Treasure as an Adventure

THE GLORY OF BEING AN adventurer is not without its headaches. When one is comfortable and warm in one’s favorite chair, and pondering the possibilities of embarking on a grand adventure and coming home rich, I dare say that one is a fool.

A successful adventurer is measured not just by old age, but of course, by his wealth, as well. And I must say that wealth is not an easy thing to deal with, but if you are intent on following this fool’s quest of yours, then I suppose that I must release some of our trade-secrets.

When one slays a dragon, or explores an ancient city left for dead thousands of years ago, yes there is much money to be had, but like all things, it isn’t that simple. One has to think about the state of the world which one lives in. If you go to the market, you pay the merchants with copper. You pay your land lord with silver, you buy drinks, pay for supplies, eat, and pay for services all with either silver or copper, all the while wishing for gold, but the problem is, once you’ve got gold, then what do you do with it? Most inns, once handed a gold coin, often look at it and then at you like you stole it! They don’t have change for that kind of cash. Of course, the problem with gold isn’t the worst of your trouble, I mean, think about it man! Many of the coins that an adventurer finds in his journeys are so old that as they are, they aren’t worth anything but the weight of the metal itself.

Treasure itself is usually handled just as shaky and abstractly as combat. Most players dread role-playing scenes in shops because they just aren’t interested in the money aspect of the game, but as an adventure idea, why not try something that explores the troubles and tribulations of finding a large treasure. This probably works best as a one-shot deal, and it can be fun just to figure out how this stuff would work in your own world.

Of course, I don’t know your world, so I’m just going to stick as close to Core Rules as possible.


The first thing to consider is the coins which are in circulation at the time, and which ones are most popular. Looking at the supplies lists quickly tells you what shops are capable of handling what kind of cash. Weapons dealers are more capable of handling large quantities of money, then, say a tavern. In the standard game an adventurer can pay for drinks with a gem worth 800gp and get the proper change back, but think about it! How much money do you think that a tavern owner has in the tavern, and what kinds of coin is typically paid? He probably has lots of copper, some silver, and the odd gold coin from large parties celebrating a victory. He simply doesn’t have the kind of cash to break a gem.

Lets examine the common coins to find their place in the game.

Copper: This is the most common coin, but it must bear the proper seals. A coin from one realm won’t work in another, it must be traded in to the right place and exchanged for the proper coins. This is the coin which everybody has access too, and is easiest to move. Everybody excepts copper and it is the preferred method of barter for simple goods and services which are common to the common man.

Silver: This coin is the backbone of society. The copper is broken down to make chance for this piece. Silvers work everywhere and even foreign coins are generally excepted as Silver itself is worth more then copper. This is another coin of the commoner which can be used to purchase equipment and services which are equally as common.

Gold: Now we are entering the coins of a different society, the upper class! Gold is jealously guarded, the economic foundation of the D&D world is not Capitalism. If a poor man tries to pay for something with a gold piece, the automatic assumption is that he stole it!

This coin is more excepted in cities, but is extremely rare in rural communities. Shop keepers who sale expensive items will gladly take it, but common services won’t generally have the cash to make change, especially if they deal mostly with Copper, like a tavern.

The gold pieces which an adventurer starts out with is considered their life’s savings, and probably isn’t in the form of gold at all, but a combination of silver and copper. Gold is typically not gold at all, but gold written on paper. It measures the worth of something big, like property. Just because a merchant owns a ship worth 15,000gp doesn’t mean that he ever had that much gold, or that once he sales it, he’ll get that much gold for it. Typically he will trade it for products worth that much gold, such as a nice house or 15,000gp worth of horses and wagons. Gold is an abstract measurement of wealth, while the coin itself is fairly rare.

Electrum: This is a very rare coin, probably a metal that isn’t used to pay for anything anymore and bares seals which are ancient. Everybody who isn’t a collector or has the education to realize what this is, is going to just assume that it is counterfeit. It is a curiosity, and nothing more. Electrum is worth more melted down then it is to the market.

Platinum: Much like Electrum, this is an even rarer coin used only by kings and not for the general public. If one finds a large horde of Platinum, one is still broke because there just isn’t any way to move it, nobody except for wealthy dwarves would touch it. This probably is a dwarven coin in the first place, and they won’t look highly at humans who are using it and demand to just have it returned because it was never theirs to begin with. And making change for it? That is simply not going to happen in even the largest of cities. A collector might buy one or two pieces, but getting rid of an entire chest of the stuff would be next to impossible.


Now that we got an idea of what each coin is worth, and who uses them, we have to look at the economy in general. We are typically in a world where the Rich stay rich and the poor stay poor. If this changes then the entire system collapses. The rich enforce their status with an iron fist. Most adventurers are surfs, and first must buy their freedom, this might not even be possible, especially if the Lord in question believes you to be a money machine. He may allow you to adventure, but he is still going to demand his share, and if he doesn’t get what he thinks that he is owed, then he could take it out on the adventurers family and loved ones.

One must also take into consideration about what would happen if a large horde of cash suddenly was introduced into the overall economy. It would be good at first, but the more wealthy the common man becomes, the more the truly wealthy will push them down by raising prices.

For example: Adventurers slay an ancient old dragon, much of the treasure he horded would be coins that he slowly took away from the economy for years, now suddenly all of this money is back. The original boom would be massive! But once the king finds out, suddenly the amount of his treasure has been devalued, it isn’t worth as much as it would be if the dragon had been left alive, thus a Dragon is good for economy, and adventurers powerful enough to slay him is bad.

In order to protect his own interests, the king needs to find a way to take as much treasure for himself as he possibly can, and discover a way to devalue the horde at the same time. This can be as subtle as raising the taxes, or as advanced as minting all coins with a completely different seal. Either way he would find a way to suffer the people because if he goes broke, then his kingdom collapses.


Once a treasure is found, typically it just appears in an adventurers coin purse, regardless of size and weight. This is highly illogical! It is a pain in the bottom to have to deal with this aspect, but it is the stuff that a character has to figure out when he isn’t being roleplayed.

Treasure typically comes from ancient ruins or monster hordes. The chests that are there are typically rotten and worthless, bags are even worse off, and loose coins are even more common. In order to get the treasure itself out, the party had to bring the supplies to carry it out with. The best is a combination of Chests and bags, with a wagon to carry it all.

This all takes place BEFORE the adventurers embark on their quest. They have to estimate how much treasure that they think that they can get out of the place, and plan for it accordingly. For that, we need to know how much each coin weighs.

This is a huge problem! I am but a simple poor man, and I have no idea of what a coin would weigh, but I’m lazy too! I’ve looked all over my books trying to find weight of coins, but so far, nothing. In the interest of just settling the thing once and for all, I’ll say that 10gp=1 pound. Not to say that 1pp=5lbs. But you get the idea.

If we stick to this method, a small chest could hold 400 coins and a large chest could hold 1,000 coins. Of course now we have an additional problem, a full chest weights 125 pounds, and getting it from point A to point B is still a huge problem that must be overcome before you can even get it on the wagon outside.

The more time it takes to actually move the treasure, gives the vultures more time to plan to take it away from you. God forbid that you are forced to leave the treasure trove, because once you come back, much of the treasure will either be looted, or in the process of being looted by folks who planed better then the adventurers did.

The DM is strongly encouraged to go over the Encumbrance rules, and get to understand them so that they can be imposed upon your adventurers with all of their hateful glory!


Lets just assume for a moment, that the adventurers were able to some how haul a bulk of that stuff out. Naturally it is impossible to get it all, the next problem is turning it into something that the player can use, which isn’t always that simple and the DM needs to dream up ways to hassle players even further, something that I know ALL DMs really enjoy doing.

Exchange Rates: The party will have to take their treasure to a big city, which if we did our job of setting the game up properly, should be a LONG ways away. The Exchange office buys coins from other realms and exchanges them for coins currently in circulation. Of course they don’t do this for free, they’ll charge 10-30%, and since they are under the direct influence of the king, they will be very interested in where they got this much treasure. The longer that the party can keep it out of these peoples hands, the more headaches they will save themselves from enduring. Of course, even the Exchange Office has a set limit of how much money they can handle. Being expected to handle thousands of gold coin is a strain on any office, no matter how big.

Appraisers: Of course before we can give our players a headache, we have to deal with one ourselves. The abstract treasure is in our favor just as much as it is for the players. We need to figure out exactly what the treasure consists of, and just because it is listed in Gold Pieces, doesn’t mean that it is all gold pieces because it is much easier to move wealth around with gold items. Jewelry is a great way to carry it, as is objects created from metals such as silver and gold. Art objects are a big pain in the head, but we need to define what these items are. The player won’t, and shouldn’t have any idea of what this stuff is worth until he can get the stuff appraised. This also includes having a treasure counted, because adding machines weren’t common, this is a specialty and requires a hireling. Even if a player has the appraising NWP, he still won’t be an expert at it, and the treasure will have to be examined by an expert to classify it’s exact value. This must be done before a player can hope to sale the treasure.

Of course appraisers aren’t always honest, this trade attracts many swindlers and thieves. An appraiser can lie about the value of an item, he can also slip things into his own pocket. An appraiser is entitled to a percentage of the treasure, usually between 5-10% because it is time consuming, especially with large treasures, and he may need the help need the help of a sage which will also cost the adventurers more money.

Adventurers will probably complain about this, but the facts are that the prettiest stone could be nothing but colored glass, a golden statue could simply be carved wood leafed with gold foil, and an ugly stone could be worth 1,000’s of GP once it is cut and polished. The Appraiser Expert can spot this stuff. Granted, it will take some time, depending on the size of the hoard, any were from 2 weeks to several months to go through everything and classify it for the players. He will also earn a daily rate for himself, because he will have to dedicate himself to counting this stuff and finding the right histories, we are looking at a very large chunk of cash, but luckily the money doesn’t have to be paid up front and can come from the treasure itself.

Buyers: The next stage of this game will be finding a buyer. This can be very challenging, particularly with weird items, such as spell components. If it is in the form of expensive incense then a church might buy it . . . of course they will try to get away with you just donating it, which might not be a bad idea if you really think about it. Having a church indebted to you can get favors from it. Say an adventurer needs risen from the dead, normally this would cost him at least a 1,000gp, but he can probably get it done for free because he is on such friendly terms.

Other buyers are merchants, haggling should be brisk and it has to be an item that they are interested in. A trader of livestock would be less interested in a silver pendent worth 500gp then, say a jeweler. Of course the Jeweler is going to try and haggle down the price to something that is easy for him to afford, and he may also be a swindler, because he himself would be able to appraise the item.

The other kind of buyer is the rich collector. Great care must be taken when dealing with the upper-class! One’s charisma score really comes into effect here because we don’t want to offend the buyer who can just as easily have our heads legally as he can to actually pay us what we want for the item in question. In dealing with the rich, haggling will be slow and careful. The lord will typically ask how much you want for it, and examine it, he could also be an expert appraiser, especially if he is a collector of specialty items.

Naturally a collector will buy one or two items at most, therefore, if you have lots of items, you’ll have to contact lots of collectors. Getting the word out that you have these items requires another hireling, and an expert who knows who buys what. This also lets thieves know what you have and they’ll be trying to get their share as well.

Fencing is probably the quickest way to get rid of a product, but these guys are only going to give you a max of 50% of its worth, and depending on the size of the hoard, it could be impossible to obtain the gold itself to actually buy the item. Nobody has 12,000gp, or if they do, they won’t be willing to give it up for something that can be stolen from them in a heartbeat, leaving them broke. Fences will buy small items quickly, but probably won’t be all that interested in large items, however if they do know that you have it, then they may send out a band of thieves to relieve you of it.

Finding the right buyer is more important then actually finding the treasure to begin with, because if you can’t turn the treasure into wealth, then it really isn’t worth anything at all!

Lessons of the Game

This kind of game will reveal a lot about our games, and also how we can use money more wisely. What does an adventure need with 2,000gp? It’s not like it is convenient to carry around, and if he’s forced to run away then he will do so by leaving his wealth behind. There are no banks to keep money, and wealth will be counted with property. Buying a house or investing in a business can make all the difference between a successful campaign and a weak one.

What can we gain from giving the money away? It may sound stupid at first, but say that we give a lord the spoils or a treasure trove, for example. That lord is now indebted to us and if he fails to grant us favors, then word will get out that he is cheap and stingy with his money and he’ll fall out of favor. This will be bad for the lords reputation, and bad for the lords title. Granted, a lord won’t drop whatever he is doing to help the adventurer, but he will pull lots of strings that a typical adventurer wouldn’t have access too. Favors can be worth more then gold.

Titles are also something that a character might be interested in buying. Of course this opens up a completely different aspect of the game which a player may or may not want to really get into. Wealth comes with more responsibility, and if we keep this in mind then we become all the better gamers for it.

Art by Larry Elmore


tim said...

This is one of those great topics that frequently goes overlooked. A lot of DMs/players just can't be bothered with it, and at times, those who do bring it up are seen as being "hard nosed" about the rules.

Like you recommend though, I still stick with the 10gp = 1 lb. scheme. I think it originally came out of 1st Ed. but it just works well in my opinion. In the past, I have given copper a smaller size (and thus a different weight), but otherwise the 10:1 seems to work out well.

Johnn Four said...

This is an excellent post. Your advice provides GMs of any systems ways to add flavour and interest to the campaign and game world. It's a great example of how not to restrict your thinking to just the game rules.

kaeosdad said...

Once again an awesome post, a very good overview on ways to deal with treasure. Your blog is quickly becoming a favorite of mine.

kaeosdad said...

After I read your latest entry I was watching a documentary on ninjas. My mind went on a tangent after watching a scene on how the teachings of ninjas were passed down in secret scrolls. In your article you point out how much control a lord has over the local economy.

I had the revelation that if a lord can control local economy, knowledge on magical and martial teachings would be controlled by powerful people as well. I've always had an understanding that knowledge usually equals power but not as much of a grasp as I do now when actually relating it to treasure.

As an aside I always liked the idea of leveling up requiring achieving certain tasks along with obtaining the prerequisite amount of xp. This could definitely be applied when using treasure as an adventure.

Ripper X said...

I completely agree Kaeosdad. Leveling up probably does require at least a week for each level, (7th lvl= 7 weeks) under the tutelage of a higher level teacher, and it isn't free. Buying NWP also requires money.

Of course, I don't see why everybody can't buy XP as well.

This would be a huge pain, but it can show us how much treasure an adventurer can expect from any hoard, and what they should be spending their money on when not adventuring.

Brooze the Bear said...

Rip, excellent post, but there are two considerations.

One, is level of detail. Obviously the AD&D woirld is drastically different from out own, but to play every minute aspect of it can either be a novelty if used once, but will become boring if used extensively. Consider an RPG about our world: Computer Literacy, Driving and Balancing the checkbook can be legitimate skills. Interpersonal skills, fashion sense and flirtability, sense of humor and self-presentations skills for job interviews can be legitimate "character abilities". The question is, which skills wold be useful for the game of the modern life and which wouldn't. Some skills are not good for use because they inhibit role-play and encourage die rolling. Sense of humor would be one of them. On the other hand, ability to dress well and abiolity to handle a job interview or a sales meeting are areas of specialized experience/social skills and probbaly should be used. Especially in a realistic adventure game taking place in out modern world, where private soldiers have to sell their services in a corporate culture and media types are iportant as sources of information and go betweens.

Now, consider taxes. The government can tax you to death, but the locals, especially ones with bucks have enough common sense to hire accountants, tax lawyers and estate planners to ide their wealth from taxation. By the same token, adventurers don't just appear magically out of nowhere with bags of gold! Ina realistic tradition, they marinate over courses of lifetime into a certain lifestyle and a subculture of Dungeon dwellers. The King would have his way of trying to get at adventurers miney and adventurers would have their ways of hiding that gold inhrent in their mundane setting. Again, role playable once, but tedious after that.

Now, consider another misuse of the role playing skill systems: Let's consider a driving skill. Nostly everyone has it to varying degrees. Let's consider the unortunate and confused hobbits role playing displaced advertising executives trying to raise money to buy a franchise. They are already giving away to Uncle Sam more of their income, than most Americans pay (they haven't heard of tax returns); instead of role playing endof the day family fights and agonizing their second car payments, they arerolling their dice against Charisma and Wisdom to see how hese fights turn out, thereby killing role play, and finally, just like the D&D Fourh Edition advises, they do a difficulty check/skill check every time their characters get in the car, they roll their computer literacy check every time their caracters try to update a spreadsheet.

AD&D D20 Proficiency system had its own problems, but Gygax got it right when he picked the most interesting and critical skills that would further define the player character in game play. In our world example, examples of AD&D proficiencies would not be Computer Literacy and Driving, but Computer Programming and Emergency Driving. AD&D Proficiency check would not be used every tim a character drove or trned on computer, but would be used to see if the characters played by hobits in our world can get away make it to the police station from their psychotic pursuers who are trying to run them off the road. They would use a Computer Programming proficiency to see if the character can geta website up and running or write a macro or a java applet to make some sort of an e-busness transaction possible. That's the difference between the original AD&D non-weapon proficiency system, and later D&D skill system and games such as Rune Quest, though I like the way the skill improvement works in Rune Quest.

Something about money I will do ina separate post.

Ripper X said...

Yep, this is a one shot deal, but it does point out how much is involved for your character in an aspect of the game which players and DMs just take for granted. We need to give characters enough down time to do the stuff that they need to do.

This also shows that just because you have money written down on your character sheet, doesn't mean that you always have access to it.

DM's will also learn where it is appropriate to hassle the players about it when it isn't the main issue.

Brooze the Bear said...

That is true. Wealth brings headaches even in our world as the personal bankers at Deutche bank like to say. There is one thing you overlooked though - you are using our modern conception of money. Back in Europe when D&D is supposed to be taking place, the value of money was in the metal that it was made of. In other words, the value of the copper pieces was in the metal you melted and made pots from it, or added to the iron to make bronze; the value of silver was in the silverware that you can make from it, etc. That was the reason that in the age of buccaneers a pirate's fortune contained a number of gold and silver coins from a variety of countries. That was also an archeological disaster because over the age, man used the treaures of the previous age to build its present one. Romans pillages marble from Greece and Egyptian pyramids to decorate the coliseum and its buildings, later on, the Italian Renaissance buildes stripped Ancient Roman ruins to decorate their own palaces. When the world (i.e. the British Empire) came up with the cnception of money more suited to commerce (wealth as abstract valuable papers, backed by the reserves of the banks and merchat houses that issued them), the Spanish Empire still clung to the old ways of paying in gold. And as the world plundered the Spanish gallions, the world's buckaneers melted treasures of antiquity for the gold ingots for the ease of storage and transport. So, in D&D world people would be more worried about adulerating coinage metal than they would about the seals on copper.

I am a fan of the original Treasure Type table form the Monster Manual and of the Unguarded Treasure random generators from Basic/Expert sets.

To make things intresting in my campaign, I have made up a number of currencies in which the coins are minted. Whenever there is a treasure pile, I roll on the table to see what it is. Usually it's local coins or coins from the neighboring regions or coins 100 or 200+ years old. But there is small chance that something unusual will be in the treaure pile:

Elfin Silver - Mithril. In keeping wiht the value of money being tied to the value of the metal in it, Mithril is prized by armorers for its light weight and durability in Elfin Chain mail. I looked at AD&D Second edition stats and figured out that both Adamntine and Mithril coinage would be worth about 400 gp per coin (going by weight and value of the armor made out of those metals).

Electrium has been the form of white gold used in ancient greece and egypt, and more recently in the Ottoman Empire, hence it wil be treated not as collectibe coins but as adulterated gold by most people, and it will still have currency among the shopkepers, saince you can mlt it back into gold and silver and separate the two.

With Silver - Platinum, would be worth cosiderably more to a wizard than what Gery Gygax defines it as 5 or 10 gp. This is because true Platinum jewelry has not been made until 1900's, because technology did not exist that could melt Platinum to pour it into the rings etc. True, ancient Africans and Incans made platinum jewelry, but they never truly refined it and simply used the platinum stones they found along wiht silver ore. Sanisrds thought platinum was a stone, an impurity in silver, and called it "little silver". In D&D world, the only people who could make Platinum coins would be either Dwarves or Wizards. I have no Dwarven culture in my setting, hence it is only wizards who can produce platinum coin. Also, in the real world, Platinum is used as an industrial catalyst in the manufacturing of silicone compounds, production of Nitric acid which is used in making plastics and other compounds from petroleum, and platinum is ised as a catalyst in oil refining to improve the octane yield in low grade petroleum. In the real world it's rarest and most expensive of the rare metals and most of the metal is bought by the industrial users before it is even mined and refined. Of course, this leads to ponder the implications of this metal i the AD&D universe. In the real world, it takes ten tons of ore to make an ounce of platinum (only three tons per ounce of gold) The volume of all of Platinum taken out of earth to date would barely fill a single American living room. This is probably rarer than mithril would be.I am not sure, what kind of magic would benefit from platinum, but the valueof platinum to a mage would be far in excess of 5gp, if it could be had at all. I could imagine a devious Lich somewhere manufacturing Platinum coins to give to his minions to hold the greedy living wizards in its thrall.

Gypsy Gold - in the 18th and 19th centuries, when adventurers were looking for gold, they didn't care about the form or coin, gold was gold, but some form of gold rated higher than others. For that reason, people in communist chine make their jewelry from 24 karat gold, since it is a commodity, while Americans are not as depemdent on their gold for wealth and use giold jewelry primarily for aesthtic purposes, using 14 karat etc gold that has been adulterated with nickel and other additives. In the days fo the Ottoman Empire, Red Gold was prized above the others. Created by Bulgarian and Macedonian (Southern Slavic) craftsmen, the method of manufacturing it was unknown by other jewelers and te jewelry made from it was rare and expensive, more so than other gold. Typically 18 karat gold, it was prized among the Arabs and came to the UK, where 22 karat red "Crown Gold" was crafted to be used in the British Sovereign coin. In my D&D world, red gold is prized by gypsies and Halflings, who use Gypsy gold leav to craft religious icons to halfling deities, Waukeem prominently. They do so by layering a thin sheet (or red gold foil) over a backing piece of veneer or parchment, and using gammer strokes to create an image of indentations in the foil that comes alive and from which Halfling priests can foretell omens, when the flickering flame from a candle hits upon the image of the icon, creating a play of shadows inthe unever surface.

There are two tie ins in my setting: The only thing about D&D 4th edition that I liked was about Halfling becoming svelte and slender river folk, who love to travrl and explore and in the illutsration of the halfling raft, the two halflings look like the Vietnamese women in black pajamas driving a raft with supplies for VCs along a river somewheres, but anyway...
Gypsies travel the roads in theor caravans, and Halflings ply the rivers in their rafts, doing small trade, doubtlessely a bit of theft and smuggling. They prize Gypsy Gold and sell it at th tremendous markups to their cousins safely living in their hobbit holes. Gypsy gold is a thing of the old world, and typically in posseson of the old Elven families in Greyhawks. A tasty prize, but horrible fate awaits those whom Elves catch stealing from them. More than the reserves of even the 4th edition D&D Liberated Halfling.

These are then, the rare coins of my realm. When ever I get 1000s of copper, gold silver, etc, I rol on a table to see what kind of coin it will be predominantly. any roll of 99-100 results in a roll o the special coin table.

The mark of any Old Wasteland coin is that its perfectly formed and 99.9 percent pure metal that it is supposed to be, yet it is harder than any coin , hence wasteland coinage is worth a bit more than other gold or silver. Old old coins while may be of value to collectors, are irregularly cast and worth a bit less.

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