Over at the Evil GM, Vincent Florio has posted on the question of how much gold is too much in your games? As much as this is the 40th Anniversary this year of Dungeons & Dragons, this is is surprisingly still a salient question when it comes not only to adventure design, but also adventure implementation, and of world setting and design.
The recent revised version of D&D has dialed back magic items somewhat, but the third and 4th editions, particularly in some settings such as the Forgotten Realms (which is the default setting for the new edition) and Eberron, had the availability of magic items linked intrinsically and mathematically to character advancement via the rules and the world setting, which meant that there had to be access to massive amounts of money or phat loot to be able to buy all those magic items that were ubiquitous in the world. The big difference between older versions of the game and these versions is that you got XP for capturing gold pieces in the older versions which meant careful controlling of dishing out gold as a reward, but in the newer versions the benefits of the gold was to improve the utility and survivability of the character through buying gear that allowed them to whomp on the bad guys through external items rather than internal abilities tied to classes.
In many ways this led to the trope of the “magic shop in every settlement” where you could buy jsut about whatever you wanted as long as you had the money, and the DM let it fly. And there was always lots of money to go around, in what can only be described as a broken world economy that never seemed to be affected by the introduction of gems or coins worth hundreds of gold pieces on a regular basis. Mind you, this is something that can be handled in games by subtly changing the actual worth of each of the types of coinage as supply of them changes over time so that the coinage devalues. Perhaps gold is worth only 90% of its worth this session, or 80% this one. Perhaps this village has a surplus of gold, but a lack of silver (and there’s a vampire nearby), so silver is worth twice as much right now. What about a city that is installing plumbing and needs lots of copper, so maybe gold and silver aren’t really needed right now and copper is worth a little more? There’s lots you can do to change the way economies work on the fly without having to do anything complicated, and you don’t even need to have a calculator (most times).
Vince also hits on another issue that often crops in games: appropriate rewards for completing quests. Very often the solution is just to throw more money at the characters, particularly in games where you can buy your way to powerful artifacts or leveling up. While it might be appropriate for rich NPCs to throw money at low-level and financially poor PCs, as players level up, they might not be quite so poor, so other rewards need to be considered, such as those related more to the character’s drives, ambitions, goals, and less materialistic needs. That helps to engage the players into working towards developing the characters beyond simply being two-dimensional caricatures and characters who actually engage in the world because they’ve got reason to. And that’s the stuff that roleplaying, and not murderhoboing, is made of.