Massaging Treasure Parcels

At the end of 2010, I detailed how I deal with magic items in 4th Edition games. In a nutshell, rather than routinely hand out brand new items, forcing characters to ditch arms and armaments that they may have grown attached to, I add the powers of what would have been new magic items to the magic items that the characters already have.

Confused? Read the process in more detail here.

Recently, my group fought a pretty major NPC named Shealis. During the battle, Shealis wielded what was apparently a magic wand. Also of note is during the battle, one of the character’s weapons—Maril’s seemingly normal quarterstaff—”leveled-up” into a staff of winter.

After the battle, Shealis’ “loot” didn’t include a magic wand. Where was the epic drop befitting an NPC of her stature? After all, big bad guys should give off awesome rewards! What happened?

For those who need a quick reminder on how the Treasure Parcel System works, it’s like this: 4th Edition runs on the assumption that characters acquire a certain amount of treasure per level in order to maintain effectiveness in encounters as they advance; this is called the Treasure Parcel System.

Every level, from 1st to 30th, there are 10 parcels to hand out; each parcel is a magic item or monetary treasure. Since it takes around 10 encounters to level, it is assumed that characters will receive something every time they fight a monster. However, DM’s will often combine parcels into hordes. In one combat, a group might get three or four parcels—which means for some combats, there will be no parcels at all.

Nevertheless, by the time character’s reach their next level, they can be sure that they will have received every parcel they were supposed to get.

How does this interact with NPC’s who seem to wield magic items? Why aren’t these instruments part of their treasure? Well, the intent is, if the group searches and finds no magic items, then in-character they’re supposed to think any of the following:

  • “I guess the magic in her wand died with her.”
  • “I guess the wand wasn’t special; it was her all along!”
  • “That wand was wielded by evil—I won’t touch it.”

Out-of-character, the reason there’s no magic item is because a treasure parcel wasn’t placed there. Of course, it’s very possible that Shealis’ wand is magical, but the party can’t unlock its secrets just yet. Maybe after they’ve attained more experience? In other words, it could be a parcel for later levels. This all depends on what the party does and what fits the story at the moment.

Continuing the above example of Shealis and the magic wand, don’t forget that epic loot was dropped—we can’t ignore the staff of winter! Though Shealis didn’t technically have a magic staff in her horde, the staff of winter was the placed parcel; the characters just “found it” in a non-traditional way. In this case, Shealis’ magical attack connected with Maril’s and the energy flowed into the quarterstaff, causing it to shed its normal appearance and reveal its magical origins.

Much cooler than just finding a magic item in the middle of a treasure pile if you ask me.