I like dumping odd, or unexpected "treasures" on players. Gold coins, magic items, etc, can get a bit dull very easily. Not that I just hand out stuff, it's just that these things are expected to be there as the spoils of dungeoneering, and any long time gamers are eventually going to get jaded if not challenged with the unexpected.
So, I've made up a list of valuable, but non-standard, treasure items. Some of these things I've given a ball-park gold piece value for, and others, I haven't. Most of these things are worth what the party can get for them. If, they're smart enough to recognize their value, and care enough to make an effort to get these things to the people who will pay for them. The idea of recovering a non-standard treasure item pushes the game more toward the adventure model, and away from the clear-the-level-and-count-your-points feeling.
If you award experience points on the basis of gold piece value recovered, then you've got a great hook to force the players to role play their little hearts out in bargaining with the local fence, or loot broker.
The idea here is for you to roll 2d10 to randomly choose some strange treasure when you're stocking your encounters. Not for every room, maybe just one, or a few.
What you want here is to stop the party dead with a WTF?! moment.
Heh, I used an internetism, my wife will be pleased.
Seriously though, confronting the party with an object that is valuable, but hard to explain, and difficult to transport, is a whole lot of fun.
Also, remember, You Do Not Have To Explain! Life is full of strange crap, odd things turn up all the time. I know I like to have detailed whys and where-fores, when I'm designing, but the thing is, it's not really necessary. The players will create their own theories if faced with a lack of information, and that's often more entertaining than whatever history you've generated to justify the presence of an unexpected object.
This list was done to fit my own Greyhawk, which is low-magic, and at a technological level roughly equal to europe of about 1250 to 1350. Magic is weird, feared, and not a technology stand-in.
100 odd, level-inappropriate, and random treasure items.
1. A 50lb canvas sack of duck down feathers. (15 gps)
2. A soapstone jug containing a large wad of ambergris.
3. A famous battle banner, long lost, smells badly.
4. A reliquary containing the bones of an ancient holy man.
5. A litter of boar hound puppies. (Six, weaned)
6. A cloth roll of ornamental bird feathers, such as used in clothing.
7. A fragile bottle of a rare perfume.
8. Fifty pounds of fine bees wax.
9. 100 5"x6" diamond panes of clear glass.
10. A very large honing stone slab of the highest quality. 1' x3' x 8" thick.
11. A 1 quart jar of rare purple snail dye.
12. A bolt of fine silk.
13. A 40lb block of rock salt.
14. A jagged rod of amber with a sprite entombed within. 3' long.
15. An 8' golden horn.
16. A crate of shoemaker’s tools. ( last, hammers, tacks, hobnails, etc. (400 gps)
17. spice chest containing waxed fabric bags of rare and costly spices.
18. A solid jasper dinner service for 12 persons.
19. A sack of prized flower bulbs. (50 gp)
20. A 40 gallon barrel of Old Slodar’s uesgah. (400lbs, 800gp)
21. A very large scroll tube containing the plans for many of the ancient war engines of Armentarious.
22. 16 unfinished sword blanks of highest quality steel. (220 gp)
23. A complete barding for a war horse made of bullette horn plates.
24. A large, ornate field tent such as a lord would have. Room for 12 persons. (1200 gp)
25. A tome of bawdy wood cut illustrations.
26. A ream of vellum sheets.
27. An ogre skull soup tureen with gold mountings.
28. A small sack containing 32 carved ivory mice.
29. An oboe-like musical instrument made from a troll’s femur.
30. An old boot filled with chunks of silver-bearing quartz ore. (50 gp)
31. A 40 lb cask of fine quality olive oil.
32. A water clock. 3' x 3' x 4', 87 lbs.
33. Four pairs of snow serpent fur felt stockings. (20 gp)
34. An old wooden bucket full of mismatched silver spoons.
35. A stuffed and mounted osquip.
36. A pair of pole mounted fans made of giant raven feathers.
37. A solid gold plumb bob mounted with six cabochon sapphires.
38. A life sized ivory carving of a chicken.
39. A dozen quality daggers in a rolled up rug.
40. A stoppered behir horn containing 300 gp worth of powdered electrum.
41. Four ½ lb bricks of compressed Black Lotus pollen.
42. A bearer-order allowing the possessor to take ownership of a dozen slaves from Zoealage the flesh-monger.
43. A 3' diameter sealed glass sphere containing water and a live ornamental fish.
44. A sheaf of loose leaf music written by the infamous conjurer, Wyrdlbr the Composarch.
45. An unhafted axe head of exceptional craftsmanship. It’s faces are inlaid with a faience scene showing a crowd of human villagers throwing a halfling down a well.
46. Thirty storm giant minted gold coins, each is the size of a dinner plate and weighs 17 lbs. The image stuck on the coins shows a giant hand flicking a human off of a table top.
47. A 40' coil of rare sea shells strung on a silken cord.
48. A 1' x 3' bronze plate bearing the ancient, and secret recipe for Black Mountain Stout.
49. A complete set of bronze and carved stone weight training equipment issued to the 4th army of the Ancient Empire. (900 lbs)
50. A 6' stack of 1" x 8" x 12' planks of rare, scented jewel wood.
51. A life sized copper statue of a fat cat with amber eyes. Purrs if stroked, does not detect as magic.
52. Four silk bags containing powdered illuminators pigments. ( 1 lb each)
53. A large bale of rare furs. (2000 gp)
54. A 35 lb keg of iron nails. (30 gp)
55. A wicker tube containing a neat stack of 38 pointed wizardly hats.
56. A large oak chest of carpenters tools of very good quality. Axes, adzes, planes, saws, knives, scrapers, braces, etc. (requires two persons to move. 250 gp)
57. A 5' diameter wheel of fine, aged cheese. (75 lbs, 54 gp)
58. 300 bottles of Burglum’s Old Quarry red wine.
59. A pair of large balloon leg pantaloons made of blue velvet and sewn with tiny pearls depicting flamingos in flagrante delicto.
60. Six giant temple candles. Each is 6' tall, 1' thick, and 100 lbs. They are made of fine white wax, rolled in gold dust, and set with emeralds. (320 gps each.)
61. The secret second ledger of Murhamble the Money-lender. It reveals exactly how he has cheated the tax collector of the local lord out of thousands of gold pieces over the last decade.
62. A dozen costly incense cones. 12" tall, wrapped in waxed paper.
63. A large arbalest/bolt thrower. It is disassembled and crated for shipping. It requires four strong men to lift. When reassembled, it hurls a 5' bolt for 2d12 dmg. 3000 gps value.
64. A chest of stone masons tools. Hammers, mallets, sets, chisels, wedges, etc. ( 300 gps)
65. An abacus with counting beads made of ivory, silver, gold, and vitrified eye balls. (120 gps)
66. A complete set of balls and pins used for playing bowls. They are painted with insulting caricatures of famous kings and priests.
67. Fifty six 1' x 2' writing slates with a box containing 400 pieces of chalk.
68. A small leather case containing tattooing needles, (12), and colored inks.
69. A very large and heavy, (140 lbs), bronze mortar and pestle for mixing alchemical agents. It is inlaid with enameled alchemical symbols. (800 gps)
70. A carved jade toilet stool with a hammered gold basin. Clean.
71. A filthy bucket containing copper and silver coins, rings and necklaces worth 820 gps, also, 3/4 of a gallon of urine.
72. A large barrel of pickled eels. (32 gps)
73. A fabric bag containing two dozen sealed glass jars of various medicinal herbs.
74. A wheel barrow filled with buttons. Ivory, bone, wood, glass, silver, and gold.
76. A solid gold door knocker cast in the form of a winged phallus. (10 lbs)
77. A butter churn made of bone slats, bound with hoops of silver. A scrimshaw scene depicting a crowd of human villagers beating a halfling with shovels and hoes wraps around it.
78. A six foot long smoking pipe made of ivory, possibly a narwal horn, carved to look like a twisting serpent.
79. A wheeled trunk containing two dozen very detailed marionettes, and puppet show props.
80. A pair of mummer’s stilts. (10 gps)
81. A crown of severed, mummified fingers. Each finger bears three jeweled rings. (2200 gps)
83. A stuffed catoblepas head mounted on an eight foot pole, with colored ribbon streamers.
84. An arm chair carved entirely of a single piece of coal. Inlaid with silver runes.
85. An owlbear costume.
86. A large, boxed chess set. All the pieces are small, dead pixies somehow sealed within glass.
87. A set of dies and hammers for minting the kings coinage.
88. A dirty canvas bag containing twenty pounds of an aphrodisiac root. (1000gps)
89. A table top planar armillary, bronze. It’s dials rotate to show the relation of the inner and outer planes to the prime material, as well as the influence of the Gods and Planets, at any time during the year. (1200 gps)
90. A 3' diameter globe of the Game World. It hangs on a silver chain. The globe shows features of the game world which are not common knowledge.
91. A 6" wide, 3" tall cone of loadstone. The top of the cone attaches to a 20' silken cord. It takes a pull equal to 85 lbs of force to free the loadstone from any metal object.
92. A finely made 10' x 12' wool floor rug. The center of the rug depicts a scene of siege warfare. A halfling is being flung over a city wall by a trebuchet.
93. A gear-driven ships navigational calculator enclosed in a jewelwood box. (5000 gps)
94. One hundred and sixteen 3" white porcelain discs, each has a 1 ounce knob of electrum embedded in it’s center.
95. A two gallon stone ware jug containing hallucinogenic tree sap syrup. (20 gps)
96. The last remaining copy of Sewryd of Swrdlby’s True and Proper guide to the work of the Husbandman, and treatise on the Three Field Crop Rotation. (500 gps)
97. A small bag containing 58 clay sling bullets. Each bullet has a 12 gp opal hidden inside.
98. A long, narrow wooden box containing forty, ½ lb rolls of quality smoking leaf.
99. A 1/10th scale shipbuilders model of a sailing cog. ( 200 lbs, 2500 gps)
100. A surveyor’s transit and measuring stakes, plus a measuring chain with marks for 1, 2, and 3 hides worth of land. (800 gps.)