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Disclaimer: This question is tagged , since consideration of the value of money or the magic item system might be relevant. I do, however, doubt that an answer based primarily on these would provide a satisfying solution to the problem at hand.

Clarification on magic items: I do not consider it necessary to use problematic amounts of magic items. While there might be a few, my concerns are about monetary value of money and nonmagic objects.

Clarification on party level: The question is about the discrepancy of the value of the dragon hoard and usual quests. This problem would be the same on any other level, even if the absolute amounts (which I am not interested in) were different.

1. Situation and context

In the adventure I am currently running, the party sets out to kill a dragon. For a proper dragon hunt an impressive hoard is in order. It does not have to be a hoard like in The Hobbit, but it needs to be significant.

Now, the problem is that this amount of money owned by the players will have consequences, even if money in 5e is arguably not inherently valuable, as discussed before. The simple fact of the players having a lot of money and what they could do with it is not the main problem, however, since I think that I and the players can come up with interesting uses and that it will not run over my encounter balance since there is no buying magic items.

I am way more concerned about creep: If I have myself a nice dragon hoard, the next quest reward will be quite stale unless it is also really impressive which would create a vicious cycle.

It was already discussed here how to resolve the problem after the fact (see 17 million gp and The magic arsenal) but I want to avoid it proactively.

2. Solutions considered

There are a few putative solutions that immediately come to mind:

  • Use a small amount of money: However, if I make sure that the amount of money will not cause problems, it does not make for a nice dragon hoard any more.
  • Use worthless or disappearing money: This is quite easily done (The Hobbit already provides dragon sickness), but it will rob the players of a reward which I would like to avoid. My players are usually quite understanding when I express concerns of balance and similar, so I suppose I could get away with it, but this does rub me the wrong way. Making it so that the characters cannot carry away the money would fall in this realm.
  • Complications that eat away money: I can introduce any number of complications that eat away money after, such as taxes, old currency (exchange comes at a loss), goblins who will raid the place as soon as the dragon is dead… However these would have to walk a very fine line between two potential issues. On the one side they might not resolve anything because they are not efficient enough. On the other hand, they might be too efficient and rob the players. All in all, not very satisfactory even if the players are given opportunity to take countermeasures. If I make 100% sure they work, I still robbed the players. Anything less and it will probably end like the in the questions cited above.

3. The question

I want to make an impressive dragon hoard and not suddenly make it disappear or otherwise rob the players. If I make a "real" dragon hoard, it will be more wealth than the characters can hope to get again any time soon. And I want to make sure that the players feel engaged and sufficiently rewarded in later quests.

If I have myself a nice dragon hoard, the next quest reward will be quite stale unless it is also really impressive which would create a vicious cycle. What can I do about this?

Appendix: Further considerations

What I am looking for: I suppose that a valid solution will probably discuss how to shift focus concerning the reward away from the money either for this quest or the following quests. However, if the solution came easy to me, I would not be asking. I do suspect that official 5e material does not offer a solution, and that a solution would be applicable to other systems, so solutions from earlier editions, other games, or homebrew are welcome so long as they take into account the basic assumptions of my question.

If you want to do a frame challenge based on considerations except the ones listed below, feel free to do so.

What I am not looking for: Any of the following does not – on its own – make for a complete answer:

  • “There is no problem because money in 5e is not worth anything, really.”
  • “Just give them lots of money. It will probably not create problems and if it does you already found suggestions for fixing it.”
  • “I have x random idea on how to make all the money be fake or unusable.”
  • “I have y random idea on reducing the final amount of money.” So have I, vide infra.
  • “Just do another adventure or use a dragon without a hoard1.”

Of course, if you have a valid answer, I’m happy to read the frame challenge or x random idea you included with it.

Assorted information: This is the first adventure in an assorted-adventures style campaign that I run simultaneously for two groups of four and five players, respectively. The characters are currently level 5. The campaign is located in my homebrew 5e setting. I do not allow purchasing magic items.


1: Imagine killing a broke dragon with, let’s say, 16 gp. This would be a lot like the situation from Stephen King’s It (p. 306) where a mother has her missing son declared dead to access his savings of 16 $.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments working on clarifying this question has been moved to chat. Please check out that and feel free to continue to use it to clarify the question. \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Jul 30 at 16:21

15 Answers 15

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Remove the money obstacle for most situations

As stated within some of the questions you cited, the value of money is 5e is dramatically different than it was in other editions. Furthermore, you've indicated that your party is typically helpful and won't try to scam a ruling to stretch it to an unreasonable degree.

To that end, I would recommend simplifying the problem to simply be that the reward is not some static amount of money. Instead, make the reward the elimination of all standard expenses going forward. Make the definition for that be the costs for most items within the PHB is effectively free for the players:

  • Room and board? Free.
  • Expenses associated with gathering information. Probably free, DM discretion.
  • Want plate armor? Free.
  • Want +1 plate? Probably not because it's been established that magic items can't be bought.
  • Need a 10' pole? Free.
  • Want 50 healing potions? Subject to DM discretion because it's a magic item.
  • Need a horse? Free.
  • Need a warhorse? Free.
  • Need a griffin? Subject to DM discretion.
  • Need to buy passage on a galley? Free.
  • Need to buy a galley? Nope, that's DM discretion.
  • Need to buy material components for Find Familiar? Free.
  • Need to buy diamonds for a Raise Dead? Maybe free, DM discretion.

In other words, instead trying to treat the money as something statically valuable, turn it into some sort of trust fund that just spits out money to the players as they need it for their normal operating expenses. You still have discretion on the big decisions, but otherwise players don't need to consider those expenses.

Players should still track their money if it's going to be used for some sort of big expenditure (i.e. buying land or paying off a mob boss). But for the purposes of most expenses, there's no effective costs to them because "dragon hoard".

Later on, you might put situations before the players where they can elect to cash out their "dragon hoard" to use money to solve their problem. After that point, they are then subject to expending their tracked money for their normal expenditures.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jul 29 at 7:21
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Have the next several quests not carry significant monetary rewards

Your primary concern is that if you give them a full-size dragon hoard that will be more money than they will see again in quite some time, and as such they will not be motivated to engage with the next several quests.

That is true only if the next several quests attempt to motivate them with money. Instead, use quests that, while offering an appropriate monetary reward (i.e. nothing compared to a dragon hoard), offer some other sort of incentive.

  • Having acquired a dragon hoard your players may well be looking to buy a stronghold if they don't have one already. You can have the national government offer to let them purchase titles and land in exchange for completing a quest for them. If the quest is a big enough deal, you can offer the titles and land for completing it without also charging them.

  • If they have a stronghold, you can offer them quests that would enable them to improve it in ways money won't. A quest to recover the recipe for ancient dwarven concrete. A quest to improve their relations with a neighboring barony, or a quest where they must decide whether to side with the neighboring barony or the neighboring druid circle. A quest to put down a local necromancer, or offer him clandestine sanctuary within their walls. A quest to get giant hornet eggs for their beekeeper and chef. Et cetera.

  • If stronghold building is off the table, organizations may still be relevant. You can offer quests to get rank in the local thieves' guild, or druidic circle, or rag-tag band of misfits.

  • Ideological goals can also work, for example to further the progress of The Revolution, or to further the subjugation of The Revolution, or garner support for an increase in the marginal tax rate on sugar, or the federalization of wizardly education, or whatever. These can be made concrete by the putative allegiances and/or degree of commitment of settlements on the game's overworld map, typically represented by color.

In my experience, parties that are only interested in treasure make for a much less entertaining game than parties that have a variety of competing motivations. Treasure, fame, personal power, and ideology make for a complex web of character motivations that players must balance against each other in pursuit of an ever-changing and elusive idea of 'success'.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Now that I finally got the querent to agree to what the core quesstion is, I think this is one of the best answers. You figured out the actual question better than most. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jul 28 at 18:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast Definitely. \$\endgroup\$ – Anagkai Jul 28 at 19:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ Classic version of the "quest to receive a stronghold" - clearing out the stronghold in question. Another good one is quests for character development that go beyond the monetary. Getting magical items is the simple one, but wizards crave spells, which may not be easily accessible, and you can also include personalized direct improvements, balanced against equivalent magical items. Finally, there are personal goals, driven by backstory... for those with backstory. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Barden Jul 29 at 22:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BenBarden That is certainly one of the most classic ones for strongholds, the other big ones being rescuing the princess or slaying the dragon. Or, I guess, giving a dude a horse if that dude is King Richard III. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Jul 30 at 2:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Pleasestopbeingevil I'd love to see an epic adventure that consisted of having to defy death against terrible odds in order to give a dude a horse (so that he gives you a stronghold). \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Barden Jul 30 at 13:26
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You've written: "I suppose that a valid solution will probably discuss how to shift focus concerning the reward away from the money."

So let's first talk about the money, and then talk about non-monetary rewards.

About That Money:

Dragons will try to make as large a hoard as they can, but some of them aren't very successful at it. In an adventure I ran a few months ago, I told them that a dragon's hoard had "...forty-five gold pieces, eighty-two silver pieces, a couple of thousand copper pieces, and what looks like the shredded remains of several ring mails that were torn apart into invididual rings to look like coins."

Of course you'll want to give your group more money than that. Just decide how much money a "normal" reward should be worth at this level, and give them some creatively described coinage worth about that much.

Now, let's talk about the non-monetary rewards.

Saving A Village

There are lots of benefits to killing a dragon. The most obvious benefit is that the dragon is no longer terrorizing the villages nearby. Are the adventurers passing through any villages that might give them quests to kill the dragon? Are there any NPC spellcasters that might give them spell scrolls, spellcasting services, or otherwise-unavailable magic items, in return for killing the dragon?

When a village is really grateful to an adventuring party but doesn't have a lot of money, a common outcome is for them to award the group with land. Give them the deed to a plot of land they can build a house on -- or, better, give them the deed to an existing mansion which was abandoned and is now haunted, "but that shouldn't be a problem for the sort of adventurers that can kill a dragon!"

If the group doesn't pass through any villages on the way to the dragon, it's no problem. Part of the dragon's hoard can be treasure that they can return to the village -- perhaps a coat of arms saying "Village Of Greenshire", or perhaps a sign saying "Welcome To Greenshire, Population 72" which was carried off because the lettering was in copper.

(Perhaps, haha, the dragon had a little collection of "Wanted: Dragon! Reward!" posters.)

When (if) the group returns the thing, the villagers reward them for killing the dragon.

A Dragon Corpse

D&D doesn't do much with this in the rulebook, but many sources will tell you that dragon corpses are pretty valuable. You can harvest the scales to make a scale mail that will give you resistance to the dragon's element; you can harvest the blood as a magical reagent. You might tell the group: "this blood can be substituted for diamond dust or other arcane material components, up to 10000gp, but it'll go bad after about a month, so you'll have to find uses for it before then." Wise groups might try to sell or donate it to a cleric to cast raise dead with.

Some games, eg Nethack, claim that eating a dragon corpse can give you a portion of the dragon's power. (If one of my groups tried eating part of a dragon corpse, I'd probably tell them they could now ignore the first two points of damage of the dragon's element, from any attack.)

In a recent game (the same game as described above), I told the group they had a bunch of blue dragon scales which "could be used as a reagent to craft something lightning-themed". A few sessions later the fighter came to me with a plan to get an NPC to make him a lightning-enchanted sword from the scales, and I gave this my blessing.

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I would address this by considering the following: where did the Dragon's hoard came from, who is giving the party the quest, and the party's/individual character's motivations.

The solution to the problem you've presented will almost certainly change depending on context. I'm going to outline a few possibilities that will hopefully spark your imagination and help find a good scenario for your table.

  • Let's imagine a case where your Dragon is a plague on a certain kingdom. It has amassed its hoard over the years (or centuries, depending on the Dragon's age) by either raiding the kingdom's strongholds/caravans/etc or by demanding a yearly tribute from the monarch to ensure the kingdom's safety. Enter the party as loyal knights/priests/wizards of the realm. The king or queen has had enough of the Dragon's demands or raids and orders the kingdom's finest warriors to finally slay the beast and recover all that the kingdom has lost. The party sets out to do so, has a grand old adventure, and finally slay the Dragon. They are presented with years of the kingdom's treasure in the Dragon's lair, and they are duty-bound to return it to their kingdom. Now, there may be some temptation to take the money and run, which could be a good moment for roleplaying, some debate within the party, etc. But the party, being loyal men and women of the crown do their duty and return the treasure to their liege lord. For their efforts they are rewarded with an appropriate cut of the treasure, their choice of one magic item each, and perhaps a noble title if they don't already have one.

The difference between this and either A) simply having a smaller hoard or B) setting up an event to rob them of their money later is that they will go into this quest with the understanding that they are not going to be keeping the full hoard (because the monarch as the quest-giver is telling them to retrieve the money for the kingdom, for which they will be rewarded). This should lessen or remove the feeling of being jipped out of their money and allow your players some satisfying character moments in that they are able to hold to their duties in the face of a temptation in the form of a ton of money. For which they are rewarded with status and fame within the kingdom they serve.

  • This can be done in different ways depending on the characters in the party and their motivations. If they are a more motley crew of generic do-gooders, maybe they meet many survivors of the Dragon's raids throughout the adventure, each of whom asks the party to return to them whatever the Dragon's stolen from them and perhaps offering information about the Dragon's lair or weaknesses in return. Maybe throw in some wide eyed orphans if you want to really tug at the party's heart strings. Now they are bound by conscience and their word to return some of the hoard, instead of duty, but the result is similar.
  • If the party's motivated only by greed, it's a little trickier, but here's what I'd try: they meet an NPC who can guide them to the secret entrance of the Dragon's Lair, but only for a cut of the treasure. They meet an NPC who knows about that one missing scale the Dragon has, but will only tell about it if they're promised a cut of the treasure. A cowardly Ranger has that one arrow of Dragon-Slaying but is too scared to use it himself, so he'll give it to the party if they promise him a cut of the treasure. And so on and so forth. If the party takes all these deals but runs off with the money, now there's a reason for people to be coming after them, so you won't be giving them complications out of the blue. If they don't take any of the offers, they'll face a much harder battle, and who's to say that guy who knew about the secret passage won't use it to sneak in and grab some of the loot while the party's fighting? And maybe he brings along the others the party snubbed so they can carry more. And now you have a lead in to another adventure chasing after the thieves to recover the rest of the hoard.

So those are some ideas that hopefully help you out.

The TLDR version: seed plausible reasons that the party may not be able to keep the full hoard from the adventure's beginning. Whether that's because they're duty-bound to return it to their monarch, conscience bound to use it to help rebuild the many towns the Dragon burned, forced to compete with other treasure hunters, or something else. This should prevent the bitterness that would come from finding a massive hoard only to lose it to some seemingly random events after.

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Money is not a reward, and some things money can't buy.

Money is a means to an end, a resource. Having a hoard of it is only useful in so far as your problems can be made to go away by throwing money at them or if your dreams and aspirations can be bought in a shop.

If your characters are mercenaries looking for a big score, they just achieved their life's goal by raiding this hoard. Nothing you give them in the future will make them feel rewarded because they have everything they wanted and don't need to adventure anymore. These characters should retire. This adventure is over and raiding the dragon's hoard is its suitably epic conclusion. Narrate how they all settle down to a life of riches and then roll up new adventurers who have something they want to accomplish.

But if your characters are not mercenaries, the money might be a means to an end, or even just a little side-issue. All the money in the world doesn't bring your sister back from the dead (but it helps pay for the spell), doesn't give you your rightful place as chief of your tribe (but might let you raise an army to off your usurper), doesn't bring back your lost family heirloom (but might get you an audience with a Bard who knows where it is) and doesn't give you Ultimate Cosmic Power (but might pay for a few years of tuition at a prestigious Wizard's college).

Let the money contribute to some of the character's bigger goals, then either let it run out eventually or get comfortable awarding them with non-monetary rewards that further their goals.

It'll just mean until the money runs out, "more money" isn't much of a reward, but you can still award them with something else that is more meaningful instead.

(You tagged this 5e, so this is how I'd roll there. But I'd also suggest looking into, for example, Fate where you can literally just decide at the start of the game that you are fabulously wealthy and can buy essentially whatever, and the game will work just fine regardless.)

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You write,

This question is tagged dnd-5e, since consideration of the value of money or the magic item system might be relevant. I do, however, doubt that an answer based primarily on these would provide a satisfying solution to the problem at hand.

Therefore I'll branch off a strict 5E rules perspective and mention what was done in the earliest editions of D&D. One can't really understand what is meant by "money in 5e is arguably not inherently valuable" without understanding what that statement is standing in contrast with (i.e., earlier editions).

D&D was spawned out of wargaming. Players ran armies. Then players made "campaigns" in which they ran kingdoms or baronies and contested with each other for land and territories. Things got smaller-scale and at some point a novel idea appeared in which you ran just a single character. But even the earliest D&D-type-game players started with one hero and a squad of 50 soldiers, say. In Original D&D the only ability score with its own special table was Charisma, which specified you could have between 1 and 12 followers.

A key part of the class benefits was the fact that at name level (about 9th) you were permitted/expected to raise a castle and form a barony and collect taxes. For example, in OD&D the benefits of a fighter were: (a) use any weapon or armor, and (b) build a castle and form a Barony. That's literally it about the class, there is nothing else.

Fighting-Men: All magical weaponry is usable by fighters, and this in itself is a big advantage. In addition, they gain the advantage of more "hit dice" (the score of which determines how many points of damage can be taken before a character is killed). They can use only a very limited number of magical items of the nonweaponry variety, however, and they can use no spells. Top-level fighters (Lords and above) who build castles are considered "Barons", and as such they may invest in their holdings in order to increase their income (see the INVESTMENTS section of Volume III). Base income for a Baron is a tax rate of 10 Gold Pieces/ inhabitant of the barony/game year. [Dungeons & Dragons, Volume 1: Men and Magic, TSR, 1974, p. 6]

There are comprehensive rules in the OD&D DM's volume for building a castle, hiring mercenaries and specialists, etc. These are all pretty big-ticket items. (Also, on the basic equipment lists: sailing ships and galleys for tens of thousands of gold pieces each). At the inception of the game, that's where those gold stores were ultimately expected to end up: funding castles and baronies.

Now, it didn't work perfectly. Among the problems: In some cases those rules were very sketchy (the "run a barony" text is exactly two paragraphs long, principally just a bullet-point list naming hypothetical investments). You have the awkward middle levels where PCs build up that cash store with nothing immediately to spend it on (but consider: houses or ships). And ultimately not all players want that shift in play style (from freebooter dungeon explorer to settled domain manager of an economic sim). So to the extent that play form was initially expected from D&D, it became vestigial over time; reduced to just a few lines in the 3E core rules; and basically discarded with 5E.

But consider: Give players some desirable higher-tier items to which they can matriculate, like land or castles or ships, so that they have options for further acquisitions and investments. This can motivate the need for more cash infusions after that; arguably there should always be something just out of reach, further over the horizon. Similar to The Hobbit, everyone expected to use Smaug's hoard for supporting growing communities. For that activity you might want to look back to earlier editions, or various indie products being developed now and in the past to cover that level of play.

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    \$\begingroup\$ There is a nominal expense table for big ticket items in D&D 5e, but as you say it's not very fleshed out and new players are understandably not sure what's going on there. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jul 28 at 14:59
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Look for ways to give the party things they may need instead of money.

This applies no matter the system. In general, some things are going to be more valuable to the party than money. Examples of this include decent armor and weapons (not necessarily magic, just better than what the party may already have), rare spell components, and even stuff like esoteric knowledge.

The 'canonical' example of something like this in D&D 5e is diamonds. All resurrection spells in 5e require diamonds with a minimum total value as a material component that can't be waived by any means (because they have a listed cost requirement, and nothing in the game can get around that). For a party who are fighting dangerous enemies regularly, nothing is more valuable than making sure the Cleric or Paladin can cast Revivify when someone dies. Even ignoring that though, if you go to an NPC spell caster to have them resurrect one of your allies, you can probably get a significant discount by directly providing the material components required for the spell. Due to their intrinsic value aside from this, they're also an obvious thing to find in a dragon's hoard.

The particular case of spell components gets especially interesting in other systems though, as in many previous editions of D&D as well as in Pathfinder, many other gems are found as material components for higher level spells, and they invariably have minimum value requirements too.

You can go all kinds of places with this though. Truly intelligent dragons will hoard not just gold, but all kinds of other material wealth as well. Other things I've actually found in dragon hoards in games I've played in, or used myself as a GM include:

  • Ancient maps with the location of lost cities.
  • Spell books from famous wizards (possibly with unique spells in them).
  • Exotic raw materials (adamantine, mithral, orichalcum, etc).
  • Titles and deeds to important plots of land or major estates or documents conferring rights of taxation or operation in major cities (my favorite 'boring' campaign ending was when I threw the deed and operational rights to a famous inn into a dragon's hoard just to see what the party who had all been murderous bastards so far would do with them, only to have them decide collectively to give up on adventuring, become upstanding citizens, open an international franchise of inns and taverns, and ultimately become the largest economic power in the world without actually killing anyone).
  • Fake artifacts and relics that are so well made and such convincing fakes that they have significant artistic value.
  • The petrified body of a king who went inexplicably missing more than a decade ago.
  • The lost imperial/kingly regalia of a major country.
  • Items from the outer planes (sure, you can use that ornate ceremonial chalice from Pandemonium as an improvised weapon with a chaotic alignment for the purposes of overcoming damage resistance)
  • The last will and testament of a major noble, which happens to indicate that the family estate was divided up all wrong (fun way to have the party accidentally start a war).
  • Fossils.
  • Especially rare coins.
  • Exceptionally well made treasure chests (not necessarily with anything in them, just well enough made that they're valuable in their own right).
  • The wreckage of a famous ship (no seriously, had a game where my GM decided to randomly have the wreckage of a huge and exceedingly famous galleon show up in a dragon's hoard hundreds of kilometers away from the nearest large body of water and a third of the way around the world from where it supposedly sunk just as a story hook).
  • The location itself is in some way valuable. One of the sourcebooks for D&D 3.5e actually had a whole chapter dedicated to this concept (I forget exactly which one, I believe it was DMG2, but may have been another one) where the location itself either had some inherent magic, or was in some other way seriously significant to the world in which it existed (the fairy fountains in the Legend of Zelda games are an example of this type of thing).

The idea here is to find ways to reward the party that are actually useful to them other than just monetary wealth.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The dragon's hoard is actually villagers who have been transformed into giant gemstones (but who can be transformed back into their normal state). \$\endgroup\$ – user3067860 Jul 28 at 13:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ The dragon is of the bookworm variety valuing scripts and tomes above and beyond gold coins - go so far as polymorphing himself and buy rare tomes on occasion. Oh, and he loves cooking, thrillers and erotica - so most scripts are just about those topics. \$\endgroup\$ – Patrick Artner Jul 28 at 16:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a little along the lines of what I was thinking. Have the hoard include things that, while objectively quite valuable, are difficult to move, or difficult to fence: A lot of gold, in fact, one 50-ton nugget of gold ore; a rare and priceless collection of marble busts, stolen years ago, and anyone caught with them would immediately be thrown into the castle dungeons; rare and priceless gems, anyone caught with would be etc. \$\endgroup\$ – David Conrad Jul 28 at 16:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PatrickArtner Reminds me of a game I was in where one of the characters was quite literally a chef, and was adventuring to collect rare and exotic ingredients for his cooking (essentially Charmy from Black Clover). Regular treasure was always boring for his character, so invariably every major boss also happened to have a live-in cook who he could steal recipes from (or in one case hire as an underling). \$\endgroup\$ – Austin Hemmelgarn Jul 28 at 17:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DavidConrad Shouldn't be too difficult to say in those latter examples to the authorities "hey, we just killed a dragon and found these things in his hoard, maybe you want them back" to escape being thrown in a dungeon. Has the added benefit of winning additional prestige, access, and favor. \$\endgroup\$ – TylerH Jul 29 at 14:46
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It's your job to make the hoard seem large. A 5th level character, according to the DMG should have roughly 625gp. I don't know how much wealth you've handed out so far but lets assume this hoard is going to be 500gp per person so, for five characters, 2500gp. However, the hoard probably isn't pure gold. 2500gp is 250,000 copper pieces. Let's say 50gp, 500sp, and 40,000cp each.

Fifty coins is 1 pound so we're talking about 811 pounds of coins per character. A standard chest holds about 300 pounds so the whole hoard could fit into 14 chests filled nearly to the brim with coins. Maybe swap out 4 chests worth of coins for thrones, statues, melted down armor sets, mirrors, finely wrought chairs and tables, etc.

Don't describe it in terms of volume. It could probably all fit in a storage unit. Describe it in terms of weight. Force your party to work through the logistics of laundering this money. How are they going to transport it? How will they pay the people that need to transport it? How will they ensure it isn't robbed on the way? What kind of bank is going to store it for them? How will they know they have the money when they need it? Etc.

A massive hoard can be an appropriate award for a 5th level party. You can make it seem even more massive in the way you describe it and force your players to deal with it. This description seems like a pretty large hoard. At the end of the day though, you'd still need to combine three shares worth to get that suit of plate mail.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Have you tried the things you are suggesting yourself? We expect answers to be supported, such as by actual experience using it. Many ideas sound good until you try it and realize you forgot about X thing. Unsupported answers might get removed. \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Jul 28 at 21:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ Honestly if I was a player in this campaign and the thing I won by killing a dragon was a normal amount of gold and a new list of errands to run and menial tasks to complete to even enjoy that moderate reward, I would be more annoyed than grateful. It depends on the tone of the group and campaign, but be careful with this approach \$\endgroup\$ – Kevin Wells Jul 30 at 20:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ Those are good suggestions. I did do this recently although it wasn't a dragon but a bandit's lair. I may have made it sound more tedious in my answer than I made it seem to my players. It sparked a conversation about whether they should put the money in a bank or start building a stronghold. Eventually they went with the bank idea and then they were waylaid on the way back by attempted robbers. This was a mostly RP session to transition from one dungeon to the next so the robbery was just a break in the RP and not a real challenge. \$\endgroup\$ – Pace Jul 31 at 18:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ It was ~45 minutes from reward to bank. This is not counting the combat (which is still very slow for our group). \$\endgroup\$ – Pace Jul 31 at 18:07
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Frame Challenge

Why are you sending a level 5 party after a dragon with a massive hoard?

A 4-5 player level 5 party in 5e has an experience goal for hard encounters of 2400-3000 according to https://dnd.wizards.com/articles/features/building-adventures-0. Looking at the CR ratings (https://media.wizards.com/2014/downloads/dnd/MM_MonstersCR.pdf), an appropriate dragon encounter for would be a CR 6-7 encounter, so a young brass dragon, white dragon, black dragon or copper dragon, which would have a treasure hoard worth roughly around 3-4000 GP. The next challenge level up, CR 8, would most likely be a deadly encounter that would be too dangerous for the party.

The problem you have is that you want to give a low level party a high level reward, and you encounter exactly the complications you would get from that. Give them a level appropriate reward, and you don't have these problems.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Just to let you know, and in support of your point: I had a party of 4 (6, 6, 4, 6) fight a young green dragon. It helped that the rogue was a grappler with expertise in athletics, and the Fighter was a half orc who handled being dropped to 0 HP by getting up and attacking again. They just beat it; very tough battle. I can see a five person party of 5th levels doing OK, but also maybe getting a party wipe. And Lost Mine of Phandelver has a young green dragon that a party of 4th levels, maybe fifth levels, runs into. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jul 29 at 20:49
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The hoard can be the object of the quest.

Perhaps a baron needs to recruit a sizable army fast because of an approaching orc warband. Maybe a tyrant has demanded an extortionate sum from one of the PC's hometowns to continue existing. Maybe a bigger, meaner dragon has agreed to go burn someone else's fields in exchange for a large donation. Perhaps a church is prepared to raise an ancient hero using true resurrection if only someone can provide the material component. (Presumably this is using some form of alternate access rather than a Cleric capable of casting true resurrection normally, since if that were case, why are they relying on 5th level characters?) Maybe the hoard contains a set of magic items / artifacts that the king/questgiver/whoever needs for whatever plot device you use to justify it.

The point is, the party goes into the quest knowing they don't get the entire hoard, because they already have a use for a big chunk of the money/items recovered, that's the reason they're there in the first place.

Slaying the dragon might not even be necessary - perhaps they can convince it to part with some of the hoard in exchange for promises of repayment (with interest) or performing tasks for it, or stealing the MacGuffin without the dragon knowing who took it (which will give them time to level up a bit more before the dragon fight, but it will definitely be coming).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I think you mean "hoard" and not "horde"? \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Jul 30 at 8:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Erik thanks for the improvement, completely forgot two spellings of that sound existed. \$\endgroup\$ – gatherer818 Jul 31 at 2:28
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Turn The Money Into A Quest

Despite modern myths to the contrary, actually spending money is considerably hard, especially without getting ripped off in the process. Buying a house can be a multi-month process even if you have every cent required to purchase it outright - larger purchases (aircraft, companies, large areas of land, technologies, laboratories, ships, rare substances, art) can require both significantly longer and in many cases the services of a host of experts, companies, and other structures.

Some things are simply not for sale unless you know the right people, move in the right circles, and so on.

And our modern, international, standardized and money-oriented economy makes buying things far easier than a historical context where the typical response to someone flashing a wheelbarrow full of gold coins was to arrest them, confiscate their money, and turn the vast majority of it into bribes to various authority figures so you and your buddies can pocket the rest.

There's a variety of excellent storytelling you can do around your players' attempts to achieve their goals by expending money. They might need to donate, negotiate, physically defend their hoard, retrieve stolen parts of it, give back treasures to those the dragon stole them from, do favours to have the money recognized, deal with jealousy, avarice, fear, caution, dispel rumours that the money is actually an attempt to destabilize and the 'dragon' is a myth, and so on. It's an excellent story hook in many ways. Rather than allowing it to exist somehow independent of the world as a magic bullet the PCs can use to avoid challenges, you can incorporate it into the world in a variety of ways both as a means to avoid challenges you are setting up for them to blow out of the water with the gold, and as a source of additional challenges for them to have fun defeating with their other skills, plans, and abilities.

The easiest way to do this is probably using 'yes, but'. The core of the 'Yes, but' GMing technique is to recognize that players succeeding at a task does not remove your ability to make that task into a new challenge - either by introducing a new element, or repurposing that existing element to add more challenge. You rescue your daughter, but she now wants to be a warrior like the ones who rescued her to the point of running away if you don't assent. You stab the guy in the throat and he's gurgling around a mouthful of blood, but you're now close enough to see he's wearing a bunch of c4 under his shirt and it's attached to a biomonitor with a red light that is blinking. You break the curse and the land is free, but it's autumn, the fields haven't been sown, and also the farmers to the north are now fighting trolls for land they claim is theirs (which the trolls have been living on for a few centuries now).

This seems like an excellent situation for a 'Yes, but' (to be fair so are quite a lot of storytelling/roleplaying situations). Many other answers are describing how you should ignore the gold or remove the gold or restrict the gold. Instead, you should use the gold as fuel for your story as any combination of macguffin, quest hook, temptation, hostage, thing that needs to be protected, logistical challenge, tool, whatever you need really. It can be written into your story in many ways based on situation.

You basically take the situation in stride, and go:

Yes you've killed the dragon, and stolen his hoard but;-

  • the dragon lives in a cave halfway up a mountain in a gigantic mountain range, how the hell are you going to get all this draconic lucre back to civilization?
    • Yes the villagers you hired are successfully bringing the pack mules along the road you built but, you discover some of the treasure barrels are partially empty and show signs of having been opened and then hammered back together, what do you do?
  • As fabulously wealthy newly-minted minor nobility, you have been invited to visit the court of the Shadow King across the Narrow Sea. Your mentor at the Church asks that you take up this offer and use it to investigate the Closed Circle, an organization of insider nobility they have long suspected to be based in the inner palace of the Shadow King that includes only the richest and most connected individuals
  • Without the mercenaries you are going to hire at Rucator (the divider of worlds), your ally king Davinien will fall to the merciless forces of the Braxians and all that you love will be clapped in irons or burnt to ash. Rucator's famous Ten Companies only take payment in advance though, and Braxian agents will stop at nothing to stop you from successfully bringing the gold to Rucator. And while they may be seeking to send your ships to the bottom, others will be more interested in taking the gold for themselves...
  • Now that you are fabulously wealthy, your Barbarian's wife starts to prevail on him to abandon the dangerous life of adventuring and settle down - truly, it is hard to say anything against her argument that surely there is little left to gain. There's rumblings from the Paladin's brother on the same topic, as well as the Wizard's mother. How will you answer the concerns of those that care about you, and truly wouldn't it be better to settle down and put rest to these days of danger and derring-do?
    • Yes you retire and the Barbarian opens a tavern and the Wizard starts teaching students but, several years later, the Paladin goes missing and after the Barbarian's tavern burns down he comes to the Wizard having found a mysterious symbol carved into the still-smoking rafters of his burnt inn...

By turning the money into the focus (or a focus) of the story you make their actions in defeating the dragon relevant. The decision to go after the dragon, lives being risked, the efforts in maintaining and keeping the treasure, are all given additional weight by being the cause of later screen time. The goal of getting rich, and the barriers of not having enough money are removed. Gaining gold is now not as interesting a reward. But you can easily add new goals, new barriers, and new rewards based on them being rich, as well as hooks and all kinds of other things. It expands the scope of possible adventures in several ways and even if some of the areas it expands to aren't of interest to your players, some likely will be.

Relying on the inherent goodness of Getting Stuff and then having no other rewards or travails to present to your players once they meet that goal is inherently a mistake. It limits stories, and even good stories that have 'gotta get money' as the stated main goal (like Cowboy Bebop) subvert that in a dozen hundred ways almost immediately by having characters that care about things that aren't money and often turn down or avoid actions that would get them money at the cost of things they actually care about.

Essentially, the way to avoid the ever-escalating Monty Haul problem is to make loot not the point of your story. You do this by including it in the story in a variety of roles, not just as 'the goal'. This naturally will cause your players to start thinking of it in a variety of different contexts instead of just as 'the endpoint'. This requires you to develop a wider variety of hooks and connections and causes for your characters to be involved with, but this is a feature not a bug. Those kind of interactions and things for players to interact with are generally very interesting for players and their choices surrounding them will often be far more exciting than receiving large piles of gems and fireball wands for the 50th time.

Now there is an important caveat. Loot treadmills are commonly used in video games (and tabletop rpgs) as a source of motivation for players/characters. Some players/GMs are heavily invested in that mindset and even if they would have fun discarding it will resist doing so due to thinking it will leave them with nothing to do, or simply force of habit. It may require more forceful hooks and narrative offers to get people out of that rut, or you may suddenly run into problem player behaviours like suicidal characters or disengaged players because the players think the game is now over, don't know how to interact with things other than a fight + loot paradigm, or are not interested in doing so. However it has been my experience that this is typically a brief phenomenon caused by incorrect expectations rather than something more permanent or game changing. In other words, if you're giving out non-loot-based adventure hooks and reasons to go do things, while there might initially be some confusion or apathy in general it does not take very long at all for people to start having fun with this different mode of playing, and often much more fun than they were having previously.

So to take a long and meandering discussion and turn it into something pithy; Make your players feel rewarded by turning the money into a challenge to be defeated - people like being rewarded in satisfaction, emotions, challenge, opportunity, and many other things as well as wealth. Turn the money into those other things via the medium of challenges, aka playing the game.

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Alternative rewards

Other answers already touch this, but I don't think any of them elaborate on it sufficiently. So, let the players have their money. More than that, make them FEEL that the money is really making their characters' lives easier. Let them toss an extra gold piece to an innkeeper, and not only will they get the best rooms and the best cuts of the meat, but he'll also have their horses taken care of, their packs taken to their rooms and so on. Encourage them to live lavishly. And when the next quest rolls over, offer them something that can't be (easily) bought with mere money.

Titles and general prestige

If they perform a service for the duke, he can have them knighted. As they're now famous dragonslayers, a bard will offer to accompany them on their adventures and compose his next epic about them. The villagers can't pay much, but they'll certainly host a feast in the adventurer's honour. The wizard's college grants them honorary degrees.

And don't think that these will just be empty words. Being knighted means access to various events held by nobility, and will certainly make it easier if they ever need an audience with the king. Being famous will make people more inclined to help them. Having honorary degrees means getting access to the college's libraries.

Magic and curiosities

This is made easier by the fact that normally, you can't buy magic items in 5e. This means that they're much more special when given as rewards or treasure. And don't limit yourself to things that appear in the DMG or things that make the players more powerful. An NPC in my campaign has researched the spell Summon Mojito(1st level spell, creates one mojito in your hand. Glass vanishes when empty. This is for Pathfinder, but I don't see why you couldn't have it or something like it in a 5e campaign). The wizard isn't particularly interested in money, but she might offer to teach it to the party's wizard if they help her out. An old farmer has an enchanted sword collecting dust as it hangs above the fireplace. It's a heirloom, but he doesn't have a use for it. A chef will teach the party his secret recipe. A seer has a pair of spectacles that allow the wearer to see through wood. Imagination is the limit when it comes to strange magic items, and I can almost guarantee that your players will want them, even if they seem quite useless(and often they'll find some good use for them as well).

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I once had a similar issue. I personally made it so that the cave would collapse if they removed more than x money a month, Indiana Jones or Aladdin style. That way they had a regular income, but future quests could reward large amounts of cash more regularly.

I also had a quest chain relating from the horde that when they did sufficiently draconic deeds they could gain strong draconic feats or spells, and upgrade the amount of wealth rewarded. That way the hoard served as a valuable source of quests up to level 13 where they did a big heist to steal all the gold.

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  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Do you mean "horde" as in "a large group of creatures" or "hoard" as in "a collection of valuable items"? \$\endgroup\$ – TylerH Jul 29 at 14:38
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You Have What You Hold

The next quest isn't about earning money - broadly speaking, it's about letting them keep it.

I'm presently running a Pathfinder Kingmaker campaign. In that adventure, the first chapter has the PCs earning their own barony. Later chapters focus on securing and preserving that barony now that the PCs have earned it. You can apply the same principle here. The fear of loss can be a powerful motivator.

Some possible ideas for specific threats based on what they might spend the money on:

  • A life of luxury - Your PCs' newfound wealth might attract thieves and con-men. Or it might inspire jealousy in other adventurers who'd hoped to slay the dragon and claim its hoard themselves.
  • Becoming nobility - As they enter noble society, the PCs may attract scorn or jealousy. Many stories feature nobles by blood who despise those who "buy their way in". Maybe those nobles hire assassins to take the PCs down. Or maybe the PCs need to prove themselves by recovering some item that represents the "right to rule", such as a lost crown.
  • Public works - If the PCs want to save the orphanage that raised them, the next adventure might involve a threat to that orphanage. Perhaps the greedy landlord who'd been pressing them for money now comes up with draconian measures to seize most of the wealth and prevent it from helping the children, leading the PCs to investigate his criminal past. If the PCs commission a work of art, perhaps the artist has his own problems to deal with - his magic brush was stolen, or a demon has cursed him and everything he creates to bring misfortune.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that the PCs' money or items actually be stolen - the threat of loss is preferable to actual loss. You don't want the players to feel cheated out of their accomplishment and reward. Ideally, you want to do the opposite - reinforce the value of the reward by showing that it's something that others strive for or guard jealously.

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Give them something to spend the money on.

For example, say the dragon's hoard is 100,000gp. This is a lot, by mundane standards. The equivalent of a big lottery win. But there are still things they would have trouble buying.

A big haul like that could attract the attention of various (magical?) salesmen. Offer the party purchases along the lines of a castle (if you want the campaign to mainly stay in a single area), an airship (if the party avoiding the standard random encounters while travelling over long distances doesn't bother you), or a unique magical artefact relevant to the plot. These prestige items could cost, say, 90,000gp (if you want them to have some money left over) or 120,000gp (if you want them to motivate them to continue questing for gold before they can have what they want).

These items could imply additional future costs - for staffing, improvements, magical energy gems, etc.

Once suitable cash sinks exist, you can continue to allow the party to acquire large amounts of money in the future.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I was going to suggest something similar, perhaps investing in something like an inn where they can always rest and eat for free and which can give them a weekly income from profits. This can also be a long term thing they can invest more in and upgrade for more profits down the line. Like adding an extra room (or having karaoke nights :) ). \$\endgroup\$ – Daniel Nordh Jul 28 at 8:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ Have you tried the things you are suggesting yourself? We expect answers to be supported, such as by actual experience using it. Many ideas sound good until you try it and realize you forgot about X thing. Unsupported answers might get removed. \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Jul 28 at 21:53

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