If you’ve seen An Army's Arms: Thunder Doom then you have an idea of how much we think about treasure. Not only did we have a chart for miscellaneous equipment, but also for personal valuables and for the loot that these guys were probably hauling around with them. Why does this show how we feel about treasure? Well, the personal valuables section was specifically different from the one found in An Army’s Arms: Slyvanian Infantry, not only in what would be different for an orcish warrior vs. an elven soldier, but also the precious stones were different because they are from different parts of Fletnern. Then the loot table was based on what they would be stealing for the benefit of their tribe.
You see, I love my treasure! When I collected lead figures (yeah, that was back when lead figures were not considered dangerous. How many kids ate their lead figures anyway? Who are we protecting?) ... Anyway, when I collected figures, I collected a lot of treasure figures. I’d also take my mother’s old costume jewelry apart and use the plastic stones from there. I was also know to get rings out of the gum ball machines so I could “loot” those too. I loved nothing more than setting up a display of treasure, typically hiding it under a handkerchief until the party got to the last room.
So there’s my bias. I love treasure! I considered myself a successful game master when the players write down a piece of treasure instead of instantly converting it into coinage. So it should not come as a surprise that when I create loot, I think about what the NPC would have had. Was this character religious? Then his jewelry will have a religious tendency to it. What gems and precious stones are common in this area? This extends to if these are a primitive people, then they are more likely to have ivory jewelry and no faceted gems. It may seem unrelated, but as a GM, I have insisted that both PCs and NPCs think through what rations they are carrying - typically as a means of identifying a little more about their character history, but certainly working in some flavor. (Iron vs. standard is not what I mean! Is the jerky beef, venison or buffalo? Raisins or prunes? Hardtack or cornmeal?)
What’s the point? My point is this: Whether you are trying to add realism or because you are stuck for ideas, just think about the guy you’re about to assign the treasure to. Does his culture wear wedding rings? Is he married? Do you know where different gem stones come from? What’s local? The orcs - Are they show offs? Do they decorate their armor with bronze rings to strengthen it or do they have silver chains to show their wealth? Do they decorate their weapons? with feathers and claws or with gem studded hilts? Back to the earlier question: are they religious? If not are they patriotic? are they loyal to their military unit? Each of these styles of allegiance will likely have some manner of art or jewelry that depicts what they focus their life on? It could be a signet ring, a charm on a necklace, a cameo style medallion, or even some manner of statuette in their belt pouch. What do they consider important? Come on, you think about some of these things when you’re doing treasure already. Do the mages have books that are valuable while the priests have religious artifacts and the warriors have everything from golden belt buckles to sword blades inlaid with silver?
Maybe some of this has an impact on the game. A sword with silver might be of some value against lycanthropes or perhaps the undead, or the guy might think it has value. The religious stuff might have an impact on channeling holy spells or something. This doesn’t mean that they are necessarily magic items. I am not suggesting you develop a backstory for every bandit wandering the woods, but you probably know generally what the bad guys are about. Use that. Charge your imagination with this stuff, and make the game that much more fun for the players, who may only come to understand their foes as they sift through the loot. And if they choose not to care about who their enemies were, well, there are ways to make that bite them in the ass.