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Hoarding 101

Welcome to Guidance, Private Sanctuary’s source for tips and techniques for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, written by Everyman Gamer Alexander Augunas. Today, we’re going to be talking about building treasure hoards.

I don’t know about you, folks, but I am absolutely HORRIBLE at designing treasure hoards. Absolutely. Fantastically. Horrible. So for today’s article, I’m going to sit down and muse about how I can build better treasure hoards for my campaigns.

What is a ‘Treasure Hoard’?

For my purposes, a treasure horde is any amount of loot that is at least five times more than the recommended amount of an encounter of the PCs level. Additionally, the load needs to be acquired all at once. For example, looting cool stuff in five separate rooms after five separate encounters is not a hoard. But betting one massive dragon after ten encounters and getting a stock of treasure worth the dragon’s recommended WBL x 6 is a horde, even if it is a horde that is justified from the amount of encounters that the PCs have faced.

When to Use a Hoard

Before we get started, I think it’s important to stop and talk about the appropriate time to build a hoard. Briefly:

  • Hoards should always come after a large battle. I’m probably not going to build a hoard unless it’s for an encounter that exceeds the PC’s APL by +4 or more.
  • Hoards should be given when the PCs haven’t gotten loot for a while. It is usually not a good idea to preemptively give the PCs a hoard; make them earn it. Alternatively, hoards should not ignore the usual WBL for the PCs at that given level.
  • Places containing hoards should be realistically protected against thieves. Ridiculous traps work best.

Trouble in Designing a Hoard

There are a couple of things that I personally can’t stand when designing my hoards. I’ll spill them out here.

  • Perishable Art Objects. I get them in mansions or villainous lairs, but in dungeons? How did that painting last one thousand years or whatever? You better have a good explanation for this, and that good explanation better be calculated in the WBL allocation, because you can bet that your PCs are going to yoink that right out of the ground. The best examples I’ve seen use a constant gentle repose to essentially slow wear and tear on things.
  • Jewels. I don’t know why, but jewels bug me. I still give them out because they’re iconic treasure, but usually they end up being mini social encounters where you waste time bartering. If you (or your players) like to barter, then go for it but I really don’t like bartering. I’ll take that half-cost every time. Unless they’re offering less then half, then I am a hammer of bartering barterdom.
  • Copper Pieces. Copper (and to a lesser extent, silver) gets on my nerves because it would be like Scourge McDuck filling his vault with copper instead of gold. Sure, it would be more full, but it’s less impressive. Same with cp. Copper’s only purpose is to give out fractional gp as treasure, and in the long run I think that its more worth then merited. A lake of gold is always more impressive than an ocean of copper.
  • Combat Spell Scrolls. I hate scrolls of things like cause fear or magic missiles. Chances are those are spells that I’ve already prepared because combat is 90% of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. Drop scrolls for things that I don’t want to prepare or learn, like arcane lock or knock. Wands and staves I can tolerate because they’re often multi-use, although the abysmal save DC on staves and wands (unless you have things like the wand wielder arcana) make them an equal problem. Buffing spells and beneficial spells are always more exciting as scrolls and wands in my opinion.

Designing the Hoard

With all of that out of the way, let’s talk about designing a hoard. If you’re giving out a hoard, chances are that you haven’t given out treasure in a while. We’re going to use the rock-gravel-sand-water method for designing our hoard. The rock-gravel-sand-water method boils down to this: design your mechanics-heavy, expensive items first (rocks) and then fill your hoard in with increasingly simplistic items (gravel, sand) until you are sprinkling coinage on top (water).

  1. Rock — Key Magic Items. Your hoard should always include at least one potent magic item per party member. If you are designing a home game, I would try to tailor it towards being an item that your PC wants, but doesn’t expect. You can do this using the design-a-magic-item chapter. If you are designing for a module or for a group that you do not know, then pick some classic-but-great items. Generally, most parties have an arcane spellcaster, a divine spellcaster, a skill-focused character, and a combat-focused character. (This is almost NEVER true in Pathfinder Society in my limited experience.)
  2. Gravel — Lesser Magic Items. Your hoard should include roughly twice as many lesser (or cheap) magic items that are randomized. Scrolls, wands, potions, cheap wondrous items, lesser magic weapons. That sort of thing. These are fun items that your PCs will enjoy, but they don’t necesscarily need or want.
  3. Sand — “GP Vouchers.” A GP voucher is any item that has no other purpose except to be traded for cash. In rare cases, these may be usable as material components for spellcasting. In MMO Terms, this is vendor trash. These types of items are the least interesting, so don’t make them too expensive. Honestly, art and stuff seldom is and. You should have about three times as many gp vouchers as rocks.
  4. Water — Cash. Fill out whatever’s left over with gp.

Our basic outline for treasure hoards for a 4-person party looks something like this:

  • 4 important items.
  • 8 lesser / cheap items.
  • 12 “gp vouchers”
  • Fill out with coinage.

Now, of course, you don’t have to adhere to this formula. Maybe you want an impressive pond of gold for your dragon to lie in, so you drop the gp vouchers and a few cheap items to throw into the pot. That said, the one thing that you should never drop are the important items, because everyone wants to get something nice out of their adventure.

Treasure Dressings

When designing a hoard, describing words are important. Often the way the PCs find something is how they perceive it. A set of feather step soles is not an expensive or rare item at 1,000 gp, but if you describe them as being carefully placed into an exotic box with ornate elven words written upon it, then your PCs are going to be more excited about the item as opposed to you just saying, “You found a set of feather step soles.”

Likewise, you want to try to pick magic items that match the theme of the place that your hoard is located. If the treasure is in a tomb to a divine hero, then pick items that make sense to be in that hero’s tomb. Occasionally, you might want to random roll for loot and that is perfectly okay. You might even want to consider doing so in order to get one item that doesn’t quite make sense in the hoard. That way, maybe later in the PCs’ adventure you can include a tidbit as to why that item might have been in there. While it helps to pick things that fit perfectly, also know your PCs and don’t be afraid to give them neat toys: if they’re weird or out of place, though, just make sure that you have an explanation as to where they came from!

And that, folks, wraps up on my current thoughts on creating treasure hoards. Since this is something that I need to work on myself, I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions on designing treasure hoards. If you have any comments or questions for me, leave’em below. When you need something extra in order to help you find the path, don’t forget to cast Guidance!

Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long as 90% of his colleagues. Alexander is an active freelancer for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and is best known as the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series by Radiance House. Alex is the owner of Everyman Gaming, LLC and is often stylized as the Everyman Gamer in honor of Guidance’s original home. Alex’s favorite color is blue, his favorite Pathfinder Race/Class combination is kitsune loot warden, and his most memorable hoard was found in the forgotten Tomb of Perseus.

Alex Augunas

A devil offering a deal

3 Comments

  1. Darrell Vin Zant Reply to Darrell

    Ugh, I hate hoards. I’ve done several, but only 1 of them was for myself. I’ve designed other hoards for encounters I’ve made for friends and family running Pathfinder, but it’s always a pain in the but.

    I guess I’ve subconsciously been following a similar order, though one of the first things I do is figure out the GP potential of the hoard, and just subtract things from that potential. I also love including things like a treasure chest full of something like mithril chain shirts. Or a barrel fool of swords made of cold iron etc, maybe a quiver of darkwood arrows etc.

    I don’t, however, avoid Copper. I *love* using copper because a little gp can go a long way towards making a hoard truly feel like a hoard. Simply taking 100 gp and making it copper means you’ve now got 10,000 copper pieces to ‘flesh out’ your hoard size. Also, I like making it a challenge for players to actually transport the hoard, just to see how they do it.

    But art pieces ugh! I hate art pieces and I usually cheat with these by using a generator and then just selecting ones I like. Sometimes they can be fun though, like including a set of gambling dice made out of jade for the skill character, or a drinking horn made out of ivory for the martial to use with his ale etc.

    When it comes to magic items, I almost always custom pick *everything*. I don’t like randomly generating magic items because you get really odd and weird stuff that makes no sense. So I really try to pick cool items, especially if they’ve got some nice flavor, like a sustaining spoon (see what I did there?) or a cracked orange prism ioun stone with create water in it.

    I’m also a fan of little mini-hoards. Like in a recent dungeon I made for my cousin involved two groups of undersea monsters, Scrag and Chuuls, working together as pirates. There were a total of three mini-hoards available in the dungeon, one with the Chuul Mother, one in the Scrag Armory, and one with the Scrag Witch. Chuul have a natural tendency to collect keepsakes, which fits well as a ‘hoard’ creature. So I used the Chuul Mother as a hoard of random baubles, like ioun stones and interesting items, but also shiny stuff like gems, and filled the rest in with wealth.

    The Armory was kind of ‘martial hoard’ as the scrag were unlikely to care too much about stuff like gem. I put most of the copper here, with the scrag being too dumb to really notice the difference between cold and copper. But there were things like decorative armor, collections of swords, a chest full of chain shirts (even some mithril) etc. The Scrag Witch was ‘caster horde’ and included a lot of magical items that would be good for casters, though most of the items were actually being used by the Witch herself.

    I firmly believe all hoards should be generated before hand. Otherwise, you run into issues with an enemy having an item that they logically would have used. I recall one time our party killed a dragon, only for the DM to generate the hoard and included a Staff of Power. We all sat there and thought to ourselves, “Why didn’t the dragon use that?” So when I generate a hoard, I give some of the items to the enemies if it makes sense.

    But, making hoards is *a lot* or work. Placing treasure in general is though. It can be really tedious as you especially want to make sure that the treasure isn’t just *another* pile of gold in a bag or something. So you end up racking your brain all the time trying to make sure each bit of treasure feels organic and real, instead of just being arbitrarily placed there.

  2. Cory Gilman Reply to Cory

    I know in 3.5 Gems and Art Objects simply sold at full value. My groups continue to treat them that way, though I can not find a rules reference for it. We do not even bother obscuring the value of gems, we simply know what they are worth.

    • David Vacca Reply to David

      Cory, my Google-Fu says the provision that gems, jewelry, and trade goods sell at full price was explicitly restored to Pathfinder in Ultimate Equipment, pages 388 and 390.

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