Rewards: Experience and Wealth
Player characters advance in level by defeating monsters, overcoming challenges, and completing adventures — in so doing, they earn experience points (XP for short). Although you can award experience points as soon as a challenge is overcome, this can quickly disrupt the flow of game play. It's easier to simply award experience points at the end of a game session — that way, if characters earn enough XP to level up, they won't disrupt the game updating a character sheet. They can instead take the time between game sessions to do that.
Note that characters are aware in-game of having levels and of leveling up, which is often a cause for celebration. Unless the game master rules otherwise, characters level up when they sleep, interacting with a "System" and making choices for advancement in dreams; new skills and abilities are also learned in this sleep, which requires only a moment to take place, although the dream will seem to cover more time than that. Only persons, not monsters, can level up. Some prefer to keep their levels and classes secret; others are open with this information. This is generally seen as a personal choice.
To calculate XP awards, keep a list of the CRs of all the monsters, traps, obstacles, and roleplaying encounters the PCs overcome. At the end of each session, award XP to each PC that participated. Each monster, trap, and obstacle awards a set amount of XP, as determined by its CR, regardless of the level of the party in relation to the challenge, although you should never bother awarding XP for challenges that have a CR of 10 or more lower than the APL. Pure roleplaying encounters generally have a CR equal to the average level of the party (although particularly easy or difficult roleplaying encounters might be one higher or lower). There are two methods for awarding XP. While one is more exact, it requires a calculator for ease of use. The other is slightly more abstract.
Method - Exact XP: Once the game session is over, take your list of defeated CR numbers and look up the value of each CR on Table: Experience Point Awards under the “Total XP” column. Add up the XP values for each CR and then divide this total by the number of characters — each character earns an amount of XP equal to this number.
Method - Abstract XP: Simply add up the individual XP awards listed for a group of the appropriate size. In this case, the division is done for you — you need only total up all the awards to determine how many XP to award to each PC.
In addition, there are other ways that characters can earn or lose XP:
Story Awards: Please do award Story Awards when players conclude a major storyline or make an important accomplishment. These awards should be worth double the amount of experience points for a CR equal to the APL. Particularly long or difficult story arcs might award even more, at your discretion as GM.
Individual Awards: Feel free to grant small XP awards to players for doing well as players. Cleverness, humor, heroism, generosity, and other qualities you wish to encourage, both in character and out, deserve recognition. A session's individual award(s) should never exceed 10% of the XP awarded generally to the group. Note that you should track who gets individual awards and how much -- be careful not to let an unconscious bias pop up favoring one player over another. If a character consistently fails to get individual awards, create scenarios especially tailored to their capabilities, giving them moments to shine, and to earn extra XP. When you track individual awards, note the reason for the award -- when characters attain higher levels and are crafting traits that reflect their game experiences, these moments are great seeds that you can use to suggest traits. "Lin, your monk got bonus XP for rescuing that dwarf prince. Maybe your trait this level could be 'Dwarf-friend,' giving you a bonus of some kind when you meet dwarves in the future."
Losing XP: Keep in mind that there are several ways for characters to lose experience points in game. Uneven multiclassing can cost 10% of XP awarded (note that playing secondary classes exclusively grants a 10% XP bonus). PCs can lose XP with the death of a companion, or spend it on atuning magic items or crafting consumable magic items, for example.
Note that player characters can have different XP totals -- due to individual awards and various ways of losing or gaining XP. Therefore, you, the game master, must not award XP on a level basis. Never say, "OK, everybody put yourselves up to what you need for level 8," for example -- such a practice wipes out all individual variation and is deeply unfair to those who have gained individual awards or who have worked hard to get a little ahead.
As PCs gain levels, the amount of treasure they carry and use increases as well. The game assumes that all PCs of equivalent level have roughly equal amounts of treasure and magic items. The total value of a character's possessions should not exceed the number given in the Character Wealth by Level table. Often, a character's total worth is referred to as his or her's "WBL." A character's total wealth should include expenditures with ongoing benefits, such as the value of permanent spells, gold spent on noble titles, donations that result in longterm rights or relationships, and so forth. It should not include the value of expended items (potions that have been drunk, scrolls read, material components used, fees paid for spells that have since expired, donations for cures or raises, donations that do not result in valuable reciprocal friendships, etc.
Since the primary income for a PC derives from treasure and loot gained from adventuring, it's important to moderate the wealth and hoards you place in your adventures. To aid in placing treasure, the amount of treasure and magic items the PCs receive for their adventures is tied to the Challenge Rating of the encounters they face — the higher an encounter's CR, the more treasure it can award.
Table: Character Wealth by Level PC Level* Wealth 2 500 gp 3 1,500 gp 4 3,000 gp 5 5,250 gp 6 8,000 gp 7 12,000 gp 8 16,500 gp 9 23,000 gp 10 31,000 gp 11 41,000 gp 12 54,000 gp 13 70,000 gp 14 92,500 gp 15 120,000 gp 16 155,000 gp 17 205,000 gp 18 270,000 gp 19 340,000 gp 20 440,000 gp * For 1st-level PCs, see the first table in Equipment.
Table: Character Wealth by Level lists the amount of treasure each PC is expected to have at a specific level. Note that this table assumes a standard fantasy game. Low-fantasy games might award only half this value, while high-fantasy games might double the value.
Table: Character Wealth by Level can also be used to budget gear for characters starting above 1st level, such as a new character created to replace a dead one. Characters should spend no more than half their total wealth on any single item. For a balanced approach, PCs that are built after 1st level should spend no more than 25% of their wealth on weapons, 25% on armor and protective devices, 25% on other magic items, 15% on disposable items like potions, scrolls, and wands, and 10% on ordinary gear and coins. Different character types might spend their wealth differently than these percentages suggest; for example, arcane casters might spend very little on weapons but a great deal more on other magic items and disposable items.
Table: Treasure Values per Encounter lists the amount of treasure each encounter should award based on the average level of the PCs. Easy encounters should award treasure one level lower than the PCs' average level. Challenging, hard, and epic encounters should award treasure one, two, or three levels higher than the PCs' average level, respectively. If you are running a low-fantasy game, cut these values in half. If you are running a high-fantasy game, double these values.
Encounters against NPCs typically award three times the treasure a monster-based encounter awards, due to NPC gear. To compensate, make sure the PCs face off against a pair of additional encounters that award little in the way of treasure. Animals, plants, constructs, mindless undead, oozes, and traps are great “low treasure” encounters. Alternatively, if the PCs face a number of creatures with little or no treasure, they should have the opportunity to acquire a number of significantly more valuable objects sometime in the near future to make up for the imbalance. As a general rule, PCs should not own any magic item worth more than half their total character wealth, so make sure to check before awarding expensive magic items.
Loot per Encounter: The question of how much loot to give per encounter is very much tied to the question of how many encounters to have per level. At low levels, encounters tend to go by fast, with a single skill check or a couple rounds of a battle. Thus, it is reasonable to have more encounters per level. At higher levels, an encounter will be more challenging, and will likely take longer to resolve. A battle against a dragon may include gathering information, scouting, planning, and then an epic 20 or 30 round fight! That one "encounter" might take an entire gaming session. As a very general rule of thumb, you can guesstimate that at Tyro Tier, 12 encounters should result in a level; at Adventurer Tier, 10 encounters per level; at Adventurer Tier, 8 encounters per level; and at Adventurer Tier, 6 encounters per level. That said, it should take not more than four sessions and not less than two to level a party.
With these general guidelines in mind, you might consider the following table as advice for the amount of treasure you give.
Table: Treasure Values per Encounter Average Party Level Gold per Encounter per Player 1 40 2 125 3 250 4 440 5 665 6 1,200 7 1,650 8 2,300 9 3,100 10 4,100 11 6,800 12 8,800 13 11,600 14 15,000 15 19,400 16 34,000 17 45,000 18 57,000 19 73,000 20 110,000
Building a Treasure Hoard
While it's often enough to simply tell your players they've found 5,000 gp in gems and 10,000 gp in jewelry, it's generally more interesting to give details. Giving treasure a personality can not only help the verisimilitude of your game, but can sometimes trigger new adventures. The information on the below can help you randomly determine types of additional treasure — suggested values are given for many of the objects, but feel free to assign values to the objects as you see fit. It's easiest to place the expensive items first — if you wish, you can even randomly roll magic items, using the tables in Magic Items, to determine what sort of items are present in the hoard. Once you've consumed a sizable portion of the hoard's value, the remainder can simply be loose coins or nonmagical treasure with values arbitrarily assigned as you see fit.
Coins: Coins in a treasure hoard can consist of copper, silver, gold, and platinum pieces — silver and gold are the most common, but you can divide the coinage as you wish. Coins and their value relative to each other are described at the start of Equipment.
Gems: Although you can assign any value to a gemstone, some are inherently more valuable than others. Use the value categories below (and their associated gemstones) as guidelines when assigning values to gemstones.
- Low-Quality Gems (10 gp): agates; azurite; blue quartz; hematite; lapis lazuli; malachite; obsidian; rhodochrosite; tigereye; turquoise; freshwater (irregular) pearl
- Semi-Precious Gems (50 gp): bloodstone; carnelian; chalcedony; chrysoprase; citrine; jasper; moonstone; onyx; peridot; rock crystal (clear quartz); sard; sardonyx; rose, smoky, or star rose quartz; zircon
- Medium Quality Gemstones (100 gp): amber; amethyst; chrysoberyl; coral; red or brown-green garnet; jade; jet; white, golden, pink, or silver pearl; red, red-brown, or deep green spinel; tourmaline
- High Quality Gemstones (500 gp): alexandrite; aquamarine; violet garnet; black pearl; deep blue spinel; golden yellow topaz
- Jewels (1,000 gp): emerald; white, black, or fire opal; blue sapphire; fiery yellow or rich purple corundum; blue or black star sapphire
- Grand Jewels (5,000 gp or more): clearest bright green emerald; diamond; jacinth; ruby
Nonmagical Treasures: This expansive category includes jewelry, fine clothing, trade goods, alchemical items, masterwork objects, and more. Unlike gemstones, many of these objects have set values, but you can always increase an object's value by having it be bejeweled or of particularly fine craftsmanship. This increase in cost doesn't grant additional abilities — a gem-encrusted masterwork cold iron scimitar worth 40,000 gp functions the same as a typical masterwork cold iron scimitar worth the base price of 330 gp. Listed below are numerous examples of several types of nonmagical treasures, along with typical values.
Fine Artwork (100 gp or more): Although some artwork is composed of precious materials, the value of most paintings, sculptures, works of literature, fine clothing, and the like come from their skill and craftsmanship. Artwork is often bulky or cumbersome to move and fragile to boot, making salvage an adventure in and of itself.
Jewelry, Minor (50 gp): This category includes relatively small pieces of jewelry crafted from materials like brass, bronze, copper, ivory, or even exotic woods, sometimes set with tiny or flawed low-quality gems. Minor jewelry includes rings, bracelets, and earrings.
Jewelry, Normal (100-500 gp): Most jewelry is made of silver, gold, jade, or coral, often ornamented with semi-precious or even medium-quality gemstones. Normal jewelry includes all types of minor jewelry plus armbands, necklaces, and brooches.
Jewelry, Precious (500 gp or more): Truly precious jewelry is crafted from gold, mithral, platinum, or similar rare metals. Such objects include normal jewelry types plus crowns, scepters, pendants, and other large items.
Masterwork Tools (100-300 gp): This category includes masterwork weapons, armor, and skill kits — see Equipment for more details and costs for these items.
Mundane Gear (up to 1,000 gp): There are many valuable items of mundane or alchemical nature detailed in Equipment that can be utilized as treasure. Most of the alchemical items are portable and valuable, but other objects like locks, holy symbols, spyglasses, fine wine, or fine clothing work well as interesting bits of treasure. Trade goods can even serve as treasure — 10 pounds of saffron, for example, is worth 150 gp.
Treasure Maps and Other Intelligence (variable): Items like treasure maps, deeds to ships and homes, lists of informants or guard rosters, passwords, and the like can also make fun items of treasure — you can set the value of such items at any amount you wish, and often they can serve double-duty as adventure seeds.
Magic Items: Of course, the discovery of a magic item is the true prize for any adventurer. You should take care with the placement of magic items in a hoard — it's generally more satisfying for many players to find a magic item rather than purchase it, so there's no crime in placing items that happen to be those your players can use! An extensive list of magic items (and their costs) is given in Magic Items.
Magic Item Category Average Value Minor Item 1,000 gp Medium Item 10,000 gp Major Item 40,000 gp
Although you should generally place items with careful consideration of their likely effects on your campaign, it can be fun and save time to generate magic items in a treasure hoard randomly. You can “purchase” random die rolls of magic items for a treasure hoard at the following prices, subtracting the indicated amount from your treasure budget and then rolling on the appropriate column on table 15-2 in Magic Items to determine what item is in the treasure hoard. Take care with this approach, though! It's easy, through the luck (or unluck) of the dice to bloat your game with too much treasure or deprive it of the same. Random magic item placement should always be tempered with good common sense by the GM.
Cost of Living
An adventurer's primary source of income is treasure, and his primary purchases are tools and items he needs to continue adventuring — spell components, weapons, magic items, potions, and the like. Yet what about things like food? Rent? Taxes? Bribes? Idle purchases?
You can certainly handle these minor expenditures in detail during play, but tracking every time a PC pays for a room, buys water, or pays a gate tax can swiftly become obnoxious and tiresome. If you're not really into tracking these minor costs of living, you can choose to simply ignore these small payments. A more realistic and easier-to-use method is to have PCs pay a recurring cost of living tax. At the start of every game month, a PC must pay an amount of gold equal to the lifestyle bracket he wishes to live in — if he can't afford his desired bracket, he drops down to the first one he can afford.
Destitute (0 gp/month): The PC is homeless and lives in the wilderness or on the streets. A destitute character must track every purchase, and may need to resort to Survival checks or theft to feed himself.
Poor (3 gp/month): The PC lives in common rooms of taverns, with his parents, or in some other communal situation — this is the lifestyle of most untrained laborers and commoners. He need not track purchases of meals or taxes that cost 1 sp or less.
Average (10 gp/month): The PC lives in his own apartment, small house, or similar location — this is the lifestyle of most trained or skilled experts or warriors. He can secure any nonmagical item worth 1 gp or less from his home in 1d10 minutes, and need not track purchases of common meals or taxes that cost 1 gp or less.
Wealthy (100 gp/month): The PC has a sizable home or a nice suite of rooms in a fine inn. He can secure any nonmagical item worth 5 gp or less from his belongings in his home in 1d10 minutes, and need only track purchases of meals or taxes in excess of 10 gp.
Extravagant (1,000 gp/month): The PC lives in a mansion, castle, or other extravagant home — he might even own the building in question. This is the lifestyle of most aristocrats. He can secure any nonmagical item worth 25 gp or less from his belongings in his home in 1d10 minutes. He need only track purchases of meals or taxes in excess of 100 gp.