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Making Great DnD Loot

by Jae
dnd loot

Great DnD loot starts with careful planning. If you’re simply looking for a table to roll on or a treasure generator, check out our resources page for treasure generators. While there is nothing wrong with rolling treasure from a table, really good treasure is more specific and helps tell your story. Great DnD loot makes more sense than what comes out of a random table and we’re about to show you why.

DnD Loot that Makes Sense

When your players are exploring an ancient dungeon deep underground and open a chest, what would you expect them to find? If you roll on loot tables they might find some gold, a magic item, or a potion of some kind, but that does not make for compelling story telling. Why would there be modern currency in an ancient dungeon? Do potions keep forever? The treasure might be exactly what your players want to find, but it is not what they should find.

A more realistic set of similar loot might be ancient tarnished coins, a book or scroll written in an ancient language, and a bottle of liquid that has a faint magical aura to it. These can be less immediately exciting to the players, because they have to figure out what to do with them.

The old coins would need to be sold or converted into modern currency. The book likely can’t be read and has no intrinsic value immediately. Quaffing that ancient potion might make your player sick. You could argue that this treasure is worse, and while that might be true in a materialistic sense, it is more appropriate.

When you design loot that makes sense it keeps the players immersed and it gives you a chance to build your world. Another great example is when your players explore a dungeon or a cave, they may come across a dead adventurer. Rather than rolling on a loot table, load that corpse up with a ton of mundane adventuring supplies!

If you want to go really deep into your lore, you can give them a journal with entries talking about the dungeon, have several empty bottles strewn around the course talking about how their potions of healing did nothing to stop their fatal wounds, maybe even drop a partially filled map for the players to use with interesting items and locations marked on it.

While it could take awhile to kit out a whole adventuring gear set for this fallen hero, it is worth it. Your players will get a nice little stack of loot that they can use and some more information about their location.

Treasure is an Opportunity to Give Your Players Hints

If your team enters a random dungeon and is insufficiently prepared you can use treasure to drop hints or prepare them for what lies ahead. This adds a great deal to your session by increasing the overall cohesion of the adventure.

If the players find that corpse we mentioned earlier in a cavern that the adventures have to climb vertically down, maybe the corpse has a climbers kit on them. This would be very useful if your players are not prepared, and it indicates to them that they may need to do some climbing. Furthermore, the way that adventurer died may give the players clues to what type of monsters lay ahead and how to best deal with them.

The dead adventurer is just one way to do this. Another great way to spice up loot and drop hints to your players can be in the type of items you see in a dungeon. When your players crack of the third chest in a row that has fire related items in it, it sends a message that perhaps they should be prepared for fire related encounters later on.

Lore is a Reward

When you have players that really like your setting and your story, lore itself can be a reward. This may not work for every group, so make sure you read the room before giving your players a story instead of some cold hard gold.

If your group is the type that likes lore, have them find journals, scrolls, letters, books, and other items that explain what’s going on in the wider sense of the world. These things are really fun and immersive, but can take a long time to craft. In most cases. your players will appreciate the extra story and it will be worth the time put into writing them.

Treasure Can Be Bad

Don’t be afraid to give your players garbage items, curses, and junk. One of the ways to make loot more exciting and hidden is to bury it in a pile of mundane items. The easy route when your players dispatch a bunch of bandits is to simply tell them the bandits only had a small amount of worthwhile things on them.

But consider going the other route and listing out the bandits’ gear. Maybe some of it is better than what your players had. Perhaps the players can figure out that the bandits must have dropped their packs somewhere before battle and can go looking for better treasure.

This method of giving your players garbage can backfire if it is not prepared ahead of time. If you have a lot of mundane items for your players to find, be sure to make sure you know what they are before they find them. Realistic loot is generally not something that is just thrown together. Going through it takes time, so make sure you have thought about your descriptions carefully before the players ransack a place.

A great example of this is if a player finds a store room in an enemy stronghold. You need to be able to describe the mundane things like flour and barrels of wine clearly and concisely before your players roll to look for anything else. They should have to opportunity to decide what is important to them rather than you telling them there is nothing of value in a storeroom they just ransacked. Items like food and tools make locations feel lived in.

Another way treasure can be bad is in quantity. If a player opens a chest full of solid gold bars they’ll be ecstatic, but you can then remind them about how much weight they can carry. The same rules apply to a dragon’s horde. Piles of gold are fantastic if you can get the gold out of the dragon’s lair. It becomes a part of the game to have them figure out and puzzle through how to get the best loot they can.

Relevant is Not Always Fun

Relevant treasure is not always fun, but it does not mean you should avoid it. If your players are not happy with the relevant treasure, be sure to slim down your descriptions and keep them light, and indicate to your players a path they can take to tangible rewards.

A campaign we’re running at the time of this writing rewards players for mapping locations of resources and finding ancient relics that have no intrinsic value to the players otherwise. These can be things like quarries or ancient tombs. Much of what they find is not useable, but because we know this we don’t sink a lot of the session’s time into that. When they find more enjoyable personal treasures, we tend to extend the role play and descriptions to make the moments seem more rewarding.

How to Make Loot Easier to Create

When putting in the time to make more immersive and sensible DnD loot, you are going to want to find ways to cut corners and speed up the process. One of the best things you can do is create a template. If your players will be fighting a lot of goblins, make a goblin loot template and then modify from there. An example might look like this:

  • Scrap leather armor
  • Pouch of mixed low quality food
  • A crude short sword
  • A crude bow or sling
  • A small valuables pouch
  • A trinket or talisman

This template is really simple, but it saves you time for creating loot for each goblin. The details can usually be improvised for things that you need to speed up. For example, the trinket could be a fang necklace or a carved bone – easy to describe, but fulfilling to the setting.

To enhance the template further, you can create a few simple tables. A weapon table can serve to give you a d100 roll to see if they have a quality weapon on them. A valuables table will include a list of items they might have, like small gems, a few gold pieces, or worthless shiny rocks. Lastly, a rare drops table will allow you to add some extra items to a few goblins on occasions that might be useful to the group.

This kind of templeting works really well for small encounters or sessions that have any repeatable loot, like multiple groups of goblins. If you are already preparing this kind of work ahead of time, you might want to make some custom treasure tables and templates for chests or storage boxes as well.

You can even make templates for different kinds of storage, like having chests contain a certain type of loot, while boxes and crates have a completely different loot table associated with it them. This can still be a lot work, but it can save you time in the long run – especially if you can reuse the templates for future session.

Better Loot, Better Campaigns

We’ve just walked through a few examples where you can make better DnD loot for your sessions, but this is not where the improvements end. DnD loot comes in all shapes and sizes and the most important thing to think about is how it affects your game. Regardless of how you decide to run your campaign’s treasure system, we hope this article at least inspires you to think more about the reward you give your players and how to make your game the best it can possibly be.

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