Loot for pre-leveled chars


These are my notes on creating loot for pre-leveled chars. Here’s the result first, for a 5 player party at 10th level. The players have the following magic items:

  • A) 12, 10, 9, 7, 6, 5, 4
  • B) 12, 11, 9, 8, 7, 6, 4, 3
  • C) 11, 10, 9, 8, 6, 5, 3
  • D) 11, 10, 8, 7, 6, 5, 2
  • E) 13, 10, 9, 8, 7, 5, 4

Each player also has 5300 GP of treasure (coins, gems, etc).

Picking your items

To avoid the temptation to game the system, players shouldn’t pick items from the book without restriction. Otherwise, everyone takes weapons and armor with the top two item picks, and backfills everything else. That’s a bit overpowered. Organically grown chars don’t have the option to do that, some or most will have lesser items in the main slots.

Here’s an approach that gives a more organic set of items:

Step 1: Optionally, spend your level 5 or 6 item as a Bag of Holding

This is such a common purchase it may as well be built in.

Step 2: Divide your items into tiers of 5 levels each

  • Tier 1 is item level 1-5
  • Tier 2 is item level 6-10
  • Tier 3 is item level 11-15

Step 3: For each tier, allocate primary items

In each tier, two items will be primary items, either a weapon or an armor.

For each tier:

  • Randomly assign one item as a weapon item.
  • Randomly assign one item as an armor item.
  • If there is only one item in a tier, roll to determine whether it is a weapon item or an armor item.

For each weapon item, pick a “weapon” of the item’s level or lower from the catalog. A weapon is any damage dealing item. It can be a martial weapon (sword, bow), or an implement (holy symbol, orb) as befits your class.

For each armor item, pick an “armor” of the item’s level or lower from the catalog. An armor can be a suit of armor (leather, chainmail) or a shield (listed under Arm Slot).

Any remaining unpicked items are secondary items.

Step 4: Pick remaining secondary items

Roll a D6 to assign remaining items to these categories:

  • Feet (boots)
  • Hands (gloves)
  • Head (helmets, circlets)
  • Neck (amulet, cloak)
  • Waist (belts)
  • Wonderous (Bags of holding, Rope of Climbing, etc.)

You may optionally eliminate wonderous as a category. You can re-roll if you roll the same category twice. You can also re-roll if there’s absolutely nothing useful for your class in that category within 2 or 3 levels.

Example of picking items

Abby, a Cleric, has these items to pick: 12, 10, 9, 7, 6, 5, 4.

First, Abby divides the items into tiers:

  • tier 1 (level 1-5): 5,4
  • tier 2 (level 6-10): 10, 9, 7, 6
  • tier 3 (level 11-15): 12

Abby then randomly picks 2 items from each tier to be primary items, and ends up with this:

  • 4 – tier 1 weapon
  • 5 – tier 1 armor
  • 6 – tier 2 weapon
  • 9 – tier 2 armor
  • 12 – tier 3 armor

For the primary items, Abby chooses these items from the catalog:

  • 4 weapon = Lvl 3 Holy Symbol of Hope +1
  • 5 armor = Lvl 5 Exalted Chain Armor +1
  • 6 weapon = Lvl 6 Magic Mace +2
  • 9 armor = Lvl 8 Small Shield of Defiance
  • 12 armor = Lvl 12 Dwarven Chain Armor +3

The Lvl 5 armor is obsolete now, so Abby will eventually sell it.

The remaining items will be secondary items. Abby rolls and assigns them categories:

  • 7 – hands
  • 10 – neck

There’s absolutely nothing useful to Clerics in the hands category, so Abby re-rolls that item and gets waist. Abby chooses:

  • 7 waist = Lvl 7 Belt of Sacrifice
  • 10 neck = Lvl 8 Cloak of Survival +2

Abby is now finished picking items.

The math

This shows the math that I used to generate the item levels. It’s not required, continue only if you want to get your geek on.

Balancing the items

The item assignment formula is shown in the parcel tables, in the DMG page 126. Note that it’s imbalanced. A party of size N always gets N-1 items over the course of a level.

For example, a level 1 party of 5 gets:

5, 4, 3, 2, -

A level 2 party gets:

6, 5, 4, 3, -

Meaning somebody gets nothing at every level.

How best to balance this out over time? The best formula I’ve found is to “shift left 2” every level:

Playr : A B C D E

Lvl 1 : 5 4 3 2 -
Lvl 2 : 4 3 - 6 5
Lvl 3 : - 7 6 5 4
Lvl 4 : 7 6 5 - 8
Lvl 5 : 6 - 9 8 7

The players that get the worst two items at a given level get the best two items at the next level. There will always be SOME imbalance, but this minimizes it pretty well. The best balance occurs on every 5th iteration, because everyone has been skipped the same number of times.

In the the item list at the top of the article, players C and D have weaker loot. For a 10th level party, 9 levels have been completed, so the balance isn’t perfect. If the formula was followed to level 11, players C and D get the best drops (item levels 14 and a 13), and it evens out nicely.

Why use item tiers?

Because it reflects the natural tiering in the DnD loot system. DnD bumps numeric item power every 5 levels. All numeric bonuses increment when you cross to the next tier. A +2 sword (lvl 6) is significantly more powerful than a +1 sword (lvl 5).

This has an impact on how DMs give loot. In real play, when items cross to the next tier, DMs usually prioritize the primary items (weapons and armor) because they are important and have numeric bonuses. Once everyone has a shiny +2 weapon or armor, DMs then backfill to the other items, such as belts and boots.

In practice, this means that a player WILL get one weapon and one armor item over the span of a tier, because depriving them would hamper them. My item tier system reflects that.

Calculating loot

This one is easy. Total up the cash from each level of parcel, divide by party size. I also took 15% from the total to reflect expenses (potions, Raise Dead rituals, etc.), then rounded up to the nearest hundred.

30815 / 5 * 0.85 = 5238, rounded up to 5300

Loot for pre-leveled chars

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