Does placing treasure in your dungeon sometimes seem like a chore? How much treasure should you place? How often? Should every room have treasure or should it be reserved for the Big Bad? Am I giving away magic items too early? Am I giving them away too late to be much use? All of these questions commonly plague Dungeon Masters when they are trying to populate their dungeons. It can be a bit daunting to place treasure without upsetting the balance of the game. Additionally, when you get into the myriad details such as the different types of coins, gemstones, art objects, etc., the whole process gets overwhelming. And then when you start figuring out how the coins affect encumbrance the process can be downright chaotic. The following are some tips that will hopefully alleviate that process.
How Often Should I Place Treasure?
Let's be honest; if your dungeon completely lacks treasure it's probably not going to break the characters. They likely already have all of the equipment they need and have plenty of gold from selling equipment they've filched from fallen enemies. That being said, players like finding the shiny stuff. When I populate a dungeon I roll a d20 and consult the following table:
1-2: Medium encounter
3: Medium encounter with treasure
4-5: Easy encounter
6-7: Easy encounter with treasure
8: Hard encounter
9-10: Hard encounter with treasure
11-13: Obstacle (usually requiring skill checks)
14: Obstacle with treasure
16: Trap with treasure
17-19: Empty room
Using this method causes rooms to be populated with treasure a little less than half of the time. I've found this rewards the players often enough to keep a dungeon crawl interesting, but not so often that the novelty of it wears off. If you use this table and find the treasure placement being unbalanced one way or the other, a rule of thumb I use is to make sure that for every ten rooms in the dungeon four of them contain some type of treasure. If you have to err on one side or the other, I personally feel more is better. Players are more likely to explore your dungeon if they know they are going to find some good stuff.
How Much Treasure Should I Place?
I used to make up my own treasure tables with previous editions of D&D and other roleplaying games, but I've found the Individual Treasure tables in the Dungeon Master's Guide to be more than adequate. Whenever I'm placing treasure I roll on the table with the appropriate challenge rating and go from there.
What about coins, gemstones, and art objects?
From a cinematic perspective, adding different types of coins, gemstones, and art objects is really cool. It adds flavor to room descriptions and treasure hoards. However, from a perspective of practicality, it can turn into an inventory nightmare and bog down the game. In most other areas, I will lean toward cinematic over practical, but when it comes to inventory I think streamlined is best.
Coins: I generally will roll randomly using the charts in the Dungeon Master's Guide when placing coins. However, rather than place quantities of gold, silver, electrum, copper and platinum I will add it all up and convert it all to gold pieces as much as possible. For instance, if I were going to place 1400 silver pieces and 350 gold pieces I would instead place 490 gold pieces. In my experience, players inevitably will ask if they can just convert it to gold anyway.
Gemstones: If a treasure hoard calls for gemstones I will either place one or two gemstones of appropriate value or I will forego the gemstones altogether and convert it to gold. In cases where a user of magic in the party needs gemstones for some spells I will make an effort to supply those. I have found that placing too many gemstones will slow the game down if the players want to start rolling appraisal checks. Also, players will usually want to convert the gemstones to gold as soon as they can. So unless you're planning on having a gaming session that revolves around roleplaying a haggling scenario with the local jeweler, I recommend going light on the gemstones.
Art Objects: As with the gemstones, I avoid overloading a dungeon or treasure hoard with art objects. In fact, I usually leave them out completely. I reserve art objects to be used as decorations and window dressing.
How often should I place magic items?
Placing magic items can be tricky because you don't want to provide too much, yet you want to reward your players. To me, magic items aren't just something characters find that enhances their abilities. Magic items are a way for the Dungeon Master to show his appreciation to his players for taking the time to go through the scenario he is running. I generally don't place magic items in a dungeon in advance unless they happen to be part of the gear on the enemies (except for the exception below). Instead, I leave it up to fate and in the hands of the players. Whenever the players are conducting a room search I allow them to all roll individual Perception checks. If a player rolls a natural 20 on the room search, then that player finds a magic item hidden under a bed, behind a false wall, on a corpse, etc. A room can only be searched once per character.
One item I place in all of my dungeons is a magic fountain. The characters can't remove the fountain, but drinking it's water will produce some type of effect. This effect is positive half the time and negative half the time. Each character can only be affected once and any liquid that is removed from the fountain (such as in a water skin) turns to normal water in 2 rounds.
What types of magic items should I give?
Again, I leave this in the hands of fate. I have a player that rolled the natural 20 roll a d100. Then, I consult the appropriate table below depending on the character's level. The player then rolls another d100. I consult the Magic Item table in the DMG as indicated and give the player whatever magic item they rolled. If the magic item rolled is a scroll, I either give them a spell that I feel will be useful to the party or I let the player pick the spell.
Character Level 1-4 Character Level 5-10
01-60 Magic Item Table A 01-44 Magic Item Table A
61-75 Magic Item Table B 45-63 Magic Item Table B
76-85 Magic Item Table C 64-74 Magic Item Table C
86-97 Magic Item Table F 75-80 Magic Item Table D
98-00 Magic Item Table G 81-94 Magic Item Table F
95-98 Magic Item Table G
99-00 Magic Item Table H
Character Level 11-16 Character Level 17+
01-15 Magic Item Table A 01-02 Magic Item Table A
16-29 Magic Item Table B 03-14 Magic Item Table C
30-50 Magic Item Table C 15-46 Magic Item Table D
51-66 Magic Item Table D 47-68 Magic Item Table E
67-74 Magic Item Table E 69-72 Magic Item Table G
75-78 Magic Item Table F 73-80 Magic Item Table H
79-82 Magic Item Table G 81-00 Magic Item Table I
83-92 Magic Item Table H
93-00 Magic Item Table I
The most important rule...
Listen to your players. If they feel like they aren't getting very much in the ways of magic and treasure, add more. If they are complaining that encounters are too easy, maybe they have too many powerful magic items. If you're having trouble reading the room, then just ask them what they think. At the end of the day, the most important thing is that your players are having fun.