Reading this play report at Planet Algol got me thinking about treasure. The group there is exploring an abandoned fort called Fortress Eibon, once the abode of wizards or necromancers who ran afoul of their own dark magic – and pissed-off demons. In exploring the fortress, and fighting its denizens, the party finds piles of coins laying about in various monster lairs, which in turn reminded me of some thoughts I’d had a while back concerning treasure in D&D.
It seems to me a more interesting approach to mundane treasure would be to reward items instead of coins. And by items, I don’t mean gems or jewels. I’m talking about objects, things. Books, tapestries, strange idols, trade goods, furniture, fine wines and liquors, clothing, works of art, fabrics, spices, drugs and the like. I realize this idea isn’t exactly new, but as I’ve seen it implemented in other forms, some portion of the treasure is represented by objects, with the larger portion still made up of coins and gems.
What I’m proposing is that virtually all non-magical treasure be represented by ‘stuff’ instead of coins. Doing so I think is more, well, ‘realistic’ for lack of a better word. After all, just why are all those coins sitting in a monster’s lair? You could say that less intelligent monsters collect shiney objects, but then from where do they get those shiney coins? I suppose they could come from the remains of the monster’s last meal, less fortunate adventurers, but then where did those adventurer’s get all their coins? Realistically, you wouldn’t carry thousands of coins with you on an adventure, unless you found them somewhere along the way and hadn’t had a chance to return to civilization yet.
And more intelligent creatures might prize vaulable objects, but what good do gold coins serve them? They’re cut off from civilization and all the things those bright, shiney coins buy. I’d think your typical orc or goblin would be more concerned about daily survival needs, like where their next meal is coming from, than hoarding useless coins.
Giving stuff instead of coins also creates a number of interesting delimas for the players:
- Transportation – Just how are they going to get all that stuff to civilization? Moving a marble statue is not as simple as just separating out the copper from the gold.
- Waste – Some goods may be perishable. However, a more common problem would be paying for goods and services in small towns and villages. The entire town probably doesn’t have enough coin to pay for even one of the party’s treasures, so unless the party brought sufficient coin with them, they’d be paying for goods and services with the items they recovered, and surrendering a significant portion of their value to the villagers and townsfolk.
- Conversion – Once they get their treasures to civilization, they’ll have to find buyers to convert them to currency (unless they just want to barter for everything). Collectors may pay more, but there’s always the chance of a double cross. Merchants definitely won’t pay an item’s full value. Not to mention entanglements with the thieve’s guild.
- Sentimentality – Player characters may form an attachment to an item and decide to keep it as a trophy, for sentimental reasons, or just because they think it’s cool. Are you willing to give up a significant share of the treasure for a cool keepsake?
From an ‘old school’ perspective, numbers 2 through 4 provide a way for the DM to give a party full XP value for their treasure while reducing the actual material value.
On the down side, using a system like this requires more work on the DM’s part, constantly thinking up new and interesting items of value. It also increases the party’s recordkeeping, having to track the value of multiple items instead of just recording X number of gold pieces. And some players may feel dealing with the logistics of transportation and unloading the loot takes away valuable game time that could be spent exploring dungeons. That said, next time I run an old school D&D game, I think I’ll give it a try and see how things work out.