We have talked about loot and magic items in other articles, but how to distribute loot to your players in DnD is a little different.
How to distribute loot to your players in DnD doesn’t just revolve around tables and what items to give. It is about how you do so.
This might seem trivial at first. Most of us put the emphasis on what to give and when, but never the how. This can make or break the items that you give to the players and is an important step that we shouldn’t forget about.
How players find loot
We will go over the magic tables, what items, and coin to give your players later on in the article. It will be brief since we have discussed these topics at length in other articles, but this topic is dedicated to how your players find loot and what happens once the loot is found.
Why is this important?
If your players don’t find the loot they were meant to get, they don’t receive the loot. Even if they do receive the loot, you might have an issue with loot distribution where one player could constantly feel left out. Moreover, if players don’t all get a piece of the loot from a treasure horde they can feel left out if they keep getting nothing. Then you get into the questions that arise from distributing loot.
When should players receive loot? Does it matter if the players get loot too early? Can your players ever get to a point where the loot they get doesn’t actually matter? Is it okay to give generic loot items and leave a player having less than the others? Should you give big non-monetary ‘loot’ or rewards to your players where one can monopolize it?
How to distribute loot to your players in DnD is extremely important as you can see. That is why we will go over all of these questions, conundrums, and more. Most likely you wouldn’t have thought of these until you are in a precarious situation, and this is why it is important to be prepared for the future when a problem will inevitably rise from loot distribution.
Not everyone gets a piece
“We finally killed the giant monster, and now there are only 3 pieces of loot!?! There are 4 of us. Why don’t I get a piece of loot? How is this fair?”
You might be, have been, or will be in a situation where not every player gets a piece of loot. This makes sense. Magical items are rare and not everyone is going to get a magic item from one treasure horde. So what should you do?
If you are first of all wondering how many magic items a player should receive at each level, then look at our article on When to give out magic items in DnD 5e. It talks about when/how many magic items to give out to your players based on the setting that you are in. It sadly doesn’t cover how to give out magic items though, just when.
Now that you know how many items a player should ideally get at each level and some differences in how to give items based on the setting (primarily numbers, magic item shops, etc), it is time to spread out the wealth.
If a player doesn’t get a magic item right away from the treasure horde, it might make that player feel a little left out. This is fine since not everyone can get a piece, but the real problem is when they are left out again, again, and again!
If this is the case, you have failed as a DM to give out loot properly, or the player just keeps on getting their items taken. Since we have covered your side as a DM on when to distribute loot, what should you do if your players are not sharing the loot as you envisioned?
Cautiously making loot
You plan to give the party a ring of protection and a magic +1 sword. The sword is intended for the fighter, and the ring for the spellcaster. Pretty simple, but what happens when the fighter takes both? Logically, he is more at risk and the +1 ring would help him more, but this isn’t what you planned!
You planned to distribute the loot, go by the chart, and make everyone happy. Now the fighter has 2 magic items and the caster has none. It is likely that the fighter may claim more caster items, so what should you do?
You really have 2 options.
- Let it happen.
If you just let it happen, the loot scale will be unbalanced. This is a more natural way to go about it since your players are using their agency to distribute the loot.
If you interject, you are taking away player agency. This makes the game balanced, but taking away player agency is pretty terrible. Far worse than making the game balanced, so this is the worse option.
How to distribute loot to your players in DnD is important to be done with some sort of balance, so what do you do?
Generic and specific items
In our last example of how to distribute loot to your players in DnD, we used a +1 sword and a ring of protection. The +1 sword is a bit more specific, but the ring of protection is general. At some point, general items that are useable by all will cause some problems if you are trying to balance your loot distribution.
That is why I urge you to be cautious if you intend to give a ‘general use’ item to a specific player. That should not be their version of loot, and instead should be given as a party option. The party will decide how general pieces of loot are distributed, so I suggest that you first give out general loot with extremely specific items.
An example of specific items would be boots of elvenkind and a wand of magic missiles for a party with 1 caster and 1 rogue. No one else has stealth or the ability to use arcane items, so they are specific. This changes if the party has multiple players interested in the same thing. A ranger and a rogue might fight over the boots, so when assigning specific equipment make sure that item will only interest that player.
Luckily, most parties will want to evenly distribute the loot. They will not want to have a player be left out and most players don’t want to be problem players. So you should be fine giving out a lot of general items, but if it ever gets to a point where a player has nothing then you need to give them specific items.
These items are directly targeted at that player and their class. No one else should want them, and if this issue of loot distribution is still going on you may need to talk to the players. Be courteous, ask the player who isn’t getting loot what is happening, how they are feeling, etc before continuing. Then, once you have a case, ask the group why said player isn’t getting anything.
It could be miscommunication, players not recognizing it, or any non vindictive reason. Just try to have a civil discussion if all else fails.
You don’t want to have a player get screwed over loot wise like I once was.
Where to find magic items
I was once completely screwed over as a wizard. I was playing 2nd edition where you needed to find spells in order to add any to your spellbook. Imagine, a wizard that gets 1 spell per level and never finds a scroll or spell book. Doesn’t sound very fun does it? It even got to the point where I was a level 9 wizard with 1 5th level spell, 2 4th level spells, and 4 3rd level spells. Those are spells known. To chose from.
The reason for this was because the DM had specific spots for me to find out where scrolls and other spellbooks were. Our party did what most DnD parties did. We did something unprecedented, didn’t do what the module planned for us to do, and moved on. We accomplished tasks in strange ways, and the fighters had multiple magic weapons, items, etc while I didn’t even find a scroll.
When you have magic items to give out to players, make sure that you actually hand them out! If the player doesn’t find the magic item in a certain spot, then you should just have them find it in a different area!
You should not base how to distribute loot to your players in DnD on a specific location. Players cannot read your mind, and the game is not a book. If they don’t find it under the wizard’s desk, let them find it on the wizard’s person, or on a trusted subordinate. Let them find it somewhere! Don’t ever punish them for not doing what you want.
The same applies to money and other forms of loot?
Loot as non magic items
Money is extremely easy to distribute. You give the players a somewhat equal amount of money and bam! They have money to distribute. Since it is numerical there is rarely a problem with money, and even if a player steals some extra it usually more or less balances out.
If you are curious about how much money a player should get, here is a mathematical deconstruction of how much wealth players should receive. That or you can just go to pages 134-139 of the DMG. That being said, there are other odd forms of loot.
Two odd forms of how to distribute loot to your players in DnD are through favors and unorthodox items. These items can be something like a house, boat, carriage, etc. All, or at least, most unorthodox items can be bought through money, but are given to players as a reward. This reward has a lot of value, and should be done sparingly since it can change the entire game for your players.
Favors are bit different.
Unorthodox items are so big that they have to be shared by the entire group, but favors can be cashed in as a group or by 1 person. Most of the time, you will want to make favors be a group reward. These favors are only given as massive story plot points that will excite the players, or as a reward for higher levels.
In these instances, it is best to either grant a favor to the group right away, or give each player 1 favor. You do not want to make a promise of future loot.
We went over how not every player can receive a magical item right away. This is to be expected, and is fine. The problem with future loot arises when you tell a player they will get something later.
Now you have done it.
The player will be on edge, constantly looking for that new piece of loot, and even when they get it, the won’t be that happy. Don’t get me wrong. The player will be excited to receive loot, but it won’t be received as well. To help explain, let me give you two scenarios:
- You as a player know that your DM will give you a magic item. You have been on the lookout for it for 2 sessions now, and just want that magical item! Eventually, you get exhausted and finally receive the piece of loot.
- Your DM hasn’t given you a magic item yet even though others have gained one. You are a bit frustrated, and then your GM gives you a wand of magic missiles for helping a wizard with their scroll collection.
Neither is that glamorous. In 1 scenario the player is expecting loot while in the other the player receives loot from their actions. Which do you think will make the player happier? The player could get their piece of loot in a different way, but what matters is the reception. Loot should feel like a reward for your actions rather than something to be expected.
The reception of loot is extremely important, but what should you do if you have a player in a situation like I was with my wizard?
Emergency loot distribution
You might be reading this and realized that you have, or are, doing something like my past DM did to me. A player is woefully ill-equipped and you need to fix this.
Normal paths on how to distribute loot to your players in DnD have failed, and thus you need to think of something different.
For emergency loot distribution, I recommend giving out loot during roleplay. This should only be done if your party is not being fair, or you have made far too many mistakes a DM. It is a last ditch resort to save yourself and your player’s faith in you. So, this theoretically should never be used.
If you are still interested, then you might be in hot water. Luckily, we already gave an example of handing out magical items for roleplay. You help a wizard and get a wand. It is a weak way to give out an item, but if the player had to go through a lot to help the wizard it makes sense.
You want to make the player earn the item. Have them find, or be given a magical item from the work they have done in roleplay/downtime, a task, or just as a token of friendship. These should be earned and not given out wantonly.
If a player just receives loot for little to no effort, it will make the item seem unearned and you might gain the ire of other players. So use this method as a last resort, and make sure that your players earn it.
I hope that this article has helped you understand how to distribute loot to your players in DnD.
We went over treasure hordes, giving items right away, different types of rewards, tables on how many rewards to give, different forms of loot, and an emergency measure incase you are in trouble for not giving a player enough loot.
Distributing loot is as important as the loot itself. If one player has all the loot, then players won’t have a fun time. If you are keeping players from getting loot due to your rigidity, then the game won’t be fun.
It is an often forgotten part of loot, but I hope that you can distribute your loot to your players in a fair, balanced, and well done manner.
This has been Wizo and keep rolling!