August 30, 2017

Money Makes the World go Round

Comments from the Finger: A friendly and unrelated reminder that we're releasing the Complete Witch on our Patreon this Friday! Go check it out!

Money Makes the World go Round

Imagine this, if you will: You’ve finally done it. You and your rag-tag band of adventurers, thieves, mercenaries and murder-hobos have managed to bypass all the traps, kill all the monsters, slay the mighty green dragon and reach the end of a treacherous dungeon. In the dragon’s hoard, you see your reward: mountains of gold coins, gems, and ancient artifacts. Excitedly, you and your crew begin rifling through the vast pile, and though most of it is valuable, you only discover three items with any noticeable enchantments: a chime of opening, a folding boat, and a set of horseshoes of speed. “Well crap,” you say as you finish sorting the inventory “looks like there isn’t really anything good here.”

Doesn’t that just feel... wrong?

A History of Treasure

Throughout the years and editions of D&D, treasure, specifically gold and gems, has had differing impacts on the players and the game as a whole, and each variation changed what it meant to a player to receive a boatload of gold for completing their quest or journey. In the 1st and 2nd Edition days, groups were awarded experience on a 1-for-1 basis for obtaining treasure: gain 10,000 gold, get 10,000 XP. Though there wasn’t much to specifically do with that wealth that directly impacted your character, earning that treasure in the first place translated into increased power and capability. After the fact, you might be able to find a merchant who specialized in rare goods or purchase a powerful mount, but you weren’t able to do too many crazy, game-breaking things with your wealth.

Once 3rd edition rolled in, the concept of the “magic item market” took hold, inspired most by things such as the ubiquitous shops in nearly every video game RPG. Now, it was expected that you could funnel gold you found directly into increasing the power of your gear, and while treasure no longer granted you experience it now provided a simple, itemized path to gain powers, abilities and items specifically tailored to your character. You could build your perfect sword or suit of armor from the ground up, provided you had enough cash and a sufficiently skilled enchanter available.

This had a few rather profound effects on the way the game was played, and those stuck through all of 3rd edition and through 3.5, Pathfinder, and on into 4th edition. First, players were now expected to have garnered a certain amount of loot based on their level, and those that didn’t found themselves at a distinct disadvantage against monsters of their appropriate CR. If your DM was particularly stingy or forgetful with treasure, you were bound to have a bad time, and if your DM was far too generous, you were almost guaranteed to become overpowered very quickly. Secondly, treasure (aside from artifacts) lost much of its luster, as a sub-optimal magic axe could easily be sold and used to fund the purchase of that +2 wounding longsword your fighter really needed. Lastly, this system of magic items purchasing brought about the often-maligned “Christmas tree effect”: when your rogue has two magic rings, a magic belt, magic armor, a magic rapier, a magic necklace, magic boots, magic gloves, a magic mask, and enough ioun stones that they formed a cloud around her head, you started looking a bit like a glowing, magical Christmas tree.

This is where 5e comes in, and does away with all of that. Now, a player can, conceivably, go from level 1 - 20 without ever getting a single magic item, and they wouldn’t feel like they were being punished. Each found magic item brought some awe and wonder, because they were things that couldn’t simply be purchased with wealth, and finding a magic weapon of any type might encourage a player to refocus their whole playstyle. Additionally, with the three item limit to attunement, players could no longer turn themselves into an enchanted Christmas tree, even if they had the means to do so. Gone are the days of selling and buying artifacts down at the market... but is that such a good thing?

The Fundamental Importance of the Shopping Spree

Going back to the example at the beginning, we can see one of the biggest flaws in the 5e design logic with regards to treasure: players have almost nothing impactful to do with it, especially at higher levels, and if specific rolled magic items don’t work for a given group of players, there isn’t anything they can do to repurpose those items into something useful. Since there is no money sink for a player to funnel their gold into that has definite effects on the game, treasure loses all meaning and it becomes nothing more than an arbitrary number for the party to keep track of.

To that end, I’d like to present a number of ideas I have either used myself or discussed using with multiple people as a means to make your player’s gold work for them, and for you!
  1. The Manor
    First and foremost is the house, be it a humble hut or a magnificent mansion This concept does require you to plan your adventures a bit around the location of said abode, but if that works for your campaign then a house is one of the best methods of getting your players to burn through all their expendable cash. Aside from being a space in which the players can have total control of the design, function, and form, a house can provide a home base for your party between adventures, and ties them thematically to the surrounding town or village. Gameplay-wise, it is fairly simple to offer any number of Small, temporary boons or benefits to your players following a night of rest and a hot, home-cooked meal in their own manor, and that encourages your players to both invest in and utilize their imaginary real estate.

  2. The Boat/Ship
    A classic of many genres of role playing, from high fantasy to science fiction, the Ship serves much the same purpose as the Manor, but doubles as both a conveyance and often as a support platform for combat. Depending on the genre, you might be inclined to outfit your party with a rugged galleon, a steam-powered dirigible, an armor plated RV, a hyperspace-capable cargo ship, or any other sort of vehicle large enough to house the whole party. In going this route, you free up your party to take their primary money sink with them on their adventures, and that gives them an inherently vested interest in making it as sturdy and combat-worthy as possible. You should make sure that, in choosing this money sink, you take into account all the possible kinds of upgrades the party could attempt to make to their vessel, and allow them to think outside the box. Cannons, guns, armor plating, bigger engines, better storage space, more crew, better crew... the sky's the limit. (We explored this in pretty great detail in Dark Matter.)

  3. The Fortress
    Like the Manor, but on steroids, the Fortress is designed for either the campaign that is staying put, or for the party that is going to war. While it might start out as an abandoned castle on a mountaintop, with some investment and the right skills, a motivated party can reinforce the battlements, repair the crumbling walls with hardened steel and stone, outfit the guard towers with ballistae, or anything else your players might think of. Additionally, the fortress is ideally suited to housing and outfitting an army or a large fighting force, which provides ample opportunity for your party to spend their earnings.

  4. The Shop
    Potentially attached to the Manor or contained in the fortress, the Shop allows your players to put their money to work for them and putting their non-combat skills to good use. By offering any number of potential goods, you can get your players invested in the local economy of their town or city. This type of money sink does tend to work best in a game set in a mostly urban setting, but the shop could also be a lonely trading post on the edges of an untamed frontier. This also gives you the opportunity to have NPCs requesting obscure materials and items from the party as adventure hooks or bringing special or rare objects for purchase, such as potions or magic items.

  5. The Workshop
    Explored in greater detail in the Complete Craftsman, the workshop is the ideal place for a skilled artisan to turn their money into solid product. The workshop is often a sturdy, stand-alone location, such as a smithy or an armory, but the workshop can just as easily be a tinker’s carriage or other form of mobile toolshed. Allowing a player to invest in a workshop should let them upgrade the party’s gear in a myriad number of ways, both non-magically or, potentially, magically, and should likely have a greater direct impact on player power than most other options presented here. Similar to the workshop would be the Laboratory, focused more towards Alchemists or poisoners.

  6. The Auction House
    When your players really just want to try and find that one specific magic item, but you don’t want to make it easy on them, the auction house can be a great boon. This high-end retailer is usually not run by the players, but gives them the opportunity to bid on high-ticket items and/or put such items up for sale themselves. Be ready to let the party face try to bluff his way into making the other bidders at the house break their own bank or weasel their way into the deal of a lifetime, and reward them for doing a good job at it!
         Additionally, the Auction house can be a fantastic source of quest hooks, as those types of antiquities dealers are always looking for more and better items to offer their customers.

  7. The Temple
    For certain types of parties, having a temple or church organization can be the exact right money sink their characters are looking for. Substantial donations and tithing to a given religious organization will no doubt earn your players large amounts of favor within that organization. That can lead to numerous boons and benefits granted by that organization, from free housing while travelling to blessings before going on an expedition. Important to note is that donation is not intended to be a transaction; you do not donate with the expectation that you will get something tangible in return. Instead, donation must be done in good faith, allowing the benefits from said donations to flow organically and at their own pace.

  8. The City
    Similar to the Manor and the Fortress, the City is for that party that really wants to run the world themselves. Your players establish a village or town, and grow it from a humble hamlet into a sprawling metropolis. In general, this concept is better suited to a game expected to last a significant amount of in game time, multiple years at least, as it takes time for a town or city to grow. Be prepared to create systems for constructing new buildings or areas of town, instituting laws, collecting taxes, and defending your town from any number of orcish hordes or bandit kings. If your players show a significant affinity for Sim City, this might be just the thing they’re looking for.

  9. The Magic Item Market
    At the end of the day, even if you’re using any or all of these other options, there’s not much that’s game-breaking about allowing your players to simply buy and sell magic items like they once used to be able to. As long as you are able to take into account the increased level of power players with just the right items will wield, you can let them have their cake and make them eat it too, preferably with something large, scaly, and fire-breathing.

The Golden Rule

The real importance of any of these options is just like any other game option: to help the players have fun. In the world of the game, a mercenary company getting their hands on hundreds of thousands of gold would be ecstatic, happy beyond their wildest dreams; hopefully with one or more of these suggestions, your players will be too!

Have fun, and happy gaming!


  1. More than anything, I think that this is a great tool for DMs looking to set up a very long-term, high level adventure. These options are not really realistic for the characters before 11th level, but past that are great tools to get players thinking about what to do with their vast coffers. One thing I've noticed, though is that the rules in the base game surrounding these kind of things are lackluster at best.

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    2. Regarding the level at which you could start giving these kinds of rewards, I think you'd be surprised. Remember that our perception of how much GP makes a character rich is different than the perception of the characters themselves. Living life like a high class aristocrat is 10 GP a day, or 3650 a year. Most adventurers make that in a very short amount of time.

      I intend to create some more rules for each of these things as the weeks go on, but at a basic level a small house shouldn't cost much more than 1,000 gp, with a large villa getting up into the 3,000 - 4,000 range and a massive estate going for 7,000 to 10,000 gold.

  2. Hmm. Interesting. I don't fully agree about the analysis of 5th edition (I think the DM is expected to give some amount of treasure, although the books don't say what and how much), but generally it's true that magic items in 5e participate much less in determining the power level of the party.

    From my experience in the 5e tomb of horrors (as a player), magic items matter a lot for the party's ability to overcome obstacles- without them, all classes other than rogues and full casters are basically only good for combat, so they help the party a great deal without actually raising the combat prowess of the party.

    I do like the suggestions included, even if I usually allow buying any uncommon item in any big city without problems (which turns 1 time use items into good gold sinks).

    1. Well, tomb of horrors is a special circumstance all around.

      In the normal play of 5e, it is expected that players will get a decent amount of monetary treasure and randomized, rolled magic items (there's a suggestion list somewhere, ill have to look it up). What I meant is that, in 5e, a group of players can go their whole campaign without having access to magic items and still be successful. This absolutely wasn't the case in 3.5, PF, or 4e: you HAD to have magic items, and you needed specific ones to make it work.

    2. That's very much true (with the slight exception of highly resistant monsters, which can be solved with magic weapon or elemental weapon spells).

  3. Hey guys, Alex Garcia from your patreon here. This was a pretty well timed article, as I'm about to start a Wild West campaign in a month or so. It's going to be elements of king maker and questing, and this list of ideas will help both myself and my players find out what they want to do.

  4. I recently converted the Aurora's Whole Realms Catalog from 2e rules to 5e. I also added in weapons & armor from the Arms & Equipment Guide. My players love it & have spent their money on some fun items that add to the roleplaying aspect of the game.

  5. Is there going to be a post today? (9/1/17)