The World of Ark

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Treasure: Tiny/Titanic Trouble?

It is one of the primary motivations of adventure right? Well, shouldn't we take enough time to consider treasure more? Yeah, well, that is what I'm going to talk about.

First lets talk about something simple: how much do you give your party? Well, as much as you want...hell, as much as THEY want. That doesn't mean drown them in riches; but make sure your player's are happy with what they are getting. One of my favorite pictures illustrates what to me is a happy party:

Those adventurers look happy don't they? I mean, they killed the bad ol' dragon and have a box of treasure. Wait...why the hell are they happy about a box of treasure???!!! Well, let me tell you why!

We spend so many hours making challenging encounters, but what I think we should spend just as much time on is creating treasure for the players. I don't like to even so much as put a +1 dagger in my game without giving it at least a basic history and story that can be found is just that important to me. When your players open up that treasure chest, it is often the time on their face that you see the look of resignation...the time of "no fun" as numbers are recorded and inventory is taken of what has been found.

One of my favorite places to find AWESOME items of treasure is on a "scroll" called The Candlekeep Magic Shop over at the Candlekeep Forum. If you haven't joined this Forum for discussion on all things Forgotten Realms should! Right after you finish reading this blog. There are many places like this (and many other scrolls on Candlekeep you can find all sorts of things on!) that help to make a Dungeon Master's life easier; but you may not find that unique thing that sets YOUR game world apart. It is ok to loot ideas from other worlds and make them your own; but it is FAR better to have created what you might like for your own world that you can be proud of. The way that I do this in my own game worlds is pretty simple...I make lists of random names.

Several lists...many lists! The first list is a list of every God, Great Demon or powerful Immortal being that exists in my campaign world. The next list I make is one of every great magical kingdom, city or mythical realm in my campaign world...past and present both together. The next list is one of every great wizard that has ever lived that I have created for my world, and a companion list of every great druid, priest and other divine individuals. On and on the list making goes...right down to a list of colors and household items!

Why do I make all these lists? Well, the next thing I do is assign numbers to the words on each list in fairly even proportion for a 1d100 (percentile) roll. This gives me several lists to make item names from! You can vary which names get more chances, that is entirely up to you of course. When I decide that I want to place an item of importance in a treasure, I just pick a few lists and make a few rolls. VIOLA...Mordenkainen's Ivory Wand of Black Fire! Then I make a bit of history for the item:
"Mordenkainen's Ivory Wand of Black Fire was created by the powerful wizard to use in spell battles against creatures of the Underdark. It functions just as a normal Wand of Fire, but with each casting, any creature which survives the damage dealt is outlined in an effect similar to Faerie Fire..." Yep, just made all that up off the top of my head.

I have always felt that simply jotting down this and that item makes for poor play in my experience. Not BAD gaming, just somewhat tedious and boring play. When a party decides to get their magical items identified, they have something to look forward to other than "You find out it is a +1 Dagger" and instead they find "Hroth's Blue Blade of Scant. A dagger that sheds only a dim light equal to a candle's illumination, Hroth is said to have often used the blade to both be armed while studying his spellbook, but to have light in the dungeons he frequented while doing so that couldn't be blown out!" Much more fun for a makes them think "Who was this Hroth? I wonder where his spellbooks might be!?" and gives you the DM ideas for future adventures as well!

I have spent literal days writing down lists of magical items...but not just magical items; even simple silver decanters and necklaces once belonging to princesses. The dragon didn't just EAT the princess, he also stole some of the crowned jewels when he took her...the new King (the younger brother of the princess) wants to make it known that dragons don't steal from his family and get away with it! Yeah...never mind the broken bones the beast pooped out that once belonged to the princess eh ol' boy?

For "mundane" items, you can put just as much history behind them and make them the same way. Examples could be: The Sapphire Heart of Ulek (a gigantic sapphire set in the top of a silver mirror), King Merith's Silver Goblet (yeah, just a silver goblet, but worth a lot more than it would normally be to the right people!), Jorranna's Emerald Necklace (belonged to a VERY wealthy merchant's wife who was long ago kidnapped by an Ogre Magi and never seen again; the old man is still alive and would likely pay a nice bit for his long dead wife's necklace) and so on. Simply having a list of different metals, gems, household items (cups, bowls, mirrors and such) and so on can make it very easy to create an item; then just tack a name on it and there you go! Don't forget the list of names from your campaign world of course.

We've all heard about the various coins in Dungeons and Dragons...I'm not going to say much on that except that you can make magical items that are coins, rare coins from fallen dynastic lines that collectors would pay well for and so on. Use your imagination and a bit of thinking on this one: how many people in our own society collect Trading Cards (baseball and so on). Imagine a world where magic could have created items such as a silver disc which when placed on a table automatically projects an image of a great figure from history.

As a last, I want to talk about how adventurers feel about treasure. Take ol' Otus here; he probably just wants to grab some good loot, get the heck out of the dungeon alive and spend some quality drinking and wenching back in town! But how much better will Otus feel if he also finds the Placard of Rhis, a magical sign that allows any spoken word to be recorded on its surface. He knows JUST the wizard's apprentice who would love to have this so that the fellow can better record his master's instructions! Not to mention that those ancient silver coins in the Wight's treasure are already known to be in high demand among coin collectors at the Temple of Martek...those Merchant-God Clerics always are looking for them and telling adventurers where to find them. That is how Otus knew how to find the crypt he just plundered after all!

Now, not every player is going to appreciate the time it takes you to make these items. Hell, you may only have ONE player who really appreciates it (I doubt it, but stranger things HAVE happened to me); but you will find as a Dungeon Master that some of the best fun you can have is actually creating the things in your world. Likely you wouldn't be a Dungeon Master if you didn't like world creation right? Oh, you are the one "stuck" with it eh? Well, this actually can make the tedious job more fun for you I'll wager.

On the side of betting otherwise, your players are likely to really like it if you do this sort of thing in your game. They will be able to immerse their minds in your creations more deeply, so when they are fighting the monsters they will be looking FORWARD to the treasure because they will be learning more about the world they are playing in that you have created. What is more, they will often then have reasons to go adventuring even more. Who was Hroth the Magic-User? How much is the King offering to kill the Dragon that ate his sister? Why the hell did Rhis make something to record what people said...was he a spy maybe?

I promise you, if you make your treasure more than just coins, gems and jewelry worth X amount and magic items that all have the same names you won't regret it and will more than likely find that your players are far more enthusiastic about your game. If they aren't, find some other players after you kill their characters with a snake hiding in the treasure!

Seriously...get rid of them...go have fun!


  1. I use Mystara, not FR, and from a brief read, some of the items on that forum page seem a tad overpowered :) but I will say that the section on Art Objects in the AD&D 2e Forgotten Realms Adventures manual is one of my favorite bits of fluff ever. Ever since then, I always try to give every notable piece of treasure, and every magic item besides lowly scrolls and potions a name and at least a short paragraph of description and/or history.

    It helps a lot in being able to give out more 'mundane' items that will still be memorable and valuable. "I don't just have a +1 short sword, I have THE sword used by the halfling heroine Bella Furrytoes when she slayed the bandit-king of Specularum!"

    1. Exactly Darva! A player will always appreciate a little depth :)