Treasure Cheat Sheet: More Magical Rewards

Ever notice there’s never quite enough magic items for everyone in your party as you slay the monsters, rescue the downtrodden, and save the world? 

Sure there’s plenty of coin and gems, but doesn’t it seem there’s always somebody who doesn’t get a new magical weapon or implement, suit of armor, or amulet or necklace – when they really earned or need one?  Why is this?

We’re Magic Item-Starved On Purpose!

That’s right, the treasure parcel system purposely short changes the party – you’re always going to be discovering and earning one less magic item than the total number of party members per level. 

Don’t the revised Essentials treasure generation rules change this?  Good question.  I can tell you, after using both systems extensively, that while the Essentials random rolls may be more classic D&D treasure generation-style fun, you still end up with some strange results. 

For example, a few times I’ve generated less magic items per level for the party under the new rules compared to the old rules.  And unless your typical D&D party is Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser or Lone Wolf in size – and most aren’t, as fun as those can be – that means you’re even further under the old treasure parcel rules’ average magic item counts.  Sure you’ll often meet the old system’s expected magic item counts, and rarely, exceed them as you roll, but it’s still an unreliable, albeit more fun-to-generate treasure system.

The bottom line?  No matter whether you use the old or new Essentials treasure generation system, you’re always going to be off the mark in making sure everyone in the party gets their fair share of magical wonder and power.  And that stinks!

But we’re not here to talk about which treasure generation system is better.  We’re here to talk about how, no matter which you use, your party won’t consistently get one magic item each per character per level.  And I mean the coolest ones – the ones with the greatest quotients of wonder, power and utility. 

I’ll talk about the second tier of magic items – consumables and rituals – in a moment, plus round things out with a simple Treasure Cheat Sheet that includes all types of magic items, just in time for your weekly game!

+1 Generosity: The Simple Fix

The DMG says it’s intentional that there’s one less magic item per party member per level, “not to be unfair” but to keep things “manageable.”  However, now that I’ve lived through it as both a player and DM in over three years’ worth of weekly game sessions and campaigns, the truth is it now strikes me as nothing less than “unfair” after all.  With recapturing the classic wonder of magic items being a very hot topic these days (hooray, MME!), it only makes sense to be slightly more generous. 

One extra item each per level – to match the party count – is not going to break your game, but it will most certainly help it.  When using the updating treasure rules in Essentials – a better bet now that we have more magic items to fill the common and rare item rarity categories thanks to the release of Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium – simply make the minimum number of magic items generated per level match party size.

This one change will help  everyone feel a little better, putting them on more equal footing power-wise and rewards-wise with everyone else.  Now they don’t have to wait till next level to get a weapon, implement or armor upgrade.  After all, doesn’t it stink when the fighter gets the frost brand greatsword, the rogue gets the doppleganger leather armor, the cleric gets the mace of disruption, and the wizard gets… a bunch of coins and some gems?

Sure, patience is virtue, and it’s good and wonderful – even expectedfor you to be happy for and celebrate the acquisition of some hard-won and special magic items by your brothers and sisters-in-arms. 

However, after several adventures, levels, weeks and months?  It can get tedious and frustrating if your character is regularly behind others, especially with key magic items such as weapons/implements, armor and neck slot items.  You might start feeling like you haven’t been magically rewarded as much for all your efforts (from tactical brilliance to inspiring roleplay) or that you’re not as effective in your role as you could be for your party – and that’s not much fun for anyone at the table! 

Now what if, after finally bringing down Gloomchill, a cursed and wickedly evil white dragon at the end of paragon tier, you could be sure there was no one left out because of the numbers?  Now instead of just four key magic items during that exciting trip from paragon to epic tier, you could ensure Gloomchill’s treasure hoard included five magic items – one for each party member.  Now that’s going from 20th to 21st level in style!  Everyone gets a powerful, magical reward, instead of one standing off to the side of all the shiny loot, simply jotting down more… coins. 

Consumables and Rituals

The other important thing to do is continue the tradition of the original parcel system out of the DMG: include other magical wonders in your treasure parcels, especially potions and a few powerful, helpful or adventure-related rituals.  You do so by changing an amount of monetary treasure (coins and gems, for example) into these minor magic items and rituals.

Since consumables have the big drawback of both being high in true action cost (from grabbing them to using them), they don’t get as much attention from PCs like they use to.  That’s ok, but remember to include some in treasure here and there, especially the healing potion chain, just like in the DMG. 

Similarly, rituals don’t get much attention or traction in actual 4e gameplay.  Like consumables, their total resource cost is high, and they often require a lot more creative forethought and planning by both DMs and players.  Still, a few rituals that every adventurer would find useful (remove affliction, transfer enchantment, enchant magic item or raise dead) go a long way to giving a score or hoard of treasure some personality and depth. 

Treasure Cheat Sheet

Here’s an example treasure cheat sheet I use to fill up treasure scores and hoards up a bit more than average, adding more wonder, size and helpfulness to them in the process.  Use this and the +1 Generosity tip above to help bring back the classic wonder of magic items and treasure, MME-style!

The Joys of Generous Rewards

Now you know how to help get everyone a more equal share of powerful magic treasure rewards.  You’ve learned how to make your treasure actually feel magical, colorful and rich, instead of a brief bit of boring accounting.  All that’s left now is for all of you to enjoy your adventures and your rewards!  (And as your campaign wraps up at the end of epic tier, once more fight Gloomchill… half-god dracolich!)

Related Articles

  1. Magnificent Indeed: A Review of Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium
  2. Treasure, Wish Lists and Low-level Magic Items
  3. The Big 3 Potions
  4. Rituals Re-Organized
  5. Rituals Re-Integrated: Alternative Rules
  6. Rituals Re-Purposed: A Review of the Rituals Index


3 Responses to “Treasure Cheat Sheet: More Magical Rewards”

  1. Quirky DM says:

    Nice article and so true. You know as players go through a level, they’re looking at each magic item and thinking either:
    a) it wasn’t on their wishlist and now their odds of getting an item this level have gone down
    b) it was on their wishlist and they know they’re not getting anything now for the next 5-10 encounters

    If giving magic items was a balance issue because of the math, then the answer is fix the math! Don’t hurt pit the players against each other. When everyone gets items and has fun, that’s balance. Give some of your monsters a little boost to make up for the extra power your characters have.

    And right on about temporary items and rituals. When you want to give your players a way to get themselves out of a jam with a powerful option without disrupting the game, temporary options are the way to go. Plus more smaller treasures means more tresures for everyone.
    Quirky DM recently posted..Rapid Fire Combat – Provide IncentiveMy Profile

    • Kilsek says:

      Your suggestion about just boosting monsters a bit, if needed, is right on, Quirky! It’s not much different than tossing a few extra minions in there spontaneously if an encounter seems too easy, like Chris Perkins has mentioned doing. Do you think MME has really started to change the feel of magic items already? I guess I wouldn’t be surprised if slightly “richer” parcels become a common thing – even if it’s just because there’s more magic items, and there’s more in the common and rare rarities.

  2. Quirky DM says:

    I don’t know about MME specifically changing the feel, but I think people were ready for a change. 4E came out very … safe. Treasure parcels made adventuring very predictable as well which took a lot of the wonder away.

    The change started in Essentials with magic item rarity so that some magic items became more exotic and desirable. Then MME came along to add some spice and flavour to items to turn them into something with a wider range of effects and a more significant impact on the environment.

    And then we have articles like this that are trying to break out of the mold and make magic items more unpredictable than giving out the standard treasure parcels and using wishlists. It keeps magic items unpredictable and mysterious- and that’s how you bring the wonder back into the game. Good job!

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