[RPG] How to make treasure stashes rewarding in a very small party


I'm running a D&D 5e game for two players. How can I make the contents of a treasure stash exciting without overpowering my players or just giving them lots of busywork?

Newish DM here – I'm still trying to get a handle on how to dish up treasure to my two players whenever they stumble on someone's cache/hoard/chest/secret wall safe. On the one hand, I want to give them a sense of accomplishment and reward for their efforts thus far, but on the other hand I don't want to make them too overpowered with great weapons/armor or just hand them lots of things they need to sell.

In the games I've seen other people run (none with under 5 players, which is probably why my experience is skewed) a treasure pile generally contains at least 3-4 at-level items. By that I mean it seems about 3-4 of the players in the group walks away with some kind of item that is of interest to their character. Generally someone's left out of the aquisition, I would guess to encourage the players to barter among themselves so everyone's happy with the distribution. There's also usually enough gold that either the money-keeper in the group is very satisfied, or every player gets a nice cut.

The balance I've described above seems to work really well. Most players get a nice boon after being silently manipulated into a good bit of in-character roleplay to figure out the distribution. Plus, everyone gets a bit of cash to replace what they spent on the mission.

The difficulty I'm finding is how to apply that same balance to a party of two. My players have very different styles (one is your typical smashy-shortrange, the other is a ranged-stealth – they don't tend to use the same items). Planting an item in the treasure is fine, but by the very act of being useful it will very clearly be of use to only one PC, which negates the need for any kind of discussion. I could just give them one item each every time, but then they'll quickly become overpowered if the new item is so obviously better than what they have.

Pure gold treasure seems lame to me (and lacks variety) but throwing in a bunch of lower-level items and/or gems to sell feels like busywork as they then need to take time later to barter the junk into cash.

Which brings me back to my bolded question up top. How do I make treasure stashes rewarding in such a small party?

Best Answer

Give more 'Consumable' and 'Utility' magic items than 'Combat' magic items.

If you want to routinely pass out magic items, but don't want to give 'junk' or make your party OP...This is purely my advice, but I've used it in the past for small parties and it works well. If you tank your players up on permanent combat magic items, then yes...they are going to be OP in short order.

Rather than passing out +X Weapons, Armor, and other combat-focused magic items, consider...

Utility Items

Utility magic items like a Bag of Holding, Alchemy Jug, Cap of Water Breathing, Chime of Opening, Immovable Rod, Driftglobe, Eyes of Minute Seeing, a Figurine of Wondrous Power, Folding Boat, Nolzur's Marvelous Pigments, Sovereign Glue, and so on. These don't directly boost a characters combat prowess, but give them handy and cool magic items that are useful for other things. This lets you pass out cool magic items, without having to worry about your players stomping the monsters you put them up against.


Pass out expendable magic items such as potions, oils, elemental gems, Dusts, Feather Tokens, and so on. This way, the party still gets a boost to their ability...but only a set number of times. This way they'll conserve and think about how they expend these things. You're giving them a momentary power boost to hold until later, after which they won't be able to use it again.

Alternative A: Give Plot Hooks

Instead of just passing out 'cash' and 'magic items,' drop little mysteries in their laps. Let them find scraps of a map, a signet ring bearing the king's seal, a map and signed deed to a fort, a piece of something that 'reads' as magical, but doesn't seem to do anything and looks incomplete, or other things like this. Instead of just passing out "loot" you are passing out hooks to further stories.

Alternative B: Buff their enemies

If you really dislike passing out 'pure cash' rewards (see here, for how this can still be really exciting). You could just make their enemies stronger. That's really not that difficult to do...just increase the number of things they have to kill, give the things they have to kill more HP or buff their damage output. Or just throw them against higher CR things.