The root of all evil: This is part of series of five posts concerning how we handle rewards, wealth, money and equipment in the game. The other posts are on Wealth and Economics, the Cost of Living, Making Magic Items, and Experience. You can read them in any order, but you might want to read them all before commenting.
Placing the correct treasure in adventures has never been a strong virtue for me. Dealing with the minutiae of equipment management and gold-piece accounting has always been my least favourite part of the game as a player, and it’s a prejudice I carry with me to the other side of the screen. For the rules as written to work, then that situation needs to change. I need to make sure I’m handing out the appropriate amount of treasure (mundane and magical) for characters of all levels.
The rules for the placement of Treasure begin on page 399 of the Core Rules (2009). You can see the same rules on the Pathfinder PRD. There’s also a fair amount of guidance on treasure in the Gamemastery Guide (2010) starting on p105. What these rules do is provide guidelines on how much wealth – as represented in gold pieces – should be provided by the average encounter, and consequentially how much wealth in gp a character should acquire at each level.
This is how it works: each encounter in the game has a suggested gp reward that is tied to the difficulty of the encounter, the size of the party, the average experience level of the party, and rate of XP advancement used in the game. For example, if a group of fve 1st level PCs face an encounter with a Challenge Rating equal to their average party level, then that encounter should net them 260 gp. If the same five PCs faced a level-appropriate challenge at 20th level, then they should expect to walk away with 67,000 gp.
Although wealth could be earned on an encounter-by-encounter basis, GMs have the power to hold back awards and give them to the party in shape of a single hoard, rather than doling out the same amount piece-meal over a number of encounters. Basically a few treasure-lite encounters are fine as long as the GM ponies up the goods in the end.
Now this is all a bit complicated. While I understand the rules, my enthusiasm for this will wane if I have to do it for every encounter. So, I’m going to take a slightly different approach that stays completely within the rules, just makes things a little easier for me.
How much Treasure?
The rules state that in a “low magic” game, I should half the amount of treasure that I hand out to PCs. While I’m going to keep that as an option for Iourn, it’s not going to be my initial approach. I’m going to keep treasure awards at the default level suggested in the Core Rules. I think this balance is right, but we’ll see how it goes.
My general thoughts on treasure are summed up very well in the Gamemastery Guide (2010). If you have a copy of the book, read the section “Reducing Magic with World Description” on p106. This isn’t reprinted on the web, but the basic conceit is that magic is rare, and the fact the PCs have it is exceptional. The PCs (and their enemies) are effectively high magic characters wandering around a low-magic world. That’s the way I like it.
So, if I’m using the standard guidelines for treasure, how much am I going to be giving away? This is where Table 12-4 Character Wealth by Level rides to my rescue. This table provides guidelines for how much overall wealth a PC should have at any given level, and acts as a handy guide for starting characters at a level higher than 1st .
The amounts in the table aren’t cumulative. If you’re building a 3rd level character from scratch then you have 3000 gp worth of treasure, but a 2nd level character who advances to 3rd only gains an additional 2000 gp over what he already had. Using this table we are able to extrapolate how much treasure a player character should amass over the course of each experience level as follows:
|Between levels||Weath Gained|
This becomes jolly useful to me. I know that for the wealth system to work properly, I need to hand out the indicated amount of treasure to a character as he advances between the noted levels. So an 18th level character will gain 155,000 gp of treasure during his advancement to level to 19. Obviously, that’s treasure for each character. If I have a party of six 18th level characters, then I’d need to include 930,000 gp of treasure and let them fight it out amongst themselves.
What I like about this system is that I don’t need to worry about treasure rewards for each encounter, I only need to look at the bigger picture per level. In practice, I’m sure that I’ll dole out treasure over the course of the level, but this gives me the freedom to do it in a more ad hoc manner – and in a manner that’s more in sync with the plot.
What sort of Treasure?
So, my party of six 18th level adventurers has finally made to level 19. Over the course of their last experience level, each of them has had the opportunity to acquire 155,000 gp of treasure according to the table above. But what’s the treasure actually made up of?
If you’ve read my post on Wealth and Economics, then you’ll know that the bulk of this treasure is NOT going to be made up of cold hard cash. I need to restrict the money supply in the economy, so I can’t have even the highest level characters wandering around with that much disposable income. Plus, there’s probably nowhere to spend it anyway. It’s not as if there are any magic item shops.
It’s Table 12-4 Character Wealth by Level to the rescue again! In the guidelines for starting a character at a higher level than first, the accompanying text tells us how the wealth should be spent; it says that characters should “spend no more than 25% of their wealth on weapons, 25% on armor and protective devices, 25% on other magic items, 15% on disposable items like potions, scrolls, and wands, and 10% on ordinary gear and coins”.
So basically, when I’m doling out treasure I should be using the amounts in the table above but giving away items in the following percentages: 10% of the treasure should be in spendable wealth such as coins; 15% of the treasure should be in disposable items such as potions, scrolls or wands; and the remaining 75% of the treasure should be in magic items or unique mundane items that cannot readily be sold such as art objects or gems.
If the party acquires magical treasure that they don’t need, they can still extract the magic from it and use it to create new magic items of their own design, or commission enchanters to do so on their behalf. Read my post on Making Magic Items if you haven’t already.
There are no house-rules here at all. This post has merely been an exercise in getting on top of the rules for treasure. They are clinical and prescriptive rules, that make the storyteller in me wince. Implementing this system is going to be a challenge for me. My instinct tells me that the figures in the table above should be used as a fairly firm guideline. But one that I could break given the needs of the story or the campaign.
Artefacts or items that are only there to drive the plot along aren’t included in this budget. If I want to give a party of six 6th level PCs a flying ship and send them out on a fact-finding mission to the Floating Islands of Krell then these rules aren’t going to stop me.
Inevitably, this system requires a certain suspension of disbelief: “Oh how handy that orc was wearing +5 splintmail, and look – it’s just my size!” But it does enable me to tailor the acquisition of magical items to the players, and allow players to use the resources they find to make new magic items if they desire.
I am determined to keep each magical item unique and flavourful. I want everything to have a history, that the party can find out about if they are prepared to investigate. It will take more organisation to pull this off, but at least you should all be equipped with magical booty that reflects your experience level. Something that the maths of the Pathfinder game demands.