Which monster do you use, and when? How much treasure do you give out? Matching up foes with PCs of a given level, as well as giving guidance to Dungeon Masters regarding how much treasure to award PCs of a given level, have been a hallmark of the game for the last fifteen years. But before that, such guidance was given with a very light touch—almost none at all. DMs were on their own.
On the one hand, such guidance is great. New DMs are left out in the cold without it. They can make grievous mistakes that end up wiping out entire parties, and campaigns can become unbalanced by a powerful magic item. Some kind of Challenge Rating system and expected treasure guidelines potentially make the DM’s life easier. Guidelines for what should be expected by players can create a balanced approach to the progression of the game.
On the other hand, such guidance can be intrusive. Players take these expectations and, well, expect them. If a DM gives out different treasure or uses monsters of a level not synched with the PCs, there is a perception by some that he or she is “doing it wrong.” Guidelines have a tendency to be seen as hard-and-fast rules. This guidance can also disrupt a more “sandbox” approach to campaign design. Many groups enjoy a more risk-and-reward approach, which allows informed players to attempt encounters potentially too difficult for them so that they can gain treasures that would normally be “beyond them.” Or, likewise, some play it safe with foes of lesser risk, but they get the short end of the stick as far as treasure goes.
Even that, however, assumes there is some kind of relationship between the two. One could envision a game where everything—monsters and treasures—is entirely random.
What kind of approach do you favor? Rate each on a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being “not important at all” and 5 being “vital to the game.”
DM guidance for monsters (some kind of CR system).
DM freedom to present what he or she wants.
Players can balance risk versus reward.
Random monsters and treasures.