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Award Treasure and Magic Items in 5e

by Mike on 20 May 2024

Looking for a good system for managing treasure in your fantasy RPGs? Use a mixture of random treasure and hand-selected magic items that fit the characters and their players' desires based on wish lists. Roll random treasure parcels and customize which parcels to offer and what's in each parcel based on what brings the most fun to the group. It's quick, easy, and provides a high value for our game.

How much treasure should you reward? A couple of RPG community members did great work breaking down how much treasure one can expect across a campaign. DM David did so in his article "What is the typical amount of treasure awarded in a fifth-edition Dungeons & Dragons campaign?". So did Paul Hughes and Andy Pearlman. If you want to dive deep into the math, these articles have you covered.

Like many aspects of 5e and RPGs, I argue it's better to hang on with a loose grip and not worry too much about the math.

How Often?

The breakdowns linked above, and books like the 2014 Dungeon Master's Guide, and Level Up Advanced 5e's Trials and Treasure recommend offering one to three hoards per character level. That feels right to me too.

I like to prepare one hoard, with a couple of potential permanent magic items for each session. I may not give them out, but I like to have them on hand.

Drop in hoards when they feel right and when the opportunity arises in the story of the game.

How Much?

Chapter 7 of the 2014 Dungeon Master's Guide has fine tables for rolling treasure hoards. Choose the challenge rating of the biggest monster defeated or pick a CR based on the overall danger of the quest (or even just an equivalent CR to the level of the characters if you have nothing else to base it on) and roll on the appropriate tables.

The equivalent random treasure tables in the Trials and Treasure book for Level Up Advanced 5e are better but adding all the CRs of the defeated monsters isn't as straightforward as focusing on the highest CR monster. You can half the CR values in A5e's tables and use them the same way as the DMG tables and things work fine.

Online random treasure tools often work better than rolling lots of dice. It's fast to roll a treasure hoard using tools like Donjon's Treasure Generator, the Level Up Advanced 5e Random Treasure Generator, or the Lazy GM's Random Generator (a reward for Sly Flourish Patrons). Because it's so fast, you can roll a bunch of hoards and pick the one that best fits the situation in the game and the fun of your group. Which random magic items look cool for the current situation? Does the hoard have too many or too few consumable magic items? Keep rolling until you like what you see.

We're not beholden to the results of such random treasure hoards. Roll again or roll on individual magic item tables to drop in specific items. Feel free to pick items directly for your characters if random rolls aren't bringing up things they want or can use. Sometimes, though, strange oddities can be used in interesting ways so it's ok to toss them into the pile.

Add Items from Wish Lists

Ask your players what kinds of magic items they're interested in for their character. Write this wish list down in your notes and review it when reviewing the characters for your next game (step 1 of the eight steps from Return). Then, if the time feels right, drop in an item for one of the characters, ensuring you're keeping track of who got what so no one's left out.

Add Story and Campaign Flavor

The "Special Features" tables on page 142 and 143 of chapter 7 in the 2014 Dungeon Master's Guide offer fantastic ways to customize magic items based on the item's creators or intended users, history, minor properties, and quirks. These tables inspired my "condition", "description", and "origin" tables on page 6 of the Lazy DM's Companion and the "origin", "condition", and "spell effects" tables on page 13 and 14 of the Lazy DM's Workbook.

You can also build your own faction or origin table to flavor magic items based on the campaign world you're running – either homebrew or published. Here's an example of some factions of Midgard:

  1. Veles the Great Serpent
  2. Freyr and Freyja, the Twin Northern Gods
  3. Loki the Northern Trickster God
  4. Sif the Northern Sword Maiden
  5. Thor the Northern Thunderer
  6. Wotan the Northern Rune Father
  7. Khors the Crossroads Lord of the Sun
  8. Lada the Crossroad Goddess of Dawn, Love, and Mercy
  9. Perun the Crossroad God of War and Thunder
  10. Rava the Crossroad Gear Goddess
  11. Volund the Crossroad Master of Fire and Anvil
  12. Addrikah the Mother of Madness
  13. Boreas the Devouring Wind
  14. Chernobog the Black God
  15. The Goat of the Woods
  16. The Hunter, God of Relentless Pursuit, Skill, and Primal Instinct
  17. Mammon the Lord of Greed
  18. Marena the Red Goddess of Winter
  19. Vardesain the Ghoul-God of the Bottomless Maw
  20. The White Goddess of Bright Pain

When you're playing in a campaign world, build your own faction list like the one above to flavor your own monuments, one-use magic items, weapons, and armor.

Tie your custom magic items to your secrets and clues so your players discover more of the world around them while enjoying their new fine loot.

The Lazy GM's Random Generator

Sly Flourish Patrons get access to the Lazy GM's Random Generator. This tool is a generator for monuments, one-use magic items, treasure, quests, NPCs, and more. Each component can be flavored with over ten different campaign worlds and include spells from the 2014 Player's Handbook, Level Up Advanced 5e, and Kobold Press's Deep Magic books. It's a great resource to help you build fantastic situations for your games. Join the Patreon and get access right now.

More Sly Flourish Stuff

Last week I posted a couple of YouTube videos on Tier-Ranking D&D and RPG Campaigns and Building a Faction List .

Last Week's Lazy RPG Talk Show Topics

Each week I record an episode of the Lazy RPG Talk Show (also available as a podcast) in which I talk about all things in tabletop RPGs. Here are last week's topics with time stamped links to the YouTube video:

Patreon Questions and Answers

Also on the Talk Show, I answer questions from Sly Flourish Patrons. Here are last week's questions and answers:

RPG Tips

Each week I think about what I learned in my last RPG session and write them up as RPG tips. Here are this week's tips:

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