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Dungeons & Dragons - Role Playing Tips

Roleplaying Tips Weekly E-Zine Issue #116

9 Tips For Enhancing Treasure To Improve Your Campaigns

This Week's Tips Summarized

9 Tips For Enhancing Treasure To Improve Your Campaigns

  1. Good Rewards Don't Have To Be Monetary
  2. Exotic Foods
  3. Beasts And Monsters
  4. Strange Materials
  5. Art
  6. Gifts From Nobility
  7. Naming Items
  8. Real Money
  9. Spells
Readers' Tips Summarized

  1. The Aeneid As A Source For Latin Names
  2. Faster Initiative Technique
  3. Using Dice As Minis

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A Brief Word From Johnn

Weak Character Tips Galore
You Tips subscribers are awesome. I received several dozen tips on adventures, stories, and encounters from last week's Weak Characters tips request. Thanks! I've just finished putting them all into a base text file and will be turning that into a Tips issue very soon. I think you'll find a bunch of cool ideas in it that you may not have considered before.

I'm hoping this week's Subscriber Challenge is just as fruitful. It would be pretty cool joining together and creating a huge freebie treasure list based on the ideas from this week's tips.

Have a great week,

Johnn Four johnn@roleplayingtips.com

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Cut Hours From Your Game-Prep Time!

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9 Tips For Enhancing Treasure To Improve Your Campaigns

Hello all! My name is Spike and I have been an avid player of Dungeons and Dragons for almost five years, four of which I have been GMing off and on. After one year of GMing (bad GMing) I decided it was time to find a way to make my games better. I started with treasure. Since I started focusing on self-improvement I now get elected GM for about nine out of ten games, definitely a mixed blessing. :-)

I would like to thank Johnn for the opportunity to present to you my ideas on treasure and all of you for reading them. Just remember to have fun and be creative!


  1. Good Rewards Don't Have To Be Monetary

    About six months ago my character acquired a house. He finally had a place to put all his stuff! I designed it so as not to be too small, not too large, and fairly plain in structure. Now it was time to decorate. But with what? For all the adventures I had been on, and all the monsters I had slain, and all the favors I had done for people, I had nothing to show for it except gold coins and a few pieces of magical equipment.

    All too often in campaigns characters are rewarded almost exclusively with coins and magic items. But, there are many other things that are worth money than what is minted by the government/kingdom. Hopefully, these tips will help GMs think a little bit outside of the box.

    A key point to remember is that not all treasure is monetary. People can be rewarded with such things as titles, honor, or reputation. For instance, defeating the town- terrorizing ogre and taking his club shows power. The big, beat up stick isn't worth squat, but the respect gained from possessing it is!

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  2. Exotic Foods

    It's time to add some spice to your campaign (no pun intended). Next time you are at a restaurant look at the menu. Notice that not everything is the same price. There is a reason for this...some things are more exotic than others! Truffles cost more than regular mushrooms because there are less of them. The same holds true for something like prime rib as compared to ground beef.

    Here are some example foods that make good treasure:
    • Meats: Could be very expensive depending on the rarity or danger of getting them. Imagine the cost of dragon jerky.

    • Herbs And Spices: Have always been sought after for flavor or preservatives. In fact, in ancient times some spices were so rare that they were bought and sold by the grain!

    • Drinks: Wines, teas, and ales can be very expensive. In my campaign, a character found a bottle of 1000 year old Elvish wine. Now how often do you stumble across something like that?

    • Milk: We drink goat's milk, cow's milk, yak's milk, soy milk.... Well, soy milk doesn't exactly count, but you get the idea. So why can't we drink the milk of other fantasy animals?

    • Treats: Sugars, honey, chocolate (sweetened), and other sweet foods were rare in ancient times. Think of it from a character's view: you've never had a bar of chocolate in your life and then you happen to stumble across one. You'd probably be asking yourself, "What kind of magic is this?".

      Although it may sound too modern, it's easy to pull off. If you're at a big-time royal banquet or personal dinner with the king/queen/ruler, they may give the characters some of this "chocolate" from "a land across the sea". Just make sure the wrapper doesn't say "Hershey's".

    • Nuts and Berries: Any culture with access to them has eaten them. As we all know, different nuts and berries have different tastes, properties, and qualities.

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  3. Beasts And Monsters

    Despite popular belief, there is more to an animal than just its pelt. Sure, it may be expensive or rare, but players usually overlook things that can be worth a lot. How much more ferocious would your character look if his necklace was strung with dragon claws?

    Here is a brief list of some possible collectibles:
    • Furs/Scaled Hides
    • Claws
    • Teeth/Fangs
    • Skulls
    • Horns
    • Scales (from large creatures)

    Don't forget the whole animal as well. Stuffed heads or even entire beasts make excellent trophies.

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  4. Strange Materials

    So, your sword's made of steel, your necklace is gold, your walking stick is oak, and your robes are made of cloth. Wow....that's really, really boring. Making items out of different materials greatly increases their value and coolness.
    • Gold, silver, platinum, oak, and silk are all expensive, but common upgrades. Make up some exotic metals that have no other property other than that they're tinted a weird color, or have a hollow sound when struck.

    • Fabrics can be made of plants like cotton or flax except much rarer. Silk doesn't always have to come from silk worms, it can come from certain spiders.

    • Just like sheep, other animals can be sheared and their fur can be woven into cloth.

    • Woods from foreign lands can have unheard of strength, or can have a very pleasant scent to them making them worth a fortune!

    Here are some attributes you can add to materials to make them more exotic:
    • Different color
    • Changes color in heat/cold, sun/shade, etc.
    • Pleasantly or unpleasantly scented
    • Very strong or weak
    • Very flexible or brittle
    • Makes a singing type of sound when struck
    • Has a tendency to attract or repel some people/monsters
    • Never rusts/breaks down
    • No matter how battered it becomes it's always shiny

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  5. Art

    For countless years, works of art have been bought, sold, and collected. All sorts of works, from paintings to carvings to magical tapestries, can exist in your world. Even music can be valuable. A never before seen sheet of music created by Mozart was found and sold for a few hundred thousand dollars! Creations can be crafted from metal, cloth, wood, ivory, bone, skins, etc.

    A few examples of art could be decorated weaponry, finely detailed sculptures, jeweled goblets, or even a chess set whose pieces were carved from the teeth of some particularly horrific beast.

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  6. Gifts From Nobility

    People with power should be able to pay PCs with something more substantial than minted money (unless of course that's all the characters want). Lands upon which a PC can build a home or lands upon which a home is already built is something a noble could grant. Depending on the caste system of your campaign, a PC could even become a noble.

    Titles such as Baron or Knight could be granted by Kings. Make up names for your own titles, such as "High Protector Of..." or "Guardian Of The...".

    Here are a few noble gift ideas:
    • Lands
    • Titles
    • Houses/Sailing ships
    • Servants/Crew
    • Soldiers
    • Solemn promise to be available if the character should ever need his/her aid
    • His/her son's/daughter's hand in marriage
    • Requesting that the character join his/her army as someone of high rank

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  7. Naming Items

    Try naming and giving backgrounds to some of the items that your players find. Don't just call it an axe +1. "+1" isn't a name, it's a power. It's like calling your printer a "Printer page reproducer".

    When a magic item is made, people generally know about it. A PC's axe +1 could be named "Turunt" by him, but his followers call it "Virnok's Hand" as it was owned by the warrior king Virnok until it was lost a century and a half ago.

    Using this sort of naming not only makes the item more interesting, but also allows for good plot hooks. What if Virnok's great grandson wished to have it back in the bloodline? Perhaps a jealous collector has Virnok's armor, shield, bracers, helm, and toothbrush and is just looking for his axe so the collection is complete?

    Not all items were owned by a king. Maybe some were once, long ago, but they get passed through so many hands that no one knows who they belong to anymore. So the sword +2 that your players just found can be named by them. Just maybe, in a few hundred years, collectors will seek out a sword named by one of your players.

    Not only weapons can have names, other things can as well. Let's go back to Virnok's equipment.
    • Armor - (No magic qualities) "Virnok's Shell"
    • Bracers - (Imbues Strength) "Bands of Power"
    • Helm - (Magical Protection) "The Magic Shield"
    • Toothbrush - (No magic qualities) "Virnok's Breath Saver"
    • Axe - (Magically Keen Edge) "The Hand of Virnok" or "Turunt"

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  8. Real Money

    A simple addition to your game could be real cash! In my AD&D game, I use pennies for copper, nickels for silver and miscellaneous brass coins such as arcade tokens for gold pieces. Although this may seem complicated, it's easier than you think. The only physical money that is used is that which is carried by the characters. If the characters find 300 silver pieces, I can write it on an index card if I don't have enough nickels.

    I know it may sound silly to use something like tokens, but after the first session my players didn't even notice that their gold pieces said "Chucky Cheese" or "New Hampshire Highway Token" on them. They all sort of blended together into a single mass of "gold" coins.

    Bills can also be made. Try some on the computer like Monopoly money. Put on different pictures or symbols (try the "wingdings" or "webdings" fonts), and try using different color paper to print them on.

    Since paper bills are easy to make, I'm only going to make a list of the "coins" you could use:
    • Aluminum/brass washers
    • Soda can tabs
    • Sliced up wooden doweling
    • Bottle caps
    • Poker chips (these are quite nice since they are cheap and come in many different colors. Because they're so cheap, you can even spray paint them whatever color you want).

    If you have a bunch of a certain type of coin or bill you can make them separate from the rest. Think of it as foreign currency. Just remember, some merchants may not take the players' money if it's from another land while some currency is valued world-wide (perhaps even inter-planetary).

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  9. Spells

    For all of those games out there with spells in them, this may be a useful tip. Every now and then a spell caster needs some special rare component for one of their spells. Most GMs either make a special quest for them or they somehow weave it into their campaign. But not all components have to be earned from specific quests. Some of the components can be stumbled upon in normal treasure. Gems are the most commonly found components but others can be found as well.

    The best time to do this is when a player isn't looking for the components at the time. It's fun to occasionally let your player be able to cast the cool spells without making them go through one of those "Beat up the wizard as badly as possible so he can finally cast that spell....once" type of campaigns. However, like all treasures, this can be overused.

    The other thing is having your players acquire spells that are cast differently. A spell that only requires a mere gesture is much more valuable than the same spell that requires your mage to dance around like an idiot, shout "OOWANGA" and crack his knuckles to cast. Spells that are easier to cast are usually more valuable and kept more of a secret. Usually you hear about spells like those in legends or superstitions. For instance, "it has been said that the great wizard Huridan could simply snap his fingers and cause lightning bolts to fall from a cloudless sky!". Most legends are based in truth. You could easily make up a simple adventure based on trying to find that spell in Huridan's secret lair.

    Last but not least, scrolls. Just about every scroll I have ever received has been printed on paper. Some have been on papyrus or vellum, but in general they're all done on a paper-like material. However, you can write on anything that has surface area. I found this out one day when I walked into my little cousin's room to discover that he had crayoned half his walls, his desk, and even part of a fake leather jacket. This brought me to the conclusion that writing can be put on anything. Since then, my campaigns have been full of scroll variants.

    Here's a very small list of the possibilities:
    • Sheet metal (Make sure to vary the metals used.)
    • Clay tablets
    • Burned into wood
    • On the backs of paintings
    • Rawhide
    • Soft leather
    • Book covers
    • Engraved onto armor
    • Glass tablets
    • Metal tablets/bars
    • Directly on walls

    You just have to remember that anything can be engraved, written on, carved, etched, or shaped into a scroll. Some things you cannot take with you, like cave walls, so it forces players to figure out other ways to access it, if there are any. Some can even be buried with their makers. For instance, Huridan's legendary lightning spell could have been carved into his coffin or perhaps even etched onto his skull! Just remember that the possibilities are endless!

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Attention Game Publishers & Companies: THIS SPACE FOR RENT

Do you have a gaming-relating product that you'd like to tell 11,700 Game Masters about? Put your information and links here! The GM subscribers to this ezine have been very supportive of advertisers here in the past and are open to learning more about your products as long as they're useful to roleplayers. Just don't try to sell us any swamp land in Gehenna. ;)


Subscribers' Challenge: Treasure Examples

Okay, you've read Spike's excellent tips, now it's time to walk our talk. :) I'd like you to use this week's issue as a Treasure Generation Tool to come up with some cool non- monetary reward ideas. Send 'em on in to me and I'll post them in an upcoming issue or as a freebie Supplemental Issue.

There's almost 12,000 of us here now, if we each send in three treasure ideas, along with a sentence or two description for each, using Spike's tips, then we'll create an amazing tool for all of us to use in our campaigns and adventures!

For example:

Beastly Ale Mugs. Each mug in this set of six has an exotic animal theme with various, genuine body parts glued on for beastly decoration: cave bat, dire rat, goblin, ogre, harpy, and the much-prized basilisk mug. Collect them all!

Email your treasure ideas to me at: johnn@roleplayingtips.com

Thanks! :)

(P.S. Can I have a volunteer or two to help me assemble and edit what I hope will be an awesome resource with hundreds, or even thousands of treasure ideas?)

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Readers' Tips Of The Week:

  1. The Aeneid As A Source For Latin Names
    From: Tony D.

    Hi Johnn,

    I'm really enjoying the Roleplaying Tips Weekly and find many articles of use. On the tip re:the Bible being an excellent source for names, I agree. There is also a book called The Aeneid by Virgil (60 or so BC). I read the English version as my Latin, ceteris paribus, is very poor. Anyway, towards the end is a battle scene that takes about 20 pages and it's all like - "And Septimus, son of Ureus smote Minus son of Crassus with his spear". Lots of names, although all Latin/Etruscian.

  2. Faster Initiative Technique
    From: Ted O.

    I start every session with "roll initiative" and make a list. Then, any time there's a combat, it's already rolled and we can get right into the melee. It may sound silly reading it but, in play, it works out nicely -- the PCs can be walking along and all of a sudden something can happen without breaking to roll initiative. "Ok, as you round the corner you're surprised by 2 large snakes. The first slithers up a tree but the other, coiled to attack, springs at Jim biting him in the leg for 2pts of damage. Fred, what do you do?"

    I like this lots better than "as you round the corner, you see 2 snakes. Ok, everyone roll initiative..."

    Also, each combat *ends* with "roll initiative", which is the initiative order for the *next* combat. In this way, the "initiative queue" is always full.

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  3. Using Dice As Minis
    From: Kenny

    For complicated combat situations, I use dice placed on the map. This makes it much simpler for players to handle. I number the players from 1-4 and make them remember that little number. Then I place each die at the appropriate number so that players know one "fig" from another. All the monsters have the same number (i.e. 6) and the players simply move their newly created miniatures around, making it simple to track who's where.

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* Coat of Arms 1.2a
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