Dividing loot. An early RPG mechanic.

For those taking note, my blog volume has decreased substantially over the last month or two. Luckily, we have new bloggers that can help fill the gaps as well as bring different perspectives to all things Rolemaster and RPG’s. Unfortunately, my schedule doesn’t free up for another month or two and I’m going to limit myself to shorter posts that are geared towards generating discussion rather than me presenting my own solutions.

Let’s talk about dividing loot. I was meandering through some old D&D material and realized that they actually developed some rules on how players should divide up treasure. I had never given it much thought and in all the years of playing, dividing treasure always seemed fairly simple and intuitive.

Here is the original text from the Players Handbook.


1. Equal shares (share and share alike) is a simple division by the total
number of characters involved.
2. Shares by level is a division whereby all* character levels of
experience are added and the total treasure divided by this sum.
One share of treasure is given for each experience level.
3. Equal shares plus bonus is a method to reward excellence and
leadership. Treasure is divided by the sum of all characters, plus
two or three. The outstanding character or characters, as
determined by vote, each gain one extra share.
*For multi-classed characters add one-half of the lesser class(es)
levels to the greater class levels to determine total experience
levels for the division of treasure. Characters with two classes
receive shares for the class levels they are permitted to employ (cf.

1. Non-player characters who are henchmen of a player character
count as one-half character or for one half of their levels and
cannot gain bonus shares.
2. A character incapacitated or killed (but subsequently brought back
to life) is eligible to share only in treasure gained prior to such
incapacity or death.
3. Characters who are uncooperative, who obstruct the party, attack
party members, or are the proximate cause of the incapacitation or
death of a party member shall forfeit from one-quarter to all of
their share(s) as penalty for their actions.

Magical Treasure:
While it is a simple matter to total coins and precious items which can be
sold for an established amount of money, the division of magic items is far
more difficult. It is therefore necessary for party members to determine
how magic will be divided. As the number of items which will be gained is
unknown, selection of a system of division is not possible until after the
adventure is concluded.
1. If but one or two items of magic are gained these can be grouped
singly or paired to equal  share of treasure. If one is of relatively
small worth, it can be grouped with money to equal one share.
2. Three or more magic items:
a) best item
b) next best item
c) third + fourth items
d) “x” amount of money as compensation for not getting any
magic items
3. Three or more magic items, alternate method:
a) best item
b) second item + “x” amount of money
c) fourth item + “3x” amount of money

Magic items thus parceled are then diced for, the character with the
highest roll selecting first, and then the second highest scoring character
choosing next, etc. It is suggested that each character be given a number
of rolls equal to his or her level of experience, the highest of these rolls
being the one retained. Non-player character henchmen are typically
allowed but a single roll.
Variations on the above systems are, of course, possible. Systems should
always be established prior to the inception of the adventure whenever

To me, these rules are a curiosity- a remnant of D&D’s wargaming roots. I wonder if any game since has actually created or quantified a similar system of loot division? A few thoughts I had:

  1. It seems impersonal in a game generally played by a group of friends in a cooperative group. For a convention game or playing in a group of strangers it might make sense?
  2. While it may seem impartial rules would reduce group conflict, shares by level or equal shares with a bonus are begging for player disagreement. The modifiers seem a bit qualitative as well.
  3. I like the fact that it’s mentioned that henchmen get a share as well. That reinforces the importance of henchmen and retainers in D&D that isn’t really found in Rolemaster.
  4. The “shares” reminds me of loot and spoil agreements used by pirates, freebooters and privateers.

I suppose in a game system that quantifies everything and uses 1gp = 1xp, having hard rules about dividing treasure makes sense. Is this a legacy of a simpler time in RPG’s or a needless complexity that has been ignored by most other game systems since? Did you ever use official loot splitting rules for your group? Do these rules foster teamwork and collaboration or create problems? In a game that is based on group problem solving, is it strange to lay out these rules? Maybe it’s just quaint but unnecessary now–like wearing hats in the old timey days.

What other original D&D rules are “outliers” or seem obsolete now?

5 Replies to “Dividing loot. An early RPG mechanic.”

  1. Fascinating that there were actual rules for it! I agree that they seem to be a remnant from DnD’s wargaming roots, and the need to have tournament rules.

    Our party nowadays just always divides loot according to who can use it best. Maybe this is just because we are Canadians, and therefore socialists. In the past we used to roll for everything though, and that is alright too.

  2. Hi,

    Back in the day, we ignored these rules. We divided “money” equally, and round-robined choice of magic items, best die roll first.

    The problem with divide by level is that levels simply weren’t equal. Thieves advanced fastest, and were the least useful. Multiclass characters could be very useful, but for much of their careers tended to have both classes one level below the rest of the party, putting them at too great an advantage with this method of division: (lvl-1)*(lvl-1)/2 > lvl

    Treasure allocation was especially important in the earliest days, when that, iirc, was the *only* source of xp!

    Naturally, Hackmaster has rules for treasure allocation. :)/2

    So does L5R: Don’t scrounge for treasure. Gratefully accept your daimyo’s largesse.

    Shadowrun has implicit rules: Get what you can. Treasure is never just lying around either. Most of what you get is via negotiation.

    GURPS? Unless you pay xps, you won’t get to keep the treasure anyway.

    But none of that is about how the players should divide things.





  3. Treasure and loot was never an issue and I don’t recall it ever being discussed either. We sort of had an unwritten rule I guess. If you kill it, you get to keep the loot. If you find it together, you split it with the folks there. If it was a magical item, we looked to see who could use it first, then decided to sell or trade it off for an item someone could use of for coin. If anyone ever needed coin, the players would just throw in to help out with coin or items.

    When I started playing D&D regularly a couple of years ago, all of the loot was put into a pool then dived evenly with “leftover coin” staying in the party pool.

    Now that I have a couple of those hardcore D&D players playing RM, they do the party gold as a matter of habit, but they are also realizing that “finders/keepers” works too. However, they still share out gold freely if one member needs it. It’s never been adversarial except when one player decided to pick-pocket another player.

  4. Loot division has always been done in character rather than by the players so the idea of levels as a division method is nonsense.

    My biggest problem is the loot before it is divided. My players like to just keep a common list with all the loot on it before they decide who gets what. It saves them mucking about adding and removing things from their character records.

    It also saves them from having to deal with any encumbrance penalties as there could be hundreds of pounds in weight being carried and no one is accounting for it.

    I also had a situation where one of the characters was the victim of a theft and I just randomly rolled to see what of the party’s loot they were carrying and that was taken too. The players didn’t like that and were suddenly insistent that that character would not be carry those items. I just told them that they cannot have it both ways. Either they detail it and deal with the consequences or pool it and I will decide as and when it becomes pertinent.

  5. The rules for dividing treasure are also an artifact of AD&D…such rules weren’t found in the original rules or the red/blue books. I tend to suspect they were more a result of Gary’s need to have rules for everything he could think of as opposed to a remnant of the wargame roots or a convention of game design from that era. Morrow Project had no such rules, and I don’t recall any from DragonQuest either. Gangbusters had something like that for criminal characters, but that was more to model the way money moved through 1920s-era criminal syndicates than anything else. I don’t have my copy of Mythus in front of me (Gary’s last real design effort as far as I know), so I don’t know if he tried to replicate treasure division rules in those.

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