Treasure chests are a common staple in Dungeons and Dragons. You see them everywhere: they’re stuffed in dungeons, castles, keeps, and even homes. Now ask yourself why. If you think about it, it doesn’t always make sense. A chest is a good way to store some things, but more often than not there are plenty of better ways to keep your loot safe and stashed. Let’s look at a few treasure chest alternatives that you can use in your games.
Much more likely to come up than treasure chests will be mundane storage. Bookshelves, cabinets, crates, and cupboards all make for great places to stash stuff. Where you might normally place a chest, instead try thinking about the room you’re in and see what mundane storage would be there first. If you want to stash more valuable loot you might put a smaller strong box inside some of these mundane storage options.
It is shocking how often players pull staves and long swords out of chests. In most scenarios this makes no sense and there’s no way you could fit the loot that your players received into such a small container. Instead use weapon racks, display cases, and armor stands. These are large, often expensive items and it makes sense that they would get their own special places to be stored.
Scroll Shelves and Magic Storage
Wizards have a bunch of weird stuff. In addition to having mundane storage for their things they likely will also have a scroll shelf or two that has slanted surfaces to keep scrolls from rolling away. They also could have magical storage to preserve ingredients, or contain unstable creations. Arcane treated glass might house small creatures or valuable runes. Try to think about what the wizard would have in their workshop and create specific storage for the things that they need.
Pots, Urns, and Other Ceramic Storage Vessels
Pots were a very common storage vessel in early history. Clay and ceramic were used to create durable containers that could hold all sorts of things. Another advantage that these creations had was their ability to be formed into interesting shapes, allowing for a wider range of options when making a vessel for a specific use. Some cultures even used large pots as coffins for their dead.
Better Loot Storage Though Purposeful Setting Design
Now that we’ve looked at some different things loot can be stored in, let’s talk about what loot is in general. Often players are looking for treasure, and that’s what they’d expect to find in a lot of traditional DnD settings. When we examine this more closely we can see a few flaws in the approach. Treasure would never be left laying around in the open. With the exceptions of vaults and tombs, gold wouldn’t just be stored anywhere and valuable goods typically would be stored in more purposeful areas that suit their value.
Stash Less Gold
When setting up a scene in your game where you plan to put loot, ask if there would be gold there. Most of the time you would say no in reality. This is because gold is either hidden, stashed away somewhere, or carried on a person. A simple alternative can be to stash items of financial value. An office might have pricey books the players could take while a creature’s lair might have discarded ivory from horns. Rather than giving your players gold straight away, try putting items relevant to the area that can be converted to money at a town.
Think About Furniture
When you’re populating a room, think about the furniture that goes into it. Think about the people who would use that room and spend time there. What would they have with them? What would they set on the tables? Where would they sit and why? By examining the everyday use of a room you can establish what kind of path individuals would take through it and figure out what items of value might be left behind. The room’s furniture helps establish its functional purpose and informs its overall use and loot.
Place Interesting Things
The placement of loot is important, but players aren’t always going to be excited about things that are logical for the place they’re in. They want gold, weapons, and magical items. While you shouldn’t overindulge your players, you also shouldn’t give them boring papers and trade goods in every place they enter.
Instead put it items relevant to your story. Talk about rare things with your NPCs that players might find later in dungeons. Put a few detailed set pieces in like carved statues with ornate descriptions. While your players shouldn’t get piles of treasure on every quest, some loot that they can perceive as interesting and valuable can crop up just about anywhere.
Loot is an integral part of the Dungeons and Dragons experience. Finding treasure and rewards as you go through the game is part of the fun. But as the game progresses be sure to start walking away from tropes. Not all treasure will be in a chest and not all loot will be gold. The more you engage your players with alternative storage and rewards in game, the more likely they are to get into your scenes and descriptions and invest themselves into your game. You don’t have to eliminate treasure chests altogether, but treat them instead like special rewards.