Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Legacies of Ill-Gotten Loot

"Treasure House" by Jaynorn Lin on Art Station.
As far as I can tell, collecting dungeon loot without paying any attention whatsoever to whom it actually belonged has been the bread and butter of your basic adventurers ever since OSR games existed. Some might argue that a tacit D&D salvaging rule waives consequences for acquiring unidentified loot. Previous owners, however, may beg to differ if they knew. Just for laughs, I concocted a few situations to spring upon unsuspecting adventurers to illustrate my point.

Points of Origin

How “loot” is acquired affects the odds of possible disputes in the future.

1. Bequests & Rewards: This concerns equipment received from one’s family as gifts or inheritances. Rewards obtained from grateful benefactors also belong in this category. This form of loot is the less troublesome unless your DM is particularly chaotic or harbors ulterior motives.

2. Lawful Purchases: The next best category includes items bought from reputable sellers. A legitimate business usually has reasonable knowledge about the origins of merchandise it proffers (also subject to a DM’s perfidy).

3. Questionable Purchases: Purveyors sans scruples, those shifty businesses tucked away in shadowy city quarters and others selling presumably good equipment at cut prices, present a greater risk since they aren’t picky about the origins of their merchandise.

4. Plunder: The worst category holds anything obtained by guile or force of arms. Dungeoneering, raiding the camps of foes, emptying graves, robbing bootie from folks who themselves must have pillaged, burglarized, or ransacked others with reckless abandon pose the greatest risk to unsuspecting and (more-or-less-) law-abiding heroes. Checking the pockets of fallen companions or their victims probably falls into this category as well.

If the question of ownership isn’t obvious, roll 1d4 to find what category an item belongs to.


Subsequent troubles can take 1d4 weeks after the previous adventure to manifest themselves, usually as the result of rumors going around, witnesses passing information, magical divination tracking down missing treasure, or perhaps merchants attempting to resell goods purchased from PCs attracting the attention of previous owners. Select either the most valuable item a party “liberated” (at least 400gp-worth). If coins or gems are involved, assume they have been marked physically or magically to identify them.

Looting Consequences (roll d00)


Source of the Loot

Nature of the Loot

Bequests & Rewards


Coins and gems worth 700-1,000gp


Lawful Purchase


Single item worth 400-700gp


Questionable Purchases


Single item worth 701-1,000gp




Single or combined loot above 1,000gp


Up to 30

No consequences other than personal notoriety and tavern rumors.


A local taxman has gotten wind of the party’s windfall and now seeks to collect a share of the profits from the loot. The assessor will first try to find out what else the party collected recently, and impose taxes accordingly. At the very least, the demanded monies are based on the part of the loot that triggered the check. His armed escort resort to force if the PCs refuse to comply.


If the loot or part of it is ever pawned off, a previous owner running across a reseller identifies the goods. He has them seized and accuses the party of stealing the goods from him. If the PCs are captured, they need to address their case in court and reimburse the resellers to whom they had sold the loot.


If the loot, or part of it, is ever pawned off, a miscreant running across a reseller identifies the goods (he’d failed to steal them from their legitimate owner whom he later murdered). He has them unlawfully seized and falsely accuses the party of stealing from him. If captured, the PCs need to fight their case in court and, if they lose, reimburse resellers to whom they had sold the loot.


The original owner of the loot (from whom it was robbed) now stalks the party to steal it back and, if possible, kill the present holder(s). The creature’s nature depends on the party’s average experience level: 1-3. Fourth-Level Thief, 4-6. Doppelganger, 7-10. Mujina, 11-15. Level 12-14 Avenger/Anti-paladin, 16+ Dragon in disguise.


If other than coins or gems, the item posses a hidden recess holding a small piece of parchment. It lists an unusual spell whose owner has been seeking ever since the item was stolen. The owner, a magic-user of a reasonable level offers to purchase the item for its fair market value (without mentioning its hidden contents), or will attempt to take it by force.


The object had originally been stolen from a powerful noble. His son or daughter was also abducted during the theft. The aristocrat offers the party to find the captive in exchange for them keeping the wayward loot. If they refuse, he accuses them of committing the crime and turns loose the city militia against the party.


The item, although not an evil one, possesses a strong link to the astral plane. It beckons the undead, some of which strive to possess it for themselves. The undead depend on the party’s experience level: 1-3. A Pack of ghouls, 4-6. Mummy, 7-10. Spectre, 11-15. Vampire or nosferatu, 16+ Lich and its minions.


The loot is identified as having come from another world. It lies near a hidden portal to its native world, or it must have been left there by someone who’d crossed over. The portal must be shut or dispelled to prevent demonic incursions.


The loot is part of an artifact. Although this item does not radiate an enchantment, the full dweomer will manifest itself when all the parts as assembled. Divination magic should indicate it is meant to be part of something else. Attempting to resell the loot should attract the attention of someone (or something) seeking to rebuild the artifact.


The loot was a temple’s gift to an immortal patron or to a deity. A high priest/priestess sends his/her minions to retrieve it. If they fail, he/she intervenes personally. If he/she fails, a handful divine servants follow until the goods are retrieved. If they already sold off the goods, the PCs are tasked with recovering them and handing them over.


You get the idea.

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