501595_55750409This is part two of a two part article. The first part, focused on non-magical treasure, can be found here. Part two is focused mostly on magic treasure.

As discussed in part one, treasure is supposed to be an exciting part of most games, but it often boils down to “How many gp worth? Got it. Great!” or surreal laundry lists of items. This is the second set of seven tips to help make treasure a more exciting part of your campaign.

Treasure as Clues:
Treasure details can be used as clues to aspects of your campaign world you want your players to discover. To highlight the fact that a demon invasion eradicated a lost civilization, you might include a number of weapons that are especially effective against demons in treasure caches found in it’s ruins. Similarly, finding a shield engraved with elven runes, even if it’s just a normal shield, is a clue that the lost elven necropolis is somewhere nearby. Treasure hand outs, more than any other time, your players are paying attention. Take advantage of it.

Quest Rewards:
Similar to “Counting it Later” from part one, you can deduct a portion of the treasure the characters would have gathered in their adventure, and give it to them later as a quest reward. Since this is being given to them by a patron, it can come in any form imaginable, from a simple gold payment, to a magic item, a land deed, or even a herd of goats. Whatever’s appropriate to the patron in question is fine. Much like “Really Different Currencies” from part one, it’s up to the players to find out how to make best use of any strange reward they receive.

Treasure Cards:
Handing out treasure on index cards can help reduce the bookkeeping involved with recording treasure, and allows you to impart as much or as little information as you see fit. If your want to keep some details about a particular item hidden, just make a note on the card you hand to the players including the session it was given to them and a unique identifier, allowing you to look up the rest of the information at a later date.

Names, History, and Legends for Magic Items:
Back when Carter was in office, magic items were unique and named and felt special. While you could technically find a magic sword +1, players were encouraged to discover the properties of these items through experimentation instead of being told outright or using spells. This meant that even if your treasure was just a  magic sword +1, it was still “The sword we took from the Hobgoblin Chief” or “The Mace of the Black Knight” which is a great deal more interesting to have on your character sheet than “short sword +1 fiery burst”.  When you hand out treasure, even if you also reveal it’s nature and properties, make sure to refer to it with a name or history first. Using this in reverse order, you can reveal the name or history before the item itself by adding magic items when the characters hear legends or stories. Change “Sir Rolf, who saved the kingdom from Manfred the Lich Lord” to “Sir Rolf, who saved the kingdom by splitting Manfred the Lich Lord in twain with his holy blade, Angel’s Edge” Where these weapons of legend lay, or if the characters ever find them is completely up to you, but setting up a legend ahead of time means that if and when they do find the magic sword, it will be “Angel’s Edge, the holy sword of Sir Rolf” not “Long Sword, +2, Holy”.

Spontaneous Magic:
In your campaign, magic might all be rigid and codified, but it doesn’t have to be if you don’t want it to. Fiction and folklore are full of magic that occurs spontaneously from the will of greater beings, or exposure to great sources of magic. It all depends on the way you want to portray magic in your campaign. If one of your players states that his character prays for success in an upcoming endeavor, it’s completely within the realm of possibility to decide that their deity hears their prayers and imbues one of their items with magic power. This might be an obvious event, or they might be completely unaware of the change until much later. Maybe a shield used to block the fiery breath of an ancient and powerful dragon absorbs some of the great beast’s inner fire and remains warm forever after, providing protection against the cold. To keep this kind of spontaneous magic in check, it’s easy enough to simply remove a like amount of treasure from an upcoming challenge.

Magic Materials:
If your group is able to craft their own items, handing them a portion of their treasure in the form of a material ideal for crafting items can provide them with a jumping off point for inspiration. The heartwood of an ancient treant might be an ideal material for the shaft of a spear, a wizard staff, a wand, or anything else that seems appropriate. On the other hand, if they choose to fashion it into the haft of an axe or a wand of fire, they may find themselves haunted by the angry nature spirit.

Reskinning Treasures:
Changing the appearance of your treasures is an excellent way to not only add flair to your treasure, but highlight different aspects of your campaign. This is most easily done with single use items like potions or scrolls. Changing a potion to a magic rune that must be thrown to the ground, or a scroll to a preserved giant frog’s egg the wizard must hold to his brow to absorb the knowledge of the spell from the mummified tadpole’s mind, alters nothing mechanically, but helps these items stand out from the norm, and helps inform the players about the beings that made them.

Further Suggestions:
The comment thread on part one is already full of good ideas, and no doubt there will be lots of contributions here too, so if you’ve got a great tip for making treasure come alive, share it with the rest of us!

About  Matthew J. Neagley

First introduced to RPGs through the DnD Red Box Set in 1990, Matt fights on ongoing battle with GMing ADD, leaving his to-do list littered with the broken wrecks of half-formed campaigns, worlds, characters, settings, and home-brewed systems. Luckily, his wife is also a GM, providing him with time on both sides of the screen.



5 Responses to Seven More ways to Spice up Your Treasure

  1. My wife is trying out treasure cards (she’s using the pretty ones from Piazo), but it’s been inconsistent– we have cards for some items but not others.

    The particular utility of treasure cards seems to be for portable items that get traded around– like potions and scrolls– with the added bonus that you can collect potions as they’re drunk, so you don’t have to worry about people not keeping count– or keeping it on their character sheet after they passed it off to someone else.

    Spontaneous magic, like your dragon warmed shield, has a good chance of making the players feel special. Because enchantment is normally it’s a long process, it really underlines their heroism.

    I like magic materials– in 3.5 I had some enchanted stones that offset the a set XP cost for item crafting. I didn’t make them feel special– but I should have.

    Names and histories are great– you’re right, the Rolf’s Wyvernslayer is a lot catchier and more memorable than most stacks of enchantment.

  2. I’ve used the spontaneous magic option before, but I didn’t have the effect immediately known to the player or the character. Instead, the weapon functioned normally against most foes, but suddenly began to glow when near the quest monster. The PC found that his blows dealt more damage and caused great pain to the target of his quest. This part-time magical effect was similar to the sword “Sting” in “The Hobbit” rather than the traditional D&D approach to “all magic, all the time.” The effect ended once the quest was fulfilled.

    Of course, more permanent, conditional magic items are a good way to limit magic escalation in the campaign and keep items unique, but that is a subject for another discussion.

  3. Some of the more treasured items in my campaigns have been convenience/appearance related minor magical items that have almost zero effect on game balance.

    Things like:
    A ring that repels mosquitoes
    Boots that keep your feet dry in the rain
    Jewelry with stones that always perfectly match/complement the wearer’s eyes.
    A book that has a new story each time you finish the previous one so it never gets boring.

    The key is to keep alert and remember the items are there to allow the character to benefit from it in terms of a little more spotlight time: i.e. “While traveling through the swamp everyone but those near Joe the Rogue are being constantly harassed by insects.” or “The Lord Mayor comments on how nicely Sally the Cleric’s Jewels complement her eyes.”

    Joe’s player will enjoy the opportunity to lord his character’s insect free hike over the other players and they will squabble over who gets to walk near him.

  4. I was running a high level campaign in D&D 3.5 and one of the problems was that the generation tables created a quantity of items that was ridiculous.

    I handled the problem in game. They were bound by their church to turn in all treasure they found. The treasure would then be accounted for (by psychometry I guess), and returned to its rightful owners. Any treasure deemed “evil” was destroyed by the priests. The team was then given whatever was left over. The players would get to see what was given back to the rightful owners, what was destroyed, and of course what they got to keep.

    The church then strongly hinted that donations would be accepted.

    I would often cull out 70% of the treasure. I was surprised by how well the players went along with it. The paladin even donated most of his treasure back to the church.

  1. More sandbox'ing advice of sorts. | Doomed to Reality

    […] Check out previous articles “Seven Ways to Spice up your treasure” and it’s follow up “Seven more ways to spice up your treasure” for examples and […]

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