Penniless but not Powerless, Part 4

Penniless but not Powerless, Part 4

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Now let’s scale up – talk about the big picture in changing the game world through “Wealth.” There are two primary considerations when ‘pricing’ an event that isn’t clearly just an item or ritual somehow.

The first of these is scope, and I’m going to let Rob Donoghue of Evil Hat Productions handle this one with his comment to Part 1:

Money (and all other world-shaping activities characters can do such as making allies, supporting groups and otherwise engaging the setting) are very hard to do in a game with a very broad level spread, as is the case in D&D… The issue is that the changes you make to the world at level 5 will have a very hard time feeling relevant at level 25. Sure, the DM can jump through hoops to try to make it work, but it’s a tough row to hoe. The time and effort you put into, say, helping the local charity hospital in your home town get on its feet is incredibly rewarding so long as you’re still playing within that sphere, but once you change tiers, not only does the default of play take you away from those places you’ve put down roots, your actions and capabilities are now better suited to changing the whole city, not just one part of it.

If your players want to spend their wealth to affect the game world somehow, consider if they have the authority – in this case, are of the proper level – to be doing so. Shorthand Tier relevancy says Local Area at Heroic, National or International at Paragon and World or Universe at Epic. Your scope may be different based on the overall size of your game ‘world’ but the concept is still basically valid. Nothing a Heroic Tier character can ‘buy’ should affect more than a couple hundred square mi/km given a standard “world” size. Once Paragon hits, though, that couple hundred square miles in now a minimum scope of effect.

It also begs the question of ‘why bother?’ If a player hangs on to his or her Wealth tokens for many, many levels the value of each token scales exponentially with the expected wealth system. In short, not only is that hospital probably not relevant to the story by Paragon Tier, but you’ve ‘wasted’ a large amount of potential power by not just sitting on it. This is the primary reason I mentioned the 100 token cap in Part 2. It behooves the players to spend their tokens fairly liberally since after a mere five levels, hoarding will no longer pay off. Whatever tokens you have are what you have. In fact, the dirty little secret here is that if the players want more or different ‘treasure,’ they MUST engage the setting to do so. Neat, hunh?

The other consideration is resources – what sort of gain are the PCs shooting for with this ‘purchase?’ A surprising number of events can be handled quickly with a simple token exchange. For example, if the PCs throw money into supporting a candidate for political office (regardless of governmental system, there’s money involved in the process) and their candidate succeeds, all the PCs have really done is trade Wealth for Favor – the new king or senator or whatever owes the PCs. A Shaman who puts the spirits of the dead back to rest with a grand ritual has traded Attunement for Fame or maybe Karma. This does put the onus on the DM to make each wealth type unique but in the case of the Shaman, how cool would it be to go on a quest to build up enough Attunment to then perform that ritual, eh? Heck of a lot better than questing for gold in my opinion. (Yes, I expect to see comments to the contrary on that last part. That’s fine.)

The key is that an event purchase should never increase a character’s wealth, only provide a (relatively) immediate benefit. In grander terms, the new Wealth cycle is similar to the old one, but in greater scope:

Completion of Tasks (Quests, Skill Challenges, or Encounters) generates Potential (“Money”). Potential realizes Change (“Goods”). Change spurs on or supports the next Task.

When faced with a situation, the PCs have two options – use an encounter (roleplaying, skill or combat) to earn Potential or spend it to simply effect the change they desire.

If you think your event or fact can’t be handled with an item or ritual, look one more time. Anthem of Unity and Pact of the Iron Ring are two rituals that can successfully model a wide variety of story events. Remember, we don’t care as much about flavor text as we do results. Anthem of Unity could mean converting a crowd of townsfolk to your religion just as easily as convincing a horde of sentient undead to assist you in fighting off orcs.    Tenser’s Floating Disk could be a non-combatant henchman (or henchmen); where Call Wilderness Guide can be an actual guide, a really good map or just dumb luck wandering around.  The system works best when everything has a price… and don’t get all righteous on me here about stuff like “life” and “love” being priceless. We live in a capitalistic society. Everything DOES in fact have a price, whether we like it or not. If David Beckham can insure his legs, it means they have a monetary value. Life insurance is, not to put too fine an edge on it, the fiscal value of a human life. It may be cold, but entirely reasonable.

Let’s assume you’ve managed to get to this point – the event or fact is relevant to the current scope of the game, it creates immediate benefit rather than simply transferring the PCs’ available resources and the result of said ‘purchase’ can’t be modeled with a ritual or item.  Now let’s talk pricing.

You have six price points to play with – ½, 1, 2, 5, 10 and 20 tokens. (You could include the 4 also if you wanted I guess). Never drop to 0; even though you want players to provide narration and input to the game world, place some loose limits so that they don’t just overrun everything. Also think about how powerful the event is and how long its repercussions will last.

An event or fact that will be important for about the next five levels and provides a continual benefit during that time costs 10 tokens. A good example is a temporary alliance in high Heroic Tier with someone who owns an airship and will let you use it. In all reality, overland travel probably isn’t going to be a big deal but you know the PCs will do something crazy like parachute into danger. By mid to high Paragon, the ability to teleport will likely obsolete the airship so, like a level-appropriate item, you want it to slowly fade out. If the players want to re-up at the end of that time, the airship owner is likely going to want more money (the PCs are significantly richer, right?) but the normalized token value takes care of that; another 5 or 10 tokens it is. They should still notice the increased ‘cost’ due to the power of the inflated token, by the way.

If the fact or event is going to play longer than 5 to 10 levels, it’s now 20 tokens. This is not likely to happen very often going forward – with the notable exception of hiring a companion NPC combatant that levels with you – but it might in reverse. If the players pick up some weird item at level 3 and forget about it, but then come across a problem at level 15 where they think that old trinket might help – and according to your storyline it doesn’t – 20 tokens isn’t a bad cost to change that. You’re essentially retconning in a Chekhov’s Gun to let players “buy out” of a tough spot they can’t handle. As a recent literary example (SPOILER) Neville Longbottom, a remarkably weak and useless character for most of the series, suddenly manages to draw the Sword of Gryffindor out of the Sorting Hat… for a mere 20 Tokens. The party paid retroactively for Neville’s character growth throughout the series to matter at a crucial time.

On the totally other end, anything that’s an obvious one-shot effect costs two or less tokens based on its power. Rather than give examples here, I’ll do that below, leaving us with the wiggly five-token cost. Charge five tokens for ‘contigency’ facts or events – something that might be useful later but only once or twice. For example, the thief who pays for his father to be the Captain of the Guard will probably get out of trouble one time. After that, Daddy isn’t going to take any more crap OR the PC gets involved in something outside of Daddy’s jurisdiction. It’s a delayed one-shot effect or a continual effect that is already partly run its course, like an underlevelled magic item.

Admittedly, these aren’t exact rules, but it should be enough to put you in the right ballpark 90% of the time. I’m going to end this post with a few examples of how a single story event might play out in multiple ways with the alternate wealth rules and then in Part 5 (surprise!), Quinn and I will put together some ready-made ‘wealth’ themes you can apply to your character with an abbreviated ‘shop list.’ Thanks for reading and commenting!

I convert the town to the worship of Bahamut! (Lv. 6)
Options:
Skill Challenge: Earn Divine Favor and/or Fame
½ Token: Kicks and giggles, “My character would do it.”
1 Token: “It will attract the attention of the High Priest and I need to speak to him”
5 Tokens: “We will rest better under the protection of Bahamut” (town acts as a Restful Bedroll)

I tame the wyvern instead of killing it! (Lv. 11)
Options:
Skill Challenge: Earn some extra Wealth by selling it off to a military or carnival
1 Tokens: “It bears us faithfully to our next destination and then leaves” (as Linked Portal, Lv 8 or Phantom Steeds, Lv 6 for ½ token )
5 Tokens: “It bears us faithfully wherever we go” (as Overland Flight, Lv 20)
10 Tokens: “I train it to fight with me as my mount.” A Lv 10 wyvern does in fact carry the Mount keyword. Up the cost to 20 tokens if the wyvern will continue levelling past 15.

We ally ourselves with Breland for the coming war! (Lv. 16)
Options:
Skill Challenge: Earn Luck or Wealth by talking King Boranel into providing supplies
2 Tokens: Breland won’t attack you out of opportunity, but offers no other support.
5 Tokens: Automatically succeed on one failing skill challenge or combat encounter as Breland troops come to your aid.
10 Tokens: You are treated as having visited every location in Breland for the purposes of scrying, teleportation or knowledge checks; the two nations share intelligence.

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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.