Monday, August 18, 2014

Are Treasure Hordes Too Small?

I was looking through some Victorian paintings at the Victorian British Painting blog (not just a clever name), and came across this one by Benjamin Walter Spiers.

One heck of a horde, but fantasy gaming standards. No coins, of course, but in terms of other items ... well, here's my thumbnail inventory:

Books (130)
Bottles/decanters/jugs (33)
Paintings/pictures (21)
Bowls/dishes (18)
Blankets/rugs/tapestries (9)
Vases/urns (9)
Helms (3)
Mirrors (3)
Swords (3)
Boxes (2)
Censers (2)
Daggers (2)
Statues (2)
Violins (2)
Base (1)
Candlestick (1)
Clock (1)
Compass (1)
Globe (1)
Halberd (1)
Hourglass (1)
Inkpot (1)
Lute (1)
Map (1)
Musket (1)
Necklace (1)
Pan pipes (1)
Pipe (1)
Powder horn (1)
Stained glass (1)

255 items by my count, and that's just items visible to me. I'm sure I missed a few, and of course there would be items obscured from view.

I can well imagine a scene like this in a wizard's cramped study or in the castle of a lord, and certainly an ancient wyrm should have as many items collected. But how to do this in a game without it just being a huge headache? I admit that I don't know.

Still, it's a really wonderful painting.

And speaking of dragon hordes ...

 Always one of my favorites. By Denis Beauvais, of course.


  1. I think that how far one goes with such miscellaneous treasure is a function of the GM and players' collective taste for detail. For most folks it's probably a mistake to spend a lot of time itemizing and valuing every last item in advance. The easy approach is to simply tell the players that there's a mass of furnishings with potential value, and only deal with the specifics (size, weight, fragility, value) if they make the effort to lug it back to market. It gets a bit more complicated if the players want to cherry-pick any high-value/high-portability items, and a bit more complicated still if some characters have specialized knowledge or contacts that would make them favor certain categories of items as having particular value ("my patron, the Duke, will pay a premium for attractive ceramics" or "that alchemist we get our potions from might be interested in all this laboratory glassware").

    It's interesting that this only seems to have become an issue in recent years. Back in the '70s, treasure was gold, gems, jewelry, and magic. There was copper and silver too, but they were so nearly worthless that nobody bothered with them unless encumbrance was being ignored entirely. I think computer RPGs really ushered in the idea of junk collection for profit -- I don't even remember bothering to collect enemy weapons and armor back then, while such things are economically vital in the early stages of playing the Elder Scrolls games and their ilk.

  2. The original DMG covered this ground recomending making treasure more diverse and interesting but without a hard-coded example.
    The biggest issue with lots of stuff as treasure is how it described to players; listing all this out during play would be a chore just to make sure everything is communicated and recorded correctly. Maybe treasure cards?

  3. Yeah, I like to dish-out treasure in the form of art objects, sundries, and other stuff like that. Unfortunately, new players who are not accustomed to my DMing-style would find themselves short on the actual haul, as most players are accustomed to finding treasure in the form of big piles of coins, with some gems, jewelry and magic items thrown in. It is not unusual for them to find a tapestry noting the events of an great battle that is worth a lot of money, but the players would think it is some sort of clue and discard it when they find it holds no direct benefit to the adventure. I like to use the treasure to decorate rooms, and even the monsters (some monsters like to wear what they loot), but new players would pass most of that up as worthless background elements. But they learn really quickly never to pass-up anything!

    If you want to know where you could find a great set of tables and sub-tables for non-coin treasure, you should check out a neat AD&D retro-clone called Adventures Dark and Deep. The tables are in the Game Master Toolkit book. Last time I checked, the books were free.

  4. Heh, I think that was the Victorian equivalent of a garage, where all the junk is stored.

    How much there is actually valuable? I think large lists of mundane objects in a room is nice at first, but after the first dozen or so, you just look for the good stuff and anything extraneous just gets in the way.

  5. I remember an article from White Dwarf from about 1986 called something like 'Runequest Economics' which tackled this idea - that monsters having a massive pile of coins was frankly absurd. If a monster raids a merchant caravan they should come away with spices, furs, amber, worked metal goods, fine cloth, exotic foods in casks or amphorae and so on. And this should be the basis of treasure hordes rather than coinage.

    However, it does seem extremely difficult to organise. It's not going to get you very far, unless it's randomised and turned into a 'treasure generator'. Otherwise you have to think of every item in every treasure and after a while even the most flexible imagination can run dry.

    I think something like this painting (which looks like a collection of wizard's treasure to me - two of the helmets are 300 years old and the other is 400 plus old and is probably magical; the blue-and-white is probably from the Fabled Orient and extremely valuable if not actually magical, the books are undoubtedly spell books, there's even a very rare 'thunderstick' which, with the proper rituals and alchemical powders, can kill from a distance) is a great inspiration for a specific room. I've used the contents of the Sutton Hoo burial as the treasure horde in a game before (no-one noticed where it was from) but that sort of thing is I think a pretty limited in scope.

    Wills might be a good source of more mundane treasures ('all my linen for both bed and table, my second-best bed and 20 golden guineas, all my tableware including the pair of silver candlesticks, 6 plates of pewter and my glass goblet' or whatever). I don't know if early cargo manifests are available from the Tudor period or similar but they might also be a source of mundane treasures that are a bit more believable than everyone just carrying around bags and bags of gold and silver coin. I know there are some shipwrecks that have been investigated that have produced lists of what has been found and it's reasonable I think to take these lists, say 'this is the list of goods the caravan was carrying so this is what the bandits stole' and go from there.

    I does give the party more to think about for sure. 1,000GP? No problem, the adventurers can get that home no bother. 4 amphorae of rare Hyperborian wine and another full of iron nails, the skin of a Dire Bear and a series of paintings of the Pleasure Palace of the God-King of Umbar? Errm, a bit more tricky. But, I think treasures should be tricky sometimes. Just like cursed magic items come up and sometimes treasures are illusory, sometimes they can be a pain to convert into cash. If the party works out how to get the basilisk-skin out of the cave and back to the Alchemist who'll pay a fortune for it, then, good luck to them. Better than the basilisk just sitting on a pile of GPs.


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