Friday, September 24, 2010

Gedankenexperiment: Treble the Price of Everything

Over on Geoffrey McKinney's blog, I've been part of a discussion on the role of money and equipment in the game.  The starting point was Geoffrey's statement that the equipment list, so important at 1st level, becomes irrelevant soon thereafter.  You agonize over whether or not to to take the sword, knowing that won't leave you enough for chain-mail, or to just accept the mace for now.  But once you come back from your first expedition, that's pretty much over - when you have a bulging bag of silver and gold, the difference between 8 gp and 10 gp is meaningless.

I really feel Geoffrey's point.  Scrimping and saving - heck, debating whether or not to try and steal that nice sword - scream D&D to me.  The problem is that since you need cash to level up, most games don't work if the players only make it out alive with a brass farthing and two subway tokens.

This idea ties in to my proposed experience rules for Dying Sun, which, notably, do not include XP for treasure.  The idea for me is that treasure is it's own reward in a game where the characters are cash-poor.  I've compounded this by reducing starting monies to 20-120 rather than 30-180.  But this still isn't enough!  I don't want to get bogged down by "reality", but in the real world, a sword was, until recently, a great treasure in and of itself.  That's the real reason that it was a sign of rank; it was friggin' expensive.  And plate armour?  Plate armour was like a Lamborghini or something.  Medieval knights essentially made a living off of taking the arms and armor of their foes (or ransoming them back to their families).

With that in mind, play this little game: treble the price of everything in the book.  I'm looking at Labyrinth Lord because it's right in front of me, but use any iteration you like.  That standard-issue sword now costs 30 gp.  With a bad roll, that might be the only thing you can afford.  Why would anybody ever take the much-crummier spear?  Because at 9 gp, it's value for money.  Chain mail now costs 210 gp - well out of reach of any starting character.  So, your typical 1st level Fighter goes from a hauberk-clad swordsman to a guy with a spear and studded leather.

Does that suck?  Well, maybe.  But it also gives you a damn good reason to go risk life and limb crawling down holes in the dirt; a guy's gotta make the rent somehow.  What it also does is give a real zest to ordinary items.  The 1st level Fighter is dying to get ahold of chain-mail and a sword.  Yeah, a plain old sword.  Even one that a dirty orc was using.  D&D characters can't be choosers.  Of course, he probably won't be able to scavenge that mail-coat that he just tore up to kill the orc; damn!  But he can loot every pocket for every last copper piece and try and save up for the day when he can afford a shiny new coat of mail for his own.  And, off on the horizon, the day when he might be able to buy an actual suit of plate, which at 1,350 gp is truly something only the great champions of the realm could ever have.


  1. I like the idea. Historically, common troops weren't armed with swords. They were armed with spears (as you mention above), flails, hammers, axes, mauls...basically peasant tools converted into weapons, and probably dirt cheap, too, relative to swords. Some program I was watching a few weeks ago mentioned that a steel two-handed sword was the equivalent of buying a sports car today. That's bloody expensive.

    Ed Green

  2. My solution: move to the silver standard, converting equipment prices to match.

    But! For swords, plate, chain and other 'knightly' gear, retain the price in GP.

    So the party can afford spears, clubs and knives, but swords and metal armour are 10x as valuable. This naturally leads to looting of foes' gear, rather than their treasure.

  3. The issue with doing this is that it increases low-level character mortality (which can be a problem in many campaigns) while still mostly just pushing back the same effect. With D&D experience numbers and xp-for-gold they're still going to be able to afford everything in a level or two anyway. There's also the issue of humanoid monsters suddenly now carrying a great deal more wealth, in the form of their weapons and armor.

    As you've noted, the real solution is to change to a non-treasure-based xp system. But that's no longer classic D&D.

  4. I don't think removing xp for gold somehow violates "classic d&D". After all, if Arneson can do it differently, it's good enough. :)

    I do, however, whole-heartedly support the silver-standard and have been using it in my games for a while now. It makes gold actually meaningful.

  5. I for one do not think that ANY particular method of garnering xp is classic D&D. I've played D&D with, off the top of my head, the following xp systems:

    1. Kilgore's "roll the dice at the end of each session to see if you gain a level" system (which, with its randomness, is totally old school).

    2. A Star Frontiers-derived system in which each PC gets 1 to 3 xp at the end of each session (and, of course, the xp needed to gain levels was very greatly reduced--down to double digits).

    3. Going up a level after X sessions were played.

    4. DM fiat.

    5. Going up a level upon the attainment of a particular goal.

    And the "xp for exploration" idea is totally old-school in its encouragement of exploration.

    Plus 1977's Arduin had its own way to gain xp.

    The Castles & Crusades Players Handbook says that it is up to each referee to determine how xp is gained in his own campaign, with xp for gold merely a suggestion.


    In short, methods of gaining xp and levels have been house-ruled since the dawn of D&D. XP for gold is not a necessary part of D&D.