Due to a combination of tight scheduling and plain laziness, I never prepare any of my sessions ahead of time. At first it was hard to play this way, and the game was a bit sluggish, but now I think it has actually drastically improved the quality of my campaigns. Usually I'll start off with a simple random encounter or tough choice, and draw out the map of the next locale and populate it with monsters and so on while they take their turns and discuss this and that. But there's always one thing that grinds it all to a halt: treasure.

I can never bang out a good treasure hoard without dedicating at least an hour to the whole ordeal. The treasure generation rules in Ultimate Equipment are mind-boggling to say the least, but it would be kind of lame if they finally kill the deadly Phase Spider and in the forbidden chamber is nothing but a huge pile of gold and no items (every time). I've gotten good at embellishing with some classic potions and scrolls, and of course gems and art objects (which are really just another form of gold...), but finding one or two big items to throw on top of the pile that are really exciting takes just long enough to kill the flow of the game.

Does anyone have any strategies for giving out awesome lewt on the fly?

I'm asking about pathfinder in particular, but any system agnostic tips are welcome too!

  • \$\begingroup\$ One encounter sticks out to me and always prevents me from doing this. As a player, our group took out a couple of big bads...this fight wasn't going well until our druid ruined their wooden weapons forcing them into unarmed combat. End of battle we search their packs, DM rolls for loot...MW Dwarven Axe! They probably would have used this, even non-proficient) vs unarmed! Just try to avoid this with whichever answer u go with! \$\endgroup\$ – Ben-Jamin Feb 14 '14 at 4:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Ben-Jamin I'm pretty sure my players have asked me "wait, why didn't they USE that treasure??" more times than I'd like to admit :) \$\endgroup\$ – Eric B Feb 14 '14 at 5:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ It happens, if their dumb or non-intelligent, it helps explain it. Or if it's magical and they can't figure it out, but usually not applicable to weapons. Ofcourse, depending on party's level they could always learn "why" the baddies didn't use it when the item turns out to be cursed when the party uses it! \$\endgroup\$ – Ben-Jamin Feb 14 '14 at 15:13

I have never GMed pathfinder, but I understand it is extremely similar to DnD where I have a fair bit of experience.

Make it fit the encounter

I generally try to make the treasure fit the encounter in the sense that the treasure should be what the creature would logically have. Under most circumstances that means I totally ignore both what the players want and the wealth by level as well as the guidelines.

So, the phase spiders you mentioned would likely have nothing but their venom. A group of goblins would have some simple spears and some simple bows and arrows. For things like that, loot is fairly simple to come up with on the fly as "What would they have?"

A group of full on humanoids is more intersting as those tend to come with equipment, but then the group finds the equipment they were using pluse whatever loot the bandits collected so far. That of course is a bit harder to come up with on the fly, but I'm still being guided by quickly thinking of what equipment did I have them use and what would they likely have.

Now of course, someone might come back by pointing out (as some players have with me) that those threats can kill adventurers and might have some adventurer equipment, so occassionally I sprinkle in something else, but then I literally just make it up on the spot and it is normally generic and low level (after all, if the adventurer that encountered these things before was powerful enough to defeat it or even get away, that equipment wouldn't be there now, so the equipment they find from random encounters will always be much weaker than what they have.)


I think that scheme has the advantage of keeping things realistic and for most encounters, especially the occassional random encounter, and makes loot easy to generate on the fly. But it has the horrible disadvantage of making meaningful loot from that kind of encounter nearly nonexistent and would leave them way behind in the wealth by level charts.

But when I GM I generally expect the players to get most of their wealth through quests. Most quests will come in the form of someone hiring the band of heroes and paying them very well for their services. If the employer/quest-giver is well connected the heroes might be able to directly bargain with the employer to get them a hard to acquire item they want in place of some of the gold initially offered.

When the story says that the quest-giver can't pay them well because they are poor themselves, then I have the quest giver reward them with information which leads to another quest which has a direct payoff. For instance, an old widow's son has been turned into a lycanthrope. The heroes rescue him and turn him back. The old widow can't pay them directly, but she knows the old local story about the Archmage Generet from over 200 years ago who died leaving behind his tower. The tower is reputed to hold his great wealth but remains home to the remains of his experiments so it is too dangerous for any of the locals to go to.

The loot from the tower will fit with what an archamge would likely have lying around and is meant to compensate for the work on the lycanthrope so it will be far richer than the threat level of the gaurdians would suggest by the book. But I still fill it by thinking mostly about the kinds of things an archmage would have lying around. They will find things like potions, wands, components, and scrolls in abundance, but probably not a set of plate mail. If they want a set of enchanged plate mail, they will either sell off the loot to buy it or else they will start asking around specifically for a lead to that sort of quest.

Getting them what they want

Which brings me to leads. In games I run, the players buy most of the equipment they specifically want. But if they want something truly exotic where buying it won't work and they can't negotiate for it from a quest giver, then they need to look for a lead. A lead is normally the start of quest meant to bring them to exactly what they want.

So, the Paladin needs a new set of armor, but not just any set, he wants a legendary one. His player tells me ooc, and in character starts asking around. No one can sell him something like that, but eventually someone will tell him the story of Sir Gawain the Kind who was killed by the dragon Karlesto. Sir Gawain had a set and it likely is now in Karlesto's possession. No one is paying to have the dragon killed because it has been inactive for decades...but if they do kill it they will likely find his set of armor along with the gold the dragon has been hoarding.


You have a couple options.

  1. Use the excellent and configurable Pathfinder random treasure generator at http://pathfinder-treasure-generator.com/ and just hit "reload" a couple times to get something good and call an audible to swap out or reskin specific items in it for conceptual fit or tailoring. That's what I do. You're not real clear about what you don't like about the treasure generators, "fit" seems like a low bar if you're using random encounters too. This requires no prep and little time in game, and if you are at all alert you can sub in obvious replacements (e.g. make that longsword a scimitar because you have a scimitar user) as you go.

  2. Pre-make some "treasure parcels" more tuned to your group, if that's what you're wanting more of. Not ultra lazy, but it's hard to get super results with zero work. Random encounters then don't have much, and stick a parcel in likely treasure chests/rooms/etc.

  3. Just give them a treasure budget of xx gp and let them choose. This is sucky and non-sim but it accommodates both laziness and character-tailored treasure. The RPGS Living campaign gave up and did this IIRC.

  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for option 1, +1 for option 2; -1 for option 3 (net +1) ;) \$\endgroup\$ – Ben-Jamin Feb 14 '14 at 4:56

Loot is usually better when it's something you want but weren't expecting, which is why I would recommend against soliciting player input on this.

What I would do is make a quick list of items that seems like each individual player would enjoy, add in some general use items like potions and the like, and draw from that list on the fly when you need to pull out some loot. Yes, it takes a little bit of work up-front but in the long-run will save you quite a bit of time, and players will still get to appreciate the joy of picking up something awesome that they weren't expecting.

One thing I did to cut down on work was to create enchant weapon/armor oils. Spread this oil on your trusty longsword to make it a longsword +1. This in a Oil of Fiery Weapon. This helps especially if your characters get attached to a particular weapon as part of their character concept. Ie, my dervish uses scimitars; would rather use a non-magical scimitar than a longsword +2. I would avoid this option though, if your party tends to have problems splitting up loot equitably.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Oh man, I really like the enchanted oils suggestion! That way they don't just find a flaming +1 greataxe which is obviously placed right there for the barbarian. Genius! \$\endgroup\$ – Eric B Sep 25 '13 at 19:34

I agree that random loot drops should not be according to a player wish-list. Random treasure (as an auto treasure generator would give) is always fair, and could give some really nifty stuff or some really useless stuff. (That's half the fun, right?)

If you wanted to cater gear to your PCs' needs, then maybe make up a quick list in game prep of various items, and set up a roll chart for them.

Something I think that always excites is when an object is roleplayed on a foe. For instance, if you're thinking the archer is needing a new magical bow, and you want to give him a sweet gift, make him face a big nasty and describe this bow and the properties of it as it's in use. That will make it all the more fun for the archer before he gets it.

  • \$\begingroup\$ That's a good idea, and the perfect example of why I need to quickly come up with treasure before they fight the enemies. I am constantly suffering from 'wait, if they had this magic item, why didn't they use it?' syndrome when I come up with treasure after the encounter. \$\endgroup\$ – Eric B Sep 27 '13 at 13:27

I made myself an online treasure generator to address this problem using the treasure generation rules in Ultimate Equipment. You can find it here! The other generators I've seen don't seem to follow these rules, are harder to use, and yield less interesting results (in my opinion). While random generation will never be as good as hand-crafted treasure, this will be good enough for a no-prep campaign.


You know your players better than we do. I would come up with a few items that each character would love to find (or maybe ask them for a wish-list). When you need to do a significant loot drop, roll a die and figure out based on the die roll which of the wishlist items get tossed into the loot. I would also take what they ask for and then come up with some similar items (George wants a +5 longsword to replace his +1 longsword, put in maybe a +2 dagger or a +2 scimitar).

A word of warning, once they realize that whatever they want is likely to come up, they will ask for a Main Battle Tank with unlimited fuel and ammo for your Pathfinder campaign, so take whatever they ask for with a very large grain of salt and maybe put in something that is incrementally better between what they currently carry and what they ultimately want.


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