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Some Notes on Where to Put Loot

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Ah the old wooden treasure chest, complete with oversize padlock. It’s a staple of adventures: you kill the orcs, and behind them you find chest where they’ve locked up all their treasure…often with something they could’ve used in the fight. C’mon, admit it, isn’t it strange how often you find a potion of healing in a chest, considering it makes much more sense to carry it at all times?

Well, it’s also strange that the chest would be placed in full view, with an obvious lock, especially in game worlds where there’s a goofy “take 20” rule that lets just about anyone pick a lock eventually.  Even if that weren’t the case, Pathfinder’s “hardness 5, 15 hit point” treasure chests are just silly—any yahoo with 12 strength and a standard long sword can bash that open in less than 2 minutes. In a world where nearly every warrior has 16 strength or better and most everyone has a weapon, nobody will make a chest like that. Nobody.

Here are a few chest and container ideas that make more sense in fantasy worlds:

1)   Elven Tree Chest
   Elves and other forest-loving creatures generally don’t want to hack up a tree to make a box, and they often don’t have the metalworking and mining skills to make a container with much in the way of metal components. Instead, the elves of some worlds have carefully crossbred oak trees with Venus Flytraps (they’re elves, they can do that) to create a tree with a trunk cavity that can be opened and closed.

There are a few drawbacks. It takes about 20 years before the tree reaches maturity, and the cavity is normally in the “closed” position. To get it to open, a special ingredient (basically sand) must be added to the soil around the tree, and afterward there’s a 50% chance per day that the cavity will open each day thereafter. Elves take a longer view of things, but nothing goes into that cavity that will be needed in an emergency. Closing the cavity requires a small quantity of fruit (or other digestible matter) to be placed into the cavity—it’ll be absorbed by the tree over the course of a month or so, and, again, once the fruit is placed in the tree, there’s a 50% chance per day that the cavity will close.

Note that unless a character is trained in Nature or Survival, even spotting a Tree Chest can be very difficult. Since there’s no lock, opening the cavity any other way is problematic. Such trees are, naturally, very tough, and hacking a tree down to get at the cavity takes d4 + 1 hours without special equipment (eg, a woodcutting axe, a battle axe really isn’t the same thing. Alternatively, give the tree hardness 8 and 600 hit points, but I’m avoiding game-specific rules here). Some 20% of these trees have a bit of Shrieker in them, but it only triggers if the tree is attacked. In this case, they’ll make a horrible shrieking noise, at 100x the usual effect…the sound doesn’t hurt anyone, but the whole forest is going to know, and might come running.

2) Dwarven Community Vault
   Dwarves are a lawful society, and are firm believers in teamwork and cooperation. While most stashes of wealth are hidden, dwarves often take pride in showing off the fine workmanship of their vault—at least the outside, as only community members ever see the inside.

Community vaults are generally designed so that they can only be opened with the combined efforts of a dozen or more dwarves working simultaneously. For example, four dwarves might be necessary to hold up heavy levers located in different parts of the community, while another six dwarves might need to operate a massive millstone, while two other dwarves need to use separate keys on the locks, widely separated. A knock spell just isn’t going to cut it here, and opening the vault illicitly would require many disable device checks, assuming all the levers could be found.

There are rumors that past the vault door are devastating traps (to foil passwall type attempts), and that the vault doors themselves have metal worked into them (to prevent stone shape affects), as well as various traps that will completely block access to the vault (once triggered, only extensive digging will allow access, and there’s nothing a dwarf likes more than digging for loot)…but those could just be rumors.

Smaller vaults, requiring only four dwarves, certainly exist.

3)   The big boulder screw.
   Giants simply love using their strength, and most giants simply lack the patience or skill to make a chest. Usually, they love showing off their strength by simply carrying all their loot with them in a big bag, but some giants, especially the wealthy ones, like to keep some of their treasure at home.

So, they dig a pit, and cover it with a likely boulder, one huge enough that it can’t be moved without either being a giant (i.e., large size and incredible strength) or with a number of strong adventurers working together, or with the help of special engineering equipment. The latter two options don’t present a great challenge usually, but simply realizing “there’s something other that boulder worth putting a lot of work into moving the boulder” can be difficult.

More sophisticated giants, especially stone giants, take things a bit further, and carve part of the boulder so it has screw threads. These boulders, naturally, can’t simply be pushed out of the way; many an adventurer has tried to push such a boulder, failed the ridiculously high strength check, and decided there probably was nothing under it anyway.

4) The Double Chest
   Comparable to the “false bottom,” a double chest simply means there are two chests. One large, obvious chest for adventurers to loot, and a smaller chest, usually hidden in a secret side room, where the more valuable loot is. To foil detect magic type effects, the secret chest, if it’s holding magic, might be hidden directly under the large chest (which also contains some magic, and is large enough not to be casually moved).

Adventurers loot the large chest, figure they have everything, and don’t even look for more.

5) The Solid Chest
   This is perhaps more of a trap than a chest, but it bears mentioning. Such chests are large (large enough to hold a Halfling, at the very least), iron-bound, and bolted to the floor. They have locks, and the locks can be picked…but the chest won’t open. The hinges are heavily corroded. Clean off the corrosion, and you see the hinges have been welded to be nonfunctional. Bash off the hinges, and you see that they were false hinges…if there are hinges, they’re inside the chest (where they should be).

The chest won’t open. Bash off the bolts, and the chest still won’t move (it’s bolted to the floor in the inside of the chest, too). Bash the chest, and it turns out the chest isn’t iron-bound, it’s iron with a heavy wood veneer that just made it look like it was iron-bound.

In fact, the chest is solid iron (not that the heroes can tell), with perhaps a potion of delusion forged inside it to drive adventurers mad trying to get at “what must be valuable magic to be protected so”. Trying to hack apart a solid iron block is very time consuming (if not outright impossible), and it probably took players a good deal of time just to get to this point.

These chests are more commonly found in fortresses and major treasure rooms…places where adventures really can’t defeat every living/unliving thing, and thus don’t have the time to spend hours and hours dealing with a chest…but they might, giving the defenders a chance to regroup, focus their strength, and destroy the foolish invaders.

6)   The Hidden Chest
   Bottom line, the best way to protect loot isn’t to stuff it in an obvious chest, or in a big treasure vault but to hide it, even in plain sight. Big, heavy, pieces of furniture are already pretty suspect, but it’s easy to put small compartments in even very simple looking tables and chairs—scrolls and maps can easily be rolled up and put inside a hollowed out table leg, for example.

Gold and other precious metals can’t be so easily hidden, of course, as their weight will give it all away. On the other hand, it’s easy enough to melt it down, and then recast and paint it to look like something else. Those “iron bars” on the third floor window? Gold, at least the ones on the sides of the window, that no thief would waste time hacking through anyway. The spare cauldron in the back of the pantry? Solid silver…but painted dead black. The bird cage? Platinum wire, again painted black.   Much like with the “double chest”, the key is to leave some real loot around, so that thieves adventurers just take the obvious and leave, rather than poke around too much.
These are just some ideas to make the quest for treasure a little more interesting. There’s nothing wrong with the ol’ chest in the back of the orc hideout, mind you, but more clever adversaries really will put a bit more effort into protecting their valuables than a laughable lock on a wooden chest.

Some nice ideas. I like especially that shrieker tree and the massive iron fake chest.
Snagged for my next dungeon.

Shipyard Locked:
Useful! I'll be deploying some of these.

I like the effort to make things different. It is pretty silly to open a chest in a dungeon and discover a healing potion someone locked in there for no reason other than for you to find it in your game.

Buried treasure is another common trick. Particularly small items in homes with dirt or straw floors. Just bury your handful of coins in the corner of the room. For a bigger item, bury it under a large but technically movable item like a stove. Or behind a stone in the back of the fireplace.

I personally don't mind the healing potion being locked up in a chest. I don't carry a first aid kit on my person at all times. And certainly not a trauma or surgical kit. You put it somewhere where you can find it, and lock it up so unrespectful housemates don't get into it.


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