Placing Loot in the Dungeon

As I started designing dungeons I discovered some funny things that I think are fit for advice:

[li]It doesn’t matter how much gear you place in the dungeon, the only thing that really matters is treasure.
In character creation, players can pretty much choose any piece of equipment for their characters. Any weapon and any gear they choose is fair game for them to have. During play, characters will be spending some of that gear (mainly light, supplies and wine) but the most “useful” items (like their weapons, spellbooks, holy symbols and such) will remain the same, since they chose them during character creation for a reason.

Where am I going with this?
When building a dungeon you can place an armory full of weapons and it wouldn’t matter. The sheer bulk of the items and the difficulty of managing the inventory makes any item short of treasure worthless for an adventurer. What you are actually giving them is choice, which I find a good thing, the choice of replacing items that don’t work too well for them (like a character changing his bow since he keeps forgetting to apply it’s properties, or ditching some garlic to replace it with wolfsbane).

Unless there is a dwarven/elven/magical item there, characters won’t have a meaningful advantage, just the possibility of change (again, I find it a good thing). It even shows in the Loot table, by far the most common items you get are gear.

So when you design your dungeon don’t worry about the mundane. Mundane is good. Fill your dungeon with items and then watch as the players struggle to fit them in their inventory and decide what is left behind.

[li]Treasure is worthless during Adventure Phase
[/li]Remember when I said that “the only thing that really matters is treasure”? Well, I lied. Treasure is awesome during Town Phase, but the gold you have in your pocket is worth nothing when your are chased by a zombie bear down the corridor. There is a certain amount of treasure the characters will be willing to pack before they’ll have to ditch something actually useful.

Where am I going with this?
When designing a dungeon try to take into account what kind of treasure you are giving. Big, cumbersome loot will be left behind while coins and jewelry will fill the adventurer’s sacks.

So, if you want to tempt players into venturing in a treasure filled dungeon, but are too worried that they’ll have a disproportionate advantage in Town, place big loot, like chandeliers, crowns, rugs and tapestries. Anything that takes pack space in their inventory. If they left something useful behind they might even try to come back and finish the job!

It works the other way around: if you had the adventurers delving into a trap filled dungeon with impossible monsters lurking around every corner and nowhere to rest, don’t be a jerk, place some coins or jewelry as loot. A pack 6 tapestry will be worthless for them if they have to carry it all the way back while dealing with psychic gorillas mounting gelatinous dodecahedrons.

[li]Risk and reward situations
[/li]This is something I have to test further. During their first dungeon I let one of the players know that the treasure was the source of a curse. He was captured by some undead guardians back there, and surprisingly destroyed the only loot he had to gain his captor’s trust. Now I’m placing a dragon’s hoard, and the idea is that the characters can only take some gold before awakening the beast. I’ll see how it plays out.

One of the things that Torchbearer, I think, accomplishes is the feeling that players must take care of their characters. The characters endure so much that death is a heavier outcome to get after so much sacrifice, specially in a game where the condition probably is the result of a series of (bad?) choices.

Where am I going with this?
Have the players choose between treasure and their life

A beautiful bracelet is hanging from a stalagtite in the middle of the chasm. The sleeping lich is clutching over a magic staff in his throne. The giant frog has swallowed the Emperor’s Stone.

Play it fair and then they’ll have a reason to adventure. If they decide to escape, there is a score to settle waiting for them until they level up. If they take the risk and fail, Death is only a condition, and in the outcome of the test their adventurer will be buried deep in a forgotten cave with a legendary treasure held in his brave fists. If they succeed, they will have the glory of having stolen the dragon’s treasure and lived to tell the tale.

Is not what you fight, but what you fight for.

These are my observations so far. There are not even near to definitive, and I still need a lot of playing to see them in action.

One of the main reasons I have for this post is because I felt that the Loot section of Adventure Design needed some guidelines, and while developing my own adventurers I put some thought on this elements and came out with these “advices”.

YMMV, and if you find this advice lacking or completely wrong, please correct me. Your opinion will surely improve the game experience. Also it will be great if you have some more advice to give when dealing with loot (I never got to place magical items yet, so I’ll be glad to hear how it played out for you).

Stay cool :cool:


These are some great points to keep in mind, thanks for the analysis.

I’ve been enjoying the loot mechanics in the games. I have them roll on the tables often. I’ve been wanting to give out one magic item every session or every other session, and so I’ve made up a decent list of them to build off of what’s in the book.

It wouldn’t hurt to see more guidelines on creating magic items though. Currently, it’s lacking.

I think that’s because the intention is that you do not get a magic item every session with characters of level 1-5. There may be more magic items when they do the high level book.

Great stuff, Dagaz!

“psychic gorillas mounting gelatinous dodecahedrons”

This needs to be in the next bestiary.