|The typical D&D party distributing items at the end of the adventure.|
Magic items are a funny thing in D&D. They tend to be fairly important to players as resources, and as such, can bring out a competitive side to a group that otherwise gets along well. My players have told me stories of games when they were young, where guys got into yelling matches about the distribution of items. I haven't experienced that, but there's usually that guy at the table that wants every item, regardless of their class or role. I have a funny memory running X2 Castle Amber in Colorado a few years, before moving to Pennsylvania; the group had lost a bunch of guys to Killer Trees, including their magic user, and the magic item hoarder had picked over the bodies pretty well. "I'll just carry all the spell books, wands, potions, rings, etc, for the dead guys - just in case". They learned about a high level Amber family cleric who might be able to raise their dead magic user, but before they could do it, the guy carrying every magic item got petrified. After they raised their magic user, his spell book and items were stuck in a solid stone backpack because they let one person hoard all the gear. Good times. But I digress.
My current group has five players. We've gamed together for a few years now, but it's hard to get everyone together for every session; we have a rule that if at least three players can make it, that's a quorum, and we play. (Thus I wax longingly on the virtues of episodic games that allow players to slide in and out).
In addition to transient players, we're using a lot of retainers in the current game. (Henchman and hirelings are Retainers in Moldvay Basic). By the book, retainer morale is checked whenever something awful happens, and in between adventurers. So far, the retainers have been fairly well treated and no one has left in between adventures due to morale… but it's only a matter of time, right?
Which finally brings me to my point about magic items. Last session, the group proposed a radical idea to managing items going forward; they incorporated themselves as an adventuring company and agreed on some by-laws. Their first official policy governed magic items: Henceforth, all magic items found by the party is property of the corporation, to be distributed from the company store at the beginning of each adventure.
There were two major reasons for enacting the charter; the first one was since players miss game sessions, they wanted a way to redistribute items at the start of each session to reflect who was actually going out there. If you only have one magic sword, and it's in the possession of the guy that's never there, it doesn't help the group that goes out to the dungeon and runs into a wight. The charter also means they can freely loan items to some of the retainers, and minimize the fear the retainer will take the items and run. (When a morale roll is failed and a retainer splits, he'll probably try to take everything he can anyway, so that should be some quality DM entertainment when it happens).
The charter also covers wealth - partners get 2 shares each, retainers get 1 share each, and where possible, they try to sell everything and convert it to coins.
Are my players visionaries, or taking this all too seriously? Have any of your groups gone so far as to create a charter and turn the magic items into "community property"? I'd like to hear how magic item and treasure distribution works in some of your games.