When you write for a blog that emerged from the old Treasure Tables, you tend to be the sort that takes an old school approach to stocking dungeons.
Draw a map. Add monsters. Add dressing. Then last, add the treasure based on random results rolled from homemade d100 tables tucked away in a game master’s folder that you made for just that purpose.
As an exercise, it might prove fruitful if a GM turned that process on its head. Take a look at your gaming group, assess the needs and wants of your players’ characters, and design an adventure with the treasure first.
For instance, let’s assume a standard party: fighter, mage, priest and thief. With those PCs in mind, I thumbed through some D&D Third Edition references for some magical treasures that would be a proper reward for each one. (This works even if your game uses a different system; I used these references because they were handy and had generic descriptions that can be adapted to your game system of choice; I’ve omitted the items’ game mechanics for this reason).
Here’s what I came up with:
Fighter: Desert’s Heart, a magic flaming falchion, a deep red blade that deals flame damage and makes the user immune to fire damage but causes damage if the user is a creature of cold and leaves the user vulnerable to cold attacks. (Arms and Equipment Guide, p. 104, March 2003, Wizards of the Coast).
Mage: Rings of force, pair of black iron rings that must be worn as a set and without any other magic items on fingers or hands. Acts as a mage armor spell and deals same damage when physically touched. (Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil, p. 154, 2001, Wotc).
Priest: Battle rod, a three-foot adamantine rod that acts as a magical mace, provides a morale boost to allies within thirty feet and can deliver messages as whispering wind within the vicinity. (Defenders of the Faith, p. 25, May 2001, Wotc).
Thief: Barricade buckler, a magical buckler that with a command word transforms into a tower shield; the command word also returns it to its buckler form. (Song and Silence, p. 55, Dec. 2001, Wotc).
Now we design the encounters those treasures will be found.
Fighter: Jinn stronghold. Walls smooth as glass, this room is guarded by fire elementals loyal to an ifrit (efreeti) who protect a sacred treasure, the Desert’s Heart blade. Perhaps the blade itself is guarded by a champion, who is willing to engage a PC to single combat with the blade as a prize.
Mage: Wizard’s laboratory. Hidden among the scrolls, books and chemical apparatus of this place is a small wood box containing the rings. The box itself is warded with a magical trap, such as burning hands. Beware, a phase spider lurks in the dark recesses of the lab, guarding the wizard’s most precious items.
Priest: Crypt of the Church Mothers. The rod is set into the facing of a decorative shield that hangs above an altar. The shield is warded against evil. The crypt’s celestial guardians, aasimar and hound archon, won’t let just anyone take the rod. The PCs must prove their valor and skill at arms as well as their devotion to all that is holy.
Thief: Hidden stash. This narrow recess holds the buckler among trade goods, including some that have spoiled, the stash of an earlier roguish adventurer long since dead or chased away. This rogue did set traps of tripwires and acid. Unfortunately, the whole area is overrun by bugbears, but they are unaware of the hidden goods.
With that rough outline a GM can draw up a dungeon map and place these encounters within. It’s the kind of session that will likely please many players: There are combat opportunities aplenty and the treasures you’ve picked are certain to please.
But to be on the safe side, be sure to include a small chest of coins or gems — adequately defended, of course — somewhere along the line. They just might be in the mood for a little spending money too.