treasure acquisition rates in the 5e DMG (and the missing 1 GP=1XP rules)

You might be curious: if you use the treasure tables in the 5e DMG, how rich will the characters be? This becomes important if you want to do things like give characters XP for GP found.

Here’s the breakdown: for each tier (a band of 4-6 levels) I’ve written a script which presents the average monetary treasure and provides a sample roll on the treasure table. (I’m using ~ as shorthand for “on average” here.)

What we see here is that, for each tier, average hoard value is multiplied by 10. At first glance, this seems like a problem. This is not granular at all, and treasure values don’t change for 6 levels at a time?? A closer look reveals that it might work quite well. The treasure quantity is tied to the monster’s level, not the PC’s level. If PCs take on monsters of varying but surmountable difficulties, they will naturally fight steadily increasing numbers of higher-tier monsters as they level up. For instance, if you imagine a group who fights monsters of their level +1d6-2, these big steps turn naturally into a nice curve. Not only it is a smooth average, it’s one with extremely varied rewards. That means that there’s lots of the “wow! I’m rich!” moments that make slot machines so popular.

Knowing how much money characters are “expected” to earn helps us gauge a lot of things about the economy. For me, the most important questions are a) when can characters afford domains? and b) can I give out 1 XP per 1 GP and ignore monster XP?

When will the players be afford to buy castles? Because of 1e tradition, I want people to be able to afford domains at around level 10, so I might price them at a few tens of thousands of GP. At that price, a tenth-level party, which will probably have picked up a few third-tier hoards, will be able to start affording them.

What about 1 GP = 1 XP? There’s no rules for that in the DMG, and you want to have some way to match GP to XP to figure out how long it will take to level. At straight GP to XP, are we looking at a full campaign taking, like, a few weeks or a few decades?

Well, according to the “standard” expectations of treasure hordes found per career, a 20th-level party will have discovered about 3 million GP, at a rate of about 3 treasure hordes per character level. It takes 255,000 XP to get to level 20, so that hoard is enough for about 8 characters to get to level 20. That means that, at level 20, GP=XP is in the right ballpark, but a little high.

How does 1 GP=1 XP fare at lower levels? It takes 300 XP to get to level 2, which means that the party has to find 1 tier-1 treasure hoard per character. That will take a while, considering that level 1 is supposed to be a training level. Tier-one treasures will generally net about 100 XP for each character in a four-person party, which makes advancement pretty slow. Tier-two treasures (monster level 5+) provide 1000 XP each, and become necessary for advancement at around character level 3. Tier-three treasures (monster level 11+) provide 10k XP each, and characters of level 6+ really need one or more tier-three treasure in order to advance in level. High-level characters need four or five such finds, which means that high levels take a lot more time to accrue. No one needs a tier-4 treasure (level 17+): its 100k XP would take a party of 17th-level characters to level 20 in one shot (assuming you could gain more than 1 level per treasure).

In short, the treasure expectations almost-but-not-quite work for 1XP=1GP. For that trick, the treasure finds really do need to be a little more regular. Here’s the fix I propose:

Whenever a monster is in the top half of a tier (levels 3-4, 8-10, 14-16) double the monetary treasure. This eases the speed bumps that slow down character advancement at certain points.

Ignore tier-four treasures. A steady diet of doubled tier-three treasures will allow high-level characters to advance after every two hoards (or once after a dragon hoard). A tier-four treasure of 300,000 GP might be fun but it is not necessary for character advancement.

8 Responses to “treasure acquisition rates in the 5e DMG (and the missing 1 GP=1XP rules)”

  1. Rhenium says:

    I like the idea of castle building being pegged to be achieved after a certain point. As pointed out previously it is something that has been greatly lacking (at least in core rule books) for the past few additions and the empire-building gives characters something to do with all that cash other than buy more magical trinkets.

    If I had time I’d do a quick back of the envelope calculations to see what different tier treasures would actually be like in terms of physical volume. I have a feeling tiers 1 and 2 would be disappointing to our eyes, although likely more money than the characters have ever seen in one place.

  2. paul paul says:

    I always have time for back of the envelope calculations! A tier 4 treasure haul is about 70k coins, which weighs 1400 pounds. That’s a cubic foot of gold, so that coin haul is not actually a big deal, volume-wise.

  3. In the 5th paragraph after the generator, “treasure hordes” should probably be “treasure hoards.”

    Although now that I think of it, you could get some interesting adventure seeds out of “treasure hordes.” Hm…

  4. Mistwell says:

    Question: What about the reverse. Is it roughly true to say that for every XP the PC gets, they tend to get 1 GP in treasure? Example: for a 5th level player, could I say “you have about 6500 gp” and be mostly roughly accurate to the treasure charts?

    Background: I’ve been running a game since the playtest, and the rules for treasure distribution have been…mostly lacking. We’ve been sort of hand-waiving it while in a mega-dungeon (I’ll tell the players they find a chest with coins and some gems and other valuables in it, but I am usually non-specific on the quantities), but now that the PCs are 5th level and transition from the Dungeon to a more city and wilderness based adventure, they want to know how much treasure they’ve accumulated. So if I could just say “It’s roughly the number of XP you have, in GP”, that would be awesome. I am just not sure if that is what you’re saying these numbers break down to (roughly) or not.

  5. 1d30 says:

    I think people could achieve stronghold and domain level play at various times depending on how they go about it. From most expensive to least (and therefore inversely as likely):

    1: Buy a complete stronghold. This may be the only option in a town or developed civilization. In place of “buy” you could use “has acquired enough political clout for someone to grant you a ready-to-go domain” but at that point political influence is your currency instead of gold pieces.

    2: Find a great spot in the uninhabited wilderness and build a stronghold. This may involve a virtually meaningless “grant” by the nearest ruler who (1) has no legitimate claim over the land and (2) really can only benefit from having a buffer zone to absorb monster attacks. This involves bringing in workers and establishing a quarry, cutting lumber, etc.

    3: Convert a dungeon or ruin in the wilderness. Again, we don’t have to buy the land, and the structure is mostly complete already. In fact, when adventurers camp in a recently-cleared ruin and shore up the doors, they’re setting up temporary housekeeping. The reasons this converted ruin initially has no value (as many dismayed players discover when they try to sell the place they just cleared and claimed to the nearest ruler) is that (1) the place is typically in the wilderness so it’s not in an economically useful area, (2) there are still monsters around because the players haven’t cleared the surrounding countryside, and (3) the potential buyer just has to wait until the players leave and then move in and take the place for free.

    In this way, if you want low-level domain stuff, just throw in a bunch of ruins the PCs can explore and maybe decide to claim. But if you want to wait until higher level for domains, make conversion of ruins as expensive as new construction, which puts the barrier to entry higher.

  6. neuronphaser says:

    Great analysis; I’m planning to convert to a system either exactly like this (1gp = 1xp) or very similar to it, depending on how I end up deciding to award XP for magic items. They may just be their own reward, or I’ll base it on how much the sell otherwise “useless” items for, but not sure yet.

    I’m a little surprised an XP for Gold system wasn’t present in the DMG, given how much old-school stuff DID end up in there, in some form or another. I like “heroic D&D,” but I also really, really love “mercenary tomb-robber D&D,” and that’s just not an experience you can get out of the box in 5e, at least in terms of the XP reward system. It’s either about defeating monsters or achieving quests, and that’s not quite mercenary enough for my purposes.

  7. redbeard says:

    Thanks for this. I’m surprised at how many of the “O5R” are running exp by the 5e book. I was pretty determined not to do that, and you’ve done my home work for me.

  8. Sean Robert Meaney says:

    I suggest you note down:

    Mining anything costs one ounce of gold per ton. Quarry stone, as a form of mining, thus costs seventy six ounces of gold per thousand cubic feet of stone to quarry. At Sixteen ounces per pound Thats 4.75lb of gold or four hundred and seventy five silver pieces per thousand cubic feet of quarry stone. Thats also seventy six tons per thousand cubic feet.

    Timber or firewood is the potential first resource they will have access to. Thus it is in their interest to defend woodsmen from attack while they harvest fuel and timber. An acre of light forest is worth 20,000lb of firewood. An acre of light forest is a years supply for two people. At one copper piece per twenty pounds of wood, that acre of light forest is worth ten gold pieces. A square mile is six hundred and fourty acres.

    If the adventurers dont want their home village burned down by raiders, their priority is to gain wealth and resources to build a wall around the village.

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