Friday, March 25, 2016

Just How Old Is Your Loot? Tips For DMs Trying To Spice Up Treasure Hoards

Your heroes have traversed the burning desert, evaded the traps in the bloody labyrinth, and fought their way to the throne room of the Ralthus, the vampire warlord. The undead warrior has been reduced to little more than dust and sand, and the party turns to his collections of treasures... which is around the time you start rolling on the charts, and tossing out whatever loot they find.

And you find *dice rattle* a +2 dagger, and 25 gold pieces.
If this part of the game always feels like a kink in your story's flow, you might want to take a moment to try and make your treasure feel authentic to where your party found it, and how long it's been there, instead of just rattling off a spreadsheet of valuables.

How Treasure Hoards Are Formed

Lots of creatures in fantasy RPGs have treasure hoards. Dragons are perhaps the most infamous for the practice, but trolls, ogres, goblins, kobolds, and even undead lords all have treasures in their lairs. The reasons why should be obvious, but we rarely think about it. You see, treasure accumulates either because the creatures seek out (or occasionally create) powerful items, or because adventurers have been killed by the creatures, and their enchanted items stayed where they fell.

This is the reason you find an ancient sword in a troll's lair, just laying on the floor. It's also why you find talismans of great power in the strongholds of necromancers. These items don't just magically appear when you win a fight; they represent the wealth (either purposeful or accidental) of the creatures you've defeated.

Which, as a DM, is a great storytelling hook that often gets overlooked.

Just How Long Has This Stuff Been Here?

I'm not suggesting that you lay out a hoard with the meticulous care that you do the dungeon the party has to go through to reach it. Down that road lies madness, However, by scattering a few details here and there when it comes time to reward your party, you can turn something that often devolves into a bunch of bookkeeping into a great roleplaying experience.
I found a WHAT now?
What sort of details could you throw around though? After all, treasure is treasure... right?

Well, if that treasure is only a few years old, then sure, it's going to be recognizable. But what about treasure that's been sitting in a hoard for decades? Or centuries? What about treasure that made its way to this hoard from a far away land, or which is from empires that don't exist anymore?

For example, let's say your mid-level party has descended into the corrupt necropolis, and smashed skulls until the dead went back to sleep, and the malevolent influence hanging over the tombs departed. What was left behind? Sure, there's probably gold and silver, but who minted those coins? The metal they're made of is good, but a coin with a face you don't recognize is an intriguing detail that will catch some players' imaginations. Especially if you can link those coins back to your world's history, or to your future plot, in some way. Perhaps there are weapons, but if those weapons were buried with the dead in ages past, what do they look like now? Are they pristine, their magic pushing back the forces of decay, or are they waiting beneath the ashes and dust to be discovered? And do these weapons look or feel different from the enchantments of today? For particularly potent weapons, especially named weapons, is the magic laced within them beyond what even the most powerful wizards could create in this day and age?

There are dozens of minor details you can add to your party's loot to make it unique, and to really bring across that the threat they defeated has not been challenged in many years. A shield whose crest belongs to a nation a thousand years in the dust, or armor whose protective enchantments are written in a dead language known only to a few scholars. A breastplate distinctive of a knightly order who is only known today in children's stories of long ago valor. Distinctive patterns of forging or creation thought lost to time (similar to the patterns of Toledo or Damascus steel) would make weapons even more unique, and give players a sense that they aren't just holding a pile of interchangeable numbers. They're holding a piece of the game world's history in their hands.

Don't Roll For The Important Stuff

Every DM has his or her own style, and not everyone is good at off-the-cuff description. Some DMs need to think things through, and write it down long before the party ever gets there. Which is fine. However, take my advice on this one; if you want to create unique descriptions for the treasure your party finds, come up with it in advance. That way you know what's in the room, and you have your descriptions primed and ready for when someone asks what they find.

Do you draw the serpent blade when you find it?
Also, if you're looking for more advice on this particular subject, check out my previous posts Alternatives to Traditional Magic Weapons and Armor, as well as How To Keep Your Magic Items From Getting Mundane.

As always, thanks for stopping in to hear what I have to say. If you'd like to help keep the content flowing, you can support Improved Initiative by visiting The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page and becoming a patron today! Also, if you haven't done so yet, you can keep up on all my latest posts by following me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter.

No comments:

Post a Comment