Loot, the one great equaliser. Hardcore or otherwise, you want loot. Maybe you you want loot to perform your role better, or perhaps it’s just a status symbol — either way, you really want those shiny loots.

The main reason for attending raids (after securing your position in the world rankings!) is to get loot. This isn’t a bad thing — as a guild leader you want lots of loot flowing into the guild. It’s actually your prerogative, after racing for the world rankings, to make sure loot flows quickly and easily into the guild. There’s even a phrase that defines your success which I first heard 2 or 3 years ago: Purples Per Hour (PPH). Raising the happiness of your guild might really be as simple as increasing the PPH (‘Purples’ are ‘epic items’, if you are new to the WoW lingo).

This should come as no surprise, as wiping for hours and hours without any kind of reward obviously drives down the morale of your raid. Only the most hardcore and determined raids can keep up a high level of wiping for more than a few hours — it’s really just not very fun! That’s why it’s often beneficial to take a break from the wiping and head to an easier, farmed instance — to increase your PPH!

So, let’s imagine you’ve wiped for hours and hours (or even weeks and weeks!) and finally you kill the boss. Even as that wave of  elation is still riding through the raid, people are rushing forward to check what glorious little purple pixels have dropped. The most tricky problem of all rears its ugly head: 25 people have killed the boss, but only a handful will be rewarded. How do you decide who gets the loot?! This is a question that has plagued groups for as long as loot has existed. It was a problem in MUDs, Ultima Online, Asheron’s Call, EverQuest — you name any online game and there’s been issues over the distribution of loot.

Luckily, various systems have been devised to assist the fair distribution of loot, and that’s what I’m going to talk about today.

What’s the point in ‘fair’ loot distribution?

This is a valid question to ask — why should you care about how loot is distributed? Why not just /roll for everything? Damn, why not just fight each other for the loot? Survival of the fittest! (That’s how they do the loot in some single-nationality guilds!)

It should be fairly obvious why you want to use a fair loot distribution system:

  • Avoid drama — Every guild’s worst nightmare, and the best way to pop the guild leader’s 3 remaining blood vessels — yes, it’s drama over loot. Giving the ‘wrong’ person an item of loot is… well… it’s not pleasant. You want to avoid it all costs!
  • Keeps people happy — Following on from the previous point, a transparent loot system is incredibly important to the happiness and survival of a guild. Having a ‘fair system’ removes drama, but having a structured, transparent system, where almost everything about the loot distribution process is known by the raiders is incredibly useful.
  • Loot utilisation — You want a system that makes sure every upgrade is taken. The main reason you are raiding is to gear up, to make future content easier (or to frag people faster in battlegrounds). Disenchanting items is a waste, and a good loot distribution system should try to eliminate wastage.

What is ‘fair’ distribution?

You might’ve heard me talk about it in previous articles, but one of the keys to guild leadership (or any form of leadership for that matter) is being fair. At a really basic level, this would mean that both player A and B get one item of loot. That’s fair. You buy both of your children a burger. That’s a good place to begin: ’1 item each per raid’ is actually not a bad starting point for loot distribution! But now, imagine you’ve spent 3 weeks trying to kill a boss; Player A has been to every raid, but player B has only turned up for the first kill of the boss. Neither player has had any loot that raid — who should get an item from this fresh kill?

Now imagine another similar situation: player A wipes on a boss for weeks, but doesn’t attend the first kill of the boss. Perhaps they were late, or perhaps their internet connection failed — but they’ve put in a lot of effort, so you have to reward them somehow, right?

What is the best way to handle such situations? Well, it certainly depends on your definition of fair, but let’s look at the different kinds of loot distribution first. They break down into the following types:

  • DKP-based – Originating from EverQuest (DKP stands for ‘Dragon Kill Points’), this is a system that keeps track of player attendance and loot drops, and awards differing amounts of points, depending on the variant used.
  • Loot Council — This uses a council (or in some guilds just a single chairman) to decide the distribution of loot.
  • Rolling and other systems — These methods normally revolve around using WoW’s built-in /roll function, generating a number between 1 and 100. Depending on the variant, it might be as simple as winning a roll, or there might be some kind of modifier applied to your roll. Other ‘simple’ systems are alsoincluded  in this category; systems that keep little track of player effort or attendance, but provide quick (and quite fair) ways of distributing loot.

What is the best and ‘most fair’ system? You’ll have to read on to find out!

DKP-based loot distribution

By far the most popular system is DKP. DKP is a system where there is some kind of reward system for the effort given by a certain player. Most DKP systems reward for attendance, but there are other systems that are slightly more complex. I will talk about the kinds of DKP-based systems, and how best to use them.

Attendance-based

This is where you are awarded DKP for your raid attendance. The best (and most popular) method is time-based DKP where you are award DKP per hour, often with bonuses for attending on time, or staying until the end of the raid. Some systems just give a flat amount of DKP per raid, but these are less common (and less fair). This system can use either fixed-cost items, or allow for bidding.

Pros:

  • Incredibly fair method of awarding effort and attendance (those that put the most time and effort in are inevitably rewarded).
  • You can create very large incentives for attending on time, and for staying until the end (this is a huge bonus, trust me)
  • Very flexible. You could also award bonus DKP for boss kills, or coming prepared to raids, etc.

Cons:

  • Item pricing is very important. It is by far the most important aspect of DKP-based systems — get it wrong, and your system will be pointless. I’ll discuss item pricing later.
  • New members might find it hard to ‘catch up’ with those at the top as they will always be spending DKP to gear up, while the old members already have their loot. This is a problem with all DKP systems though, but I will propose a workable solution later.
  • You can’t easily ‘boost’ certain players, like your main tank (I don’t find this a problem, but some guilds might).

Loot-based (or zero-sum)

Here you are awarded DKP dependent on what loot drops — more loot drops, more DKP is awarded. If an item drops and it has a value of 25 DKP, everyone in a 25-person raid is awarded 1 DKP. The player that buys it spends 25 DKP. The total DKP in the system is still zero (and thus why these systems are called ‘zero-sum’!)

Pros:

  • Less inflation than attendance-based systems (you don’t have all those wipe-raids generating DKP).
  • Encourages bosses to be killed, as that’s the only thing that grants DKP!

Cons:

  • There is no incentive to attend wipe raids! (The only real reason to avoid this kind of loot system).
  • No way to reward players for attending raids, or staying until the end.

To bid, or not to bid?

Most WoW guilds today run attendance-based DKP. They might’ve tried other systems, but settled on an attendance-based DKP system as it is the only one that properly awards effort (and avoids the most drama). Attendance-based systems are split into two types: fixed-price and bidding.

Depending on which guild leader (or raider!) you ask, they are probably highly polarised, stating one method as far superior to the other. Bidding certainly has its place, but is incredibly hard to control (you need things like a ‘minimum price’ to make sure the system isn’t abused) and ultimately you will end up with a Killer player trying to abuse the system. Bidding systems can work, and do allow huge flexibility in awarding bonuses, but they are tricky to implement and maintain. You also have to remember that some classes have ‘unfair’ loot itemisation — a warlock might only need 20 items, but a warrior that both tanks and deals damage might need 40 items.

Because of the pain of managing a bidding system, the difficulty of keeping it fair for all classes, and the massive increase in the time spent assigning loot, I would always recommend a fixed-price loot system.

DKP bonuses… and penalties!

DKP bonuses and penalties are a sticky subject. Do you award bonus DKP for turning up early? Or do you remove DKP from someone for turning up late?  Assuming you are using an attendance-based system, you can award or deduct DKP for just about anything (and what is most effective will depend from guild to guild). The key, as always, is to be fair.

With 4 years of raid-leading experience, I would strongly recommend awarding DKP for the following:

  • Turning up on time — This is a no-brainer. Award bonus DKP for people that arrive before the ‘first pull’ time. Award a disproportionate amount of DKP for attending on time. Marvel as tardy players start to turn up on time.
  • Staying the full duration – Likewise, award people DKP for staying until the end of the raid. The only thing worse than starting late is someone leaving half way through the raid, leaving you without a replacement.

You could also award DKP for a first kill, or staying beyond the normal end of raid time. In general, you are trying to reward behaviour that increases your raid’s health or guild’s progress. You really do not want to deduct DKP from players — it’s better to replace them, either temporarily or permanently. I don’t want to go into the psychology of it, but let’s leave it at this: it is better to feed them the carrot than shove it up their ass.

DKP bonuses are the key to driving healthy raids and progress. They can make or break whether you start on time, or go the full duration. The number of first kills that we’ve had in the last 30 minutes of a raid is huge — if we’d started late, or ended early, we might never have got those kills!

Fixed-priced attendance-based DKP

I’ve finally arrived at the holy grail of loot distribution. You award DKP for attendance, with suitable bonuses for being prompt and staying the full duration. Only one factor remains — the most important one, really — pricing the loot.

There are many ways to price loot, but I’m going to give you the best one (which we’ve only reached after 4 years of getting it wrong in all kinds of ways). This is another ‘insider secret’ which I hope other guilds can use effectively — old guilds that have been looking for the right pricing system all these years, or new guilds that are looking at good DKP systems before they start raiding.

The Iron Edge Loot Pricing System (At least, I think we invented it)

Over the past 4 years we’ve tried just about every kind of DKP-based system, but nothing really worked until we finally discovered the best way to price items. With accurate item pricing, it just became a matter of balancing the DKP earnt per raid — much, much easier than trying to mess around with taxing and other complicated things.

It’s incredibly simple. To start with, to derive a ‘slot multiplier’ (the places you can equip items), we work with Blizzard’s own stat weighting system, with some modifications by us, to take into account the value of a bow/gun to a hunter, or to a non-hunter:

  • Two-hand weapon & Hunter ranged weapon = 1.5 * normal stat weighting
  • Head, Chest, Legs, 1-hand weapon = normal stat weighting (1)
  • Shoulder, Hands, Waist, Feet, Trinket, Hunter 2-hand weapon = 0.75 * normal stat weighting
  • Wrist, Neck, Back, Finger, Off-hand/Shield = 0.50 * normal stat weighting
  • Ranged, Hunter 1-hand, Libram/Idol/Totem = 0.30 * normal stat weighting

This stat-weighting system used by Blizzard is why you always hoard DKP for  head/chest items, and why you’re always bitter about spending DKP on a new libram or totem.

So with a ‘fair’ slot multiplier, we  now need a way to work out the base price for an item, compared to other items of the same kind (the price of totem A compared to totem B). We again use one of Blizzard’s built-in systems: ‘item level‘. Totem A has an item level of 200, Totem B has an item level of 213 — totem B should cost more!

The formula we apply is: (Item Level – 200) * 8 * Slot Multiplier

(200 is the ‘base’ value for the expansion — it was 100 in TBC, and now it’s 200 for WOTLK — why multiply by 8? It gives nice numbers around 100, but below 1000).

Right now it just looks like a bunch of formulae, so here are some examples.

  • Belt of Hogwarts drops from Dumbledore. It has an item level of 226. Its price is (226 – 200) * 8 * 0.75 = 156 DKP.
  • Gandalf’s Staff of Power drops from Sauron. It has an item level of 226. Its price is (226 – 200) * 8 * 1.5 = 312 DKP.

You can already see that the pricing looks kind of ‘fair’, with the big items costing more than the ‘less important’ armour pieces.

A good item pricing system like this is really the corner-stone of a raiding guild’s success. Please use it!

Tips & tricks for DKP-based systems

Now we have a fair way of pricing items, and a fair way to earn DKP based on your continued effort and attendance. There’s not much left to say, just a few tricks (and pitfalls) that we’ve discovered while fine-tuning our DKP system.

  • A ‘zero cap’ is a very good idea — Quite an interesting idea to get your head around, but if people can’t go below zero, people are always encouraged to take loot if they are already at the bottom. This encourages people to take everything that drops, with relatively very little hoarding (only the top few players will hoard, but it’s ultimately their loss to do so — they are getting less loot!). We achieve this by resetting all players with negative DKP to zero, after updating the DKP as usual.
  • Reduced DKP costs for off-spec items — This is an idea that often gets pushed around, and depending on the makeup of your guild is either frowned or smiled upon. Guilds that like to PVP a lot often like cheap/free off-spec items. We found with our zero-capped system that people at the bottom took all the off-spec items they could, while the people hoarding DKP at the top didn’t care much for off-spec items. With Blizzard’s tokenised loot system, you could start with off-spec items having the same cost, but make them free once everyone has their main-spec PVE loot.
  • How much DKP to award per hour — With fixed item costs, the DKP you award per hour of raiding is the key to controlling inflation. If you find that the people at the top of the DKP list are more than 1 or 2 items ahead of the bottom, you will want to reduce DKP earnt. It’s very hard to give you a definite number to start with, but anything from around 30 to 60 DKP earnt per raid is probably ‘OK’. Play around with it until you find a number that suits your number of wipes, and Purples Per Hour (PPH)!
  • A single, combined DKP system is fine — Some guilds like to run multiple DKP systems, one for each dungeon. This is bad idea. If you farm an instance, and a new dungeon comes out, your long-time raiders effectively lose their DKP that they’ve saved up. You can successfully run one DKP system for all instances — the key is managing the amount of DKP earnt per raid! We ran one DKP system for the entire Burning Crusade, with the top players never being more than 2 or 3 items above the people at zero DKP!

A brief word about loot councils and /roll systems

If you’ve made it this far, you’ve probably realised that I believe DKP systems to be the best way of distributing loot — and it is for raiding guilds. No discussion of loot distribution would be complete, however, without discussing the other two kinds of distribution: loot council and rolling/other systems.

Loot Council (or sometimes simply ‘loot chairman’)

Often also known as ‘who’s been brown-nosing the tyrant the most?’ or ‘a very quick way to develop discontent and distrust in the leadership’, a loot council uses humans to decide who gets loot. Because humans are involved in the decision-making process, this system is inevitably flawed — it is unfair. It’s all good when the main tank is being geared up first, but then things start to go wrong. One rogue is geared quickly, while the other 2 have to sit and wait for ‘their turn’. Perhaps if you’ve somehow upset the chairman, or the council, you might never get loot.

The only time this system works is when you have a leader (or council) that the guild fully supports. In theory it is the best system for quick raid progression, but it’s simply too difficult to balance over a long period of time. The only time you will see this used effectively is in the very top guilds where the focus is only on first kills, and not the gearing up process — but even then, these guilds tend to have very high churn; a constant stream of newbies is required to replace the guys that couldn’t hack waiting 6 months for their first epic item.

Rolling and other ‘casual friendly’ systems

Roll systems are great for smaller raid and dungeon groups. They are quick, they are painless and they are fair if there is little or no wiping. Roll systems fall down when you have to keep track of effort and attendance, but for raid groups where everyone is a real life friend, or the same 5/10 people are always present, /rolling is a very viable system indeed. You can make it more complex and do ‘weighted rolling’ where someone with more DKP gets a bonus to their roll (this lets new players always have a ‘chance’ of winning items), but at the end of the day you should either roll, or use DKP!

I should also mention, just quickly, systems such as ‘Suicide Kings’ and ‘Spend All’, where the system only keeps track of whether you’ve had an item recently — or not. These are glorified ’1 item per run’ systems; take an item, and you drop down to the bottom of the list. There you must wait until everyone above you has taken an item before you can get another (you can also take items that no one wants, from the bottom — which is nice!).

Notes

I’ve skirted around topics such as taxation and ‘main tank priority’, and completely ignored some topics such as ‘gearing up alts’ and ‘upgrades should cost less’. What I’ve described here is the exact system my guild used to distribute loot through TBC (and will continue to do so through WOTLK), with no taxation, no priorities, and no reduced upgrade prices. Gearing up alts is a sticky subject, and not one I want to discuss here; focus on your main raiders for now!

DKP is definitely not an easy solution, and can require a lot of administration, but is definitely worth it in the long run. Perhaps it’s time to delegate the role of DKP officer to one of those helpful SBDs in the guild?

Resources

I’ve compiled a list of useful websites and addons for anyone trying to develop a loot system for your guild. Please let me know if I’ve missed something important from the list!

  • EQDKP — The software most commonly used to track DKP. You can host it yourself, or use a site like Guildomatic if you don’t have your own website (but you might not be track DKP in the way that you wish)
  • RT_Import — A modification to EQDKP that allows you to easily award DKP per hour, with start and end bonuses.
  • ct_raidtracker — A useful mod for tracking the attendees of your raid — you’ll need this to import data into EQDKP.
  • Suicide Kings — if you’re a casual guild leader reading this, or you simply don’t like the overhead of managing DKP, you might be interested in checking Suicide Kings out. It’s surprisingly fair!

If you have any questions about the issues or topics raised here, I’m more than happy to answer them. You can ask them in a comment, or email me using this form.

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Sebastian

I am a tall, hairy, British writer who blogs about technology, photography, travel, and whatever else catches my eye.

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