Gaming Tonic
11May/141

Magic Items, Should We Share Our Share?

hobbit_smaug_illustration_01We all love to play our rpgs.  You probably wouldn't be reading this otherwise.  Most of us probably enjoy advancing our characters, gathering magical items and gold, and gaining in power.  In games like D&D Next and Pathfinder you usually have pretty clear expectations on how much loot the designers thought each character should have at a given level.  Depending on how your characters divide up the loot this may not be the case.  I want to talk about several ways to divide up the loot and hopefully hear from you in the comments section about what has worked for you in your games, or perhaps failed miserably.

Many years ago I played in a first edition D&D game.  It was just after the Unearthed Arcana had been released and one of the players had chosen a barbarian for his character.  This crafty player had suggested to the rest of the party that at the end of an adventure they should throw all the magical loot in a pot and then role a die with the highest roll picking first, the second highest roll next, and so on.  The player of the barbarian would routinely pick the highest experience point value item first, much to the dismay of the rest of the players.  You see the barbarian actually received experience points for destroying magic items under the Unearthed Arcana rules.

I wrote up the barbarian example so you could see what a bad idea looks like once you get past player greed.  You see the player who played the barbarian was greedy, but so were the rest of the players.  That is why the agreed to this distribution system for magical equipment in the first place.  It didn’t make the party more durable or capable; instead it made them severely weaker.  Most of the party died a pretty gruesome death somewhere down the road because even though their characters advanced in level they never really had the magical gear that they were supposed to have to balance the game and I didn’t adjust the game to accommodate their ridiculousness.

You could always give out the magic items based on who uses that kind of item but sometimes it isn’t as easy as that.  Often a couple of characters are capable of using the same item and either one would benefit from writing it on their character sheet.  Maybe you have a party like the current Pathfinder Reign of Winter game I am a player in.  In that group light armor is highly sought after because I play a ranger but there is also a bard, rogue, barbarian (who refuses to armor up), and an alchemist.  So you could see it isn’t easy to decide who should get the new suit of cooler than the last suit of light armor we found. 

This also begs the question of what should happen to the suit of magical armor that a PC is wearing when they acquire a new suit of armor and everybody already has a suit of magical armor (I am only using armor as an example, it could be any item multiple characters use)?  Should another character get the right to call dibs on it, or should the character who owns it be allowed to sell it and keep the profit?  The party will likely be tougher as a whole if the armor is given to another character if it is tougher than the armor they currently wear.  Should this be decided with a meta-game decision or a role-playing one?

Sometimes an item is acquired by the party that is powerful and worth quite a lot of gold.  If you allocate the item for the use of one PC then that character will probably be ahead of the rest of the party in power and wealth level.  When you total up the gold of the entire party they might be level appropriate as a whole but if one of the characters has much more acquired wealth than the rest of the characters because they possess the powerful item.  Did the DM or the adventure mean for the item to be acquired by the party and kept, or sold and the profits to be distributed amongst the party members?  You have to figure out which would make the party more formidable and in most cases I think it is best to increase the power of as many PCs as possible instead of raising the power level dramatically of just one character.

4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons solved any debate really by just having the players turn in a wish list to the DM.  The Dungeon Master would then just build a treasure package with those specific items.  This system was boring and really curbed the need for the PCs to interact with each other and that is always a great role-playing opportunity which does advance the story line.

These are just a couple of examples of how distribution of party treasure might be handled.  What the PC party does in your game might be something completely different and that is really what I want to hear about.  Do you do a fair gold piece division of the loot or shell it out to the character that would most benefit from the item?  Does your group use another system entirely and if so how does that work out?  Use the comments section to let all the readers know what you are doing around your gaming table and until next time, Roll Hard!

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  1. So, I play in two Pathfinder groups and in one, we just give whoever wants whatever and everybody’s fine with that. In the other one, there’s a whole system:

    1. All the found loot if distributed until we get to where we can sell it.
    2. All the loot is sold for half price, as by standard rules.
    3. Characters with gold can act as “buyers” for the aforementioned loot and buy it for half price instead of selling it to NPCs.
    4. All the gold accumulated is distributed evenly.

    In such way, the loot might be uneven in itself, but it’s always distributed evenly. Although, when we find items that are useful, but too expensive for any one of us to buy out, such items are simply lost.


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