Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Take their stuff

A big part of the culture in fantasy games revolves around taking the stuff from fallen enemies.  In many games this is a real necessity because upgrading gear is such an important part of progression, so much so that if you decide that looting the dead is wrong you pretty much can't play.  This is certainly true of fantasy MMOs and roguelikes such as Diablo where the idea of not taking whatever you can from whoever you can is a foreign concept.  WOW in particular is actually kind of bizarre in that sense because although the game definitely has the idea that robbing a grave is bad and disturbing the dead is wrong characters still take whatever loot an undead critter has when they kill it.  Not only that but the only way to advance the Tailoring skill is to murder humanoids and steal their clothing for raw materials!

In tabletop RPGs the story is a bit different.  Of course the gold standard is for characters to kill enemies and immediately loot them as soon as the last foe falls over but sometimes people have issues with this.  There is an assumption some people make that stealing from the dead is wrong and that this should somehow stop adventurers from looting their enemies.  I find this attitude mindboggling.  It is okay to murder a person but morality requires you to leave their equipment lying on the ground?  Is the sanctity of gear ownership and inheritance really more important than the right to not be killed?  My take on it is this:  If you feel justified in killing a person and that person has equipment that would really help you survive the next lethal encounter you take their stuff!

I spent a bit of time figuring out what a DnD-like wealth system would mean in terms of real dollars.    Characters need to find items worth 10,000 gold pieces or more on a regular basis and that translates (using a tradesman's income as the standard) to about 4 million dollars.  If you got into a firefight with some random dudes and knew that some of them might have 4 million in cash or goods on their bodies, would you desperately search them before the bodies even began to cool?  Hell yes you would, but in the real world a random dead guy might have a couple hundred bucks worth of stuff, or he might have nothing.  Searching him isn't so relevant.  Of course this also means that a magic item shop would likely have a cool 1 billion dollars of inventory or more, so how exactly they don't get robbed is beyond me.  Obviously the entire economy of fantasy worlds is completely borked under these assumptions.  MMOs are just as bad, if not worse, because a farmer over here will have 1 dollar on him and a farmer over there will have 10,000 dollars on him (as well as having 1,000 times as many hit points!) and that clearly doesn't make any damn sense.

It is a good trend, then, that magic items in DnD Next are no longer going to be listed by cost.  They are explicitly described as being rare and pretty much unpurchasable.  In Heroes By Trade I have done something similar in an attempt to reign in the 'magic items raining from the sky' standard.  The Monty Haul style campaign where every fight has to have magic item rewards really became too much the standard and I think people will generally have more fun in a world that has more interesting rewards that are spaced much further apart.


  1. Maybe, or maybe not. I can remember playing Earthdawn with a large number of people and getting one cool magical item for the group. I wanted it but Ike got it. Probably it was optimally used by him but I really wanted to go faster and it became a focus of my character to try to get it off of him. I guess that was a pretty dysfunctional group, though.

    So maybe it makes sense to give out magic items sporadically, but when you have 8 people and you're giving out 1 item every 2 sessions or whatever 'much further apart' means then someone isn't getting something for 16 sessions. And then only if you never double up on anyone!

  2. Well, 16 sessions per magic item does seem fairly sparse. On the other hand DnD 4th edition assumes you get 1 magic item per level, which would be roughly every second fight in my campaigns. Getting 30 magic items in your career and melting most of them down seems really terrible, while never getting one at all is also bad.

    Basically I like the idea of items that have names, and stories. If your item acquisition is so fast that your gear is all just bland bonuses without lore then I think it is too fast.