Every player loves finding shiny treasure. After killing the villain and thwarting his evil scheme it’s a tangible reward the PCs can hold in their hands. However, so much treasure these days is nothing more than boring, bland gold and description-less gems…
Players like treasure; it gives them a tangible feeling of success and enables them to buy their PCs the things they need to become even greater heroes. Almost all PCs crave glimmering treasures.
Of course, treasure is often quickly identified, sold and the proceeds spent; it spends a relatively short time in the game. That doesn’t mean a GM shouldn’t spend time designing unique and interesting treasures. There are many reasons why time spent designing treasure is well spent:
- Verisimilitude: Items are rarely plain, functional and extremely valuable. Providing a description of a necklace or longsword brings it alive in the players’ minds.
- Clues & Foreshadowing: Perhaps the PCs find half a treasure map or realise the heads on the ancient coins found in an abandoned crypt have a startling resemblance to a nearby baron famed for his cruelty. If the PCs slay mercenaries sent to kill them and discover they’ve been paid in coin minted in a nearby kingdom it may provide a clue as to their enemy’s identity or location.
- World Building: If the necklace is wrought in a rare, high elven style it adds detail to the campaign world. If it’s simply a 100 gp necklace, it doesn’t. Because players pay loads of attention to treasure, flavoursome treasure is a great way of subliminally building the flavour of the campaign world in their minds without dumping shed loads of information on them.
- Provide Important Abilities: If the GM is planning an upcoming underwater adventure, adding in a wand of water breathing or some such is a great way of providing the PCs with the tools to actually go on the adventure. This is a much better solution than simply having a magic shop at the start of the next adventure that just happens to stock exactly what the PCs need.
- Give The PCs What They Want: A PC specialised in fighting with a warhammer is going to get way more excited about finding a magic warhammer than finding a magic longsword.
- Make The PCs Feel Special: Remember, a +1 longsword is boring. A finely balanced longsword set with several small black gems in its pommel and finished with an engraved wave pattern on its blade is so much cooler and interesting. It becomes an item of note and one the players are far more likely to keep (and remember finding) than the aforementioned +1 longsword. The mechanical benefit to the players is identical, but the item is much more individual and remarkable. Bearing a unique treasure – particularly one with a background, history and name – elevates the treasure from just another standard magic item and could mark the PC out as a true hero. After all, for example, only one person can wield Gregorian’s Bane.
That all said, use detailed treasure judiciously. If every piece of treasure is special, none of it is special. Using too much detailed treasure will almost certainly crush a GM’s preparation time and submerge the players beneath so much flavour they’ll eventually start to ignore it.
Help Fellow GMs!
Do you design unique treasure for your campaign? Have you got tricks or tip about how to do it quickly and effectively? Share what they are in the comments below and help your fellow GM design exciting, flavoursome treasure today!