy: So remember how I promised to put in a couple of good magic items targeted at your character? Now I'm starting to think that helm of telepathy you snagged from Nightfang Spire may not have been such a good idea.

Greg: How so? Just because we aren't resorting to combat every time to beat the monsters doesn't mean it's overpowered. Besides, it really helps fit Adarrial's angle of being the information guy.

Andy: But you keep ruining all my plots! How am I supposed to ever keep a secret from the party when you can just read everybody's minds all day long?

Greg: What else are you supposed to do with a helm of telepathy? Makes for an expensive doorstop, and I didn't see you whining after you gave Thorgrimm his +3 holy dwarven waraxe. Can't you come up with some fool-proof plots (or at least mind blanked archvillains)?

Andy: If there's any group of players that put the lie to the theory of a fool-proof plan, it's you guys. And yeah, I can come up with some excuses to protect a few characters, but that's gonna get old in a hurry.

Honestly, I'd been thinking about just having a thief sneak into your room at night to swipe the helm, but then I remembered how much you guys whined when that rust monster ate Alarion's halberd. So in the interests of avoiding seeing a room full of grown men bawling their eyes out, I thought I'd come talk to you and see if we could figure out something less . . . emotionally crippling.

Greg: That sounds reasonable. Nothing cheeses us off more than the seemingly random item destruction. I'm still bitter about that time Quin spent a lot of time and XP brewing up a perfect toolbox of potions, only to see 90 percent of them wiped out by that nightwing that flew by. How about you swap out the -pathy for -portation? That's still good stuff for Adarrial, but it won't be so plot-wrecking.

Andy: I think a one-for-one trade is unlikely -- I'm sure it has escaped your attention that the latter item is worth like three of the former -- but I'd be up for arranging some kind of "item swap."

Greg: You speak as if we players have the magic item tables memorized and cross-indexed to the "wealth-by-character-level" table. For shame.

Andy: Ideally, though, I'd like it to be part of the actual campaign, rather than a behind-the-scenes retcon. How about this: At some point in the next adventure, a situation will come up when Adarrial realizes that he has to give up his helm of telepathy. I'm not saying exactly what that'll be -- I need to think about it a bit -- but I'll make sure it's pretty obvious.

What's more, I promise that the choice to do so won't come back and bite you on the ass. I won't trick you into giving it away to a disguised archvillain or anything like that -- it'll just be taken out of the party's hands.

In exchange, you give me a list of three magic items worth no more than, say, ten percent more than the helm of telepathy, and I'll put one of 'em in a treasure hoard in that same adventure.

Greg: Spit in your hand and shake on it, and you've got a deal. Just make sure you set it up so the bard comes out looking like the magnanimous, self-sacrificing hero that he is.

About the Author

By day, Andy Collins works as an RPG developer in Wizards of the Coast R&D. His development credits include the Player's Handbook v.3.5, Races of Eberron, and Dungeon Master's Guide II. By night, however, he fights crime as a masked vigilante. Or does he?

As a D&D player, Greg Collins has been taking whatever older brother Andy can dish out for more than 20 years. Recently he took a seat behind the screen to exact his revenge upon his brother for killing his first character by washing him down a flight of stairs. In his time spent away from D&D, Greg is the events producer for magicthegathering.com.

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