Probably the most popular (and easiest) reward for a GM to give in the “classic” FRP adventure is a fistful of red gold. Whether the group of characters has explored down some “dungeon” or climbed the lofty heights of some forbidden tower, the ever present gold sovereign has traditionally been the reward of these excursions. Often found in chests overflowing with the mint, sprinkled with the sparse glimmer of gems and a token trinket or two, the Gold Sovereign has become a bit of a cliché. Its spends nice but lets face it folks, its boring AND irrational. Irrational, you scream!? Yes, my friends irrational it is. Read further and learn what the true treasures really are
The prize can and must stem beyond the “gold sovereign” in order for a game or world to truly have credibility and substance. Arduinians value gold as much as the next but also cherish a wide variety of items, many of which have far greater value then the yellow metal. Such trade goods as fine wine, exotic foods, spices, metals, and skillfully made clothing command high prices in everywhere from the labyrinth bazaars of Melkalund to the small town fairs in Rookley. In the deep Dwarven holts of the Mickleback Mountains, stone is a plentiful item, so common it is taken for granted. Yet in the rolling grasslands of the Plains of Paranon, away from the towering bastions of rock, cut and dressed stone is a expensive commodity, purchased and used sparingly due to the cost. Do the men of Paranon like gold? Of course, but what do they buy with it? Dwarven stone, my friend, dwarven stone. So surely a trader of wits would realize that it is far more economical to simply bring stone from the Mickleback Mountains to Paranon rather then wasting time and expense bringing gold to Paranon and allowing some other trader to make a larger profit in trading for the stone itself.
Think that this example is a rare exception? Consider this; the silvery rock fish that is the prime ingredient of the spiced fish steaks served at the Black Pearl in Talismondé is only found in the Orchichalcum Mountains in Morvaen where the Crystal River cuts through the steep, bitten stone. Packed in salt, stained with vinegar, and wrapped in leaves, it is imported at great cost (more than 28 GS per lb!) to be cooked and served at only the best tables. Mango liquor, cinnamon, ivory and snow leopard skins out of Arvalessa are a treat in Arduin commanding prices beyond the pocket of the normal man, while fully commonplace there. Value of an item is a relative thing, balanced by supply, demand, scarceness, location and dozens of other factors. The wise business man desires to buy low and sell high. So my friend you take those 100 GS and be happy, while I, am going to buy 200 lbs of Mickleback stone at 4 copper pennies a lb and sell it to the men of Paranon for 2 GS a lb.
Now how do you as GMs use this to your advantage in fleshing out your own campaign worlds? A good start to figure out the basic supply and demand situation for your major towns and other population centers. Each area will have different needs and surpluses. Don’t just look the ecology of the area but also the political, economic and cultural requirements. A town that has a large campus of the College of the Alchemists is going to have a steady need for all sorts of rare minerals, mythical animal parts and ingredients. Whereas, a town that prides itself on its prosperity and political power comes with the ability to demonstrate taste and class will always have a huge demand for exotic foodstuffs and silk.
Having determined what an area’s supply and demand needs are, move forward and begin to create a conversion chart for yourself on what goods cost in different locations. For example, Mickleback Rock goes for about 2 CP/lb in Mickleback whereas its 2 GS on the Plains of Paranon. Guess what? In Khurahaen that pound of stone will go for about 1 SP but when its shipped across the Misty Sea – to Talismondé, it jumps in value to almost 1 GS a pound. If Bevan the trader is forced to take the rock on the much longer overland journey then the price in Talismondé will jump to 2 GS a pound and those on the Plains of Paranon are going to end up paying over 4GS a lb for the same cart load of stone.
Now how does this affect your players and their lives? Let’s say your intrepid band of PC’s have decided to take to the life of the road and become “informal wealth re-distributors”. They decide that they are going to ambush a trader plying the roads from Vorlnyaas to Khurahaen. After wiping the road with his guards, they break into the wagons and find bundles of Mickleback- forged weapons in oilskin; well padded and sealed containers of spices from afar, a couple of small chests of bang powder and watertight bundles of clothing from the Vorlnyaas weavers that he carried as a special order for lord to give his mistress. Any gold he might be carrying was likely on his person or his horse for an easy getaway or just for convenience of paying tolls. Well now, isn’t this just lovely, forget the gold!! The PC’s have trade goods and the ability to move them to where ever they wish. Off to town one of them goes. He finds out that while weapons of this type are going for 15 GS a sword in Khurahaen, they are far more rare in Easterly and go for 50GS a sword. NOW that is some treasure!!!!!!
Need more inspiration? Contemplate the following scenario. A wizard’s manse outside of town might have, say 25,000 GS in valuables total. Some of it might be in expensive metal or stone work that is part of the building, well crafted bibelots or statues, tapestries, vases, trophies, carpets or the like. Very little coin would be likely be available as well as easily gotten magik of any kind. All that would be under lock and key or well spelled against thievery.
How about a beast like a Fury—you determine it has a 1000 GS in treasure. Instead of a 1000 GS in coin tossed in some befouled lair, how about an expensive (though soiled!) silk dress, that it is wearing, as well as the jewelry from the dead maiden who used to own the entire ensemble! Even the forgotten barrows your intrepid players are delving will have more than coin; more likely dozens of varieties of expansive funeral accouterments for life in the beyond, burial spices, and other items.
Not lastly, consider the value of identifying treasure leading to more than an exchange of coin. How about the relatively low powered + 10 ATK sword having a long and glorious past, belonging to a founded and well established family who look unfavorable on someone wielding it other than one of the kin. Or another lovely treasure that has you recognized (mistakenly) as another, some hero or villain, whose deeds you adopted through association with the blade! Consider Eltenvadt of Khurahaen who discovered a beautiful though plain dagger, unexceptional except for the pommel which resembled a coiled Wobra biting a scarlet gem. He soon found the blade was once reputed to be the chosen weapon of the assassin Salient Eye. He reveled in the fear having the blade engendered until one night he was found, stabbed in the eyes and the blade missing, recovered it is said by its rightful owner...
This is just the beginning friends. Take it to the next level in your campaign world. Think not only of base gold or even of just Mickleback rock, consider EVERYTHING else. In world in Arduin, there are those that do nothing but hunt certain types of mythical creatures for the sole purpose of obtaining bodily parts from them. The College of Magic and College of Sages have these folks on retainer. Need a Gargoyle’s claw (250 GS per claw) go see them. Want to obtain a Medusa’s snake head (1,500 GS per head), they are the boys to see. These guys and gals often forget to even pick up the GS laying around the critters they kill because those coins may well weight them down while they are running away from Mama Roc as they cuddle her eggs under their arms. Remember, “all that glitters is not gold”.