How to Keep a Tight Leash On Treasure and Rewards

By Ken Wai Lau

Narsil - the only sword Aragorn ever needed.

The only ‘magic item’ Aragorn ever needed.
Artwork © by Raymond E Gaustadnes

I came across a blogger who asked this question: what was the most interesting magic weapon you ever picked up? Come to think of it, there weren’t many magic weapons that I could really consider as more than a set of mechanics and numbers.

Exordius from Weapons of Legacy was probably the most interesting weapon, fluff wise. Formerly a weapon of great evil, it was redeemed by the soul of a virtuous paladin, becoming a holy sword to rival the likes of the Holy Avenger (at high levels) despite it’s grim appearance.

The only other ‘magic weapon’ I found interesting was the soulmeld ‘Incarnate Weapon‘ from the Magic of Incarnum. The beauty of this ‘weapon’ was that it really felt like part of your character. It cannot be broken or taken away, unlike most magic items.

It could also be empowered using your soul energy and binding with the weapon allowed you to stun your opponents for a round and deny him a round of actions.

I mentioned it before and it bears mentioning again for this post, the reason why magic items fail to hold interest for me is because there are too many.

Buy any adventure from DriveThruRPG and you will notice that they rarely leave treasure distribution to the Dungeon Master. The worst offenders are the higher level adventures that equip each mook with a +1 weapon, with more powerful items stashed away somewhere in a treasure chest in plain view.

Even D&D Next is failing to kill old habits. Having quickly scanned through Vault of the Dracolich, I’ve seen at least three +1 weapons and a few miscellaneous bits and bobs floating around.

That said, the adventure also mentioned that the players were allowed to keep only one magic item each from the adventure and this has given me a couple of ideas (mainly for those who use pre-made adventures).

No More Finders Keepers

Rather than allowing your characters to keep every item under the sun, you could introduce an NPC who hires the party to recover some artifacts for him. Since they are paid by an employer (handsomely or not), the employer has the final say on who gets to keep the spoils.

So if the client requires the items to be handed over to him upon completion of the adventure, then it allows the Dungeon Master to assign awards however he wants at the end of an adventure (or not at all, if the client happens to be a bit unscrupulous).

Obviously, the characters could then barter with the client on the premise that the characters are the ones risking their own neck for this expedition and have a right to demand more.

In any case, the reward may depend on the length and difficulty of the adventure. Short and trivial adventures won’t be worth a lot, but adventures that take the whole party from one experience level to the next should award the appropriate wealth per level, which can then be spent on upgrading equipment.

During the adventure, the adventurers should be allowed to use any item they discover, but if they break or if charges are expended, the cost is deducted from the final reward at the end of the adventure.

The players might choose to keep the items, in which case bounty hunters will be sent after them. If bounty hunters don’t do the job, perhaps the client might hire a wizard to make a pact with a demon to hunt them down…

The players could also refuse to work for the client and go ahead with the expedition on their own, though a shrewd client would not disclose the location of the dungeon until a contract is signed.

What Is Rightfully Hers…

Alternatively, the items might belong to someone else, taken when their backs were turned or looted from their still-warm corpses.

With that in mind, the law of the land might require adventurers to report to the local authorities with their loot after an adventure, in an effort to crack down on adventurers getting rich quickly by adventuring and ensure there are no shortcuts to accumulating wealth except by taking on contracts or working hard like everyone else.

Once the adventurers hand over the items from their expedition, they will be returned to the rightful owners or next of kin of the deceased. The local wizards and clerics may have ways of determining what belongs to whom or the items might be registered under an owner’s name. Whoever doesn’t comply with this shall be outlawed. At your discretion, the characters will receive monetary compensation for returning the items.


  1. Stubbs March 11, 2014 5:07 pm  Reply

    I don’t think I’d ever play in a campaign like that. I think part of the fun is finding random magic stuff, some useful and some not. And if you did reward the players with a payment in gp, it gives them even more freedom to buy magic items that are totally tailor made for their characters.

    Btw, Narsil doesn’t look like that.

    • Ken Wai Lau March 21, 2014 5:28 pm  Reply

      I guess it all depends on the kind of campaign you want to play, but you’re right about the freedom to choose what you want and it can be a problem.

      Just think of this as the way to cut down on the rewards if you’ve (or your DM has) given away too much.

  2. Jamaal March 24, 2014 5:37 pm  Reply

    I’m with Stubbs on this one. Also, if you are stingy with the loot, the only thing you’ll achieve is make fighters and rogues irrelevant in the game. They struggle a lot in the game as it is.

    • Ken Wai Lau March 28, 2014 11:07 am  Reply

      Fair point. I’m aware this approach won’t be applicable to every campaign, but this article is really more about being in control of the loot rather than complete stinginess – but that can work too, depending on how sadistic the GM is :).

      Also, I’ve seen instances where a lot of the stuff you pick up ends up being sold for money anyway because you have no use for it and it becomes a bit silly when you come back with a bag full of +1 weapons, formerly wielded by mid-high level mooks.

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