It was pure luck that Rusty found the loose board in his room in the Crooked Cat. The space below was just small enough to hold a folded sack… but that sack was a bag of holding which was somehow shielded from divination. Now the contents of the bag were spread out across the bed. Three different sets of identification papers. Ten Kundarak letters of credit, each worth one thousand galifars. Three vials bearing the Jorasco seal—high grade healing potions. A spellshard. A wand, a rapier, and a ring… all radiating magic. “So what do you think?” Rusty asked his friends. “Are we the luckiest bastards in Sharn? Or should we put this all back, get a new room, and pretend this never happened?”
My previous post examined buried treasures and how the pursuit of a lost, legendary treasure could be the driving force for an entire campaign. But not all treasures are ancient relics found in a monster’s lair. In Khorvaire, there are many options for finding hidden treasures that are anything but legendary. Consider caches—something stored away or hidden for future use. Here’s just a few example caches that come to mind…
- A former assassin decides to live an honest life, and hides the tools of their trade—a hat of disguise, dagger of venom, an assortment of poisons—behind a mortared stone in a shrine to Olladra.
- Someone becomes obsessed with the idea that a grand apocalypse is just around the corner, and hides supplies in preparation for this. Are they still alive—perhaps running a cult of the Dragon Below tied to their apocalyptic visions? Or did they die long ago, leaving their doomsday supplies behind? If they left clues about their fears, might the PCs realize there’s some truth to them?
- The Swords of Liberty or Emerald Claw have stashed supplies that are supposed to be used in an operation in the next few days. Do you take the supplies and run, or do you try to deal with the cell behind it?
- In the aftermath of a botched attack, the last survivor of a Cyran commando squad discarded their gear and tried to blend into the local populace. Perhaps they succeeded and just never returned for it; perhaps they were killed or imprisoned. This is excellent equipment, but it is clearly Cyran military gear.
- Once upon a time, there were countless Dhakaani caches spread across Khorvaire—remnants of the last days of the empire, as those dar who resisted the effects of the Kapaa’vola fought against the chaos. Thousands of years have passed, and most of these caches have been recovered. But adventurers could still find a cache containing perfectly preserved Dhakaani adamantine arms and armor, or the hidden treasures of a dirge singer. Such a cache might include trinkets that have no immediate, obvious value to adventurers—but which could be incredibly important to the Heirs of Dhakaan.
- During the Last War, a squad of soldiers engaged in forbidden looting and hid their spoils. Perhaps they used the chaos of war to steal from a noble of their own nation, or from a dragonmarked house. Perhaps they had a mission to recover goods from an enemy and chose to hide some of this bounty instead of turning it all over to their superiors. If the PCs stumble onto this cache, will they try to return the goods to their rightful owners? Alternately… were one or more of the player characters part of the group of looters?
- The Fifth Crown, King’s Citadel, the Shadow Houses, the Trust, and the Royal Eyes all have supplies hidden across Khorvaire, stashed for the moment when an undercover operative needs something. The nature of the equipment will be tied to the mission it’s supposed to support. The Fifth Crown collapsed with the Mourning, and most of its caches are likely lost and forgotten. But other caches may be placed with a very specific purpose—and if you take the supplies, you could jeopardize an operation. If it’s not your nation that’s involved this might actually be a good thing… but most such caches won’t have a convenient note saying who they belong to or what they’re for. And it’s always possible there’s some way for the owner to trace the equipment…
- A more dramatic version of this is a cache set aside for agents of the Chamber or the Lords of Dust. Such equipment may be far more powerful than what spies of the Five Nations would normally employ, but you’re crossing significantly more dangerous people if you take it. Unless, of course, your clearing out the cache is part of their plan, because they need you to have this equipment to carry out your role in the Prophecy…
As uncommon magic items, bags of holding are part of everyday life; portable holes and handy haversacks are rarer but still well known to the general public. Such things make it possible to conceal a significant amount of equipment in a relatively small space. A cache could contain mundane supplies or money—something that would help a group of adventurers but that has little immediate impact or identifying marks. On the other hand, it could contain valuable magic items… perhaps a conveniently interesting item for each of the adventurers, something that will get them started on their adventures. But such items might be distinctive, whether they are clearly tied to a particular organization or to the original owner. Are the players concerned about running into someone who recognizes this loot? On a different spectrum, a cache could contain trinkets that have little concrete value but that tell a story or set the players on a path… A journal that exposes a secret plot or a possible threat, or evidence about a crime that’s long gone unpunished. On the other side, a cache could have magic that is exceptionally powerful, but more than the adventurers want to deal with. A bag of blast disks; a spellshard containing secrets of proprietary Cannith artifice; the Orb of Dol Azur (which for this purpose we’ll say has the same stats as the Wand of Orcus). If you’re a group of 3rd level characters, what are you going to do with the Orb of Dol Azur? Especially knowing that in all likelihood it was stashed by an incredibly powerful and dangerous person who will probably come looking for it? On an even more exotic path, imagine that you find a cache that contains the answer to the cause of the Mourning—along with an item (an arcane core for a weapon, an artifact tied to an overlord) that could allow someone to enact a second Mourning. If this falls into the hands of any nation it will irrevocably alter the balance of power in Khorvaire. What will the adventurers do with it?
Part of the point of a cache is that it’s not a deep dungeon or a tomb full of traps. A good narrative example is the troll’s den in The Hobbit. After the trolls are defeated, Gandalf concludes that they must have a safe hole, and they search until they find it… and when they do, it’s full of treasure, including two named magic swords and some swanky gear for Bilbo. We get a slight repeat of this in Fellowship of the Ring, where the hobbits just kind of stumble across a barrow and end up with some nice equipment. A cache can be a fun way to give adventurers some decent equipment while also setting up interesting story hooks. Do they have to worry about the owner of the cache coming after them? Does anything they’ve claimed rightfully belong to someone else, and if so, do they want to find that rightful owner… who could then become a patron of the party? Does something in the cache draw them into a greater plot—is there evidence of a murder that should be avenged, or an Emerald Claw threat about to happen, a Chamber scheme? With all these stories in mind, one of the key questions is how the players encounter the cache. A few possibilities…
Random Chance. All the clever concealment in the world can’t counter pure luck. Perhaps the adventurers are caught in a skirmish between Daask and the Boromar Clan, and an eldritch bolt that misses its target shatters the hollow statue of Boldrei containing a stashed haversack. Perhaps when the character with Sage background conducts research they need a book in the Morgrave stacks that no one else would ever have reason to look at—and they find that this obscure account of Galifar the Dark’s economic policies is a hollowed out book containing a spellshard, a glove of storing, and a few other key belongings of a rogue Dark Lantern. Perhaps the rogue goes to visit an old mentor and finds them dead—their apartment is trashed, but because the adventurer knows the mentor, they spot the clue that reveals their hidden cache. The PC feels certain the mentor would want them to use these hidden tools, but will they try to avenge their mentor? And why WAS the mentor killed? The point here is that finding the cache isn’t the challenge; it’s a surprise, something that falls into the path of the PCs, and the question is what they will do with it.
Spoils of War. As with the trolls in The Hobbit, a cache could be a reward for victory. After defeating the Emerald Claw’s latest scheme, the adventurers find a key to a Kundarak vault or a note with the address of their safehouse. The cache contained goods or equipment they wouldn’t just carry around town, and may have additional clues about future threats, local agents, or other hooks for future stories. But the challenge is fighting the cache owner; once that’s accomplished, the cache itself is relatively easy.
The Tiny Dungeon. On the other hand, there are countless ways a cache could be secured. This article discusses a few examples of how everyday magic can take interesting forms. Glyphs of Warding are extremely flexible, and even an alarm can be a concern if you’re afraid of who will be alerted. So one option is that the players find a cache but have to deal with considerable security to gain access to it. Another is that they learn of a cache but reaching it is going to be a journey. A group of Cyran adventurers might be contacted by an old comrade in arms who has located a cache of Cyran treasures just inside the Mournland. When they arrive, the contact is missing; perhaps kidnapped or killed by agents of an Aurum concordian who wants the cache. Can the adventurers get there first, and if so, can they bypass its security? Will they keep the goods or turn it over to New Cyre and Oargev? The main difference between this and the buried treasure stories of the last article is the scale. This isn’t an epic expedition that will cover multiple sessions, and the treasure in the cache is significant, but it’s not a dragon’s hoard. This is an adventure low level characters can complete; the loot creates more opportunities and hooks for them, but it’s not a king’s ransom.
That’s all for now! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, whose support makes these articles possible. Speaking of which, I will be doing a live Q&A on the Last War on Sunday January 14th at 9 AM Pacific time, on the Threshold Discord channel associated with my Patreon. If you’re a patron and you can’t make it live, don’t worry – it will be recorded and shared with all patrons. Thanks for your support! And also, thanks to Matthew Johnson for the image of the artificer Ink Narathun that opens this article!