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Treasure Hunters’ Anonymous: Maps to Magic

character plottingThis past weekend, I took my Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium to both my D&D 4E games to show to my players.  I do that with most of my new D&D books: I let them pass the new acquisition around the table, just to see what kinds of things spark their interest.  It’s a good time to pay attention to the table-talk, and see if I need to steer my adventure planning to new horizons I had not considered.

I suppose that it comes as no surprise that as my copy of MME went around the table, several of my players made various “ooohs” and “ahhhhs”, and started wondering where they could buy some of this new HOT gear.  I had to remind them that to maintain balance, Uncommon and Rare items were now “blackbox tech”, and would only be found by adventuring.  I also reminded them that Rare items were supposed to be one per character per tier, and we’d need to check and make sure that the game wasn’t already capped off.

As it turns out, I’ve been rather stingy with one of my campaigns – as they near the end of the Heroic Tier, I’ve only dropped 1 rare item among 6 heroes, and that’s something I should probably address before we all rush into a Paragon Level game.

Mordenkainen’s Rebuke

One of the things I found ironically amusing about the Introduction in the MME was Mordenkainen’s attitude about using the tome incorrectly: “I would not have this tome used as a plunderer’s to-do list!”  Let’s face it, too often, players look at magic item books like a bunch of kids with the Sears’ Christmas Catalogue, and DMs are forced to grit their teeth and remind them that’s NOT the point of the sourcebook.  Frankly, if Mordenkainen were listening in, and given the reaction of my players leafing through the MME, he’d go into a fit of apoplexy and be firing off meteor swarms into the gaming room until he felt better – probably when the entire neighborhood, as well as the house containing the gaming room, was a smoking crater!

But still, the MME has some great background material on the origin of magic items, and it really does seem a shame to let that awesome fluff go to waste.  And since I’d like to drop a few rare items into my campaign to show I’m not a complete DM “scrooge”, I think it’s time to introduce some quests to get some Rares into the right hands.

Find them… Kill them… Take their stuff…

37When I was in college, I helped run a gaming convention for our university gaming club.  Of course, the college paper decided that a mass of nerdy gamers was a news-worthy story, and went down to interview someone about what all the noise and dice-rolling was about.  Unfortunately, rather than interviewing anyone of the con staff, they chatted with a convention attendee who regaled them with tales about their favorite D&D character and tried to sum up the essence of role-playing D&D.

Obviously, my fellow gaming-club members were a bit frustrated the following week to find out that all their hard work running a convention was distilled down to a newspaper quip about the “essence of role-playing” being to make up a character and then “pretend” to “find people, kill them, and take their stuff!”  The college reporter also misquoted the poor gamer with regards to their alter-ego, claiming that he played a mage, which was some kind of “lizard” – not “wizard”.  Needless to say, letters to the collegiate editor saw a sharp rise that issue when almost every member of my gaming club decided to vent at the idiot reporter.

But really, if you throw out all the nifty rescue the maiden, protect the village from marauders, and save the world from evil plots, adventurers do seem a bit rapacious in their tendency to gleefully slay monsters to find out what kind of loot they can get.  Most gamers would turn their noses up at running a whole adventure just for the sake of getting loot, but maybe throwing those in from time-to-time might be rather fun, and a sort of vacation from the stresses of trying to save the multiverse every five minutes!

Old school D&D gamers will recall that one of the possible items found in a treasure horde was a map to yet another location where there was a another (ta-da!) treasure horde!  Personally, I tended to ignore that roll on the random loot table, because I preferred to reward characters with something substantial right there on the spot than with something that was merely a potential treasure.  But as I consider how to bring the number of rare items up to expected levels among the heroes, the idea of treasure maps might be a fun way to give the characters a nudge toward some awesome loot!

I’d want to use treasure maps in conjunction with specific rare items, so figuring out what item I want to give to each character would be a proper first step.  I would not be inclined to let the player choose the specific rare item, but I’d still want to make sure it was something that would be appreciated.  And I think using the origin information of specific magic items from the MME would be very useful in planning a short 2-4 encounter adventure, along with the appropriate locale, and some nasty traps and monsters guarding the rare eldritch item of yore.

I might even get ambitious and draw out the treasure map myself.  And if memory serves, Wizards of the Coast have some nice blank treasure maps from their old 3.5 map-a-week archives I might use to develop a few treasure-hunting adventures.

While I would not want it to become too commonplace, I think that treasure hunting quests might be a lot of fun as short one-shot side-treks, and a welcome change of pace from a campaign arc bent on saving the world from some demon-lord, mad god, or horrible entity-thing from the Far Realms!

As a DM, do you have any plans to utilize the fluff information in Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium to create specific quests for recovering magic items;  have you ever run an adventure strictly as a treasure hunt?  As a player, do you ever like to go on an adventure just for the sake of treasure hunting, following a treasure map for the thrill of unearthing a rare item of power; or would your character find such an endeavor base or frivolous, and beneath their notice?

As always, your comments and feedback are most welcome!

So until next blog… I wish you Happy Gaming!

About The Author

Michael is an Adept of a Secret Order of Dungeon Masters, and dwells in a hidden realm with his two evil cat-familiars, deep within the Vale of Wolverines, called by some "Michigan". He has been esoterically conjuring D&D Campaigns for nearly a Third of a Century, and has been known to cast ritual blogs concerning Dungeons & Dragons every few days with some regularity. Michael has freelanced for Wizards of the Coast, and writes reviews of D&D and other Role-Playing Game products on EN World News.


One Response to “Treasure Hunters’ Anonymous: Maps to Magic

  1. Dave says:

    Well, first I have to pull my campaign back together before I can implement any of the MME stuff. And I would have to determine if I gave out anything rare…which means finding a master list someplace as I have been working from the PHBs and AVs which were printed pre-black box tech.

    I liked most of the MME items, especially being someone that played back in AD&D 1 days. I have always been more partial to items with properties than a power that works once a day anyway. The cursed item approach was different than the one I home brewed. No biggie, I hadn’t dropped a cursed item on anyone yet anyway.

    I was pleased to finally see a few things that keyed on alignment. I had already created some of my own.

    I think that some players are mainly killing things for loot – whith the main goal of creating an ever stronger character. Some players look to achieve things that become permanent effects in a campaign. (Overthrow a king, build a magic school, whatever). And some are mainly into role playing an alternative identity. The story of a particular adventure matters most to these types. What the overall mix is between these three types I couldn’t say. But I would bet that you’d find a different mix between mainly con going players and those that bother to commit to a regular campaign.

    Dave Wainio

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