Parsing Treasure Parcels

Treasure parcels have been something that have confused me from the beginning of D&D.  I’ve always tried to give my players appropriate treasure and I’ve used this system, but I never really knew if I was giving them enough.  It was especially hard when they did things that wouldn’t award traditional goods:  Spending their time and energy helping the poor or killing beasts meant proper treasure is impossible.  I hate having to figure out how much items cost and what is appropriate to give creatures, so I am going to mostly do away with the treasure parcel system in my game and adopt a new system.

The base system was designed by bloggers at At-Will in their Penniless, but not Powerless series (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, part 4) and it sounds great.  Here is the outline:

  • Money is Goods waiting to come into existence
  • Goods are just the ability to customize our characters and affect the game world
  • Money is the potential to change the game world and affect the players’ will upon it. Goods are the changes made.

Thus in our imaginary campaign here, we’re going to eliminate gp. Instead, throughout the course of a level we’re going to give out 20 Wealth tokens. Why 20? Dole out two tokens per 10 treasure parcels per level. It splits evenly into two sets of 10 – now the cost of a level-appropriate ‘permanent’ magic item – which then splits down further into five 2s, each of which is the cost of a level-appropriate consumable magic item or ritual. Mundane gear and items are considered to be level 3 and cost one token. If you’re buying or selling an item 2 or 3 levels higher than you, double the price but you can’t buy items higher than 3 levels above you. If it’s 2 or less levels, half the price (to ‘halve’ one token, roll a die and don’t pay on an even) but go no lower than that for simplicity’s sake and to prevent effectively infinite item gain. If you feel the need to put a cap on it, the party may never have more than 100 tokens. Done. It’s not a perfect matchup, but it’ll work and it’s way easier than treasure bundles or the new random roll tables.

The idea is to convert currency large “packets” of currency known as Wealth.  Over the course of each level a character earns 20 “wealth” through treasure.  An item of equal level costs 10 wealth while higher level items cost twice as much and lower level items cost half as much.  In the system presented the tokens you have either increase in value as you level up (so those 20 tokens you have at level 14 are now effectively worth 40 tokens at level 14) or you have to keep track of the level of each token (since level 14 wealth is worth half as much as level 15 wealth).  We’re going to use this system as our basis and clean it up.

First, let’s go over the original treasure parcel system.  If you want to avoid some complex math explanations go ahead and skip this section.  According to the Dungeon Master’s Guide and given the laws of averages the Rules Compendium, a party of 5 players should earn currency equal to two items of their level and a magic item of level X+1, X+2, X+3, and X+4.  We need to break this down into something quantifiable that can be easily compared.  First, we’ll take each item and give it the market value.

If we look closely, we notice that every 5 levels the difference between cost-per-level sky rockets.  while from 1-5 the difference is 160g per level, 6-10 is 800g, 11-15 is 4000g, etc.  It increases by a multiple of 5 each time.  We can express the value of each item as X + 32*5^CEILING(Level/5,1) where X is the previous item cost, or 200 for level 1.  In order to normalize this as much as we can, we’ll try to focus on level 1-5 or 6-10 blocks, or half tiers.  Over the course of a single level a group of 5 averages enough raw gold, if we convert items to gold at 100%, equal to 11.681 magic items of their level.  This value includes the fact that a player will get items from above their half-tier.   That is 2.34 magic items of equal level for each player each level.  We’ll round that down to 2 items per player per level to keep it simple and we’ll put that 0.34 per player per level in a safe deposit box to discuss later.

Next, we need to be able to compare value between levels.  The point of this is so we don’t have to worry about keeping track of the level of the currency at much.  Doing the math I discovered that on average each level rewards 142% of the value of the previous level.  The difference between tier crossing levels (5-6, 10-11, etc) reward 180% since the math changes at these levels, while the previous two levels reward (4-5, 9-10, etc) reward only 119%.  For the sake of simplicity we can normalize these to 150%

Now the question becomes do you want to award just gold and have characters lug around hundreds of pounds of currency to dump on a merchant’s counter, or do you want to simplify it?  Personally, I love the idea of simple, so lets look at the Wealth token idea.

We’ll assign an item of level X a wealth value of 10, meaning it costs 10 wealth tokens to purchase.  Following the 50% increase  each level means level X+1 is 15 tokens, X+2 is 22 tokens, X+3 is 35, and X+4 is 50.  Since characters can earn two items of their level during each level, we’ll award them twice that amount each level.  So level X is 20, X+1 is 30, X+2 is 44, X+3 is 70 and X+4 is 100.  The characters can use this wealth to purchase whatever they want within your limitations (I’d recommend limiting it to CurrentLevel+3).

In order to avoid obscene numbers (if X is level 1 and we award 20 wealth tokens at level 1, that means we’re awarding 66 thousand wealth by epic tier) we’ll cut it down into half tiers.  If you check the chart above, you’ll notice a 6 item is worth exactly 5 times as much as a level 1 item.  We’re only awarding one type of wealth per half-tier (for simplicity we’ll call them Wealth  +1, Wealth +2, Wealth +3, etc much like magic items) so a Wealth +2, a level 6 wealth, is worth 5 times as much as a Wealth +1.  If a level 14ish player wants to buy a level 17 item they can convert their wealth +3 into wealth +4 at a 5:1 ratio.  They can take 75 Wealth +3 to buy that Level 17 magic item. Buying downward is a 1:5 ratio.  again, both of these are only when changing half-tiers.


UPDATE: I didn’t properly account for the tier change in this chart.  Use 10:1 ratio when upgrading and 1:10 when downgrading.

Doing this, your players should receive an appropriate amount of loot each level without you having to memorize all 30 levels of gold value and actually look up any items.

Michael McElrath

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