o you prefer giving out heaps of treasure, or being stingy?
Perhaps too-influenced by Gary Gygax's "Placement of Monetary Treasure" in the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide, I tend to place too little.
When it comes to either magical or monetary, I tend to be stingy. Too stingy, often. I give out so little that people are risking death in return for pay they'd get more easily elsewhere.
I have been consciously trying to counteract that. It's hard, because you simultaneously want to keep a handle on the amount of gear they can buy, people they can hire, bribes they can pay, etc. You want them to stay hungry.
But you also want them to reap some riches, enjoy some wealth, upgrade their goods, and otherwise justify risking eventually-certain death fighting monsters. And if you give them too much, it's possible to just give them more things to buy to bleed some of that money away.
I'm still a bit cheap on magical gear, but I whipped up some rough guidelines on what needs to be there to make the game worth the wager.
So how do you know what's enough, what's too little, and what's too much?
Calculate the cost of living. First, figure what it'll actually cost for the characters to do the things they expect to do. You know, pay the rent, eat some food, travel to the adventuring locales, replenish their expendables (ammunition, rechargable magical items, torches, etc.), and repair damaged goods.
Once you know what a delve costs, you can start to figure out what's the minimum they need to take home for a successful trip.
Calculate the cost of upgrades. What's it going to cost for the PCs to upgrade their power? GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 8: Treasure Tables has a good guide to this.
If you can buy magic items, or enchant your own (writing scrolls, mixing potions), this can eat up a lot of cash. Even if you run a no-magical-item-shop type game, access to higher quality mundane goods is something to keep in mind. What's out there they'll want to buy?
Calculate the cost of training. Does training cost you money in your game? Figure out how much they'll expect to spend.
Calculate miscellaneous costs. Did they borrow money to fund the delve, or promise a tithe? Is there some hidden cost or one-time charge they need to meet? You'll need to know that, too.
Now, add that all together and you know what's too little (less than that), what's roughly enough (equal or higher), and the start of an idea of what's too much (enough to upgrade substantially after each trip, say, or simply retire.)
Simply put, you need to know what the trip takes out of the PCs and what getting ready for the next trip will require before you know what's worth risking your life over.
In part II, I'll talk about how much you need to put to ensure "too little," "enough," or "too much."
In the comments, I'd love to hear what people think they do - do you feel like you give out too much, not enough, or too little?