Looting Hoards by the Cards

Jeff Rients asked on google+

I think I want a firm mechanism for looting a hoard, in terms of how much time and effort it takes to ascertain relative values and quantities of all the treasure.  Taken with wandering monster rolls, that would allow the party to choose between hastily grabbing the obvious shinies, rooting through for the best stuff or packing it all up to haul away.

Kirk Stone suggested

I think a work intensive (for you) but fun way to do this would be to have treasure items on seperate cards, especially with illustrations.  The players can see all the cards at a glance and then have to decide what to take.  Each takes up a certain amount of time to inspect/collect..

I think this has some potential.

Card-Based Looting

San Juan is a card game based on much the same premise as Puerto Rico.  Most of the rules are not of interest here, but there is a mechanic that may be useful.

When certain actions are taken, players can take a number of cards, keeping some and discarding the rest.  Various in-game improvements (buildings, whether or not the player is the one to have chosen the action) can change the number of cards drawn and/or kept.

This sounds like it could work as a treasure hoard pillaging system.

The hoard is represented by a number of cards, each containing lots of similar treasure (no way would it be reasonable to have a card for each coin… but one for each sack of coins could be reasonable).  Major items may have their own cards as well.

Each turn spent pillaging allows a player to draw a number of cards from the hoard (modified by class, ability scores, skills, level, feats, and so on).  Each player has only limited space in his backpack, though (again based on class, ability score, skills, level, feats, etc.).  Any cards held at the end of the turn that are not in the backpack must be set aside to be reshuffled into the hoard.  Each turn is a turn in game time, so in an OSR game might include a random encounter check.

This gives a snatch-and-run option (one turn) and careful searching (repeat until satisfied that a better load won’t be gathered), and so on.

I imagine it would be possible to pool backpacks, but this will take two or three times as long (two or three game turns per turn).  However, when the thief finds a big shiny sword he can ask the fighter if he wants it.  The ‘backpack’ is filled by the group, rather than a single player, so there is a better chance of getting a party-wide good result.

Alternatively, a player could find something he suspects would be of interest to another player and offer it.  The other player adds it to the ‘next turn’ as one of the cards drawn — it is a known item and he draws one less otherwise.

If the party reaches the end of the hoard they can go through it again (reshuffle the deck and start over), complete with time spent.


An iconic party (fighter, wizard, rogue, cleric – F, W, R, C) kill a dragon and start looting its hoard.

Turn 1:

  • F: Draws 5 cards, has a backpack of 12.  Keeps all five.
  • W: Draws 3 cards, has a backpack of 5.  Cares nothing for petty coins (sacks-worth of copper).  Discards one lot and keeps two.
  • R: Draws 6 cards, has a backpack of 8.  Has no use for wands (offers to Wizard) or shiny maces (offers to cleric), keeps remaining four items.
  • C: Shiny mace!  Draws 3 more cards, has a backpack of 10 (stronger than rogue).  Keeps all four.
  • DM: rolls random encounter, none.

Turn 2:

  • F: Draws 5 cards, doesn’t care about the magic leather armor because he’s got magic plate, offers to Rogue.  Doesn’t care about copper either, discards.  Keeps three others, backpack is 8/12 full.
  • W: Wand!  Plus 2 more cards, one of which is a book of… maybe spells, need to investigate later.  Keeps all three, total of five — backpack is full.
  • R: Magic leather armor?  Yes please!  Please 5 more cards… only room for eight in his backpack, so discards two — backpack is full.
  • C: Draws 4 cards, nothing special but nothing useless, keeps all four.  Backpack is 8/10 full.
  • DM: rolls random encounter, none.

Turn 3:

  • F: Draws 5, likes all of them better than something already in the backpack (that bag of silver gets discarded from the backpack).  Backpack is full.
  • W: Backpack is full, but there might be something good here… Draws 3 cards, one of which is a ring that looks rather interesting.  Dump something from the pack and the other two cards just drawn.  Backpack is full.
  • R: Declines; pretty happy with current contents of backpack.  Goes to stand watch instead.
  • C: Draws 4 cards, replaces two items in backpack and discards two cards.  Backpack full.
  • DM: rolls random encounter, good thing the Rogue was on lookout!  Party gets some light exercise, then heavy exercise as they decide that the ones that got away are likely to come back with friends, and beat feet out of here.

Closing Comments

This is pretty rough yet, obviously.  It really wouldn’t come up terribly often, given that the loot from most fights can probably be examined pretty quickly (if you have detect magic handy, at least), sorted, and packed up and carried away in a pretty straightforward manner.

However, I think it might have some application when dealing with hoards, where properly assaying the value might not be feasible in the time available and circumstances present.

Incidentally, this probably works pretty well with a stone-based encumbrance system as used in Adventurer Conqueror King.  Each card can be expected to be one or more stone.  Since you can’t predict from the card the weight of the object, the weight only applies to the backpack (some cost multiple slots in the backpack) but not the number of cards drawn.  There might even be some items that are ‘0 stone’ (rings and other small items).  I’m not sure how to handle them, but there might be a skill check or something to have ‘actually’ found them, and if it fails the card must be discarded.  Continued searching could turn it up again, of course.


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