Making More of Non-Coin Treasures

Hack & Slash Master is trying to make his players more interested in his non-coin treasures. What he comes up with seems a little bit strange and complex; item sets that create variances in the worth of individual items in terms of both coin and XP and uses something that reminds me of a JRPG Monster/MacGuffin Hunting Job board.

What struck me as odd, though, based on the example of his players being uninterested in his non-coin treasure, was that he would tell his players up front what the non-coin treasures were worth.

“An example of me handing out treasure:
DM:”You open the steel coffer by clicking open the last pin on the Clip Chest Deadpin lock, and find a pile of mixed coins, so—”
P1:”We start counting out the mixed coins.”
DM:”Do you want to do that? It will take a turn.”
P1: “Yes.”
DM:”Ok, you find 10,971 silver pieces, and 27 platinum pieces, A white marble gameset, 13 badger pelts, A granite helm with an inverted 5 point star diamond inserted in the top, A pewter girdle engraved with concentric circles, and a shiny black sheepskin leather suit of armor.”
P1:”We cast detect magic”
DM:”The leather armor glows, it’s magical.”
P1:”How much are the items worth?”
DM:”The helm is worth 6,529 gp, The girdle is worth 3,656 gp, The gameset is worth 2,400 gp, and the beaver pelts are worth 3 gp each.”
P1:”Ok, no one needs leather armor so we go back to town and sell it all.”

I just wasted everyone’s time. I could have just said, you find 15,856 gp in assorted treasure. Players often don’t even want to keep the magic items, if they aren’t immediately useful.”

The easiest solution, I’d think, would be to stop telling players up front what their treasure is worth.

I think the root of his problem is that there is no mystery or anything of interest to his non-coin treasures when they’re stated up front to merely be a condensed ball of X Value. What could’ve been cool things that players would want to hang onto and find out more about have been reduced to their GP. That game board and that helm are actually awesome treasures, but telling the players what they’re worth right up front removes any of the cool mystique that non-coin treasures possess. Because they players know that it’s a just a 6,529 GP Helm and a 2,400 GP gameset, they’re not asking “Whose helm was this? What game is this? Does anyone still play this game?”

Unless a player character was a professional jeweler, I would NEVER tell him the value of a gem or piece of jewelry. Unless the player character was a professional antiquities dealer or scholar, I would NEVER tell him the value of an ancient treasure. Players can either hang onto non-coin treasures or not, but if the treasure is a mystery, they will be more interested in hanging onto it and finding out more about it.

In my own game, there have been several mundane treasures found and held onto; since I’ve been running modules that have been repurposed to fit my game’s world, I’ve fudged a bit on what the original items were or may have been, but I try to make them a part of the world. A silver tankard with engravings isn’t just a 100 GP mundane treasure; it’s a glimpse into the past of the wicked elves who would drink out an implement covered in depictions of horror and sacrifice. If players don’t immediately know the coin value of non-coin treasure, suddenly any treasure they find could be important, either within the dungeon as a key of sorts or simply a clue to the mystery of the setting’s past.

The goblin ranger in my B/X game still has the silver dancing puppet (otherwise merely a 300 GP treasure) that he found in the Maze of Nuromen just because it was so dang creepy and weird. As such, I’ve had the opportunity to work it into a more significant story element (during the thief’s near death vision of the evil elf wizard, the puppet began to dance within the ranger’s backpack). Similarly, that cool engraved helm belonged to someone and the players should want to know who it was, why it was made, and that game? How did it play? Is it still played? Maybe a cool old wizard sage guy had a similar set once and would love a new one. Treasure can’t JUST be treasure, otherwise players WILL be immediately bored with it.

Non-coin treasures really do have the most potential to keep your players interested in your treasure hoards, but they need to be engaged beyond just being told how much they can sell the items for, otherwise you’re just stocking your dungeons with vendor trash.

16 responses to “Making More of Non-Coin Treasures

  1. One of my back-burner ideas is making it easier to track unidentified loot. Ideally the players have to fiddle with a thing to figure out what it does — reinforcing the idea of dungeons and treasure being mysterious and stuff.

    Explore the dungeon. Find stuff. Fiddle with stuff. Repeat.

    There’s an important choice to be made in whether to fiddle with stuff now or to wait until you’ve found a safe place (away from civilization perhaps).

    Also, the desire to continue exploring a dungeon might be stronger than the desire to play with the new toys.

    It seems to me then, is a GM needs an efficient way to keep track of where an item came from, so it isn’t necessary to crack open the module or notes whenever the players finally get around to it.

    To that end, a system of classification that’s more descriptive and effect-oriented might help the GM out. Item levels can certainly help narrow it down, but you ultimately want to avoid “quantum treasure.”

    In this case, quantum treasure is any treasure you roll up -after- when it’s identified as opposed to say, when it’s discovered or when you plant it yourself.

    I’d like an elegant solution to the problem but there’s hardly the time for it at the moment. Maybe someone else has an idea. It would be acceptable if someone came up with a good explanation to make quantum treasure believable.


    • I just write down what my party finds in a note-pad. When they get around to getting it assessed at a jeweler or dealer, then I tell them what it’s worth. Quantum treasure doesn’t work in a system like B/X, since XP often gets awarded before players have the opportunity to properly assess non-coin treasures. That said, the XP they earn for a session can clue them in to a particularly astonishing treasure find. “Why was that last encounter where we found a bunch of junk and killed a lot of rats a higher XP session than the one where we fought some really tough monsters and almost died?”

      • I award XP on per session basis. In B/X, encounter XP tends to be rather low, anyway. As such, there’s been no question about “in dungeon” leveling. I tally up the sessions monster & treasure XP after the session and dole out XP at the beginning of the next.

      • (I also know that a lot of DMs like to award XP at the end of a session, but I’ve found that these tend to be ‘ball-parked’ figures, rather than ones calculated using the game’s system. For instance, in our last AD&D session, everyone got 800XP at the end of the session, which was great, because going by what we fought and found, it was maybe a 150XP per person session at best.)

      • If the players don’t find the junk and take it with them, do they still receive the XP associated with it? I can see how that might be a motivator for players to revisit places and look for stuff they might have missed.


      • They only get the XP if they take it. As such, it’s a system that encourages taking everything that’s not nailed down, rather than grinding monsters. So far, there’s only be one thing that was worth a lot that the party found but didn’t get XP for; if they come back with an engineering team to remove the magic kiln, you’d better believe they’ll be getting that XP split by however many folks are there the night they bust it out.

        And yeah, I’m hoping that the players will start revisiting places. There are now 3 dungeons that haven’t been “completed”, so I’ll be dropping a few breadcrumbs back to the two that haven’t been touched for awhile.

      • But ultimately, i think what Hack & Slash Master’s problem is is that his treasures aren’t treasures; by being up front about their values, they’ve gone from being potentially unique items to merely $50 and $100 bills mixed into the pile of dimes and quarters.

      • Okay, so putting item values in the room’s treasure descriptions helps you award XP later. Also, you choose the denominations for the gems and artwork and miscellaneous items. The PCs have to experiment with things before they can figure out WHAT made the item valuable. Magic, rarity, etc.

        Hm. So you award XP FIRST and THEN stuff gets converted into GP when you have the time. Interesting. I’ll have to think on this.


      • Yeah. Like I said, in my own game, it has encouraged players to hold onto things that would otherwise quickly be pawned off.

        It’s kind of a cheat because a lot of what I have in my game world are published modules that list item value, so I’m usually not rolling to determine what gems are worth, but in instances when there is a variable treasure value, I try to mark it down before hand, rather than when the item is sold.

        A lot of what has been “sold” in my game has been elven relics turned over to the benefactor for cash, to be shipped off to museums and universities. This also lets me get around some of the wonkiness of item values; the players aren’t being paid in gold or XP what it’s actually worth, but are being paid for the service of finding something priceless. So a junk treasure worth 100GP can actually become, in the game world, a priceless artifact, but you’re only being paid 100GP because good luck finding anyone who will actually pay you what it’s worth.

        In other cases, players end up asking themselves “do I want a fraction of what this thing may actually be worth or would I rather just hold onto this cool thing just to have it?”

      • I should also note that this allows for the possibility of mundane treasures to become redeemable for more than their in-book price, should a particular need or circumstance present itself where the object would be in greater demand. In my game, I could see that happening with the bejeweled walking stick and definitely with Nuromen’s silver puppet.

      • In the first 4e campaign I played — which the GM was pretty stingy — I claimed the mundane magical implement of the module’s Big Bad, a high priest of Orcus. I prided myself a bit on keeping it rather than selling it when an NPC actually approached me about the item.

        I figure a part of what made me keep it was stubbornness — we’d been playing long enough I knew the GM was going to be stingy with treasure regardless, and the desire to make sure that it didn’t “fall into the wrong hands” or whatever nonsense the GM was planning.

        If nothing else, I was going to force him to rob me. 😉 Surprisingly, he didn’t. And the villain returned anyway. Ah, well.


      • In alfheim, the players are giving the big bad the magic items he wants, but I’ve written enough contingencies into his plan that I’d never have to resort to DM chicanery to get any lynchpin items.
        If he didn’t get the tome of power, he’d be 9HD instead of 10. If he didn’t get the Orbs of Necromancy, he’d have a smaller army of undead and rely more on his vampire powers. If he doesn’t get the magic tapestry, he’ll just have one less hiding place when the players finally realize he’s the badguy. Then again, Caelden is less of a calculating chessmaster who needs all of the right pieces in place than a proficient checkers player who doesn’t need to make all of his pieces kings to beat you but would definitely enjoy having them.

      • Sometimes that’s all you need. I kind of hold up Die, Vecna, Die! as the shining example of what it looks like when your villain’s big scheme is so complex that it doesn’t make sense to anyone. Sure his plot to defeat Iuz and become the most powerful god in the multiverse is as brilliant as playing half a dozen games of 3D chess simultaneously, but given the fact that he has an army of vampires, death knights, liches and other 20+HD undead at his command, I’m sure he could’ve just as easily accomplished his goals without all of the silly seat of his pants rules-lawyering.

  2. Pingback: Shadow Over Alfheim, Pt 13 – Regrouping | Cirsova

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