Lords, ladies, lads, and lasses, I bring you this question because I don’t think the logistics of it have really, truly, ever been contemplated. Tolkien, the godfather of modern fantasy, gave us the image of Smaug resting atop his hoard, deep within the remains of dwarven ruins. That fearsome beast was merely a squatter. He didn’t go out and earn the wealth, gather it up, or cart it home. The dwarves did all the lifting and Smaug sat on his ass atop it.
That image of a dragon atop its hoard is now inextricably linked with modern fantasy. Swords and sorcery lead to dungeons and dragons, where there will be gold. In D&D there are vast tables to help you determine what has found its way to the beasts lair. The older a dragon is, the larger and more powerful they are. So too is their hoard. Where did it start? How did that Wyrm get it all. Are they just another loot-squatter?
Does a young wyrmling start off leaving the nest with a gift from Mama? Do draconic parents give their offspring a stake to begin with? How does a dragon, barely the size of a man, gather their first hoard? Who do they rob? Where do they pillage? How many canvas totes must they lug full of coins to their secret lair? How many kobold minions are out there answering the call of an up and coming dragon-overlord? Or do the wrymlings merely hide when the heroes slay the great one, and skulk about living off of the scraps of treasure that are left behind? In a few years, a mere 5 according to the Monster Manual, they reach their adolescence.
Young dragons, now about the size of a horse, are deadlier than those fresh out of the shell, but now have several hundred years of survival ahead of them before they are powerful enough to be considered an Adult. Where does a teenage dragon hang his scales? How does he convince endless minions to do his bidding and scrape in the loot? How do they accumulate wealth and power without drawing the ire and blade of vanquishers? Somehow we are to accept that they do, or we would never see Adult dragons.
Now roughly the size of a house, the Adult dragon has to loot in the big and tall section. Surely, now their hoard is being added to by the many failed attempts at taking it. Their minions are perhaps better trained and equipped. Dragons fly across the countryside razing farms, attacking villages…and then what? They stop to sift through the ashes and rubble looking for shiny bits that haven’t been melted? They get their hands dirty and do the labor themselves? An army of minions laden down with loot, marching across the landscape would be hard to miss.
Ancient dragons are terrors of entire kingdoms. With armies waiting to combat them, why bother leaving their Fortress of Solitude at all? Brave true heroes are forced to seek them out and rid the land of their foul evil. The logistics of moving a freshly liberated hoard is not lost on any party of heroes. Extra-dimensional bags won’t even begin to do the job as 500lbs of coins adds up quickly. So how did the Dragon gather it all through the years, manage they inventory, keep it safe and allow it to grow?
That is the true magic behind out fantasy worlds.
Live, laugh, loot!