Build Your Own Guild Part 3: The Dreaded Loot Question

Congratulations, New GM! You have your Guild Charter and Rules ready, and that website is up and running. Even though you’re not raiding yet, your next step is to decide what to do with the funny purple stuff that drops when you kill things. And yes, you must make this call even before you have enough members to stare down High King Maulgar. When I interview new recruits, they almost all ask me how my guild handles loot. If you create a fair means of distributing shiny epix, and you’re well on your way to having a healthy, happy, boss-destroying raiding guild. You must pick a loot system from the beginning and stick with it—the worst thing you can do is vacillate between systems and potentially cheat your members out of their just deserts.

Loot system basics:

Almost all raiding guilds use some variation of one of two types of gear distribution systems. The first is Loot Council, in which the officers or other elected body decide who gets each piece of gear that drops based on a complex ratio of need and merit. The other system is DKP, an archaic gaming term that stands for Dragon Kill Points. DKP systems allow raiders to earn points for killing bosses (or anything else the guild leadership decides is fair) and spend them for gear. There are benefits and drawbacks to both types of systems. Not everyone agrees with me either–based on her own personal experiences, Wyn gives you almost the opposite advice that I will. Listen to both of us and draw your own conclusions.

How do I choose?

Before you pick either DKP or Loot Council, you must decide what you want your loot system to accomplish. The following is a basic guide to the implicit goals of both system types.

1. Loot Council

This type of system is designed to optimize gear drops by placing them in the hands of those who will have most use for them. This may sound like the best players receive every item, but in practice, this is not true. A well-functioning Loot Council uses gear drops both to reward players for excellent performance and to help raise players to the group standard. Sometimes–perhaps often–the Council will reward the weakest player in a class and spec. All decisions are made for the good of the group, and no good items are sharded. Each member of the Loot Council must be extremely well-informed about the loot tables themselves and about the needs, wants, and skills of the player base. If a player on the Loot Council is interested in a gear drop, he or she generally bows out of the discussion on the item in question.

2. DKP

All DKP systems invest their players with “buying power,” and players get to decide what is most important to them. In all such systems, players tend to save for the best drops for themselves, assuming that they can identify them. DKP systems award gear based on attendance–more boss kills means a larger share of the loot. In this way, they can help a guild retain players over the long haul, because they can objectively track the benefits of consistent raiding. These systems are democratic in that they do not distinguish among players based on skill. As such, however, they do not always place items with the player who will get most use out of them. In addition, middling quality items will often be sharded as players learn to prioritize.

Drawbacks: Nutshell Version

Neither of these systems is perfect. Assuming real-life implementation, with no extreme chicanery, shenanigans, or other forms of bad behavior on the part of officers or raiders, here are the typical problems each system type experiences.

Loot Council:

1. The drama llama rears its ugly head

Human nature dictates that each player will be more aware of her own skills and contributions than those of others. This kind of blindness virtually guarantees that some people will not be happy with any given loot decision.

2. Inefficient use of raid time

The Loot Council will probably discuss most items as they drop. This could cost the raid upwards of 5 minutes at the end of every boss kill, which may put the guild in a crunch for longer instances with large numbers of bosses.

3. Inaccurate tracking

Unless the guild uses a mod to track drops awarded, loot may be distributed unevenly. The memory is a notoriously inaccurate instrument. Without hard numbers for attendance or drops rewarded, the Loot Council may unintentionally give more to some and less to others.

4. Bias

Human error plays a large part in the Loot Council system. We are all biased–our thoughts and feelings affect us at every moment, even though we don’t realize it. I’m not talking about malicious prejudice–I’m talking about the little unconscious leanings that occur even when we mean no harm. It would be nigh-impossible for a Loot Council to be entirely neutral toward every raider in the guild.

5. Lack of inherent structure

If you choose Loot Council, you will have to come up with the operating rules yourself. Guilds accomplish this in highly unique ways–poke around some websites and copy good ideas. You will have to determine on what basis loot is awarded, who gets to participate in the decision, and how much time will be allowed for debate.


1. Sometimes people don’t know what is best for them

Your players will spend dkp as they like, and some of them will use their points unwisely. You cannot force people to research your loot system and their class drops and come up with the absolute best strategy. People may hoard points, or they may spend them on the “wrong” items. Many perfectly serviceable pieces might end up being disenchanted or given away for off-spec.

2. It won’t stop the QQ

I can almost guarantee that the drama will be less than with Loot Council, but people will still be upset when they don’t get what they want. The complaints will be more intense as the item value increases. Remember that random loot is random, even though your dkp system is not.

3. Inaccurate tracking

If you’re using a pencil-paper system, errors will happen, and they may render the system meaningless. I strongly advocate tracking DKP with a mod if you can. If that is impossible, make sure you deputize one officer to update it, and beat him with your Riding Crop if he misses a day.

4. Every system can be played

Any time you put power in the players’ hands, there will be ways for an individual to work the system to his advantage. Most players won’t try–they will play because they enjoy it, and they’ll put in the exact same amount of participation no matter what loot system the guild uses. Others will find the exact right equation of play time to maximize their drops. It doesn’t mean they are bad people or bad players–sometimes it just goes right along with other types of min-maxing behaviors, which most raiding guilds encourage. For a concrete example, if your guild uses zero-sum dkp, points are only awarded when players take loot. For a certain player, this practice de-incentivizes progression nights, because they may earn nothing at all for a night full of wipes. Alternately, if your guild uses a positive sum dkp system, you might weight progression raids very heavily and in turn de-incentivize farm content.

5. You will have to choose a system flavor carefully

People have been playing MMOs for several years now, and there are many types of systems. In order to choose a specific DKP system, you will have to do a level of research that the Loot Council folks won’t even dream of.

DKP system types

If you’ve thought through your decision, and you’ve decided to go with DKP, here is a basic guide to system types. They all have the same core principles–democratic distribution and rewards that increase with attendance–but they manifest those principles in radically different ways. Each of these systems assumes that the person with most DKP will be offered first choice on items.

Zero-sum DKP

This system is for math nerds only–the basis of the system is that the raid’s total DKP always sits at 0. Points are awarded when a piece of gear is taken. For example, if I take the Thunderheart Helmet from Archimonde, its value will be subtracted from my DKP. For the sake of argument, let’s just say I lost 240 points. The other 24 people in the raid will be awarded 1/24 of the points I just spent, or 10 points each. This is one of those systems that really, really requires a mod to track, because you will have to recalculate after each piece of loot is awarded. The guild will also have to decide how many points each item is worth, because after all, not all pieces are created equal.

Positive-sum DKP: Additive

This system is similar to zero-sum dkp, but it allows the guild to add points to the system for anything and everything, including attendance and progression. As with zero-sum, each item is worth a certain number of points, and when a player receives a drop, the item’s value is subtracted from her total. Players may go below zero. These systems tend to get very, very inflated, and the gap between the bottom of the top can be just crazy.

Positive-sum DKP: Relational

The basic system of this type is Ep/Gp, which I must say is my favorite of all possible systems and the one my guild uses. A person’s DKP is a ratio calculated from her Effort Points divided by her Gear Points. Effort points are typically awarded either for boss kills, with each boss assigned a specific value, or for minutes of participation. My guild awarded points for boss kills in TBC but we’re switching over to an easier, more automatic points per minute system for Wrath. Ratios always stay above zero, and if you implement the system as intended (which I STRONGLY suggest), decay controls inflation. To decay the system, you reduce everyone’s EP and GP by a certain percentage at determined moments. The system designers mention 10% per raid as a good figure, and I tend to agree. The purpose of decay is to shrink the gaps in the list–this practice lets new players move up faster despite lower total attendance. In addition, players who have a long dry spell with no loot will remain near the top of the list even after they take their first item, making things more fair over the long haul. This process, in combination with the decay, also tends to discourage hoarding. The cherry on top of the system is the excellent mod that comes with it. The item values are built-in, and anyone with the proper clearance can update the system during the raid. I’ve been master looting for my guild using this system since January, and it works like a charm. The only caveat is that you must back up the data every week–content patches almost always wipe the system.

Suicide Kings

What would happen if you had 100% decay on Ep/Gp? You’d have Suicide Kings. This sorta-system belongs in the DKP list, but just barely. To use Suicide Kings, random roll all of your members into positions and arrange them in a list with number 1 at the top. Person #1, regardless of attendance, skill, or whatever, will have first crack at anything that drops. When he takes something, he will move to the last position. Suicide Kings is extremely easy to track, even with a pencil-paper method, but you may see extreme problems with hoarding or with raider apathy. Expect some raiders only to show up if their names are near the top.

Other rules:

Any system works better if you have some courtesy rules or guidelines in place. Heck, I’ve even seen random roll work for the top alliance guild on our server, and it’s because their guild has a culture of sharing. All guilds should encourage players to be kind to their fellows and to pass things when they can afford to. In addition, no matter what system you choose, your officers or class officers should not hesitate to give advice on gear choice. If possible, persuade people out of bad decisions. Sometimes you will have to lay down the law. For example, if a paladin wants to spend her DKP on cloth healing gloves that are also a significant upgrade for your priest, don’t let her do it. In addition, some guilds make a special exception for their main tanks and gear them up first. We have never done that, and our tanks are well-geared just because their attendance is good. If you want to move very fast, though, you may need to get that gear on the tank regardless of his DKP. Likewise, if one of your players needs to perform a special role, make sure he or she has the gear to do it. For example, my guild awarded the first Void-Star Talisman to our warlock tank for Leotheras. Every member of the guild was happy about the decision, because we all wanted to get to Leo as fast as possible.

And lastly, good luck. You’ll need it to get through the loot system minefield without life-threatening injury or, at the least, major scarring.

14 thoughts on “Build Your Own Guild Part 3: The Dreaded Loot Question”

  1. As usual I tend to favour DKP and personal responsibility, though as current Raid Leader, architect of Guild DKP and manager it can be horribly annoying, but I feel the responsibility should lie with the individual rather than with a council since many of these drops are hard to work out on the spur of the moment.

    For a guild with a low number of raiding nights (we currently have 3), a loot council’s time component is key, its huge compared to the time we raid and its hard enough to get a raid to move zones quickly (MH to BT for example) without slowing the raid after each pull, seeing a faster move is much better, and continual pulling helps a lot to keep a raid on track since any extended gap tends to result in players starting to “I don’t need anything here I will just afk…” moments.

    I would say that any system being abused is very likely to happen, and that there is no real way to reward both farm and progression nights using a single system since there is a large divide in their meaning and purpose. Especially clear must the divide be (oh wonderful yoda speak I am) when dealing with a reforming / reformed guild where your progression bosses are / were farm bosses for many of your raiders and suddenly they still don’t need anything but its being treated like a “flask or die” moment when in truth for them its been a “flask if you have spare gold and can be bothered to click” fight for ages. I would say that the loot council is likely more immune to this than DKP however in so being you need to be careful to spread around gear irrespective of the “best for the guild” mentality otherwise players for whom its a minor upgrade but have not gotten anything recently will begin to wonder why exactly they are raiding.

    Anyway, random probably unrelated post above. This topic will be controversial no matter which way you jump, and its really down to personal preference and your raiders themselves that can make the decision. I haven’t been in a loot council guild, but I rebel against the idea of being told whats best for me especially in situations like the TBC -> LK switch where the best gear for me now is not in a few weeks, yet the gear I need would be prioritised to another class giving them a massive head start in LK in terms of viability (and Naxx has been shown to be BT / Sunwell gearable in parts).

  2. DKP scare me.

    My guild is fairly small (~100 people) and it seems to be the same people raiding consistently. Since we all know each other so well, most of the time we allow random roll for primary spec, prioritized by the type of player and type of gear (ie. priest/cloth, druid/leather, etc).

    On occasion if the raid leader doesn’t think that the highest roller is the one who needs the item the most (and how often the person raids, etc, is taken into account), a guild council type of activity will take place.

    This does seem to work for a small guild such as mine that has not advanced “that” far into progression raids.

  3. We use neither 🙂

    Pride of St George is a small social guild that raids a bit. 10-man content (i said we’re small!!!) and the loot ‘system’ is basically ‘group consent’.

    You roll on loot if it’s an upgrade for you. All players are equal. If noone needs for main spec then off-spec rolls are allowed. If there are still no takers then we DE it.

    Simple and, in the last year of operatin this policy, we’ve only had one person – someone non-core to the group – QQ about not getting any phat lootz.

    This works for us only because we’re social (some of us meet regularly for movies and beer) and because we’re small. Someone trying to ninja/grab what they don’t need stands out too much. We’re also lucky that our guys are all very cool people who place friendship before rewards.

    Maybe they see the friendships as the reward?

    Hopefully this will work for us in Wrath even if we continue to grow a little as we have recently!

  4. Nice post, I just wanted to add that I used Sucicide Kings for the guild I ran. To prevent the hording issue of loot we added a pass three times and lose your spot clause. If three upgrades came your way and you passed them down, you would lose your top spot. However, even without it, if the top guy passed it down, other people had fair crack at it anyways. In all reality holding a spot didn’t do much for you if you were passing everything down. But I could see the problem if it were say a rogue holding out for some wargraives. That’s why we added the three strikes you’re out thing. Just thought I’d throw that out there.

  5. To address Ulv’s point: random roll, or need v. greed, are actually systems, but they won’t work in pure form. Think about all those ninja looters from the pugs you’ve done in the past…grrr.

    You have to add other rules, like only roll on stuff for your class and spec, one item per night, pass to people who haven’t gotten something for a while, etc. Then it’s really not random roll is it? It’s a conglomeration of idiosyncratic rules.

    I prefer systems that have stated rules so that new players know what the guild culture is going in. I’ve recruited a lot of players for a fairly large guild, and being clear about the loot policy is quite important in that context.

    The other thing I dislike about random roll is the luck factor. Over time, two people who put in the same amount of participation may get significantly different amounts of gear because one is lucky and one is not. I just don’t feel good about that.

  6. @Apotygmaa–unfortunately, I haven’t seen a better way of dealing with mixed runs (guild members and pickup players) than going off-system and doing random roll for that night. No one’s happy about it in guild, but if you need help, that’s the price everyone must pay.

  7. Once the Damnation Army was ready to begin raiding, I as the GM had to come up with a loot system, something we’d not needed before and I had no experience with (I’d never raided either- we’re a town defense guild and only casually raid).

    I liked the simplicity of the DKP system as well as the control it left in the hands of each individual player, but also considered what I saw its potential shortcoming one evening when an announcement went out in /general from one of the higher-end raiding guilds of our server. They’d lost someone in Hyjal and needed a spot replacement. The announcement said that the guild used a DKP system but the brave volunteer could ‘begin to accrue points.’

    That seemed a touch disingenuous to me, because I imagined that everyone else proabably had a sizable bankroll of DKP and the pugged player would only benefit from some sort of trickle-down wherein the rest of the raid passed on something. And in a guild-only run in a bind, when would the volunteer ever have a chance to run with them again?

    So if the strong point of DKP is that it rewards continuing contributions towards the raid objective, it can also stifle reward accessibility by new people (pugged or inguild, either way) who might also want to contribute and whose participation might might the difference between a run and a reschedule.

    So I developed a system that was something of a compromise called ‘Roll Points,’ which we as well as our allied raiding guild now both consistently employ.

    In short, for every boss you help down you get a ‘roll point,’ which is tracked from raid to raid. Then, when loot drops, the loot master (typically me) will announce the first item and ask for ‘bids’ (onspec first, then if no takers offspec). These are done in whisper, secret from everyone else, and they inform me how many points they would like to use on the item.

    Once all such bids have been taken, I’ll announce who is bidding and how many roll points they’ve bid. Each bidder then /rolls once for each roll point they spent, and the item goes to the highest roller. All other points are lost.

    This element of chance defines the system. While it rewards the dedicated raider (who will have more points to bid overall), it gives the new member a shot at getting the drop as well, even if they only have one roll point to their name (from the boss we just killed together). This keeps them engaged instead of tuning out and hoping nobody else wants it. Both players have their efforts rewarded.

    Sure it can have some heartbreaking results (last week I lost with a string of horrid rolls after bidding seven points to the other priest’s three), but while it’s taken a little time getting used to, across two guilds we feel its the fairest way given our circumstances (and in the name of fairness and transparency, when an item drops that I am to bid on, I’ll whisper a member of the other guild in the run and tell them how many points I intend to bid before calling for everyone else’s whispers).

    Should we progress past Kara we may tinker with how many roll points more advanced bosses will yield, but for now it works great!

  8. Ahh, nice post!

    When we formed up our guild, we put a lot of thought into our loot system, and decided that dkp wasn’t the way to go for us.

    What we end up doing is whoever is there to help kill the boss gets to roll on whatever item they want, and as the GMship we reserve the right to push it to a loot council in the event that somebody makes a poor choice. We’ve only ever overturned one or two loot rolls that were either an offspec vs a mainspec where the offspec won, or someone rolling on a pattern they clearly couldn’t use.

    Most the time if we have say..two hunters rolling on something, or two shaman, the winner asks the other(s) what they are replacing with the item, and in many cases, the winner ends up passing to the next roller if their personal upgrade is more marginal.

    Its worked pretty well for us! I love reading up about loot systems, they continually interest me, even if I don’t participate in them.

    There’s definitely a lot of merits to DKP systems, as well as Loot councils for sure! The point made in your nutshell summation is what it always ends up boiling down to. When the Officers, or the Powers-that-be fail, the loot system will fail.

    snostreblas last blog post..Fraps isn’t all fun and games..

  9. Syd – you’re right of course – it is indeed a system although very light-touch and very different to DKP or Loot Council.

    Group consent is certainly something that works but only within parameters as we use and prioritise it – need vs greed, main vs off-spec.

    I suspect that, with Wrath giving raid progression to 10-man theams, we will see other systems coming to the fore that wouldn’t be suitable for 25+

    I’m also lucky in that I don’t remember every being in a PUG with a Ninja and we haven’t had that issue in guild. Yet!

  10. I’m uncertain if you understand how Suicide Kings actually works. When you bid and receive loot, you suicide, i.e. drop to the bottom of the list. The thing is, the players on the list but not in raid remain stationary on the list. So if you don’t show up to raids, you cannot move up the list. There is no way to move up the list with out actually raiding. With regard to camping a high spot on the list, it happens but with responsive and responsible guild members, it’s not much of an issue.

  11. Bobert: Yeah, I figured that as much. I know there’s a few variations of SK out there. So hopefully the guys at the bottom of the list can leapfrog the players that don’t show up.

  12. The players that don’t show up are frozen on the SK list. They don’t move at all. The rest of the raid moves around them whether they’re at the bottom or the top or anywhere else. This is the essence of SK in every variation. It’s only the mods that vary, not the concept. And the ppl who save their high spot on the list only short change themselves. Either the loot goes to someone else who needs it or it gets de’d. It’s a minimal input system that works very well.


Leave a Comment