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.