Thursday, November 29, 2012

Cash money

First off, I want to ask you a question:  Do you think that character advancement in a tabletop RPG should be rapid at first and then slow down?  The classic example here is DnD where people usually got their first few levels quickly and then much more slowly over time.  This was usually because first level play was so ridiculous with everything being an instant death attack and high level play was so out of control, I figure, so it wasn't exactly planned that way.  Many other games such as World of Darkness had that feature built right in - advancement was drastically slower as time went by.  So, would you like a roleplaying game that had consistent advancement, or some other model?  Reply and let me know.

I have been finding the Pathfinder game I have been running somewhat challenging in terms of rewarding the characters.  They like levelling up and all but I have made magic items very rare and completely removed the magic item economy.  Getting a bunch of money simply does not improve the character's ability to fight people because they cannot go out and purchase magic stuff.  I have noticed that even when I give them unique, interesting items that are worth a fortune they simply don't care and toss the items aside because they don't feel like there is anything interesting to do with them.

I wonder if this is why DnD ended up going so explicitly into purchasing magic items as its model.  Obviously some characters may be very avaricious and seek out cash but when a game is focused around heroic combat money just isn't much of a motivator.  After all, when that troll rends your flesh with its claws you would happily trade any amount of cash for just five more hitpoints.  I can see how a GM would be frustrated at having the characters kill a dragon, take the magic items from his hoard, and then shrug their shoulders at the vast fortune in gold sitting on the ground.  In order for that money to be important there has to be something to buy that matters.

I guess the solution is to list prices for things like towers, castles, land, and servants.  Let the player characters decide what sorts of things they want to buy with their new found wealth and then tell them exactly how much those things will cost.  DnD 2nd edition did this to some extent, but I always felt like every character becoming a landowner and keeping track of payroll expenses wasn't really much fun.  It also gets pretty weird when characters maintain a high lifestyle on the cash they find from killing dragons and then you want to say "three months pass" and the player replies "uh, I guess I have to sell my keep since I can't maintain it without adventuring" and then nothing makes any sense anymore.

You also don't see Rand Al'Thor, Aragorn, Richard Ralh, or Raistlin counting their gold pieces, waiting to make that very next purchase.  They adventure for a grand cause, not for the stuff they might acquire in the meantime.


  1. You could set two prices: The naked price for the property and a price that includes setting aside enough money to create an income that maintains the property.

    Allowing the players to build a large scale base seems like an excellent way to segue into higher level political and social interaction with the kingdom they are in.

  2. I don't like the rapid early advance model - I'm playing Skyrim right now and the early levels went by so fast and I kind of enjoy the "weak and vulnerable" time when a rat is a bit dangerous.
    But I agree that 1st level, when anything can kill you, is less fun.

  3. As a thought: Treat gp like XP to a certain extent: you typically don't spend gold (or XP), you invest it. You aren't expected to just build a Castle, you build a community and then you fortify the community with a Castle.

    Now, you can spend XP in some systems (for example, making magic items), much as you can spend Gold on some things (upgrading your communities defences). You could even imagine some ability to spend Gold on XP or adventuring resources, ideally in a bounded way (spend gold on training/research/etc, but you can only train for a certain amount on training per level -- or spend gold learning new spells/techniques, but you can only know so many techniques).

    GP basically becomes (at the abstract design level) your world-influence XP under this model.

  4. I think it is important to have gold be entirely separate from power advancement. If you can buy power on adventures with money then characters are very much motivated to spend their time being merchants, selling their treasure, and focusing on maximizing their return on investment. While that may be some people's cup of tea I don't like it so much and I think the majority would be with me.

    Having systems to allow people to build impressive things with money and run their own little kingdoms or whatever seems great though. Some players are definitely going to get a kick out of playing a city building mini game with their treasure if they end up being really rich. So long as the money game doesn't actually influence the character's ability to slay a monster I think it would be a fine addition to the overall experience. The key is that people who want to advance their character don't feel the need to maximize their earning potential and characters who don't care about gold aren't weak in combat. The best hero should be the best fighter, not the best merchant.