Ideal ratio of treasure to magic items?

Hi everybody. I’m building a dungeon at the moment, and I have about 4,000 xp worth of monsters guarding about 16,000 gp worth of mundane treasure.

I’d like to throw in some fun magic items for the players to find, but when I rolled them up randomly I got some apparently overpowered stuff for a level 1-2 dungeon. I’ve decided to just set magic items equal in value to a portion of the mundane treasure.

Half of the value of mundane treasure, 8,000gp, would make room for magic weapons and such if I wanted, but it seems like a lot.

A quarter or third of the value of mundane treasure, in this case, maintains a much stricter “low magic” feel.

So here’s my idea for 5,000 gp in magic items:

Potion of Cure Light Wounds (500gp)
Potion of Read Languages (500gp)
Scroll of Invisibility (1,000gp)
Ring of Shield (3,000gp) (for 3 rounds; 1x/week)

That’s pretty cool for a level 1-2 party, I think, but how does “magic items equal to 1/3 of treasure” scale with levels?

Using the “1/3 rule,” a weapon +3 worth 35,000 gp could show up alongside 105,000 gp in mundane treasure, which would accompany 26,250 xp worth of monsters.

131,250 xp divided five ways comes to 26,250 xp per player, which puts it in my reward range of parties about level 5.

But a single magic item is kinda boring, so if you want a little something for everybody, you’d want at least four magic items usable by different classes.

For example, if you want to give out 4 magic items worth about 35,000 each, you’d need monsters worth in total over 100,000 xp, and mundane treasure over 400,000 gp.

If you want your players to get their +3 weapons and fancy wondrous items around level 8-9, that seems about right.

This is keeping in mind that the players might “cash in” some magic items for gold and the accompanying experience points, instead of using them.

Personally, I like this way of doing things. It lets me introduce the magic items I like, while still keeping them fairly rare. My players aren’t there yet, but I hope that they take the initiative in making their own magic items once they are able to.

Is there a recommended way to do this, or perhaps a sliding-scale model that maps onto different desired magic levels?

Shane, your model is as good as anything I've seen! I might steal it myself. If I were hand-placing magic items, I'd almost certainly use an approach similar to yours. 

There are definite problems with random magic item placement. One of them is that even the best hordes will tend to have the same items over and over again - scrolls of protection, swords +1, etc. The other is that even trivial hordes will occasionally have overpowered items. Randomly, a staff of power could show up at level 1. 


Thanks, Alex! Steal away. :slight_smile:

It seems like the low-magic fantasy genre lends itself to a more deliberate approach to magic items, and particularly one in which they concentrate in the hands of powerful entities… either because they have made the magic items themselves, or taken them from someone/something who took them from someone/something else.

In the first case, if you’re dealing with an magic-item-maker, I think you could pick some magic items that deliberately buff the opponent. This could also apply to domain controllers with a lot of wealth, who can commission magic items (so you can have powerful fighters or thieves, themselves with no supernatural powers, who always seem to have amulets that protect them against magic to some degree!)

In the second case, “second-hand magic items”, you can pretty much make it whatever you find interesting, including stuff you find on expired adventurers in monster lairs.

In both cases, the 1/3 rule (or some variant) prevents you from overpowering the campaign too soon, while still encouraging a DM to distribute magic items.

If magic items are rare, then the more powerful they are, the more likely they are to have a reputation, and therefore people looking to have them for themselves. It’s way cheaper, in the evil economic calculus, to murder some fool and take his Ring of Invisibility than it is to make or commission one yourself. So magic items could have a built-in reputation (that scales with their level of power), functioning as “gravity” for thieves and other shady characters looking to take them for themselves.

One could get around this by making or commissioning their own items, but if you find or take a magic item, it could come with “reputational gravity” that you’ll have to deal with.

The scale might run from “That’s a mighty fine ring you got there, traveler” to “We really should take this to Mordor and drop it in a volcano…” :smiley:

Last adventure, the adventurers discovered a large gem that functions as a portable sinkhole of evil, because it was a focus of dark sacrifices. Its power has faded, but can be re-awakened with the souls of sentient beings.

That thing has some reputational gravity! … with a powerful, secretive cult bent on extinguishing all conscious life.

(I emphasized to them several times how much they could make selling it, but no, they really wanted it…)

Although I love some settings where magic is more common, like the Forgotten Realms, I personally like to have at least some magic items with names and histories. :slight_smile:

Simon at Sky Full of Dust had a great post about unique magical swords.

I like a split between common magic items and unique, powerful ones with a history and a personality. I also hate the phrase “sword +1”. So, I made some alternate magic item tables to support that.

I love your reputational gravity concept, and will be incorporating that into the stats for the unique items that appear in my campaign. Thanks!

I’m glad you like it!

I like your magic item list, that would add a lot of in-game flavor!