Friday, June 17, 2011

The Magic Item Reset (XVI) : Treasure generation

At a certain point during the design of my item collection, I decided that I wanted to revise how treasure parcels are generated in the game. Not to change the average PC wealth per level, as that would be cheating - I had set out to fix the issues with the treasure system just by redesigning the items themselves, but otherwise working within the same framework. That said, there were a number of changes that could be introduced without altering the fundamentals of item distribution. This included rules for upgrading uncommon and rare items, integrating consumables in the general loot tables, scaling treasure with party size, and (once I realized that my item selection could make it work) random loot generation.

I have compiled all of these alternate rules, along with slightly modified tables for item and gold allocation in parcels, so that the whole treasure creation process is covered in this article. These rules are not required in order to use the new magic items, but I believe they can improve the player experience, so I recommend to give them a try. Likewise, you could use them in a campaign with regular magic items, and except for the random treasure, they should probably work fine. With one notable exception (consumables, of which I’ll talk below), this process will provide an equivalent amount of treasure as the rules from Dungeon Master´s Guide or Rules Compendium.


The item creation process takes up four steps, with an additional one if you go for non-random treasure. They are the following;

  • 0. Wishlist Generation
  • 1. Parcel roll
  • 2. Item generation
  • 3. Gold generation
  • 4. Consumables generation

Step 0 applies at the beginning of a campaign or adventure, and steps 1 to 4 apply whenever a new treasure parcel is generated.

0. Wishlist Generation

Skip this part if the players and DM have agreed to try out the fully random treasure rules. At the start of a campaign or an adventure, have every player select at least 1 item for each slot, write it down on a wish list, and hand it to the DM.. The following guidelines should apply:

  • In case of doubt, suggesting multiple items of different rarities for a slot is a valid option, and gives the DM some flexibility.
  • Players should be aware of rarity distribution across tiers. PCs will have, on average, 3 uncommons and 1 rare by the end of the heroic tier, 5 uncommons and 2 rares by the end of paragon, and 6 uncommons and 3 rares at level 30.
  • Likewise, having an even spread of item levels is also advisable. Try not to end up, for example, with no item choices between levels 7 and 10.
  • Secondary, and even tertiary weapons or implements often come handy, and should be considered as a slot.
  • When dealing with rares, I personally prefer when players write down a couple of options for each rare slot, so that there is some uncertainty (and excitement!) about this crucial piece of treasure.

1. Parcel roll

When generating treasure for a parcel, roll on table T1 to determine whether it has magic items or gold. This roll can be made by the DM beforehand, when planning an encounter or set of encounters, or after the fact, when the players win a fight. If the d20 result matches the Item chance, the parcel has a magic item: go to step 2. If the d20 matches the gold and consumable chance (“Gold/Cons. chance”), go to step 3 and then, if you are using the optional consumable rules in your campaign, go to step 4.

Note that a parcel can have both a magic item and gold or consumables, if the part has more than 5 members. Conversely, when there are less than 5 PCs, it is possible for a parcel to contain no treasure at all.

2. Item generation

If the step 1 has resulted in a parcel that has a magic item, roll on table T2 to find out the level and rarity of the item. At the DM’s discretion, a roll of 1 or 2 can generate a common item of the party’s level, or its equivalent in gold. The Dungeon Master’s Guide tables provide gold in this slot, but a campaign can benefit from having items instead, if the players aren’t interested in crafting items or won’t have a chance to purchase items in a shop.

  • As an optional rule, this can be taken a step further for a goldless PC economy (see step 3).

If the roll results in an uncommon item, there is a chance that the parcel has a rare item instead. This can be determined randomly (roll 1d4, on a result of 4, the item is rare), or at the DM’s discretion. However, the following restrictions apply:

  • At the end of each tier, every PC should have acquired 1 rare item - no more, and no less. If random item generation provides a rare item when all PCs have covered their quota, the parcel has an uncommon item instead. Likewise, if one or more PCs are missing a rare by the end of a tier, the DM should force their inclusion in parcels - either by automatically considering the first uncommon item to appear as a rare for those PCs, or by adding rare items to a parcel by hand.

Item upgrades (new rule)

As the PCs grow in level, their item slots should become filled with items they want. These PCs expect new treasure to include either items for empty slots, higher rarity replacements for some of their items, or higher level upgrades for their existing gear. This last option isn’t well covered in the standard rules, but can be addressed in the following way.

When an item is generated, there is a chance, depending on level and rarity, that it is an upgrade for an existing piece of gear instead of a brand new item. Roll on table T3, taking into account the level and rarity of the generated item. These guidelines apply:

  • If the generated item is common, an item upgrade can apply to any common or uncommon item. You can also upgrade a rare item this way, but only if the original rare item and the upgraded version are both in the same tier (i.e. both have levels between 1-10, 11-20, or 21-30).
  • If the generated item is uncommon, an item upgrade can apply only to a rare item, if the original rare item and the upgraded version are in different tiers.
  • If the generated item is a rare, it is always a new item; don’t roll on table T3.
  • When a generated item is an item upgrade, make a list of all the items owned by PCs that can be upgraded to an item of the specified level and rarity, and choose one of these items at random. If no item of that exact level is available for an upgrade, choose among PC items of the highest level that can benefit from the upgrade. If no item at all can benefit from the upgrade, generate a new item of the level and rarity determined on T2.
  • When an item is upgraded, the original item is replaced by a higher level version of it, and the party gains, as part of the same parcel, an amount of gold of residuum equal to the value they would have gained by selling or disenchanting the item.

If a new item is generated (i.e. the roll doesn’t result in an item upgrade or in raw gold), the DM selects an item of the chosen level and rarity from the PC’s wishlists. This selection should be made at random between all PCs with an appropriate item in their wishlist. Optionally, a DM may choose to exclude a PC from the roll if he or she has acquired magic items recently, or automatically assign the item to a PC if he or she is lagging behind in gear. If no PC has an item of that level and rarity in their wishlist, choose one of lower rarity. If there isn’t any item to choose at that rarity, follow these guidelines:

  • If the generated item is common, generate a common item at random (see random item generation rules below) or, at the DM’s discretion, add gold to the parcel equal to the value of the item.
  • If the generated item is uncommon or rare, the PCs gain no new item, but the first time a parcel is generated after the PCs gain a level, that parcel automatically has an additional item of chosen rarity and level equal to the chosen level+1. At the DM’s discretion, this can apply to any treasure parcel after the PCs gain a level.

Random item generation (optional rule)

As an optional rule, instead of using a wishlist, a DM can have all treasure in a campaign be generated at random. If you use this rule, when a new item is generated, roll on table T5 to determine which item of that level and rarity it is. This replaces the wishlist selection rules above. Item upgrade rules still apply as normal.

Note: Table T5 is huge, and will be included in a separate article, coming soon. This rule only works with my collection of magic items, unless the DM generates his own table T5 from any given item collection.

3. Gold Generation

If the step 1 has resulted in a parcel that has a gold and consumables, consult table T4. For each level, table T4 shows two gold values: the item cost of a magic item of that level, and the base treasure gold, or [G]. Each parcel with gold has the following amount of gold:

  • 1d4 x [G] gold pieces, if treasure parcels in this campaign include random consumables.
  • 2d4 x [G] gold pieces, if parcels don’t include random consumables.

A note on character wealth: The rules in the Dungeon Master’s Guide hand out, for a 5-man party, an amount of gold per level equal to the cost of two magic items of that level, or 50[G]. Under my method, half of that is given out during the Item Generation step - specifically, for rolls of 1 or 2 on table T2. The other half is given as a combination of gold and consumables, so that if no consumables are used, PCs gain 25[G] per level from table T4. If consumables are used, PCs gain an average of 12.5 [G] per level from table T4, plus 12.5 [G] worth of consumables. Read section 4 - consumables for more about the value of consumables.

Goldless campaigns (optional rule): In some campaigns the players may prefer to have a PC economy that is entirely based upon magic items and consumables without any gold or residuum. If you want to have this style of play, use the following rules:

  • When a parcel would have gold and consumables, don’t roll on table T4 for gold, but gain twice the normal amount of consumables instead.
  • Alternately, if you prefer having no gold and no consumables, ignore parcel rolls with gold or consumables, but have table T2 for item generation provide two common items of the party’s level on a roll of 1 or 2.

4. Consumables

If the step 1 has resulted in a parcel that has a gold and consumables, roll on table T5, and add 1d4+1 consumables of the chosen rarity and level to the parcel. If you are using my item collection, there will only be one choice of consumable items for any given rarity and level. For a reference of the consumables available at each level, consult table T7 (to be included in a future article).

A note on consumable value: The amount of consumable items generated this way has been calculated so that a party will receive over the course of each level consumables worth an average of 12.5[G] when sold or disenchanted. The actual market value of these items will be 3 to 4 times that much (given that common items sell for 20% of their value, and uncommons for 50%), so that, strictly speaking, a party following these rules for consumable generation will receive slightly more treasure than if they followed the guidelines in Dungeon Master’s Guide. That said, I decided to use these values for the following reasons:

  • These tables provide what I consider to be the right amount of consumables: roughly enough for each PC to be able to spend 1 consumable every 3 encounters.
  • Due to their expendable nature and the (newly introduced) limitation on consumable uses per encounter, any extra items generated this way do not result in a substantial advantage for the party on the long term.
  • If the players choose to trade their consumables for cash, there is no net gain compared to the default rules.
  • An excessive reduction of available party gold (or non-consumable magic items) results in players being unable to upgrade all their gear according to their level.


  1. Wow, that's more complicated/lengthier than I expected it to be. Questions:

    1. How many parcels do you roll, and when? Ten of them at the start of the level, and divvy them up among encounters as you see fit?

    2. Do I understand rightly that this should, on average, produce the same number of magic items and amount of treasure as the original DMG guidelines?

    3. I'm not enthused by the choice between either *every* gold pile including potions or *no* gold piles including potions. That feels weird. Shouldn't there be a coin toss to see if a money parcel has consumables, or give the DM the choice on a per-parcel basis rather than all-or-nothing?

  2. Those questions aside, this looks like it'd be quite workable! If I weren't already 17 levels into a game with my treasure planned out through the end of the tier, I'd try using this from the start.

  3. Yep, it got a bit out of hand, but once I decided to replace the DMG tables, I wanted to make sure that it was as clear as possible, and that most cornercases were covered.

    Q1 - I don't have the reference in front of me, but this should remain unchanged from the DMG. It's 10 parcels per level, or roughly 1 per encounter. If you are just improvising encounters, rather than planning them over the course of a level, 1 encounter = 1 parcel should work just fine.

    Q2 - That is the intent, definitely. Unless there's an error somewhere (which is quite possible, given the length and complexity of the article), it should be equivalent to DMG (or, rather, to Rules Compendium, which is where rarity was introduced).

    Q3 - It does look a bit forced. I liked the idea of having every parcel provide an immediate benefit (either items or consumables), since gold is often useless until you go back to town - and this led to having a single die roll for table 1. I guess you could have two or three separate rolls in table 1, which should lead to more credible loot, but also introduces the chance of parcels with no treasure whatsoever, even for average-sized parties. I'll see how it plays out.

    At any rate, thanks a lot for the feedback. This weekend I'm introducing the system to my paragon campaign by the drastic method of stripping my PCs of all gear, and handing out loot at an accelerated rate. This should help me understand and polish the system. I'll keep you informed :)

  4. "introduces the chance of parcels with no treasure whatsoever"

    I was thinking more along the lines of "If the roll results in gold/consumables, roll 1d2. On a 1, it contains 2d4 x [G] gold pieces. On a 2, it contains 1d4 x [G] gold pieces, then roll on table T5 and add 1d4+1 consumables of the chosen rarity and level to the parcel." You never get less treasure for having some be gold and some be gold+potions.

  5. Ugh, random tables. I mean, I like them conceptually but I've always found that in practice, they're just wonky wonky stuff.

  6. @Thomas: Yeah. I once gave a try at using the new random treasure system from the Rules Compendium, and it was a total mess. Levels half full of no-treasure treasure rolls, levels where the expected wealth was half its average (a pretty huge difference if that happens at the upper end of the campaign, thanks to quadratic wealth), etc. I abandoned it and went back to the DMG system straightaway.

  7. I just took another look at this, trying to wrap my mind around the item upgrade thing. It looks like if you roll a level 26+ common item, it is *always* an upgrade to an existing item. So, for instance, you can never find epic tier Gloves of Mercy in a treasure "drop", only as an upgrade of the paragon tier Gloves. Is that right? If so, why this design decision?

  8. Re: Lack of commons at epic. This was a design decision I made, based on the evolution on common slots and demand for non-common upgrades across tiers. With no new items getting introduced at later tiers, and higher level versions of items being incremental upgrades over lower level ones, it's highly unlikely that an epic character will find himself wanting to get a common item that he hadn't wanted at common or paragon. By my calculations, by mid-paragon all characters should have some version of every common they need, and giving out new commons after that point becomes less and less useful.

    There's also the fact that an epic character will have space for very few commons, unless he really prefers some commons over their uncommon counterparts. By level 30, you are getting 6 uncommon items and 3 rares, and just about a dozen slots to fill, at most.

    Conversely, this abundance of non-common items also brings a need for very frequent upgrades. An epic character will receive, on average, 6 commons (plus gold for 1-2 more), 3 uncommons, and 1 rare, before rolling for upgrades. That character should have ended paragon tier with 3 commons, 5 uncommons, and 2 rares - This means that you'll need to spend 5 commons and 2 uncommons on upgrades for uncommons and rares alone, plus 2-3 more for an additional upgrade of +5 weapons, armor and necks into +6 ones. This amounts to spending almost every available common slot and piece of gold into upgrades, just to keep pace.

    Then again, this has only been tested on simulations so far, and there may be unexpected interactions. I am aware that the process of acquiring epic gear becomes highly predictable, with only a couple of uncommon and rare items as completely new additions, and the rest being straight upgrades over what the PCs already have. Is that a bad thing? If so, how could it be fixed? I don't think introducing new higher level items, or even new slots, at common would suppose an improvement - it adds little excitement when players can just craft this new stuff at a certain level. On the other hand, adding this kind of new stuff via uncommon items (as with rings) would work, and I may try it out... but that still means giving up on the common slot. Anyway, I'm open to ideas, here.