I've been playing D&D 4E with a group of colleagues from work for about a year or so now. Whilst some of us were seasoned role players, and others had never played before at all - none of us had played 4e at all - not even the DM.

We've played through the introductory H1 adventure, and have moved on to the Thunderspire Labyrinth now. I know a lot of people think these adventures (H1 particularly) are pretty lame - but since we were all learning, it seemed a good idea to go through something which was fairly "easy".

Our party has recently levelled up to 5 - and I'm starting to feel like we're getting rather short shrift from our DM. From what I can gather of reading the DM's guide we should have a lot more loot than we do currently. There are still players in our party who have NO magic items at all - and others who have stuff that's pretty lame.

The PH seems to suggest we should be able to buy magic items we would like too, but our DM has made this prohibitively expensive - at minimum doubling the prices quoted in the PH, if the items are available at all.

In our last encounter (which I personally wasn't present at), one of the players had decided to use one of their new 5th level dailies - the "Iron to Glass" cleric ability. The DM wasn't really familiar with it, and, in fairness, it seems the player hadn't read the card for it properly either. The DM was told that the ability affected the to hit modifier of his monster (I2G actually affects damage), and took this at face value - but this sadly seemed to ruin the encounter for him, as he was finding it impossible to hit anyone. The player in question has since fessed up to this (it was an honest error), but it seems this has really ticked of the DM. He ruled that at the end of the encounter, the awesome flaming maul it had been cast on shattered. So we didn't get to claim it - so yet again we've come away empty handed from a long set of sessions (Duergar fortress in the adventure in case anyone is familiar with it).

Does this seem harsh treatment of the players, or are we really just greedy good-for-nothing players that should shut up?

  • 12
    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure where to find it, but as a partial suggestion, I would point out that there are special rules in the DDI Charachter builder for DMs who don't like to hand out magical weapons and items and want them to be more rare. Some magic items are there to fix mathematical issues, and there are rules that gives players inherent bonuses based on level instead. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMNoob
    Commented Feb 15, 2012 at 15:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ I really want to be able to accept all the answers here - shame I can't. I think @waxeagle is going to get the vote though, as he spent the most time on the back and forth with me. Thanks everyone for your answers though! \$\endgroup\$
    – GodEater
    Commented Feb 15, 2012 at 17:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ Crikey - 1000+ views already? Who knew this would be such a popular subject! \$\endgroup\$
    – GodEater
    Commented Feb 16, 2012 at 12:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ Really, if you find yourself in this situation, you should consider resetting your expectations of a roleplaying game, because the objective is to have fun however you can. If that isn't magic items, have fun with some other part of the campaign, character banter, weird encounters, whatever it takes. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kzqai
    Commented Mar 29, 2014 at 16:42

8 Answers 8


The answer to your question is "yes."

This is clearly a communication and expectations issue.

Here are some things that will help your group:

  • A DDI subscription if you don't already have one. This gives you a searchable rules database and should help put everyone on the same page. Also the online character builder can help get everyone a character sheet with all of their powers and abilities in front of them. It also helps with the math.

  • Clear communication between group and DM. If you are unhappy with loot payouts talk to the DM. You might want to talk to him about why specific magic items in 4e are important (the math gets quite wonky if you don't have level weapon/armor/neck slot). If he wants to make magic items rare in his game talk to him about intrinsic bonuses to offset the imbalance (see the dark sun rules for this).

    • In 4e a specific encounter level relies on players being able to do a certain amount of damage, hit a certain percentage of the time and avoid a certain percentage of attacks. In order to hit often enough and do enough damage PCs need magic weapons (improves to hit and damage). In order to not take too much damage (ie not get hit as often) they need better armor (AC) and neck slot items (Non AC defenses or NADs). These can be provided in one of two ways. Either through magic items (the traditional way) or through intrinsic bonuses (a different way) which basically model magic weapons, but keep them scarce, good for settings like Dark Sun where magic is rare.
  • Failing to get these bonuses will make encounters harder as levels increase. The math already favors the monsters as levels increase even with magic items and full accuracy and damage feats (see this answer for the maths). 4e as designed relies no players and monsters being on basically the same footing as you level up, forgoing magic items puts the advantage fully in the monsters' court.

  • Suggest that your group form a social contract. It doesn't have to be written down, but it would help. You already have an implicit one, just firm it up into something more explicit that will help you to talk about expectations for the game.

  • If you think the DM is being unfair or unjust talk to him about it and make sure he remembers the first rule of DMing: You are there to facilitate the story, not to screw your players. Ultimately D&D is about the PCs winning (most of the time), if your DM forgets that it can get ugly.

  • Finally communicate, communicate, communicate! but don't be a dick about it. Nicely and politely talk to the DM about why he isn't dropping loot, ask him if there is a reason? maybe there is. Talk to him about the math, if you need the evidence look around here we do math pretty well.

Lastly remember that A. its just a game and B. its supposed to be fun. If you are having fun, why are you worrying? if you aren't having fun then talk to your DM and see if you can make it more fun. If not, it might be time to find a new group.

  • 10
    \$\begingroup\$ Having read the first answer above yours and thought about it a little more, I think the reason this is annoying me is something down to the 4e system. The tactical aspect of the game seems to be detracting a little from the "story" goals that should be giving us the sense of achievement I've got from previous editions of the game. So since nearly every session seems to feature much fighting and little actual role playing or problem solving as I've been used to, the rewards in terms of advancing your character, be that XP or items seem more important some how. Not sure what to do about that. \$\endgroup\$
    – GodEater
    Commented Feb 15, 2012 at 14:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ By the way, can you elucidate on why specific items are important in 4e? Since this is the first time I've played it, and we're not getting very many - I'm not really clear on this? (or point me to some other relevant question of course) \$\endgroup\$
    – GodEater
    Commented Feb 15, 2012 at 15:34

Like most table issues, this is a complicated knot of "maybes" and "that depends." Let's see if we can break it down.

We have far less loot for our level than the book says.

The book is like the pirates' code... More of a guideline, really. While the rules are play-tested "as-is," DMs traditionally are allowed to exert a great deal of influence over what is and is not allowed. Some groups run the rules precisely as written. Some employ a few surgical tweaks (like changing the spacing of loot). Some throw the rules out entirely.

So no, the fact that you are under-geared is not in and of itself a problem. The DM should be aware of it, and may need to adjust encounters downwards to allow for your overall weakened condition.

What is an issue is that you and the DM are not seeing eye-to-eye on the purpose of loot, and that it is decreasing your enjoyment of the game. Standard people skills apply here:

  • Talk to the DM. Is this something he intended, is it an error on your part, or (last for a reason) is it an error on his part?

  • Express why you don't enjoy the way things are going. Using "but the book says..." is generally a poor reason, unless your DM honestly misread it. It could be that you don't like "feeling weak," or that you really like magic items... Either way, express that to your DM.

  • If he is intractable, discuss it with your group mates. Are you the odd man out in this issue?

  • If it still hasn't been resolved, your choice is threefold:

    • Bring it up with the DM again, with support. This is confrontational, and can go badly... So make sure you have some idea of how it's going to go first.

    • Learn to live with it, if it isn't a deciding factor for you. Don't be a sore loser. If a great example comes up, you may point it out... But this shouldn't happen more than once or twice, ever, and generally shouldn't be because "you lost."

    • Find a new group. Bow out as politely as you can. If asked, explain your reasons (preferably in private), but don't bring them up if you don't have to.

The DM got mad because we trivialized an encounter.

In general, it is bad form for a DM to get angry because PCs solved one of their encounters.

If it's a one-time deal, suck it up. Everyone has a bad day. You just trounced an encounter that he either worked hard on, or was very excited about running. Things happen, and we don't always react as well as we would like to.

If this is a recurring issue, see above. There is one additional point to consider, though... If you or your group is twisting the game system well beyond what you think is reasonable (a strictly subjective measure), maybe consider knocking it off. If you're playing in a manner that you feel is appropriate, see above.

  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ As one of the players in the group who has role played before, I'm well aware the rules are not gospel, and are there to be bent - I certainly hope I wasn't coming across as "the rules say we should have 3.5 magic items each by now" - can't stand players like that either! The main issue that we (and it is we - definitely not just me) see is that he doesn't do much prep work at all with the encounters in advance - so he's NOT adjusting them to suit our underpoweredness - which generally makes them very hard on us! I think broadly you're right, we need to have a chat with him. \$\endgroup\$
    – GodEater
    Commented Feb 15, 2012 at 14:29
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ @GodEater At that point, a nice non-confrontational talk is probably for the best. "Hey man, the book says we're supposed to be giving you wishlists of loot to pass out. When would you like us to give them to you?" may be a good start. \$\endgroup\$
    – AceCalhoon
    Commented Feb 15, 2012 at 14:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ Based on the example the player gave it does not seem like they were abusing the rules. Iron to Glass is nice (and has pulled our bacon out of the fire once or twice), but so are a lot of other things. You make a good point that the DM might have balanced the adventure based on the availability of magic items, if they have not then your party will struggle more and more and start having PCs die as the monsters get harder. \$\endgroup\$
    – kleineg
    Commented Jun 12, 2014 at 18:23

As for the communications issues, might I suggest taking a look at the answers to How does a player correct a GM mistake without being a rules lawyer or pushover?

That should help no matter what the issue (loot, rules interpretation, bad module, etc...)

Here are a few additional tips I've found useful in these sorts of situations...

When there's a break between modules or even a few days of in-story "down time", suggest that the group mixes things up a bit:

Go off the module track - take a side adventure to deal with a character personal crisis, or research some important item that will be critical to the group. Don't have a magic item? Ask the DM how you can craft one. I had a session just before the assault on the Iron Keep where the players all upgraded their gear using the Fighter's background as a blacksmith. For example, he fused recovered armor plates from a Iron Defender to his chain mail to improve it's AC (and make it look all cool and patchy.)

You could also offer to rotate DMs. This is addressed to the group as a way to experience the game, not as a criticism of the current DM. Even if no one wants to (especially if no one wants to) the group will probably have more empathy for how hard the DMs role is.

The last piece of advice is that 4e is really the players game. You are all in control of your character's actions. Want to have fun (and engage your DM likewise) - pick up your heads from your power cards and just say what you want to do. "The paladin is in front of me at the base of the stairs. Here's what I want to do - I want to use her shoulders as a fulcrum while I leap over her head to land next to her, and in front of the Ghoul, thrusting down with my rapier. Does that count as a charge?" me: "Hell yeah it does! Roll acrobatics first, and if you succeed, the attack at +1 for charge and +2 for awesome."


Yes, you're whining. But not without merit; your GM is being stingy with the magic.

4E as written pretty much calls for steady inclusion of ever more powerful magic items to maintain its balance. (DMG1 p125-129) 1st level parties should be finding magic items of levels 2-5 - several of them an adventure. For a party of 5 characters, 4 of 10 encounters should have a magic item as reward. (For a party of 4, it's 3 magic items; party of 3 it's 2 magic items; party of 2 or 1, 1 magic item. Each character over 5 adds one magic item.)

As your characters climb in level, this lack will make encounters ever more difficult than they are supposed to be. Your DM might be accounting for this, or might not.

If you have no magic items of higher than your level, yes, you're being shorted by the standards in the DMG. Page 126 of DMG1 shows clearly that you should have gotten items of up to level 8 in a 5 player party.

Now, as to your whining... Odds are your DM is running the game with much reduced magic overall. He may or may not be properly accounting for the lack of magic items. But that's irrelevant... he's made his call and apparently stuck to it.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Unless the DM is using intrinsic bonuses, which reduce the need for loot to almost nothing... \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 15, 2012 at 18:33
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @F.RandallFarmer That would constitute "properly accounting for the lack of magic items." \$\endgroup\$
    – aramis
    Commented Feb 15, 2012 at 20:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ Agreed. Just calling it out explicitly. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 16, 2012 at 1:23

On one hand the DM should be able to do what he wants to do. 4e can get REALLY complicated once you combine items, powers and feats, and there is something to be said of the "Hobbit" world where some nice armor, a little +1 sword and crappy ring of invisibility can make all the difference in the world.

That said, 4e doesn't allow for this really--they scale everything up, lock step. Practically every level gives a bonus to the die roll then give monsters the exact same bonus to their resistance--negating the bonus... For many things the additions are absolutely pointless if you are going to keep fighting monsters of your level (and it makes fighting monsters outside your level range pointless or impossible).

My best suggestion would be to rotate DMs every now and then. We did this a lot. You probably have to rotate characters as well--We had one temporary DM give out an item (Ivory elephant figure) that frustrated the hell out of our primary DM because he felt it unbalanced things (the temporary DM simply is never that concerned with balance--different style).

Also consider 4e more of a tactical table-top game than an RPG, still enjoyable but different. If you really want to start up a game that is "Role playing" pick something else... Pathfinder is a common D&D variant that is still being developed, and there are LOTS of fun non-D&D genres that might match your DMs style better.


I'm the DM in question, and yes you are all whining layabouts ;-)

Interesting sets of views on here, and just to set the record straight for those interested, it was very late in the evening when the curveball of Iron to Glass was used. It was misrepresented in terms of attack rather than the correct use of damage. And I did take it at face value, as I'm a trustworthy chap. But, rather than ending the adventure in spectacular fashion, it rather brought the game to a damp squib of an ending. Seeing as the incorrectly used power seemed to indicate that I basically would not be able to hit the party at all. As the DM you want the party members to enjoy defeating an enemy rather than it just seem to end. I've since written a better ending for the party :-)

All in all though, in regards to the Magical Items question, it does appear that 4e rules seem to want you laden up like tanks to get anywhere. A far cry from the 2e rules where Magic items couldn't be found anywhere!

It's all been sorted now, as I believe. I'll tailor the DM'ing to suit the party's increased size. Hopefully we won't have the same issue in the future.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the site! Glad you could get your voice heard. Hope you choose to stick around. And yes you are correct about 4e characters being heavily laden tanks. They have tried so hard to balance the game (4e's motto should be "balance balance balance, except when it isn't") that PCs and DMs alike ignore magic items at their peril. I think its something every 4e DM who came from another edition has to come to terms with :). Again welcome please feel free to ask your questions here! \$\endgroup\$
    – wax eagle
    Commented Feb 29, 2012 at 12:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ narly, keep coming back! Ask questions and give answers, if you see anything that looks good. We always need more DMs around here! \$\endgroup\$
    – Joe
    Commented Jul 17, 2012 at 18:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ Those modules are also famous for having low loot by themselves. And it looks like the loot is specifically made for the five pre-made characters (in the first module at least). \$\endgroup\$
    – Zachiel
    Commented Jan 25, 2013 at 23:47

Clear expectations are key here. If the DM had started out saying that this campaign was going to be low loot, nobody would have complained, most likely, and people wouldn't be upset now that there were no magic items.

But it seems that that wasn't made clear at the outset. Since the initial expectations weren't set, it would be in good form for the DM to try to get some consensus on this. On the other hand, it would be in very bad form for you to try to force that sort of vote on the DM.

At this point in the game, you know it's low loot. Your options are to accept that and stop bugging the DM, to stop playing, or to try to change the DM's mind. It sounds like you haven't been able to change the DM's mind.

My recommendation? Pretend the DM just asked everyone whether they'd like to try out a low-loot game and everyone agreed to do it for now. Don't object unless something new happens, like the party getting pasted three encounters in a row and forcing a deus ex machina.


The items in those adventures are a little scarce, and they also seem tailored to the premade characters found with H1. If the GM is not on par with the manuals with treasure drops, this might be a reason.

Not allowing you to shop for items, however, seem to be somewhat tied to a fear of giving you too much power and having the game turn into a run to armaments.
I also know many previous edition DMs that like the magic items to be scarce and special, but D&D 4e is not a game where you can resist without them for long.

It might also be possible that your DM is intentionally willing to throw harder encounters at you: he didn't like when his encounter got trivialized, so he probably likes to see you "earn your victories" (which is also satisfying for the players, if slower).

Depending on the monster statistics he's using, on your characters' extended rest frequency and on the feats and powers you have access to, keeping you poor might also be a necessity:

  • pre-MM3 monsters are generally weak damage dealers. I'm replacing them as suggested by an online unofficial source and my party is still surviving 5 encounters in a row with 4 characters against encounters built on a 5-character budget.
  • the right combinations of class bonuses, proficiency and feats can make it trivial to hit enemies your level even without magic (our level 8 rogue has a +21 to hit*, against post-MM3 ACs varying between 20 and 26 for monsters he faced so far, and this is only including his +2 weapon).

Even with all this said on defendse of your DM's position, reacting to a mistake (with temporary consequences, for it only made that one encounter easier) by sabotaging a permanent asset is a bit too much in my book.

I would ask him if there's a reason he is keeping back with treasure, and act (or eventually ask counsel again) based on his aswer.

*due to getting feats to grant him combat advantage and charges as often as possible.


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