21 October 2023

Treasure routes & vessels. (GLoGtober 5 '23)

Taking on Glass Candles GLoGtober '23, challenge #5 I did to myself - Glass Candles roped me into this back at the start of September and I was thinking of how sunken treasure galleons provide adventure even today. Vast amounts of adventure in our world was driven by lucrative trade and people trying to get a slice of the action.

A classic trope of dungeon-delving is going after the buried riches of a time before - one key source of this can be lost shipments of wealth - which begs the question of wealth from where to where and by whom. They key rule of "trade routes will form along the easiest, safest, cheapest path between two trade hubs" gets a little odd in our fantasy world. Let us talk about two things - first the things being transported and second how they were being transported.

First, the stuff, the cargo, the treasure. To get down to brass tacks, a merchant caravan on a trade route will carry only as much as a given merchant would have amassed through trade, for the real treasures you want the fruits of a treasure route.

Cartoon by Tom Gauld

In the least bloody case, this is where the amassed wealth of a long-dead realm is being excavated and transported away by newcomers. More likely this is treasure being pried from cooling fingers or worse being acquired through slaves and strip-mining. In our fantasy realm this could be the discovered ruins, hoards of some great magical beasts or potentially the exploitation of some magical anomaly. Whatever the exact source, a treasure route implies that a land far-away found something valuable and is looting it for all it is worth to haul all the wealth back home.

Assume for a treasure route that the vessels are over-loaded, as these are abnormal volumes being moved, and that time at site after discovery is going to be limited because people know the legends and once they get a sniff that you actually *found* the lost golden sky-whale, you will have cut-throat competition for the site. Also assume that conditions can get volatile around the treasure site - something went wrong to leave this treasure here in the first place and further prevented it from being found and recovered by its original transporters at the time.

d6 What went wrong the first time?
1. Failed Raid - the vessel came to ruin during the fight and is scattered along the route as the fight progressed
2. Plague - wandering off course in the last throes of sickness the vessel is found somewhere unexpected, the crew dead and possibly infectious
3. Storm - first driven off route, then wrecked away from their route
4. Bad supplies - poisoned water, bad food, something lead the vessel to be significantly delayed as the crew weakened and died
5. Captured - initially a successful raid, the raiders fell to infighting, bad supplies or plague
6. Structural failure - the vessel broke catastrophically, inexplicably and in the middle of nowhere

d6 Why is it accessible now?
1. Earthquake has created a crevasse that leads down
2. Time and erosion has worn away the covering earth
3. Melting of a glacier has revealed it
4. Sinking of water levels has let it surface
5. Great beast burrowing has incidentally created a path
6. It has not been uncovered but dedicated treasure hunters are about to

d6. What was this treasure?
1. Chests of strangely shaped coins, stamped with the signs of a people and realm you have never heard of
2. Idols, icons and other religious paraphernalia wrought in precious metals representing a pantheon you do not recognise
3. Rough gems, raw ivory and precious woods
4. Racks of sealed amphorae filled with spices and magical reagents
5. Broken wall panels, doors, candlesticks and other fittings and furnishings in precious metals showing obvious signs of prying up and tearing down
6. Chest of rings, tiaras, bangles and other jewellery made of precious metals and covered with finely worked gems

Looking back on how things were transported one interesting example is the Incense route where for a period camel caravans ran roughly parallel to the Red Sea supposedly breaking our 'easy, safe, cheap' rule - though it appears safe was the operative factor here. Once ship designs improved the sea route took precedence. Routes will seek to avoid hostile terrain and powers. What does this mean for when we have monstrous beasts to call upon? Setting aside our wizards with flying carpets, walking towers and the ability to craft portals - what about just the monstrous natural order? Let us think of four groups; there may well be more:

Longstriders - including giants, rocs, brontosaurs - all things that are so large they could carry great cargoes long distances. The balance of this is the food they need but for short hauls over very difficult terrain - giants with back-packs scaling an otherwise impossible cliff - with food on either side of this obstacle, there could be a place for these giants.

Sea creatures - mean that water based trade could go further even when the boats are not great designs and people would have a much better idea of what might be out there. For more caravans (among other things you might encounter) see Travels, by Wave, Cloud or Portal.

Undead - tireless labour, skeleton borne goods can travel day and night to get to their destination. A necromancer could make a nice position for themselves offering/insisting on carrying all cargo traversing their realm.

Constructs - also tireless but potentially adapted to the task. Stilt-walker constructs could make for swift caravans albeit constructs are expensive to create in the first place.

d8 This treasure trove is aboard a lost vessel:
1. A crashed wizards tower, the master poisoned by a rival their tower stuffed full of treasures of another age smashed down so hard it buried itself.
2. A derailed dwarven engine, the track of the underroad broken it plunged down a mountainside
3. A caravan crushed by an avalance
4. An airship that was caught in a storm
5. A ship tossed inland by a tsunami
6. A wagon dropped by duelling dragons
7. A caravan poisoned by a noxious outgassing
8. Traders caught in an attack by scavengers who picked the bones but left the goods

d6 Who is on this treasure now?
1. A great serpent who puts no value on the treasure but uses the vessel for shelter
2. Goblins who think themselves rich but have noone to trade with and nowhere to spend it
3. Batfolk who recognise the treasure but cannot carry it anywhere to use it. They are frustrated because they cannot carry it out and it is a miserable place to live
4. A miserly Manticore who delights in the treasure
5. An infestation of venomous spiders
6. Trapped remnants of the old owners appropriate to the vessle type - barely functioning undead or constructs, ghosts, the descendants of pack animals, etc.

For our fantastic worlds, the hostile terrains that people may wish to avoid may be ones that others seek to exploit. A short-cut through the underdark. Valuable trade goods from hunting this dangerous forest. What is hostile to one may not be to another. All told it means that I can see both trade passing through multiple hands in border-trade between realms that do not live alike. I can also see longer-haul routes coming into being to avoid grasping powers and go direct to their buyers.

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