In a recent article, I discussed how experience was divvied up. It seems natural to follow that up with an article about how treasure is divided.
Who Gets a Share
You must first consider who is included as part of the party with regard to shares. When there are NPCs (henchmen, hirelings, men-at-arms) that actually do something to aid the party, do they get a share? Most people consider this a minor concern, but I think it’s one worth considering. If you were the NPC, would you consider the payment you were receiving fair for what you were doing (regardless of whatever agreement was arranged earlier)? If not, what (as the NPC) would you do about it? How much an NPC is paid is up to the party, but they should be aware that underpayment may have consequences.
Everybody Gets an Equal Share
The most common method of dividing treasure is to split it up so that everyone gets an equal share. If five adventurers find 1,000 silver pieces, then each person gets 200 silver. It’s easy and fair. Or is it? Maybe each character doesn’t contribute equally. What if one or two characters are doing all the work and everyone else is just along for the ride? Keep in mind, those others may not be slacking out of laziness. Their level may preclude them from helping out as much as the others.
One Share Per Level
For example, what happens if there is a 6th level character and four 1st level characters? Is an even split still fair? One way to balance the treasure is to give each character one share per level. In this case, the 6th level character would get 600 silver while the others get 100 silver each. The higher level character may be able to contribute more, but does that also mean that her player also contributed more? Treasure is a reward for the player. If all the players contribute equally, shouldn’t they all be rewarded equally?
You could divide the treasure so as to make an extra share. Then the highest level character could get two shares (to represent the greater character contribution) without overly penalizing the other players.
Alternatively, the players could all vote on who should get the extra share. If characters are all of the same level, one character may still outshine the others. This method allows for a way to compensate a player for outstanding gameplay.
Yet another option would be to give the leader an extra share, as compensation for putting in the extra effort in filling the leadership role.
Free For All
When searching the bodies, each character will often be searching a different body. They could each be allowed to keep whatever they find. Whoever discovers a chest gets what’s in it. This method sounds pretty chaotic and ruthless but it’s certainly an option.
Not Enough Shares To Go Around
The biggest problem with any method is that the treasure you find isn’t always easily divided the way you want. Say you find 400 silver and a gem worth 600 silver. If one person offers to keep the gem, leaving 100 silver each for the others, I suspect the rest of the party won’t be very happy. You could sell the gem and split the proceeds, giving each character 200 silver. But gems are lighter and easier to carry than silver so it would be nice to not have to sell the gem.
One solution would be to let one of the party members buy the gem and then split the treasure. Each character would still get 200 silver but one would trade some heavy silver for a light weight gem. Naturally, you still have to figure out which person gets to buy the gem. A simple roll would work but bidding on the gem would work too. Bidding could also result in everyone else getting a bit more silver out of the deal.
This is where it really gets complicated. Say the party finds 400 silver and a magic ring worth 5,600 silver. You could handle this exactly like the above: sell the item and split the proceeds, let a party member buy it and split the proceeds, or auction it off among the party members.
It may be slightly more complicated though. What happens if no one in the party can afford to buy the ring? It would be a shame to have to sell it. A valuable magic ring isn’t just a convenient method of transporting wealth (as in the case of the gem). The ring itself has useful properties. The entire party gains if any member retains the ring.
A common method is to distribute magical items and other treasure independently of each other. In this case, each character would get 80 silver (400 / 5) and then roll off to see who gets the ring. Although random dice rolls will eventually balance out, it is common for one person to roll high (or low) a number of times in a row. Many groups ask members, who have already gotten something, to refrain from rolling on future items until everyone has received an item.
This works pretty well but is hard to carry across multiple sessions (especially if the players change). Four out of five players could get something one night and then start fresh the next session. This could result in one player being stiffed session after session.
Beyond that, not every magic item is equal to another. It’s hard to watch one player get a +3 sword, another get a bag of holding, and then end up with a potion or scroll.
A bigger concern, that is frequently overlooked, is who can best use an item? If the same group of characters adventure together regularly, it is in everyone’s interest to see that their comrades are as well geared as possible.
Alternate Rolling Method
One approach I have seen is to have all magical items carried back to town and not divvied up till the end of the night. Two lists are then made: one of all the magic items found, and another of 1d20 rolls for each character. Characters then pick an item from the list in order of their roll. If there are enough items for everyone to get at least one item (of fairly equal usefulness) then this method works pretty well. If there are extra items, the party could work back through the list (this time starting from the bottom).
Other treasure may be used to compensate those that didn’t get an item or didn’t get as good an item. Overall, this method works fairly well. But it still has problems and requires that there be quite a number of items for it to work. Unfortunately, it also requires that items not be divvied up till the end of the evening which often means they get stuck in a bag and carried around instead of being used right away.
End of Night Auction
This is an idea I came up with many years ago that we have used in a friend’s game ever since. It may not be perfect but it has worked very well for us.
The value of all the treasure (coins, gems, jewelry, artwork, magic items, etc) is tallied and divided by the number of characters to determine the value of each share. Then two lists are created (as above): one with items and the other with 1d20 rolls for each character. Characters go down the list as before, but instead of selecting an item, they are allowed to purchase an item against their expected share (they may throw in additional funds as needed).
As I said, this system works for us. But it has a number of problems:
- Items are not divvied up right away and therefore aren’t always put into use as soon as they could have been.
- There must be quite a number of items for this to work well.
- There must be someone (characters or merchants) with enough cash (and who is willing) to buy each item.
- There must be a known value for each item in order to determine the value of shares.
Magic Items Are Not Commodities
My biggest problem with the auction approach is that it requires a known value for each magic item, as well as a merchant willing to buy each item if the characters are unwilling (or unable) to buy the item themselves. This reduces magic items to mere commodities to be bought and sold.
In my world, there are no magic shops. In order to sell a magic item, the party must find someone willing to buy the item. Most merchants wouldn’t have the money to buy expensive items, let alone the desire (unless it were something they personally needed badly enough to warrant the cost). Additionally, since there are no magic shops there are no set prices for magic items. Nor are characters able to create magical items so there is no basis for setting a value. Each item is worth whatever the seller and buyer can agree upon. That makes the previous approach impractical.
One way around this is to determine shares based just on the other treasure (everything except magic items). Then, when players go through the list, each player may select an item to bid on (with whatever minimum opening bid the group decides on). Others may then bid against her as in any auction. The highest bid wins the auction. The winner claims the item and pays the fee into a pool that will then be divided amongst all the characters.
Whichever method used must be left entirely to the players to agree upon. It’s their treasure to do with as they will. The DM really has no business being involved (other than role-playing NPCs they encounter while trying to sell off the treasure).
However, the manner in which the characters go about attempting to sell off items (or locate buyers) may attract unwanted attention. That attention may very well bring the DM back into the picture.