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treasure you can’t spend

November 9th, 2012 by paul

In Joseph Conrad's Nostromo, a character - wait. Are you ready for spoilers? Ready? Ready? Ready? OK, here they come - ends up with a giant shipment of silver bars, each stamped with a symbol indicating its purity. Everyone else believes that silver was sunk at sea. The character is rich - but he can't figure out how to spend the money. The stamps, which prove the silver's purity, also indicate its true owner.

There's a long D&D tradition of presenting players with logistical challenges along with treasure ("how will I move this fortune in copper coins?") This might be a fun one for players.

Imagine a scenario where the players ended up with similarly-stamped bars of silver. Here are the problems they have to face:

It's hard for medieval people to exactly determine silver purity. With the stamp, a bar of metal is just as valuable as silver coinage of the same weight. However, honest merchants will not take the metal. Dishonest ones will fence the bars, but take a cut.

If the metal is melted down or the stamp is cut off, the metal will trade at less than its normal value, since it's hard to determine whether it's been mixed with lesser metal. Maybe 75% of its real value? Anyway, how will the players melt down the silver? Silver's melting point is 1760 Farenheit, much hotter than a campfire. Do the characters own a forge? If they travel to a forge, they'll have to make sure the stamped treasure avoids inspection. If they scrape or blur the stamp, the bars will still arouse suspicion.

Players will have no problem coping with these challenges: they're extremely clever when it comes to matters of profit. Give them the logistical challenge. See what they come up with.

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5 Responses to “treasure you can’t spend”

  1. katre says:

    Trade with a dragon, of course. He can melt and reforge the bars at his leisure.

  2. Androlphas says:

    Then the dragon decides to take the whole thing as his “cut”, with the PCs as a bonus snack.

  3. 1d30 says:

    Go prospecting and find a “silver mine” which just has to be in the area of some silver deposits and doesn’t actually need much silver in it. Set up a smelter. Bring in the bars, melt em down into new molds, and pay a few honest assayers in the big city to test the metal content and mark your new ingots.

    People will ask why you never hired any miners. Your M-U steps up and intones, “I am a powerful wizard, seething with spells.” People will ask why you didn’t buy mining equipment like picks and barrows. Same answer.

    People will ask you to sell them these prospecting spells. You say no, that would be stupid for me to do because then you’ll go out mining. I found the spell so I get to go mining, not you. My spell, my profit.

    People will ask you to demonstrate the prospecting spells. You say no, your work is secret and dangerous. Although, you say, if the asker has a gold mine he’d like to show you then you’d be happy to pull forth some of his gold for yourself. Of course you won’t go through with it becuse once you get out into his mining camp he’ll just slay you for your loot.

    People will ask to test the metal themselves. That’s fine, who cares, it’s real silver and you’re using it to buy training or whatever.

    The tax-collector will want you to pay taxes. That’s fine, but you’re only going to declare maybe 10% of your actual output so even if the tax is 50% you’re only out 5%. And he can’t really sneak up to your mine to inspect the workings because there’s nothing going on there – and the silver is hidden elsewhere by the time you get assaying done.

  4. 1d30 says:

    Also, if you’re getting taxed you need to adventure onward until you find a city that understands you don’t tax PCs. Srsly we’re not playing Papers and Paychecks here.

  5. Mystic Scholar says:

    @ 1d30:

    “Bigby’s Construction Crew,” 2nd Edition, Wizard’s Spell Compendium, Vol. I, Page 82. It’s the way we Wizard’s built our towers and dungeons in secret, back in the “old days.” ;)

    Actually, I don’t see as problem with this. I play in the World of Greyhawk, so I’ll use that as my example:

    Why would the government of Keoland care that the silver was marked with the Seal of Ahlissa? They wouldn’t. They didn’t even do “that” sort of this in our own “Wild West.”

    In John Wayne’s “The Sons of Katie Elder,” the sheriff tells his deputy: “He’s not wanted for anything. Not around here.”

    The Texas sheriff wasn’t concerned with whether or not the guy was “Wanted” in Montana. That wasn’t his problem.

    The Sheriff of Notingham didn’t arrest anyone who was “Wanted” in France, or even Scotland. For me, it’s a simple matter of “take the silver somewhere else.”

    Rent a shi, make sure you don’t sink, fight off any pirates. And those, by the way, are the same problems any King would face. ;)

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