On Treasure Hoards

Interesting Treasure Hoards should intersect with both the theme of the setting, the reality of play, and the mechanics of the setting.

Sounds simple, almost truistic, right? But it has rarely been implemented that way.

Theme of the Setting

Treasure that intersects the theme of the setting is treasure that provides information about the environment the players are in. It is impossible to use a random table to generate this type of treasure without the setting implicit in the table becoming setting information in your game.

This is one specific, concrete, way game rules can be used to define setting without laborious text or decadent pages of in-game fiction. It is a way that players must engage the game world that improves the quality of play for them, exceptionally so for those willing to invest more.

Reality of Play

Treasure that intersects the reality of play is treasure that does not break the players ability to suspend disbelief and provides cultural and anthropological information of the setting through play. Why do ghouls only collect scrolls? That monsters pit should contain adventurer gear. A wizards tower should not (usually) be a center of a magical armory.

The treasure describes the habits of creatures, their predilections, and grants in-game information to the players that allows for better decision making.  Looking for pearls? The Men of Merr have them. Gems? Those strange bat-like creatures like to collect them. Hobgoblins covet jade.

Also, treasure should be found in places that are logical, or have some kind of believability. Burnt out, water soaked ruins should not have unprotected valuable paintings or scrolls. Iron, steel, and copper weapons underwater are not going to be in great shape. Organic materials such as leather will probably not be found in a hoard of a creature that eats it's prey whole.

A lot of this (via treasure types) was implicit in the old monster manual, (see yesterday's post).

Mechanics of the Setting

I talked about this in an earlier post. The important thing is that the treasure serves a purpose beyond the ability to allow you to keep score. Games become much more engaging when there are always concrete options on what you can spend your treasure on, whether that is character improvement, information, new resources or abilities, or access to new areas. It grants ownership of the setting to the players.

The design of treasure can influence this even more. It is not necessary to simply have gold prices be the cost of training, learning special abilities, spells, unlocking new areas. Sometimes the cost of unlocking those areas could be different kinds of treasure.

A door that only unlocks when fed gems. A temple that only rises when a gem of a certain value is placed inside. A dwarf who will show you the way only in exchange for dwarven forged gold. A trainer who will only accept the craftsmanship of the primitive Mabden as payment.

Designing Treasure Hoards

A treasure hoard is any grouping of found treasure within your campaign.

All these things must be taken into account when designing treasure hoards. Obviously this means that unless you are running a prepared setting, this means that there's a lot of work for you. What are the ancient cultures? Who are the current craftsmen? What are the habitats and lairs of creatures?  etc.

Really, though, that's creating work that doesn't need to be done. Mostly you'll already have the answers for the most common questions.
Who are the bad guys?
Where do they live?
Who used to live there?
Who lives nearby?

You answer those questions, and you'll have the answers for treasure for your first 5 or 10 sessions of play. You'll need to answer them four or five times for a small sandbox.

The great thing about treasure is that it's hidden, so you can always add a new faction, culture, idea, or other plot hook in the next treasure hoard the characters find.

So what is helpful when actually designing treasure hoards, considering this type of work? Looking at different types of hoards. What different kinds of hoards are there? What different types of hoards were implicit in the original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons setting? This seems particularly relevant and insightful given Gary Gygax's history as an actuary. It's just type of thing that is the outcome of treasure hoards. They examine risk to the holder, but what they are actually foretelling is the fate of the wealth.

Different Types of Treasure Hoard:
Bandit/Smuggler: Weapons, Armor, Contraband goods (huge variety), Trade Goods, Prisoners
Small Humanoid: Filth, Trinkets, Shiny Objects, Junk
Dwarven:: Gold, Metallic treasure, Forged objects (weapons, armor), Thick brick-like objects, All treasure solid and imposing. Ale, Beer, Grog, Hard Liquors.
Elven: Precious metals, fine jewelry. Items of high quality workmanship. Magical items.
Scrolls: Spellcasting creatures should have access to scrolls.
Sparkle Treasure: Certain animals and creatures will only collect object that catch light, Gems, Clear Potion Bottles, Magic Items
Debris/Hunter: Certain monsters will only have the refuse from their kills. This will result in a small chance of any variety of treasure, and small coin piles
Gems: Certain creatures are more likely to hoard gems than other creature types
Cherry Picked Hoards: Some creatures will eliminate less valuable treasure and trade up to collect more valuable items.
Humanoids will carry small coins and usual items in their pockets.
Specific Coin Type: Certain creatures will hoard gold or a certain specific coin type.
Mighty beings will have access to many and varied magic items.
Faux Hoard: Weaker creatures will emulate the hoards of larger creatures, but with hoards of less valuable metals.
Organic: Certain creatures will collect coins and other treasures but are likely to not have any forged weapons and armor, either due to a lack of use, or their nature causes it to be destroyed.
Inorganic: Other creatures have the opposite problem, breaking down most organic materials and only leaving valuable metals and worked goods.
Weaponless hoard: Creatures are sometimes compelled to collect treasure, but due to their methods or desires (basalisks, shadows et. al.) are unlike to have any weapons or armor
Maps: Certain creatures are likely to have goods containing maps and books.
Trade Goods: Most creatures will not have access to trade goods, except those that A) Raid Caravans or B) Raid Towns. Otherwise, they will not be found with large amounts of trade goods.
Tombs: Certain creatures that exist or live in burial chambers are tombs are much more likely to possess grave goods then other kind of treasure.
Liquids & Potions: Will frequently be found among humanoids, magically researching creatures, and creatures too stupid to realize that the vial is liquid.
Special: Certain types of creatures may have special requirements or treasure. Primitives may have ivory or unworked gold. Giant animals may be treasure. Merchants may have a pay chest.
True Hoard: Certain creatures such as dragons will have true treasure hoards, containing volumes of gold.
Lost Treasure: Certain types of creatures such as Will o' the Wisps collect treasure over many years. This causes their hoards to grow not only quite large, but also focus on items that have a greater longevity.
Rich Wealth: are true hoards, collected so that only the most precious metals and treasures are collected. Usually contains only gold, platinum, gems and jewelery. Different then cherry picked hoards, because these collections are for their value, not their portability.
Intelligent undead: will also collect hoards, but they will shy away from items that require life to use (potions, etc.) as well as weapons and armors worse than their natural abilities. 


  1. I know the question was rhetorical, but perhaps ghouls collect scrolls because people are buried with them to help them navigate the afterlife. Perhaps ghouls are so cursed because they didn't have what they needed when buried and now must feed upon other corpses; they take the scrolls buried with the corpses instinctively - it's almost a memory.

  2. "This is one specific, concrete, way game rules can be used to define setting without laborious text or decadent pages of in-game fiction. It is a way that players must engage the game world that improves the quality of play for them, exceptionally so for those willing to invest more."

    The CRPGs Demons Souls and Dark Souls do a really terrific job of conveying setting and backstory through treasure descriptions. There's almost zero expository text, just short snippets of NPC dialogue (often cryptic) and short boxed-text descriptions of found objects. It's a lesson ripe to be re-absorbed back into tabletop RPGs.

  3. Good to see that you're on a rampage again, Courtney! Great posts!


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