Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Grognard's Grimoire: Weird Monetary Treasures

One of the things you need to remember about old school D&D is that most characters received the bulk of their experience points for accumulating treasure rather than from slaying monsters. That's why treasure generation is given such detail in the old rules. It's also why many valuable items are bulky and/or unwieldy -- to make it hard for the characters to haul it out of the dungeon and thus gain experience points appropriate to its value.

That said, I was never really one of those referees who saddled his players with a funerary boat made of solid gold and took big to fit through the doors of the burial chamber where it was kept or a dragon's trove consisting entirely of copper pieces in the millions. I liked to toy with my players, of course, and test their ingenuity, but I preferred to go the route of simply making ordinary things like coins, gems, or jewelry sufficient weird that it took cleverness and perseverance to be able to be able to cash them in.

I used to have a formula for the way I determined the likelihood that monetary treasure was unusual in some way, but I can no longer recall it. So, I'm going to borrow a page from Matt Finch's Swords & Wizardry and go with the following:

For every 100gp in value, there is a 10% chance that 100gp worth of monetary treasure is unusual, AND

For every 1,000 gp in value, there is a 10% chance that 1,000gp worth of monetary treasure is unusual, AND

For every 5,000gp in value, there is a 10% chance that 5,000gp worth of monetary treasure is unusual.

Remember, of course, that "monetary" here means treasure whose value to the characters is expressed entirely in how much cash it can bring through its sale. I never used this method when dealing with weapons, armor, and other such things, because there already were tables to determine their unique properties, if any.

For every Xgp worth of monetary treasure determined to be unusual, roll on the following table to determine in what way it's unusual:

1 Unusual Shape (e.g. triangular coins or square gems)
2 Unusual Size (e.g. giant-forged coins or small bead-like gems)
3 Unusual Color (e.g. green gold pieces or blue rubies)
4 Unusual Markings (e.g. strange glyphs on coins or carvings on the surface of gems)
5 Unusual Property (e.g. glowing coins or floating gems)
6 Hazardous Property (e.g. coins coated with contact poison or gems that give off radiation)

Except for number 6 on the list, all of the other unusual qualities add about 10-25% value to the monetary treasure, but the characters have to work hard to get someone who will be willing to buy them. After all, how many fences have ever heard of blue rubies and would recognize their value when he did? The intent here is to spur side adventures and visits to sages and esoteric collectors in order to offload the weird loot.

21 comments:

  1. 1. Coins are minted with the head of a problematic/controversial political figure
    2. treasure is obviously previously stolen from someone powerful in the game world
    3. treasure smells distinctive/disturbing
    4. treasure (coins and gems) has been reworked into orcish jewelry, or has otherwise been repurposed for obviously monstrous use (eg. decorative boss for war catapult, gilded skull drinking cups)
    5. treasure consists of spices, delicate cloths, artworks, mechanical Turks etc. which must be (a) treated with care, (b) appraised for value, (c) taken to a suitable market/culture
    6. treasure is unnaturally gorgeous and alluring, but will dissolve/decay in sunlight/water/when taken above ground.

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  2. ...and, of course, treasure coins are oddly and irregularly shaped, can be pieced together with patience to reveal a map.

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  3. Thanks, I never even thought of going ahead and making loot harder to cash in. Just doing the funerary ship thing would be a big step up compared to what I did in my last adventure. That is, except where I was in a rush, I generally tried to make treasure both more plausible and more portable than, say, 3000 GP just lying there.

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  4. Life-Draining Technicality Man again.

    A non-red corundum is by definition a sapphire, and a red corundum is by definition a ruby. A "blue ruby" is like having a "red-headed brunette"; the first part directly contradicts the second.

    (That sort of definition-by-color tends to be the case with most colored gemstones. Beryls come in a variety of colors, including green emeralds; a "blue emerald" is an aquamarine. Though it's reasonably common to call red beryl "red emerald", especially now that the name bixbite has been officially deprecated.)

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  5. I used to mess with players by having them drag in their chests full of gold, ony to find A) most money exchangers would not accept the coins for anything, as they had benn "out of circulaion" for too long, laying in the treasure hoard, or B) not willing to accept them for fear of causing a run on the market, and devaluing the currency. Then again, I'm a geek like that. 8)

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  6. ...and, of course, treasure coins are oddly and irregularly shaped, can be pieced together with patience to reveal a map.

    That's superb!

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  7. A "blue ruby" is like having a "red-headed brunette"; the first part directly contradicts the second.

    But a wizard did it!

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  8. B) not willing to accept them for fear of causing a run on the market, and devaluing the currency.

    I'm not sure a medieval fantasy merchant would have the knowledge of economics to consider such a thing, but what do I know?

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  9. a dragon's trove consisting entirely of copper pieces in the millions

    Hey, if it hadn't been for that trove, Suzail harbour would never have gotten a 50-foot copper statue of Tyr!

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  10. I'm not sure a medieval fantasy merchant would have the knowledge of economics to consider such a thing

    I don't know anything for sure about medieval fantasy merchants, but there's good evidence that merchants in Cairo in the 11th century and Venice in the 13th century did consider cyclical markets and the costs of long warehousing when deciding how much of a given commodity to release to the market. Now that Goitein's India Book is finally done, we'll be able to see the whole India/Egypt/Europe 11th/12th century linkage

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  11. I just want to say how excellent this all is, and that it will be used the next time I run a fantasy campaign.

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  12. A "blue ruby" is like having a "red-headed brunette"; the first part directly contradicts the second.

    Only her lapidarist knows for sure?

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  13. Fiend Folio monster Gold Bug fits in here somewhere I think: a poisonous beetle with gold piece camouflaged wing casing. Perhaps the beetles are actually worth 10gp each, if the players can kill them without physical damage. Of course they could be used as weapon as well by a particularly inventive party -- buy of the ogre warband with a bag full of poisonous treasure!

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  14. You can get brown sapphires, of course, and they look fantastic... they just sound a bit disappointing.

    Pearls are fun in any colour.

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  15. This is a fun article. I haven't dealt with difficult-to-pawn treasure in recent times. I do enjoy pointing out, the first time a party gets a major wondrous or +high item that few people on the material plane have raw cash to pay. No one warehouses the one and a quarter million gold that some magic items can end up costing. Even if they did, it wouldn't be very mobile.

    Another idea is actually to keep in mind how long it would take to count the 50,000 gold they just pulled from that dragon hoard. They can't just walk into the room and eyeball it. It would take hours at least, a day or two more likely, to get the exact count.

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  16. Another idea is actually to keep in mind how long it would take to count the 50,000 gold they just pulled from that dragon hoard. They can't just walk into the room and eyeball it. It would take hours at least, a day or two more likely, to get the exact count.

    Exactly.

    That's why a friend of mine created a spell, Kretch's Copious Coin Counter, which not only counted the coins but bagged them in 100's.

    Saved a lot of time and added a valuable slang word to our lexicon: "Okay, after we Kretch the lizard men we'll check out the east door..."

    Plus there was the epigram "Kill them all and let Kretch sort them out!"

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  17. I don't know anything for sure about medieval fantasy merchants, but there's good evidence that merchants in Cairo in the 11th century and Venice in the 13th century did consider cyclical markets and the costs of long warehousing when deciding how much of a given commodity to release to the market. Now that Goitein's India Book is finally done, we'll be able to see the whole India/Egypt/Europe 11th/12th century linkage.

    As I said, shows what I know. I never cared much for economics, so I'm not surprised I had no idea about this.

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  18. That's why a friend of mine created a spell, Kretch's Copious Coin Counter, which not only counted the coins but bagged them in 100's.

    Now, that's old school. I love it.

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  19. re medieval economics, I think this is where I depart rather from the pulp end of gaming: it's a really old saw, but I genuinely believe the real world is always richer. I depart from the saw too, in that I don't always consider that to be a good thing: every work of art is a selection from reality, an erasure of some of the information to be found in the real world, in order to present the remaining information in a different light. I'm all for far-reaching and profound erasures, when they're the result of deliberate choices. When they stem from ignorance, they tend to produce much less interesting results. This is what bothers me about "standard fantasy:" it consists of a set of erasures, calculated to remove any interesting reference to the real world. This is partly deliberate - when one wishes to present archetypal stories or fables one needs to avoid their being taken for metaphors or manques of current events, for instance. The standard fantasy setting, having nothing interesting about it, is therefore a useful blank canvas against which to write one's revenge drama, or coming of age rite of passage or whatever. That's fine, in one way. The problem is that when it becomes a standard, consensus background its erasures become blind spots rather than deliberate elisions. After a while it becomes difficult to see anything interesting about the merchant, per se, because the only stories he ever occupies are ones where (a) he's a greedy, amoral tyrant, (b) he's a source of missions/exchange value, (c) he's an obstacle to the acquisition of his beautiful daughter. The truth is, there's great adventuring to be done in mercantile activity, without thieving, or magic rings or what have you, but nobody ever writes about it because it's outside the gaze of the genre. And you don't have to get interested in economics to do it, either, you just have to read a bit about the lives and challenges of actual merchants.
    rant over. Sorry about the length.

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  20. I expanded that thought a bit over at my lj. No useful onclusions, sadly.

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  21. One of the things I struggle with is what the PCs do with their money. If they just hoard the wealth, does it matter how easy it would be to convert to spendable currency? One could require that XP is only earned when the wealth is converted to spendable currency (generally accepted coins and/or gems).

    I like the idea of non-magical treasure being more interesting than "1000 gp" and perhaps even being hard to liquidate, but that difficulty in liquidation has to translate into something interesting and meaningful to the game to be worth it.

    Frank

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