Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Treasure Parcels

4th Edition has new treasure rules.

The days of rolling up random treasure hoards are over; under the new regime the words "Treasure Type S" are gibberish. 4th Edition uses treasure parcels.

The treasure parcel system described on pages 125 and 126 of the Dungeon Master's Guide turns assigning level-appropriate loot into simple maths. You break your entire campaign down into chunks of ten encounters. Every ten-encounter chunk has ten associated treasure parcels. Treasure parcels range from a level-plus-four magic item at the top end down to a measly handful of gold at the bottom end. The parcels might get handed out one after each encounter, or they might bunch up with none in one encounter and two in the next, but presuming players are at least industrious enough to search the room after each encounter they'll walk away with a predictable amount of treasure after completing all ten challenges.

The magic number of "ten" in relation to treasure parcels isn't random; that's how many encounters it's expected to take characters to level up in 4th Edition. A standard level-appropriate encounter gives out one-tenth the XP necessary for a five-man party to gain a level.

A ten-encounter treasure parcel spread for five players contains four magic items, and exactly enough cash to buy two more, providing they're level-appropriate. That has a couple of implications. First, a character can expect to gain roughly one new non-consumable magic item per level. Secondly, because items become obsolete within (roughly) five levels, players should expect at any time to be wearing no more than five or six items of level-appropriate gear. That's an issue, because there's nine equippable item slots.

Luckily, some items never go out of style. Acrobat boots, which let you stand from prone as a minor action, become available at level 2 and are thoroughly useful all the way to level 30. Gauntlets of the ram are the best hand-slot item for a character focused on forced movement from level 8 all the way to endgame (on a Malediction Invoker their property can trigger as often as four times a turn); for everyone else, the (deeply broken) antipathy gloves are ridiculously good.

These non-scaling powers are a bit depressing. Once a character gets a solid pair of boots that won't become obsolete they can afford to snub their nose at anything else for that slot that comes along, selling it for cash and buying the latest edition of their weapon-of-choice instead.

How then, does Thunderspire Labyrinth treat the treasure parcel system? Simply put, it ignores it.

Possibly treasure parcels came late in the 4E development cycle; possibly the authors never got the memo. Thunderspire gives out loot exactly as often as it feels like it, which is roughly never, and takes a perverse pleasure in ensuring that sums of cash are never divisible by five. While it's not quite as bad as Pyramid of Shadows (which seems to contain nothing but Wizard loot), the treasure in Thunderspire Labyrinth also suffers from being overly specific. There's nothing like telling your players they've found a +3 item, watching their faces light up, and then adding that it's a weapon that none of them wields.


Anders Hällzon said...

Keep on the Shadowfell did this too, didn't it? The Scales of War Adventure Path uses the parcel system exactly as written, though.

Todd said...

The H series, is miserably stingy on loot. The free PDF of Keep on the Shadowfell helps a little (putting something like three 6th level items in the final encounter) but overall it's nothing short of miserly. By the end of Keep, my players were nearly 5th level and had maybe 2 items each. I actually told them to regenerate their characters (as a lot of people had made, lets say, antiquated stat choices) and choose items based on the "making characters of a higher level" section of the DMG.

Maelora said...

I really don't get what's wrong with finding a weapon 'nobody uses'.

I mean, in earlier editions, one of the benefits of choosing, say, longswords, was that you'd likely find a lot of them as magic items.

Yeah, you could take Quadruple Weapon Specialisation in the Bohemian Earspoon, but good luck ever finding a 'vorpal' version.

4E has 'retraining' rules anyway, so you can freely embrace a new weapon if you want.

Do all 4E characters have to get everything given to them on a plate? Don't character concepts change over time? Why are there no longer any 'organic' characters? Why is it necessary to plan out every aspect of your character from cradle to grave?

I once ran a drow who was given a Storm Hammer as a gift by a grateful dwarf king. She felt as if she couldn't just sell it or give it away, so she picked up the weapon skill as soon as she could.
Not long after, it became her signature weapon, and nobody could imagine the character without it.

Mark Langsdorf said...

The problem with growing organically and retraining is that you need certain attribute values to get or take advantage of the best feats. Since you only raise attributes rarely, if you didn't plan from 1st level, there's a limit to how much you can do.

For example, a hypothetical drow fighter is likely to be STR and DEX focused, with a relatively low CON. That makes sense for the light blade or spear tactics she is likely to use: she can select the right feats and get bonuses from powers like Rain of Blow. When she gets the hammer, she can retrain Spear Push into Hammer Rhythm, but with her measily +1 CON modifier she doesn't do nearly as much damage as the Dwarf with a +5 CON modifier.

When she hits Epic level, she can't take Hammer Mastery and get the 19-20 critical range, as she doesn't have enough CON and has no way to get it.

Knowing all that, in a long term campaign, you look for a weapon that suits your plan and don't evolve organically.

Maelora said...

Another reason I prefer BECMI, I guess.

FalconGK81 said...

I think the folks at WotC saw this problem and started correcting for it... just too late. Starting in one of the later modules (P1 perhaps) there is a sidebar at the beginning of each of the modules mentioning that the DM should tailor the items to their party. I think later on they even get less specific about the form of the magic item, so that the DM has to choose what type of weapon/implement it is.

The problem with this, as Maelora points out, is that everything that drops is tailored to your choices. Loot becomes less exciting, since you "know" that something good is going to drop for you. When your fighter wields a spiked chain, it starts to strain credibility that the party never happens upon a magic longsword, yet they can't help finding magic spiked chains every 2-5 levels.

Of course they built in a way around this as well, by allowing the transferring of magic weapon properties from one magic weapon to another weapon via rituals.

Maelora said...

One overall problem for me is that I simply don't want to micromanage my character for 30 levels. I just want to pick what seems neat or cool and go with that. I don't want to have to be 'good' at playing D&D as someone once said.

Many people these days seem to see each new splatbook as a puzzle that has to be solved. Some people love poring over every new option and squeezing out every last +1. But that's not D&D for me.

Another problem with 4E, as Falcon touched on, is that everything can now be predicted. At each level, you know what you will be doing (fighting), you know what monsters you will face, you know what the DC of your skill checks will be, you know what feats you wil choose and what magic items you will have, as they're all on your 'wish list'. You know you won't lose any stats, or items.

And to me, that kind of bypasses the need to play the game. You already know what will happen.

nowiwantmydmg said...

I.m really enjoying 4e, but the parcel system sucks. They either need to make magic items super inherent(ala 3e) or remove them from the game math entirely. The half-measure taken here really bothers me.

In any event I simply hand out cool(often custom) loot when I think it appropriate (less often than the book) I think the most magical items anyone has at 8th level is 3 and it would be 2 if it wasn't for looting dead PCs.

Ian Argent said...

I much prefer the treasure parcel system as a GM. I solicit wishlists from players to get an idea of what they are looking for. And then see if that fits my plans...

But I spent most of m GM time running shadowrun, where for many characters the vast majority of their net worth was acquired in chargen, and the vast majority of "treasure" is cash, so I have always had to deal with characters whose treasure is self-chosen.

By The Sword said...

Maelora has some great points about the new D&D and it's treasure system. When 4e first came out I saw that magic items were in the player's handbook and I balked. Magic items were never a "given" they were something that a player character had to earn.

If I ever get to run a game in this edition (I have all the books but my Grognard friends don't want to play this version), I will dole out treasure as I see fit and the players will be happy with the magic items that they have earned as plunder from their adventures. There will be no Mage-Mart where a PC can walk in and buy whatever they want right off the shelf. Some items will be for sale but it will be a quest in itself just to find and buy the damned things.

I love all the options that the 4th editions gives to the players and to their characters. I love that your character isn't all about the gear and even stripped down to non-magical gear the average character can still function. But magic-item wish lists and the sense of entitlement that comes with them will not be tolerated at my gaming table.

Randy said...

My players are quite eager for the loot, poking every corpse and crevice. I'm pretty inconsistent with what I give out; sometimes I roll on a random chart I made, some times I pick something out in advance, and sometimes we improve based on the encounter (the abberation's blood turns a pick into a +1 life drinker, etc.).
They're a little under-equiped, but the game works fine and I can increase it if need be. I don't really use the parcel system; just too much effort on my part.

Maelora said...

Beautifully-put, By the Sword! I think Gary Gygax would turn in his grave at the mention of 'wish lists'!

I actually like the fact that 4E powers make it possible for players to be heroic without a laundry-list of magic goodies. But it's a sad fact that the game is balanced to include these items; this is hard-wired into the rules. If you want to run a lower-magic, 'sword and sorcery' style game you can do so by manually adjusting the monster stats accordingly.

Colmarr said...

I honestly don't see what the problem with wishlists is.

At best, I can only put it down to DMs wanting to be "masters of their domain" and an overly-strict interpretation of what is DM territory and what is players'.

Unless you have troublesome or munchkin players, I don't see what a DM can't let them choose their rewards. You always have the option of inserting the odd unexpected goody here or there. And there's nothing to say that "wishlist" means 1 item per level. Tell them that they have to give you 5 or 6 to choose from, so that there's still some randomness to it. My 5-level wishlist contained 100 items.

As for Greg's original point about non-core slots (such as boots) remaining static, I think that he may have missed some of the point.

A party of 5 can expect 4 magic items per level (plus cash for 2 more). Which means that each PC gets 1.2 items per level assuming they spend none of their cash on rituals or ammunition or food or bribes, etc.

That equates to 6 items per PC per 5 levels. What greg didn't mention (but Maelora has) is that the math underlying the game assumes that 3 of those items will go to weapon, armour and neck slots. If not, the character falls behind the expected attack and defence values.

Once you subtract those "mandatory" slots, a PC is left with 18 magic items over a 30 level campaign, to fill 6 slots. In other words, a PC might only be able to upgrade his or her boots three times (including the initial magic pair) in a campaign.

On that basis, I suspect it is very intentional that the non-core items have a much longer "lifespan" than the core 3.

Anonymous said...

Oh brother. Look, I never want to play in the kind of campaign Todd or 'the Overlord' (rolling of eyes) seem to enjoy, where players expect that when they kill a monster, the corpse just happens to be carrying a weapon not only custom-made for the player, but one that has the foresight to take full advantage of ability bonuses ten levels hence.

Sheesh. If you want to play in that kind of silly computer-game-inspired environment, then please, carry on. More (munchkin) power to you.

But that's no reason to dismiss Maelora and those of us who prefer a different sort of game, one that might cohere a little closer to something we might think of as "reality." Yes, reality, even in a fanstasy game with orcs and goblins. The kind of game where an enemy creature might be carrying nothing whatever of use to a player because, well, that monster, believe it or not, had its own miserable existence going on that had nothing with making sure you make it to epic level.

Up to now, the responses to this blog have generally been very smart, very on point, and quite enlightening. Can we try to keep it that way? You expect a dungeon that somehow has been built exclusively to supply your pc's agenda. Well, have fun with that. But you're in no position to ridicule those of us with a little more Gygaxian backbone, who prefer to create a difficult fantasy world that gives players little comfort. See, that's where the challenge comes in.

Try it sometime. You might find out what you're missing.

Maelora said...

Oh well, what I said to Todd about 'reasoned debate' didn't last long.

A shame 'Eleven Foot Pole' has been infected with the same rude and insulting people who seem to poison the WotC boards.

Care to comment, Greg? This is your playground, after all.

BTW, troll - I'm not a 'boy'. In terms of age, or gender.

sebmojo said...

Overlord - I thought at first you were being ironic - but no. You're just nasty.

There's some irony to be had though, in your iron-fisted refusal to accept others desire to play in their own way and in the clumsy, hectoring tone you use to express it.

Bottom line is that 4e is a toolkit. If you want to play the sort of game it's designed to be, then just use the RAW. If not, tweak the fuck out of it.

True, the further away from the core design you get, the more DM fiat will be required, but so what? All that matters is the enjoyment of the participants.

But frankly I'd much rather have the other commenters in my game than you, my obese little buddy.

Colmarr said...

@ anonymous "Oh brother. Look, I never want to play in the kind of campaign Todd or 'the Overlord' (rolling of eyes) seem to enjoy, where players expect that when they kill a monster, the corpse just happens to be carrying a weapon not only custom-made for the player, but one that has the foresight to take full advantage of ability bonuses ten levels hence.

Sheesh. If you want to play in that kind of silly computer-game-inspired environment, then please, carry on. More (munchkin) power to you."

I think you're looking at this through the wrong lens. The treasure parcel system isn't computer-game-inspired. It's heroic-fantasy-inspired.

If and when heroes in movies or literature take up their foes' weapons, it's because those weapons are of use to them. Fantasy heroes don't pick up items off vanquished foes and say "oh well, we don't use axes but we can sell it to Melf and buy a sword".

4e turns the process on its head. Why does the ogre drop a magic bastard sword? Because that is what the story demands. Why? Because the story is advanced if Erik the fighter can take up his defeated enemy's weapon and use it against evil.

It's understandable that some players/DMs won't like that sort of "retrospective narrative determinism", but 4e allows for that through the "Transfer Enchantment" ritual.

So DMs like Maelora and By the Sword can drop their Agile hide armour and the players can turn it into Agile Scale.

Is it really THAT big a deal that the game suggests that the type of enhancement could or should be chosen by the players?

@Maelora "A shame 'Eleven Foot Pole' has been infected with the same rude and insulting people who seem to poison the WotC boards."

I trust you're not lumping me in with Overlord as "rude and insulting". Your use of the term "people" implies that you are...

Anonymous said...

Colmarr said: "Fantasy heroes don't pick up items off vanquished foes and say 'oh well, we don't use axes but we can sell it to Melf and buy a sword'."

Sounds like someone has a very narrow exposure to fantasy literature.

I don't have a problem with transfer enchantment. We've used it, but I've usually found a way to make it a little bit of a hassle - usually they had to wait longer than they wanted to for a mage to do it for them, etc. The point wasn't to make things frustrating for the players, but to make sure they get a consistent level of payoff, but not knowing if the next encounter will be their last. I'm fortunate, I guess, to have players who live for that kind of challenge and don't want things handed to them on a plate.

Look, the reason I read this blog is that Greg - if you hadn't noticed - is providing a brilliant critique of 4th edition and its adventures. In his posts, and in the comments, intelligent readers are providing really interesting ways to make these adventures more internally logical, more challenging, and more consistently exciting.

So how much sense does it make for the 'Overlord,' and, to a lesser extent, you Colmarr, to come to us and say '4e tells you to hand out treasure left and right that players can use and if you don't you're a hidebound idiot.'

Well, if that's how you want to play it, you go right ahead. But, as Greg regularly points out, just because Wizards/Hasbro tells you to play a certain way, that doesn't mean there's another, usually more interesting way to do things.

Colmarr said...

@ anonymous

The brilliance of Greg's blog is a matter of opinion. On more than one occasion I think he's missed a pretty major point about the 4e system, but that's by-the-by. I wouldn't be reading if I didn't think he had good points to make.

Let's simply note that Greg's post which sparked this discussion makes no pronouncement WHATSOEVER on the merits of the treasure parcel system (either for or against) and move onto the meat of your post:

"So how much sense does it make for the 'Overlord,' and, to a lesser extent, you Colmarr, to come to us and say '4e tells you to hand out treasure left and right that players can use and if you don't you're a hidebound idiot.'

I said no such thing. In fact, this discussion is in no way about AMOUNTS of treasure (your quote: "hand out treasure left and right"). It's about how you determine WHICH treasure to give the party. It's about the merits of the wishlist idea.

The closest I came to making the sort of derogatory statement you suggest is in my first post. Although the opening paragraph of that post might perhaps be interpreted as accusatory, I stand by it. I see no reason why the DM should choose what treasure is awarded.

If a PC wants "realism", then their wishlist will state "Anything". If a PC doesn't want "realism", then why should the DM get to choose the treasure?

There is a significant gap between "enjoying character planning" and "munchkinism" and By the Sword (and to a lesser extent) Maelora don't appear to want to make room for the former in their game.

The wishlist system makes room for all types of players. The "roll randomly on table X" system does not.

Colmarr said...

EDIT: Just re-read your post and noticed the words "that players can use" that I had previously missed.

Please ignore paragraph 4 of my post. I stand by the rest.

Anonymous said...

"Why should the DM get to choose the treasure?"

There are different ways to play this game, and it's futile to try and convince others that one way is better than the other. I simply know that if that's your idea of how an rpg should be played, we probably wouldn't enjoy being at the same game table.

No skin of either of our noses, of course.

GregT said...

@Maelora - The problem with finding a weapon that nobody uses is that (a) players need usable magic items to keep up with the monster difficulty progression, and if they're only getting one item a level it sucks to get a useless one, and (b) there's no mechanical difference between an unusable magic item and the sell-cost of that item in GP; if gold is an unexciting reward so is an unusable item.

Previous editions may or may not have taken treasure rarity into account when balancing items; 4E most definitely doesn't. When you take an exotic weapon you've already paid the cost of that by having to take a feat; you shouldn't be double-penalised by never finding them in the wild.

Retraining doesn't help; shurikens are simply put the best ranged weapon for rogues. The only other option are daggers. All the retraining in the world does not let a rogue use their powers through a longbow.

@Colmarr - good points about item lifespan; well put.

Re: wishlists - I used to love rolling on the loot tables. That was a certain kind of fun but sadly it just doesn't work in 4E. I've got mixed feelings about the change but at the end of the day I don't think one way of assigning treasure is worse; they're just different. Certainly you couldn't have done wishlists in old editions because there wasn't even an attempt at balancing magic items.

@The Overlord - I'm glad to have participation on the blog but I'd ask you to do it without insulting other commenters, please. I don't have an "edit comment" function - it's delete or nothing - so I'll consider what to do with you post.

@Anonymous - I'm happy to accept anonymous comments; a conversation without extremely dissenting viewpoints is less exciting. But if you honestly think your points are valid and you're not ashamed of them you'd be well served to attach an ID to them, even if it's just a signature at the end. In its absence, I'll assume you're just baiting.

@Everyone else - thanks for your comments! You all rock.

Greg Tannahill said...

UPDATE: I have deleted the comment posted by "The Overlord". To be clear, it's because the comment contained, in my opinion, personal vilification of two other commenters, not because of the substance of the comment itself

If "The Overlord" would like to re-post his opinion with the personal attacks deleted he's invited to do so.

Everyone else - please take care to keep your comments non-personal even when responding to an attack! And if you feel something requires urgent moderation feel free to email me at starfall2317 at gmail.com. Sorry about the break in continuity caused by the deleted comment.

Colmarr said...

Let me give an in-play example of the wishlist system so that this isn't just a theoretical debate.

My newly level 6 cleric of Tempus has partaken in 49 "opportunities for reward" (ie. combats, skill challenges where treasure could be justified, and quests completed). Of those opportunities, he now has the following items:

Terror bastard sword +1: looted from a mercenary worshipper of Shar. This was the only item nominated by me for level 4, but only because I did not have access to Adventurer’s Vault at the time to expand the list and because the selection of level 4 items in the PHB is relatively meagre.

Agile Finemail +2: looted from Murkelmor Grimmerzul, Paladin of Asmodeus. Chosen by DM from wishlist of 19 items at level 10.

Healer’s Brooch +1: gifted to the PC by Gerold Keegan, having formerly belonged to Keegan’s wife. This actually isn’t recorded in my original wishlist, but I believe I discussed it with the DM at some stage and he included it by consensus.

Jade macetail: Discovered on a table in the Chamber of Eyes, the goblins being unaware of its true purpose. Chosen from a wishlist of 38 items at level 8.

Symbol of Divine Reach +1: Enchanted by Valthrun the sage at the PC’s cost (ie. purchased using gold).

To be completely open about things, he also received (but has since parted with):

Exalted Armour +1: retrieved from the corpse of a Tempuran cleric found slaughtered in the charnel room in the Keep on the Shadowfell. Chosen from a wishlist of 4 items at level 5.

To be perfectly frank, I don’t consider either the number of items the PC has nor the manner in which they were acquired to be “unrealistic”. Also note that the DM was the one who chose from my “wishlist”. I didn’t demand exact items that I wanted.

In fact, I created my level 6 to 15 list after picking up the Character Builder. The lowest number of items of any given level on that list is NINE (level 6). The highest is 38 (level 8). The only levels that don’t have at least 15 items for the DM to choose from are levels 6 and 11, and that’s primarily because WotC seems to have reserved the 6, 11, 16, 21 etc levels for “vanilla items” so there’s less to choose from.

There is no reason why the wishlist system needs to be players dictating to their DMs.

Greg Tannahill said...

@Colmarr - your example sounds like the way I run wishlists in my Maptool game, only better. I'll take notes.

Colmarr said...


I can't guarantee that the other players in the campaign follow the same approach (I'm not privy to their lists), but for me it strikes a nice balance between my desire to be able to plan a long-term character around a theme and the DM's desire to have some input and control into what the PCs receive.

And to be honest, I suspect it has also created some great opportunities for the DM to flex his creative muscles (such as including Sister Gwen's corpse in the charnel room)

The Overlord said...

Well gosh Greg I would love to repost my comment but I didn't save it and am not going to retype it. So there you go. Now you've got a bunch of people replying to something no one can read.

It doesn't really matter. Apparently you're ok with people posting ridiculous things like "without level drain or stat loss you know exactly what will happen in a game -- why bother playing?" or grognard canards like "my players need to EARN their fictional equipment in a recreational game that is completely doled out and controlled by me, the DM, on a totally arbitrary schedule". Completely hollow posts like this makes the cut, but cutting through the crap and calling someone a name over demonstrateably false empty rhetoric it is "vilification" and suddenly goes over the line. Let's keep it civil here, folks, but you can lie as much as you want as long as you're polite about it.

It's your blog dude. You're a good writer and the articles are still good. I am not going to waste one minute of my time reading the comments anymore. Good writing.

TildeSee said...

@The Overlord (not that I think you're necessarily reading this, based on your final statement, but hey)

I think it's specifically the calling people names part that did it. Cutting through crap and calling out perceived "empty rhetoric" tends to be fine. Being a *shudder* grognard or a *doubleshudder* 4venger is okay. Being a meanie about it isn't. No need for name calling.

As for the actual blog post, I kinda like the parcel system. Hasn't stopped me from running a 4e game with completely different treasure assumptions, though. Just is a useful tool for general guidance. Same with the wish list idea; useful tool, but even the DMG with its rigid assumptions of reward divestment says it's only a nice idea and not necessary.

Also, nice use of the bicycle followed by the tricycle in your email address, Greg ;)


Maelora said...

Colmarr - no, my comment wasn't aimed at you. I may disagree with you, but you are not uncivil.

Greg - thank you. Robust debate is good; personal attacks are not.

Maelora said...

As for magic items, it's a personal thing. Some people like their characters loaded down with dozens of magic goodies. I don't, preferring a game that echoes 'Lord of the Rings' or Fritz Leiber's stories. As long as everyone's happy with what they do (and adjust the maths accordingly) surely it's all fine? There's no 'One True Way'.

Colmarr said...

I think the key here is "as long as everyone's happy".

My major gripe with some of the "older school methods" (I deliberately avoid the term grognard) is that it dictates a game in which the DM is the "boss".

I prefer a game where the DM is only the "storyteller" and (almost) everything else is a collaborative effort.

That's largely why I like the wishlist system. If everyone wants a "boss" game, the wishlist allows them to say so. If they don't want a "boss", it's inherent in the system that there should be some give and take between the DM and the player.

Maelora said...

Colmarr, I think 4E is unique in the way it lets players choose their magic items. No other system or edition I can think of allows this. This is why a lot of players from older editions or other games find this aspect odd.

If a GM is running a 'Conan' or 'Lord of the Rings' style game and a player wants dozens of magic items, that player is going to be disappointed. And should probably seek out another game. Likewise if a player wants to play a Grey Mouser character, but the GM is running the default WoW/Final Fantasy game where magic items are strewn about like confetti.

It's one thing to think 'hmm, that dwarf fighter likes hammers, so I'll include a decent magic hammer for him when he's exploring the tombs of his ancestors'. It's another thing when a player can DEMAND magic items and feels like they're his due.

Speaking for myself, I dislike the 'sense of entitlement' that comes with 4E. I prefer a game where the players survive on their own wits and skills rather than their fancy gadgets.

Paul S said...

i'll start by saying I'm not a fan of magic item shops, wishlists and treasure parcels. They don't really work for the world that I like to Ref.

When I started with 4E I deliberately tried to play it "per the book" because it is unfair to judge the game if I shoe horn it to fit my preconceptions.

As a result, in my opinion, insert weasel words here, the game WORKS as it is supplied. The characters recieve about the right treasure so that they are able to engage in level appropriate encounters in a consistant way. This lets the Ref judge things much more easily. So from a game design point of view, this works well.

Do I use it in the games that I'm reffing at the moment, no. it isn;t a world that I prefer to ref in (or even play in) Generally my party get fewer items of higher level. It gives the "magic items are special" feel that it LotR or Conan world.

By trying it out vanilla it did allow me to adjust from the base - so fewer problems have crept in (In one memorable boxed set game, a broken item was included - now that I am a little older, it would be a great DM challenge to fix it - then it killed the game)

As far as the "collaborative storytelling" approach to it. That isn;t something I had considered. My current players are very happy with a very old school DM. I have to ask, woudl they mind other players messing with their wishlists? That seems the obvious next step down that path. I think it would be fun (having the player to their left responsible for their treasure) but maybe that isn;t what you are going for.

Paul Smith

Paul S said...

I want to jump on somethign that Greg mentioned in Passing in his iitial blog.

10 Encounters -> 1 level

This has now been enshrined and I think I like it however it is a fair depart from previous games. Previously the rate of advancement would slow down as the levels progressed.

I quite liked this as my games tended to start at 1st, fairly quickly get to 3rd (where the party have about as many options as modern 1st levels) and then slow down - till eventually it is 4 months play to level from 7th to 8th.

I accept that this was partly preference however the general "At higher level it takes more encnounters to level up" was fairly firmly enshrined.

That is now at one with the morning mist and I'm still not sure how I feel about it. The games I'm playing at the moment have roughly 3 encounters per session, so we level roughly every 3 sessions at a fairly constant rate.

Do other people like the current changes? Have people been playing that way in previous systems and was the slow down somethign that I imposed (Yes I'm always the ref)

Paul S

Maelora said...

Good points, Paul.

I think 4E wants to encourage a fast-track system of levelling. You level up pretty consistently.

This is indeed different to 1st/2nd edition, where after about 9th level, it takes vast amunts of time and XP to level up.

The new system pleases most players, but 'high level' loses some of its fun. In 1st edition, '15th level' really meant something. Now, it's standard 'mid-level'.

In 4E, it's easier to get what you want. Many people like the fact they can choose their stats, classes, magic items, etc. and level up fast.

Some older players, me included, miss the fact that certain things (paladins, bards, rangers, monks, high stats, powerful magic) used to be rare, and hence somehow more 'special'. I guess it's just a question of taste.

Anonymous said...

GregT: Baiting? No that wasn't my intention.

As for remaining anonymous...Believe it or not, but in some careers and corners of society, it's not really very advantageous to advertise that one is an avid and regular player of Dungeons & Dragons.

I will now go back to lurking, and picking up great suggestions for how to run H2. My players are absolutely loving the Seven-Pillared Hall.

Ree said...

4E replaced what was often no more than 'suggestions' for rules, or complex and unusable resolution mechanics of previous versions with a ruleset that you can pick up and use out of the box.

That's great for new players. But it doesn't mean that your creativity needs to be checked at the door. If you want to force all your PCs to roll level 1 Fighters who can only become a bard after gaining more than 6 but no more than 8 levels of druid, losing a finger, and fighting 8 goblins in a rainstorm on Tuesday (and your players don't slam your door behind them) have at it!

In previous editions, rules were open to a lot of interpretation, so a lot of interpretation and changes were made. In this version, the rules are very clear cut. However, that doesn't exempt them from being thrown out any more than in previous editions.

What does the Treasure Parcel system tell you as a DM? For each level, your players need this many bonuses (+1's, item dailys, skill bonuses, etc) to be balanced against RAW monsters and DC's.

Good information to know, and something 2e/3e didn't really have in clear measure.

What I don't see is some inherrant need within the system to suddenly have one of these parcels drop from each encounter, and only include items that the players can use.

A parcel is raw materials for a blade that needs to be crafted before it's useable.

A parcel is a +2 acrobatics check a character 'learns' after fighting a particularly mobile dopelganger.
(But any magical boots that the character wears interferes with this training ;) )

A parcel is a wicked-looking broadsword with butcher-like blades that can be used with Hammer powers.

4E magic items are only video game-like if you dole them out in video game-like fashion.

nowiwantmydmg said...

Is anyone using the assumption that magic items "level up" with the wielder?

example: a +1 sword(level 1 item) becomes a +2 sword(level 6 item) when the character wielding it becomes level 6?

I'm using this for my game at the moment(I'm torn between this and removing inherent "+" in magical items entirely) as I like to hand out less magical items to acheive the "special" feeling that Maelora and several other posts have mentioned.

It ensures I don't have to worry about giving out new weapons/armor/neck items every few levels to keep game balance and allows for me to just worry about handing out cool items when I do award one.

Kelly said...

@ nowiwantmydmg

I think leveling magic items is a decent idea. We've discussed it for our group.

Zinovia said...

When I first read about the treasure parcel system in the DMG, I liked the idea of having some guidelines as to how much treasure the game expected characters to have at each level. It seemed more workable than the "total wealth" values of 3.5. However my initial reaction when reading about players coming up with wish lists of items they wanted was "No way! I'm the DM here. They'll take what I choose to give them and be happy with it!". I figured so long as I kept the big 3 slots (neck, armor, weapon/implement) up to the values expected by the game, I'd be fine.

My group is at 5th level now, and it has been interesting seeing how they have reacted to the treasure. I have watched while items I placed with one character in mind were taken by another, or things I thought would be fun and useful fell flat and aroused no interest in the PC's. An item I thought would be good from the description turned out to have a highly situational use which has never come into play once since 1st level.

I've been gradually changing my view point on wish lists. It would help me as a DM to have a list of items the characters would like. It should be a list with enough choices and variety that I still have a large number of options when placing treasure. The choice of what they find and when they find it is completely mine. The players are just receiving a bit more narrative control in what the items are. The benefit is they are more likely to get something they want, and I don't have to do a lot of research on items to choose things I think they would like - only to guess wrong in some cases. Every now and again I may put a desired enchant on the "wrong" weapon or armor type so they can use the Transfer Enchantment ritual. That will make them feel clever for buying that ritual, and helps with verisimilitude a little.

I don't believe the players feel any more entitled to magic items than they did in prior editions. While 4E characters begin finding magic items a little sooner than in previous editions, they wind up with a lot fewer items in the long run. The 4E books specifically say there are no magic item shops, and you can only rarely buy magic. You can make items of your level or lower, or find someone to make it for you, but you can't go down to Ye Olde Enchanted Weapon Shoppe" and buy a +2 broadsword.

If you want magic to be very rare and special in your game, take the expected bonuses from items and add those to the base to-hit score and defenses. Build the bonus into the character rather than an item. Then make items with powers but no numeric bonus. These can convey flavor and interest without the mechanical underpinnings like +2 to non-AC defenses. The characters are the ones who are awesome, rather than their magic.

As an aside, I ended up house-ruling daily item use because of utility items. Using an instant campsite should not make it so you can't activate a daily power on your cloak. My rule is you get one use of a daily item power per encounter. Each item can still only be used once per day. I did this because people just weren't using daily abilities on their items. I want them to use those items at least some of the time. The one per encounter limit still ensures that the characters will fight using their own abilities for the vast majority of the time, and only use an item to help when needed.

Xtian said...

I like nowiwantmydmg's suggestion of leveling items up as the character levels. My Minotaur Ranger was gifted a special suit of chainmail from his old friend and mentor when he decided to leave the tribe. I don't think I'll ever replace it, so that will mean that every few levels I'll be sacrificing some amount of gold or another magic item to the spirits of my ancestors in return for my item's new power.

Randy said...

Greg: "@Maelora - The problem with finding a weapon that nobody uses is that (a) players need usable magic items to keep up with the monster difficulty progression, and if they're only getting one item a level it sucks to get a useless one, and (b) there's no mechanical difference between an unusable magic item and the sell-cost of that item in GP; if gold is an unexciting reward so is an unusable item."

I think this is a good point; if a DM wants to hand out a lot of items that are specifically not tailored to his players for atmospheric reasons (iow, a more believable world) he should bear in mind that there needs to be either more of them, better resale, more options for repecing feats and or stats for item dependant classes(which would likely be tedious), or use monsters that tend towards the party level rather than level +1-3 or so.

Maelora: "It's one thing to think 'hmm, that dwarf fighter likes hammers, so I'll include a decent magic hammer for him when he's exploring the tombs of his ancestors'. It's another thing when a player can DEMAND magic items and feels like they're his due."

I don't think it tends towards a demand in practice. Weeding through magic item lists is a bit of a chore, imo, but most players like getting stuff. One can complain about entitlement, but it is a part of the game. Having suggestions from players can be helpful if you don't see it as encroaching on your domain (and they aren't jerks about it, which I suppose is possible but a different matter of course).

Colmarr said...

@ Maelora:

"It's another thing when a player can DEMAND magic items and feels like they're his due.

Speaking for myself, I dislike the 'sense of entitlement' that comes with 4E. I prefer a game where the players survive on their own wits and skills rather than their fancy gadgets."

The problem with this is that IMO players by default SHOULD be able to demand magic items, because the game by default REQUIRES them to have them for balance reasons.

That's really more a problem with D&D in general (at least 3e, 3.5e and 4e) than 4e in particular.

4e just goes the extra step by saying "if we're going to require PCs to have magic items to be effective, we may as well suggest that the players have some say in
what items they receive."

I can see why some gamers would rail against that last step, but I don't think I've yet come across a new gamer that didn't immediately see the sense in it. Ultimately, I therefore have to put it down to a generational thing or (as I unsubtly suggested in my original post) DMs with an overly strict interpretation of what is "their domain".

Colmarr said...

@ Zinovia:

Thanks for the insight. Interesting to hear from a DM whose opinion is slowly changing.

Although I hadn't brought it up in this discussion, I had always suspected that part of the meta-intent behind the wishlist system was to move some of the responsibility (and thus work) for treasure away from the DM.

Your comments (and to a lesser extent my earlier example) suggest that it has been at least partly effective.

sebmojo said...

Greg, apologies for any unwarranted vitriol in my response to Overlord - please feel free to delete that comment too if you think it appropriate.

Greg Tannahill said...

@The Overlord - As mentioned, robust arguments are welcome, whether or not they're well-informed or correct. If I didn't want people to disagree with me I wouldn't be posting my opinions on the internet.

The line is politeness. Attack my ideas, or those of fellow commenters, to the best of your ability but please don't attack the people. If you're tempted to describe someone in a way that you wouldn't describe your mother (or some other figure you care about and respect) then it's a good sign you shouldn't be making tht comment.

@Anonymous - Thanks for responding and I'll cheerfully withdraw my baiting comment! Can I suggest you take a nickname at least so I know which comments are yours? We have a few "anonymous" round here and you'd probably prefer to not be confused with the others.

@nowiwantmydmg - We're doing a bit of "levelling items" in the Thunderspire Labyrinth/Pyramid of Shadows group. Our eladrin defender got a hold of Aecris in KoTS and has been levelling up its plus rather than buying new weapons ever since.

@Tildesee - I have to confess to not understanding your bicycle/tricycle reference - but I'd like to. Fill me in on your hip youth lingo. :-)

@Paul S/Maelora - I'm not sure I agree that high levels lose some charm under the new system. Level 15 in particular is, I'll agree, a bit ho hum, but hitting Paragon Tier is a huge deal; that jump from level 10 to 11 really feels special, and Paragon Tier has a whole different feel from Heroic - you can really rely on being amazing in each and every one of your turns. It's a good feeling. I haven't tried Epic yet but I'm willing to believe it's a similar step up.

@Zinovia - I have no particular response to your comment but I'm very glad you posted it; more like this, please!

@Everyone - The lot of you have made all the points I would have contributed already; it's a real honour to have such an excellent community hanging out on my blog and I'm continuing to learn a lot and get a lot of insight out of all your responses, debates and anecdotes. Keep it up!

John said...

Greg said: '...Our eladrin defender got a hold of Aecris in KoTS...'

Why do Eladrin always end up with that one? You think it's the prettiness of it?

That sword makes the 3rd item in my group that folks aren't wanting to get rid of, and it's understandable, as it's got that way cool tie in to the old empire. My plan is to let them just enchant that up themselves/transfer enchantments to it though, since the other two 'levelling' items are much cooler.

I've got a ranger who started with a +1 bow (my present to the player on his birthday was starting with a +1 weapon, because I was poor at the time) that's since become more magical (it's all tied into his backstory and this was planned from the start).

Much more interesting is the craghammer the dwarven avenger uses. Right from the start, she'd talk to it IC, calling it by name name and starting every combat with 'Are you hungry Morgana?' Best RP'd character in the game, and that just had to be rewarded.

index.php said...

Transfer Magic Item comes pretty close to allowing "leveling up" of weapons right out of the box, in that you can move a +2 property over to a +1 flaming weapon and get a +2 flaming weapon. I think.

I've been wrestling with this question a lot as I get ready to run Eberron. I like the idea that a "parcel" can be raw materials, now that I think about it. Thanks!

Colmarr said...


I don't think that's how it works. I believe one enchantment (+2 magic) overwrites the other (+1 flaming).

Of course, there's nothing wrong with doing your way so long as you take into account that the +2 flaming weapon is of a higher level.

Bryant said...

@colmarr: I may be thinking of the Living Forgotten Realms rules. Or I may just be wrong.

Still, I think I like it as a house rule.

(Sorry about the index.php tag; my OpenID installation is messed up.)

Pierre said...


You said that you enjoy games that are closer to the Lord of the Rings approach to magical items and, thus, dislike the "sense of entitlement" from wishlists.

I find that curious, as on the books the characters gain items that are always going to be useful later on, like the Phial of Galadriel or even the One Ring itself.

On a home campaign, a DM could use the wishlists to insert items that will be meaningful to the story (s)he and the players are building. The same could be true for other choices the players make, like feats, backgrounds or powers. Everything can be weaved into the storyline, should the DM wish to do so.

Even though the players know what they asked for, the characters have no clue of what will happen next and even the players don't know how the items are going to enter the campaign.

Granted, for now the 4th edition won't allow for a campaign with few items without a manual adjustment of monsters. This seems to be addressed on the forthcoming Dungeon Master's Guide 2. They announced there will be alternatives to magic items there, such as training with legendary masters or boons from the gods.

One way or another, your character must grow in power as the story progresses, though.

Pierre said...

@index: I believe the Adventurer's Vault does address the idea of upgrading items instead of acquiring new ones. I think it's on one of the final chapters of the book.