I'm preparing a treasure hoard for a group of four level-two PCs (Cleric, Monk, Fighter, and Wizard). I decided to roll on the Treasure Hoard Table for CR 0-4, and take either the average result or my roll, whichever was higher. I ended up with a hoard that includes d4 items from Magic Item Table B. Here's where my dilemma begins.

Magic item table B contains items of wildly different rarities and utilities. Even if I roll (or fiat) a 4 on my d4 roll, I'm unlikely to end up with one good item for each of my players. In practice, I ended up rolling 2 potions (Water Breathing and Greater Healing) and two very situational uncommon items (Helm of Comprehend Languages and Cloak of the Manta Ray). This means two players are going to get to wear cool magic stuff, and two players are going to effectively be left with nothing. Yes, there's gold in the hoard too, but it's only about 70gp, which is nothing compared to the value of those uncommon magic items.

I've tried fudging the results, replacing the cloak and helm with an Immovable Rod and an Alchemy Jug, which at least don't require attunement and can be shared. I'm also considering replacing the Water Breathing potion with a Spell Scroll, so that the Wizard can get a spell out of the ordeal. But that still leaves one player who won't be able to hold anything interesting. I don't want to turn every treasure hoard into "okay, now everybody gets one special magic item" because I feel like that breaks immersion, and may not be balanced at certain levels/with certain items. So how can I design/present an asymmetrical magic item hoard in a way that leaves all four players feeling rewarded?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Ahhh... flashback to the olden days of when DKP systems lead to endless discussions and heartbreaks in all kinds of games... \$\endgroup\$
    – AnoE
    Aug 12, 2021 at 11:36

5 Answers 5


Handling of the treasure is generally left to the players

Tables vary and as Thomas Markov said, you can directly ask your players how they want to handle treasure.

But the way I handle it, and I believe this is one of the more common methods, is that the players simply decide among themselves, especially if you are determining the contents of the treasure largely by rolling. You, as the DM, in that case let the dice handle determining what the hoard contains and let the players figure it out.

Make it symmetrical over the long haul

Its important that power distribution between the players be kept at least somewhat fair. But players will encounter many, many hoards over the course of a long career. If one hoard seems skewed towards certain players one time, just make sure the next hoard skews the other way.

This in effect is similar to making it symmetrical by fiat, except by spreading it out over multiple hoards it will feel much less forced and avoid having what should be a small hoard be ridiculously generous.

Literally make it balanced and symmetrical

I know you specifically said you don't like this one, but another options, especially after a plot important battle or "boss fight" is to get rid of the issue by making it symmetrical. You select one item you intend to go to each player and include it in the hoard.

Yes, this can break immersion to a limited degree, but in my experience most players find this to be a very acceptable break from reality because the advantage of keeping everything obviously fair outweighs any concerns about it feeling forced. In my experience at least players are particularly unlikely to complain about breaks in immersion when those breaks literally and directly lead them to having a shiny new toy to play with...

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    \$\begingroup\$ Adding to point #1, players often decide to sell the oddball magic items (of which those two are excellent candidates) using the gold to buy what they really want. Finding or waiting for someone who will pay top dollar for a manta-ray cloak is a mini-adventure in itself. Or, it's party treasure. The next time they need to investigate a deep pool, the long-straw puts on the Cloak and dives in. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 11, 2021 at 1:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also to add to point #1: If you want to let the players decide even further, I sometimes opt to give my players a reagent instead. For example, they might find a dragon tooth. Although it does nothing by itself, if you take it to the local blacksmith they can either turn it into a set of daggers, a longsword or a shield. At that point it's up to the party to choose their own loot distribution and who gets what. \$\endgroup\$
    – Davy
    Aug 11, 2021 at 15:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ With regard to the long haul answer: I would note that what matters is the total "power-level" of a player, not their list of magical items, and that the treasure should be considered an opportunity to level the playing field there -- giving items to those characters who most need it. Also... in longer campaigns, a treasure hoard can include a situational item that will prove quite useful later. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 12, 2021 at 16:23

Ask your players how they want to handle treasure.

Your question here, the question you have in bold:

So how can I design/present an asymmetrical magic item hoard in a way that leaves all four players feeling rewarded?

This is essentially the exact question I like to ask my players during a Session 0. How do you guys want to handle treasure and magic items? The easiest way to ensure everyone is satisfied with how we handle magic items is to have the players discuss and agree upon how to handle it. What my tables have usually agreed upon is something like "let's just talk about it when we get there and decide together what we should do", taking a teamwork or "party first" approach to loot. In my experience, my tables (both as player and DM) have always approached magic items as a "team work" sort of activity: when given magic items, we discuss together what items should go where. But this is really two conversations.

I like to have these discussions both in character and out of character. Players approach the game with both in-character and out-of-character motivations, and these motivations may inform a conversation about magic items differently. So we try to have these conversations in character, then discuss out of character before finally coming to a resolution.

When it comes to loot (and most aspects of the game), I try to be in pretty consistent communication with my players about their expectations and feelings, and so I usually don't have to wonder how they will feel about or handle any particular loot.

Your mileage may vary from table to table, especially if you are playing with people you are not familiar with. This is why I recommend having this conversation at Session 0 first, and then continuing this conversation as the loot goes out. If a particular player insists on being unreasonable or selfish when you give the party some gear, you can point back to your Session 0 and say "you agreed to this during Session 0" and mediate between your players.


Don't fret about it.

There isn't one universal answer to this, but it isn't really necessary to balance treasure on a character-by-character basis. Here are a few core concepts from my experience as a DM:

Different players are motivated by different things.

Some players really need the shiny items to feel cool, others don't. Don't get me wrong; almost every player likes getting cool loot, but for some players the loot is a major motivation while for others, it's a nice accessory and that's it.

Beyond that, aesthetics can also be a factor. Sometimes players aren't excited about a particular item because it doesn't fit with how they see their character. If you decided to put a really cool magic greatsword in the hoard with the specific intent that the barbarian would use it, there's a chance that player will be unenthusiastic about it because she's really tied to the idea that her character wields an axe. A sorcerer might not be down with that Robe of Stars because even though it's a really nice item, it clashes with his whole dragon theme. Many Warcraft players are familiar with the heartbreak of looting a really good item that's just incredibly ugly or clashes with the character's look.

Different characters care about different things.

Even beyond the players, some characters just care more about their gear than others. This often splits along the martial/magical line -- the more magic a class has available to it, the less items really impact them. This isn't to say there's no impact, just that a mid-level wizard or cleric already has access to a lot of options that a fighter or barbarian doesn't, so it may mean more to the non-magical characters to get an item that expands their abilities into the realm of the physically impossible.

Therefore: Fairness doesn't actually exist.

What these two points together mean is even if you handed out equally powerful, equally useful items tuned to each character, some of the players would feel like they got something really cool and important, while others would just be like "Yeah, it's fine." Being "fair" by being mathematically precise in the treasure shares isn't actually necessary or desirable.

Balance happens in the long run.

Over time, you should have a pretty good balance on the item front without really doing anything yourself. The players should be able to divide up the loot without you either assigning it or virtually assigning it by carefully curating the items in each hoard to match the characters.

That said, I usually do curate my item drops, at least for the more rare ones, but it's usually more for thematic appropriateness than to aim them at particular characters. Looking at the expected items-by-tier chart in Xanathar's Guide (p.135), I typically curate the two highest rarity levels for the tier the players are in, and randomly roll the lower stuff unless there's something I want to plant for specific reasons.

As an example, if I decide the treasure at the end of this adventure should contain one major rare item and some uncommon minors, I'll probably roll the uncommons randomly (or just let the random hoard generation decide whether there are any and what they are), but the major rare item I'll pick out myself. I'll look at the party and think about what they have so far -- maybe the last big item was magic armor, and the one before that was a figurine of wondrous power, so I decide this time I'll aim for a magic weapon, or maybe a cloak or boots. Then I'll look at where this treasure is found -- what's the theme or story of the treasure? If we're in the buried ruins of an ancient city, then maybe I'll plant a Mace of Disruption, still clutched in the hand of the fallen paladin who wielded it centuries ago, his skeleton half-crushed under debris from a collapsed tower. If it's a chest of gear hidden in a spymaster's secret bolt-hole, then I might lean towards Boots of Speed or a Dagger of Venom. I don't ignore the party entirely though -- Flametongue is on the list, but if nobody in the party really uses a sword, I'll skip that one.

I also will listen for -- or even directly request -- hints from my players about what kind of items they want. One of my players isn't enthusiastic about magic weapons, but loves magical clothing and accessories, so I make a note of that and will make sure to include those kind of items regularly.

But keep an eye on who's taking what.

Some players can be grabby, and some aren't eager to speak up if they're getting ignored. Keep an eye on who's getting what loot and who isn't. If somebody is routinely ignored, make an effort to get an item in the game that speaks directly to them, and if the players try to redirect it, you might even speak up to mention that it's a really nice item for the Ranger or what-have-you.


Good treasure is not limited to magic items.

If you don't want to give them magic items, give them personalized unique non-magic gear.

A cleric might get just as much if not more fun from a set of armor made with their gods holy emblem and color scheme, maybe they find a map to a defunct temple to their god they can try to redeem, or maybe they move up the church hierarchy gaining access to new benefits or prestige.

A monk might find nunchucks or other monk focused weapons, maybe they find some silk that can be used to make robes or a map to a hidden mountain training ground. This onw is a bit harder, but depending on how they play their monk there can be plenty of options. Find out what goals your players have and what personality their character have and play towards it.

Fighter's are even easier mundane armor and weapons can be loot, low level fighters are always looking for armor upgrades. Or you could give trophies, "as you look at the X you have just stain you realize a good armorer might be able to make armor decorated with the creatures claws/skull/pelt." the fighter strutting around in owlbear skin cloak or a helm made from a drakes skull.

A Wizard might find a spellbook gaining new spells or rituals they can transcribe or maybe they find a blank book they can turn into a second spellbook. I know when I play a wizard this is one of my favorite bits of early game loot.


Maybe they don't find a magic item but find a lead on one they might be willing to put some effort into getting. the fighter might not get a magic sword but maybe they find a book that talks a bout rumors of a magic sword hidden in a dangerous lake. Maybe the wizard find a map marking a an abandoned wizard tower.

Utility items

My players got more use out of wagons, manacles, fancy clothes, and casks of grease then they did out of many of the magic items they had. This also encourages creativity. mundane equipment can be very good loot, especially at low levels.

You can also include less powerful magic items, one my players used often was the ring of bobber, which is a ring that causes the wearer to float as if they we wearing a life jacket regardless of what they are wearing or carrying, as long as they are not encumbered, they thought up more than a dozen uses for that ring over the adventure. Or a pole with a preserved trolls hand on it that will follow two commands in giant (grab and open) again they thought up dozens of uses for it. I have a list of random utility items I roll on when players a re clever or role play well, these make great low level treasure and encourage creativity to boot.


Give items to individual players.

You might reduce the random loot and create fewer, but better, items, each crafted for a specific PC. Choose an NPC friend/ally/employer/... of that PC to give the PC that item, as a gift or reward or payment or whatever. Give only one or two items per adventure.

In the short term, this may cause the party to have an uneven wealth distribution, but that should even out in over the long term.

I was once in a game where loot distribution mechanism was the norm. Most of us players were happy to get a few good items rather than many mediocre items. Still, it's a good topic for session zero.

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    \$\begingroup\$ That can simply move the problem -- the peasants hiring you to kill the ogre might be able to pay you in magic items, but probably ones just as random as in a treasure. They'd have to be working for someone rich to be able to try to get just what the players want. Or if they work for an alchemist they can get paid in all sorts of potions, but not much else, magic-wise. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 11, 2021 at 1:46

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