Treasure Creep

9 posts / 0 new
Last post
MinusInnocence
MinusInnocence's picture
Treasure Creep

Specifically, this post pertains to the amount of wealth accumulated and redistributed to the rest of the party when one of the PCs meets an unfortunate end and a new character arrives to replace him or her (usually), fully equipped with wealth appropriate for his or her level. Unless the rest of the party was significantly behind according to the wealth chart, the influx of "new" money in their collective bank accounts is potentially unbalancing.

For that matter, how carefully do you adjudicate treasure rewards for encounters and other sources of wealth? Do you roll randomly on magic item charts and elsewhere or handpick everything you give the PCs?

deadDMwalking
deadDMwalking's picture

Big questions. I happen to recall a Rifts Game where in the first combat, one character died. This character was technologically sophisticated and we actually made many times our 'starting wealth' from the sell of that equipment. We started with a huge advantage relative to our points total (level).

I think there are a couple of related issues that need to be addressed before deciding how to use treasure. Some treasure enhances a character's natural abilities. A sword, for instance, usually needs someone to wield it. Without someone able to use a sword, it isn't useful as treasure, but may be sold. But assume that the character will use the sword. Let's further assume that they are happy carrying around a 'golf bag' of weapons. If you give them 3x, 4x, or even 15x their 'wealth by level' in the form of weapons, it isn't going to have much impact on the game. If they're using their +3 Keen Ranseur of Disruption then they're not using their +4 Adamantine Shocking Burst Ghost-Touch Flail.

On the other hand, some items give characters abilities that they usually wouldn't have. I'm not necessarily talking about spell items, but it could include them. Take [i]wings of flying[/i] for instance. This gives a character an ability that they wouldn't likely have (especially if they're a mundane character rather than a spell caster). Those types of items can be really enjoyable as a player, but it's more important to be careful with those types of items. If a character gets that type of item 'too early' it can negatively impact the game. It might give the PC the ability to bypass huge parts of an adventure and he honestly might be better off 'going solo'. Giving them that item at a time when several of the party have ways to fly isn't going to be nearly as disruptive.

Since a lot of D&D is about wish fulfillment, getting awesome toys is part of what makes us want to play. You want to give enough treasure that people feel they're 'getting something' but not so much treasure that the character ceases to matter and they're just playing a walking pile of equipment.

I like to feel that my character matters, so I think in D&D, more effort should have been taken to make items matter. The 'Christmas Tree' effect has been talked about extensively, but I don't think it's necessarily a matter of 'number of items' - especially since item slots can be 'stacked'. There should be some minor cost to using magical items that makes them something of a cost/benefit to using - making them a strategic resource.

In our homebrew game, most items draw magical energy from the user. The more items you have, the less magical potential you have to cast spells or use some 'ki' type abilities. A Berserker using 17 magic items likely won't be able to rage at all. Since magical potential is limited by level, some characters can't use a powerful item at all. If they are high enough level to use it, they may have to give up other abilities to get full use out of it...

In a sense, items work a little like the Ring of Power from Lord of the Rings (if I understand it correctly). While it was supposed to be a hugely powerful item, the hobbits never used any ability beyond invisibility. In our system, the ring might reduce your 'ki' by 1 point if you were wearing it and grant invisibility. More powerful uses (such as 'Voice of Command' might only be usable if you sacrificed 4 more ki points. A character would need a minimum of 5 ki to use invisibility and the voice of command function.

I like that deciding whether using a magic item is a net benefit involves thoughts about what you're trying to do.

I should mention that not all items follow that rule. Minor items don't have any cost to use - like a potion. Some items have minor effects that don't require the use of magical energy, but usually also have more powerful effects that can be turned on for a cost.

MinusInnocence
MinusInnocence's picture

That houserule reminds me of [i]Werewolf[/i], where the amount of silver your character carries with him or even has near him affects his Gnosis score, which is sort of his connection to the spiritual world. Too much and speaking to spirits, using any of his various Gifts taught by spirits or "stepping sideways" into the Umbra where spirits live is all but impossible.

"Men are the only animals that devote themselves, day in and day out, to making one another unhappy. It is an art like any other. Its virtuosi are called altruists." - H.L. Mencken

Fixxxer
Fixxxer's picture

D&D is ostensibly balanced toward the PCs having a very defined amount of wealth, so short of something very big showing up (ie: a quest item or a [i]deck of many things[/i] or something) I try to stick relatively close to that guideline, just to avoid breaking other parts of the system. In the example of a PC dying and his wealth being redistributed, I'd likely take steps behind the screen to gradually bring their wealth level down a peg, be it by making them exhaust expendable items, presenting them with situations where giving up a valuable item is preferable to another outcome or just reducing the amount of treasure the earn for a while until things even out.

I'm kinda fond of the Hyborean d20 setting because of stuff like this. Since magic is rare and a very big deal, even most 15th-level PCs aren't swinging magic swords around, so the issue is lessened. There's even a built-in mechanic where you start to automatically hemorrhage money little by little when you have downtime, which reflects your lifestyle and high tastes as a rich adventurer, so there's little chance of having a player decide his character is going to live all monk-like and save up for that one expensive item.

Talanall
Talanall's picture

Yes, I like the high-living mechanic from the Conan D20 setting, also. What's the point of risking your life to get rich if you're just going to invest the booty in low-yield bonds and better adventuring gear?

Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold

Fixxxer
Fixxxer's picture

Ale and whores are a much more high-yield investment.

Talanall
Talanall's picture

More seriously, the thing that I try to do, specifically as a way of combating the problems associated with killing a PC and having the other PCs take his stuff, is to destroy equipment from time to time. I'll use the Sunder feat. It doesn't come up very often, but I also pay attention to critical failures on saves against spells, because those can damage items.

And at high levels, I'm not at all shy about using disjunction.

Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold

MinusInnocence
MinusInnocence's picture

In my experience, with the exception of the scenario I gave for people inheriting a bunch of swag from dead adventuring partners (which actually happens quite a bit in my campaigns unless something happened to the remains along with his/her possessions), the other problem is actually more common: randomly generating treasure and consistently ending up with under-equipped heroes. I guess in a roundabout way the occasional infusion of cash from someone kicking the bucket is probably a good thing, because I usually need to audit their sheets every few sessions to make sure everyone is on track in terms of wealth by level and they very rarely are.

Typically, my solution here is to produce encounters with relatively little risk (and so not as much XP) but a significant reward, if they know where to look. If they miss the booty, I will just drop it into the campaign somewhere else. I find that it is XP rewards, even very minor ones, that have nothing to do with combat encounters, traps or the other things XP is usually awarded for in conjunction with treasure that push the PCs off track.

"Men are the only animals that devote themselves, day in and day out, to making one another unhappy. It is an art like any other. Its virtuosi are called altruists." - H.L. Mencken

Talanall
Talanall's picture

As a DM, I have tended to experience campaigns where the PCs gain wealth appropriately, in part because I genuinely use random encounters, and I award XP and treasure based on those.

A lot of DMs I have talked to evidence distaste for random encounters, seeing them as distractions from getting the PCs to the next planned, set-piece encounter, or at least to the next dungeon where the type and sequence of encounters is known.

I don't like that approach because I think it leads to balances of encounters in which there is either no treasure awarded, or the treasure is whatever the NPCs in the encounter were carrying. Monstrous spiders and the like are very common components of dungeoneering encounters, but they aren't going to yield treasure. At best, you get situations where there's treasure, but it's hidden in the newly-slain monster's den, and the PCs have to think to search for it. Which is fine if you're playing the kind of game where you kick the door in and steal people's stuff as a matter of course. If you're there to treasure-hunt, then you do it. But if you're actually there to do other stuff, then it makes more sense for you to move on to the stuff you came for, rather than spend an extra five minutes sifting through a pile of spider shit looking for loose change.

Random encounters help, because they raise the chances that your players will encounter sentient creatures that are carrying useful loot.

Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold