The fifth-edition Dungeon Master’s Guide advises dungeon masters, “You can hand out as much or as little treasure as you want.” The new Dungeons & Dragons game offers DMs the freedom to create a gritty, low-magic campaign without any “intrinsic bonuses” that fix the math. It allows legendary campaigns where parties fly like superheroes and challenge the gods. All good, but most of us want a campaign that feels like D&D. Most will seek a middle path.
For this baseline, the DMG lists random treasure hoards and suggests how many hoards to award through a tier of adventure.
Obviously, you can award treasure without rolling a random hoard. I suspect most DMs prefer to imagine their own treasure parcels and to award them as they see fit. In this post, I unpack the random hoards and find the middle path behind the random tables. If you skip the hoards, but aim to match the typical treasure awards, this post provides the targets that the DMG lacks.
Q: How many treasure hoards will the PCs win?
The DMG offers this guideline: “Over the course of a typical campaign, a party finds treasure hoards amounting to seven rolls on the Challenge 0-4 table, eighteen tolls on the Challenge 5-10 table, twelve rolls on the Challenge 11-16 table, and eight rolls on the Challenge 17+ table.” (p.133)
Q: How many encounters must a PC complete to level?
At levels 1 and 2, PCs will typically complete 6 medium-difficulty encounters to gain a level.
At level 3, PCs will typically complete 12 medium-difficulty encounters to gain a level.
From level 4 to 9, PCs will typically complete 15 medium-difficulty encounters to gain a level.
From level 10 to 19, PCs will typically complete 10 medium-difficulty encounters to gain a level.
In any case, each hard encounter counts for about 1½ medium encounters. In actual play, the numbers will vary. For instance, many DMs award experience for non-combat challenges.
Throughout all tiers of play, PCs will collect 1 treasure hoard per 5 medium encounters. If you typically finish 5 encounters per play session, players get 1 hoard per session.
Q: How much gold will PCs gain over their career?
The following table shows the wealth a party will gain over their career, to be divided among the PCs. The hoard values come from averages calculated at blog of holding and Dreams in the Lich House. The value of a hoard at a tier tends to be 10 times the value of the prior tier. This fits with D&D’s tradition of steep increases in treasure. See “Why D&D characters get tons of gold and nowhere to spend it.” All treasure values are in gold pieces.
|Level||Hoards at level||Encounters
|Hoard value||Gold at level||Cumulative gold at start|
|Wealth at end of career:||3,207,042|
Unlike Third- and fourth-edition, this edition offers no obvious outlet for the PCs’ wealth at higher levels. Earlier editions empowered PCs to buy magic items. PCs spent their gold on equipment that enhanced their power. The DMGs showed the wealth that PCs required to beat the monsters. Too much gold meant that PCs romped through dungeons, dropping monsters like pinatas; too little meant total-party kills. The new game sets no such requirements.
Q: How many magic items will each PC gain?
This table shows the magic items each member of a party of 4 will gain when they
score the typical number of treasure hoards. To keep pace, parties with more than 4
PCs will need to gain magic items from other sources such as more hoards, fallen enemies,
or a magic item market.
|Level||Consumable items||Permanent items|
|1||1 common||1st uncommon|
|5||1 common||2nd uncommon or a 1st rare|
|8||1 uncommon||1st rare or 2nd uncommon|
|11||1 rare||2nd rare or a 1st very rare|
|14||1 rare||1st very rare or a 2nd rare|
|16||1 very rare|
|17||1 very rare||1st legendary|
|18||1 very rare|
|19||1 very rare|
Update: Andy Pearlman presents an exhaustive analysis of the treasure tables in this post on Magic and the Math of 5E. He concludes that PCs will claim about 5 items over the course of their career rather than the 6 listed in my table. Also, his analysis shows that +3 and other legendary items start trickling into the PCs’ hands at level 11.
This table only shows the magic PCs gain in a typical game, not the magic they require. In earlier editions of Dungeons & Dragons, higher-level characters required magic items that increased accuracy, which is a character’s chance of hitting. Without these accuracy enhancements, a PC could hardly hit, only flail away, hoping for a natural 20. In fifth edition, PCs can hit without magical accuracy bonuses, so they do not require magic just to play. Obviously, magic items still make PCs more powerful, but at any level, a PC without magic can contribute.
Next: In fifth-edition D&D, what is gold for? Three principles of granting gold
Awesome writeup, Dave. I’ll be referencing this as I move forward in my campaign!
Another thought, although I recognize this is going to probably be too much to ask from an analysis standpoint, is the impact of treasure on a party’s effective level. We know the MM challenge ratings are set up assuming no magical treasure, which is nice, but it sort of puts a different kind of problem into play, which is that highly equipped parties will have a much easier time with encounters than the encounter building guidelines/CR might indicate.
You mentioned in response to an earlier comment of mine that you found PC tactics to have a much greater impact on the outcome of a battle than raw stats, and I do agree with this. That being said, any tips for adjusting the difficulty of encounters for crafty parties or really well equipped parties? I think the simplest way is to just add a level or two to each character when calculating encounter budgets, do you agree?
I don’t have a good feel for how magical equipment affects a group’s power level. If anyone manages to figure it out, I’ll be first in line to read their analysis.
I agree that adding a level or two makes a good way to adjust encounter level. I haven’t played mid levels much, but I’m getting the impression that DMs who want to create fun, balanced encounters should draw from the 4E bag of tricks: 1. Include roughly as many foes as party members, because the outnumbered side suffers a big disadvantage. 2. Include a variety of monsters to limit the power of a monster or PC with attacks or defenses that prove particularly effective. Rock-paper-scissors becomes more interesting when one side isn’t all rock and the other all scissors.
Thanks for your comment. I’m happy you liked the writeup!
I enjoyed the article and have used it to craft a spreadsheet to help me flesh out the general guide-lines for encounter building with other things such as the experience threshold tables and hoards found by party per tier of play. I really am grateful for you because it has allowed me to craft a story from the bottom up and top down simultaneously. Your articles and the tables in the 5e DMG have made it much easier for me to quantify the adventure in my world and story. The spreadsheet shows the experience budgets for adventuring day and character level and calculates the total exp of all the Easy, Medium, Hard, and Deadly encounters planned for that level. I have also used the sqlite library to program a commandline interface in C++ with a database I built in DB Browser to randomly roll treasure based on the encounter and which automatically rerolls any treasure over the budget/guidelines in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything on page 135. I take my dungeon mastering seriously, because balance helps make more engrossing play. I hope this doesn’t feel too much like a necropost, but there are still budding and experienced DMs out there that need intermediate to advanced guidance from more experienced DMs. I can share my spreadsheet at request, but I should keep my program to myself in case I decide to turn it into an android phone application. Thank you.
In my 5e campaign, I have explicitly put magic items (that aren’t needed for solving puzzles) out of the way of my adventurers. For example, the island that serves as their base of operations on the archipelago the campaign is based in has a legendary magic item literally within their sight, and it has been since level 1, but the puzzle required to unlock it requires going to four separate islands in the proper order, decoding the clues on each of those items, and then figuring out that the civilization that left the magic item behind did their math in base 8 (I’ve got a group of electrical engineering majors. They’ll figure that bit out.
But the assumption that the party doesn’t have access to magic items, makes them feel more powerful because of them. And it allows me to stock items in dungeons according to what would logically make sense, not just sticking items to party needs to stay current according to some ridiculous “expected progression.”
I do the same thing with treasure. They get some treasure just for going to new location and exploring a bit, but the motherloads? I keep those guarded by the equivalent of Dark Souls’ Black Knights, encounters that I make sure to tell them will WRECK them if they go in unprepared, and probably will even prepared. Because my group has been pretty ballsy/lucky/smart lately, they’ve each got the gold that, according to the chart, the PARTY should have as a whole. But that’s all right, because they earned it. And after the near party-wipe the last time they tried my optional encounters, they’ve sworn them off for the next month.
I love the idea of the unreachable magic item in plain view, posing a challenge and offering hooks! I will use that sometime.
Every campaign should tease players with challenges that they know they lack the power to face. When the PCs finally gain the power to overcome these challenges, the rewards seem much sweeter.
Thanks for commenting!
A great take on the legendary Sword-In-Stone motif. Gives me goosebumps. Well done sir.
Just want to thank you for all of your write ups. The write ups are encouraging and educational.
Thanks for the kind words of encouragement! This sort of feedback keeps me at the keyboard.
The gold is for castle building hence chopping down trees for firewood, and flogging half to some merchant with a quarry in trade for roughed blocks of stone you go get.
You should write the following in your dmg:
Wagon load of firewood (1120cp/2240lb)
Acre of light forest (20,000lb wood)
Logging (1 acre/woodsman/day)
Annual firewood use (10,000lb/peasant)
Stone (10’x10’x10’/76 ton)
Minimum Cost to mine anything (1 ounce of gold/ton of material)
Quarry (76 ton/five labourers/week)
That should be sufficient to let you calculate the amount and cost of stone in your wall of stone around the village you are turning into a fortress and the timber you trade for it.
I don’t think your math is quite right – 6 magic items is likely on the high side and the PCs seem to get the items more quickly than expected. That said, it is definitely in the right ballpark and the level by level breakdown is very helpful.
Something to also mention is that there’s a very high probability that a given party of 4 ends up finding a couple of +3 weapons(or their rough equivalent) over the course of the campaign.
I did a work up of the math over here:
Thanks for directing me to your analysis. Amazing work! Looks like my table gives a bit more magic than the baseline. I’m going to add a note to the post.
No problem at all. I’d also note there is a big damage difference expected between someone who has no magic weapons and someone with a +3 weapon. Probably on the order of a 50% increase for certain classes(i.e. Fighter) with very specific feats(Great Weapon Master, Sharpshooter)
It makes the often heard claim “You don’t need magic items to be effective” suspect. I think the more accurate claim is that you don’t need a specific magic item to be effective. At some point in the day, the party without magic items is going to get exhausted out when the party with magic items is still going strong…
I’d love to see your math, but sadly the Wizards forum is gone now. Any chance you’ve still got a copy and would be willing to share it?
Sure. Here’s the math(I’m MwaO of the 3e/4e CharOp boards)
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