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Roleplaying Tips Weekly E-Zine Issue #449

11 Homebrew Terrain Ideas



This Week's Tips Summarized 

11 Homebrew Terrain Ideas

  1. Cardstock 3D Minis and Paper Modeling
  2. Household Objects
  3. Cardstock Terrain
  4. Hobby Shop Terrain
  5. Paper Models
  6. Wargames Terrain Book
  7. Wooden Blocks
  8. Three Floor Model
  9. Building Materials and Sets
  11. More Cardstock Terrain

Treasure as Adventure

What's New at Johnn's Blog 


Johnn Four's GM Guide Books

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A Brief Word From Hannah 

Midgard Viking RPG

For once, I get to be a player: I convinced a friend to run a game of Midgard, and we just had our first session. Midgard is a great RPG that I first heard about a while back from the Free RPG Blog.

You play the role of a Viking, looting and pillaging and fighting off dark elves and zombies, or svartalfar and haugbui in Norse terms. Character creation is similar to the usual, with stats (god runes), skills, and special abilities (rune gifts), but it has quite a few unique bits. For example, the god rune Heimdall represents both charisma and constitution.

Characters health is measured in Wounds, which is a slightly unusual system that's growing on me. Reserves of power are measured with Wyrd, which characters can regenerate by doing unsafe things, such as charging headlong at an enemy or sailing a ship through a storm. It's an interesting personality mechanic, and I've yet to see just how it will play out over the long term.

Combat is unintuitive for anyone used to just about any other system, but once our group picked it up, we really liked it. Characters with a higher weapon skill get more actions per round, but the timing of these actions is determined by initiative, which is influenced by what you're doing. A character in chain armor swinging a giant axe is going to move a lot slower than one in leather with a dagger, but the former might still end up taking more actions than the latter if their skill is higher.

The really cool bit for me is the resolution mechanic. Rather than rolling one d20, or a pool of other dice and adding them up or counting successes, you cast runes. This involves rolling a bunch of d8s, but each number means something. A 1 is a rune that bodes ill for you, while a 3 is a rune related to the past, a 4 is a rune related to the future, and so on. It looks complicated at first, but after a few practice casts I could read the dice almost as speedily as I can read a normal d20 roll.

We have a party of three, which includes my berserker, a hunter who specializes in archery, and a fateweaver who does some divining on the side. Both myself and the archer have low Heimdall, which means the trickster-ish fateweaver is the party's face, not to mention having more health than the other two of us put together. We glass cannons can still demolish half a dozen enemies in one round, though, so it's a working partnership.

We all independently chose Odin as our highest god rune. It's the rune for magic, and also for being scary as all get out, so we're a pretty intimidating party. Optimization- wise, it looks like Odin would be the best choice for a "dump stat," so we'll see how well our builds work out for us in the long run. I think my berserker could take a Tyr- based warrior on any day, but time will tell.

My favourite thing about this system: You can say "I block the battleaxe with my face" and have it be the right choice.

Midgard RPG

I recommend printing out the separate "cast stone" sheet, as it makes rune casting much faster.

Hannah Lipsky
AIM: DemonIllusionist

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Game Industry Gathers on Open Design Podcast

Industry luminaries Monte Cook, Jeff Grubb, and Skip Williams talk about world building and the joys of collaborative design with the hosts of the new Open Design Podcast.

Open Design patron Brandon Hodge gave his perspective on patronage, his contributions to the development on Halls of the Mountain King, and what he's learned about game design. And RPG Superstar Clinton J. Boomer talks about how to design a lively monster.

Plus a great contest giveaway: don't miss it!

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11 Homebrew Terrain Ideas  

In Issue #432 I put out a request for homebrew terrain for my personal campaign. Without a large budget, I wanted to add a new dimension to the tabletop. That's still a work in progress for my game.

In the meantime, though, here are several of the tips and ideas everyone sent in. If you are thinking about building 3D props and minis terrain, I thought you might find a tip or three here of use.

- Johnn

1. Cardstock 3D Minis and Paper Modeling 

From: John Gallagher

For 3-D miniatures props for your game, I'd recommend cardstock models.

There are a few Google and Yahoo groups that specialize in very inexpensive modeling using cardstock. The members there can direct you to a number of sites that sell models of virtually anything you can imagine. Even better, many of the members also design their own models, which they post to the groups as free downloads. The quality, even of these free models, is usually pretty good, often very good, and sometimes even stunning.

So you can get an idea of how good these can look, check out this site's photo gallery. I built this wild west town when I was planning a Deadlands campaign.

When I ordered it, I received a computer CD in the mail. I simply print off as many of each building as I want.

Here's a few of those groups:

The members are friendly and very helpful, and like gamers, they are interested in promoting their hobby. They are mostly familiar with gaming, as many do modeling as a support for their games.

For my money, you can't beat this concept. It's inexpensive (often free), fun, easily accessible, and has support groups who are only too ready to help you out.

If you go to the homepage and click on downloads, one of the PDFs you can download there is a free sample building from his product line. It can give you an idea if paper modeling is a route you want to look into.

Assembly Tips

Once you get used to doing it, putting together a building like this goes really fast. I can do two in an evening while watching TV. And all I need are four things: cardstock to print on, an Exacto knife, a cutting board and some Elmer's glue. Show me a miniature painter who can match that!

To be fair, I also have a drafting table, a lighted magnifying glass on an extendable arm, surgical scalpels, a couple of packs of the clamp-style paper clips, and a few other odds and ends. But all you need are those four items above. The rest is gravy.

Here's a kind of a primer on paper modeling:

Print the models on cardstock. Remember, the thicker the stock, the sturdier the model will be, but the harder it will be to work with while you're building it. It's a trade off. You'll want to use between about 65# and 100# stock, 100# being the heaviest stock I'd try working with.

Some people who expect their models to take abuse (like gamers) do very rough cuts of corrugated cardboard or balsa wood to line the interiors of the buildings.

You can use scissors to cut out the models. If you do, I'd recommend sharp scissors that come to a fine point at the end, like the scissors in a manicure kit. Even better is an Exacto knife with a pointed tip. That's the most economical blade most people have access to. Some people use scalpels, but they're pricey. A straight edge is enormously helpful in cutting out walls, and the best straight edge is a steel ruler. I got mine on sale three for a dollar at an office supply store.

All paper models use tabs to glue sections together. Don't bother doing fine cuts on the tabs. Rough cuts are fine, unless they're going to be attached to something small. I usually use scissors to cut the tabs, to save the blades on my knives.

Score the tabs and fold them as soon as you cut them. Don't wait till your walls are up and then realize you didn't fold the tabs for the roof.

A lot of vendors will tell you to use a butter knife or something else to score the fold lines on your model. I don't bother having the extra tool lying there. I use the back of my cutting knife, being careful not to press too hard.

Even using the back of the knife, the tip is probably sharp enough to cut the cardstock partway through. You don't want to do that; it will weaken the joint. You just want to indent the fold line so it's easier to bend in a straight line.

Here's a tip that will save you lots of time. Save some of your cardstock scraps. Before you make your first cut, drizzle white school glue down on a good size scrap. This glue takes a good while to dry, and you can waste a lot of time just sitting there holding the joints together until they're sturdy enough to sit on their own. Let the glue start drying on the scraps while you're cutting. Then apply it to the tabs with a toothpick.

This will keep it from running onto the printed portions and smearing the ink, and cut down on your holding time. If you want to push this a step further, don't drizzle the glue in a big pool, but in lines back and forth on the scrap. It will dry even faster.

And speaking of holding time, office supply stores carry another very inexpensive product that can help you out: clamp-style paper clips. I use these little gems to hold my joints together until they dry so I can keep on cutting. At least most of the time.

The exception is the last joint that closes the four walls of a building. Up until you glue that last joint, your model can be laid out flat, and the clamps will take care of holding it together. But that last joint can't be clamped that way, because you'll have to fold it over on itself for the clamps to hold it.

That can cause you problems, because if the glue seeps out from under the tab, you could end up gluing the corner to itself. By this time, however, the glue you put on that scrap is fairly dry, and you won't have to hold this last joint too terribly long.

Lastly, roofs are always going to give you grief. Your walls are already together, and in most models, there are all these lovely long tabs running along the top of each wall. The best tip I can give you here is, not all tabs need to be folded at 90 degrees.

I fold these tabs normally, then unfold them again to about 135 degrees, halfway between flat and a right angle. I apply the glue pretty liberally here, but by now my glue reservoir is dry enough so it shouldn't run down onto the exterior of the model when it's applied. Then I press the roof in place and let the roof push those tabs back into the right position.

That way I can be pretty sure the tabs are contacting the roof and will stick to it. Then I flip the model upside down and use the tip of my knife to gently press the tabs up into the roof.

Tools Tips

The toothpicks you use to apply glue are going to get gunked up with dried glue. You really can't avoid it. Wipe them between uses, do whatever you want; it's gonna happen. Toss 'em. Get a new one.

The same thing can be said for your knife blades. The blade will dull with use, and that will make it harder to cut.

A few tips about this. Use new blades to make fine cuts. Use older blades to make long straight cuts. The tips will dull first, but the rest of the blade will probably remain pretty sharp.

Keep those blades around for a while, too. They're useful for cutting extra tabs, whittling glue off the end of toothpicks, etc. Just be sure you don't get the new blades mixed up with the "starting to dull" blades or the "utility" blades.

And remember, the fastest way to ruin a model is to use a dull blade to cut it. Your edges will be pressed down from the amount of pressure you had to exert to cut the cardstock, and they'll look terrible.

You can find models for just about anything if you look hard enough. Gamers likely will be most interested in buildings and terrain, but it's easy to find planes, cars, boats, etc. I once downloaded and built a (free!) horse-drawn hearse that was a nightmare of tiny little parts. The designer's build of it was unbelievable, though.

Which brings me to my very last tip. When you find a free model online, and you download it, make a second document and download the photos too. Sometimes it helps to know what the finished model is supposed to look like. And while you're at it, put the website address in with the photos, or in its own document, so you can pass it along to friends.

Printing Tips

You can use advanced print options that allow you to set the print quality or to print in grayscale.

I generally drop my print quality to mid grade. It cuts way back on the amount of ink used, without a huge drop in quality. An added benefit is the ink dries faster, without smudging or curling the pages, which can happen when you're doing photo quality printing on regular paper or cardstock.

If you're really married to the highest quality setting, don't let your printed pages build up in the printer tray. Take them out as they finish and put them on a flat surface till the ink dries; say, five minutes.

The lowest quality print setting on my printer tends to make everything look washed out, so I don't use it.

Also, I refill my own ink cartridges. There are a couple vendors who supply ink. You can also order reconditioned cartridges from Overstock dot Com.

Paper Modeling Groups

Here are links to some groups devoted to paper modeling. The members do a lot to promote their hobby and are very willing to help with problems, answer questions (especially about where to find specific models) and offer tips. Many of them design their own models and make them available to the groups free of charge.

Be sure to check the links sections of each group, and read the posts. The members will usually post a website address immediately whenever they find a new model somewhere, especially if it's free. In no time you'll wind up with more possibilities than you can ever hope to use.

  • The Brabantini Mailing List
    A mailing list to provide card templates for figures, vehicles and buildings to be used in your wargames.
  • The Fantasy Card Model Archive
    A mailing list to provide card templates to be used in Fantasy wargames, such as GW's WFB and LOTR.
  • The Historical Card Model Archive
    A mailing list to provide card templates to be used in historical wargames.
  • Models & Miniatures in Paper
    A group where members submit original paper miniature and model creations centered around an agreed upon theme.
  • Paper Models
    A group founded to share free paper model plans. The wiki site also includes a free model
  • Whitewash City Wild West PDF Buildings
    This is a support group for the Whitewash City line of wild west card models, which I purchased. I can tell you, the line is top notch. And little add-ons can change the entire look of the town; turn it into a ghost town, for instance.
  • Papermodels II
    Members are encouraged to share their original model designs, links to favorite model sites, or just to talk about the hobby:
  • Papercraft Modeling
    A blog publishing free models.

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2. Household Objects 

From: MacKenzie

Terrain can be fun and easy to make. Using things found around the house and/or a few supplies from your local craft store, there are a lot of little things you can make to spruce up your D&D battlemats.

Many of your new or old purchases of appliances might have come with the perfect material for making hills, stairs, or altars: polystyrene packing (Styrofoam). Cut it and stack it, then using a knife or a pen mark it with the squares to aide with moving figures.

  • You can mix up some white glue and dirt to use as a texture for your new terrain, even using rocks in the mix for heavier terrain. Then slap on a little paint for looks and you are good to go.
  • Fences can easily be made by taking a large tongue depressor and modifying it.

    Rock wall: Use white glue and some relatively flat rocks from your backyard. Just stack the rocks on the tongue depressor as high as you want your wall, and fill in between the rock with glue to make it look like mortar. Then paint it shades of grey. Paint the depressor a grassy color. You can also use static glass from a craft store for a neat look.

    Wooden fence: Use twigs from your backyard and wood glue. Line up and glue the twigs in the H-shaped fence look, then glue to the tongue depressor base. Paint the fence if you want. Decorate the depressor like the rock wall and you are good to go.
  • Wire fence: Use twigs and wire or string painted silver.
  • Trees and plants are easy to make out of a little wire, some old silk plants, and some floral tape.

    Start with a twig and wrap wire around the twig, coming off the bottom for roots and off the top for branches. Tape or glue old silk plant leaves on the ends of the top for a live tree. Then wrap the wires with brown floral tape to make bark. The tree should stand on its own, but if it doesn't, glue it to cardboard and decorate the base. You can use this method to make bushes too; just make them much shorter.
  • To make a cactus, find a Styrofoam ball and cut it into a cactus shape. Using toothpick ends or small bits of wire, stab and glue pointy bits all over the Styrofoam. Paint the Styrofoam green and the pointy bits white.
  • Houses and other buildings can be made easily out of an old cereal box. First cut the box open so it lies flat. Then draw the four walls of a house and a roof on the box. Draw in a foldable lip to the sides for glue and extra support, if you want. Remember to use a ruler for good edge connections. Then cut out the parts and use tape or glue to assemble.

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3. Cardstock Terrain 

From: Bill Webb

Johnn, I have been researching the same topic, and come up with a few alternatives.

  1. Cardstock dungeons in PDF form. After buying the download or CD, you get PDF files you can print in color or black and white. Some of the best products I have seen are:
  2. Outdoor terrain features are also available in cardstock form.
  3. Cardstock buildings - also available in JPG or PDF files.

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4. Hobby Shop Terrain 

From: Laura

I love making terrain for my model horses!

Model railroad supplies are usually available at hobby shops. A bit of plywood, or Styrofoam for a base, some newspaper to make hills, and plastercloth to cover it all. It's messy, but fun.

There are tree forms, foliage foam to shape your trees, moss to make bushes with, different shades of grass and gravel or dirt to glue on, even stuff to make water effects and rivers and such. And, of course, instructions to make it come out right.

For buildings, bridges, and fences check out this site -it's to die for! Hirst Arts

One hint: Make sure your terrain is flat enough for your minis to stand on.

Another hint: When your plaster cloth is all dry and you are ready to paint it, a nice can of spray-paint as a base helps to seal it and provides a nice base color for your grass, dirt, etc.

One more hint: If you can get it, HydroCal is a better medium than plaster for use with Hirst molds. HydroCal is usually available at hardware stores - it's an ingredient in cement, I believe. Anyway, it's white, and mixes like plaster, but is very durable. You can also get it at the railroad hobby shops, but it's a lot more pricey in their small containers.

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5. Paper Models 

From: Lord Skudley

In response to your desire to create your own terrain I offer you these websites.

A great site for custom making your own stuff from the ground up: Matakishi's Tea House

More paper models than you'll know what to do with: Buildings and Structures Free Paper Modelsl

Paper buildings from the Disney Haunted Mansions:

Some Random Disney stuff: The Disney Experience Paper Models

Some great looking paper models from Warhammer (scroll down to Cardstock Constructions): Dave's Games

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6. Wargames Terrain Book 

From: James Seals

Games Workshop sell a book entitled "How to Make Wargames Terrain" that has useful articles about making buildings and the like. I find it helpful for making affordable, realistic-looking terrain.


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7. Wooden Blocks 

From: Bill Hein

Invest $20 in two $10 sets of blocks at WalMart. Nothing fancy, just the wood blocks we played with as toddlers. This gives you walls, arches for doors, cylinders for columns, etc.

You can combine them with the dungeon tiles from WotC -the blocks make the walls, while the tiles are pretty enough to evoke mood. I thought about painting them darker colors, but passed; when they're bright, it's obvious from across the table where the wall is.

If you can find the old WizKids Dungeon Tiles for Mage Knight, they're useful too. I bough mine a long time ago on clearance, but I still stumble across the stuff at rummage sales and flea markets.

Aquarium terrain is good stuff, too. I don't much like the standard prices, but used stuff on eBay, garage sales, or flea markets works well.

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8. Three Floor Model 

From: Darryl Hodgson

I use a sheet of clear plastic cut into four equal sized sheets (12" x 18") and place them like floors of a building on clear plastic cups. I then place paper on the levels with rooms, doors, elevators and stairs. This worked great for a game that recreated the story from Resident Evil.

I used three of them another time in a Serenity game for ships moving over a planet. One level was close to the ground where you could shoot at each other. Another was high in the sky where enemies could watch you or try and shoot down on you. And the third was in orbit, allowing for just radio communications.

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9. Building Materials and Sets 

From: Matt Vincent

Here are some building materials I've frequently used for 3- D terrain:

  • Legos, Mega Bloks and Best-Locks.
  • Modeling Clay: I use this most of all. A single, large, gray brick from a craft store can do just about anything, and doesn't dry out easily. Also, a small blob of clay on the bottom of miniatures can affix them to uneven or angled terrain.
  • Styrofoam: note that many paints, especially spray paints, will melt Styrofoam.
  • Wooden blocks.
  • Plasticard: free from real estate signs littered near your house.
  • Asian placemat cut up with scissors and used as ladders/rope bridges. Example
  • Toys.

* Paper is an especially popular method for making attractive 3-D terrain. Some products for this are available at:

Frequently used terrain sets I like to have on hand:

  • Ship: Any Mega Bloks pirate ship or the Pirateology Model ship
  • Graveyard: Halloween diorama models
  • Inn: Dwarven Forge or WorldWorks
  • Forest: Woodland Scenics or Christmas model trees
  • Castle Walls: Mage Knight castles or WotC paper models
  • Village: Paper model houses, and leave them folded for easy storage.
  • Bridge: Various stone bridges can easily be found, but a rope bridge made from an Asian placemat can be more dramatic. I made mine 1 inch wide, and marked off 1 inch increments with a black marker.

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From: Mike Kenyon

Check out

Brian Rollins runs it, and he makes PDFs of all sorts of terrain for fantasy, sci-fi and urban settings. I recommend checking it out!

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11. More Cardstock Terrain 

From: Steve B.

In response to your coverage of gaming terrain, here are a few links for cardstock model PDFs. I prefer cardstock models since they're economical, foldable, lightweight, replaceable, customizable, and are visually nice. Many of these sites have free demos or samples worth downloading. I've purchased from all of these publishers and have been quite happy with their products.

WorldWorks Games
My favorite for a high quality range of props and terrain including good coverage for science fiction and modern gaming. Their models are also great for kitbashing with graphics application such as Photoshop to create unique props - many can be seen in their user gallery.

Has nice fantasy and science fiction sets I consider to be at the same level as those by WorldWorks Games.

Ebbles Miniatures
Very nice models focusing on science fiction. Many models can be optionally purchased as layered Photoshop files for customization.

SkeletonKey Games
Extensive range of great tile sets covering fantasy and science fiction (terrain and starships).

Future Armada
Impressive Starship designs. Each PDF package has maps, descriptions, OGL statistics and tiles for a starship.

Star Wars Miniatures
Has a number of free Star Wars related models as well as tiles and game aids for other science fiction games.

Paper Models International
I originally started cardstock modeling back in my university days and was surprised at what could be done with quality models. Some of these would make nice additions complements the model sets above, particularly with the WorldWorks Games modern sets.[Note: Unfortunately PMI is now going out of business but still has some excellent models and a sale while supplies last.]

If one gets into designing or kitbashing cardstock models, The Card Modeling FAQ is a valuable resource.

And some related links as a bonus for reading this far:

For interiors one might consider WorldWorks Games' Shellendrak Manor or other interior sets.

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CAR-PGa Discussion Group Returns

CAR-PGa, the international network of researchers into all aspects of role-playing games, has restored their long- dormant online discussion group. The new address is:

However, it is easier, if not quicker, to first search and upon reaching it, search . The archives from the old site on Yahoo is available as well.

This is one of the few discussion groups discussing all face-to-face gaming, tabletop or LARP, without restrictions to, or even emphasis on, one game system or publisher. Indeed, it also covers curriculum and therapy as well as recreation.

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Treasure as an Adventure 

By Ripper X

Reprinted with permission from: Advanced Gaming & Theory

The glory of being an adventurer is not without its headaches. When one is comfortable and warm in one's favorite chair, and pondering the possibilities of embarking on a grand adventure and coming home rich, I dare say that one is a fool.

A successful adventurer is measured not just by old age, but of course, by his wealth as well. And I must say that wealth is not an easy thing to deal with, but if you are intent on following this fool's quest of yours, then I suppose I must release some of our trade secrets.

When one slays a dragon, or explores an ancient city left for dead thousands of years ago, yes there is much money to be had, but like all things, it isn't that simple. One has to think about the state of the world in which one lives. If you go to the market, you pay the merchants with copper. You pay your landlord with silver, you buy drinks, pay for supplies, eat, and pay for services all with either silver or copper, all the while wishing for gold, but the problem is, once you've got gold, then what do you do with it?

Make Certain Coins Uncommon

Most inns, once handed a gold coin, often look at it and then at you like you stole it! They don't have change for that kind of cash. The problem with gold isn't the worst of your trouble. I mean, think about it man! Many of the coins an adventurer finds in his journeys are so old they aren't worth anything but the weight of the metal itself.

Treasure is usually handled just as shakily and abstractly as combat. Most players dread role-playing scenes in shops because they aren't interested in the money aspect of the game. As an adventure idea, why not try something that explores the troubles and tribulations of finding a large treasure? This probably works best as a one-shot deal, and it can be fun just to figure out how this stuff would work in your own world.

The first thing to consider is the coins in circulation at the time, and which ones are most popular. Looking at supplies lists quickly tells you what shops are capable of handling what kind of cash. Weapons dealers are more capable of handling large quantities of money, then, say a tavern.

In the standard game an adventurer can pay for drinks with a gem worth 800gp and get the proper change back, but think about it! How much money do you think a tavern owner has in the tavern, and what kind of coin is typically paid? He probably has lots of copper, some silver, and the odd gold coin from large parties celebrating a victory. He simply doesn't have the kind of cash to break a gem.

Let's examine the common coins to find their place in the game.


This is the most common coin, but it must bear the proper seals. A coin from one realm won't work in another; it must be traded in to the right place and exchanged for the proper coins. This is the coin everybody has access too, and is easiest to move. Everybody accepts copper and it is the preferred method of barter for simple goods and services.


This coin is the backbone of society. The copper is broken down to make change for this piece. Silvers work everywhere and even foreign coins are generally accepted as silver itself is worth more then copper. This is another coin of the commoner that can be used to purchase equipment and services.


Now we are entering the coins of a different society, the upper class! Gold is jealously guarded; the economic foundation of the D&D world is not capitalism. If a poor man tries to pay for something with a gold piece, the automatic assumption is that he stole it.

This coin is more accepted in cities, but is extremely rare in rural communities. Shopkeepers who sell expensive items will gladly take it, but common services won't generally have the cash to make change; especially if they deal mostly with copper, like a tavern.

The gold pieces that an adventurer starts out with are considered their life's savings, and probably aren't in the form of gold at all, but a combination of silver and copper. Gold is typically not gold at all, but gold written on paper. It measures the worth of something big, like property.

Just because a merchant owns a ship worth 15,000gp doesn't mean that he ever had that much gold, or that once he sells it, he'll get that much gold for it. Typically he will trade it for products worth that much gold, such as a nice house or 15,000gp worth of horses and wagons. Gold is an abstract measurement of wealth, while the coin itself is fairly rare.


This is a very rare coin, probably a metal that isn't used to pay for anything anymore and bears seals that are ancient. Everybody who isn't a collector or has the education to realize what this is, is going to just assume that it is counterfeit. It is a curiosity, and nothing more. Electrum is worth more melted down than it is to the market.


Much like electrum, this is an even rarer coin used only by kings and not for the general public. If one finds a large horde of platinum, one is still broke because there just isn't any way to move it; nobody except for wealthy dwarves would touch it.

This probably is a dwarven coin in the first place, and they won't look highly at humans who are using it, and might demand to just have it returned because it was never theirs to begin with. And making change for it? That is simply not going to happen in even the largest of cities. A collector might buy one or two pieces, but getting rid of an entire chest of the stuff would be next to impossible.

Treasure Disrupts The Economy

Now that we've got an idea of what each coin is worth, and who uses them, we have to look at the economy in general. We are typically in a world where the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor. If this changes then the entire system collapses.

The rich enforce their status with an iron fist. Most adventurers are serfs, and first must buy their freedom; this might not even be possible, especially if the lord in question believes you to be a money machine. He might allow you to adventure, but he is still going to demand his share, and if he doesn't get what he thinks he is owed, then he could take it out on the adventurer's family and loved ones.

One must also take into consideration about what would happen if a large horde of cash were suddenly introduced into the economy. It would be good at first, but the more wealthy the common man becomes, the more the truly wealthy will push them down by raising prices.

For example: Adventurers slay an ancient dragon. Much of the treasure he horded would be coins that he slowly took away from the economy for years; now suddenly all of this money is back. The original boom would be massive! But once the King finds out, suddenly his treasure has been devalued, and it isn't worth as much as it would be if the dragon had been left alive. Thus a dragon is good for the economy, and adventurers powerful enough to slay him are bad.

To protect his own interests, the King needs to find a way to take as much treasure for himself as he possibly can, and discover a way to devalue the horde at the same time. This can be as subtle as raising taxes, or as advanced as minting all coins with a completely different seal. Either way, he would find a way to suffer the people because if he goes broke, then his kingdom collapses.

Treasure Is Heavy

Once a treasure is found, typically it just appears in an adventurer's coin purse, regardless of size and weight. This is highly illogical! It is a pain in the bottom to have to deal with this aspect, but it is the stuff that a character has to figure out when he isn't being roleplayed.

Treasure typically comes from ancient ruins or monster hordes. The chests that are there are normally rotten and worthless, bags are even worse off, and loose coins are even more common. In order to get the treasure itself out, the party had to bring the supplies to carry it out with. The best is a combination of chests and bags, with a wagon to carry it all.

This all takes place before the adventurers embark on their quest. They have to estimate how much treasure they think they can get out of the place, and plan for it accordingly. For that, we need to know how much each coin weighs.

This is a huge problem. I am but a simple poor man, and I have no idea of what a coin would weigh. I'm lazy too. I've looked all over my books trying to find weight of coins, but so far, nothing. In the interest of just settling the thing once and for all, I'll say that 10gp = 1 pound.

If we stick to this method, a small chest could hold 400 coins and a large chest could hold 1,000 coins. Now we have an additional problem: a full chest weights 125 pounds, and getting it from point A to point B is a huge problem that must be overcome before you can even get it on the wagon outside.

The time it takes to move the treasure gives the vultures more time to plan to take it away from you. God forbid you are forced to leave the treasure trove, because once you come back, much of the treasure will be looted or in the process of being looted by folks who planned better than the adventurers.

The DM is strongly encouraged to go over the encumbrance rules, and get to understand them so they can be imposed upon your adventurers with all of their hateful glory.

Cashing In

Let's just assume for a moment the adventurers were able to somehow haul the bulk of that stuff out. The next problem is turning it into something that the player can use, which isn't always that simple.

Exchange Rates

The party will have to take their treasure to a big city, which if we did our job of setting the game up properly, should be a long ways away. The exchange office buys coins from other realms and exchanges them for coins currently in circulation.

They don't do this for free; they'll charge 10-30%, and since they are under the direct influence of the King, they will be interested in where people got this much treasure. The longer the party can keep it out of these people's hands, the more headaches they will save themselves. Even the exchange office has a set limit of how much money they can handle. Being expected to handle thousands of gold coins is a strain on any office, no matter how big.


Before we give our players a headache, we have to deal with one ourselves. The abstract treasure is in our favor just as much as it is for the players. We need to figure out exactly what the treasure consists of, and just because it is listed in gold pieces, doesn't mean that it is all gold pieces; it is much easier to move wealth around with gold items.

Jewelry is a great way to carry it, as are objects created from metals such as silver and gold. Art objects are a big pain, but we need to define what these items are. The player won't, and shouldn't have any idea of what this stuff is worth until he can get the stuff appraised.

This also includes having a treasure counted, because adding machines weren't common; this is a specialty and requires a hireling. Even if a player has the appraising skill, he still won't be an expert at it, and the treasure will have to be examined by an expert to classify its exact value. This must be done before a player can hope to sell the treasure.

Appraisers aren't always honest; this trade attracts many swindlers and thieves. An appraiser can lie about the value of an item. He can also slip things into his own pocket. An appraiser is entitled to a percentage of the treasure. This is usually between 5-10% because it is time consuming, especially with large treasures, and he may need the help of a sage, which will also cost money.

Adventurers will probably complain about this, but the prettiest stone could be nothing but colored glass, a golden statue could be carved wood leafed with gold foil, and an ugly stone could be worth thousands of gold pieces once it is cut and polished.

The appraiser expert can spot this stuff. Granted, it will take some time, depending on the size of the hoard; anywhere from two weeks to several months to go through everything and classify it for the players.

He will also earn a daily rate for himself, because he will have to dedicate himself to counting this stuff and finding the right histories. We are looking at a very large chunk of cash, but luckily the money doesn't have to be paid up front and can come from the treasure itself.


The next stage of this game will be finding a buyer. This can be challenging, particularly with weird items, such as spell components. If it is in the form of expensive incense then a church might buy it. They will try to get away with you just donating it, which might not be a bad idea. Having a church indebted to you can be a handy thing. Say an adventurer needs raising from the dead; normally this would cost him at least 1,000gp, but he can probably get it done for free because he is on such friendly terms.

Other buyers are merchants. Haggling should be brisk and it has to be an item they are interested in. A trader of livestock would be less interested in a silver pendant worth 500gp then, say, a jeweler. The jeweler is going to try and haggle down the price to something that is easy for him to afford, and he may also be a swindler, because he himself would be able to appraise the item.

The other kind of buyer is the rich collector. Great care must be taken when dealing with the upper-class! One's charisma score really comes into effect here because we don't want to offend the buyer who can just as easily have our heads legally as he can pay us what we want for the item in question.

In dealing with the rich, haggling will be slow and careful. The lord will typically ask how much you want for it, and examine it. He could also be an expert appraiser, especially if he is a collector of specialty items.

Naturally a collector will buy one or two items at most; therefore, if you have many items, you'll have to contact many collectors. Getting the word out that you have these items requires another hireling, and an expert who knows who buys what. This also lets thieves know what you have and they'll be trying to get their share as well.

Fencing is probably the quickest way to get rid of a product, but these guys are only going to give you a max of 50% of its worth, and depending on the size of the hoard, it could be impossible to obtain the gold itself to actually buy the item. Nobody has 12,000gp, or if they do, they won't be willing to give it up for something that can be stolen from them in a heartbeat, leaving them broke. Fences will buy small items quickly, but probably won't be all that interested in large items. However, if they know you have it, they might send out a band of thieves to relieve you of it.

Finding the right buyer is more important than actually finding the treasure to begin with, because if you can't turn the treasure into wealth, then it really isn't worth anything at all!

Lessons of the Game

This kind of play will reveal a lot about our games, and also how we can use money more wisely. What does an adventure need with 2,000gp? It's not like it is convenient to carry around, and if he's forced to run away then he will do so by leaving his wealth behind. There are no banks to keep money, and wealth will be counted with property. Buying a house or investing in a business can make all the difference between a successful campaign and a weak one.

What can we gain from giving the money away? It might sound stupid at first, but say we give a lord the spoils or a treasure trove, for example. That lord is now indebted to us and if he fails to grant us favors, then word will get out that he is cheap and stingy with his money and he'll fall out of favor. This will be bad for the lord's reputation, and bad for the lord's title. Granted, a lord won't drop whatever he is doing to help the adventurer, but he will pull lots of strings that a typical adventurer wouldn't have access too. Favors can be worth more then gold.

Titles are also something a character might be interested in buying. This opens up a completely different aspect of the game players may or may not want to get into. Wealth comes with more responsibility, and if we keep this in mind then we become better gamers for it.


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    RPGs use rules, usually relating to dice rolls and modifiers, to simulate the world around the PCs, resolve character actions, and provide an interface between the game mechanics and the simulated environment. But this is not the only approach that can be used, and there are times when alternatives should be considered by the GM.

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Inns, Taverns, and Restaurants - new

How to design, map, and GM fresh encounters for RPG's most popular locales. Includes campaign and NPC advice as well, plus several generators and tables

Adventure Essentials: Holidays

Advice and tips for designing compelling holidays that not only expand your game world but provide endless natural encounter, adventure, and campaign hooks.

GM Mastery: NPC Essentials

Critically acclaimed and multiple award-winning guide to crafting, roleplaying, and GMing three dimensional NPCs for any game system and genre. This book will make a difference to your GMing.

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