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So, I've been googling this and have yet to find a something that directly answers this super noob question.

Can my players pick up all the gear that creatures wear and use? If so, the Dragon Shield Kobolds we face in a few encounters have a shield that gives them resist fire +5 but the description says that it is just a regular shield so I'm not sure if I should be letting everyone in the group to have one of these resist fire shields or just say they find shields. Also, the encounters usually have treasure and items they find so I wasn't sure if that was all they could get from an encounter.

Background, I am a new DM with a group of 5 new players (one has played dark heresy). Large learning curve for me who tends to like to try and maintain balance attempts by game makers :P But that's besides the point. We are running a 4e game and are currently running through KotS with some of the adjustments made by The Alexandrian.

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4 Answers

up vote 12 down vote accepted

It sounds like you're asking two questions here: first, what items can the PCs pick up from enemies, and second, what properties do those items retain from enemies' stat blocks?

1) What items can PCs pick up?

In theory, everything the enemy is listed as carrying. In reality, as Lucas says in his answer, picking up everything quickly becomes hugely impractical. The players end up with large amounts of useless or near-useless items which they must haul around, and whose sale value is negligible.

As an example, opening to a random MM3 page with a range of heroic-tier cultists, I see "club" listed for one cultist (which would be a simple, nonmagical club of the kind you can buy as starting equipment); and "plate armor, fullblade" for a different cultist (again, non-magical). Those nonmagical clubs and swords are of no real use to the levels six and seven PCs that will be fighting them, since those PCs almost certainly have at least +1 items at this point.

2) What properties do enemies' items retain when used by PCs?

If the item is not specifically listed as having the ability, then the item does not have it. Just as a PC can use powers to temporarily set their weapons on fire, or make their armor more resistant to damage, enemies use similar innate powers on their items to gain the extra abilities seen in their stat blocks.

Going back to my MM3 cultists, the guy with the fullblade has a power that lets him apply ongoing 5 fire damage with a successful opportunity attack. But his weapon is listed as just a plain, nonmagical fullblade - that fire ability is innate to the cultist, not to the blade.

If your players are dubious about this, or want the abilities the enemies used, you can fluff it in a lot of ways to make it more understandable. For your kobolds, you could say that either the fire resistance is something which the kobolds have trained for, perhaps by learning how to handle the heat through the shield; or they applied some kind of short-term coating which only lasts for one encounter. (This is related to something I touched on in my question here, and a lot of the answers to that question are useful for working with your players when this situation comes up.)

TL;DR: Yes, the players can pick up everything. No, they don't get the abilities the enemies were applying to those items.

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The kobolds' shields are unrelated to their fire resist, technically. It would make sense, but rules-as-written, they're just normal kobolds who happen to have fire resistance and happen to carry shields made of dragon scale. If the PCs take the shields, they don't gain the kobolds' fire resistance.

I think this is an example of poor early-4e writing. The shield clearly suggests that it grants the monster fire resist, but the item doesn't work that way for PCs. I would explain it away by saying that the dragonshield kobolds are part of a special group whose fire resistance comes from a special bloodline or innate magic. The shield itself is made of fireproof material, but that doesn't confer fire immunity on its wielder.

Generally, you should allow PCs to take items they find. It's realistic, you can't sell mundane gear in 4e and it's not worth much anyway, and monsters sometimes leave useful equipment or interesting trophies. Treasure is balanced in 4e so monsters will never have items that would be unbalancing for you to take.

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Realism wise, yes, you should allow your players to get everything.

But that's largely impractical, specially with new players. So, we have some other ideas:

1. Things break

In the frenzy of combat, it's entirely possible for a shield to break, a weapon to bend or become unusable in any other way, so your players cannot loot it.

2. Loot parcels

If you're not that much into realism, you can just say at the end of the encounter that the players found this this and that, generating the loot parcels manually. The problem with this is that the players might get annoyed for the loot "disappearing" before their very eyes.

3. Allow it

Allow the players to loot everything, but stress that being a hoarder has some serious consequences. Mainly, carrying capacity is limited, they can get tired fast, they may attract bandits and such.

In any occasion, talk with your players about it, they can usually help with some ideas.

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+1 for things break: remember that it's a battle - finding useful working loot may be a major task in itself –  Sean Cheshire Aug 17 '13 at 3:47
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Well, if your thinking logically, if the shield is fire resistant, the shield will block some of the fire. yes, it will wrap around a little bit, but some of the fire will not hit him. giving them 5 fire resistance isnt that big of a deal. I say if it is in the items stat block, give it to them. Also as stated above. If an enemy has an item in their stat block, unless its one use and they use it in combat, it is available to be taken.

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