[RPG] How should I hand out magic items in D&D 3.5e


So, I started running a standart 3.5 campaign (magic average) with four PCs several weeks ago, and as I am a rookie DM and quite an inexperienced player myself, I am starting to wonder when and in which order should I start handing out minor magic items. So far, I have only given out a few potions and scrolls, and would like to know:

  • Which level do I start giving enemies magic weaponry (+ other gear) the party can take?
  • With which permanent magic items do I start? Weapons, shields, wondrous items, or other?

I know that there are random loot tables, however, I disagree with random magic items – at least on lower levels I want to assign all the magic items myself, since they tend to shift the game balance if handled improperly. Any help appreciated.

Best Answer

Your greatest assets when it comes to determining appropriate treasure are the Treasure from Encounters table on page 54 of the Dungeon Master's guide, and the Character Wealth by Level guideline (WBL) on page 135 of the same book. In theory, random treasure generation should have the PCs end up with something in line with those guidelines, but if you are assigning treasure manually, you will have to do that balancing act by hand. If the player characters are significantly "beneath WBL", hand out more treasures. If they are "above WBL", cut back for a while.

Integrating this kind of balancing work into your campaign is tricky. For example, fighting animals for an extended period is going to leave your players poor, fighting NPCs is going to leave them decked out with bling. Getting around this problem without artificially altering the kind of opponents you're churning out can require some creativity, but stock solutions include things like valuable pelts for animals and cursed (keyed to certain races or characters) items for NPCs. And, of course, there's nothing much wrong with straying a bit off the WBL-path for a while, if you know it will eventually be corrected.

As for what specific items to hand out first - that depends vastly on your group. In most cases, I'd start with handing out cheap, generally useful tools that make a huge difference for low level parties. Healing Belts (Magic Item Compendium), partially used wands of Lesser Vigor (Spell Compendium), Anklets of Translocation (Magic Item Compendium), and so on. The Magic Item Compendium in general is a really good source of items like this. Aside from that, just start pouring in the magic weapons and ability score boosters when

  1. It's appropriate according to the encounters
  2. When the characters seem to need them.

On a final note, the Magic Item Compendium includes a system of "item levels" that were designed to speed up magic item assignment. You may want to look at it, see if you find it useful.