Penniless but not Powerless, Part 2

Penniless but not Powerless, Part 2

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Buckle up son, I’m about to blow your mind.

But first, a quick review of what we covered on Friday.

  • Money is Goods waiting to come into existence
  • Goods are just the ability to customize our characters and affect the game world
  • Money is the potential to change the game world and effect the players’ will upon it. Goods are the changes made.

Alright, so let’s take these core concepts and start applying them to your game.

In order to make what we’re about to do easier, it would be nice to scale down the expected wealth system to something far smaller than it currently is. You would think that since the wealth progression is based on magic item cost, you could “normalize” it such that any magic item of your level is always equal to a certain number of wealth tokens or something. As it turns out… yes and no. If you like math and want to know where I get some of my future assumptions from, keep reading. If not, skip the next paragraph.

The expected money at any given level can be approximated according to the equation Log(Money) = (Level * 0.136) + 2.0766 with only a maximum 3% error at levels ending in ’3′ and ’8′. That error follows such a distended sinusoidal wave that I have no idea how to model it. We can draw a few pieces of useful information, though:

  • You can generally assume that in two levels, you will make double the money you are now and in seven levels that you will make 10x the money you are now.
  • Even if you were to never spend any money, you could never have more than 5x what you earned this level in cumulative money
  • Consumable magic items either cost approx. 1/5 or 1/25 of a magic weapon/armor of the same level
  • ‘Permanent’ magic items become obsolete in either 5 or 10 levels

There are some exceptions to these rules of course, but the vast majority of the Marketplace can be described under these guidelines. That leaves us with two options – (1) stick with gp as a unit of currency and deal with the exorbitant numbers or (2) just say ‘the heck with it’ and fudge stuff. Though you could still reasonably stick to option 1 (and I do in my home campaign.. . for now), we’re taking option 2 here for reasons that shall become more and more obvious as we go.

In the last installment, we showed how the use of inherent bonuses nearly eliminates the need for money. Thus in our imaginary campaign here, we’re going to eliminate gp. Instead, throughout the course of a level we’re going to give out 20 Wealth tokens. Why 20? Dole out two tokens per 10 treasure parcels per level. It splits evenly into two sets of 10 – now the cost of a level-appropriate ‘permanent’ magic item – which then splits down further into five 2s, each of which is the cost of a level-appropriate consumable magic item or ritual. Mundane gear and items are considered to be level 3 and cost one token. If you’re buying or selling an item 2 or 3 levels higher than you, double the price but you can’t buy items higher than 3 levels above you. If it’s 2 or less levels, halve the price (to ‘halve’ one token, roll a die and don’t pay on an even) but go no lower than that for simplicity’s sake and to prevent effectively infinite item gain. If you feel the need to put a cap on it, the party may never have more than 100 tokens. Done. It’s not a perfect matchup, but it’ll work and it’s way easier than treasure bundles or the new random roll tables.

But let’s not call them all Wealth tokens, because that’s lame and we can do WAY better. Of those 20, call 4 of them Wealth. They’ll represent actual money found or earned. Of the remaining 16, call some Fame and the rest Karma or Luck. Karma or Luck is earned for performing actions that help restore the natural “correctness” of the world. Noble deeds, delivering justice, killing undead, pretty much anything stereotypically “Good” earns Karma. It can be spent like Wealth in stores representing the odds that the location actually has what the characters want. It can also be spent while adventuring to have certain events occur. For instance, spending the appropriate Karma (between 1 and 4) in a dungeon at Heroic Tier can give you a Healing Potion, crossbow or whatever you need as treasure in the next encounter or chest. It can also ensure that a water source you find is pure (as the Clearwater Solution or the Purify Water Ritual). As a general expectation, the cost of an event is equal to an item that causes the event.

Fame is earned for performing deeds that will be talked about by others. It can be spent like normal GP in stores representing the shopkeeper’s willingness to sell the characters rare or dangerous items. It too can be spent while adventuring to have certain events occur. For instance, you can use Fame to “bribe” someone into letting you into an area they shouldn’t. Is one of the PCs dead? Rather than actually shilling out gold for a Raise Dead ritual, spend the appropriate Fame and the priest performs the ceremony because the characters “have done such good around here.” PCs might also spend Fame to receive gifts and favors from NPCs that they meet. As a general expectation, the cost of an event is equal to an item that causes the event, though this isn’t quite as sturdy an expectation for Fame as it is Luck.

As you can see, there is little mechanical difference between this system and the default shop-based economy; we just discarded the need for a shop. It’s simply flavor to further illuminate the game world and allows the PCs to throw around their status as famous, heroic adventurers in a measured, regimented way. (Read “no additional work on the DM’s behalf”) For me, this tweak solves some of the flavor problems with the D&D economy. When a PC goes to buy something, he or she is only required to have 20-40% of the cost in Wealth. The rest is paid in Luck or Fame. Thus when he or she tries to resell it, only the currency is returned and the 20% number makes more sense in-game. It also eliminates the problem of a single +2 weapon costing as much money as a small army. The army only needs money. The weapon requires Fame and Luck, which most NPCs do not have. I’ve further found from experience that reskinning your ‘money’ encourages players to behave and take on the sort of tasks you would like them to do – in this case, daring feats of heroism. If you just want gold, go be a miner or a moneychanger or something. Adventuring is not really the best way to get gold. It is, however, a REALLY good way to get famous and so the players should be getting “paid” in Fame.

So that’s cool and nicely evocative, but it’s still relatively small potatoes. You’re not really doing anything crazy. If we keep firmly in mind that money is simply the potential to cause change and that items (and rituals!) are the actual changes, though, we can give players ways to rock the game HARD. Imagine giving your players some of these as alternatives to standard gp in your treasure bundles:

Favor: The PCs are working for someone and want to requisition goods or services from their patron. Rather than finding gold on the bodies of their slain enemies, the PCs find favor with their employer. Now before anyone jumps on it, yes this is in fact on page 210 of the Dark Sun Campaign Guide. However, I stumbled on the prospect in Aberrant Rules #23 which came out FIRST, so I win. Plus, I present way more interesting options here. :)

Lineage: Your Dragonborn is significantly more dragon than most. She can spend Lineage during combat to ‘buy and use’ an Elixir of Dragonbreath, thus blasting her breath weapon more often than normal. See also Goliaths (Potions of Lifeshield) and Elves (Potions of Clarity).

Attunement: As your Druid grows and becomes stronger, he becomes more attuned to the natural world and its wonders. At one point, the party is fighting enemies near a lava flow. The Druid spends Attunement to ‘buy and use’ three Lv 6 Alchemists’ Fire to create a Burst 2 (25 squares; a standard Fire is Burst 1 or 9 squares) of 2d6 fire damage (miss for half!) around the lava flow as he rallies the very earth to his cause.

Mana: There’s something horrible coming down the hall – something you DON’T want getting in this room. You need to block the door FAST. The Wizard – or heck, why not the Fighter with Ritual Casting? – drops Mana to immediately put Mordenkainen’s Joining on the door and the wall. That’ll hold ‘em for a while… but let’s maybe spend a little more Mana to set a Snare in front of the door just in case.

Spirit: A warlord is an inspiring figure. He’s strong, smart and leads with utter conviction in the face of horrific danger. Shouldn’t he be his own Battle Standard of Might? For 10 Spirit, he can!!

Fury: The PCs fight through a gauntlet of the BBEG’s henchmen, rescuing progressively more beaten and oppressed victims. As they do, their ire towards the fiend grows, allowing them to push themselves further (Belt of Fitness, 10 Fury, replace Fortitude with an Endurance check) and hit harder (Iron Armbands of Power, 10 Fury, extra damage!!) as they go. Once the boss drops, they return their ‘items’ and gain the spent Fury back as some other token type. The beauty of it is that everything is interchangeable.

There are certainly more possibilities than I’ve laid out here and I encourage you to explore them – Honor for an Oriental-themed game, Infamy for an evil campaign, even Sanity for a horror game. But I want to close out by showing just one more – what I believe to be maybe the most fully exploitative use of the idea. What would happen if you built a character using inherent enhancement bonuses and could do this:

That’s right, people, we’ve been sitting on INCARNUM since DMG2 and no one noticed! Sure, it’s a TON of bookkeeping and there are arguably some balance issues, but some players and DMs like that kind of thing. I would recommend laying this template over top of an Essentials character rather than a normal one to minimize analysis paralysis, but hey, it’s your call. If you’re going to give the whole party these alternate wealth systems, keep it to less than four types to save yourself the headache. However, if each character has a unique token name or spends the tokens in accordance with character descriptors (Race, Class, Background, Theme, even… Aspects?), you as the DM can just give out generic Source tokens that counts towards each character’s individual flavors.

Coming up in Part 3, Quinn’s going to talk about more ways to make the gaining of “Wealth” tokens more engaging, and then I’ll be back in Part 4 to cover how to determine costs of events that don’t match nicely to an item or ritual. You’re definitely getting your money’s worth of this series.

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About the Author

Ryven Cedrylle was introduced to 2nd edition D&D by his father at age 8 and has been hooked ever since. When not out somewhere with his nerd-loving wife, he spends an inordinate amount of time staring at small objects - primarily beakers, stars, books about religion and virtual gaming miniatures. Follow him on Twitter for previews of upcoming material and random nuggets of wit! There's also a guy Ryven knows who's trying to adopt a baby. Take a look at the site, see if you can help him out.