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I'm about to run my first game of D&D as Dungeon Master. I've played a few sessions as a character, and one of the things that always annoyed me was keeping track of how much money we had. The most obvious problem was that the DM wanted us to keep track of gold, silver, and copper pieces. If we just kept track of gold and didn't worry about the smaller amounts, it would've made things a bit simpler.

But I'm looking to take it a step further. Somewhere I heard of system that just used a sort of wealth indicator that worked on a scale something like this:

0 broke
1 a meal
2 a few meals
3 a simple item ( dagger, 40ft of rope )
4 an uncommon or better quality item ( studded leather armor, well made sword or crossbow
5 a fairly rare or high quality item ( potion of invisibility, excellent plate armor) 
6 a rare and powerful item ( sword that deals fire damage as a bonus )
7 a rare and very powerful magical item ( staff that can create a radius 3 shield that is unbreakable for 5 minutes )

Every time you guys an item that's equal to your current wealth, your wealth level goes down 1 unit. If you buy 5 items at a value 1 below your current wealth, your wealth level goes down 1. If you buy >20 of something 2 below your current wealth, your wealth goes down 1, but is otherwise unaffected.

This does a few things:

  • wealth is easy to keep track of
  • you don't have to try to make up prices, you just give the wealth level of the item
  • You know when you have enough to 'comfortably' afford something

I plan on adding a small fudge factor if necessary, like maybe some items have a cost of 4.5 instead of just 4. The point of this scale is to save time, so I probably won't get too worried about stuff like this though.

Has anyone used a system like this? What are the major downsides to using a system like this? Does have a name? Any helpful links would be much appreciated. :D

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( I personally am using this for D&D 3.5, but I don't see why this couldn't apply to any system, so I'm tagging system-agnostic) –  Gordon Gustafson Sep 27 '11 at 23:20
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For 3.5 (not a system-agnostic answer) check out the economicon: dandwiki.com/wiki/Dungeonomicon_(DnD_Other)/Economicon It's a remarkably sane treatment of the 3.5 economy. –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton Sep 27 '11 at 23:25
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11 Answers 11

up vote 7 down vote accepted

The issue with most wealth value systems, such as above, is the order you buy things becomes important. For example, if you have a wealth of 5 on that scale, generally your wealth would go down if you purchase anything at that value, to represent spending a significant income. This means if you buy lower cost things later, your wealth would be lower and you may not be able to buy them.

However, if you instead go in increasing order of value (with some optimizations based on the system), you suddenly get all the small stuff for free.

In the realm of neat economy systems that are also simple, there is Legend. Which takes away the idea of wealth, puts items as discrete level benefits, and gives you the option to trade it away elegantly.

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If I understand correctly, you want to make sure that material rewards in your game are easy to track so that you and your players don't get hung up on the minutia of coin counting.

Several systems use something like what you are talking about, but generally those systems are far less "gear reliant" than DnD. To make matters tougher on you, in 3.5ed some of the classes are severely gear reliant (i.e. the Fighter or the Ranger) whereas others are not (i.e. the Monk and the Wizard). This means if your homebrew wealth system is flawed, it can cause party imbalance.

My two suggestions are as follows:

  1. Get a 4ed DnD DMs guide. They have a beautifully designed (imo) method for creating treasure "bundles" that you hand out over the course of a party gaining a level. It incorporates ideas like having the PCs give you a wish list of items that you sprinkle in when appropriate. I know this isn't the same as what you are asking above, but I believe it will fix your root problem: the need for a simple wealth system that is able to be tailored to the party's power level. This will be especially easy if you are running 3.5ed.
  2. If you really want to use a system that ignores money then I would look at how the various White Wolf games use wealth (Look at both 1.0 and 2.0 WoD, also make sure to check out Exalted). Big Eyes Small Mouth could be worth looking at. I would also look at d20 Modern's wealth system, though it is a fairly bad system it some good root ideas. Using those would help you to refine the system you are already putting together. Finally, get a copy of Eclipse Phase. They have a very unique way of handling wealth using a d100 roll. Eclipse Phase would probably be the best wealth system to just steal and use with minimal change.

One last point. If there is a trust issue at all with your party, as in, players saying that they have more $$$ than they do, then I highly suggest option 1. Since you know how much money they are going to get ahead of time, it is a lot harder for the PCs to fudge the numbers.

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I only use that system as I cannot be bothered with micro managing those details. I tend to have a ad-hoc system where depending on the character's background, they can get access to resources. There is a difference between available cash and net worth. A noble might have no gold but lots of land. That land is worth something but not till the harvest comes in. So, he may need to borrow money till that time. Once how their wealth is translated into cash, the rest is easy. If it is reasonable for the character to get it, they can. If it is a large transaction, it should be part of the role play and story.

Side note: Eclipse Phase has a whole system to deal with a reputation based economy (post-scarcity) similar to whuffies or Kudos. feel free to download the game (CC), and if you like it get a copy.

Mostly, I view money/cash/gold as a resource for the players to move the story along either as a facilitator or a hindrance depending on the story.

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It sounds like you're describing the white wolf system of wealth where a player gets a rank between 0 (homeless) and 10 (buying countries).

I don't like this form of a level-based wealth system as you proposed. It removes a lot of the role-playing that can be done around currency:

  • the character that hoards coins and doesn't buy equipment
  • the party rogue who takes more than his fair share of the treasure and slowly becomes wealthier
  • The fierce dragon the players just killed whose entire hoard is in copper pieces... and carting them to the local city would devalue the economy to a point where the copper became worthless

The point system is also very open to abuse for clever players. The wizard could get his level 7 staff of shielding (dropping him to 6)... and fighter could take excellent plate armor, 50 potions of invisibility (dropping him to 6) and still pick up a flaming sword.

Then when you stop the players from abusing the system, they may start scrutinizing at what you do allow (Jared got 3 potions of invisibility and a crossbow, but I can only get 1 wand of healing, 50' rope, plus a dagger?) which could lead to discontent within your gaming group.

I understand your dislike of dealing with the gold, silver, copper money amounts. It often becomes boring bookkeeping for those people who aren't into that level of realism. A simple workaround is one you mentioned: ignore the smaller pieces. Sell everything in gold, rounding silver and copper up to the nearest gold.

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If you buy 5 of something 1 below your wealth level it depletes your wealth by 1 level. The system isn't perfect, but the situation you described would clearly be impossible. I plan to keep track of wealth with a bit more than just that bare system I described as well. –  Gordon Gustafson Sep 28 '11 at 16:38
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Your system strongly reminds me of the D20 Modern's wealth system 1 2, which was invented to cope with the complexities of modern finance (credit cards, CDs, loans, etc) not with a simple count of cash on hand. My experience with that system is that players find it more confusing than tracking a simple amount of currency.

I would suspect with your proposed system that the players would find it:

  • Confusing. Especially about what makes the number go up and down.
  • Unsatisfying (Americans in particular like large numbers in their games, and most people find a certain appeal in seeing the numbers in their bank account go up).
  • Game-able. It's difficult to engineer such a system that doesn't leave itself open to being manipulated in unexpected ways.

There's also the downside of having to convert every item to a wealth score. This is time consuming at best.

In my current Pathfinder game I use the same simplification you suggested (less than a gold doesn't matter) and it seems to work fairly well.

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Having to convert every item to a wealth score is infinitely easier than coming up with prices for all of them, isn't it? I guess some manuals give you prices for everything, but right now I'm making things up as I go, so the wealth scores seemed much more appealing. :D –  Gordon Gustafson Sep 28 '11 at 16:32
    
@CrazyJugglerDrummer Well that would make it more appealing. I think the other points still stand. –  C. Ross Sep 28 '11 at 16:55
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Rather than having a "wealth level" that goes up and down, why not simply have a die roll resolve whether something difficult to buy is successfully bought? If you want to allow players to become better at buying things, make it a skill that can be improved (representing either becoming a better bargain finder or accumulating more wealth). This introduces the interesting (side?) effect that players will have to choose whether to improve their buying skill or some other important skill.

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Your examples look a lot like the Resources obstacles in Burning Wheel.

Characters in Burning Wheel have a Resources attribute, which they can roll to acquire things. It represents money, favors, and influence. When you fail a roll, your Resources can get Taxed (depleted temporarily) until you take measures, such as Get a Job, to recover them. Treasure you might find as part of an adventure shows up as one-time-use bonus dice.

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If you want it even simpler, you can use the Resources skill from FATE / Spirit of the Century. The difference is, that the Burning Wheel stat can go up and down depending on the outcomes of your adventure, while the FATE version is dependent only on the character. –  PiHalbe Sep 29 '11 at 8:02
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Marvel Super Heroes used this type of wealth system. It was more of a roll to see if you can figure out how to afford an item based on its value. The pluses are that it allows you to focus on what is important. It elimnates the microtransactions from the game. You can still deal with the important purchases with out worring about a ledger. If you implement your system I would recommend a temporary hit as opposed to a big hit with the ability to purchase above their value for a permanent hit to wealth.

What becomes more important in this system is availablity. A rich player may be able to afford anything but finding what they want is the hard part. be it a rare part to a machine or a specific component for a magical ritual.

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Given that the example looks like the Burning Wheel, Burning Empires, and Mouse Guard system... a few details before I get into the downsides. Note that TSR's Marvel Super Heroes had a similar system, and AMSH a different one (but related to MSH's); Open d6 system also uses a similar system.

In Re BW's

  1. BW Resources can be depleted - a failed roll might still get you what you want, but costs you a recoverable point of your resources stat.
  2. the stat can be refreshed by work, or by sacrificing a point permanently to reset it.
  3. it's used with the randomization mechanics in the exact same way as a skill.
  4. it's a logarithmic scale.
  5. it can be raised by use - it explicitly represents purchasing and borrowing capacity, not cash on hand.

The downsides:

  1. loss of use of treasure as a reward. BW has a means for it, but it's more complex than just counting cash.
  2. It's no simpler in the long run, but can produce unrealistic situations if mishandled.
  3. Haggling and such have much reduced sense of accomplishment due to non-visible contribution to purchasing power
  4. lucky players can buy WAY too much.
  5. unlucky players go broke way too easily
  6. (BW specific) Recovery of resources can derail plot lines by time spent working to recover resources. For some, this is a benefit, but for many, a drawback
  7. (BW specific) Those who buy the most get rich automatically...
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Part of what a system of delegation of wealth, which is what that seems to be for me, is it's not very role play heavy.

Describing the wealth to players can allow for some pretty simple "hooks" into later adventures. Dropping the amassed treasure into a number seems to take away a lot of the flavour for players, Randomly generating piles of coins, finding travellers checks already signed, a jewel statue and the hover scooter are treasure but it doesn't have the zing that it could. Buying things to furnish your home, caravan, war donkey or floating palace is important to round out the role playing aspect I think.

A gold ring. Simple blah.

A gold ring with what seems like Egyptian script written on the edge. Now that leads to the next possible adventure.

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My group is about to switch over to using physical "currency" of some kind (probably poker chips, but who knows).

My biggest problem with keeping track of currency is the addition, subtraction, erasing, and rewriting. If you have a physical pile/stack, it is easy to gauge generally how many you have. Also, buying something is as easy as handing over the correct number of chips.

We won't be doing this for silver/copper. We might have 1g/10g/100g chips, but I'm not sure yet.

Side benefit: It feels way cooler to get handed physical money when you open the treasure chest.

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