Loot Tables - auto knowledge or cryptic?


Hi everyone,

Just a curious question. When a player finds Loot that does quirky things (magic, unique items, and not mundane stuff flike food) do you tell the player what the loot does straight away?

Or do you have them roll a hard INT test instead? Or do you require the players to seek out some sort of sage or appropriate expert?

Let’s discuss…



I tell the player right away, to the delight of everyone at the table. I used to do that thing where people had to find a sage or a scroll of identify, and what I found on both sides of the DM chair, is that it’s just no fun to delay the enjoyment.

And if the item has some obscure ability, then I trust my players to RP it and not go straight meta. But to me, loot is meant to be enjoyed, not guarded with some artificial gates we impose.


I let them roll on the loot table, tell them what they find and take a break to send my players descriptions and rules of the loot. :slight_smile:


@Alex Do you treat cursed loot the same way?

Regarding not going straight meta… what do you think about requiring some Effort on the part of the receiving player to unlock the secret of the item before it can be used to its full potential?


Interesting. Do you do this for loot from the Cursed Loot Table?


Jinx, @GreyBeard! :wink:


@GreyBeard @chrisbynum

Yes! This example would be an instance where I trust my players to lean into the loot item with their RP, and it’s always super fun watching how they incorporate a curse or malady into their character. I find that their having that meta “ownership” of the cursed item takes the sting away from their feeling like the DM is punishing them with a cursed item, and it’s always fun for the whole table as we watch Joe self-nerf.

ie, everyone is in on the joke instead of it feeling like only the DM is in on the joke. Transparency at the table has revolutionized my gaming.


I had one answer and then I read @Alex’s posts and now I have a different answer.

I think this is a great question to pose to your table and see what everyone prefers. Both ways have their draws, but since the goal is fun with your friends it’s worth doing it whatever way is most fun for your table.


Hey @GreyBeard, on this point:

Regarding not going straight meta… what do you think about requiring some Effort on the part of the receiving player to unlock the secret of the item before it can be used to its full potential?

I think that can be fun. If I go there at all anymore, it’s usually for some major item central to the plot, or some super rare artifact of major renown. ie, you find THE Sword. And then maybe it’s abilities get revealed over time or at epic moments during the story. But for the mine run of loot, I have abandoned making loot secretive.


I see. I think I would have to try it your way at my table first and then see if I form the same opinion or have the same experience. Right now, I think there are trade-offs. Frequently, I have standard ways for my players to get a sense that found loot items are special, but I don’t necessarily give them every mechanical detail or parameter before they have a chance to learn in-game. (I don’t think my players have ever thought I was punishing them when they came across a cursed item, rationalizing instead that it was intended as a fair challenge to their ever-developing knowledge of the nature of dungeons and the magic they find in them.)

I can think of several times in my recent campaigns when player characters tested out their found magic items for the first time in a clutch situation or went on a memorable side quest to find out just how unique the loot they’d acquired really was. Mystery surrounding loot has made for some very dramatic moments that I don’t think would ever have happened with automatic metagame-level disclosure.

Surprises are as intrinsic to the RPG experience as fun, and I think they can and should coexist together—much like approaches to this aspect of game mastery.


I tell them right away. It serves no purpose and the figuring out what it is gets old… i don’t go for realism in rpg’s… it slows the story and the game.


“Your character, Rene Belloq, ruthlessly opporunistic archaeologist, raging egotist, and sometime Nazi sympathizer, hijacks the cargo from his rival pothunter in the Well of Souls and discovers a large, gilded wooden box made from gold-plated acacia, ornately decorated with genuflecting angels on top. It is the Ark of the Covenant, and although it has been sealed for millennia and currently remains so, it indeed houses the original stone tablets bearing the Ten Commandments. Purportedly, it is a ‘radio for talking to God,’ but definitely don’t open it, or it will melt your face off…”

Got it. :+1: No dramatic potential whatsoever in doing it the other way… :wink:

I hear what you are saying. Immediate full disclosure of loot items keeps things moving and keeps everyone happy. I’m just not convinced it has to be the only way. That said, being the new guy taking the contrary point of view opposite immortals and moderators is a pretty uncomfortable place to be, even if my attempt at discussion is intended to be respectful, reasonable, and adequately outlined so as to have a chance to be considered valid. Better for me to listen, learn, and be enlightened.

Now is where I bow out and hope it’s not too late to follow some age-old advice: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak [any further] and remove all doubt.”


I give a general explanation of the loot, but don’t always give the exact details. I might describe the item’s appearances and say, “You know that the blade draws life from its wielder and uses that energy to destroy any undead targets it hits.” or whatever.
That, or I just hand the loot card over to the player(s).


A great topic, one I struggled with as I started to get into TTRPGs.

For me, I approach it differently depending on the game. I’m much more likely to keep an item and its effects mysterious if playing D&D proper. But even then I’ll have labels on potions and such to reduce having to do it all the time. But if a thing is not identified somehow by the time they take a rest, then I let them figure it out during said rest (per the DMG). If playing ICRPG I pretty much never do.

When GMing D&D, I take more of a slow burn. And I agree with @chrisbynum awesome example of something special like the Ark of the Covenant. Also, the game has a spell just for figuring things like this out. So its a fundamental feature of the game.

When GMing ICRPG, I pretty much never do this for a couple of reasons. One, to me ICRPG needs to be very up tempo so this sort of thing bogs the game down a bit including the extra layer of me needing to keep track of more stuff until the player knows what it is. And two, I agree with @Alex that with random loot being such a feature of this game, the roll and reveal in front of the table is a big feature. If they open a chest in a active room, I want them to be able to unleash loot they find immediately in sudden and creative ways.

So for me, the game (its pacing and vibe) I’m playing effects my decision. But yes, there are definitely pros to doing such a thing.


I do both, if it’s a simple loot item they know, if it has additional properties, I’m treating like a Downtime activity (5e style) where they spend effort to unlock more features. It’s worked out pretty good so far.


This is such a good question! I’ve been wondering the same thing because it feels a little weird to just throw it all out there, but it feels lame to say “You find a glass vial with some red liquid in it.” Really excited to see what other people’s experiences have been!


I do both. I have players who don’t WANT to know what an item does right away and they want to find out. I honestly prefer the transparency both as a GM and as a player.

Where I’m at right now is a mix of “this is exactly what this does” and certain items are mysteries, if that plays as more fun. No clear rule or line whether the players get all the details or need to discover them. And the second a mystery is giving me flat results at the table I quickly give them an explanation of what it does.


The only stupid question is the one that was never asked. (Says the guy currently asking stupid questions all over the place.) :wink:

Also, side note: the events of Raiders would have had the exact same final result if Indy had just stayed at the university and not gotten involved.


This process was part of a trunk RPG I have worked on over the years. I won’t go into the ins and outs, but basically how the PCs interacted with the Hero/Fate Point economy (along with finishing adventures certain ways, etc.) would have ongoing mechanical effects in the game world. One of these inputs was how magic items/artifacts/relics/rituals were identified.

If you grabbed the Greatsword of Baron Flarblenutz, it would function as a magic weapon with very basic functionality until you brought it to a sage, master smith, court historian, or the like. Then the player can spend a Fate Point and come up with a very short backstory or fancy description [I had the Dark Souls item descriptions in mind]. This would unlock the full set of abilities, and it would output a point to a Discovery track.

I articulated this much better in my actual document. :grimacing:

EDIT: I forgot a point, coincidental to this being the Index Card RPG. One way I had of doing the magic item lore was to have it the item on an index card. It would have three tiers- each one had a mechanical bonus/magic ability, and room for the lore on each. That way the player would know what they could get and whether they wanted to keep pumping the lore and spending points. Also, enchanting or making a magical weapon functioned similarly, but output to a different lore track.

Tl;dr: You could reward players a bonus for contributing to the lore during the magic item identification process.