Division Of Spoils
One of the things that leads most Role-Playing Gaming (RPG) Groups into the most arguments is how to divide up the spoils (treasure) of an adventure. I’ve seen many and varied a method of the years (ie read “decades”) and the method below is one that works very well, for both Fantasy and SF games, and all genres in between. But first, a small detour to set things up.
How Characters organise themselves into Parties is many and varied, but over the years (I’ve been playing and GMing since 1982) I’ve noticed that almost all Parties tend to organise themselves with the following “party positions”: party leader, mapper, quarter-master (QM), and treasurer. Now, obviously, not every Party is going to have these positions and some Parties have more, but these are the ones I’ve observed most often. It’s also interesting to note that the position of mapper still exists even though the use of electronic maps in various VTT (Virtual Tabletop) Software is on the rise and becoming more popular day by day – this is probably because I sometimes take the electronic map away –
Oh look, you’re so stressed-out you can’t remember the way out of this dungeon
– and so my Players tend to make “scratch maps” as a back up in case this happens. But that’s another story.
So, let me say first off that how Players divide up the treasure is entirely up to the Players – as Game Master (GM) I stay right out of it (as the Non-Player Characters (NPCs) and/or henchmen I have a say, but that’s always as the NPC, never as the GM).
However, I have also often found that Players, especially new Players, don’t really know how to go about it without a lot of trial and error. So with this in mind I often suggest to my Players the following method, which has been used since the early 1980’s. It’s not complicated (although some may consider it slightly complex); its fair in that everyone gets magic/hi-tech (Fantasy vs SF) and money and no-one feels hard done by; it promotes teamwork and heroics; and it tends to curb intra-party thieving. And finally, its self-correcting in that if people try to “play the system” or if they’re @ssholes then the system will “bight them in the butt” as the other Players will do the same to them. I’ve seen this method used with all sorts of groups with all sorts of personalities and all sorts of Characters and character types in all sorts of RPGs and it really works and works well. So here goes.
First of all treasure comes in two broad categories: magic/hi-tech and non-magic/non-hi-tech. We’ll deal with non-magic/non-hi-tech first.
Step one is to convert all non-magical/non-hi-tech treasure into a GP-equivalent (Gold Piece) or Credit-equivalent – ie sell it! Sell the gems, jewelry, art objects, rare books – whatever. Liquidate everything. If a Player particularly wants an item then they’re free to buy it (or buy it back – it’s the same thing) but everything is converted to gold/credits (or whatever) – no exceptions! Funnily enough, in all the years I’ve seen this method employed almost no-one bothers to purchase the art objects, etc.
Step two (actually, this should be Step 0 as you can do this once at the start of the campaign/adventure before any treasure is even found) is to determine the number of “treasure shares” the Party is going to have. This is where the Party can get really flexible in how they want to run things. A good starting point is to give every Player Character (PC) and each non-henchman (and non-employee) NPC a full share; Henchmen-NPCs get a half-share and employee-NPCs don’t get a share at all (they’re getting paid, after all – either by their PC Employer or by the Party as a whole). In addition to these shares the party leader gets an additional half-share and each of the other party-positions gets an additional quarter-share. Some parties also have a “party share” which is used by the Party as a whole to pay for lodgings, NPC-employees, gather info bribes, resurrections, etc. Finally, and this is the bit that encourages teamwork, etc, is a full share (or whatever is necessary to round-out all of the half- and quarter-shares into a whole number of shares) used as the “Most Valuable Player Character” (MVPC) Award. The MVPC is voted on by the Players as to which PC is the most deserving. It must be awarded and it must go to an individual, it can never be split between two or more PCs. PCs win the award for helping out the Party as a whole: this can be doing something heroic such as holding the breach while everyone else gets away; solving the puzzle that was key to completing the adventure; helping the Party stay on track; or whatever else the Party thinks is deserving of the award. Obviously, PCs who steal from their fellow Party Members won’t be getting the award, nor will those who are @ssholes.
Dividing up magic/hi-tech treasure is a little bit trickier. The best long-term method is to let random chance (ie a die roll) decide, because in the long run everyone’s got the same chance to get the first pick of the magic/hi-tech and people really can’t argue with the die. So when it becomes time to divide up magic/hi-tech everyone rolls 1d20 (a single 20-sided die), with people choosing in order of their roll. Once everyone has had a pick everyone rolls 1d20 again for the next round, and so on until all the magic/hi-tech treasure is gone.
A couple of “tweaks” make this system even more fair: first, if you get first pick in a round you have a -5 penalty to your roll on the next round, no matter when the next round occurs; similarly if you get 2nd pick in a round you get a -2 penalty. You can voluntarily give up your pick in this and every succeeding round of this “treasure divide up” to receive a +5 bonus to your roll for the first round of the next treasure divide up. Similarly, if the party runs out of magic/hi-tech items before you get a pick in a round you get a +5 bonus to the next round. All bonuses and penalties are cumulative.
Some Notes: People are generally expected to choose items most useful to them before picking more “expensive” items. Generically useful items (ie healing potions, med-packs, etc) belong to the Party as whole. Players generally offer up old items back into the magic/hi-tech divide up when they get a more useful version ie give back the +2 Sword when they get a +3 Sword, or give back the +1 Ring when they get a +2 Ring, etc. Some Parties actually allow a swap of low- for high-powered items, while others “buy back” the old item for the going price (ie the PC “sells” the item to the Party). If the situation occurs when everyone no longer wants to chose a magic/hi-tech item and there are magic/hi-tech items remaining, the remaining magic/hi-tech items are sold (and the money goes into the non-magic/non-hi-tech “shares” system).
So, there it is. I hope you’ve find this method useful. You can modify it as you wish, but what is presented above is the distilled wisdom of 100’s of Players across dozens of campaigns over 10’s of years.