Excerpts Archive | 5/14/2008
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Excerpts: Economy & Reward
4th Edition Dungeon Master's Guide

This June, James Wyatt will discuss the contents and development of the 4E Dungeon Master’s Guide in a featured Dragon article. Looking ahead to this later feature, we asked James to first cover some aspects of the D&D economy. Here’s what he had to say:

3rd Edition treasure works like this:

If I put 5th-level characters through 13-1/3 encounters of their level, they’ll gain enough experience to become 6th level. On average, they’ll also gain 21,333 gp, 33 sp, and 33 cp. Or that’s the goal, anyway.

In practice, the ochre jelly won’t have any treasure at all.

The young black dragon will have randomly-generated treasure worth 4,800 gp on average (triple standard), but depending on my dice it could come out to nothing at all, or the PCs could come away with a jackpot of over 50,000 gp in cash-equivalent treasure (coins, gems, and art) plus magic armor worth as much as 15,000 gp.

The 5th-level NPC bard will have 4,300 gp worth of gear (skewing heavily toward magic items that the characters will sell at half value).

If I’m a conscientious DM, I should add up the treasure value of all those 13-1/3 encounters and make sure it comes out somewhere close to the target 21,000 gp, so that my characters stay on track. Or else I can just do what most DMs do: trust that it’s all going to balance out, and end up with characters that are under-equipped (nine times out of ten) for their level.

4th Edition treasure works like this:

If I put 5th-level characters through 10 encounters of their level, they’ll gain enough experience to become 6th level. They’ll also gain four magic items above their level (one 6th, one 7th, one 8th, and one 9th), and total gold-equivalent treasure equal to double the value of a 5th-level magic item, or 2,000 gp. That’s the goal, and here’s how it works out in practice.

When I’m planning those 10 encounters, I look at the 5th-level treasure parcels in the DMG. That’s the treasure I’m going to give out, conveniently divided into ten chunks. The ochre jelly’s not guarding any of that treasure, but the dragon has (let’s say) three parcels.

The 5th-level NPC has a 6th-level item—not because he needs it, but because it’s one of the treasure parcels. The characters don’t find magic items that are beneath their notice—they won’t walk out of the drow enclave with a wheelbarrow full of +1 rapiers.

I might even tuck some of that treasure away in a locked vault without a monstrous guard, and save a parcel or two for a quest reward.

It’s a lot easier to be a conscientious DM in Fourth Edition. I don’t have to add up the value of all the treasure I’m giving out and make sure it adds up—I just have to check parcels off the list when I give them out, and make sure that I’ve crossed everything off the list by the time they hit 6th level.
--James Wyatt

Experience points, treasure, action points, and intangible rewards keep characters moving on from encounter to encounter, level to level, and adventure to adventure. Small rewards come frequently, while large rewards provide a big boost once in a while. Both are important.

Without frequent small rewards, players begin to feel like their efforts aren’t paying off. They’re doing a lot of work with nothing to show for it. Without occasional large rewards, encounters feel like pushing a button to get a morsel of food—a repetitive grind with no meaningful variation.

Characters gain experience points (XP) for every encounter they complete. They gain action points when they reach milestones, generally after every two encounters. They gain treasure as they complete encounters—not after every encounter, but sporadically over the course of an adventure. They gain a level after completing eight to ten encounters (including quests).

Gaining a level (see page 27 of the Player’s Handbook) is the most significant reward the game has to offer, but even that reward has its own tidal rhythm. Characters gain new attack powers at odd-numbered levels, and they gain new feats, ability score increases, and global adjustments to all their attacks and defenses at even-numbered levels. Both are exciting, but they feel different.

XP Rewards

The Experience Rewards table provides XP values for monsters of every level—minions, standard single monsters, elite monsters, and solo monsters. Use the “Standard Monster” column for NPCs, traps, and noncombat encounters (skill challenges and puzzles).

Following is the first 10 levels of the Experience Rewards table.

Experience Rewards

Monster Level Standard Monster Minion Elite Solo
1 100 25 200 500
2 125 31 250 625
3 150 38 300 750
4 175 44 350 875
5 200 50 400 1,000
6 250 63 500 1,250
7 300 75 600 1,500
8 350 88 700 1,750
9 400 100 800 2,000
10 500 125 1,000 2,500

Quest Rewards

When the characters finish a major quest that they’ve been pursuing for several sessions, divide the XP reward among all the characters who participated in the quest, even those who aren’t present in the particular session when the PCs complete it. That’s only fair—a major quest is like an encounter that stretches over multiple game sessions, and everyone who participates deserves to share in the reward.

Following is the first 10 levels of the Quest Rewards table.

Quest XP Rewards

PC Level Major Quest Reward Minor Quest Reward
4 PCs 5 PCs 6 PCs
1st 400 500 600 100
2nd 500 625 750 125
3rd 600 750 900 150
4th 700 875 1,050 175
5th 800 1,000 1,200 200
6th 1,000 1,250 1,500 250
7th 1,200 1,500 1,800 300
8th 1,400 1,750 2,100 350
9th 1,600 2,000 2,400 400
10th 2,000 2,500 3,000 500

Awarding Treasure

While experience points are fundamentally an encounter-based (or quest) reward, treasure is a larger-scale reward doled out over the course of an adventure. You plan treasure in terms of the eight to ten encounters it takes characters to advance from one level to the next.

During the course of gaining that level, expect a group of five characters to acquire four magic items ranging in level from one to four levels above the party level. In addition, they should find gold and other monetary treasure equal to the market price of two magic items of their level. So a 6th-level party would find four magic items, one each of levels 7 through 10, and gold worth two 6th-level items, or 3,600 gp.

At the start of an adventure, look at the adventure in chunks of eight to ten encounters. (Include major quest rewards as if they were encounters, and if the party completes five minor quests, include those five rewards as a single encounter as well.) For each of those chunks, look at the treasure parcels on the following pages. Find the level of the characters as they work through those encounters, and note the parcels of treasure you will give out over the course of the encounters.

Heroic Tier Treasure Parcels

Party Level 5 Total Monetary Treasure: 2,000 gp
  1. Magic item, level 9
  2. Magic item, level 8
  3. Magic item, level 7
  4. Magic item, level 6
  5. 550 gp, or two 250 gp art objects + 50 gp, or one 500 gp gem + 50 gp
  6. 500 gp, or one 250 gp art object + 250 gp, or five 100 gp gems
  7. 340 gp, or three 100 gp gems + 40 gp, or one 250 gp art object + one potion of healing + 40 gp
  8. 340 gp, or one 250 gp art object + 90 gp, or 300 gp + 400 sp
  9. 160 gp, or one 100 gp gem + 60 gp, or one potion of healing + 110 gp
  10. 110 gp, or one 100 gp gem + 10 gp, or one potion of healing + 60 gp

Paragon Tier Treasure Parcels

Party Level 15 Total Monetary Treasure: 50,000 gp
  1. Magic item, level 19
  2. Magic item, level 18
  3. Magic item, level 17
  4. Magic item, level 16
  5. 14,000 gp, or 140 pp, or one 7,500 gp art object + one 5,000 gp gem + one 1,500 gp art object
  6. 12,000 gp, or 120 pp, or one 7,500 gp art object + 4,500 gp
  7. 8,500 gp, or one 7,500 gp art object + 1,000 gp, or one 7,500 gp art object + one 1,000 gp gem
  8. 8,500 gp, or one 5,000 gp gem + one 2,500 gp art object + 1,000 gp, or eight 1,000 gp gems + 500 gp
  9. 5,000 gp, or one 5,000 gp gem, or one 2,500 gp art object + one 1,500 gp art object + one potion of vitality
  10. 2,000 gp, or two potions of vitality, or two 1,000 gp gems

Epic Tier Treasure Parcels

Party Level 25 Total Monetary Treasure: 12,500 pp
  1. Magic item, level 29
  2. Magic item, level 28
  3. Magic item, level 27
  4. Magic item, level 26
  5. 3,500 pp, or 20 ad + one potion of life + one 50,000 gp art object, or 30 ad + two potions of recovery
  6. 3,200 pp, or 20 ad + two potions of recovery + one 50,000 gp art object + 200 pp, or 30 ad + four 5,000 gp gems
  7. 2,000 pp, or 20 ad, or 10 ad + four 15,000 gp art objects + eight 5,000 gp gems
  8. 2,000 pp, or 1,000 pp + two 50,000 gp art objects, or four 50,000 gp art objects
  9. 1,000 pp, or one potion of life, or twenty 5,000 gp gems
  10. 800 pp, or five 15,000 gp art objects + one 5,000 gp gem, or one 50,000 gp art object + six 5,000 gp gems


Even small villages give characters ready access to the gear they need to pursue their adventures. Provisions, tents and backpacks, and simple weapons are commonly available. Traveling merchants carry armor, military weapons, and more specialized gear. Most villages have inns that cater to travelers, where adventurers can get a hot meal and a bed, even if the quality leaves much to be desired. When characters stop in at a settlement to rest and restock their supplies, give them a bit of local flavor, such as the name of the inn where they spend the night, and move on with the adventure.

Even small villages rely heavily on trade with other settlements, including larger towns and cities. Merchants pass through regularly, selling necessities and luxuries to the villagers, and any good merchant has far-reaching contacts across the region. When characters have magic items to sell, a traveling merchant is in town—or will be soon—to take it off their hands. The same applies to exotic mundane goods as well: No one in the village makes silk rope or has much use for it, but merchants making their way between major cities carry it all the time.

Traveling merchants are also a great way to introduce adventure hooks to the characters as they conduct their business. Since they make their living traversing roads that are not as safe as they used to be, merchants hire competent guards to keep their goods safe. They also carry news from town to town, including reports of situations that cry out for adventurers to get involved.

These merchants can’t provide specialized services, however. When the characters are in need of a library or a dedicated sage, a trainer who can handle the griffon eggs they’ve found, or an architect to design their castle, they’re better off going to a large city than looking in a village. These services are less important in the economy of the game than magic items and other goods, so you shouldn’t feel as though you have to compromise your common sense for the sake of game play.

Of course, it’s natural for characters to travel far beyond their native villages as they pursue adventure. When they’re in the City of Brass, they should be able to buy even the most expensive magic items readily. If it doesn’t interfere with the flow of your game, it’s fine to expect that characters will travel to larger cities to do business as they reach higher levels and deal with larger sums of money.

The Magic Item Economy

Most of the time, characters find magic items on their adventures that are above their level. These are exciting items, and the characters have a strong incentive to keep these items and use them. As characters attain higher levels, the items they find might replace items they already have—the fighter finds a +3 flaming sword and no longer wants his +2 magic sword.

When this happens, the characters ordinarily sell those items—it’s slightly more beneficial to do that than to use the Disenchant Magic Item ritual, because the characters don’t have to pay the component cost. A merchant, agent, or fence buys items from the character at one-fifth the items’ value, in the hope of selling them at significant profit (usually, above the items’ value). Buyers are hard to find, but the profit to be made makes it worth the merchant’s risk.

Characters can use the monetary treasure they find, as well as the gold from selling items, to acquire new magic items. They can’t make items above their level, and can’t often afford items more than a few levels above theirs. It’s to their benefit to use the Enchant Magic Item ritual for items of their level or lower, rather than buying these items from merchants, agents, or fences, because of the 10–40 percent markup over items’ value that these sellers charge. When they want items above their levels, they have to go to merchants.

The game still works if you decide that magic items can’t be bought and sold in your world. Characters can rely entirely on rituals to duplicate the economy of buying and selling without money changing hands.

The residuum they collect from disenchanting items provides the expensive ritual components they need for the enchanting ritual. If you want characters to rely entirely on these rituals, remove the cost to perform the Disenchant Magic Item ritual, making it just as efficient as selling.

On the flip side, you can drive the characters to markets instead of rituals by altering the prices they pay for magic items. You can remove the random markup, or even alter it to allow the possibility of finding items for sale below normal price. For example, roll 1d6 as usual, but a 1 means the item is available for 10 percent below the base price, a 2 means it’s available for the base price, and 3–6 means a 10 percent to 40 percent markup. Items are readily available, and sometimes characters can get a good deal.

Be sure to return Friday for a look at the magic items and quests!
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