Treasure is the ticket to the next adventure. Done right your players will write the game they want to play. Use these tricks & tables to make your next campaign epic.
As a DM, i would often forget to put treasure into my dungeon crawl-style adventures. Asking around, it wasn't just me: most Dungeon Masters had no idea what treasure was for. If players have all the gear they need and it isn't a magic item... well... who cares what it is? What are they going to do with it? It only adds encumbrance, a variant rule which no one could be bothered to figure out anyway.
Index Of Ideas: Treasure Hordes, Glory Galore!
What Does Treasure Do For Your Game? How treasure allows a DM to control the game, drive the story, keep the pace and build tension.
Kinds Of Treasures: Beyond coin: what else has loot-value.
Anti-Treasure: Include At Your Own Peril: Should you include cursed things and hard-to-use wealth?
Spend Your Loot: What To Buy With Too Much Money - A list of different ideas for players to spend their character's money.
Why Treasure? What Loot Does For Your Game
- Explain Lore: Most players have neither interest nor time to listen to the world's history nor any character's back-story. They want ACTION and to GET THINGS DONE. Well, picking up treasure is actually the point of the game, so everyone will listen intently. This is the incredibly-rare Dungeon Master Spotlight Time: the DM can use all the treasure to leave hints, clues and evidence as to what has happened to nearly everyone in your world.
- Prompt Quests: All treasure came from somewhere. Tracing it back to the source should usually give more treasure. Stolen from a dragon hoard? From the abandoned dwarven foundry? A payout from the merchant's guild? From a sunken ship that was of king's third fleet? This is just in discussing gold, gems & jewellery - every magic item has its own origin and adventure backstory.
- Make Non-Player Characters Relevant &/or Useful: Should players collect 271 weapons from the slain orc hoard, those crude blades, interesting axes and surprisingly well balanced maces are, indeed, extremely valuable. But, unlike your favourite MORPG, only a few people would be ready, willing and able to buy them. Who needs that much military gear? Would a blacksmith team want it for iron? Would a Rogues' Guild need them to start an uprising? Will any nobles be upset that an arsenal is up for the highest bidder? Your players will find out should they sell these three hundred weapons.
- Players Will Buy What They REALLY Want: As a DM you have to guess what to give them and this is worse than buying presents at Christmas. You have never actually met their characters (nor could you): no one knows what they enjoy. If you give players the right options they can and will get the valuable items they want - which is half the point of the game in the first place.
- Shop Till You Drop: This is an adventure in-and-of-itself. Shopping. Tell players about Grunta'ak's Black Market, The Noble's Grand Circle, that shop that is never in the same alleyway twice or that wizard's gathering where they trade forbidden components. They may get into some serious trouble in the process, but let them outright buy that thing they think they want.
Kinds Of Treasures: Not All That Glitters Is Not Gold Coins
- Gold: Any coin gives country, great leader, year and some emblem-totem. You can also give quality of the coin (bent, worn, filed down, glowing, image of king winks, etc.) as well as hints of relevant lore ('this kingdom ended tragically when the queen was slain by her consort just before the undead army invaded').
- Gems: Cut gems have grading categories but most characters will NOT care (nor should they - this is really geeky stuff). Gems are also required components for many powerful spells, enchantments and magic items - tell them what could be developed from these stones. If they roll appraisal really well (above 20), you can give a gem's lore-background ('this giant pearl was owned as a princess' toy!') or useful fence ('the Circle of Unicorns from the Jade Forest will want to see this, i bet'). If you are a forward-thinking DM, give them a gem with a long-lasting spell in it, as listed below.
- Jewellery: Goldsmiths mark nearly everything they do with their stamp, right down to a humble brass ring. It is easy to do and kind of satisfying - this is their mark lives on after they die. For a mere handful of gold (50-ish gp.) one can enchant the item to have any of the common magic item effects on it (found in Xanathar's as well as your DM'g Guide). Not only does this easily increase the value, but durability, find-ability, reputation . Take 10% of the jewellery's value as how much one would (probably) spend on enchanting it during the commission process. Thus, 500 gp. jewellery would often have one or more common enchantments, a 5000 gp item an uncommon enchant and so on and so forth. Items worth 50k+ will usually have both enchantments & reputation so powerful that it would be risky to use in almost any public situation (simple common folk observing: 'Is that guy wearing... the lost crown of Xanxerian Tria'Vex The Third??').
- Art (sculpture, tapestries &/or paintings): Consider any organic material (cloth, vellum, leather, horn, ivory, wood or any stuff that is compostable-degradable-recyclable in the long term) to have at least common-grade enchantment. Remember, according to the Rules as Written (RAW) a mere green slime can eat through solid adamantine plate mail in seconds. If you want your treasures to last in your dungeon that has been untouched for centuries, you will want it to have a mild enchantment of some kind, no matter how vague. Otherwise a single moth can take out the entire Drow darkweave spider-silk tapestry in a matter of two months.
- Equipment (amounts &/or quality): A hundred properly packed lenses is worth 10k gold to the right buyer(s). An indestructible platinum spyglass can be worth 10k+. Items of very specific use like a properly made mythril chain barding for a gryphon ('light enough to not impede flight') or a spider-silk tent that non-magically ignores infra vision - things that cater to a specific target audience are hard to price-tag. Once again, if made of organic or semi-organic material, most will want this with a common magic item - spring for the 50 gold and give it some weird, strange yet fun magical effect. The only down-side of upgrading common gear to common magic: it radiates magic and is far easier to find with divination or even reputation. Should you take a specific common magic item into a tavern every bard may somehow know the history. That said, a bard that is good at his trade will also recognize specialized gear's lore as well ('wasn't that the exact chipped great sword owned by the Warlord K'krook'kik when he was slain by his own blade? The one paladin Vvalsh Ghordun used against him?')
- Magical Components: Every magic item requires key components to be made. Often this is parts of powerful creatures or monsters, but not always. Mythical and situational stuff counts too: sweat of a great hero victorious in a legendary battle, the captured sounds of perfect silence, the feathers from a peacock that willingly gave its primary plume / tail feather: you name it, it has great value even if it never gets used to build that rare or powerful item. Tuning forks representing one or more planes, like the ones made for Plane Shift spells, are amazing treasure and so lore-seeped. What are the notes to hell anyway?
- Magic Item Recipies, BluePrints, Patterns &/or Schematica: Such Blue Prints are generally worth ten times the item they describe. Of course, one would presume some lawful and good church has long mass-printed the recipe for a basic Healing Potion or Holy Water and that one has minimal value. That said, the recipe for an Invisibility potion or robe would be very hard to find! This information is typically in a book though one might find it written on nearly anything, similar to spell descriptions in spell books.
- Spellbooks & stuff: Spell books and inks are expensive but filled out spell books are near-priceless and entirely non-magical. Granted, most wizards take care to enchant these items to an extreme. Keep in mind that a spell can also be written on or in anything. This is mentioned in Xanathar's: you could have spells written inside game marbles, on a deck of cards, on a staff, as a tattoo or anywhere that can take writing of any kind. A smart arch-mage would probably etch-carve their Wish spell on the side of a mountain so it would be hard to recognize and impossible to lose. The sky is the limit on this: you could easily have spells form in clouds at a certain time of year. You get the idea.
- Long-Lasting Spells & Magical Effects: Spells like Continual Flame and Magic Mouth can add value to an item - technically, these two spells could easily make a Singing Sword - without the need for any magic-item style enchantings. Items with residual magical effects could also be extremely valuable: the petrified remains of a great or legendary hero would be an expensive statue (albeit heavy). The breath of a Gorgon can turn almost any corporeal creature to stone - this includes some pretty, powerful or rare creatures such as demons, fae, dragons and most undead. That is a very cool statue indeed! Also note: someone can survive in a Magic Jar state indefinitely - even should their body be dead and long gone. Such a magical person-item can also explain lore, be a valuable ally, provide quests and far more. This one item can be many campaigns if you (and your players) so desired.
Anti-Treasure: Include At Your Own Peril
Anti-treasure is very valuable when you do not really want to give players everything in the hoard. Example: 'The dragon's loot is worth millions!' Perhaps you don't want your players having that level of liquid asset? Do remember that all loot that is false, difficult &/or problematic will be a killjoy
- Treasure, yes... but: too big, too weird &/or just no fun: Giving away tens of thousands of copper coins is just cruel. A semi-precious gemstone statue of a dragon, life-sized. Three ogre-sized suits of half-plate. A full collection of one hundred bronze shortswords. Any art that is carved, set or guided directly into the wall, like any fresco.
- Items that track the user: Technically even a sentient magic item (especially if the caster has a part of it / item has a low wisdom score) can be used to tail a party. This could be any item a caster can easily identify with their scrying-seeking magic or something that leaves a trail or sends out a signal of some kind. Even a singing magic item could be an issue if the notes magically linger &/or carry a long distance.
- Sentient &/or Cursed magical stuff: Be careful not to ruin the party with this 'reward'. Take a standard +1 Cursed Sword / Sword of Vengeance: let the party reason, bargain and help the 'angry spirit' out. Then no one needs to be banished and one gets a cool talking sword at the end. Flying animated carpet:
- Mimics, illusions and monsters in disguise: If you use this too often the party will be tapping, prodding and poking every single object they encounter for the rest of their campaign days.
- Items that control / destroy player agency: Charms, holds and domination spells are a lot of fun until a player is owned / PWNed. Most players do not fathom that the entire point of creating an ancient powerful sentient magic item was not to help your twenty-something year old kid win over some nice loot.
Spend Your Loot: What To Buy With Too Much Money
This will change dramatically from campaign to campaign. Some 5e worlds give zero magic items right to level twenty. The other extreme: with some later rule books (Xanathar's, Mordenkainen's, Tasha's) one can learn new tool skills in less than ten weeks and make pretty much anything. Consult with your DM to find out what is on the table.
- Massive Magical Mounts: More than horses. Anything listed in the Find Steed & Find Greater Steed
- Glorious Golems Galore: Variations on the four (flesh, clay, stone, iron) - they need not always be statues of men. Animated items can be more than just weapons and armour. Imagine any item, useful or not, animated or made of any different material.
- Really Real Estate: Typically this is civic land with structures (housing) on it. That said, you can also add military (castles) and businesses (including warehousing, caravans & staff).
- Servants, Serfs, Slaves & Wage Slaves: Does your campaign allow for slavery? What are people willing to do for money? If you took history you know where 'reality' stands on this. Most monsters have no rights, especially if they are below a certain intelligence. Oozes, tslaadpoles, basilisks, gibbering mouthers, mimics, stupid-lesser fiends - anything below the intelligence of an ogre is fair game.
- Magic Items: In 5th edition player-character creation of magical things wasn't encouraged, then it was. Remember that players need three items: pattern-template-formula plus the level-appropriate hard-to-find components as well as enough raw cash. Then, finding the able bodied caster or class-appropriate mage-smithy of 3rd+ level with requisite spells (with time to spare) is the 'easy' part...
- New & Interesting Spells: Most think 'wizard', but all casters can create spells. Making out-of-combat spells can really shape a campaign as long as it does not break the local fantasy-economy.