Setting: Generic medieval fantasy world, suited for a game

Mainstream adventuring

In the real world, adventurers appear during times of new technology.

The most adventurous period on Earth was the New World era, where colonists traveled to distant lands and brought back ships filled with treasure. This was brought about by shipbuilding technology and distant discoveries.

There were also other periods. The industrial age, brought on by fossil fuel and steam engines. The dot com era, brought on by computers and Internet.

All these eras were opportunities for certain individuals to become wealthier and 100x more productive than your average individual, by taking risk and doing something new.

During these times, adventurers (entrepreneurs) were common, and it was socially acceptable to want to do it as a career path.

The Setting

I'm looking for an era where adventurers have become a career. Where adventurer guilds appear everywhere, much like how startup accelerators are everywhere in 2015.

Senior adventurers sponsor and train younger ones to go out there and take risk, since they're too old and comfortable to do it themselves.

The main condition is that there needs to be a lot of danger but large amounts of wealth should be out there for the taking. So someone could bring in a dragon's hoard or artifact and become richer and more powerful than the local king (even after taxes).

Why Now?

The big question: If dungeons and dragons have existed for centuries, why haven't they all been looted by previous adventurers?

What kind of event or technology would suddenly turn adventuring into a common career option?

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    $\begingroup$ Cheap and effective healing/resurrection tech. $\endgroup$ – Mr. Mascaro Jun 30 '15 at 16:22
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    $\begingroup$ Could you clarify your definition of 'adventuring', the examples on the top don't seem to apply to the specific example below, or what I originally assume you meant. By adventuring do you mean "fighting monsters and bringing back gold" sort? do you mean "exploring new areas". or, like your dot.com example, do you mean simply any time adventures folks take risks that have potentially high payoff, even if they do it while sitting in front of a computer in their parent's basements and never leave their home town? $\endgroup$ – dsollen Jun 30 '15 at 19:10
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    $\begingroup$ @MasonWheeler psh, I can totally imagine dot.com adventurers raiding an ancient dungeon. Yep, it would start at 7 eastern Saturday and Wednesday, be there 10 minutes early or your slot will be given away, you must bring your own purchasable buffs, and loot is distributed based off of DKP system. Expect arguments over who did the most damage per second, why your class totally deserves a buff, and healers yelling at everyone else to "STOP STANDING IN THE )@#$^ FIRE" $\endgroup$ – dsollen Jun 30 '15 at 19:50
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    $\begingroup$ @dsollen: And then Leeroy goes charging in, screaming his battle cry, before everyone's finished their preparations, and ruins everything? $\endgroup$ – Mason Wheeler Jun 30 '15 at 20:01
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    $\begingroup$ You don't want it to be too mainstream - that's what kills the profits. Spaniards learned the hard way when looting america - the huge amounts of silver brought back to Europe basically destroyed the value of money, starting an economical crisis through incredible inflation (well, incredible for such "physical" money; it's much simpler with paper or bank accounts :D). To ensure profits, you need to be doing something that creates value and basically isn't worth it on average (the risks and costs balance out with the income on average). And dungeons are usually considered "fossil". $\endgroup$ – Luaan Jul 1 '15 at 12:01

17 Answers 17


by your definition of adventuring, we already have it. Look at Deadleast catch, or Dog the bounty hunter, for reality shows specificly focused on people with high risk for reward jobs. These are just a few examples though.

Look at people who climb poles to maintain power lines. Those that rescue people from burning buildings or sinking ships in a tsunami. Private mercenary companies. I could go on, but there are many dozens of jobs that already are high risk for reward.

Perhaps most keeping with what I think your intent was are, private mercenary companies and bounty hunters who face risk from other humans. In addition both have 'guilds' set up for them. In the case of private mercenaries, the company that employes them is their guild, finding them government contracts to risk their life for gold (or cash).

In the case of bounty hunter's it's a little less clear, but still the government has set up a system for bounty hunters to get bounties, decide which to peruse, and get rewarded for them. That's pretty similar to the 'adventure board' of many adventuring guilds in fiction and games.

If you want to increase adventuring, I would take a look at the existing adventuring, and expand on it. Maybe lots of small wars have broken out and there are more uses for private mercnaries; see my answer here: Implications of a world where mercenaries are more capable than most militaries?

For bounty hunters, simply make a system where more bounties existed with dangerous foes (right now most bounties are collected from people who aren't dangerous and are simply too hard to find, the bounty hunter is playing as much a role as PI finding the guy as enforcer). Create a system where the government is failing to control crime. Perhaps add a mafia or similar crime syndicate that tends to pay absurdly high bail for their enforcers, and deal harshly with those that try to catch enforcers.

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    $\begingroup$ Ah, that makes a lot of sense! So early adventurers could be sponsored by a very large organization. As adventurers get to Elon Musk wealth levels, they start sponsoring and leading very high risk ventures of their own. $\endgroup$ – Muz Jul 1 '15 at 21:45
  • $\begingroup$ @Muz quite possible, but then again not necessarily. It's not always the case that what makes an adventurer good makes them a good investor. The majority of Adventurer's will likely simply retire when they get rich. Or possibly continue adventuring because they do it for the thrill as much as the money. Some will sponsor ventures of their own; but it's also entirely possible that the sponsors and organizers of the ventures are business men far away from the danger who see it simply as another financial investment as well. $\endgroup$ – dsollen Jul 1 '15 at 22:42
  • $\begingroup$ @Muz of course sponsoring any high risk venture is a bit risky in and of itself; and thus it's own adventure. However, my point is that the sponsors of these ventures don't always have to be the ones good at, or even capable, of performing whatever skill is required by the adventure :) $\endgroup$ – dsollen Jul 1 '15 at 22:44
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    $\begingroup$ A lot of good answers, and taking a lot from each. But this one brought the most insight, so I'm going to accept this. $\endgroup$ – Muz Jul 13 '15 at 1:06

You almost gave yourself the answer: new technology

There are several ways how new technology is a must-have to do certain quests:

Need of GPS

Making the Dungeon so extremely hard to find, or having an impressively intricate labyrinth might require some geolocalization system in order to find the dungeon or not getting lost.

Modern weapons

Guns and other modern weapons let adventurers fight enemies that in the past would be too powerful: A simple dragon could be a good example of an unbeatable enemy without the use of these modern weapons.

Submarine Dungeons

If you need to hold your breath for more than 10 minutes in order to loot the dungeon, you can't do it without some breathing system. Make it longer to ensure a modern one has to be used.

Aerial Dungeons

Using the same idea as before, having dungeons only accessible by air, makes it impossible to access without some kind of airplane.

Devilish Puzzles

There are certain puzzles that can't be solved without the use of modern technology (computer power) or knowledge (some advanced mathematics, for example). Make one of these puzzles a necessary key for entering the dungeon.

I guess you can take some ideas from these, though of course, anything that requires modern technology or knowledge can be used.

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    $\begingroup$ Idea for Submarine Dungeons: An ancient civilization built the labyrinth and then dug a canal to the ocean to flood the area. Erosion has since opened the canal further to the point where the cost to dam it and pump out all the water far outweighs the expected return so a submarine is the only way to go. $\endgroup$ – Engineer Toast Jun 30 '15 at 14:40
  • $\begingroup$ Idea for Devilish Puzzles: Multiple layers of security require greater and greater levels of technology. The final door requires the ability to manipulate gene sequences or something similarly advanced. Besides jewels and other items of universal value, there is a message from the advanced dungeon builder stating that the head of the World Adventurers Guild is, in fact, a time traveler seeking a particular artifact originally found by someone who used it for the good of the world. The dungeon builder was sent back to leave a warning and prevent a great evil from coming to power. $\endgroup$ – Engineer Toast Jun 30 '15 at 14:44
  • $\begingroup$ What if we extended Aerial Dungeons to include other planets / moons? That would certainly require high technology. Of course, that would require you to inject aliens into your world. $\endgroup$ – Engineer Toast Jun 30 '15 at 14:46
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    $\begingroup$ Piggy backing off @EngineerToast. Instead of planets, go with planes of existence. Technology/magic has been discovered that allows adventurers to travel the multiverse and get their adventuring on. Keeps it fantasy instead of sci-fi, if that's the route OP plans to go. $\endgroup$ – Shollus Jun 30 '15 at 16:54

Romanticize errantry

During the Middle Ages, tales of knights-errant were a popular trope. In order to prove their chivalry and win the love of fair maidens, knights would wander the country in search of honor and adventure, when not fighting in wars for their lieges. At least, that's what the tales of the time would say. Whether or not most knights actually were errant, I couldn't tell - but the genre of literature was popular.

By the 1600s, these tales were going out of style. In Don Quixote, Cervantes more or less lambasted the whole idea by presenting a character who, after becoming engrossed in tales of knight-errantry, deluded himself into believing he was a knight and had to go in search of adventure and defend the weak and helpless. As we know, the adventures he encountered were pretty much just figments of his imagination. This comical portrayal of knight-errantry was so popular, that the word quixotic (one of my favorite words, by the way) was born, an adjective applied to someone who is given to wildly pursuing idealistic and unrealistic ambitions.

Your assertion of how new technology spurs adventure is correct. However, if the ideals of chivalry and knight-errantry are popular and romantic in your culture, you don't necessarily need new technology to encourage adventure...the literature and customs of the time can do that. As long as there is evil in the world, maidens in distress, and gold to be had, you can have adventurers.

And what to do once all of the dungeons have been looted? Well, it's not like that treasure just disappears. In the end, all that looting is is just a constant shifting of treasure from someone's dungeon to someone else's.

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    $\begingroup$ And what to do once all of the dungeons have been looted? Then you get commentators on the news bemoaning the Peak Loot crisis. $\endgroup$ – Mason Wheeler Jun 30 '15 at 19:21
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    $\begingroup$ Ahh.. brilliant insight in them bringing loot from one dungeon into another. Thanks. $\endgroup$ – Muz Jun 30 '15 at 21:13

The general case is simple economics: it's suddenly vastly more worthwhile to try. Anything (or combination of things) that changes the risk to reward ratio spurs entrepreneurship. Drastic drops in risk generally mean that there would be few to no people with the requisite skills, since if something wasn't previously possible who would know how? Drastic changes in valuation are more likely to have a few daring individuals with some experience: it was possible before, but not worth it for many.

The other responses already cover some scenarios, which I include to be complete. Where someone else hasn't covered it, I'll provide an example:

On the risk side:

Couldn't get there

Locations previously inaccessible or non-existent. (several responses)

Another possible scenario: Drones. Perhaps cave systems are inaccessible due to the presence of toxic chemicals. A remote device could get in and out. Similarly, monsters which hunt by scent might not attack a drone.

Fall of an advanced civilization: A staple of the genre is the existence of some vastly powerful ancient civilization which falls to some horrible tragedy. The circumstances of the fall leave behind untold riches, etc... So immediately after the fall, those untold riches are suddenly available to those who would hazard the perils which destroyed that once proud empire from within.

Couldn't win

Opponents unbeatable w/o new weapons. (covered elsewhere)

Couldn't carry the loot

The item of value was too dangerous to retrieve before. New containment techniques/materials significantly reduce the risk to life and limb. For example: The resource in question must be taken from a live monster. Once a reasonably safe way to trap it is invented, a new industry is born. Similarly, natural threats such as fungal spores or radioactivity, once understood, become possible to counteract.

Couldn't survive

New medical technology severely reduces the risk of death. For example: lots of monsters who carry deadly bacteria. Before antibiotics, a small wound became a death sentence.

On the reward side:

Wasn't worth it

Something is now worth going after that wasn't before. The new value could be in social influence rather than capital valuation.(covered)

The tools needed for the job get significantly cheaper. For example: mass production makes quality armor/weaponry widely affordable. So while you could get them before, they cost more than one could reasonably expect to earn over an adventuring career. This would be a great source of experienced veterans. "I remember when only respectable folk could afford a decent suit of armor to hunt wumpus. Now any peasant with more greed than sense is hacking up the undergrowth in scale and greaves. You want to learn the ropes? Fine, you deal with the riff-raff. I'm retired."

People with the required skills become more common. For example: An external threat leads to the training of a large army who ends up not actually having to fight . Now there are lots of combat-ready, armed, young adults just sitting around. This one ties well with the fall of an advanced civilization. For example: The army was raised to defend against the ancient and powerful empire when said threat destroyed itself or succumbed to an (un)natural disaster (rain of fire, "Do not call up what you cannot put down", etc...). Now there's tons of loot lying around if you can survive the radiation/army of the dead/demon horde/and so on...


In the past there have been powerful triggers that opened up new avenues:

  1. Silk road/Marco polo (small scale but legendary)
  2. Crusades
  3. Exploration/Spice trade
  4. Colonialism
  5. Privateering/Piracy
  6. Gold rush

Etcetera. They all have in common that risk and commitment paid off quite handsomely (at least for a few).

So it does not have to be "old gold" for our new adventurers.

It can be that some gold-eating critter has escaped the dwarven mines, proliferated, which offer a good return for the enterprising hunter. That would provide a nice, growing, running target for our hero-to-be. It can be as aggressive as you want.

Also in a staid and rich realm a sudden plague of monsters will lead to a sleuth of bounties drawing our heroes far and wide. Slight wizardry portal mishap and you are on.

I'll be thinking of more options... that portal idea can work both ways...


Lost Magic

Your current world - or at least parts of it - is the post-apocalyptic remnant of a previous, High Magic civilization that reached heights your setting has yet to duplicate or even approach.

The Old Cities are lootable, but there's a catch. All of the cities had automatic defensive and police systems set up, and they're still active. Just entering the city without papers is enough to get you locked up for trespassing, and since there are no judges left, it'll be a long stay. Additionally, going in with large numbers is treated as an offensive attack, as is entering with anything more than basic swords/daggers/bows.

The Trigger

Recently a legal historian discovered that the right passphrase will let you avoid being immediately incarcerated - instead it will give you a one week window, during which the automated police systems won't lock you up just for being there. They will still watch out for other crimes - like looting, stealing, murder, etc - but if you're careful, you can get tremendous wealth if you avoid them, or if you're careful how you fight them.


A new invention or discovery causes a material that is rare, but previously worthless, to become valuable. e.g. Oil has run out, every village in the world has a nuclear reactor, but it turns out that handwavium which exist in deposits existing only in dangerous places can be alchemistrised into uranium quite cheaply.


Dungeons appearance

This is a setting from a manga: Magi The Labyrinth of Magic1: since you're in a fantasy world, you are allowed magic.

For a reason2 fully equiped (monsters, loot, etc) appear or disappear from the ground at random time. Some people claim that the dongeons are there in the grounds, but only coming out at some given time. Whereas others claim that they are materialised or created at their appearance time.

As this started, a few adventurers started dungeons crawling. And as some came out richer than non-adventurers, and possibly equiped with magic items, more were following their path.

As time passed some became started to form teams, take on apprentices, became tutors and eventually founded guilds. You then get something similar to your typical MMORPG, where guilds have the following objectives:

  • ensuring the continuity of the guild by training new members,
  • search for newly appeared dungeons: you have to get in before the others,
  • send parties to crawl found dungeons.

An alternative could be that suddenly many dungeons appeared not that long ago: not all of them are fully looted, and maybe due to their difficulties, they are almost impossible to get to the end, as illustrated by a cave in the manga Dragon Quest.

1: which is rapidly forgotten in the manga to get more into political discussions

2: also in itself an interesting quest, with possibly specialised guilds trying to find the reason behind it.

  • $\begingroup$ 1 - Not really forgotten, more like dealt with and moved past. There are so many stories centered wholey around dungeons that I liked how magi handled it to move onto bigger issues in the world. $\endgroup$ – Necessity Jun 30 '15 at 21:37
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    $\begingroup$ @AdamNicholls Can't go to chat (bug), but I would love to read suggestions of humorous dungeons crawling mangas...? $\endgroup$ – clem steredenn Jul 1 '15 at 13:36
  • $\begingroup$ @bilbo_pingouin A bit late to the party here but Is It Wrong to Try and Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? should fit your requirements. To keep this comment on-topic, your answer is also the basic plot of the Etrian Odyssey games (and the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon crossovers). $\endgroup$ – F1Krazy May 17 '17 at 15:22

Fall of an evil empire If all of these dungeons, dragons etc. were guarded by an organized military force which was defeated (like Sauron from LOTR), it would leave vast wealth and many individual mosters fighting alone much more suitable to adventuring.

Rise of a good Empire Think Rome. Safe travel and infrastructure, as well as markets to sell your goods in. The actual area of adventure needs to remain "wild", more or less, but imagine the difference adventuring in Scotland from a home base in Jerusalem in AD 100(height of Roman empire) verses doing the same in AD 650 (well after the fall of the western Roman empire).


New paths/teaching granted to the masses

There has always been rumored treasure in the mountains of [area], but the dragons or other wild things are too dangerous and nobody has ever returned.

Suddenly, One, or a few, great explorers have come back. They have great tales of their heroics and are essentially heroes. Also, they have started taking students, and teaching them what they have learned. There are great tunnels or paths in [area], and endless treasure to be had. Even more come back as successful adventurers, claiming to be even better than their peers. Each of the new adventurers start their own guilds, and contests emerge. A wave of adventuring is born.

(I am imagining a dojo-like martial art guild culture but for adventuring)

Alternatively, they have discovered that the dangerous guardians of the area hate [object]. Using [object] to get through the entrance leads to the same as above.

This could really apply to any new knowledge or discovery that allows people access into an area that they didn't have access to before. (The area happens to have nearly endless treasure).

  • $\begingroup$ I like this. It fits so well with a 'class' system in many games. So it could be that people once thought ogres were immortal, but after the first hero killed one, he taught the world how to slay monsters. $\endgroup$ – Muz Jun 30 '15 at 21:31
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    $\begingroup$ @Muz I like the cut-scene I imagined for that: The hero in front of a crowd, about to demonstrate his incredible new knowledge. "You stick the sharp end here." he says, poking a terrible picture of an ogre in the the stomach. "Any questions?" $\endgroup$ – DoubleDouble Jun 30 '15 at 21:54

Dungeons are a Renewable Resource

Not all dungeons are ancient; villages go missing and ships get wrecked all the time. Goblins dig out underground outposts along with their attempts at military conquest. Orcs build forts. Even humans have elaborate sewers underneath their cities and dungeons beneath their castles!

Furthermore, it behooves the ruling class to encourage adventuring, so as to have ready access to trained professionals to hire for special operations, or to conscript into their armies when needed — they may even go so far as to conspire to create dungeons to ensure a ready supply of adventures.

  • $\begingroup$ Brief yet sensible. I like the idea of 'creating' dungeons. Much like how modern governments create a semi-artificial environment for people to become entrepreneurs. $\endgroup$ – Muz Jun 30 '15 at 21:48

The invention of Magic

The "technology" could be magic. Lets say the dwarf miners of Alaton have found deep in their mines a new resource, which has strange affects on people. After not too much experimentation they found that this new resource could be used to practice "magic": Ability to control the flow of power and the elements with your mind.

After realizing how the dragons must have gotten their power too, the adventurous type gotten themselves some of this new "mana" and set out to fight the dragons with their own powers.

Because dragons are immensely powerful, this is very risky, and mana is scarce, and because of this not everyone can become a dragon hunter. The best warriors and magi are being chosen by the council and given mana for dungeon raids, and in turn they come back with the goods the dragons have stolen over the centuries. Or don't come back at all.


Marie Celese / Bermuda Triangle / Roanoke effect

Occasionally in human history people, vessels and colonies vanish without trace. What if we make this a lot more common? We also need a threat that will drive people to create fortresses full of valuables. And possibly construction magic to make their construction more common.

So populate the world with DnD-style hostile roaming humanoids (like kobolds and goblins). Let's say they are interested in our food but not our art, gold or other valuables. It's harder for bits of civilization to communicate, and we're keen to build dungeon fortresses to live in.

But every now and again, the few travellers between dungeons find that one is simply depopulated. No sign of violence. It's just that everyone's gone and is never seen again. The great mystery of the world, perhaps related to magic. This provides you with an opportunity to take their stuff. But maybe the other humanoids are sneaking around as well...


I wanted to add something more practical:

For something to be mainstream, money is always there in the details. It has to be worth the risk of losing one's life, and money represent worth for most human beings. Barring any very abnormal circumstances, like dungeons floating in the sky, there would have to be a lot of the world that is unexplored and a decent amount of wealth in the populated parts. Basically, not too different than it is now: people with money want to multiply their money by financing adventures (businesses) with high prospect of more money. They can afford to equip the adventurers with the best supplies to have the best chance of success. Plus, they don't have to risk their life.

There would have to be a few extremely profitable adventures having taken place in recent history to begin a gold-rush-like mainstreaming of adventuring. The most popular adventurers could be celebrities, invited to meet the Kings and Queens, give speeches, and have statues made after them.

And still, there could be independent adventurers who finance their own adventures.

Anyway, I think money is the more practical answer if you're not looking to invent fantastic reasons.

  • $\begingroup$ Money is expected, but great point in that it has to be clearly visible and even hyped up to work. Maybe even things like adventure consultants or easy mentorship. $\endgroup$ – Muz May 16 '17 at 15:16

Umbrella group / cultural solidarity / religious dignity.

I am impressed that the modern adventurers are the people who leave their homes to join ISIS. I suspect the motivations of these ISIS adventurers are similar to those who joined the Crusades and even the Spanish conquest of the New World. Some are motivated more strongly by personal gain (financial, sexual, status) and some by principles (righting a historic wrong, converting the heathens, accomplishing something for their cultural group) but these folks probably had the same sort of feelings and motivations before they headed out.

The unifying cultural / religious piece dignifies the endeavor and so makes it possible. What makes these folks actually pack up and go is the prospect of being received by an organized group of like minded individuals united by a higher purpose and a bond above and beyond worldly things. Even if my real motivation is loot and slave girls it might be hard to say that out loud, even to myself. Most people and especially young unjaded people want to be good even if they are also horrifically greedy and horny. Joining forces with brothers in arms who are fighting infidels for the good of our shared principles is something I can tell my mom. Even if she cries, she will be proud.

So: your adventurer's guild is a quasireligious crusading organization which is rolling back the forces of evil in the name of Mithra. There may, possibly, turn out to be opportunities to loot and plunder although of course that is secondary. Just be sure you render unto Mithra what is Mithra's when you come out of the dungeon.


In general, inventing something or coming up with a novel idea is quite hard, but once it is there it can be learned and used fairly easily by others, even by people who would not have the "brain power" to come up with that idea themselves.

Also, once a new idea is there, other new ideas emerge from that. (Which is more or less a very shor summary of @AlbertMasclans` very good answer.

But it does not have to be technology, it does not have to be a very clever puzzle that you cannot solve without some high tech tools.
Simple superstition or ignorance could have prevented ancestor generations from looting a dungeon: It could have been "common belief" that the place is cursed, or it simply was not found and was only recently discovered by an act of pure chance (think about a shepherd searchign for a lost lamb and accidentally stumpling over the lever that operated the dungeon doors).

After the initial discovery (the door, or the knowledge the dungeon is there, or the knowledge that the mighty curse simply does not exist), it is very easy to exploit that new found knowledge. (And the dungeon, of course)


You need to look at what "adventuring" - meaning a search for treasure/loot - can do to the economy of your country. You mention the New World, but consider that though Spain brought back uncounted shiploads of gold, silver, & precious gems, it didn't last as a world power, because the treasure caused inflation - "Everything is dear in Spain except silver" - and diverted resources away from more productive enterprises. (Greatly oversimplified, of course: for a basic introduction see e.g. the Wikipedia article here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_Empire#The_Spanish_Habsburgs:_The_Sun_Never_Sets_.281516.E2.80.931700.29

By contrast, the British didn't bring back vast amounts of treasure. They brought back useful materials like food & fabrics, and sent manufactured goods out in exchange.

  • $\begingroup$ Yeah. I thought this merited a question of its own later. But treasures could also be in the form of magical artifacts, or for a low tech world, things like steel, gunpowder, and fabrics. $\endgroup$ – Muz Jun 30 '15 at 21:42
  • $\begingroup$ @Muz Yep, you should definitely consider that some of the best treasure comes from the monsters themselves. I imagine that dragon scale hide would catch a hefty price because killing a dragon is an accomplishment, so anything off of them is valuable. $\endgroup$ – Necessity Jul 1 '15 at 23:15

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