by Mike Shea on 23 November 2009
One of the bits I often toss to the side when planning out a series of adventures or even a campaign is loot. With the vast array of possible loot available in 4e and the picky tastes of my players, I often just hand-wave it, either by using Asmor's random loot generator or by just tossing a lot of cash at the PCs to let the players buy what they want. In the rare circumstances where I plan out for particular loot items, I'm often disappointed to find that that excellent +4 flaming glaive isn't as desired by our glave wielding fighter as the +3 bloodclaw glaive he already has.
Today we're going to look at a trick for handling loot in a more desired method that gives players some freedom to choose what they want but doesn't completely remove the appeal of the random drop.
One way to give more freedom to players without wrecking the immersion of the game by stating "Just pick out a level 8 or lower item of your choice" is to add a new type of loot in the form of a magic gem. These gems, entitled "Fey-gem", "Shadowgem", "Primordial Gem", or "Astral Gem" will have a set type and a set level. These gems can be traded in, crushed, and used to enchant powerful magic items of a certain level. For example, a 9th level Fey-Emerald can be used to create a 9th level or lower set of armor. A 18th level Primordial Diamond can be used toenchanta 18th level or lower weapon or implement.
For my own game, I designed the following gem types:
Emerald = Armor
Diamond = Weapon or Implement
Sapphire = Neck
Ruby = Arms, Hands, Feet, Head
This lets me limit the TYPE of item I am giving out in a treasure parsal without reducing the PC's ability to pick the item they want.
It could become very easy to depend on such a system. It is simple and easy, players will like it because they get what they want and you'll like it because its easy. Using it all the time, however, is simply lazy. Sometimes the item most memorable to a player is the one they weren't expecting. Assume that this gem system frees you up to spend time on some really unique items to reward to your players, legacy items perhaps, that define them as a character. You should also not omit the value of random loot as well. Sometimes neither you nor the players will know how much fun an item can be until it randomly shows up.
For these reasons, I recommend using all three systems. Use a gem-based loot system for the bulk of the items that drop. Sprinkle in some random loot to make life a bit more exciting. Finally, spend time on the really amazing items that will wow your players and maybe even help define their characters.