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What is a Game Master?

You might already know what a Game Master is. The likely definition, if you’re reading this, is “you.” But if you don’t know, a Game Master (or GM) is the player who arbitrates the rules of the game and controls the actions of every game element that isn’t explicitly controlled by the other players. But as any experienced Game Master knows, being a GM is also much, much more.

Host: Game Masters are the unifying force behind most of the game, not just organizing a social event but providing excitement and entertainment for those who participate.

Mastermind: GMs work to keep a game’s momentum moving in directions that entertain all the players while exploring the stories and settings they desire. To such ends, a GM manipulates dozens of elements, from how narrative components unfold to what rules are used and how they function in every situation.

Mediator: Just as GMs make sure all of a game’s plots and rules work together to entertain, they must also ensure that the players themselves mesh and cooperate.

Actor: Through the GM, the cast of entire fantasy worlds takes the stage. In a given session, a Game Master might play a generous peasant or a conniving king, a rampaging dragon or an enigmatic deity. Whatever the persona, the GM’s characters are only as convincing, endearing, despicable, or memorable as the person who portrays them.

Patron: While GMs constantly confront their players with all sorts of dangers, they also serve as the source of every reward the PCs ever gain, from each experience point to treasures of legend.

World Builder: GMs control nearly every aspect of an entire fantasy reality. With not just one world, but perhaps even multiple planets, planes, or even stranger settings under the GM’s direction, the more insight and forethought invested into the ways and workings of locations, the more believable these become.

Storyteller: Among a GM’s most important tasks is imagining and telling engaging stories.

Game Designer: Even with the vast range of options available, only GMs know what threats their players might face or powers they might come to control. Just as GMs arbitrate the rules within their games, so can they manipulate, repurpose, and wholly invent new rules to improve their games.

Director: Over the course of a campaign, Game Masters have need of dozens of characters and hundreds of encounters, choosing and customizing each and presenting them, however, best aids the overarching plot.

Regardless of skill or experience as a Game Master, it’s likely that every GM can identify one of these roles as an area in which she lacks experience or confidence. This site seeks to address such needs, counseling on challenging aspects of campaigns, contributing new options and inspirations, and refreshing the game’s classic elements. Most importantly, the countless tools herein are designed not to change games or tell GMs how they should play, but rather to inspire new stories and save effort, leaving GMs with more time to run exactly the adventures they and their groups want to play—or have been playing for years.

Customizing Your Game

Roleplaying games are, at their cores, simulations, with most rules focusing on how to perform epic feats and participate in the fantastic adventures of legendary heroes.

When to Design?

Part of a GM’s fun is not just coming up with exciting adventures, but devising new ways to present his adventures. While Chapter 2 discusses many techniques a GM might use to make his campaign more captivating, good organization, tracking tools, handouts, and the like aren’t always enough. Sometimes, a GM might find that there’s no perfect fit within the existing rules for an encounter, creature, or other element he’d like to include. Yet rather than being deterred and having to reimagine his adventure, it’s completely within the GM’s purview to get creative with the rules to make what he wants or a campaign needs. Ultimately, while the rules are designed for ease of use and to promote fairness in a game, they exist to help a GM tell his story, and should never be a hindrance to play. If revising the rules or reworking them to better suit a situation improves an adventure, the GM is within his rights to make any adjustments he sees fit. At the simplest level, such changes might be purely cosmetic—using the stats of an existing monster while describing some new threat, or describing a magic item differently from its typical interpretation, for example. In other cases, actual rules might be altered as the GM chooses, though the balance and fairness of the game should always remain a consideration. There’s nothing wrong with increasing the hit points of a major villain or monster if the PCs risk breezing through a campaign’s climax, or increasing the DC of a disease meant to be especially virulent. In such cases, though, the GM should consider if not making a change is actually bad for a game. Sometimes real heroes slay a dragon in a single round or shrug off the world-ravaging plague, and such things make the players feel special and remain memorable long after the adventure ends.

Occasionally, though, an adventure might call for a change that a cosmetic alteration or a random adjustment won’t satisfy. In such cases, GMs have the option of creating their own simple subsystems to handle exactly the circumstance they desire. Aside from what a GM determines, there’s no other authority that a rule or subsystem must appease for use in a game. While published rules typically have the benefit of professional design and extensive playtesting, there’s nothing preventing any GM from designing his own components. This could be basic, like using existing rules to create magic items or monsters; more complex, like using existing spells as guidelines to create new ones; or wholly new, like many of the subsystems in this chapter. While GMs uncomfortable with the details of a game may want to keep things simple or mimic existing rules, those more experienced might attempt to design any element they feel could improve their game.

Designing new elements for one’s game doesn’t need to be daunting, and taking cues from existing examples serves as a fantastic departure point. A GM might design wandering monster tables for his specific adventure, customize a new kind of staff for a villain, or create a new kind of flaming tornado hazard for a side trek onto the Plane of Fire. In each of these cases, templates or components exist for such elements, requiring just a bit of customizing on the part of the GM, yet feeling completely unique to the players—which is all the matters. On the other side of the spectrum, should the GM have need of complex rules for arguing in court, climbing on titanic beasts, or firing a laser canon, he might be forced to rely on his own ingenuity. In such cases, simple, flexible systems tend to work best, especially when they rely upon established rules. In the case of courtly arguments, one might devise a scale for a king’s opinion, and have the actions and urgings of PCs and NPCs affect the scale in one way or another, creating a more nuanced system for argument than a mere Diplomacy check. GMs should try to test their rules systems before games begin, compare them to existing rules, and then let the players know that they’re trying rules the GM has created himself. If things go poorly, the GM can adjust elements on the fly or even abandon the system in favor of more standard rules—and go back to the drawing board after the game. If things go well, though, the GM might solicit feedback and make additional adjustments, tinkering until he’s devised a useful new tool.

When to Disguise?

Often the appearance of a rule works just as well as a rule. For a GM faced with a situation for which there seems to be no obvious reference in the game’s rules, yet who also lacks the time or interest needed to create a new subsystem, good storytelling, even-handed arbitration, and a bit of deception can typically solve the problem and keep a game moving along. When need for a new rules element unexpectedly comes up mid-game, that’s rarely the time to stop and begin designing new rules. While you can easily make a few cosmetic changes to existing rules and stat blocks if you know of elements that might serve as good stand-ins, sometimes players come up with plans no rules system could account for. Say a PC wishes to run, leap off a cliff, and attack a dragon soaring past, digging in his axe to maintain a hold on the soaring beast. While rules exist for elements of the action, sticking and hanging onto a weapon embedded in another creature is not part of the game system. Yet rather than denying a character the opportunity to attempt a heroic feat, you could easily rely on the results of the rules you do know to arbitrate those you don’t. For example, if the same character rolls high on his Acrobatics skill check and significantly exceeds his target’s AC with his attack, you could declare that her plan works and she’s now being dragged along by the dragon. Alternatively, if the PC botches either roll, she might be in for a long fall. Either way, interpreting existing rules in an unconventional way, or even just calling for an ability check to suggest either a good or poor result, can save you from paging through volumes of rules trying to find a nonexistent perfect fit. And with some shuffling of notes and hidden dice roles, no player should be the wiser to such an improvised ruling.

Designing Encounters

The heart of any adventure is its encounters. An encounter is any event that puts a specific problem before the PCs that they must solve. Most encounters present combat with monsters or hostile NPCs, but there are many other types—a trapped corridor, a political interaction with a suspicious king, a dangerous passage over a rickety rope bridge, an awkward argument with a friendly NPC who suspects a PC has betrayed him, or anything that adds drama to the game. Brain-teasing puzzles, roleplaying challenges, and skill checks are all classic methods for resolving encounters, but the most complex encounters to build are the most common ones—combat encounters.

When designing a combat encounter, you first decide what level of challenge you want your PCs to face, then follow the steps outlined below.

Step 1—Determine Average Party Level (APL)

Determine the average level of your player characters—this is their Average Party Level (APL for short). You should round this value to the nearest whole number (this is one of the few exceptions to the round down rule). Note that these encounter creation guidelines assume a group of four or five PCs. If your group contains six or more players, add one to their average level. If your group contains three or fewer players, subtract one from their average level. For example, if your group consists of six players, two of which are 4th level and four of which are 5th level, their APL is 6th (28 total levels, divided by six players, rounding up, and adding one to the final result).

Step 2—Determine Challenge Rating (CR)

Challenge Rating (or CR) is a convenient number used to indicate the relative danger presented by a monster, trap, hazard, or other encounter—the higher the CR, the more dangerous the encounter. Refer to Table: Encounter Design to determine the Challenge Rating your group should face, depending on the difficulty of the challenge you want and the group’s APL.

Table: Encounter Design
Difficulty Challenge Rating Equals
Easy APL –1
Average APL
Challenging APL +1
Hard APL +2
Epic APL +3

Step 3—Build the Encounter

Determine the total XP award for the encounter by looking it up by its CR on Table: Experience Point Awards. This gives you an “XP budget” for the encounter. Every creature, trap, and hazard is worth an amount of XP determined by its CR, as noted on Table: Experience Point Awards. To build your encounter, simply add creatures, traps, and hazards whose combined XP does not exceed the total XP budget for your encounter. It’s easiest to add the highest CR challenges to the encounter first, filling out the remaining total with lesser challenges.

Table: Experience Point Awards
CR Total XP Individual XP
1-3 4-5 6+
1/8 50 15 15 10
1/6 65 20 15 10
1/4 100 35 25 15
1/3 135 45 35 25
1/2 200 65 50 35
1 400 135 100 65
2 600 200 150 100
3 800 265 200 135
4 1,200 400 300 200
5 1,600 535 400 265
6 2,400 800 600 400
7 3,200 1,070 800 535
8 4,800 1,600 1,200 800
9 6,400 2,130 1,600 1,070
10 9,600 3,200 2,400 1,600
11 12,800 4,270 3,200 2,130
12 19,200 6,400 4,800 3,200
13 25,600 8,530 6,400 4,270
14 38,400 12,800 9,600 6,400
15 51,200 17,100 12,800 8,530
16 76,800 25,600 19,200 12,800
17 102,400 34,100 25,600 17,100
18 153,600 51,200 38,400 25,600
19 204,800 68,300 51,200 34,100
20 307,200 102,000 76,800 51,200
21 409,600 137,000 102,400 68,300
22 614,400 205,000 153,600 102,400
23 819,200 273,000 204,800 137,000
24 1,228,800 410,000 307,200 204,800
25 1,638,400 546,000 409,600 273,000
26 2,457,600 820,000 614,400 409,600
27 3,276,800 1,092,000 819,200 546,000
28 4,915,200 1,640,000 1,228,800 819,200
29 6,553,600 2,184,000 1,638,400 1,092,000
30 9,830,400 3,280,000 2,457,600 1,638,400

For example, let’s say you want your group of six 8th-level PCs to face a challenging encounter against a group of gargoyles (each CR 4) and their stone giant boss (CR 8). The PCs have an APL of 9, and Table: Encounter Design tells you that a challenging encounter for your APL 9 group is a CR 10 encounter—worth 9,600 XP according to Table: Experience Point Awards. At CR 8, the stone giant is worth 4,800 XP, leaving you with another 4,800 points in your XP budget for the gargoyles. Gargoyles are CR 4 each, and thus worth 1,200 XP apiece, meaning that the encounter can support four gargoyles in its XP budget. You could further refine the encounter by including only three gargoyles, leaving you with 1,200 XP to spend on a trio of Small earth elemental servants (at CR 1, each is worth 400 XP) to further aid the stone giant.

Adding NPCs: Creatures whose Hit Dice are solely a factor of their class levels and not a feature of their race, such as all of the PC races detailed in Races, are factored into combats a little differently than normal monsters or monsters with class levels. A creature that possesses class levels, but does not have any racial Hit Dice, is factored in as a creature with a CR equal to its class levels –1. A creature that only possesses non-player class levels (such as a warrior or adept) is factored in as a creature with a CR equal to its class levels –2. If this reduction would reduce a creature’s CR to below 1, its CR drops one step on the following progression for each step below 1 this reduction would make: 1/2, 1/3, 1/4, 1/6, 1/8.

High CR Encounters: The XP values for high-CR encounters can seem quite daunting. Table: CR Equivalencies provides some simple formulas to help you manage these large numbers. When using a large number of identical creatures, this chart can help simplify the math by combining them into one CR, making it easier to find their total XP value. For example, using this chart, four CR 8 creatures (worth 4,800 XP each) are equivalent to a CR 12 creature (worth 19,200 XP).

Ad Hoc CR Adjustments: While you can adjust a specific monster’s CR by advancing it, applying templates, or giving it class levels, you can also adjust an encounter’s difficulty by applying ad hoc adjustments to the encounter or creature itself. Listed here are three additional ways you can alter an encounter’s difficulty.

Table: CR Equivalencies
Number of Creatures Equal to
1 Creature CR
2 Creatures CR +2
3 Creatures CR +3
4 Creatures CR +4
6 Creatures CR +5
8 Creatures CR +6
12 Creatures CR +7
16 Creatures CR +8
  • Favorable Terrain for the PCs: An encounter against a monster that’s out of its favored element (like a yeti encountered in a sweltering cave with lava, or an enormous dragon encountered in a tiny room) gives the PCs an advantage. Build the encounter as normal, but when you award experience for the encounter, do so as if the encounter were one CR lower than its actual CR.
  • Unfavorable Terrain for the PCs: Monsters are designed with the assumption that they are encountered in their favored terrain—encountering a water-breathing aboleth in an underwater area does not increase the CR for that encounter, even though none of the PCs breathe water. If, on the other hand, the terrain impacts the encounter significantly (such as an encounter against a creature with blindsight in an area that suppresses all light), you can, at your option, increase the effective XP award as if the encounter’s CR were one higher.
  • NPC Gear Adjustments: You can significantly increase or decrease the power level of an NPC with class levels by adjusting the NPC’s gear. The combined value of an NPC’s gear is given in Creating NPCs on Table: NPC Gear. A classed NPC encountered with no gear should have his CR reduced by 1 (provided that loss of gear actually hampers the NPC), while a classed NPC that instead has gear equivalent to that of a PC (as listed on Table: Character Wealth by Level) has a CR of 1 higher than his actual CR. Be careful awarding NPCs this extra gear, though—especially at high levels, where you can blow out your entire adventure’s treasure budget in one fell swoop!

Table: Character Wealth by Level
PC Level* Wealth
2 1,000 gp
3 3,000 gp
4 6,000 gp
5 10,500 gp
6 16,000 gp
7 23,500 gp
8 33,000 gp
9 46,000 gp
10 62,000 gp
11 82,000 gp
12 108,000 gp
13 140,000 gp
14 185,000 gp
15 240,000 gp
16 315,000 gp
17 410,000 gp
18 530,000 gp
19 685,000 gp
20 880,000 gp
* For 1st-level PCs, see Table: Starting Character Wealth.

Awarding Experience

Characters advance in level by defeating monsters, overcoming challenges, and completing adventures—in so doing, they earn experience points (XP for short). Although you can award experience points as soon as a challenge is overcome, this can quickly disrupt the flow of gameplay. It’s easier to simply award experience points at the end of a game session—that way if a character earns enough XP to gain a level, he won’t disrupt the game while he levels up his character. He can instead take the time between game sessions to do that.

Keep a list of the CRs of all the monsters, traps, obstacles, and roleplaying encounters the PCs overcome. At the end of each session, award XP to each PC that participated. Each monster, trap, and obstacle awards a set amount of XP, as determined by its CR, regardless of the level of the party in relation to the challenge, although you should never bother awarding XP for challenges that have a CR of 10 or more lower than the APL. Pure roleplaying encounters generally have a CR equal to the average level of the party (although particularly easy or difficult roleplaying encounters might be one higher or lower). There are two methods for awarding XP. While one is more exact, it requires a calculator for ease of use. The other is slightly more abstract.

Exact XP: Once the game session is over, take your list of defeated CR numbers and look up the value of each CR on Table: Experience Point Awards under the “Total XP” column. Add up the XP values for each CR and then divide this total by the number of characters—each character earns an amount of XP equal to this number.

Abstract XP: Simply add up the individual XP awards listed for a group of the appropriate size. In this case, the division is done for you—you need only total up all the awards to determine how many XP to award to each PC.

Story Awards: Feel free to award Story Awards when players conclude a major storyline or make an important accomplishment. These awards should be worth double the amount of experience points for a CR equal to the APL. Particularly long or difficult story arcs might award even more, at your discretion as GM.

Placing Treasure

As PCs gain levels, the amount of treasure they carry and use increases as well. The game assumes that all PCs of equivalent level have roughly equal amounts of treasure and magic items. Since the primary income for a PC derives from treasure and loot gained from adventuring, it’s important to moderate the wealth and hoards you place in your adventures. To aid in placing treasure, the amount of treasure and magic items the PCs receive for their adventures is tied to the Challenge Rating of the encounters they face—the higher an encounter’s CR, the more treasure it can award.

Table: Character Wealth by Level lists the amount of treasure each PC is expected to have at a specific level. Note that this table assumes a standard fantasy game. Low-fantasy games might award only half this value, while high-fantasy games might double the value. It is assumed that some of this treasure is consumed in the course of an adventure (such as potions and scrolls) and that some of the less useful items are sold for half value so more useful gear can be purchased.

Table: Character Wealth by Level can also be used to budget gear for characters starting above 1st level, such as a new character created to replace a dead one. Characters should spend no more than half their total wealth on any single item. For a balanced approach, PCs that are built after 1st level should spend no more than 25% of their wealth on weapons, 25% on armor and protective devices, 25% on other magic items, 15% on disposable items like potions, scrolls, and wands, and 10% on ordinary gear and coins. Different character types might spend their wealth differently than these percentages suggest; for example, arcane casters might spend very little on weapons but a great deal more on other magic items and disposable items.

Table: Treasure Values per Encounter lists the amount of treasure each encounter should award based on the average level of the PCs and the speed of the campaign’s XP progression (slow, medium, or fast). Easy encounters should award treasure one level lower than the PCs’ average level. Challenging, hard, and epic encounters should award treasure one, two, or three levels higher than the PCs’ average level, respectively. If you are running a low-fantasy game, cut these values in half. If you are running a high-fantasy game, double these values.

Encounters against NPCs typically award three times the treasure a monster-based encounter awards, due to NPC gear. To compensate, make sure the PCs face off against a pair of additional encounters that award little in the way of treasure. Animals, plants, constructs, mindless undead, oozes, and traps are great “low treasure” encounters. Alternatively, if the PCs face a number of creatures with little or no treasure, they should have the opportunity to acquire a number of significantly more valuable objects sometime in the near future to make up for the imbalance. As a general rule, PCs should not own any magic item worth more than half their total character wealth, so make sure to check before awarding expensive magic items.

Table: Treasure Values per Encounter
CR Treasure per Encounter
Slow Medium Fast
1/8 20 gp 35 gp 50 gp
1/6 30 gp 45 gp 65 gp
1/4 40 gp 65 gp 100 gp
1/3 55 gp 85 gp 135 gp
1/2 85 gp 130 gp 200 gp
1 170 gp 260 gp 400 gp
2 350 gp 550 gp 800 gp
3 550 gp 800 gp 1,200 gp
4 750 gp 1,150 gp 1,700 gp
5 1,000 gp 1,550 gp 2,300 gp
6 1,350 gp 2,000 gp 3,000 gp
7 1,750 gp 2,600 gp 3,900 gp
8 2,200 gp 3,350 gp 5,000 gp
9 2,850 gp 4,250 gp 6,400 gp
10 3,650 gp 5,450 gp 8,200 gp
11 4,650 gp 7,000 gp 10,500 gp
12 6,000 gp 9,000 gp 13,500 gp
13 7,750 gp 11,600 gp 17,500 gp
14 10,000 gp 15,000 gp 22,000 gp
15 13,000 gp 19,500 gp 29,000 gp
16 16,500 gp 25,000 gp 38,000 gp
17 22,000 gp 32,000 gp 48,000 gp
18 28,000 gp 41,000 gp 62,000 gp
19 35,000 gp 53,000 gp 79,000 gp
20 44,000 gp 67,000 gp 100,000 gp
21 55,000 gp 84,000 gp 125,000 gp
22 69,000 gp 104,000 gp 155,000 gp
23 85,000 gp 127,000 gp 190,000 gp
24 102,000 gp 155,000 gp 230,000 gp
25 125,000 gp 185,000 gp 275,000 gp
26 150,000 gp 220,000 gp 330,000 gp
27 175,000 gp 260,000 gp 390,000 gp
28 205,000 gp 305,000 gp 460,000 gp
29 240,000 gp 360,000 gp 540,000 gp
30 280,000 gp 420,000 gp 630,000 gp

Making Ordinary Treasures Special

Treasure needn’t be mechanically unique to have an interesting backstory or serve as the catalyst for an adventure. Standard items can be made unique without changing their mechanics by adding flavorful descriptions or backstories. Alternatively, making an item intelligent or cursed, combining two items into one, or adding an unusual power to an existing item are all perfectly good changes that can make items more memorable.

Consider the following suggestions for making the mundane exciting in your campaign.

Family Relic: Similar to providing a historical background for an item, creating a story that directly connects the item to one or more player characters in the game allows a GM to spin a fascinating story—possibly one that is directly connected to a story feat. For example, the tapestry that once hung over the throne of a PC’s grandfather’s castle may be the proof the group needs to recover to convince the land’s subjects of that character’s right to rule.

Haunted: A restless spirit haunts the item. This lingering spirit might be something that evokes sympathy from the PCs, such as a young child who died in a tragic way or a grandmother who was killed by her family so they could gain her fortune. Such spirits may be benevolent, allowing the characters to use the item without complication, but appearing upon the item’s use, reminding the party of the object’s brutal history and asking them to help grant the spirit peace. Alternatively, a nasty spirit could inhabit the item, in which case each use might require a battle of wills. In this case, the party might then seek the means to exorcise the spirit so that they could gain unfettered use of the item’s powers.

Historical Significance: An item doesn’t need to be magical to be valuable. A mundane sword wielded by a famous war hero or a suit of leather armor crafted by artisans of a long-lost civilization could provide adventure hooks involving the historical figures or cultures associated with the item. Historians and collectors alike would prize such items simply to study or own and may send PCs on adventures to retrieve them. Bards, in particular, may be interested in tracking down such pieces, as the recovery could earn the lore masters prestige as procurers of museum-worthy items.

Intelligent: Give an item a spark of intelligence to make it more intriguing. Certainly, the player characters are used to intelligent weapons, but what about an intelligent folding boat? Once an item is imbued with intelligence, its use can no longer be taken for granted, instead requiring a diplomatic encounter or battle of wills. Can the PCs convince the boat to unfold? If so, can they then persuade or cajole it to allow them aboard to make their journey? Using an intelligent item can prove problematic if the PCs don’t appease it in some way—and woe to the adventurer to whom it takes a disliking.

Named: When you name an item, many players automatically think of it as something special. Proper names pique interest, and you may find players asking to research the named item at various libraries and taking notes about the discovered references. Admittedly, a name may just be a trick to interest the party in a relatively simple ring of protection +2, but referring to it as the ring of the High Priest Boraz certainly makes the item more intriguing in the story. Your players will think fondly on their efforts to recover the item—even if it’s no different from any other magical ring.

Adventure Prerequisite: Sometimes, finding an item is necessary before a larger adventure can commence. Though required, such an item may have no further importance beyond being necessary to achieve another goal. For example, suppose the PCs need to find the key to an otherwise impenetrable vault. The key, they learn, isn’t a traditional key, but rather a +1 longsword lost somewhere in the jungle. The search for the sword thus becomes part of a larger campaign.

Cosmetic Variation: Who says every rod of rulership, cloak of the mountebank, or flying carpet has to look exactly the same? Where’s the fun in that? Sure, the item works the same as the other ones, but making a small variation, even if just a minor or superficial change, opens a tremendous host of possibilities for making treasure more wondrous. Artisans take pride in their work, so infuse items with some of their creators’ personalities! For example, a quirky, insect-loving mage may have created a feather token whose “bird” looks like a fly, mosquito, or pesky flying termite— there’s no reason it has to specifically look like a bird.

Valuable Material: To make a fairly mundane item more prized, alter the materials used to craft it. For example, a rope of entanglement could be coveted because it’s made of spun gold, or was woven from the thick locks of a golden-haired azata or the mane of a unicorn, rather than from the usual hemp fibers.

Building a Treasure Hoard

While it’s often enough to simply tell your players they’ve found 5,000 gp in gems and 10,000 gp in jewelry, it’s generally more interesting to give details. Giving treasure a personality can not only help the verisimilitude of your game but can sometimes trigger new adventures. The information below can help you randomly determine types of additional treasure—suggested values are given for many of the objects but feel free to assign values to the objects as you see fit. It’s easiest to place the expensive items first—if you wish, you can even randomly roll magic items, using the tables in Magic Items, to determine what sort of items are present in the hoard. Once you’ve consumed a sizable portion of the hoard’s value, the remainder can simply be loose coins or non-magical treasure with values arbitrarily assigned as you see fit.

Coins: Coins in a treasure hoard can consist of copper, silver, gold, and platinum pieces—silver and gold are the most common, but you can divide the coinage as you wish. Coins and their value relative to each other are described at the start of Equipment.

Gems: Although you can assign any value to a gemstone, some are inherently more valuable than others. Use the value categories below (and their associated gemstones) as guidelines when assigning values to gemstones.

Low-Quality Gems (10 gp): agates; azurite; blue quartz; hematite; lapis lazuli; malachite; obsidian; rhodochrosite; tigereye; turquoise; freshwater (irregular) pearl

Semi-Precious Gems (50 gp): bloodstone; carnelian; chalcedony; chrysoprase; citrine; jasper; moonstone; onyx; peridot; rock crystal (clear quartz); sard; sardonyx; rose, smoky, or star rose quartz; zircon

Medium Quality Gemstones (100 gp): amber; amethyst; chrysoberyl; coral; red or brown-green garnet; jade; jet; white, golden, pink, or silver pearl; red, red-brown, or deep green spinel; tourmaline

High Quality Gemstones (500 gp): alexandrite; aquamarine; violet garnet; black pearl; deep blue spinel; golden yellow topaz

Jewels (1,000 gp): emerald; white, black, or fire opal; blue sapphire; fiery yellow or rich purple corundum; blue or black star sapphire

Grand Jewels (5,000 gp or more): clearest bright green emerald; diamond; jacinth; ruby

Non-magical Treasures: This expansive category includes jewelry, fine clothing, trade goods, alchemical items, masterwork objects, and more. Unlike gemstones, many of these objects have set values, but you can always increase an object’s value by having it be bejeweled or of particularly fine craftsmanship. This increase in cost doesn’t grant additional abilities—a gem-encrusted masterwork cold iron scimitar worth 40,000 gp functions the same as a typical masterwork cold iron scimitar worth the base price of 330 gp. Listed below are numerous examples of several types of nonmagical treasures, along with typical values.

Fine Artwork (100 gp or more): Although some artwork is composed of precious materials, the value of most paintings, sculptures, works of literature, fine clothing, and the like come from their skill and craftsmanship. Artwork is often bulky or cumbersome to move and fragile to boot, making salvage an adventure in and of itself.

Jewelry, Minor (50 gp): This category includes relatively small pieces of jewelry crafted from materials like brass, bronze, copper, ivory, or even exotic woods, sometimes set with tiny or flawed low-quality gems. Minor jewelry includes rings, bracelets, and earrings.

Jewelry, Normal (100–500 gp): Most jewelry is made of silver, gold, jade, or coral, often ornamented with semi-precious or even medium-quality gemstones. Normal jewelry includes all types of minor jewelry plus armbands, necklaces, and brooches.

Jewelry, Precious (500 gp or more): Truly precious jewelry is crafted from gold, mithral, platinum, or similar rare metals. Such objects include normal jewelry types plus crowns, scepters, pendants, and other large items.

Masterwork Tools (100–300 gp): This category includes masterwork weapons, armor, and skill kits—see Equipment for more details and costs for these items.

Mundane Gear (up to 1,000 gp): There are many valuable items of mundane or alchemical nature detailed in Equipment that can be utilized as treasure. Most of the alchemical items are portable and valuable, but other objects like locks, holy symbols, spyglasses, fine wine, or fine clothing work well as interesting bits of treasure. Trade goods can even serve as treasure—10 pounds of saffron, for example, is worth 150 gp.

Treasure Maps and Other Intelligence (variable): Items like treasure maps, deeds to ships and homes, lists of informants or guard rosters, passwords, and the like can also make fun items of treasure—you can set the value of such items at any amount you wish, and often they can serve double-duty as adventure seeds.

Magic Items: Of course, the discovery of a magic item is the true prize for any adventurer. You should take care with the placement of magic items in a hoard—it’s generally more satisfying for many players to find a magic item rather than purchase it, so there’s no crime in placing items that happen to be those your players can use! An extensive list of magic items (and their costs) is given in Magic Items.

Although you should generally place items with careful consideration of their likely effects on your campaign, it can be fun and save time to generate magic items in a treasure hoard randomly. You can “purchase” random die rolls of magic items for a treasure hoard at the following prices, subtracting the indicated amount from your treasure budget and then rolling on the appropriate column on Table: Random Magic Item Generation in Magic Items to determine what item is in the treasure hoard. Take care with this approach, though! It’s easy, through the luck (or unluck) of the dice to bloat your game with too much treasure or deprive it of the same. Random magic item placement should always be tempered with good common sense by the GM.

Table: Average Magic Item Values
Magic Item Category Average Value
Minor Item 1,000 gp
Medium Item 10,000 gp
Major Item 40,000 gp

Trophies and Treasures

Monetary treasure can be a rarity in the wild, but canny scavengers and survivalists know how to reap nature’s bounty. Eggs, furs, and ivory of exotic beasts are well-known commodities, but some have also studied the mystical sympathy between certain creatures and different forms of magic. To the right buyer, these components are valuable as more exotic materials.

The following rules for harvesting trophies from creatures and monsters should augment the classic method of dispersing treasure and rewards, but they are not intended to increase the expected wealth by level at your table. If you use this system for trophies, you should make sure to reduce the amount of other treasure and rewards by an equal amount to the harvested components.

At their most basic, trophies function as art objects. Whether an adventurer seeks to mount a dragon’s head on the wall of his home, craft a necklace from a claw harvested from every beast he has slain, or simply make new arrows from the teeth of a fallen foe, the process is much the same—the valuable commodity must first be harvested from the creature.

Note that some cultures have taboos against harvesting parts from humanoids and monstrous humanoids or certain other creature types. Other societies may view the taking of trophies from intelligent creatures, endangered specimens, or even from plentiful game as abhorrent. Characters might need to be careful to avoid insulting such groups if they don’t want to find themselves in an unnecessary conflict. At the GM’s discretion, harvesting trophies (particularly in the case of trophies taken from innocents, intelligent creatures, or outsiders) should have alignment repercussions.

As with all content that might be uncomfortable for some players, you should make sure to have your table’s consent before introducing the harvesting of trophies into your game.

Harvesting Trophies

When a monster is defeated in combat, the process of identifying what portions of the creature can serve as a trophy and harvesting the trophy are somewhat abstracted—there’s no need to track the values for each part of every monster in the game once they’re gathered as trophies.

In order to harvest and preserve a trophy from a kill, a character must attempt three checks: one to determine what parts of the creature are worth harvesting for a trophy, one to determine if she successfully harvests the trophy components without damaging or ruining them, and one to turn the components into a permanent trophy.

Identifying Trophies: To identify what portions of a creature have value as trophies, a character must succeed at a Knowledge check determined by the creature type, as normal. The DC for this check is equal to 15 + the creature’s CR. This examination takes 1 minute to perform.

Harvesting Trophy Components: Once a character identifies potential trophies, she must attempt a skill check to harvest the relevant components. This is typically either a Survival check (for external features, such as hide, horns, teeth, or the like) or a Heal check (for internal features, such as blood, internal organs, or sweat). The DC for this check is equal to 15 + the creature’s CR. Harvesting trophy components generally takes 10 minutes of work (at the GM’s discretion, this could be as much as 1 hour of work for creatures whose bodies are particularly difficult to work with).

Creating Trophies: Once trophy components are harvested, they generally remain viable for 24 hours before decay or spoilage ruins them. Application of gentle repose, oil of timelessness, or similar magic can extend this period of decay. In order to turn components harvested from a creature into a long-lasting trophy, a character must attempt a check with an appropriate Craft skill (the exact skill varies according to the nature of the trophy the character is creating, but it is usually one from the following list: alchemy, jewelry, leather, or taxidermy) to preserve the components and turn them into a trophy. The DC of this check is equal to 15 + the creature’s CR.

Selling Trophies

Once a trophy is created, it can be kept or sold. Generally, a trophy can be sold to any merchant for its full value, as if it were an art object, but at the GM’s discretion, certain trophies may require the PC to seek out black markets or specialized merchants to receive the full price. In some societies, selling certain trophies may be illegal or have other ramifications.

A trophy’s value is determined by the CR of the creature from which it was harvested, as indicated on the following table. For all purposes related to harvesting trophies, the CR refers to a creature’s CR without any class levels (a CR 10 troll oracle would still count as a CR 5 source for any trophies it yields). Note that the value for bounties for defeating specific creatures should not be governed by these rules but should instead be determined by the GM as appropriate for the adventure. Creatures that do not have racial Hit Dice and whose CR is defined by class level generally do not provide valuable components for trophies.

Table 4–9: Trophy Value by CR
CR Value
1 50 gp
2 100 gp
3 150 gp
4 200 gp
5 300 gp
6 400 gp
7 500 gp
8 650 gp
9 850 gp
10 1,000 gp
11 1,400 gp
12 1,800 gp
13 2,300 gp
14 3,000 gp
15 3,900 gp
16 5,000 gp
17 6,400 gp
18 8,000 gp
19 10,500 gp
20 13,000 gp

Magical Affinities of Trophies

Certain creatures provide trophy components that, once processed into actual trophies, are exceptionally useful for the construction of alchemical or magic items. When used as raw materials for the crafting of alchemical or magic items, these trophies are worth more than their normal values for the purposes of calculating the total gp needed to craft the item.

The following section details trophy uses for a wide range of creature categories. This list is not intended to be exhaustive, and GMs should feel free to add specific affinities to a creature as their campaigns demand.

Recovery: In order to preserve trophy components into a trophy usable for its magical affinities, a character must use a different skill than Craft to create the trophy. The specific skill required varies according to the creature, as detailed below. Creating a trophy to be used in this way is more difficult than creating one to simply be an art object: the DC to create a magical affinity trophy is equal to 20 + the creature’s CR. If a creature’s trophy components fall into multiple categories (such as an erinyes), the character can choose which of the associated skills to use to craft the trophy.

Affinities: The magical uses for a trophy in the construction of alchemical or magic items are listed here. When a trophy is incorporated into raw materials, its gp value is considered to be 20% greater than normal.


Recovery Knowledge (planes)

Affinities A demon’s heart contains the essence of sin. It can be used in the creation of any magic item that has a spell with the evil descriptor as a requirement.

Trophy Weight

In most cases, the weight of trophy components recovered from a creature depend on the creature’s size. This weight is doubled for bones, hides, and skins, and halved for feathers, hair, and small organs such as eyes or glands. Once components have been processed into actual trophies, the resulting weight of the trophy is generally determined by the nature of the trophy created (in the case of jewelry or the like) or half the weight of the components used (in the case of something like a preserved head or limb).

Table 4–10: Typical Trophy Weights
Creature Size Trophy Weight
Diminutive 1/10 lb.
Tiny 1/2 lb.
Small 1d4×1/2 lbs.
Medium 1d6 lbs.
Large 3d6 lbs.
Huge 1d6×10 lbs.
Gargantuan 1d6×30 lbs.
Colossal 1d6×100 lbs.

Recovery Knowledge (planes)

Affinities A devil’s tongue is infused with the word of law. It can be used in the creation of any magic item that has a spell with the lawful descriptor as a requirement.

Doppelgangers And Mimics

Recovery Knowledge (arcana)

Affinities Swaths of skin harvested from a doppelganger or mimic can be used in the creation of any magic item that has a spell of the polymorph subschool as a requirement.


Recovery Knowledge (planes)

Affinities Residual material harvested from a slain elemental can be used in the creation of magic items that have spells with specific descriptors, as summarized in the table below.

Table 4–11: Elemental Trophy Affinities
Elemental Material Associated Type Harvested Descriptor
Aether Crystallized memories Force
Air Fine dust Air
Earth Stone fragments Earth
Fire Warm ash Fire
Ice Blue ice Cold
Lightning Sparkling powder Electricity
Magma Glowing embers Fire
Mud Viscous sludge Acid
Water Rare liquid Water


Recovery Knowledge (local)

Affinities The sweat glands or muscles and tendons that are harvested from a giant’s arms or legs can be used in the creation of magic items that have enlarge person as a requirement or in the creation of any magic melee weapon.

Intelligent Undead

Recovery Knowledge (religion)

Affinities Necromancy-infused dust or organs from an intelligent undead creature can be used in the creation of any magic item that has animate dead, create undead, create greater undead, energy drain, or enervation as a requirement; at the GM’s discretion, other necromancy spells can be added to this list (a ghoul, for example, might aid in the creation of items that require ghoul’s touch).


Recovery Knowledge (dungeoneering)

Affinities Fluids harvested from an ooze that deals acid damage can be used in the creation of any magic item that has a spell with the acid descriptor as a requirement or for alchemical gear and weapons associated with acid.

Petrifying Monsters

Recovery Knowledge (arcana)

Affinity The portion of a creature capable of petrifying targets (eyes of a basilisk or medusa, talons of a cockatrice, or a gorgon’s lungs, for example) can be used in the creation of any magic item that has flesh to stone or stone to flesh as a requirement.

Primeval Creatures

Recovery Knowledge (nature)

Affinities The claws, fangs, horns, and tusks of primeval creatures (including all dinosaurs and megafauna, as well as dire animals) can be used in the creation of any magic item that has bear’s endurance, bull’s strength, or cat’s grace as a requirement.


Recovery Knowledge (planes)

Affinities Scales harvested from a protean seethe with pure chaos and can be used in the creation of any magic item that has a spell with the chaotic descriptor as a requirement.


Recovery Knowledge (planes)

Affinities A qlippoth’s brain is infused with raw madness, and it can be used in the creation of any magic item that has confusion, insanity, lesser confusion, or symbol of insanity as a requirement.


Recovery Knowledge (planes)

Affinities A rakshasa’s eyes can be used in the creation of any magic item that has detect thoughts as a requirement.


Recovery Knowledge (local)

Affinities A troll’s liver can be used in the creation of any magic item that has a spell of the healing subschool as a requirement.

True Dragons

Recovery Knowledge (arcana)

Affinities The organs associated with a true dragon’s breath weapon can be utilized in the creation of any magic item that has a spell that deals energy damage of the same type as the dragon’s breath weapon as a requirement.

Web-Using Monsters

Recovery Knowledge (nature); when harvested from something other than a vermin, the DC of the check to harvest the trophy increases by 2.

Affinity The spinnerets of a creature capable of using web as per the universal monster rule can be used in the creation of any magic item that has spider climb or web as a requirement.