I always stood by handing out coin as treasure. Be it gems, pieces of art, or some other type of precious item, I’ve always been a fan of awarding monetary treasure to groups. 4E uses a pretty regimented structure for treasure rewards. For the most part I like it. It’s a pretty good guideline how much a DM should be awarding for each level. You can switch this around, add a little more (or be a little light) and have an idea where a party would be compared to a ‘typical’ group of the same level.
Lately though, I’ve been tinkering around with dropping the idea of coin/gem parcels completely. I’ve found I haven’t been really keeping track of the mundane stuff my group buys. I’ve been hand waving coin spent on supplies, arrows, food and ale. It is only the odd items like potions or magical weapons that I’ve stepped up with a formal price. Maybe a fairly large ticket item like a new set of armor or a horse might dip a little deeper into the PC’s pockets, but for the most part I just let the mundane stuff slide.
So I started using a more abstract way to keep track of wealth. I started to refer to coin treasure parcels as chests, bags, or piles of coin. When my group gets a coin parcel, I just say that they found a substantial amount of coin and precious gems (or art) that is equal to one chest of treasure.
I’ve completely substituted coin treasure parcels with 2, 1, or 1/2 chests of treasure. I let the group figure out how to split them up, but I tell them to keep things at the minimum of 1/2 share. A breakdown of the parcel rewards can be found here. I keep the magic items similar to the tables in the DM manual and just replace the coin parcels with the appropriate amount of chests.
The big trick of course is to figure out what the treasure chests are worth if a character wants to spend them. I set the value of a chest equal to treasure parcel 7 at the player’s current level. So a lvl 4 player is thinking about cashing in his chests and wants to figure out how much coin he has. He has 2 1/2 chests, looking at parcel 7 for a lvl 4 group, I tell him he has a total of 700 gp (280 gp + 280 gp + 140 gp).
This makes it a pretty easy way to figure out the value for any magical item. Simply take the value in gold, divide it by the gold coin value for treasure parcel 7 at the group’s level, and round up to 1/2 a parcel if needed. It works and it scales pretty well as the characters advance.
It does break down with potions though. I stick by keeping the minimum unit of treasure chests at 1/2, and for consumables, this does get a little inflated at the higher levels. So if possible I try to make sure that a player buy potions that can make up at least 1/2 a parcel. As an example, 1/2 a chest of a lvl 4 parcel would be 140 gp. If a player wanted to buy a single healing potion, I’d say for amount of treasure a player could buy 2 potions (rather than stick him with the loss).
I’d also stand by either swapping out the appropriate amount potions for treasure chests, or just be sure to award 2-3 potions over an entire level. I try not to be tight with handing out potions, and at level 5 or greater, their effect really diminishes compared to a character’s normal healing surge.
So where did I pull out all these values? If you total up the treasure gained during a level and divide it by the number of coin treasure parcels (6), you get an average that is roughly equal to treasure parcels 7 or 8. Also, if you take the gold value of a magic item and divide it by 3, you also roughly get the equivalent coin chest value at that level (PHB pg. 223). It scales pretty well. If a level 1 player wanted to buy a level 5 magic item, it would take roughly 8 1/2 chests of treasure (a lvl 1 chest being 120 gp). But the same item being bought by a lvl 5 player would only be 3 chests.
This is an abstract way of handling wealth. I’m trying to straddle a simple way of handling coin and gems as treasure, but still keep it in line with the ‘gold = magic item of level X’ formula in the rules. So far it has worked out, but as my group advances I’ll be interested in seeing how well it holds up. So if you’ve done other means of handling treasure, what have you used?