Sunday, August 16, 2020

[REVIEW] Raging Swan Press treasure table resources (All that Glimmers, I Loot the Body, and Goblin's Pockets)

Treasure! Gourdon, French Burgundy, Easter Sunday 1845 - a young girl's foot scraped the topsoil, uncovering a golden gleam - a coin! Weeks later, she and a companion brought a pick-axe to the same field, and began to dig. To their dismay, however, they soon uncovered what they assumed (wrongly) to be a priest's grave, furnished with a gold platter, a golden chalice -- and many more coins. The discovery of this "Gourdon Treasure" set off a long chain of hijinks. Two other locals soon 'commandeered' the treasure for themselves, and coins from the site began appearing across France as they were sold off illegally for cash. Rumors of the treasure - and the dispute over its ownership - grew. A series of criminal and civil proceedings led to a public auction in 1846 of 104 recovered coins. Today, these recovered pieces from the "Gourdon treasure" offer archaeologists and numismatists precious data for understanding aspects of the Second Burgundian Kingdom (the regime that minted these coins, and one of the barbarian successor states after the fifth-century unraveling of the western Roman Empire). 

In real life, a single treasure may have many stories to tell, and new stories may begin again with the finding. At the RPG table, however, treasure often ends up reduced to an XP-boosting numeral and a few die-roll modifiers across the character inventory list, forgotten as soon as a new treasure-filled room beckons. 

Early Byzantine gold solidus of Emperor Anastasius
(Metropolitan Museum, public domain image)

My very first blog post with any real content talked about the romance -- and danger -- of treasure, and some ways to make it interesting again. Treasure rightly comes up a lot in the gaming blogosphere. Very often, however, we harried GMs still just hand out +1 swords or 750 gp hauls that evoke nothing, and we're left scrambling to improvise details when a player asks for a bit more narrative shine on their new magic blade. 

Well, last month, I made a discovery: Raging Swan Press makes awesome GM resources, and some of them help make treasure really interesting again.

As I pondered my item wishlist during the "Christmas in July" sale last month, I decided to focus this time around on GM resources -- tools to help me better run the things I already have -- rather than just getting some more cool modules to add to the files. I picked up a few items, including Melan's The Nocturnal Table (which I blogged about here). And then somehow I heard about the Raging Swan tools. I'd been vaguely aware of Raging Swan - I'd seen good press for their Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands module, for example - but had no idea of the breadth and reputation of their tools for GMs. So many tools, filling so many different niches, designed with an eye for ease of use by harried GMs who want a quick boost to their own creativity or a way to delegate some of the idea-crunching to free up brain cells for the more important tasks. 

So, I purchased Raging Swan's delightful Dungeon Dressing Miscellany. After buying it, however, I realized to my dismay that whereas the Pathfinder-compatible version includes a special section on treasure/hoard tables, this wasn't part of the system-neutral version that I'd purchased. (Lesson One for buying Raging Swan products: they are so prolific and offer so many different things, it pays to dig carefully to make sure you're grabbing precisely the right tool for the job; many of their products have separate Pathfinder, Pathfinder 2e, D&D 5e, OSR, or System Neutral variants, though these seem more interchangeable from the perspective of a rules-light fella like me than one might think). Anyway, I messaged Creighton at Raging Swan and commented that while I was happy with the purchase, it would have been optimal to make the version differences even clearer. In response, Creighton sent me a bunch of shorter .pdf tools gratis to flesh out what I thought I was missing, including I Loot the Body. Wow! Anyway, as I considered buying still more of their stuff, I offered to write a detailed review of their full treasure resource, All that Glimmers, in exchange for a review copy. Note, therefore, that the review below covers a mix of content that I purchased (Dungeon Dressing Miscellany, containing Goblin's Pockets) and content I was sent free of charge (I Loot the Body, All that Glimmers). Since I got my hands on these .pdfs, I've been using them to help prep or run games, so I can offer initial thoughts on how they handle in actual play. 

Here's the full review in a nutshell: these are wonderful tools and I heartily recommend them for almost any GM, anywhere. However, they offer so much information that exploiting them most efficiently requires a little familiarization before use, and there may be certain applications best reserved for use before rather than during play. That said, go buy 'em if they sound helpful. They're really good.

Below, I'll talk in more detail about each of these three Raging Swan treasure-generation resources: what each one offers, how well it works, examples of use, and, finally, my overall impressions and recommendations. Because I can already tell that Creighton and the folks at Raging Swan pay attention to user input, I'll also spend some time offering recommendations for improving actual-play use even further. 

Please note that all links in this post are affiliate links. 

Let's dive in. 


This resource is available at DriveThru here

First up: this product is marketed as Pathfinder-compatible, so keep that in mind; I don't play or run Pathfinder, though I sometimes ooh and ahh at the fancy artwork and I like my Paizo pawns for tabletop and skirmish wargaming play. :-) In actual use, I'm finding that most of the time the "Pathfinder-compatible" issue doesn't really present any hurdles for my use, even though I run weird rules-light indie things like Into the Odd or World of Dungeons

All that Glimmers costs $13.99 USD for a .pdf at The book is a 155-page .pdf, thoroughly bookmarked for very efficient use. The book includes these sections: 

+ Hoards
+ Armour
+ Weapons
+ Miscellaneous Treasures (coins, gems, jewellery, books & scrolls, art objects, miscellaneous objects)
+ Spellbooks (including sub-sections like titles, wizard names, cover/binding materials, paper, ink, contents, history of the book and its owners, pre-generated spellbooks, etc.)
+ Intelligent magic items
+ Treasure maps (some tips and small tables for deciding the location and nature of the mapped hoard, and some sample maps).

Almost all these sections also include a brief guide to their use, and Armour, Weapons, and Miscellaneous Treasures come with Hooks & Complications to weave said items into your campaign's actual play. 

The individual sections were first released as very inexpensive stand-alone products - "So What's the Weapon Like, Anyway?" by itself, for example - and you can find those on DriveThru too. This product is a compilation that collects them all in one convenient spot. 

To illustrate the depth of this material, below I'll cover two sections -- Hoards and Weapons -- in much more detail. 


This section lists, in detail, the contents of approximately 240 different treasure hoards. Yes, 240. 

They are organized by level, meaning Pathfinder character level and CR (Challenge Rating) suitability. There are some tips for how often to stock them in keeping with the Pathfinder CR system, too, but since I'm not playing that game, I ignore this bit. Twelve separate hoards are described for each level, from levels 1-20. 

Now, because Pathfinder careers evidently involve a HUGE power-curve and lots of high-level play compared to what I'm used to, it might seem that the back half of this list would be of little use to a more rules-lite, old school guy like me. No, not necessarily at all. Although All that Glimmers' hoards end up reaching ludicrously high monetary value at the top levels, they still seem balanced internally, and it would be pretty easy to use some of these hoards even at a lower level, after tweaking a few things. Consider - here's just one of twelve different "Level 20" hoards, valued at 63,966 gp if sold at full worth:

Treasure Hoard 20.1:

Coinage: 216 gp, 355 pp.

Gemstone Headdress: Including countless translucent purple amethysts and opaque pale blue tourmalines, this headdress fans out about the wearer's face, placing them at the centre of the array of jewels (worth 10,200 gp; DC 20 Appraise value).

Amulet of Natural Armour +5: A leather bag containing a small dragon bone is strung on a length of cord (faint [DC 20 knowledge {arcana} transmutation]; DC 20 Spellcraft identifies; worth 50,000 gp). 

I would chuck all the Pathfinder crunch out the window right away, and still wind up with a really amazing haul just in its lovely narrative details. A bejewelled headdress fit for an empress? And a seeming peasant's charm that can defy even the most ardent assassin's blade? And just found on the edge of my barony, abutting the lands of that varlet, Count Willibald? Why yes, I would start a small feudal war to gain possession of that treasure, thank you very much!

To be sure, there are other hoards that include, instead, the thousands of coins that one might expect in a large-value hoard. These are very diverse. 

Down at the other end, in the low-level hoards, things remain just as interesting. Here are two hoards, randomly selected from the Levels One and Two lists:

Treasure Hoard 1.10 (Value: 261 gp, 5 sp, 7 cp)

Coinage: 457 cp, 87 gp.

Tiger's Eye Stone: This oval worked gemstone has a reddish gold hue (worth 40 gp; DC 20 Appraise identifies and values).

Silver Locket: A silver locket hung on a chain of the same material. On the inside is a portrait of a young woman with blonde hair (worth 110 gp; DC 25 Appraise values). 

Scroll of Obscuring Mist: Cramped words cover this yellowed parchment (faint [DC 16 Knowledge {arcana} conjuration {creation]]; DC 21 Spellcraft identifies; worth 25 gp). 


Treasure Hoard 2.4 (Value: 555 gp)

Coinage: 10 sp, 20 gp

Banded Jasper: A deep red bead with bands of darker red. Inscribed on the bead are various esoteric symbols (worth 75 gp; DC 25 Appraise identifies and values).

Masterwork Jewellers Kit: A small box made from highly polished wood filled with exquisite tools used for the jewel smith's trade (worth 200 gp; DC 25 Appraise values).

Silversheen: Glimmering silver liquid fills this polished iron flask (fain [DC 15 knowledge {arcana} transmutation]; DC 20 Spellcraft identifies; worth 250 gp). 

Do you know what Silversheen does? I don't, so I'd need to make something up. Presumably it's a Pathfinder thing. So that would slow me down very briefly, but if you're already working with something like the 1e DMG or the Old School Essentials rules, you've got tools for quickly selecting a potion. Again, such ruleset-specific context occasionally becomes an issue, but mostly you're just dealing here with really cool found items. I'm more certain that my players would want to know who the young woman in the locket portrait is, and how her picture ended up here in this haunted tomb. 

As you can see, the Hoards section just occasionally produces hiccups for a non-Pathfinder GM, but it regularly produces intriguing treasure collections that are a lot more than just numbers. I particularly like that many of the items found will need to be sold or traded with just the right person in order to yield their full value - or, alternately, many of them will be so "neat" to players that they just might end up keeping one instead of selling it off for gp and xp. 

In my current campaign, one PC is a mace-bearing, singing priestess who wears fancy flowing gowns but also - as a helmet - sports a skull from a hydra she helped kill. I can just imagine her finally setting aside the hydra hat for a chance to wear that jeweled headdress from the Level 20 hoard above... :-) 

If you're running a module, you probably already have treasure-lists provided. But if you're improving a module, or stocking a dungeon of your own design, then the DMG/OSE tools will help you put together a hoard, but they will not offer the color, flavor, and narrative hooks that are all over this resource. Good stuff here.


This section offers random-roll % tables with descriptions of "Simple Melee Weapons," "Simple Ranged Weapons," "Light Martial Melee Weapons," "One-Handed Martial Melee Weapons," "Two-Handed Martial Melee Weapons," "Martial Ranged Weapons," "Exotic Melee Weapons," and "Exotic Ranged Weapons." Each of those is a full-page table, and each table holds approximately 25 individual entries. After that comes a two-page list of named "Famous Weapons," each one receiving about a quarter-page entry describing its appearance, history, value, and suggested powers. Then, "Hooks and Complications" add even more life and meaning to found weapons, with half-page tables each for: "Previous Owners," "Famous Victories," "Inscriptions and Marks," and "Other Complications." 

That's an awful lot of cool weapons data at your fingertips. And it very much comes in handy when, for example, the PCs have just thrashed a group of five evil knights that your notes only say were wielding "one-hand melee weapons" - and now the victorious players want to know what kind of weapons, exactly, are lying in the mud at their feet. In such a context, the GM can just make a few die rolls and come up with a colorful and plausible list of weapons encountered.

The beautiful Regent by Albion Swords

For example, let’s test this out. 

Suppose your players have just encountered a rival adventuring party of three hulking barbarian mercenaries striding through the very same catacombs as your PCs. You describe them as big, tough, and hefting two-hand weapons. “Huh,” says one overly-inquisitive player, “what kind of two-hand weapons?” And you growl inside because you know you were planning to just roll the same two-hand damage dice and gloss over that detail, but instead you smile demurely, flip to the All that Glimmers table for “two-handed martial melee weapons,” and tell your player: “Why, yes, well (roll, roll, roll…) the guy in front has a great sword, with the top part of its copper hilt shaped like a man with outstretched arms. And the guy on his left has a great sword, too, but it has a silver hilt shaped like a dragon, and you can see some kind of runic writing down the blade.” (you know that the writing says “Winter is Here,” but you’ll wait for the player to get closer to let them know that, if relevant). Now there’s a dramatic pause while your players digest these interesting details and make (not at all jealous) ooh-and-ahh noises about these weapons. “But hey,” says another player, “what about the third guy?” You say: “well, the third one is carrying a nine-foot-long glaive with a convex blade fixed to the haft with copper nails. You can see a star-shaped maker’s mark on the blade.” 

Now: admit it, that’s a pretty cool set of responses to offer your players, isn’t it? And you can get there with only a few seconds’ delay in each case. This is kind of awesome. In actual play, I find that questions like these don’t come up all the time, but it is in fact the unpredictability of player questions probing for more detail that makes a resource like this so handy. 

Ok. Gushing aside, I do have a few critiques to offer for this portion. 

First: during your rolling-and-answering spree as described above, you might instead have rolled some more unusual answers: a “ceremonial ranseur,” a “Lucerne hammer,” or a “Gopuran halberd.” Now. Ahem. I have a Ph.D. in ancient and medieval European history, I’ve dabbled in HEMA German longsword training, I read French-language scholarship, and I teach college history classes for a living, but initially I just stared blankly, wondering what the heck a “ranseur” is, despite the prose description that followed. As it turns out, after consulting my colleague Prof. Google, I see what it is; kind of like an early Modern partizan. I certainly visually recognize what we’re talking about, but I didn’t know it was called a ranseur. I wipe beaded sweat from my brow and move on). Different GMs will have different levels of familiarity with some of the rarer items on the tables. Some factors off-set this a bit: first, the “rarer item” entries are followed by a text description of what the thing looks like, which helps a lot. Second, in many cases you can just throw out a tiny bit of the description and move on: to be honest, even after Googling, I’m still not entirely sure what a “Gopuran halberd” is (I know what a halberd is, of course, but Gopur? The fact that a very few entries here and there reference either Pathfinder’s canonical geography or the Raging Swan Lonely Coast setting makes this a little trickier, too). In a pinch, of course, I can just throw out the Gopur bit and describe a really interesting halberd using the details provided. And, finally, I should note that these ‘edge cases’ are actually pretty rare - most of the table will be readily familiar to GMs who’ve been around the block a few times on the D&D weapons list. There is even a separate set of tables for exotic melee and exotic missile weapons if that’s what you’re specifically looking for. 

In short, if you get a wonky item that you can’t figure out, and you’re in a hurry, just drop down to the next entry in short order, and in 99% of cases you’ll be on your way without any trouble. But I think I would have preferred to see the more-exotic items sequestered to their own table a bit more thoroughly. 

Also - and here's, perhaps, a more meaningful critique - the resource is a little less user-friendly if the GM is coming at the weapon-describing problem from a different angle. Say that the GM knows (e.g.) that the players have encountered a “Mace, +2” in a treasure haul from some module, and wants to give it some more flavor. This gets a little more complicated. 

To test this operation, I jumped to the tables: first I skimmed through “light martial melee weapons” and didn’t see any maces - then shifted over to “one-handed martial melee weapons” on the facing page, and still didn’t see any maces. At this point I read the short paragraph of prose introducing each table and realized that neither table was meant to include maces. Hmm. Ok, so then I flipped back one page spread - past “simple ranged weapons” - and finally found “simple melee weapons.” Ah: this includes “clubs, daggers, maces, and spears.” There we go. Now, simply rolling on this detailed full-page table will likely get me a bunch of other stuff than maces, (like clubs, daggers, or spears) so instead I just skim the page quickly looking for some maces. And I do find some, and they are quite interesting: 

“Light mace comprising a copper lion-shaped head fixed to a stout wooden handle.” 

“Heavy mace of Khemeti origin [Pathfinder’s not-Egypt, I believe]; its round stone head is attached to a wooden handle and decorated with bulls and scorpions.” 

“Six flanged heavy mace (pernach) with a metal handle and a grip covered in blue lizard skin.”

“Light mace topped with a demonic-looking baboon-shaped head made from bronze.”

“Flanged heavy mace with a steel hilt inlaid with platinum scrollwork.” 

And, technically not maces, but here for honorable mention: 

“Club made from a sturdy, knotty stick of polished black oak, with a large knob on the end.” 

“Ebony club carved with battle scenes of gnoll warriors fighting striped centaurs.” 

Detail from the Major Scorpion Macehead
CC by SA:

Now, let’s assess. Comparing these two approaches shows that this resource will provide quite juicy, evocative weapon descriptions, on demand. However, it can take quite a bit longer to harness the resource depending on the kind of question you are asking it to answer. “Hey, what do their weapons look like?” is much easier to answer quickly in play at the table than “hey, what does that spear look like?” 

This is not a fault of the design, per se, but it is a limitation. This tool is so packed with juicy goodness that navigating it can get a little tricky at times. It is set up for optimized use, but as with any design process, optimization builds toward certain intended outcomes, and when you try to push toward different outcomes, it can be a little trickier to use quickly. 

Of course, without a tool like this, I’d still be stuck there yammering, “um, uh, the dagger you just found looks … well, shiny, and um, sharp, and I guess it has amber insets along the pommel.” But try making me do that on the fly many times in one evening, with imagination and no repetition, while I'm trying to run other details, and see how much fun I have. But if I’m willing to invest a few moments digging in this tool, I can still describe that dagger - or a mace - in style and detail. But using the tool in this particular manner is optimally suited for prep before play, rather than for instantaneous support mid-game, though mid-game use is possible - just a little slower. And that process will go much, much faster if a GM takes some time after purchasing this baby to read through the table descriptions and get a general sense of what goes where. 

As someone who has done a lot of slower, play-by-email GM’ing, however, I can only imagine how much this kind of thing will help my descriptions sing next time I run a fantasy PBEM campaign, with time to craft descriptions between player rounds. Yowza. 

So much for All that Glimmers. It's a fantastic resource that will repay GMs who invest some time up-front to learn its few quirks. 


Before closing, I also want to talk about two other Raging Swan resources that I've been using in actual play to very good effect. 

Goblin's Pockets is available as a cheap stand-alone .pdf, or as part of the compiled Dungeon Dressing Miscellany - the way I purchased it (I highly recommend the Dungeon Dressing guide, by the way, but that's a broader topic). 

This tool helps you answer "So what do we find in the goblins' pockets?" - but, as the tool notes, it's quite suitable for use with creatures other than goblins, too. These five pages of tables give descriptive detail to things that are "Utterly Worthless," or "Broken and Battered," plus "Yummy Nibbles," and "Shiny Treasures." At face value these are just humorous or possibly gross lists of things no player should really want to keep, but which add fun to the game. But this can, in fact, accomplish quite a bit more - particularly when complemented by other tables in the Dungeon Dressing Miscellany, like the approximately ten-page section with random tables about Legends. Here's an example of what happened when my players recently cleaned out the pouches of ogres who'd been guarding the dungeon level of the Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun - NO, not that dungeon level, you know, the...the other one. To paraphrase a conversation from memory:

Player 1: Cool. So let's search the ogres. Did they have anything?

Me: Yeahhhh...let's find [Picks up dice; they clatter and roll]. Ok, so you find a tangled-up bunch of string. Oh, and...well, there's a little bag with a bunch of toes from different kinds of humanoids. Eww!

Players: [Laughter] Eww! Anything else?

Me: [Considers, not yet fully satisfied...] Yeah...yeah... [rolls dice on a separate Goblin's Pockets table a few pages later...] So, you also find one other thing: an old, fancy iron spear-tip, coated in rust, with a row of old runes just visible under the rust.

Player 2: Ooooh! That sounds interesting. Can we read the runes? 

Me: Um. [Pauses, thinks quickly...] Why, perhaps...let's see, you [flags the scholar PC] don't really have Proto-Madhrelian as one of your languages, do you? 

Player 3: No, no...not really. 

Player 2: But hang on! My character is from Madhrelia. Is there any way he can work with the Scholar to figure this out? 

Me: Yeah, that seems reasonable. Make a roll to see how well this works out. [Clatter...]

Me: Ok, so you can kind of vaguely figure out what's going on here. The spear-head refers to an ancient legend from centuries ago in Madhrelia, right around the time your people came together south of Glantri... [I am already flipping over to the section of the book about Legends...I go to "Legends: Events and Deeds" and pick up a d20. I roll a 14, "The Treaty" - a quick skim of this paragraph-length legend about dark fey fighting ancient dwarves tells me it won't perfectly fit my existing setting lore, but it immediately sparks a related idea]. Yes. So, this spear-head appears to commemorate an ancient, half-remembered war that your Madhrelian ancestors fought along the Glantrian border against the Dark Fey. There's very little lore surviving from that period.

Player 2: Ok. Huh. Cool! I pick up the spear-head and clean it off; I'm definitely keeping that thing. I wonder how it found its way down here to the island. [The Isle of Dread]

With ample room for my own creative spin, these tables turned what could have been a lame "nope, they don't have anything of interest" moment into a small world-building hook and a colorful way to develop the character's connections to their imagined societies. I really appreciated this. 

Finally, I've also been using one other Raging Swan treasure/inventory resource: I Loot the Body. This is like Goblin's Pockets, but for more respectable opponents than goblins: clerics, druids, minions, rogues, warriors, and wizards! Each of those categories offers tables describing thematically-appropriate items from the personal garb, pouch contents, and associated cargo of these types of NPCs. Also provided, more briefly, are general lists of pouch contents or bag of holding contents. I've found this tool helpful for breathing a little life into a hostile NPC. My kids recently faced off against a deranged wizard frozen in a basement for decades. I basically just needed a 'deranged wizard' trope, and - let's be honest here, I was a little pressed for time - I might have just gone with the old "dark robes and a big crazy hat" stereotypes. Instead, rolling up his outfit and gear in I Loot the Body gave me a wild, colorful description of a wizard in bright blue robes with gold-thread script (this immediately made me think of the evil wizard from the old Wormy comics!) and a black cape fashioned from the two wings of a giant bat. That is exactly the kind of weird, half-insane detail that showed "deranged wizard" instead of just telling it (the victorious children made sure that one of them took the bat-cape, so I'm not sure what that says about their future career choices, either). 

David Trampier's wizard, from Wormy

In Closing

It's clear by now that I'm very impressed with the imagination and usefulness offered by these tools. I also consider them fairly-priced, and a great resource for GMs to have on hand when they need to answer those "what do we find?" questions quickly (or when stocking our own dungeons in advance, too). If these tools have a weakness, it is that the wealth of ideas is not always navigable quite as quickly as one might hope, but in general this adds only very short delays rather than real problems. 

If you're intrigued, I'd certainly recommend any of the three products I mentioned. If you only get one Raging Swan resource ever, you might want to get their Dungeon Dressing Miscellany, which includes Goblin's Pockets and much more beside; but if you specifically want good treasure tables, go for All that Glimmers as a top priority - particularly if you find yourself creating your own treasure-stashes rather than just re-using published content.  Finally, I think I'd place I Loot the Body in very honorable third place, something I'm (so far) using more as an NPC-generator than as a routine treasure resource. 

Thanks for reading. Happy gaming! 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Unfortunately, recent spamming attacks necessitate comment moderation prior to posting. Thanks for leaving a comment - I'll get to it shortly!