Monday, September 28, 2009

Review: Adventurer's Vault 2

I've managed to get a copy and plow through the Adventurer's Vault 2. In the first book WoTC added a little more to the book by including alchemical items, mounts, and additional mastercrafted weapons and armor. This was nice as it became more than just a list of new magic items. AV2 is just magic loot. Nothing additional other than more items your players can drool over. But what they added fills a few holes in the previous lists, and for the most part I think are worthy additions.

I think one of the strongest points of the book are the variety of new items provided. Even if a folks might think game effects of magic items are tepid at best (I really think for the most part magic items are the new feats from 3.5), having some concrete examples can act as a springboard for new homebrew items. As I noted before making custom magic items can be pretty easy, especially adding spell effects to items. So armed with some official examples, I think DMs could whip up something of their own making and not worry about creating some overblown powerful artifact. So on to some specific points...

Ammunition - Finally some one shot ranged items. I can see some DMs feeling a little hesitant about handing out powerful magical ranged weapons. As an alternate, these items are great for those players that typically snipe away from afar by offering something small to add to their attacks. A few choice, one-shot arrows is something I'll be giving out in my regular group frequently. It's a step down from a solid powerful magical weapon, but having that one arcane bolt, made for that one special attack, just oozes with exciting RP potential. I can't wait for one of my players to drop the next main bad guy with such an item.

Tattoos - For those primal heroes, I can totally see this fitting in with their theme. It is an interesting concept to have a permanent fixture on a character's body that empowers some magical force. Have your shaman find a magical etching on a piece of leather. A local medicine man can transcribe the etching using special inks. After the tattoo is inscribed the etching fades away. A suitable mini-quest with lots of RP, much better than the same shaman just looting something out of a treasure horde.

I'd add DMs should take the tattoo idea and run with it. With the appearance of tattoos as a magical item, I'm seriously considering taking a look at tweaking Eberron's dragon marks for a home brew campaign. Tattoos are a neat idea and I'm glad WoTC jumped at providing some 'official' examples.

Wondrous Lair Items - I can see as players approach the paragon tier, they are going to begin attracting followers and needing a more stable home base of operations. Having a few of these items can provide a cool home lair for your players. Also having these items can serve as inspiration having your player's attacked on their home turf. Nothing like seeing their secluded keep as a target for marauders.

These items (and sets which I'll talk about shortly) taps into a problem I see a bit with larger parties. By level 7 or 8, likely you will have players that managed to pick up a good set of armor and/or weapons. An upgrade I'm sure is welcomed, but some players might find their needs for loot sated with the stuff they already picked up. Handing out these wondrous lair items makes for a nice alternative, where the players get a chance to get something cool to add to their possessions (rather than just replacements for stuff they have)

Item Sets - I feel these are a great way to add small items to a player, slowly increasing his abilities, rather than completely overhauling gear he has. The sets also might work as a good hook. A rumor of gaining another item to round out a set likely would be tempting, despite what dangers await. I especially like the idea of group sets. Another way to cement the party with something that binds them together and makes them more powerful

I think a key way to introduce sets is to ignore the potential of combined abilities and treat them as regular magic items initially. Just use them to fill out treasure parcels. As the players move along the campaign, gradually reveal the items have some manner of synergy. I think this way the items evolve in power, hinting to the player that there is some larger story behind the artifacts.

Speaking of story, I enjoyed the item lore sidebars in AV2. A little more detail of lore for specific items, and especially the adventure ideas, were a worthy addition to the book. I'm a sucker for little tidbits and adventuring ideas for one-shot sessions.

The Good - Lots of magic items, and some new types too. I was happy to see just about all the bases covered, even the addition of totems and tomes. I was also happy to see they included some items that dipped into the other campaign settings (Eberrron and FR), but were nice enough to include the rules for those abilities. The lore and adventure ideas related to certain items were a nice touch. One thing I absolutely love was the index. All items were not only broken up by level, but by type and slot too. Hopefully WoTC will look into providing an errata of the first book to have a similar index.

The Bad - Not all items are hits out of the park. I especially am befuddled with the inclusion of immurments. These special terrain enchantments seem better in DM hands as hazards. I guess for the ultimate ambush, something like this could be used by a group (or for the ultimate hunt luring a monster). Still it seems a little out of place. Also, where are the bard items? I guess they are still stuck with the items from PHB2.

The Verdict - Is this absolutely needed? No. I think with the first AV, a DM will have plenty of neat magic items at their fingertips. If you have the money though, I would recommend picking it up. The types of items covered makes for a good addition, and the types alone can spark a lot of homebrew creativity. Not to mention, the item sets and lore sidebars can offer a few adventure ideas themselves.

Friday, September 25, 2009

DM Tip: Taking 10 and passive skill checks

Don't limit passive skill checks to just perception and insight, remember that passive skill checks can also apply to other skills (PHB pg 179). I always get a list of passive skill check values for Arcana, Dungeoneering, History, Nature, and Religion from my players. That is a long list, but having the passive skill check values for all of those skills helps in tons with running my game.

Knowing what my characters can pick up subtlety allows me to quickly dispense out information and clues. Having my players roll for each check can slow down the flow. Plus it telegraphs information and hints through metagaming.

As an example, players want to use religion to determine information about an unremarkable artifact. If they blow a roll, they know there might be some importance, but they just messed up on the attempt. If they roll exceedingly high, and I comment there is nothing noteworthy about the artifact, players know that my statement is true (and not that their skill is so low, they have no idea of its importance).

Passive checks bypass that. Also, I can cue players that something jogs their memory and they know fact X due to a passive check. Typically they will want to make an active check then and see if they can gain more information. To me that is a great way to utilize knowledge checks. If they are trained in the skill, they will pick up on something leading to them try and get more information with an active check. Even if they fail, their trained ability helped them at least gleam some info from the current situation.

Don't forget the listed DC values for knowledge checks were changed in an errata. Common knowledge is now a DC 10 (down from 15), with paragon tier knowledge at a +5, and epic tier knowledge a +10. Being trained in a skill, with some moderate bonuses due to ability scores (don't forget the 1/2 level bonus), you now have characters that can pick up on a lot of subtle clues through passive skill checks.

Quickly assessing monsters they encounter is also another way to use passive skill checks. Having the player roll becomes a crap shoot typically, where having them use passive checks can guarantee they have some moderate success. A high ability score, combined with trained knowledge and a few levels, means most players can pass a DC 20 check discerning a lot of knowledge about creatures in a fight.

So be sure to whip up a list of knowledge-based skills from your players. Use passive checks based on those skills more. You can speed up your game, and reward players for dipping into various skills. Anybody else doing something similar?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Expeditions of Amazing Adventure: The Arid Tomb of the Arcane Practitioner, Al'Khameed

It has been nearly a century since the dreaded wizard Al'Khameed and his undead war band was driven to the desert wastes. His last known deed was to have a monumental altar erected. It is rumored upon its completion, the dark magics he used to invigorate his undead followers had finally taken their toll. The altar was to become Al'khameed's tomb. His undead servants prepared his corpse, and with his great tome of dark magic, sealed Al'Khameed deep within its walls.

The desert now has an even harsher climate. Sandstorms erupt frequently. Traversing the expansive dunes is a four day trek, but still more than a week quicker than other routes around it. Even alternate routes that skirt around the desert are not without dangers, as the high mountains that border the desert to the north and south are plagued with vile creatures and goblin tribes.

As such, many merchants are willing to drive caravans through the dry land. The journey is taxing on both animal and man. Even with ample supplies of water, many beasts expire due to exhaustion. Rest at night offers little reprieve from the blazing sun during the day, as the land itself seems to draw the vitality out of living creatures. In fact, many older generations of villages which border the desert claim of its slow expansion. That in nearly two decades, the desert has crawled into the surrounding plains, choking the tall grasses under shifting sands.

Despite the harsh conditions of the desert, gnoll raiders have appeared over the years. The fat trade caravans crossing the dunes proved to be too tempting a prize for the gnolls. Some even have said that these evil creatures have managed to infiltrate the tomb of Al'Khameed, and use it as a base to conduct their raids into neighboring lands.

But others claim the final resting spot of the dreaded necromancer is too evil. Nothing living can survive on the grounds of that dark tomb. Some whisper that his undead minions still shuffle about guarding their master's remains. With the desire to pilfer the tomb, especially the famed tome of dark magic, rival wizards have sought out Al'Khameed's tomb only to never return from the desert wastes. What became of them, no one can say.

Hearty adventurers willing to offer their swords can easily find work from merchants wishing to make the journey across the desert. Those practiced in the magical arts which can make the journey more comfortable are in even more demand. However, those that have such skills typically find the beneficial effects of such magics greatly reduced once they are deep within the desert.

Rampaging gnolls, typically attacking caravans, have taken up to raiding neighboring villages. Their attacks have been more frequent and vicious over the years. Even more brutal is the increasing incidence of slaves being taken in such raids. Many noblemen and wealthy merchants have had loved ones taken in such manner. Efforts to hunt down the evil nomads have had limited success. But many nobles are always eager to pay trustworthy parties willing to put gnoll skum to the sword.

The tomb of Al'Khameed itself, and its rumored wealth, still is the desire of many. Especially those seeking to obtain artifacts and rituals of arcane power. Al'Khameed's possessions must still be within the walls of the tomb. Many wizards would quickly fund an expedition of this sort to retrieve such treasures, but unwilling to make such a risky venture by themselves.

Monday, September 21, 2009

4ED Blog Roll

I thought I'd give a shout out to a few blogs I've been following. This is not an inclusive list by far, but they are some sites I've been reading as of late. I hope you all poke in and check them out too. So in no particular order...

Newbiedm.com - Despite just turning a year old recently, it has a ton of tips and tricks for the new 4ED DM. Some really great ideas on making your own markers and character tokens. Great posts on maps and even links to programs to depict landscapes. A solid site. Don't let the name fool you, plenty of stuff for the new and old 4ED DM to be had there.

Roleplayingpro.com - Has a great group of articles about DnD and roleplaying in general. They pick apart some sticky topics, from character death to handling metagaming. A great place to pick up some ideas on the more particular nuances of DMing, running games in general, and providing some neat perspectives on roleplaying.

The Fearless DM- A little blog from a guy I know that runs a Living Realms campaign out on the East coast. His DM perspective is mostly for RPGA events. I think his take, and advice, for DMs is unique in that regard. Running a game for conventions, with complete strangers on a time schedule, is a tall order. Fearless DM delivers some great advice on that front. Not to mention, he offers a lot of tidbits for people running casual games too.

Again, this is not a complete list. I'll be sure to post more in the future on sites I've been following. Be sure to check them out. I think you'll find some great ideas for helping run your 4ED DnD games.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Solo monsters and the ho-hum single turn

A while back Mike's Mind posted an idea of giving solo monsters more actions. I like the idea.

I find that typically the solo fights end up a tad boring. The excitement winds down as it becomes a slugfest to get rid of that last sliver of HP. Sometimes a well prepared party with plenty of tactics can chew through one. It just doesn't make for memorable fights.

Quite a few people have posted similar problems. Usually most fights tend to drag on, and it becomes more of a matter of endurance than an exciting fight of maneuvering and cool attacks. The general consensus seems to be reducing the HP, and beefing up the damage by 1/2 a level for most brute-like creatures a good way to keep fights shorter and still remain a bit dangerous.

However adding a few extra actions outside the typical single initiative turn is something that would definitely shake up a solo combat. Yet, I still think having a ton of full extra turns might be a little overkill. I decided to tinker with the concept a bit.

I break down solo monsters to having a regular turn, and a bonus turn. At the start of the combat you roll multiple initiatives for the creature, one for each type of turn the monster gets. A regular turn is just that. The creature gets a standard action, a move action, and a minor action. A bonus turn can be either 1 standard action, 1 move action and a minor action, or 2 minor actions.

Depending on the level range of the solo monster, it will have varying bonus turns. A heroic solo gets 1, a paragon monster gets 2, and an epic creature gets 3. These are tacked on in addition to the regular turn each solo monster gets.

In the end you get a creature that is a lot more mobile and can dish out a few more attacks per round. Don't discount the extra mobility, as it can likely lead to extra opportunity attacks against the group. The maneuvering and positioning is a big part of 4E. I think allowing that big bad solo monster a few extra actions during the turn something that'll add a little excitement to a fight.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Board Game Review: Zertz

Zertz (pardon not using the accented e, damn simple text editor) is an engaging 2 player strategy game. This is from Belgium, but an english version put out by the folks at Rio Grande Games is available. The board is a series of disks placed in a hexagonal pattern. Different sets of colored balls are kept aside in a common pool for each player. As the game progresses, players capture these balls. The first player that obtains one of the varying sets of balls wins the game.

Each turn a player has two choices:

They can capture a ball. This is done by placing a ball next to one on the board and 'jumping' the ball into an unoccupied space. The ball hopped over is captured. They can make repeated captures with the same placed ball if its new position allows it.

They can place a ball on the board. Taking a ball from the common pool, it can be placed on any unoccupied space. However when placing a ball, they have to remove one disk from the board. The removed disk must come from an edge and cannot 'disturb' other board pieces (i.e. you must be able to freely slide the piece away without moving its neighbors).

There are three colors of balls of varying numbers. A player wins by capturing either 4 white, 5 gray, 6 black, or 3 balls of every color. Simple rules.

It is an incredibly challenging and fun game to play. The aspect of removing pieces of the board means you are continually being forced to make more and more limited choices. Many times you have to give your opponent a capture, in order to score one for yourself, as victory conditions are dependant on the color of the balls captured to make a winning set.

The Good - The game has simple rules, but is a challenging strategic game. Additional disks are provided to expand the board if players are up for a more abstract challenge. The pieces are sturdy and elegant. I have to say this is a game with a wonderful look. It really captures the attention of a lot of people passing by.

The Bad - The game can be a little too cerebral. Everything is based on strategy, so veterans will likely have a huge leg up on new players. The game is also for two people (but playing up to 4 using partners with alternating turns could work).

The Verdict - This is a wonderful strategy game for two people. It is quick, easy to pick up, and very deep for such a simple, elegant game. The extra board pieces can add some replayability. I'd highly recommend this game if you want a fun, light strategy game.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

DM Tip: Creating spell effects for magical items.

I always loved wands in the previous editions. They are toned down a lot in 4E, but still pretty useful. In the PHB, rules are given to allow players can make their own wands, but I'm always hesitant approving that (pg. 242). However, I do think the suggestion of the DM designing their own wands great, especially as treasure in 4E is much more custom made for the group.

The rules are a good base, but what about the wizard that opted for another implement to specialize in? If they didn't take wands, they are sort of missing out on all the versatility wands can give with an extra daily encounter or utility spell. A quick work around is to simply replace the wand with another implement keyword, and just run with it. So you can easily replace a lvl 8 power wand with the same properties, but make it a rod, staff, orb, or even a tome. They all grant the same +2 enhancement, and the player can finally get a nifty item that fits their implement mastery.

Don't stop at arcane implements though. Take any basic magical item and use the rules for powered wands to grant it a spell effect. Increase the level of the listed item by 2 (notice a basic +1 wand is lvl 1, a +1 powered wand is lvl 3). To figure out the gold cost, use the base cost listed and multiply it by 1.88888, rounding up to the nearest 10, 100, or 1,000 (or 10,000 if needed). So a +3 magic robe could be imbued with a daily power to cast dimension door, and would now cost 17,000 gp.

Simple stuff, and now you can create all sorts of nifty magical gear without making completely game-breaking items.

Friday, September 11, 2009

9 character questions.

Just a short post today. A friendly MMO acquaintance of mine writes fiction for a living (sorry, not going to name drop). Using a technique they use in their craft, they would also apply it to making character bios for the MMO they played. They came up with 9 questions. If you can answer each of these questions, you pretty much have a character well fleshed out. They'll have their own motivations, and fears, and can react accordingly to plot events. On to the questions:
  • What does he love?
  • What does he hate?
  • What would he be willing to die for, real death, no rez?
  • What would he go through anything to live for (because there are things that are worse than death)?
  • If he were granted one completely unselfish wish, what would it be?
  • If he were granted one completely selfish wish, what would it be?
  • When he is all alone in the dark, with no one to see how he feels, what scares the crap out of him?
  • Where does he think he'll be 5 game-years from now, and what does he think he'll be doing?
  • If all the villains were defeated and he didn't need to be a hero anymore, what would he do with his life?

If your characters are struggling a bit to think up a background, have them fill out this list (or at least most of it). For being a DM, I've found it indispensable information as a starting point to plan out adventures which can have some resonance with the group. Getting a few one-shot sessions, which tackle the psyche of one player can make for some memorable games. I also think this is great for NPCs too, and especially for the main heavy villains of your campaign. It's also interesting to push players into confronting some of the answers on this list, and over time, see how much they've grown and changed.

I think this is a neat list, and hope you folks get some mileage out of it too for your campaigns.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

When players don't take the hook.

So you've got a grand adventure planned out. Set up the initial scenario to draw the players in with the appropriate hooks. And none of them are willing to bite. Nope, they just rather head off to somewhere else and forget about what you've planned for the night.

Something similar popped up with the new D&D podcast. The DM laid out a notable quest, resulting in interest with some of the players, while others in the group were adamant about not getting involved. There are a few things to get around this. But laying out some quality bits of information and/or situations can help a lot in drawing the players in.

I've got a secret - I love this method. I really like parsing out small rumors or background information a few players beforehand. Typically I contact my group via email before the session to make sure everything is ready to go. If needed I'll drop some info on one player. It can be a rumor, or just some background on a particular NPC or organization. Usually having one player armed with a bit more knowledge can smooth over party distrust to new NPCs. If Lord Fancypants wants the group to look into the Pirates of Black Death. When one player has heard about how rotten those pirates are, they can really help getting the other players get over that hump of trusting information from Lord Fancypants.

Make it personal - Take some information from a player's background and use that to lure them towards a quest. That evil warlord that crushed your family? Yeah, he is across town running a group of mercenaries for merchants now. Expect one player to be chomping at the bit to make a beeline for those mercenaries and take them on, This ties a lot into the above point, but having a player have a personal stake in a quest can really work. This can load a lot of personal drama into the group dynamics, depending on how far apart views are from the party on which direction they should go. Still it is an effective tool in getting a group motivated to take on a quest.

Give the phat lewt! - Having a desirable item, large amounts of treasure, or at least the rumor of such a reward, is also a fair way to spark interest. There is typically at least one player with a more financial perspective on accepting quest in a group. They are likely the first to be asking what a job pays and what are the rewards. Dropping a juicy rumor of a large haul can sometimes be enough to get that player on the side of taking a quest. Don't be afraid to fall back on greed of a player to get them interested.

Drag them kicking and screaming - Sometimes you can leave choice out of the matter. Put the players between a rock and a hard place, forcing them to move towards the adventure. Have them falsely accused, pursued by forces, or presented with a situation where they are compelled to act. It's one thing to hear that the Pirates of Black Death are bad guys. It's another thing to have the group see women and children being slaughtered before them by the hands of these pirates. I use this trick pretty sparingly. It definitely can cross into the territory of railroading the group. But it can be an effective means to push a group into tackling a greater danger because of the danger hot on their heels.

So have you had your characters just flat out refuse to follow a hook?

(Side note: I've been listening toe the Penny Arcade/PvP podcasts for a while now. I've noticed this one by far has more RPing from the group than previous episodes. It's interesting to see how a group of new players are getting more involved with their characters. The new series is a hoot so far, I recommend giving them a listen.)

Saturday, September 5, 2009

4E without miniatures?

So one of my players had hurt their foot and I was considering moving our game to their apartment for that session. The big problem was the place was a little small with no real room to plop down a whiteboard for minis (a typical apartment for most single people in Korea). Fortunately we didn't have to change venues so I could host our regular game, but the situation got me thinking about playing 4E without miniatures.

As I've stated before I'm a big big fan of miniatures for playing D&D. I also think the way 4E is presented, going without a gridded map and minis would be a challenge. So if I were to run a game without miniatures and, more importantly, without a mapgrid how would I do it?

I would break down and still use some manner of tokens for play. It really helps visualize the action of who is where and whacking on what. Even if it were coins spread out on a coffee table, I think it would be difficult not having as least some kind of positional marker.

I would end up saying 'yes' a lot to players wanting to do cool things. If they wanted to charge across the room, yeah I'd likely let it slide and ignore any quibbles of actual distances. If they wanted to hurl out blast attacks and turn swathes of undead, yeah I'd likely just say yes a lot.

Sometimes though I'd want to throw a wrench in to see if a player could get into a flanking position, or if running by a monster might mean they get close enough for an attack of opportunity. I'd consider area attacks likely would hit 2 baddies with no problem, but I might roll a d8 for that third one. So a small chance that the monster is just out of reach, or the fireball didn't quite get all 7 minions, all of those type of situations likely would require a roll of the die. Anything but a 1, and the player gets his desired result.

I'd use a 1d8 for typical resolution of player actions (with a bad result on a 1). I'd shift to a 1d4 or a 1d12, depending on how difficult the task, or actions of the player. Say a player needs to run by a monster in melee with another character, and wants to avoid an attack of opportunity. I'd normally pull out a d8, but the player says he is making a beeline to cross the room as quickly as possible, I might pull out a d4 to determine if he gets close enough for an attack (since he really isn't worrying about getting swung at). However, if the player says he is trying to skirt around the fight as much as possible, I'd use a d12 (or just say he avoided the fight completely).

Using dice is a great way to randomly determine if someone springs a trap too. I'd use a 1D12 as a base (say a typical 8 x 8 room with 5 squares being trapped), and shift to other dice depending on the group's actions (rushing through a hall rather than walking carefully). This is something I'll likely start using in my regular game, even with using minis.

Typically my players map out a dungeon on paper, and switch to a map board once we get to a room that has an encounter. It sort of telegraphs the entire trap scenario when I suddenly need to have them place their figures out on the table. Using the die method, I can check each player to determine if they hit a trap first, then move the group to a grid board to resolve a trap encounter.

Why not a D6 and D10? I totally could use that. In fact a d20 is a good way if you need to resolve something at 5% to 10% increments (+/- 1 or 2). However, I like the simple idea of quickly shifting to different dice. It's easy. More importantly when I roll in front of my players, I don't have to twist around why this d20 rolled failed, while another d20 didn't because of these 'hidden' modifiers and arbitrary DCs. They would know what happens when I roll a 1 on a d4, or with a d12.

I also like using a D4, D8, and D12 as the progression bumps up well with groups. Additive probability can be an issue with large groups. So that 1 in four chance of stepping on a trap trigger becomes almost a certainty in a party of 5. The same group would have an approximately 63% chance with D8, and 42% chance with D12. It scales pretty nicely.

I think 4E could totally be done without a gridded map. Less so without some kind of tokens (but I'd say the same with previous editions). I think quickly using a die roll would be a simple resolution to questions about ranges and distances. If you've been doing 4E without maps or minis, what tricks have you been using?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Lightening the coin load.

Being the nosey DM I am, I recently looked over the cash my characters were hauling around. So far they have not had a chance to spend a lot of the booty they recently earned, but I was surprised to see most had over 500 coins each (silver and gold combined). Even with the weight being pretty low, that is a lot of coins to lug around. As a US comparison in volume, imagine hauling around approx. 13 rolls of quarters on your person (not to mention a quarter weighs less than a standard D&D coin. Hold a dime and a quarter in your hand and you have about the right weight).

For portable wealth there are limited options for characters. Usually they are hauling around what they have. After a while, you get characters with an ungodly amount of coins. A DM could just forget about it and wave off worrying about encumbrance, or maybe seep a little realism into the monty haul players are lugging around. For me I usually don't bother with encumbrance much. But once I get players carrying around 1,000+ coins, I begin to suggest looking into changing out some coins for more portable wealth. Here are some of the options I have in my game:

Spend it - I'm not a big fan of buying magic items, but I am warming up to the enchant item/transfer enchantment ritual. Visiting a local wizard to infuse an item with some enchantment is solid fantasy for me. I'm thinking of having a magic bazaar in one of the large cities my players will be visiting soon, and likely there will be more of an open market for some odd magical items.

I always push players to buy potions and other alchemical items though. And scoring a ritual scroll is always an option too. These are pretty useful items players can spend coin on. Given that they are one-shot deals, you don't have to worry about having a player wield a potential unbalancing magic item.

Vaults - I don't encourage this, but I keep the option open for players. I typically charge a 5% fee for depositing coins. Players get a note, and the satisfaction their money is in a secure location. But the problem is their cash is stuck in one place. They can't get access to those funds in another city. I don't consider vaults as a network of institutions where people easily transfer wealth (I'd tag on another 5% withdrawal fee if I did). They are vaults. Just a place where players can store items for long term in a relatively safe location.

Money Changers - This is something I use a lot. Simply an establishment that exchanges coins for other currency (or items of value) for a fee. I charge a 2% fee or 1 silver (whichever is higher) to exchange coins. I bump it up to a 5% fee for coins to gems (as precious stones are a bit less circulated). This is a quick easy fix to for the party that manages to get stuck with a lot of coin.

Magic - Consider having a wondrous magic item in your next parcel to tackle this. A bag of holding is a standard, but there are a few items that can do the trick. The Pouch of Platinum (AVault) is a handy item that not only converts gems to coins, but can also convert gold to platinum.

Rework Treasure Parcels - Consider giving out more gems. Expand on providing ornate artwork as treasure rather than coin. Sometimes it can be a chore, but having a few descriptive valuables in a pile of coins adds a simple touch to an otherwise boring haul. Also the players have a few less coins to lug back to the next town.

I figure most DMs don't bother with the number of coins their players drag around. I usually don't myself. But when it gets to a certain point, I like players to lighten the load with something more portable. What else have folks used in their games?