Waste Not, Want Not

How many times, after battle, does your party start scouring the bodies of fallen foes for armor, weapons, magic items, and loot? If they’re like mine, the answer is “every time.” If I don’t bring up encumbrance, they’ll try to haul off every piece of gear in the hope it may be magical or valuable, leaving nothing but naked bodies behind.

But what do they do when they defeat a nonhumanoid creature? Does your party skin their fallen mammal foes for the furs? Do they scavenge the poison glands of giant spiders or reptiles? My party has actually done both, and often more. It’s made me think more about what parts of various creatures may be useful, or of great value. 

Historically, at least pre-industrially, cultures have made use of every part of their prey or livestock. Many still do — Americans are uniquely squeamish about eating organs, like heart, lungs, kidneys, etc. — but many cultures eat blood sausage or something similar, bone marrow, etc. Hooves are rendered to produce gelatin, blood is made into glue, brains are used to tan leather. Little goes to waste. Composite bows are an impressive combination of economy and mechanics, with sinew for tensile strength, horn for compression strength, and glue — all of these components usually taken from the same animal.

In my campaign, I make up a lot of new creatures for the party to encounter. They’ve been on a subcontinent inhabited in one region by fire-creatures, in another by water-creatures. The party’s penchant for harvesting anything they can has led me to include details on the uses for various parts in my creature descriptions. Fantastic creatures  (a.k.a. “Beasts” in Rolemaster taxonomy) can be useful for ingredients needed by alchemists or for magical rituals, but some parts can have more direct uses.

In this land of fire, Bastrekah, I created a type of salamander. The larvae roam the volcanic wastes and scrub, eating anything it can find, while the adult (8-10 meters long) burrows into the ground and spends its life eating precious metals and gems, and the miners who dig for them. 

The bones and sinews of the larvae make exceptionally strong composite bows, with a bonus to hit/damage. The skin of both larvae and adults can be used to make excellent soft leather armor that provides partial protection from heat and fire attacks. It won’t work as rigid leather, because the heat used to make the leather rigid doesn’t affect salamanders or their skin. Adult salamanders produce nodules the size of large-eggs in the rock they burrow through. These can be used by alchemists as power point multipliers when enchanting fire-related items, but they’re consumed in the process.

Not all creatures yield so many notable or powerful products, and many have none. But these are very powerful creatures, and while they don’t hoard treasure for the party to acquire, the value of their parts can be a reward of its own. Adding these details to creatures can also provide plot material. A leatherworker might pay handsomely for a large swath of salamander skin. An assassin might be interested in another creature’s venom, a barbarian may go after exotic hides or skulls to adorn themself, and just about any part of a rare creature might interest a mage. 

If your party routinely leaves the animals and beasts they fight laying to rot, consider encouraging them to think again. Let someone start following them, cashing in on the valuable bits. Eventually, they may start looking for work hunting creatures for their parts, or asking around town about what they can glean. And that brings more opportunities for interesting nonplayer character interactions. Personally, the challenge of thinking “what parts are cool?” and learning what real-world cultures have done with what nature gives them makes game prep much more fun.

3 thoughts on “Waste Not, Want Not”

  1. a good resource reference for such things is Dragon Magazine Issue#137 with two articles “Whats for Lunch?” and “Treasures of the Wilds”, they easiely pop up by googling around.

    1. These are great, Terefang! As soon as I pulled up the pdf, I had flashbacks to my early days reading Dragon – and indeed, this issue is from that era. Thanks for a great resource and memory!

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