Friday, March 15, 2013

What Are We Gonna Do With All This Gold?

The smell of sulfur is heavy in the air and a loud, deep snore rumbles through the walls of the cavern. The Thief scouts ahead, silent as the breeze. Atop piles of gleaming coins sleeps a dragon, its onyx scales reflecting the swamp water. Several chests dot the room, each overflowing with gold, jewels, wealth unimaginable. . .

Assuming these adventurers don't become dragon chow, what would they do with all of this gold? If your games are anything like mine, you can't just roll down to the corner store and pick up a Wand of Magic Missile, a belt of Healing Potions, and that Vorpal Longsword your Warrior has been eyeing. That kind of availability disrupts the balance of the game and, more importantly, it contradicts the nature of magicrare, feared, misunderstood, inspiringSo what value does gold have as a player reward? 

While most adventurers begin the game poor, by the time they gain their first level they have already made more money than the average fantasy day laborer makes in their entire life. Not long after they should be able to afford the top tier of craftsmanship for their gear. And after that? I don't know, but gold is by far the most common reward and all of those loot stacks the party drags back to their hideout seem pretty redundant. 

To answer my own question: material wealth as a player reward stops being rewarding once a character's basic needs are met. While all games should be trading in the currency of what we'll call "story rewards", this should be the most common payout your adventurers receive once their basic needs are met. Give them influence, power, the opportunity to accomplish their personal goals. 

Of course, this is a generalization. Some people are perfectly content to plumb the depths of an endless underground maze, slaying rooms full of monsters for no other reason than they stand between the adventurers and their next pile of gold. Even in that type of game, which I do enjoy, the loot handed out can be more interesting by tying it to the narrative. It doesn't solve the essential problem of what to do with the accumulated wealth, but it does at least make feel more purposeful, which I suppose is what any reward aspires to, story or otherwise. 


  1. I've got a little idea for gold. In the campaign I'm currently involved in, we have a centralized town that we work out of. It would be pretty interesting, if we developed some mechanics for perhaps a financial empire building.

    We could easily come-up with a system of rolls based on Personality and Cha scores mixed with Luck.

    Ex: I want to purchase a smith's business. Base cost of probably 800-1000g. Cost to purchase, some sort of loyalty system for employees, and revenue per week modified based on Per, Cha, and Luck total of modifiers.

    This could give a great big picture RP element, an opportunity for research while out and about, and a possible massive Gold sink. Let's play best case/worst case.

    Best Case:
    Some new armor is developed
    Huge new gold revenue
    Increase reputation and influence in the city
    Purchase more property/businesses

    Worst Case:
    Disloyal employees steal and sink the business
    Some new product is a disaster and ruins reputation or perhaps consumes more gold than the business cost to open
    Chased out of town do to debts, etc.

    This would almost be a game within a game but could be really exciting by level 4-5 when you could have a tens of thousands of gold invested across many business ventures. Imagine at level 5, an Orcish tribe is preparing for war against your region. With your assets, mercenaries and weaponry could be purchased to fund the defense of the region. Success could lead to a regional position of authority.


    1. I think this is a step in the right direction, and something that does have historical precedent. Players often move towards empire building, be it through influence, castle construction, or outright usurping a kingdom and using their loot to run the thing.

      But you need to tread carefully. The worst case scenario is far worse than you think. You know the magic item vending machine we want to avoid? A group with a few capable Wizards could easily perpetrate such a scheme, and open pandora's box, so to speak. Granted, it's hard to produce these things on a scale where everyone is suddenly given access to powerful items, but I think you could very easily develop a market for scrolls and potions without too much risk.

      Regarding the scenario of using this to support military conflict, you need to couple that with a ruleset for mass combat, or have individual melee be representative of some larger action, in my opinion.