First Level Treasure Placement, and Weapon Proficiency Slots

I’ve talked a bit about this here:

I recently came across a small problem with a new 1st level group for a 1E campaign. They went through a dungeon, got some XP, and later on did a second small dungeon. Here they found a forgotten armory behind a secret door, containing two weird +1 weapons.

Because the PCs didn’t have proficiency in the two weapons, they decided to sell them to get XP and level up to 2nd. This is just fine, because as I described before they get to make that cost-benefit analysis.

The two weapons turned out to be higher-value than magic swords, probably because of their relative rarity on the magic item tables. So the group of 4 split 6,000 GP and 6,000 XP. With their activity in the rest of the dungeon it was enough to bump some of them just short of 3rd.

Then, enjoying the success of that choice, they proceeded to sell off everything they found. I don’t know how it happened, but they convinced the party Thief it would be a great idea to sell a pair of Gauntlets of Dexterity for the XP. Seems crazy from my perspective.

Anyway, by now they’re level 5 and 6, and grumbling about how they don’t have any magic items. When I point out they sold almost everything, they claim none of the items that they found were “useful” and would have preferred to find a bunch of magic swords, bows, and armor instead.

I bet. I started thinking about how I could have done this better.

Recently I’ve been thinking that the existence of monsters with a “+ Required To Hit” ability suggests the quality of magic weapons players should have if they are of the right level to fight that HD of monster. To have a satisfying fight, where the monster’s ability comes into play, some but not all of the party should have weapons that can hurt it. If everyone has +1 weapons, a Gargoyle fight is just like any other, but if none have them the fight becomes impossible and (while still acceptable to include in the game), less satisfying.

Secondly, I’ve been thinking about placement of magic items vs. money treasure. I usually prefer to include more magic item treasure, considering 1 GPV of magic item = 1 GPV of treasure to be included, meaning if they keep the items they’ll get less XP than expected. I prefer that because the players can choose to sell the magic item if they want, but generally they can’t choose to buy magic items with the gold they find. It doesn’t work the other way.

Third, level advancement speed. I think there’s a lot of fun gaming to be had at each level. If the PCs lunge through levels, they don’t have a chance to become acclimated to their new abilities and find interesting uses for them, and player skill doesn’t have a chance to grow to match character level. Players don’t get a chance to ease into an understanding of the varying danger of the obstacles they face in each new adventure. Also, too-fast advancement reduces the sense of accomplishment at earned acquisition.

This brings me back to a recommendation to Future Me: for low-level parties, carefully limit the value of magic items the PCs encounter. Instead of a 3000 GP Polearm +1, include a 500 GP Dagger +1. Gauge the total treasure value of the adventure with the assumption they will sell it!

I don’t think it’s necessary to “beef up” later adventures if PCs sell magic items unexpectedly and end up higher level than you intended. After all, they’re less powerful than their level would suggest because they lack those magic items.

There’s also the proficiency issue. If you want them to keep magic weapons instead of selling them, place magic weapons they’re likely to have proficiency with. Don’t assume they will be willing to blow a proficiency slot on the new weapon, because they will expect that eventually a weapon will come along that they are proficient with. The player won’t hold onto the item just in case he encounters a monster with +1 Req. To Hit defense. He probably won’t keep the item and spend his next weapon proficiency slot on it. He’ll just sell it.

To help reduce this problem (and this is something I’ve always done anyway), don’t require players to spend all their proficiency slots as soon as they get them. They might want to spend them all, but it’s a good idea to save one so you can learn a new weapon if you find a good magical version.

An M-U will want to spend his one slot on dagger or dart. A Thief will need a sword and either sling or dagger. A Cleric will likely want one blunt weapon and be willing to save another slot. A Fighter, depending on whether you use the Weapon vs. AC table, might be OK with two weapons out of four starting slots.

To actually learn the new weapon and spend that slot, I’d require that the player either go up a level (so it’s part of the week of training), or spend a week just practicing with the weapon in town, or use the weapon in five significant combats. Remember this is just for spending an empty slot you already earned.

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