Managing treasure parcels for the my players is always an interesting challenge for me while DMing. It takes zero preparation to dish out monetory rewards to the party, “The lair has been cleared of enemies. In the corner, you find a chest with 200 gp and a brilliant red gem that you estimate is worth 50 gold pieces (gp).” A DM can get creative with describing expensive jewelry and art objects and even tie them in to the plot of the campaign, but the party is simply going to sell the treasure and split the gold equally. Monetary treasure parcels are typically split evenly whereas magic-item treasure parcels create potential balance issues within the party. The DM needs to invest more time in ensuring a good balance of magic items are found so that all in the party benefit equally over time.
In addition, I find discovering treasure parcels and splitting them with my fellow party members entertaining as a player. But something about the economics of 4th Edition has always trouble me, and I was never able to put a figure out why. As a player, I’d look at the gp I have saved up from many levels of adventuring and look at the price of items and think, “I could save up forever and never afford a decent magic item. What else can I even do with this gold?” Months ago, I reached the conclusion that treasure parcels and the economics of D&D 4th Edition were ”broken,” but I didn’t have anything to substantiate that belief.
I returned to the question last week, and decided to finally add some structure and data to my belief that the economics in 4e are a problem. My primary means of addressing the issue was returning to the suggested Treasure Parcel list that appears in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. I wanted to know how much treasure an adventuring party can expect to earn during a Level 1-30 campaign. The graphs below illustrate the data, and a discussion of potential uses for the data follows. It turns out that my belief that the economy is broken may not be entirely accurate. And serious bonus points to anyone that understands the reference in the picture above!
Method & Results
My plan was simple – calculate the total treasure a party could be expected to earn during a Level 1-3o campaign using the suggested treasure parcels from the Dungeon Master’s Guide. I wanted to start by converting all possible treasure to gp, since that is the most common currency used by DMs and players. This turned out to take more time that I thought (a common problem when I get an idea that involves generating data and graphs) since I had to convert Magic Items to gp (more on that later) and the DMG uses platinum-piece (pp) calculations for Epic Tier parcels, which was a minor inconvienance requiring an adjustment to gp. The treausre parcels in the DMG are suggestions for an adventuring party of five players; they offer suggestions if the adventuring party is more or less than five members, but to keep things simple, I focused on the 5-player adventuring party. The graph below is the result of the various calculations of turning all treasure parcels into gp.
Click on the PDF to get a clear image of the graph above. The graph dsplays the suggested parcels as gp. The DMG suggests 10 parcels per Level for a party of five players. The first four parcels in each level are magic items. Over the course of 30 Levels, the party can expect to receive 120 Magic items (30 Levels x 4 Items per Level). To stay with the typical adventuring party of five players, each player would receive 24 Magic items during an adventuring career. For the above graph, I have converted the magic items to their equivalent gp. For example, the first four treasure parcels during Level 1 are: Magic item, Level 5; Magic item, Level 4; Magic item, Level 3; Magic item, Level 2. I converted these items to their full price: 1,000; 840; 680; 520 gp respectively.
I realize that Magic Items are not sold for their full price, so including their full price for each treasure parcel would not give an accurate picture of the total wealth a player accumulates during an adventuring career. I created three categories to provide additional data. The first is Total With Magic Items Full Price (TWMIFP), which this is the amount of gp the party is expected to earn each level if they were allowed to sell magic items at full price. For example, the TWMIFP for Level 1 is 3,760 gp.
Since selling magic items at full price is not possible most of the time, the next category is Total With Magic Items Half Price (TWMIHP), which is the amount of gp the party is expected to earn each level if they sell magic items at half price. For example, the TWMIHP for Level 1 is 2,240 gp. The difference between selling magic items at full or half price during Level 1 is 1,520 gp.
The final category is the Total Monetary Treasure (TMT) for each level. The TMT is only the total of monetary treasure like coinage, gems, jewerly, art objects and other valuables. For example, the TMT for Level 1 is 720 gp.
The totals are listed by level and then the cumulative total for each category appears at the bottom of the graph. For example, the total gp a party of five players would earn during a Level 1-30 adventuring career if they were allowed to sell Magic Items at full price (TWMIFP) would be 111,013,395 gp! However, if the party is allowed to sell their magic items at only half price (TWMIHP), then the total is reduced drastically to 68,842,495 pg. Finally, the party can expect to collect 26,671,295 gp in monetary treasure (TMT) throughout a Level 1-30 campaign. Evaluating party treasure is a bit difficult since loot is routinely divided amongst the party members. The following graph takes the information from above and splits it between five party members.
This graph illustrates a clearer picture of the amount of gp each player in a campaign can expect to receive throughout the campaign. For example, a player starting a campaign at Level 1 can expect to earn 752 gp if the party sells all magic items received at full price (TWMIFP), 448 gp if the party sells all magic items at half price (TWMIHP) and 144 gp from monetary treasure splits (TMT). By the end of the campaign starting at Level 1, the player can expect to earn 22,202,739 gp (TWMIFP), 13,768,499 gp (TWMIHP) or 5,334,259 gp (TMT).
The calculations for magic items sold at full price (TWMIFP) are not incredibly useful because I’m not aware of any DM that allows magic items to be sold at full price. But the data gives a clear indication of the “best-case scenario” for an adventurer during their career. At best, a player can expect to earn 22,202,739 gp if they have survived a Level 1-30 campaign. A more realistic total is 13,768,499 gp, as this is the calculation with magic items sold at half price. I realize each DM handles selling magic items differently; some may only allow items sold at 25% of their cost, while other DMs may rely on their rarity to determine the gp earned from selling the item. I chose 50% (TWMIHP) because it’s likely the most common method (pure speculation on my part though) and gives anyone an idea of total wealth in the middle of the re-sell range.
The total monetary treasure (TMT) values are interesting because they are significantly lower than the totals when factoring in magic item resale. During a full Level 1-30 career, a player can expect to earn 5,334,259 gp from treasure splits of items like coins, gems, art and other valuables. The 5.3 million gp that a player earns during a full Level 1-30 career is not enough to buy a Level 30 (3,125,000 gp) plus a Level 29 (2,625,000 gp) magic item, which would total 5,750,000 gp. And that is if the player has never purchased anything else with their gp during the entire adventure.
Another example illustrates the same dynamic, and hits close to home for me since my Level 12 Rogue is dealing with the issue at the moment. A player that just advanced to Level 12 can expect to earn 11,759 gp from Levels 1-11; this is calculated by adding the TMT for Levels 1-11. The player can also expect to own approximately 9 magic items by this point in time. It is likely a safe assumption that each player has a magic weapon/implement and magic armor in addition to other utility magic items. A player that just advanced to Level 12, even if they have not spent any of their earned gp from Level -11, can afford a single Level 11 magic item (9,000 gp) and have 2,759 gp remaining. This seems problematic to me and it only escalates as the player advances in level.
Jumping ahead several levels, a player entering 19th Level player (they have earned gp from Levels 1-18, which would be 120,259 gp according the the TMT) can buy one 19th Level magic item (105,000 gp) if they have saved up almost every gp they have earned since Level 1. The picture does improve if the TWMIHP is used instead of TMT; the player entering 19th Level would have 394,499 gp instead of 120,259 gp. The player could then buy a single Level 22 magic item (325,000 gp) and have 69,499 gp left over, which could be used on a 17th Level magic item (65,000 gp); however, the player would be without the rest of their magical gear since they sold it to earn the 394,499 gp in the first place!
A player is faced with few options in terms of wealth in the game. The options are to save up for a big-ticket item, but even saving for an entire Tier isn’t going to help much in terms of buying an awesome item. For example, a player could save up every gp earned from monetary treasure splits through Levels 1-11 and only have 11,759 gp to show for it. They could buy a single 11th Level magic item or spend it on an assortment of lower-level magic items. If something unforseen happens (like you’re taken prisoner and lose your +2 mace, which means you have to buy another +2 mace. . . no complaints, Dungeon Maestro, I’m simply happy to be alive!), then your gp is tapped for a long time.
So if a player is not saving gp up for “really cool stuff,” then what are the other options for gp? A player in my party routinely stocks up on Potions of Healing and Vigor - like three or more at a time. The potions are pretty cheap, 50 gp and 160gp respectively, but they add up if you are buying several each time a town is visited. I previously thought that was a short-sighted approach, “You should save your money for better gear.” But saving for high-level gear is not much of an option in 4e. A player could save up to buy low-level items, but it is important to focus on items that will be useful down the road.
An example would be an item my Rogue has considered for some time, Boots of Free Movement, Level 6 (1,800 gp). The boots grant a +2 bonus to saves against slowed, immobilized and restrained conditions, and allow a saving throw as a Minor Action against the same conditions as an Encounter Power. Those boots would be useful at any Level. Granted, saving up for Boots of Teleportation, Level 28 (2,125,000 gp) would be awesome since they allow you to use a Move action to teleport the number of squares equal to your speed as an At-Will Power. Good lord, a Rogue’s dream!
The issue for me is that magic items are so wildly overpriced in Paragon and Epic Tiers that gp becomes rather obsolete after a while. For example, a player can spend most of his or her gp during the Heroic Tier to fill out their item slots. But then save up every gp earned during Paragon Tier, which would be 236,500 gp according to TMT (adding Levels 11-20). That allows the purchase of a single 21st Level item (225,000). The player can decide if saving up for a single Level 21 item is worth it or determine if the gp would be better served on two Level 19 items.
One thing is very clear to me – a player is not meant to save up gp over many levels for big-ticket items. I have been thinking about gp all wrong as a player. Is there guidance for players on how to use their gp? If not, then there should be. I have played 4e for over two years as a DM and player, and it took me doing this analysis (of sorts) to realize that I’ve been approaching loot entirely the wrong way as a player. I’ve been saving and saving in the hopes that I could get a ”badass” item slightly above my level. Regardless of how much I save, that simply is not going to happen; the treasure parcel system is not built that way.
As a player, I should target lower-level items that fit into my character’s backstory or optimize him in combat. Perhaps this is not a revelation to most people, but I lacked this level of understanding of how the system operates. I still beleive that the cost of magic items compared to the amount of gp earned during an adventure is problematic. The best-case scenario for a player saving all of their gp is a single magic item of their lower or lower. Once the money is spent, the player has to wait a very long time to earn enough money to buy another worthy item.
I’m looking forward to getting Mordenkaiden Magnificent Emporium because it may address another issue that I have – what else is there to do with gp? I believe this is where the DM and players need to be creative to make it feel like having 5,000 gp is really worth something other than one Level 10 magic item. For example, players in my groups have hired heralds to follow their adventures and sing of their exploits (think Chaucer from A Knight’s Tale) and recruited street urchins and other undesirables to gain greater control of a city. They have made donations to repair broken temples or use gold to buy property and businesses. A DM should ensure the players have options for spending gp that do not include buying items.
- Help your players realize that gp is not meant for saving to buy high-end items; the treasure parcel system does not support that goal. However, inform them that gp is best spent on numerous less-expensive magic items. It may even be helpful to refer players to these graphs to gain a better understanding of the suggested economics in D&D 4th Edition.
- Consider the suggested economy for D&D 4th Edition and adjust your campaign accordingly. A DM may want her players to have more or less gold over their adventuring career compared to the suggestions above. A DM can adjust the treasure parcels according to taste to either give players more opportunities to buy high-level items or reduce their ability to buy much of anything.
- Generate situations where spending gp immerses the players into the story of the campaign and creates choice. As a DM, I have set up situations were players must choose to pay an informant or guide a large sum or money to lead them on an easier path to their destination. The players can pay the sum, negotiate for a lower price, initiating a skill challenge, or set out on their own, which is likely more dangerous.
- Spending gold is a possible “out” for the DM and players to keep in mind to avoid or end combat; the villain could spare the lives of the players from attack for a handsome bribe, “We could kill you all, or at the very least wound you significantly. But Lothar of the Hill People doesn’t pay us well enough. He treats us like dirt! Pay us 2,000 gp and I’ll take my guards elsewhere. Give Lothar my regards before you kill him!” This creates player choice. The party can pay the bribe, which would be a sacrifice of monetary resources, or refuse the offer and attack the guards, which sacrifices powers, healings surges, and other combat resources.