If someone asked me what part of designing adventures I find the most perplexing I would say treasure without a thought. For me, deciding what treasure a particular encounter should have has always been a problem. I know there are random tables, but whenever I use those I get wonky results and often accidentally unbalance the game. The problem is, that treasure is a very important aspect of the game which means even if I wanted to, I can’t really not put it in. I have tried all kinds of different solutions to make placing treasure easier for me, but until recently I haven’t really found one I liked. Thankfully about a year ago I came up with a series of questions that have made placing treasure a lot easier.
When I first started GMing, I rarely gave thought to the logic of treasure placement. Things such as the adventure location, the monsters encountered, and where the treasure came from didn’t seem all that important.
An encounter in a cave full of stirges should have treasure that makes sense. Stirges don’t value treasure, but they do a really god job at killing low level characters. Any treasure found inside a stirge cave should reflect this. You won’t find priceless artifacts, but you will find things like potions, coins, and the like. Giving just a little thought to the environs and creature helps make any decisions about treasure a lot easier.
The biggest mistakes I have ever made as a GM was giving an artifact to a first level party. My players loved it, but it destroyed the campaign. That campaign ended rather abruptly and I learned a valuable lesson. When I consider treasure , I always ask myself if an item is going to create a balance issue. A really powerful magic item or to much gold can unbalance the game. .
This is the final question I ask myself. Yes, almost any treasure will aid a party in some way, but there are things that are better than others. Giving the party incense of mediation when the party doesn’t have a cleric isn’t all that helpful. However, giving the party a +2 amulet of natural armor when there is a Druid in the party, makes a lot of sense. I also tend to have “boss” fights at the end of the adventure. For this reason I often want to make sure the characters will have stuff to help them with that fight.
I will probably never perfect the art of placing treasure. They are not perfect, but I do think these questions help. I would love to hear what other people have to say on this topic so don’t be shy.
Until next time may the GM roll poorly,