I am in the process of developing an economy for a fantasy setting that will hold up to close scrutiny, be reasonable at all levels, and that can withstand the sudden influx of treasure brought back by successful adventurers. A number of weeks ago, I posted my preliminary thoughts on the matter.

This is a question posed in response to that earlier article (Roughing Out The Economy) :

You say encounters grant a set “loot per level”. Here’s a hypothetical situation to consider – your party of say, 10th level PCs have beaten a dragon who has been terrorizing farmers in the hills but only by tracking it to its lair and getting it while it was grounded. The farmers and PCs rejoice and 550s is due to them – way to go heroes! However, dragons are well known as hoarders and sooner or later a PC will say “hey, don’t dragons have a large pile of gold they sleep on/with? let’s track it down!”

As the GM you’re well within your right to say “nope, no treasure here” but if you do let them find a hoarde how would you manage the economic disturbance when they stroll into town loaded to the teeth with a cash windfall and perhaps magic items?

Preface

Before I begin, let me make a comment on scale. Most DMs use a gold standard where copper is practically worthless and there are other commodities worth thousands of gold pieces (for ease of transport). I’ve chosen to use a silver standard instead which effectively makes all coins ten times as valuable. Copper is now worth stopping to pick up and the need for more valuable coins is reduced. Additionally, I am attempting to create an economy where characters can discover fabulous treasures without requiring an army of wheelbarrows to haul it out of the dungeon.

The quote above refers to receiving 550 silver from a 10th level monster (see the previous article for details on where that came from). A bag full of silver doesn’t sound like much. Keep in mind that we are using a silver standard instead of a gold standard. Still, that doesn’t sound like very much treasure for a dragon.

You Call That a Dragon’s Hoard?

When I think of dragons, I think of enormous piles of gold and silver, gems and jewelry, and fantastic magical items. In short, my vision of a dragon’s treasure is more wealth than you can imagine and probably more than enough to buy a small country.

In my game, the eldest dragon around may have such a treasure. But she would be experienced in protecting her lair and her treasure. The lair would be located in a well hidden and deadly environment, filled with devious traps, protected by powerful guardians. The entire lair would be designed in such a way to give the dragon every possible advantage in a combat, put the attackers at severe disadvantages, and offer avenues of escape (for the dragon) if things go badly. Only a large party of the highest level characters should, imo, have any chance of succeeding in such an undertaking.

Younger dragons, although terrible in their own right, would be not nearly as challenging and would have considerably smaller treasures.

Distribution of Treasure

I have treasure tables that I use as a guideline for how much to place based on the level of the encounter (whether that encounter consists of combat, traps, etc). However, that treasure isn’t always placed with the encounter. In the case of a dragon’s lair (surrounded by guards, traps, etc), I would take the treasure from each of the associated encounters leading up to the dragon and add all of that treasure to the dragon’s hoard. A 10th level dragon might then have ten times the treasure of any other 10th level encounter. Also, as I said I use the treasure tables as a guideline. Not only do I envision dragons as having tremendous treasures, the characters also had to endure all the previous encounters with little or no rewards along the way. Bumping up the dragon’s hoard a bit is, I feel, fair compensation for that.

Answering the Question

The original question asked about the impact of a large dragon hoard upon the economy and implied that maybe a dragon’s hoard should consist of more than is typical for a monster of that level. I wholehearted agree with the latter. A dragon is the single most iconic creature in the D&D game. As such, encounters should be spectacular and treasures should be substantial. As all dragons are solo creatures, they are equivalent to five normal creatures of their level and their treasure should reflect that. They are also well known hoarders which, imo, should increase their treasure as well. Taking the treasure from related preliminary encounters and adding it to the dragon’s hoard increases it further. Although I think it is important to limit the treasure to what is reasonable for the level and difficulty of the encounter, I also think it is important to stretch the limits to ensure that every encounter with a dragon is memorable and satisfying for everyone involved.

Impact on the Economy

As to the impact on the economy, I don’t think that a single large treasure can have any significant impact. A small group will suddenly have the means to buy almost anything they want. They may throw money around, leave enormous tips wherever they go, give out gifts and otherwise make everyone around them happy for a short while. They may create a minor “bubble” of increased wealth but I suspect that it would have far less impact than the recent stimulus packages (if you will forgive the non-fantasy reference).

If there were a large number of such treasure troves coming in regularly and being brought in by various groups, you would then have something akin to the gold rush days. More adventurers would hear of the wealth in the area and arrive to get their share. Merchants would see a rise in demand (and in characters’ ability to pay) and raise their prices accordingly.

A steady stream of lesser treasures would cause the same thing to a lesser extent. I’m actually attempting to develop an economy that takes that into account. At some point, the influx of treasure would stop having any influence and everything would find an equilibrium. The hard part is just identifying all the factors and estimating how they would affect one another.