Thursday, April 9, 2015

J is for Objects d'Art

Treasure is a central part of any D&D experience. In older editions of the game it was THE driving factor, it's why people went adventuring, it's what gives them experience. And yet, treasure is, so oftne, BORING. How many times have you been raiding a treasure hoard and discovered "assorted jewelry worth XXXXgp"?

The Dungeon Master's Guide (for any edition) as well as the various modules and splat-books are filled with tables of interesting magic items. The internet is full of discussions about currencycoins, and the exchange-rates of metals. . . So why does jewelry, something so interesting in the real world, end up being so boring? Another silver necklace worth 200gp. A gold ring worthy 350gp. A ruby brooch worth 1500gp. It almost always boils down to "material" + "object" + "value" == "all the description you're going to get".

Now, don't think this is me whining from the player's side of the screen. Generating hordes of treasure filled with art objects is extremely difficult and frustrating from the GM's side as well. For all the tables full of gems and magic items that you get in the DMG, for Jewelry/Art Objects you are lucky to get even a few suggestions (though this has improved over time)...

AD&D 2nd Edition DMG
D&D v3.5 DMG

D&D v5 DMG

As you can see, DMs are not given very much to work with. Given that some treasure tables call for dropping 2d10 (or more) art objects per hoard, even the 10 suggestions per price point from the 5e DMG could get worn out in only a small handful of treasure drops.

Also, let's face it, Jewelry should be the coolest treasure to get. It has the highest value to weight ratio, can be easily transported, and, most importantly, it can be worn as a direct display of your character's accomplishments and rising socio-economic status.

So what is a conscientious DM supposed to do? 

The internet has made this part of the job a lot easier. There are all manner of random jewelry/art-object generators. Here are just a few of them:'s jewelry generator is pretty good. Each click drops 3 descriptions (no value attached) which are simple and yet evocative. However, it clearly favors a modern-setting as it uses phrases like "evokes the 1960's" rather often, and you may have to click generate a couple of times to get something that fits the milieu you want.

Donjon's d20 Treasure Generator can churn good descriptions fast, but has a LOT of options. If all you are looking for is a bunch of jewelry descriptions, you have to muck with 2 fill-in fields (number of hoards and level of hoard), 3 dropdowns (coins = none, valuable = triple, items = none) and at least 2 checkboxes (gems and magic items are checked by default) before clicking the well-named "Loot" button. This method can generate a TON of items, but the descriptions all fall into the same trap originally described of material + item + value, giving pretty flat descriptions like "Electrum Box (800gp)".

Some like the Pathfinder Treasure Generator or Myth Weavers are just direct imports of the Pathfinder or D&D 3.5 (respectively) treasure tables and thus give you really nothing for art objects.

Indisputably the best random art object generator is Chaotic Shiny. It lets you specify a medium (i.e. paintings, tapestries, mosaics, statuary), specify whether you want all your art to be portable or not, and generate up to fifteen pieces per click. It also goes beyond the "material + item" description level to include things like the subject of the art, framing (if a painting/drawing), style, and condition. These are all rather vague in the choice of wording, but enough to give your players more of an idea of what they found compared to any of the others. jewelry.

Relative to most of what's out there, Chaotic Shiny is amazing, and it doesn't stop at art objects. It has a ton of useful random generators, even ones for Currency Systems (complete with weird exchange rates), Fashion Styles, and Insignias. It also has a Charm Generator, which can create good descriptions for a very limited scope of jewelry (basically just lots of charm bracelets). jewelry?! (WHYYYYY?!)

So, we need a way to generate good descriptions for jewelry on the fly. Or...better yet, a picture is worth a thousand words, right?
. . .

 . . .

  . . .

Google to the rescue!

Let's make our own jewelry generator, but one that will actually spit out values, and descriptions, and pictures, and lots of options. This will not be a fancy one-click thing, not something to be used totally on the fly, but should be good if you've got 2-5 minutes to spend on your treasure gen. For starters let's grab a list of jewelry types. Then lets grab a d24 (because no one makes enough d24 tables). And Poof, a table. 
d24 Jewelry Type
1 Necklaces
2 Chokers
3 Torcs
4 Armlets (upper arm bracelets)
5 Bracelets
6 Friendship bracelets
7 Cuff links
8 Bangles
9 Slave bracelets
10 Rings
11 Belly chains
12 Breastplates
13 Brooches
14 Chatelaines
15 Body piercing
16 Anklets (ankle bracelets)
17 Amulets
18 Prayer beads
19 Signet rings
20 Cameos
21 Emblems
22 Lockets
23 Medallions
24 Pendants
You can roll for values yourself, we only care about descriptions here.

So what do we do with the able? Simple . . .

  1. Grab whatever treasure table you were using and generate the number and value of items.
  2. Roll for item type.
  3. Type the item type rolled in Google
  4. Click on the "Shopping" tab
  5. Under "Price" on the right, type in the value that was generated (1gp = 1$)
  6. Take you pick!

Now all you have to do is make up some
BS backstory about a long-dead NPC
jeweler named David Yurman (in case
the party Bard decides to be annoying).
If you are feeling extra fancy (or just like handouts) you can take a couple pages of these searches, print them onto card-stock, and cut them out to have a pile of interesting jewelry ready to hand out to your players.

Ready to go with a picture, a brief written description, and the value.