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).
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.