Overview of Loot Systems

Zomgepics! The joy, the sorrow. The absolute headache for anyone running a guild. This is a followup article to The Most Successful Loot Systems.

Any system that involves large teams and limited loot (for example, PvE raiding in World of Warcraft) requires a system to sort that loot out. If your 25-person group takes down a raid boss, and that boss drops 4 items, how do you determine who gets those items? It takes time and effort to raid, and someone has to get gear before someone else.

There are many, many kinds of loot systems. However, all of the ones I'm aware of fall into three broad categories: earn and spend, higher authority, and random.


You earn something outside of the game through participation, which I'll call guild juice. You spend your guild juice competitively on gear that drops in those raids, while your fellow raiders are doing their guild juice in the same way.

There are many, many kinds of Earn and Spend systems. You might have heard of DKP, which people commonly call points, and has dozens of implementations.


  • Good feeling of user control.
    You earn guild juice by participating in raids. Save and spend your juice as you like, according to your guild's rules. If you decide that you want a piece of loot more than anyone else, then spend more juice than everyone else when you see it. If you don't have enough juice, then earn more juice.
  • Defined, public rule system.
    Conflicts can (theoretically) be resolved by pointing at your guild's posted policy: "Listen, I'm sorry that you want to spend your juice on your alt, but we've got a rule for that right here."
  • Quick.
    Item is up, whisper me your juice bid. Done.


  • Can be a nightmare to administer. Addons usually come into play at some point, and these addons are typically perfect for the author but not for you.
  • Selfish people will game the system.
    A firsthand example: When I became raid leader, I inherited a DKP point system. Members would not show up for raids on time, knowing that there was 20+ minutes of trash to clear before the first boss. I convinced the officers to put a small bonus for being at the instance 5 min early. Members then showed up 5 min early, yay! Then they went afk, boo. I know that this says a lot about the people I was raiding with, but my point is that there is no point system that cannot be gamed.
    Every time you reward behavior you want to see, someone will actually put effort into finding the point of least effort and disrupt your happy and healthy raid environment. Once this happens, it becomes harder to correct the behavior, because they can point at your guild's posted policy, too. Which leads to fixing that particular weakness with a new rule. Which leads to new flaws that are exposed and abused. Which leads to another new rule, until you get a loot system that is twenty-odd pages long with people quoting "article 4, section b, paragraphs 3 and 5" in their arguments and your healthy raid enviroment being gamed just as effectively. (Not that I've ever been down that road)
  • These systems can be complicated.
    Earn/spend can feel simple but actually be the opposite. Some point systems end up only accurately described with macroeconomic terms. This means that you can have problems where the person doesn't even understand what they're doing is wrong.
    A firsthand example: I had to try to a group of well-meaning players why collusion in a points system is bad. I failed, as I couldn't find a simple way to explain collusion. And all they wanted to do was pass loot to each other.

My favorite earn/spend system is Suicide Kings (otherwise known as spend-all DKP). Nice participant control, easy to administer, very little gaming possible.

Higher Authority

This is also known as Loot Council. The Higher Authority (HA) is one or more people who keep score in their head, and assign loot to members of the raid as it drops. The raid trusts that the HA gets the assignments correct.


  • When the Higher Authority gets it right, everything is right.
    A smart and attentive person knows better than any arbitrary set of rules what each person does to help a guild's progress. As one GM told me, all that rules in an earn/spend system try to describe is what everyone already knows anyway, so why not dispense with the artificial rules and just go by judgement?
    The HA knows what the members are looking for, knows which egos need to be stroked and which ones are more selfless, know how to maintain the juggling act of rewards-versus-effort going indefinitely. When done well, everyone trusts that the HA will get the loot to the most deserving people, and be fair about it, and keep everyone motivated and on the right track. It's perfect when it's working well.
  • Can Be Fastest.
    HA sees item, HA assigns item. No administration or bookkeeping. This is the most common case.


  • When the Higher Authority is wrong, it's so wrong.
    Take everything I listed above, and then picture HA only getting it right 70% of the time, or blatantly favoring one group of people (officers, relatives, spouses) over everyone else. This is usually easy to see, and these raids/guilds fail quickly.
    More commonly, though, imagine that the HA gets everything 97% correct, but with one or two people consistently wrong, whether due to:
    • personal bias ("lol hunters")
    • personality conflicts ("this person is so damn annoying")
    • lack of understanding ("this person has the least overhealing, they are doing best")

    In my experience, when a person feels that they're on the outside of a HA's wrong decision, there is nothing more aggravating and drama-inducing. Because the system is the HA, a problem with the system is a direct conflict with the HA. Hence, the higher drama multiplier.

  • People can game the Higher Authority.
    How do you game a person? Social hacking. A certain kind of person (read: Guild Cancer) will shamelessly buddy up to the HA and try to ingratiate themselves just for this reason.
    A firsthand (offtopic but related) example: In my guild we have a rotating GM role. We have a guy who shamelessly buddied up to every GM for two years, through six GMs, wanting to be an officer. The seventh guild GM, he finally found a person who his shtick worked on, and voila he's an officer. Hacked!
    The same kind of crap can happen to the HA:

    Guild Cancer says, "Hey HA, you want some help running an alt through an instance?"
    HA thinks, "Wow, I never knew that this person was so interested in helping others."

    (For the record, despite calling such a person Guild Cancer, I try to be dispassionate about these kinds of things. In my opinion, being aware of such trends in people is part of being a leader.)

  • Can Be Slowest.
    If the HA is a group of people, and those people disagree on where a piece of loot should go, the raid comes to a halt while the HA hashes it out. And as any raid leader will tell you, idle time kills raids.

So, how do you know if you have the right people running it? How does the HA know if they're doing it right, with the correct balance of objective and correct? How does the HA maintain the trust necessary to keep this system going?

Again, that's why guild leadership gets the big bucks.


This is also known as Need/Greed. A piece of loot drops, everyone who's interested in it executes some kind of random die roll, and the winner gets the loot. This is often the "default" loot system because it's implemented with in-game tools. Virtually every pickup group uses Random.


  • Quick and easy.
    "X dropped. Roll." Over and done.
  • Absolutely no favoritism.
    Unless you are friends with probability, like I am. I'm kidding.


  • People don't understand probability.
    Otherwise known as: "I lost again?!" I know that this is a broad and crass generalization, but some people are just ill-informed when it comes to luck, chance, fate, probability, whatever you want to call it. People don't like what they don't understand. Some percentage of people are just going to flip out when random means random. They won't understand that it's perfectly fair when someone wins twice, four times, six times in a row.
  • Fair isn't always the goal.
    When a person never sees their zomgepic drop, and then when it finally does, fails to win it. You can put on a seminar with the subject Probability Works and Why It's Fair, but the answer you're likely to get is "Whatever, I haven't gotten loot in 30 raids, so I'm leaving this guild for that one, which doesn't roll for loot. /gquit"
    People expect their contributions to add up, they expect some kind of score to be kept… whether they're aware of it or not. This is why most guilds with a persistent raiding effort don't use Random on the parts they consider to be important.
  • Has a pickup feel to it, even within a guild run.
    In my experience, people treat Random loot with less consideration for fellow guildmates.
    A firsthand example: My guild finally did take down the PvE boss from PvP Wintergrasp. An item dropped that is a nice upgrade for someone who PvPs. A good friend of mine, who is usually generous to the point of being loot-averse, rolled on and won the item despite having a loathing for PvP. Meanwhile, there were several PvP enthusiasts for whom the item was a greatly desired upgrade. I asked him why he rolled, and he said, "It was a free roll."
    When you offer something up for a free roll where people have to opt out, you're going to see weird (undesired) behavior.

Final Thoughts

There are many combinations of the above three systems. Limiting who can roll is a mix of HA/Random. Spending accumulated points to influence a random die roll is EarnSpend/Random.

If you look at the pros/cons for each major component, they're mirror images. Every upside has a corresponding downside. Rules and points means the (likely) possibility of people who manipulate rules. Trust in HA means the possibility of the HA letting someone down. Random is fair, but fair once isn't fair always.

That's why I said that there is no correct loot system. There is only correct enough for your guild, and the answer to that is determined by the leadership of your guild's officers, the particular hills and valleys you've all encountered.

More Words!

4 thoughts on “Overview of Loot Systems”

  1. Absolutely bang on with all pros and cons. Although I do think SK merits a section of its own because my understand is that its a little more different than standard DKP types.

  2. I think you're correct in saying that the best loot system is whichever one is best for your guild. It sounds trite, even tautological, but it's still true. Whatever system your guild has faith in and causes a minimum of QQ (QQ is always non-zero. grrr.) then that's the one for you. I don't know why loot systems are all the rage inthe blogsphere these days, but I talked about the EPGP system and how it ushered in a new era of peace and prosperity and feral druids laying down next to sheeped targets. It works for us. If you have a guild like us, and have loot system issues, I reccomend it. And it's not as fiddly to administer as it seems. Really!

  3. Pingback: Guild Loot Systems

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