Welcome once again to the weekly Nerdarchy Newsletter. Apologies this week is coming a bit late. We’ve had a bunch of behind the scenes stuff going on of late. But on a personal note my wife (Nerdarchist Ted’s sister) had hip replacement this week so we’ve had some extra things on our plate. You’ll be getting two newsletters kind of closer together than usual because of that. You can get the Nerdarchy Newsletter delivered to your inbox each week, along with updates and info on how to game with Nerdarchy, by signing up here. Now on to it. This week is all about that sweet, sweet D&D treasure.
Delving Dave’s Dungeon
The other guys have covered treasure as treasure pretty well. I think I’ll take things in a different direction. Nerdarchist Ted touched on the idea that treasure might be a way to incorporate your player’s skills into the game for greater riches. He also talks about it being a way to insert more lore from your world into the game. Both great ideas.
Treasure in Dungeons & Dragons can be a great plot device. It doesn’t matter if you are talking coins (Waterdeep: Dragon Heist), art objects (Maltese Falcon), or magic weapons (Dragonlances), treasure has been used to advance and create plots throughout all kinds of stories. Players need to find the treasure in order to solve a problem or just for the sake of having it. It is a very easy way to motivate D&D players often times.
Sometimes the treasures themselves can lead to more adventure. A powerful magic item that yet slumbers and the only way to awaken its power is a dangerous quest. Or within a dragon’s hoard the party finds a mysterious map that claims it leads to even more riches.
Sometimes D&D treasure can be more than it seems. One of the most beloved and feared D&D monsters the mimic for example. What about The Hobbit and the curse laid upon the gold that corrupts the dwarves that recover it. The players vanquish a powerful foe only to have it curse any that would plunder its hoard with its dying breath.
Treasure and riches that lead to more adventures is the best kind of treasure of all in a game of Dungeons & Dragons in my opinion.
From Ted’s Head
Treasure comes in many forms and as Dungeon Master I think you should sprinkle in all types throughout your game, depending on the style of game you are running of course. If you are running a survival game where the heroes are constantly on the move, a home base or land as treasure might be contrary.
So let’s go over all the different types. You can of course give money. This can come in a variety of forms. It can be coin or gems, but it can be art objects as well. The art objects might have a base price but if the players are willing to do History or Religion checks on it they might be able to find a buyer who is willing to pay more for its significance. You can do this every so often adding more story and lore into your world through the use of treasure.
It would hardly be D&D if the party did not get magic items. Why stop there? Each character will always be unique in this game. Even if two players were to make the exact same character, same stats, race class and even subclass there is still so many choices to make, what weapons and armor are they going to use, what skills will they take? So figure out who your players are and their characters are and make an item that is designed for that character, so much so, that when the party discovers it they all know this is an item that Bob the Fighter would just love. Do this through out the game for all your players.
I mentioned land earlier, and you can very much give the players a place to call home. Depending on the level of the game, it could be a small house, it could be a shop to sell their wares from. You could even allow them to take over an abandoned castle at later levels. Providing a home does a number of things for them. It gives them a place that they can and will go back to. This allows you to tell a cyclic story making the occasional stop and end point easy. But it also gives you something for the villain to attack and potentially take away. Have fun with it.
Something many DMs overlook is extra mechanical benefits. This can be done with powerful beings, legendary potions or odd magical effects. You can grant extra stat bonuses, feats, more hit points or even resistances. Wizards get to learn more spells and add them to their spellbook, but what if you granted your warlock, sorcerer or bard an extra known spell? That kind of reward is huge. These are things I try to add to my game the most as there is nothing in the book about these kinds of extras.
Through doing quests and saving the noble, characters could earn rank and title. Now this could be a double-edged sword. The might get privilege with it but it might come with duties and requirements as well. Because of such this is something that can grant more quests and better rewards, but failure could result in demotions or the loss of the rewards altogether.
Lastly you can earn friendship, allies or even retainers and followers. In earlier editions of the game when you reached a certain level your deeds became well known and people would seek you out because they longed to be like you and share in your glory. Most of my games we did not use those rules as they got clunky and lots of followers would die under a dragon’s breath weapon. But if you are looking to add extra benefits to the players gaining allies or followers makes for a new way to roleplay and gives some great advantages as well.
So I ask you: Are you giving enough treasure to your players when you play Dungeons & Dragons?
From the Nerditor’s Desk
Saving the day, the town and the multiverse from the dark entities, learning the ancient lore, resolving an element from your backstory in dramatic fashion — all of these great rewards contribute to memorable moments in our games.
But let’s face it, when we defeat the Big Bads, we really want to see some tangible bonus. Fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons is a game about exploring dangerous places, fighting monsters and gaining loot. In other words, in large part, it’s all about that D&D treasure.
Along with leveling up and gaining cool new class features, finding gold, gems, objects d’art and magic items is the juice of the D&D experience. Don’t get me wrong, I love the unfolding collaborative story. But adding wealth and treasure to my character sheet, or doling it out as the Dungeon Master, opens pathways to new ways of immersing myself in the game experience just the same as a dramatic social encounter, discovery of crucial information or battle against a pivotal foe..
D&D treasure serves a storytelling purpose all its own. Even the simplest of treasure — coins — have storytelling elements woven right into the Basic Rules. We all know gold, silver, and copper pieces bulge from our characters’ pouches and change hands without a second thought. But have you noticed this little line in the Equipment chapter?
“In addition, unusual coins made of other precious metals sometimes appear in treasure hoards. The electrum piece (ep) and the platinum piece (pp) originate from fallen empires and lost kingdoms, and they sometimes arouse suspicion and skepticism when used in transactions.”
How would the characters react the next time they pay for something with electrum and the vendor makes a sign against evil at the sight of the coin? Curiosity about the origin of their wealth can lead to all sorts of adventures. The same can be said of art and rare objects as D&D treasure. Finding collectors, negotiating prices, and researching history are all activities characters can pursue. They’re also awesome opportunities to use proficiencies with various tools and skills in new or different ways.
And magic items? Now we’re talking. Something as simple as a +1 weapon can have a big impact for a character, story or campaign. One of my favorite examples is from Princes of the Apocalypse. Hidden somewhere in the adventure (I won’t say where to avoid spoilers) is the following text:
“To encourage the Believers, Larrakh left a +1 dagger decorated with star motifs and a grip of night-blue leather…The dagger doesn’t make noise when it hits or cuts something. The name “Reszur” is graven on the dagger’s pommel. If the wielder speaks the name, the blade gives off a faint, cold glow, shedding dim light in a 10-foot radius until the wielder speaks the name again.”
Not world-shattering by any means, when I found Reszur during my own play through as a half-orc Rogue assassin i thought it was the coolest thing ever, and that’s the only melee weapon Zarak ever used. Later, I placed it as treasure in a campaign I ran, and the player who found it likewise loved it.
The lesson here is, even the most basic magic items have a story to tell. In my game the player spent a lot of time researching Reszur’s history. Every so often the character was rewarded by discovering greater magic sealed within. (Stuff I made up along the way. I like magic items with unlockable features.)
If I’ve piqued your curiosity about how D&D treasure can be a terrific storytelling tool, check out the Nerdarchy website where I share a preview of Treasured Finds, a DM’s Guild product with all sort of neat treasure-related stuff.
Until next time, stay nerdy!
— Nerdarchy Team