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I'm currently playing a character in a DnD 3.5 Eberron campaign. During the first few sessions, our characters overcame several obstacles without combat.

Our GM complained that this made it hard for him to adhere the Wealth By Level charts, because when we overcome challenges without looting bodies, we get the XP, but not the gold.

He says it's crucial for our characters to have the gold, and to spend it wisely, lest we become underpowered for the challenges that await us in the future.

What other ways can our GM use give us treasure when we overcome obstacles without fighting? I'm looking for answers that address the question from personal experience.

Here are some examples of situations we have found ourselves in so far.

  1. We were supposed to fight our way through a complicated maze of sewers to get to this treasure vault we inherited, and instead the warforged used his trusty crowbar to break open a grate and then we took a shortcut past all the monsters.
  2. That time when we were underground and we ran into a bunch of Gnolls, and they didn't attack, and we didn't attack, and then they just kinda left after a while, because really, who wants to attack adventurers?
  3. That other time we encountered a couple of goblins in a muck farm (don't ask), and instead of killing them all, we asked for directions because, hey it turns out our hobbit speaks goblin.
  4. There was that other time where a living spell wandered into the section of the compound we were in, and instead of fighting it, we locked it in a magical vault. Because it was attracted to sound. And vault doors squeak.
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Wealth-by-level is simply a guideline. Also, why would a living spell have any usable treasure, anyway? –  Bobson Aug 15 at 13:58
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It was a living prismatic spray. If you kill a rainbow, wouldn't you expect it to drop a pot of gold? –  Gustav Bertram Aug 15 at 14:05
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Does a rainbow carry a pot of gold? Or are they colocated? :) –  GalacticCowboy Aug 15 at 15:33
    
I don't know if this breaks any serious taboo/rule, but what if you compensated for the lack of loot by awarding bonus XP for avoiding conflict? So they don't get x gold, but they get 10% more XP, so they'll become powerful faster to offset the lack of money/equipment... –  thanby Aug 15 at 15:38
    
Just a note, getting extra XP in place of your loot is good as long as you don't go way overboard. I remember a game we played in 3.5 where we outleveled our gear so much that we ended with a TPK against a monster that was otherwise well within our skill level, 'cause no one in the party had a magical weapon yet, and the bugger had a sizeable DR, which made him almost immune to the party's attacks. So by all means, give extra XP if you want, but not too much =P –  Cryptangel Aug 16 at 22:01

8 Answers 8

up vote 30 down vote accepted

There are many ways to give treasure to players that you can activate/deactivate depending on how the players overcome the encounter. If you tie the encounters to the story, and if you tie the equipment to the story, there are plenty of opportunities for reward other than looting.

Make random encounters not quite random - For example, instead of stumbling upon 2d4 goblins in the forest, stumble upon goblins attacking a caravan. If the players kill the goblins, they can loot them, if the players scare off the goblins through some elaborate illusions and successful bluff checks, they either get gold from the caravan, or they get to guide the caravan to the next town where the local chief is so overjoyed to see his daughter safe and sound that he gives out a sword of +2 killing.

Put the treasure next to the enemies, not onto the enemies - I'm not particularly fond of "I loot a wolf and I find a sword of +2 killing". How does this even make sense? Also, why would a band of goblins carry all their spoils from previous raids with them? Much more likely, the goblins have stashed their gold at their camp, and if the players scatter the enemy, they will later stumble upon the abandoned goblin camp, where the goblins forgot a chest in their haste.

Hand out the equipment up-front Say that the players have successfully saved that caravan. Now they're hired as bodyguards, because obviously their method works. However, the caravan leader notices their shabby gear, and fears that the PCs will not be strong enough to guide the caravan through the valley of certain doom. So they equip the players with new shiny gear that they can keep if they do a good job.

In response to the specific examples in the question Assume I'm a GM desperate to give treasure to the PCs (why would that ever happen, srsly); how would I deal with the four examples you provide?

  1. You take the shortcut, you find the treasure, which has been magically augmented by the treasure you were supposed to get from all the enemies (note: in my games, you would most likely not have gotten much treasure from the enemies, anyway)

  2. The gnolls leave, and when you look through the remnants of their dinner (some unlucky kobolds) they were having while waiting for you to leave, you find a hidden pouch in the discarded leather armor of the kobold leader, containing $treasure.

  3. The goblins take a liking to the hobbit, and point him to a bag of loot they carry with them; mostly farm equipment, but also a rusted holy axe of smiting (how did a "villager" get that?). They tell you guys to help yourselves, but that you'll own them a favor.

  4. Either somebody is glad the living spell is gone and gives you stuff for it, or, as you close the vault door, you also hear some kind of rattle, only to find out that part of the treasure is hidden inside the vault door.

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+1 for making random encounters not random. Powerful adventurers intervening in an existing conflict also allows for the roleplaying diplomacy. –  Gustav Bertram Aug 15 at 10:07
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@GustavBertram: Especially if the encounters are related to Diplomacy, bribery may become an interesting way of funneling plot hook-laden money to players. –  Jonas Aug 15 at 10:54
    
I upvoted when you said: "Assume I'm a GM desperate to give treasure to the PCs (why would that ever happen, srsly)" /Yeah, seriously. –  Simanos Aug 30 at 13:00

This is a weird question, and I'm wondering if I'm missing some subtlety. Feel free and clarify the question if so.

Wealth By Level Is Not Law

First of all, WBL is just a guideline and not something to be slavishly adhered to. See Is there a reason to ignore/adjust the Wealth By Level chart? It's fine that your GM wants to give you stuff, but if he's putting in a lot of work to keep you exactly on budget (and fretting over one encounter makes it seem like he is) then he's being misguided. Plus, you seem to have some discretion over what fights you take on - if you are undergeared then you'll take on lesser fights and gain XP more slowly, and thus loot levels will catch up somewhat automatically. I very seldom reference WBL - I might check in on it once a level or so to see how the group's doing, at most.

Some Of It Is The Players' Responsibility (Especially In A Sandbox)

If you really want more treasure/need better gear, your party could choose to go fight the other monsters in the dungeon instead of bypassing them. It's fine to find smart ways to bypass fights, but then (unless you're being smart enough to also steal from them) you'll lose loot. If you're not choosing to, then you must be fine with the current gear level. See How To Divide Up Loot? for a somewhat related discussion. This isn't "the DM's problem" to solve, as long as he's putting some loot in there that can be gotten. (Also, some of your examples shouldn't get you XP either necessarily - do you get XP every time you ask for directions from townsfolk instead of murdering them?) You need gear? Go put those clever brains to work getting some gear.

He Can Just Give You Stuff

I am not sure why there is any mental block about how to give you treasure. "You open the next door, and there's a treasure chest!" "Oh you dig into that suspicious looking mound of earth? Someone's buried their treasure there!" "Last monster you killed had no pockets and no treasure, this one has pockets with an amount of treasure strangely appropriate to two encounters worth!" "You come across a bounty poster, that goblin was wanted dead or alive!" "A rich dude sees your owlbear claw trophy and is so taken with it that he offers you 250 gp for it!" It is so trivial to come up with 100 ways to give someone money in-game that I am wondering what the real problem is.

As I meditate upon this I wonder if he's kinda OCD and is obsessed with giving you the loot RIGHT THEN. As if it's not legit to give it as part of another monster's pouch or a mystery quest giver or a bounty you didn't know exists. So my advice is "if you choose to ignore parts 1 and 2 of this answer and are hellbent on giving them that missing 250 gp instead of letting the players frickin' play, you don't have to give it right that second - just work it in sometime that session or the next."

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The QuestGiver

There are many reasons a group of adventurers might be off on an adventure, but one common reason is because they have been hired or commissioned to do it. In that case, the person that hired them is probably paying them. If the terms haven't been agreed to up front, the GM can adjust what they get paid behind the scene's to make up for them finding too little (or even too much) random treasure.

Even if they have been agreed to ahead of time it wouldn't be overly surprising for the questgiver to provide a bonus for excellent completion or offer them a retainer to secure their future services.

Adjust the value of the final payoff

If there is no specific quest giver, they are still probably on that adventure for some reason. The GM can adjust the final value of what they find behind the scenes.

For instance, if their quest is to find the Ancient Spear of McGuffin, they may find ancients jewels and jewelry along with it. If their quest is just to go dungeon crawling, they may avoid the monsters and eventually find an old store room filled with valuable items.

The value of what they find can of course be adjusted quietly to make up for shortfalls or unexpected windfalls the party has had.

Personally, I've never been too fond of the "kill monster, find stuff" trope anyway. Your average unintelligent monster shouldn't be carrying anything more than its own body parts. For intelligent enemies, it makes more sense, but even then you will likely find them carrying their own equipment and some spending money, not vast amounts of treasure. (Unless the adventurers are raiding a trading or supply caravan at least, but then without a really good story reason they are closer to brigands and highwaymen than to adventurers in high fantasy.)

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Just last night we did this in our campaign. Basically, the group came upon an encounter and managed to talk their way out of the fight, even slightly befriending the group, and eventually solving a problem for them. This allowed an opportunity for me to have the befriended "bad guys" to tell them about a rumored buried treasure nearby, which the group was successfully able to find and recover.

So basically, I'm suggesting that alcove, niches, and other things can contain "hidden items" that you allow the players to stumble upon.

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There's a few options, which I'll use your examples to illustrate.

Encounter Design

We were supposed to fight our way through a complicated maze of sewers to get to this treasure vault we inherited, and instead the warforged used his trusty crowbar to break open a grate and then we took a shortcut past all the monsters.

This one is pretty easy. Put the majority of the treasure in the vault itself, and not on the monsters on the way. You get the treasure for completing the job (which was to get to the vault) rather than for killing everything on the way. Thus, it no longer matters how you deal with the encounters.

In the more general case, encounters can be designed such that there are rewards for not killing things.

Future Plot Hooks

That time when we were underground and we ran into a bunch of Gnolls, and they didn't attack, and we didn't attack, and then they just kinda left after a while, because really, who wants to attack adventurers?

That other time we encountered a couple of goblins in a muck farm (don't ask), and instead of killing them all, we asked for directions because, hey it turns out our hobbit speaks goblin.

Congratulations, you are not a party of murderhobos. As a DM, what I see as a result of these two situations is future plot hooks.

  1. The Goblin farmers may come to you for help later when they're having a problem, because you speak their language and were friendly. Muck farmers probably can't afford to pay you, but there is likely loot involved in solving their problem.
  2. The Gnolls may go on to cause problems elsewhere, and you could get paid by a town to make them go away.
  3. If you keep showing restraint, word can get around among that you have a knack for dealing with the more monstrous races peacefully. There's good money in being hired as diplomats to resolve disputes between the "civilized" races (Humans, Elves, etc) and the "other" races without it turning into outright war. Or maybe two human towns need you to help them keep a situation from turning into a war. (In my current game, we had an entire session devoted to brokering a peace treaty between two towns. It was awesome.)

There's organizations out there that like a thoughtful, less violent approach. The Church of Rao would be one such group, and they might seek you out to hire you because they think you can handle things without it turning into a bloodbath.

The Merchant Business

There was that other time where a living spell wandered into the section of the compound we were in, and instead of fighting it, we locked it in a magical vault. Because it was attracted to sound. And vault doors squeak.

I'm not sure what a living spell is, but it sounds valuable. Any Wizards want to study one? Any traveling menageries or carnival acts want to put one on display to wow the crowds? You've got it trapped in a vault, sell it to someone that wants such things.

Better Living Through Crafted Items

This one is on the players and not the DM, although the DM can encourage it. If the DM wants you to have a certain power level in terms of items but you have less money than expected, one option to deal with that is to get your items for cheaper.

Among the myriad of plot ways to do that, the non-plot way is to have someone in the party take an item crafting feat. For the price of a feat and some XP (some of which you earn back anyway when you lose a level from it as you gain XP faster if you're lower level than the rest of the party), crafted items cost half as much. Wealth goes a whole lot further when your armor is half price.

Now, item crafting feats have some problems, and there are ways the DM can help with that. The ones I use to encourage it are:

  1. Increase the speed. Normal magic item creation is 1000gp per day of value. That works very badly when you need to make swords for an entire party and it's going to take four months. Dramatically increase that amount.
  2. Allow the XP cost to spread around. Normally the XP cost is borne entirely by the item crafter, but it's more player friendly if you allow the person getting the item to bear some/all of the expense. That means your actual crafter has to spend a feat, but doesn't also have to fall behind in levels. I do this only with PC crafters, because the NPC crafters "don't want to give a discount on their livelihood."

The end result is that you simply need less wealth in terms of gold to spend to get equivalent levels of power, which means you can be behind the wealth by level chart and it won't hurt at all. You can also use downtime to make spare items, which you could sell for profit if you own your own shop or something (as my PCs do).

Also: the WBL chart is itself a guideline anyway. If you have skilled players and a strong party, you can deviate somewhat from it and not have problems.

Tell the Players To Get More Money

This one is something of a cop-out, but the DM can simply tell the players "you're going to be too poor for what's coming if you don't go kill some stuff." The players can respond to that by going off and doing a side quest to loot an otherwise pointless dungeon for extra gold.

The players are free to ignore this advice until they actually run into trouble, of course.

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Note: regarding crafts, another solution (if you the PCs are feat-starved) is to befriend a NPC crafter, or several. –  Matthieu M. Aug 18 at 18:01

You seem to be a creative group. Use your creativity to make money. If you can find ways of overcoming the challenges without killing, you can find the way to make money without killing.

For instance, you could sell the living spell locked in the magic vault, or make a spectacle with it, like an Arena. Actually, I don't have the slightest idea of what a living spell is, but it sounds like it can be put to some uses with a bit of imagination.

Your party can feel the need to make money to buy the advanced gear needed to overcome big challenges. Make your characters aware of it and focus your efforts on making money (hire your services, search for lost treasures,...).

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DM can make the goal of a story to acquire an item X so that you can defeat the creature that can only be killed by X and is eating all the local villagers. Item X could just happen to be a very useful item/weapon outside of this specific plot.

I personally would trust the characters to find solutions in the future that suit how they behave. If they have to stop/kill a band of rampaging trolls then they may not choose to kill or overpower but may use their silver tongues in goblin to convince them that they can work in harmony with the locals. In such a case they do not need treasure to solve the adventure, but their wits and guile.

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Give more gold than would normally be typical for other challenges that the players do overcome by hack'n'slashing their way through them.


Have NPCs hire the characters to solve problems and pay them generously to resolve them.


Foist the responsibility for determining how they get the money onto the players. Offer them the cash in exchange for explaining how they got it… and then use the explanation for a future encounter.

I won it playing cards against Jarek Boromar

… and now Jarek holds a grudge.

I inherited it from my uncle

… who's spirit cannot rest and is going to haunt you until you sort out his unfinished business

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+1 for foisting responsibility for getting treasure on to players, and using those as plot hooks. However, giving more gold when we do hack&slash is predicated upon the idea that we'll eventually get around to hacking and slashing. –  Gustav Bertram Aug 15 at 9:56
    
Foisting responsibility works much better in games where the value of magic items and subsequently player wealth does not equal the BIP of a small country, and the only way to get a lot money is to get (i.e. steal/loot) valuable stuff from other people. –  MrLemon Aug 15 at 10:55
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D&D does not have sane rules for economics. I wouldn't let such things get in the way of a player describing what their character got up to in downtime. –  Quentin Aug 15 at 10:57
    
@Quentin I'm not saying that it's a bad idea in general, but might be hard to justify in play, because the economics of D&D really are insane. –  MrLemon Aug 15 at 10:59
    
I accepted another answer for comprehensiveness, but I gotta say, this one is still my favorite. –  Gustav Bertram Aug 17 at 17:05

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