I’m going to go out on a limb and state that most players love finding treasure. While, of course, you don’t get XP for treasure in later editions of the game, it is rather handy to pay for living expenses and shiny new magic items (if a GM allows magic shops in his world).
Beyond the challenge of crushing your enemies and advancing in power, treasure is one of the things most players expect to get out of an adventure. It’s sad, then, that treasure seems to be becoming more and more bland and flavourless.
In the “good old days” treasure was often described in great depth and detail— detail that really had very little impact on the game, but was just cool to know. It was cool to know that the silvered longsword you wrested from the bandit chieftain had a pommel shaped like a snarling wolf. You might still sell the item, but the act of describing it made it feel more “real” and part of a dynamic, living, breathing world.
Of course, this level of detail adds another burden to the poor, overworked, time-crunched GM, but does add cool depth and flavour to the campaign.
While I don’t want to edition bash, I think treasure hoards reached their nadir in 4e edition, where PCs simply found one of a certain number of treasure parcels which as I understand it now basically equates to a certain gold value. Of course, 3.5 and Pathfinder are not immune to this criticism either. How often have you found a treasure hoard including gems that have a value, but often aren’t even identified as a specific type!
So what did Gary say?
“A pair of exceedingly large, powerful and ferocious ogres have taken up abode in a chamber at the base of a shaft which gives to the land above. From here they raid both the upper lands and the dungeons roundabout. These creatures have accumulated over 2,000 gp in wealth, but it is obviously not in a pair of 1,000 gp gems. Rather, they have garnered an assortment of goods whose combined value is well in excess of two thousand gold nobles (the coin of the realm). Rather than stocking a treasure which the victorious player characters can easily gather and carry to the surface, you maximise the challenge by making it one which ogres would naturally accrue in the process of their raiding. There are many copper and silver coins in a large, locked iron chest. There are pewter vessels worth a fair number of silver pieces. An inlaid wooden coffer, worth 100 gold pieces alone, holds a finely wrought silver necklace worth an incredible 250 gold pieces! Food and other provisions scattered about amount to another hundred or so gold nobles value, and one of the ogres wears a badly tanned fur cape which will fetch 50 gold pieces nonetheless. Finally, there are several good helmets (used as drinking cups), a bardiche, and a two-handed sword (with silver wire wrapped about its hilt and lapis lazuli pommel to make it worth three times its normal value) which completes the treasure.”
—AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide (page 92), Gary Gygax
This example has massively influenced the way I try to describe treasure in my own campaigns and in Raging Swan’s various adventures and sourcebooks (particularly All That Glimmers which is basically a Big Book of Described Treasure). I say “try” because sometimes I simply do not have the time to put this much detail into treasure hoards. What’s really notable about this description to me, though, is the way the treasure is logical and appropriate (perhaps apart from the 100 gp worth of food).
It’s a great example of Gyagxian Naturalism at work in the early editions. (If you don’t know what Gygaxian Naturalism is, hit the link and find out – it’s an awesome concept). The example is also notable because even once the PCs have defeated the monsters (in this case ogres) the adventure’s challenge hasn’t finished! They still have to sort through all the treasure, value it and get it back to town. Looking at the sheer amount of loot present in the example above, I sincerely doubt the party will simply be able to stuff it into their backpacks!
What Do You Think?
Is this detail a colossal waste of time? Alternatively, is it awesome? Let me know how you do treasure, in the comments below.