Lost in a Dragon’s Hoard

So the other night, I had the pleasure of watching the extended edition of the Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug. The funniest thoughts occurred to me as I watched the scenes with Smaug. How exactly did Smaug manage to gather the hoard of coins together into one massive chamber? <spoiler>And after Smaug is slain in the third movie, how exactly does anyone catalog all of that wealth and move it out of the chamber?</spoiler>

Fantastic art from J. Gerard (see here)

Fantastic art from J. Gerard (see here)

We directly owe a debt to Tolkien (and probably others), that we have these massive collections of wealth that attract dragons to particular lairs. From there they are an occasional menace to the surrounding area, but largely are dormant for years at a time — largely surfacing to eat. Dragon-slaying, a sanctified tradition in many fantasy RPGs thanks to Dungeons & Dragons, brings this all into focus. Likely, in the campaigns backstory, a dragon moves into a particular location and amasses its hoard. While most games settings I’ve been in skip over the pesky little detail of how the hoard gets there, let’s stop there for a moment and consider …

The logistical problem of getting all that loot in one place (nevermind potentially organizing it) would require significant trustworthy minions since dragon claws are simply to big and lack fine manual dexterity to grab individual coins from a coin purse or strip a corpse of a shiny suit of armor … especially since they probably wanted to eat the dead creature within the armor now that it was nicely cooked. The problems with minions are twofold. One, dragons are usually portrayed as being extraordinarily greedy creatures. Are they really going to let creatures handle its hoard to get it into a comfy pile that they can sleep in? Two, would they really trust their soon-to-be dinner with their precious hoard?

One can almost imagine instead that dragons have an innate ability to attract treasure to their location almost like a vortex … and yet this process somehow doesn’t damage the surrounding environment. Is this ability always in effect attracting this treasure?  It wouldn’t play out well to have a party of heroes sneak into a lair with the intent of ending a dragon’s tyranny and claim the stolen loot for themselves and instead suddenly find themselves stripped of all their valuables? It probably wouldn’t be nearly interesting a fight without armor, weapons, and magic items to confront the dragon. What’s worse, the clang as the treasure arrives at the center of the lair might wake the dragon – making him wonder what actually brought him these nice new shinies for his hoard.

So that won’t do, so we can’t have the innate ability still being in effect after the dragon has finished claiming a lair. So the Front supposes, the dragon casts a spell that magically brings all the loot to it after it has conquered the lair. It has the added bonus that it doesn’t have to eat nearly as many suits of armor when dining on new visitors to boot. Simply cast the spell, and then eat the dead adventurer that invaded its home.

At any rate, Fantasy RPGs demand that we have our hoards. (Shadowrun made greater dragons have enough awareness that they actually invest their wealth and don’t sleep on it. This allows them to have massive networks of minions to do their bidding.) So our heroes invade the lair, defeat the traps and slay the dragon — with their party mostly intact if they are lucky. Now what? What’s in the hoard?

In a lot of dragon hoards in D&D, the coins alone number in the thousands — in a heaped pile. At about 50 coins per pound (the going rate in 3rd edition D&D), its going to take any party a long time to dig through a pile of coins big enough to be a bed for a dragon — especially to find the items that might be toward the bottom. How long should it take the party to organize the treasure enough to figure out what they have and the items that have magical value in addition to just being works of art and jewellery? Then there is the problem of how is a party going to actually get that mound of treasure back to civilization?  Odds are, there are no longer any usable roads that they can bring in wagons to haul the treasure out of there easily.

While in most games, there is a bit of hand-waving and it gets sorted out, dealing with the loot could actually make an interesting side-story for a number of sessions. What hirelings and henchmen does the party hire to get the loot back to civilization?  How much gets “lost” along the way? How much gets taxed along the way? Do bandits or others try to claim the treasure when it is more portable? Do the players have to babysit ever step of the operation to ensure that as much of it gets back as possible?

While the thought of how exactly a dragon makes it hoard pile may not be interesting at all … the fallout from the heroes winning (or losing) could be very interesting. Especially if the GM cherry-picks some items to have significance in the campaign beyond just being found and sold.  So what did you find in that hoard?

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