Guest Author - Jay Shaffstall
We've all had it happen, as GMs.
You've created a terrific campaign, probably a fantasy campaign, that includes opportunities for character development, an intriguing plot, great NPCs, the works. And your players run through it from treasure to treasure, trying to get rich.
While this is mostly a problem with the social contract, where your players think they're playing one sort of game, and you want to play a different sort, there are some techniques you can use to try and nudge them in the direction you'd like them to take.
Here are my top tips for creative used of RPG treasure.
Let them find something so amazingly valuable that it makes them drool, the sort of value that will set their characters up in a kingdom of their own with castles, followers, and all the rest.
Then make it impossible to convert to gold.
Maybe they make off with the crown jewels of the kingdom, and then cannot find a fence who'll touch them. They'll travel to other kingdoms, and eventually get far enough away to find a buyer, only to find that nobody can pay what it's worth. They'll have to melt them down and sell them for the metal and jewel value, and probably only break even on expenses for the trip.
Just be prepared to walk home that night, if one of your players gave you a ride to the game.
Treasure With An Agenda
Maybe the treasure is an ancient magical sword that has its own intelligence, and its own ideas about what needs to happen next. Swords are great as intelligent items with the ability to dominate their wielder, because players who are treasure seekers are often min/maxers as well, lowering a fighting character's intelligence and wisdom (and thus their resistance to domination), in order to maximize their physical stats.
The artifact can become an in-game goad to the characters. Used properly, it can provide comic relief at the same time that it encourages them to do the right thing. Used with a more heavy hand, it can be incredibly frustrating for the players, so be careful how you approach this.
One Man's Treasure...
For a group that's doing a lot of dungeon crawling, keep in mind that dungeons are a zero-sum economy. The typical dungeon isn't producing wealth, what's there is what other, less fortunate, adventurers have brought with them.
What the typical dungeon inhabitant values most is whatever increased their chances of survival. A magic stone for lighting fires, a package of iron spikes, steel tipped darts, good rope, etc. What the orcs in the dungeons would really hoard isn't gold and platinum, but food and tools.
Give your players so much of this sort of treasure that they cannot possibly take it all back for a profit. Just remember to toss in enough real treasure to keep them going.
Treasure As Quest Items
The most valuable items left laying around in a dungeon were probably lost by someone else. Maybe someone important.
Let them find a finely crafted, expensive, sword in the dungeon. When they try to sell it, they find that it's being sought after by someone else, and that drags them into the plot with the promise of more riches yet to come for returning the sword to its rightful owners.
Dangle the prospect of riches in front of players, and they'll often jump through hoops they'd avoid otherwise.
The High Cost Of Living
If you can't bring yourself to stop your group from amassing a fortune, give them something to spend it on. They certainly won't be staying in the same flea bitten inn as in their poorer days, and they'll want to move in higher circles of society than before. All that costs, so make sure to hit them with all the maintenance costs their new stations in life will bear.
Easy Come, Easy Go
If all else fails, you can always have their wealth stolen. Thieves in any town are always on the look out for adventurers returning with treasure. And if you're creative, you can use recovering the treasure and getting revenge on the thieves as a hook into a more complex plot. Just keep pushing the responsible party back up the chain, until they're willingly taking on the villain of the piece to get their loot back.
However you do it, it's important to manage treasure in a role playing game. Ideally, you'd have an agreement with your players ahead of time about what sort of game you were playing, so that everyone understands what to expect. But even with that, if you have someone who wants to amass loot at the expense of role playing, using some of the above techniques might help.
Do you have other ways to manage this sort of thing? Come over to the forum and let us know!