Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Grab Bag Treasure

A comment from fluerdemal blew my mind.  What if you enlist players in determining treasure?  Here's the idea:

Print a sheet with potions, spell scrolls, protection scrolls, monetary amounts, and maybe a few minor magic items.  Let each player choose two and put them in a communal grab bag.  Next treasure found, a player gets to pull from the grab bag to determine what it is.

I think it might work better if each player doesn't know what the other players picked.  That way they can't game the system and fill it full of the same spell that the party mage most desperately wants (though, the other players might not want to do that anyway if there are items more attractive to their class).

I think it might work better also, if, when the players draw from the grab bag, they just hand their draw to the DM and don't look at it.  This allows for the risk and excitement of potions and unidentified magic items.

I don't think all treasure needs to be determined this way, maybe one player determined item per cache.  That allows the DM to balance risk to reward better and still include artifacts and cursed items that players might never pick.

Okay, with all those qualifications, why bother?  1) I think it might be fun and exciting to physically draw something out of a grab bag during play (though, the second qualification above undermines this, hmm . . .)  2) if you don't replenish the grab bag until it's completely empty it gives the game a quest like quality.  Players will know that they are getting closer and closer to a cache containing a scroll of mirror image and will be excited to search for it.

Have you done anything similar in your game?  How did it work out?  What if you let players come up with their own spell names, npcs, or traps too?  A lot of the burden of player creativity is having to do it on the spot, but spending some time creating together, putting off the reveal until later, and especially keeping secret who made what might make players feel easier about contributing to the imagined world.


  1. I haven't tried this, but getting players to contribute bits to the world would also be a great way to give them history in it. You could ask them for 3 things they'd heard rumours of or lost family heirlooms or nemeses or whatever. Then they get to recognise stuff when it comes up... transformed by the vagaries of time.

    another thought - do you know about hobo signs? dungeons should be littered with them. Maybe the pcs have a small, incomplete glossary

  2. Thanks for the comment. Dungeon hobo signs are so brilliant I just can't believe someone hasn't done them before! Especially since I posted about false guidance runes:


    Well, I'm about to crash, but in the morning I'll make some Murder Hobo signs. Anyone still awake, what messages would you want to leave for friendly parties?

  3. don't drink from this pool
    quiet here 300 steps
    protect head
    rest here - goblinoids take bribes - don't tell humanoids!
    step - L, L, R, L, L, m.
    need "light" 400 paces: deadfall.

  4. the hobo-signer's worst enemy: gelatinous cubes.

  5. One way to get at the player contribution without the fuss and bother of the bag and the draw (as much fun as it might be) would be to populate a d20 chart, and let them roll. Also, things could come up more than once!

    You could have a Shinies, Magic, and Awesome chart to roll on, placing a Shiny, Magic, or Awesome treasure in each spot.

  6. Thanks, Richard!

    @fictivefantasies: Aww, grabbin' from the bag is the fun part! But you're right, you could streamline it with them making a chart.

    A slightly different approach I remember reading Zak used was to let the player roll on a chart, then they could take that result or choose entries above or below their roll. So, there was a nice mix of randomness and choice.

  7. "Safe rest here" (scribbled by semi-intelligent monster)