Ever feel overwhelmed while you’re leafing through pages of notes? Ever lose track of that scroll you found? Ever get stuck because you couldn’t remember how much that jewel-encrusted crown was worth but the player holding it couldn’t make it this week? We all have, players and GMs alike. You need a method of handling all the loot you find. Trust me, it’ll reduce bickering and time spent on “inventory management” when you return to civilization from your adventures. Anecdotally, I once had a game where we spent a good hour sorting through loot and dividing up treasure, only for one of the players to break down and bellow “THIS IS TAKING FREAKING FOUR HOURS!” After that session, the party inventory was born.
My suggestion is to designate one person the Bookkeeper. While he’s unlikely to level up without an accounting degree, he’ll make dealing with treasure a sight easier. First and foremost, you need to make someone the Bookkeeper. You’ll want him to be someone who shows up regularly, is slightly organized, and doesn’t mind tracking fiddly bits. With any luck, he’ll volunteer for the position. If no one wants to do it, the GM should consider incentivizing this position, perhaps with an XP bonus for his efforts. Alternatively, you can rotate the duties of the Bookkeeper, though sticking with one person makes it easier. If the Bookkeeper can’t make it to a session for some reason, the duties temporarily pass to another player.
The Packmule’s Inventory
The next step is creating a party inventory. This is a single inventory sheet tallying everything not divided amongst individual players (and it is almost always stored on a stubborn-but-loyal packmule, a lá Dungeon Siege). Find a magic item but not sure who can use it? Into the party inventory it goes! Same with the “junk” loot or “vendor trash,” like paintings, statues, and gems. You can also use the party inventory to track miscellaneous items, like mount feed and portable rams. This undoubtedly seems like a bit of work (and it is), but it’s easier and faster to have everything in one spot. Furthermore, consolidating miscellaneous items to one inventory sheet makes it easy to tally the loot and fairly divide the spoils among the players. It also means that you can rely on one person to track those items. When you ask, “Wasn’t someone holding on to the king’s seal?” you need only to rely on one person than to have everyone eyeballing the chicken scratches on their character sheets.
Now, it must be stressed that the party inventory belongs to the party, not the Bookkeeper. It’s the party inventory, after all. At the end of each session, the party inventory should be given to the GM, not the Bookkeeper. The GM will keep it safe, just in case the Bookkeeper drops the ball and leaves it at home (or gets sick, or has work, etc.).
The Party Fund: Taxation With Representation
The last step is designating a party fund that goes with the party inventory. The party fund receives a free “share” (or two) of the loot you collect and sell, and the Bookkeeper disburses funds to cover pertinent expenses. Overall, the characters have less money, but everyone pays in to cover necessary costs. A week of lodging or mounts and saddles are perfect examples of expenses that can simply be withdrawn from the party fund. It’s faster than having everyone track their own money, and since one person is in charge, there are fewer chances for mistakes. Likewise, consider hirelings. Who’s paying? Hirelings benefit the whole party, so everyone should pay, but dividing the cost of followers five ways is tedious. Taking it out of the party fund solves that problem. The party can also vote to give other players an “advance” when they’re running short of cash. Yes, the fighter might take out an extra 2,000gp to buy that magical sword, but he’s going to pay it back by killing things faster. The same applies when forking over cash for resurrections or spells with expensive material components.
After dealing with the headache of five players handling inventory sheets in D&D 3e, I wouldn’t consider playing D&D without a party inventory. Using the Bookkeeper and a party inventory will make your next game run more smoothly. You’ll spend less time counting beans and more time playing.