How many treasure parcels again?

This might be a pure-and-simple case of overthinking it, but as I try to put together a 4E sandbox, I’m struck by the question of treasure parcels.

First, for those who don’t know, the backstory.  I’ve got about nine “committed” players who will attend in an highly inconsistent manner my D&D 4E campaign.  If, by some odd stroke, they start attending more regularly, I will probably split the group 5-4.  For the campaign I’ve laid out several locations (we’ll call them “dungeons” for simplicity’s sake) upon which the PC’s will stumble as they wander around and explore.

Right now, I’m organizing these dungeons with one eight- or nine-encounter dungeon and two four- or five-encounter mini-dungeons per level.  So, at present, I might arrange these thusly:

1.1 The Sunken Fort (level 1 quest, nine encounters ranging from 1 to 3 in difficulty)

1.2 The Old Sawmill (level 1 mini-quest, four encounters from 1-3)

1.3 The Smuggler’s Cove (level 1 mini-quest, five encoutners from 1-3)

2.1 The Haunted Cemetary (level 2 quest, nine encounters ranging from 1 to 5 in difficulty)

2.2. The Thieves Guild (level 2 mini-quest, four encoutners from 2-4)

2.3 The Abandonded Mine (level 2 mini-quest, five encounters from 2-5)

etc…  Note these aren’t exactly what the encounters are, since players read this blog too.  One reason why I am doing twice as many encounters per level than is suggested by the DMG is because the group’s attendance is, as I said before, sporadic.  You can’t count on a certain player being there for all the sessions so it makes sense to have the PC’s have more chances to get the XP they need to level up before the encounters become too difficult.

This is, as a side note, a flaw in 4E, that presumption that normative play involves consistent player participation.  That might be the case back when I was gaming in the break room at the dorm, but it sure as hell isn’t the case now.

So, back to the question.  Which would be better: to add on the number of parcels that the DMG suggests for “groups with eight or more players” or do I just double everything up?  Add the three or four magic items to the typical five-PC parcel set might make the dungeons more stingy on a reward/encounter level, but doubling everthing might allow frequent players to really rack up the magic goodies on easy encounters.

Thoughts appreciated.


  1. I guess one question would be: does the campaign need to have a lot of magical goodies or can you create encounters that don’t require the pcs to be laden down with bricabrac? The follow-up question is: do the nine players need lots of magic items/loot to have a satisfying gaming experience?

  2. Two questions, and I’m only vaguely sure about the last one.
    From what I’ve heard from people who have actually played the game for a while, magic items aren’t optional when it comes to high-level encounters–the game design presumes you’re packing them. In fact there was some sort of flap about how actually PC’s are underpowered at higher levels and how feats from PHB2 were intended to handle that.
    Satisfying gaming experience? The good part about gaming with friends is that they have a good time pretty much no matter what. Even gaming sessions that I, as GM, thought went badly were actually a hit with the group. Helps when people are easygoing, I guess.

  3. Ah. We haven’t even hit paragon yet so I wasn’t aware that you NEEDED magic gear for the game. Hrmn. That would explain how we all have magic weapons and armor then…

  4. The argument, as I understand it, is that PC’s to-hit bonuses increase by one for even two levels (since you divide the level in half for the bonus). Monsters (using the term broadly) increase on a one-to-one basis. The difference then must be made up with a combination of feats, increases from leader-type PC’s like Warlords or Bards, and magic items.

  5. From what I understand from my read through is this. Magic items are necessary but you wont be as laden down as you would in 3.x . That said the game is flat out written as though the players have magic kit, so it will take some experimenting and rewriting to make an encounter handle less “Christmas tree-ed” PCs. Having a Warlord as a regular, reliable player may let you squeak by with a little less magic items, as thier powers, at least in the PHB, can do some mighty impressive things. Plus the DM can always fudge stuff.

  6. Giving out items is one thing, especially if the players haven’t gotten attached to a specific sword or wand or something.

    If they HAVE, though, you can always have the players items ‘level up’, video game style. “Aw, man, check that out. You killed that dragon, and your sword, ‘Frigitas’ has absorbed part of it’s power. It feels a little lighter and sharper.”

    Just ‘give’ them the item as usual, but have the visuals be different. If there still is a problem, such as they not having enough gold by selling off their old stuff, just give them the difference in gold, not items. Most groups are not going to blink if the zombies have a trove of gold in the back from people paying their respects, or if the dragon has a cache of platinum coins laying around.

  7. When designing your dungeons remember several simple facts.

    1) The deeper you go into a dungeon, the more dangerous things will get.

    2) Treasure gained is based upon challenges overcome. So if the PCs only face level 1 monsters, they should only get level 1 treasure, even if they are 7th level.

    3) Dungeons, just like your game world, are dynamic. Once the PC’s clean out the dungeon then other creatures will move in and take over. They may keep much the same, but set new traps, created new dead ends, etc. So players can go back to places they’ve already visited, have a ‘decent’ idea on the layout, but the monsters themselves may have changed.

    4) Based upon #3, this tells you that your particular PCs are likely NOT the first ones to explore that dungeon. Some have come before, and others will come after. PC’s may encounter other PC’s, or NPC’s, as they delve into the dungeon. Or they may encounter former adventurer’s.

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