It is unavoidable. Sometimes it comes from the thrill of victory. Sometimes it is just plain annoying. Sometimes it is the only reason for the adventure. Regardless of your view of treasure it is inevitable. Once the carnage is over the pilfering begins. How much does he have on him? Is it magical? What does it do? Oh no, not more copper. Treasure can quickly lose its excitement for the tired DM that wants to concentrate on the story and for the PCs who quickly get bored with ‘more coins’ or ‘more gems’ or ‘more magical weapons.’ Okay, maybe not so much the magical weapons part but that is another debatable subject.
Treasure should be fun and exciting. Maybe not all the time because ogres probably don’t have much more then half eaten copper and sticks on them, but treasure can be much more creative and the game will thank you for it.
Arguably the most common type of treasure and rightfully so. It is small, universal, and everybody has it.
But coins can be much more then “you find 100 gold pieces.”
ephemeralstability had a great idea on changing the shape of the currency used . Take a look at that here. Basically each coin would take its own distinct geometric shape.
Maybe there were different monetary systems that were once used by have long ago fallen into disuse. Perhaps the money is minted with the current king or his symbol on it. Through time the value of a coin with a hero king of the past on it is worth twice as much as a current coin and conversely a evil king of the past, his coin could be totally rejected. So when they find coin they can find the same coin with different symbols that greatly affect their value.
If hero king copper coins in bulk are found on a group of ogres you know they found something. And ogres probably have somebody ordering them about, and they very well may have the real valuable hero king gold coins…could be a hook.
There also could be money minted in different lands and by different races as well that may change the worth.
You don’t want to get too complicated because the system still has to be quick and shouldn’t take over the game, but adding a little bit of extra to the standard gold coin can bring back the excitement in finding another copper coin.
Gems and Jewels
Well, they are what they are and if anybody can be more creative with these please chime in. They don’t always have to be found in a perfect already cut state. In a mining area or cave they can be found in their most ugliest and almost unrecognizable form. A gem crafter could immediately see the inherent value in the piece of discolored rock as could a PC with that skill.
Probably the best thing about gems is that the value can fluctuate so much from one shop to the next. Reasons for this can vary greatly. Ignorance or dishonesty of the shop keeper, market saturation and the rarity of the gem, and quality of the gem itself. In many cases many identical gems may fetch a higher price because they can be used to create matching jewelry.
These may not carry the most valuable prices but they are everywhere and can always be used to make a few bucks. These are the things that you find at the general, and not so general store, and there is always some sort of demand for them somewhere.
For instance: tapestries, rugs, fireplace grates, candles and candlesticks, tables and chairs, pots and pans, statues, door locks (on that door you just kicked/burned down), etc, etc.
There are other more bulky items too. Bags of grain or rice from the kitchen, barrels of ale or wine, maybe they had some livestock in pigs, cows, goats, or chickens (lots of fun trying to get those to the village to sell), statues, doors you didn’t destroy that have that ornate carving that always seems to be in evil guys homes, chandelier, stained glass windows.
Just look around you or go through the price list of whatever gaming book you use and see how many things of value that you pass up every adventure.
Transporting it can be a challenge in itself. I had one group that took a wagon whenever we fought evil and took a wagon full of stuff with us when we left. There are magical opportunities to transport these goods as well.
The problem, like gems, is getting a good value for your hard work.
What about the evil man’s castle itself. Does it have a prior owner that kicked them out that may want this stuff you are taking? Do the ones that cleaned the tower get ownership of it and therefore 1) use it as their new base home 2) sell it for insane profit?
Books and Papers
If you killed a wizard, you probably have something. Found his tower, you have even more. Doesn’t have to be a wizard. Anybody with money and an interest in something may collect books or papers on the subject. Might give an extra dimension to the person you just defeated when the evil mass murderer loved epic tales and songs of love.
Culled from a note I had from long ago, perhaps papers and documents are found that show that a king that took the throne after an assassination really shouldn’t be king. Proof that such and such was chosen to be next king but it was taken from him with backdoor politics or something. Perhaps another document signed by long dead kings show that land was granted to certain dukes but the land was really given to their enemies. A few questions asked of correct people shows that there has always been rumors of these things but nothing that could ever be proven…until now.
The problem is finding a buyer that knows its worth.
I really don’t think I want to delve into this one. There are many different opinions on this subject and a few thread discussing it. Needless to say I have an entire section dedicated to magic items so you can use any of these as inspiration for this topic.
Animals and Plants
Alive or dead, mundane or exotic, there is very often somebody that wants something.
Already mentioned livestock that would otherwise be abandoned. Found a liter of puppies or wolves, somebody would see the value of getting them and training them. Exotic birds, alive or dead for their feathers. Alchemists are always in the market for exotic ingredients. Claws of wyverns, teeth of dragons, whatever. If you killed an exotic creature of any type, don’t waste that effort, salvage everything you can off it. At the very least it may be worth a mug of ale at the tavern when you tell your tale and then display a collection of teeth and claws.
Plants can be used to. Adventures take you to exotic places that few travel to without need. While there perhaps there could be some useful fauna that could be collected and used. Rare plants or fungi living deep in caves, new kind of vine leaves that eat human flesh, trees that grow perfectly straight (chop down a few to sell for staffs, arrows, or longbows), or even spring water could be valuable (how much do we spend now on ‘bottled spring water’ when we have a tap in our kitchen?).
All this stuff is great, but if there is no market then it might as well be firewood…although there is probably a market for that as well.
It takes a little extra initial planning by the players and DM but with some research they will be able to find out what some of the items are in this location that people want. DM could simply make a chart of the things or use the item price guide in the book and randomly roll to find a few items of need in each town. Alchemist may be short on Werewolf blood and the general store is running low on grain. Once these notes start being taken they take on a life of their own. The PCs start to know what is valuable and worth salvaging and as they go through different towns they can sell information to a grain merchant with surplus that such and such town is low on grain. Soon the players will be like self proclaimed antique road show professionals able to quote prices and understand market trends. Gold loses its flavor and they are now looking for a 7 foot table with lion claw table legs. Soon the search for demons to kill loses its flavor in the hope of finding a rare color of silk in the market for cheap. Well, maybe not.
The purpose of all this was to bring up some more obvious, but often overlooked, types of treasure. The focus too often is on gold, gems, and magic items when the fun could be enriched by recognizing some awkward, but just as valuable, alternate items. Don’t pass up that ornately carved throne gathering dust in the lair of ogres. Don’t pass up that odd colored flower that your character has never seen. Take it all with you. You never know what you might get for it.