DMing Tips: Give a Hoot when you Loot

A while back I wrote about how “Adventuring” is not a sustainable economic activity. Today I’m going to talk about how found equipment is viewed and used in your game.

Lets begin with a common scenario:
Your players have just defeated a group of medium-sized humanoid enemies, lets say they were Orcs. Now lets assume that this was a legitimate fight and not just murder some Orcs day so all the Orcs were armed and armored as appropriate. As per the Pathfinder SRD that means they have studded leather armor, a falchion, 4 javelins, and other treasure composed of coins, goods, gems, etc.

So what happens next?
* The players strip the Orcs of every last piece of equipment.
* The players rummage through take a few items and move on.
* The players take an obvious item and move on.
* The players keep moving and take nothing.

Looking at these options from an in-character perspective you can start to see how unappealing it is to take all the armor and valuables off of a smelly bloody orc corpse just to sell it for a few GP. If time is of the essence and there is danger nearby it may well make sense to just leave the bodies or make a quick search check to see if anything that looks especially valuable is on them. At any rate it is unlikely that you will be able to carry all of that junk anyway and will just end up ditching it after you kill the next monster and take its slightly better that what the orcs had armor.

From the game play perspective looting everything can be quite frustrating as it slows down play by adding lots of bookkeeping, especially if you are really into enforcing the encumbrance rules. You can alleviate this slightly by having only specific items “drop” when enemies are slain, but that feels too videogamey to me. Though I think the best way to discourage players from looting absolutely everything is to describe the poor quality of enemy equipment: the damage armor sustained in the battle, the chipped blades of swords, etc. When the players go to sell the loot, roleplay through the shopkeeper’s reaction and have the shopkeeper attempt to haggle down the price they will pay for “used” gear.

Games like Exalted seem to discourage looting as the game uses an abstract Wealth system rather than a currency based system, and the best artifact weapons must be purchased with points at character creation. Enemies are unlikely to have any better equipment and artifacts must be attuned with essence so a collection of weapons will deplete your character’s pool of energy that is used for special abilities. D&D on the other hand seems to be all about the looting, you can only afford basic equipment at character creation and are likely to find better weapons and armor lying around in some old cave. Even if you don’t find gear you will undoubtedly begin saving up some coin in order to purchase some masterwork or even magic weapons and armor. Handling the awarding loot well is an important aspect of good DMing and can help to build a sense of realism in your game, or destroy it altogether.

I like the random loot tables in the DMG, they provide a good fair basis for distributing loot and it keeps you from over or under paying characters for their troubles. The unfortunate thing about them is that they are entirely random and some results will come up that don’t quite fit into your campaign; for example items with a caster level requirement over the level cap for a game like E6 or a special monk weapon when your game world doesn’t have any monks. Another downside to random generation is that it makes creating back-stories for important magic items such as the scimitar Angetenar quite difficult as you can’t really plan for a weapon that doesn’t yet exist.

Of course you could always go through the item tables and pick the treasure that you want to give, but that is time consuming work and might strain realism if you give your players stuff from a “wish list” or make sure that everything is something that they can use without having to weigh benefits and drawbacks.

It looks like the next games I run after my Scorched Earth D20 Apocalypse game will be with the True20 system. The wealth mechanic and lack of tables upon tables of cool magic gear make it seem like your starting equipment won’t be so limited or need constant trading up just to stay competitive with monsters ability. Actually running the game will tell, but the game looks a lot more story oriented than a mad dash for sweet loot that enables you to dash faster for even sweeter loot.


~ by katallos on January 2, 2010.

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