I’ve been preparing for a new campaign recently and so broke out a bunch of my old notebooks to harvest ideas that went unused in old campaigns, and one of my favorite pieces is about interesting treasure.
Treasure in old school games largely exists as a means to an end: experience points. But it can be so much more. Interesting treasure is about making the player want to guard or horde the treasure for the beauty of the thing itself. To not want to sell it off, to wear it, or brandish it, or display it in a castle.
Popeye was DNDAF.
Not every piece of treasure needs to be interesting, I’d recommend putting one piece in every few hordes or drops, amongst the regular gold and gemstones and +1 swords.
Give it a use in the world: A sword’s sheathe, a broach or clasp for a cloak, an anvil.
Make it a part of your setting, or lore: Treasure can be an artifact of an ancient civilization, or teach you something about the location you’re in. Treasure is a great way to get players to care about your lore without info dumping.
Give it a semi-magical effect: Make it glow, or shimmer, or whisper in some semi-magical way that has purely cosmetic effects (you can push it further, into full on magical item territory, but for regular interesting treasure, keep the effects from being game-changing).
Make it difficult to transport: Make it too heavy or awkward and big to carry without retainers. Make it fragile and breakable but incredibly valuable. If the treasure is interesting, players will find a way to transport it out of the dungeon. If it’s not, they won’t.
Offer an incentive for keeping it: See my post on leveling up by building dungeons, which rewards players for decking on their home base with beautiful artifacts.
Tie an adventure hook to it: Make the treasure a jumping off place for an adventure. Make it part of a set. Have someone out there looking for it. Have it be cursed with a ghost that tells you of the evil person who killed them, and have them reward you with more treasure if you can reap vengeance for them.
Make it useful: If it’s a tool, or has a useful effect, players will want to keep it rather than sell it so that they can use it. Not every treasure should be a diamond studded shovel, but if there is, there’s a good chance your dwarf will want to keep it.
The bottom line is, treasure is the reward for overcoming obstacles, make it a good one.
Here’s a list of 32 interesting pieces of treasure that can be dropped into any campaign. Slap your own price sticker on them.
Polished obsidian mask. Face appears to be laughing at night and crying during the day.
Bone hair clip with gold inlays. Resembles the jaw of a large rat.
Hand-carved ebony cabinet with silver clasps and handles. It is twice as big on the inside as it is on the outside.
Shimmering prismatic silk room divider. Erotic scenes depicted in the weave.
Delicate table made of reclaimed ship’s wood. Incredibly light to carry, incredibly easy to break.
Mastodon-leather belt. Ancient iron buckle. Is fitted to hold potions and vials.
Marble throne with intricate bas relief history of the forgotten Anduliman empire.
Brass basin revered by local tribe of Indikki Women. Rhinoceros engraving.
Rudimentary animated trinket which plays a repeating scene of chariot warriors chasing each other across a bronze disc.
Golden scythe which is twice as valuable to the Followers of the Secret Moon.
Bejeweled collapsible telescope whose interchangeable lenses can see across different light spectrum.
Iron boots with custom leather lining. Extremely comfortable and hardy.
Glittery satchel made from stitched gossamer wings. Objects that fit inside weigh nothing.
Alchemist’s desk with complex hidden drawers. Formulae engraved across the panels.
Jade neckpiece with interlocking humanoid forms. Their features are contorted. Glows in the presence of suffering.
Deep red ring. The longer it is worn, the brighter the veins on the wearer’s arm glow. After a week it cannot be removed.
Poison-tipped finger-ring shaped like a striking falcon.
Pen and inkwell. The pen punctures the writer’s palm and writes in blood. Nib is made of tooth.
Torture helmet which peels off eyelids when worn.
Ancient ledger from the famous Army of the Gilded Coin. Hidden in the complex arithmetic is the true owner of the Leper Kingdom.
Eggshell white box filled with questions written on small pieces of vellum.
The Emperor’s Chamber Pot engraved with the faces of defeated enemies begging for their lives.
Five dimensional piece of rock which wizards use as a cool paper weight.
Dehydrated fruit from an extinct tree. If planted, it will grow 2d20 plantmen warriors in 5d20 days.