[RPG] Should I stop PCs looting from their dead friends/dead last PC


A character in a D&D 5e game dies, and stays dead. They had some nice magic items, treasure, etcetera earned from their time adventuring.

What reasons could I give for the rest of the party not to pillage their corpse? Other than honour?

I've had imagine situations like:

  • Another party member goes "aha! I've had my eye on that staff/robe/shield, mine now!"

  • The players' new character gets into the game, and they want a fair share of "party loot" as they see it.

The first option I've been allowing (because who wouldn't make use of it?) but I can see this becoming unsporting if they decide not to revive their former companion, when they surely could, because character X got the shiny thing they wanted from a previous encounter.

The second also makes a sort of in-game sense to me; if a party member is dead and no longer needs a shiny thing, why not let your new friend use it?

Trouble is, this can lead to further squabbles over who gets what, or
longer surviving members hoarding and dominating the game.

Sort of related to this question:
Player wants to steal items from previous character

But, said previous character died in glorious battle rather than retiring.

Best Answer

No, you shouldn't necessarily stop them ... but ...

It doesn't end there. What you need to do as a DM is have an out-of-character discussion with your players on what they want to do about the belongings of the dead PC, and also how they want to role play a funeral, wake, or some kind of "last rites" or farewell event. Then ask the players to work with you to arrive at an equitable means of dividing up the belongings (absent a will or some such in-game structure already in place ...)

  • Where the party can reach consensus (example "the shield needs to go to the cleric") just do that.
  • Where there are two players desiring an item (ex: ring of spell storing, since anyone can use it) then the simplest way is to let the dice help: have them roll 2d6. (or 1d12, or 1d20...) Whomever scores the highest gets the item. (There are many other ways to do this, but this I've seen used for easy resolution since about four decades ago).

    A less simple way to resolve number 2 is to have a party vote on who should get that item, but in small parties this can raise as many problems as solves, leading to the kind of quarreling you want to avoid. I've seen it work a lot better in larger parties.

Party concerns ...

Magic items are reasonably rare in this edition, in the base model. It can be argued that the party earned them from a given adventure; it took everyone's effort to defeat "monster X" and get to that chest with the treasure, magic items, art objects, gems, etc. With that in mind, a magic item can be seen as a party asset. (The groups I've played in have, with very few exceptions, approached it this way for decades).

  • FWIW, the "party based magic item" concept fits into an overarching idea that the game authors had:

    ... rules on magic item distribution aren't based on a party of a particular size The rules are party-based - the group is receiving the items - rather than character based. {Jeremy Crawford}

    Note: that's not a hard and fast rule, and the context of that tweet was in reference to the expanded guidance(rules) offered in Xanathar's Guide to Everything regarding magic items.

This point of view -- magic items as a party asset -- is particularly useful when you consider that the game's premise is that a party of adventurers, not a single adventurer as seen in a lot of video games, work together as a team to combine their unique individual talents to achieve various goals. The party needs to come to a consensus, as players, on a mutually agreed division of treasure.

Player based legacy method

Is there anything wrong with handing the items down "to the next rolled up character for a player" as a default solution? No. It is one way to remove the sting of character death. There is nothing wrong with that, but since you want to avoid quarreling, then you need to get your players to come to a consensus on what they all prefer.

  • Here's a potential snag: the party ranger dies a horrible death. The player rolls up a new character, and decides on a cleric. Some of the items may not be a good fit for the new character.

    Delegate to your players the work of creating a group norm. Facilitate it, rather than issuing a decree. Once they have buy in, they own it.

"...Longer surviving members hoarding and dominating the game*

There are two ways to look at this potential problem:

  1. That's not an in-game problem, that's a player-to-player relationship problem. If they can't work as a team, is this edition of this game the right game to be playing? Is "looking out for number one" the real motivation of your players?
  2. Keeping your items is a justifiable reward for survival. Mitigate that (as a group) by having the least magically equipped players get first choice on the next treasure find. You need your players to come up with a group norm that they all buy into. (FWIW, this is similar to how Adventurer's League does it).

Don't feel that this is all on you; it isn't.

A few pointers to start your conversation with your players.

This is not a rule or a DM ruling, but offered as a point of discussion for a given group to arrive at a fair way to divide treasure among themselves.

1. Equal shares: simple division by the total number of characters involved.
2. Shares by level: all character levels of experience are added and the total treasure divided by this sum. One share per level. (I don't recommend this, based on my experience; your group may like this idea).
3. Equal shares plus bonus: If your group likes this idea -- if one character was head and shoulders above the others in doing amazing things then the group will vote them the bonus -- that can work, but it needs to be an established norm beforehand. (excerpted/condenses from the AD&D 1e PHB (p. 122)

Magical Treasure:

What we found most palatable over a variety of groups was to clearly identify items, and then try to put them into piles that fit our various character classes. We'd then negotiate/discuss "who wants what" and "I'll trade you this for that" as various items were considered. When there was an impasse, the two or three characters interested in a given item would roll for it and then press on. That character then would get no selections until all others had gotten an item. (Trading was common, however, as different items were found ...).

When a PC died, we'd typically divide up what items where there among us ... and often reserved an item or two for "the next character poor Jed rolls up" to give them a boost when we encountered their character at the next DM arranged opportunity/tavern/city ... but that varied from group to group.

Systems should always be established prior to the inception of the adventure whenever possible. (AD&D PHB p. 122)

My experience taught me to dispense with "whenever possible." A treasure division system should be established by the group before the adventures, if your objective is to reduce friction between players. The reason I recommend this is due to your stated goal: you want to prevent friction between players.

There were a few groups I played in where the players were as much rivals as allies, and that's just how the groups were. Treasure division sessions could get a little dicey, in both the literal and figurative sense. It does not appear that you want to see your table head in that direction.