Sunday, 4 March 2012

Luxury Shopping

Who says leather armor has to be cheap?
If the standard ratio of experience from monsters and treasures in most early versions of D&D tends to oversupply the characters with treasure, what can they spend it on that's satisfying?

Let's leave out the advice of Gygax in the DMG to soak the players with taxes and training fees - which turns the game into an unsatisfying caricature of bureaucratic capitalism, denying the players the freedom of a robber-baron frontier. What remains are two economic phases. In the first phase, players complete their character's acquisition of the best equipment available for adventuring. In the second phase, they get more ambitious and spend on things that establish them in the game world, ultimately leading up to a stronghold.

The problem in many rule sets is that phase 1 is very short, with an excess of treasure and a shortage of expensive things to buy.  We saw previously that in some rulesets, the amouint of coinage amassed getting to level 2 alone can buy several suits of plate armor. In my current games I've succumbed to the temptation to have a bigger and better equipment list. Potions of healing ("vitality" because they only restore the metaphysical character hit points rather than actual physical injury) can be had, reducing the absolute need to bring a "healer" along. Armor and weapons for a steep multiplier can be had in dwarven or elven steel, which  give limited bonuses, less than the magical versions of those things. Spellcasters need to spend money to inscribe new spells in their books. Eventually mounts, camping supplies, boats and ships may be bought.

All this time the players are supposed to be saving up for their stronghold. A second problem arises - the road to settled status tends to be a dull process, with a long mid-level haul before the ultimate payoff. I'm looking to the next generation of old-school games to make this progression a little more interesting, with more subsidiary goals along the way. If anyone knows whether Adventurer Conqueror King makes good on this, I'd like to know. I have a few ideas toward this goal, and also see an inherent problem in the stronghold goal, but that's a whole separate post.

My estimate is that after 3rd or 4th level or so, adventurers should have enough cash to buy all the equipment they can reasonably buy on the market, and around then should start adventuring for items of power and increased respect in society. The game system should then be designed around this, with an intricate balancing of experience, cash, levels of equipment. I guess as people level up in my game it'll remain to be seen whether my house-rules are doing the job. Anyway, those are now getting into good shape so I'll post some of them up as One Pagers throughout this week, with commentary.


  1. ACKS kinda helps; 5th-level and higher MUs and Clerics can craft potions and scrolls (and IIRC maybe do spell research as well), which is expensive but useful. Mercenaries and trade goods also also provide medium-sized expenditures to be made in the mid-levels. Owning a trade caravan or ship (~10000 gp) is a reasonable mid-level goal before moving up to castles in the 25000+ range, especially since caravans and ships can help make the money to build a castle.

  2. Yeah. In the current campaign I'm running, I have lots of options for spending money.

    Shoot me an e-mail with your google e-mail address and I'll give you access if you're interested.

  3. I have a very simple rule on such midgame spending in the HC (Borderlands is about 50 percent concentrated on expanding this part of the career arc): you get 1 exp for each 2 gp spent on luxury goods. This is above and beyond the standard 1 exp = 1 gp award, and is thus a very popular way to burn money.

    It especially helps to have expanded lists of goods to waste dosh on like this:

  4. Thanks, folks! Yeah, I can see luxury spending as a form of low risk carousing. Perhaps not so low if it attracts envy and avarice though ...

  5. I included rules for inversions, like to buy a shop or a field, that provides continues inflows of money. The player can assign a NPC to manage the shop, or manage it himself. Since my game have training rules for feats, it is normal to have long training times where the players can manage their own shops to gain money.
    Potions could be trated not as magical items founded in treasure, just exotic alchemical and natural byproducts that can be sold to high level players in a well provided bazaar.
    Taxes could be a interesant resource too. Medieval kings uses to confiscate a lot of money of the merchants; adventurers are a nice target for a indebted king.

  6. @Mandramas: That's a different kind of game than the adventure-focused game I want to emphasize. But enough MMOs have those kind of activities, so clearly there's some interest among players in general for a mix of adventure and economic empire building.