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The principle behind the wealth by level table in the DMG is to summarize the amount of magical gear that a character will have access to at each level.

It's clear that the potions, scrolls and other consumables that are available should be included in the wealth count. Anything that has been consumed can't benefit the character and thus isn't counted as wealth.

Does this mean that characters are expected to use consumables regularly? What is the opportunity cost of using those consumables? Do they become free over the long term?

For example, a party that uses a Potion of Heroism for every character in every fight they can up to level 20 will get much more treasure over 20 levels than a party that saves their potions for the fights they need it.

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It may be that the wealth value for a given level already subtracts the value of consumables expected to be used until that point. –  Garan Jan 16 '13 at 20:12
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Your example, I believe, is not correct. Wealth by level is a measure of treasure received, not treasure on hand. See my post for details. –  Jeor Mattan Jan 16 '13 at 21:27
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Treasure is not determined by this number though, this is more of an expectation. Treasure is on another table, and if you're giving out more because people use lots of potions, you're doing something wrong. The treasure calculations already have consumable use worked into them. See Starwed's answer for that. –  Tridus Jan 16 '13 at 23:38
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4 Answers 4

up vote 6 down vote accepted

The suggestion I'd make on handling parties that use an abnormal amount of consumables is the one of staying true to what little rules we do have: hand out an appropriate amount of treasure, and let the players decide how to apply it. If they spend lots of gold on consumables, they end up with fewer permanent magic items. If they spend little... well, they'll have more shinies. In other words, I do not suggest enforcing WBL on characters that already exist - and there is no rules premise for doing so, as far as I can tell. What you should be focusing on is handing out the correct amount of treasure.

Starwed's answer contains information on how much gold the game assumes characters will collect throughout their adventuring career.

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So Wealth by Level is really more of a guideline to the player of how much he should spend on permanent magic items then. That makes sense. –  Simon Gill Jan 17 '13 at 12:41
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Yes, this is explicitly discussed in the DMG in a "Behind the Curtains" box, bottom of page 54.

It discusses the relationship between the treasure generated by encounters, and the character wealth level.

As you can see, rewards using these tables generate more wealth than indicated. We assume characters use up that additional money on expenses such as being raised from the dead, potions, scrolls, ammunition, food, and so forth.

There's even a table that compares the expected amount of gold for you power level vs. the total amount of treasure you will have acquired, with a brief explanation as to how this was calculated.

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+1 This is the correct answer. The wealth by level table is basically a cheat sheet for if you suddenly need to make a level 12 character for some reason. The actual treasure per level is going to be higher, and some of it will be lost as expenses, such as potions. –  Tridus Jan 16 '13 at 23:39
    
Agreed, this is the definitive answer. It's understandable that you (the question-asker) might have missed or been confused by the tables in the DMG, since there are a bunch of them regarding wealth, but they are there nonetheless. –  Southpaw Hare Jan 17 '13 at 0:06
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Indeed - if you are using the WBL table as anything other than "hey you're making a new L12 character and you have this amount to spend," or "Am I generally giving the party enough dough? Hmm, they are under the general WBL guidelines by 40%, maybe I should amp it up if I am targeting an 'average D&D' campaign" you are a bad person. –  mxyzplk Jan 17 '13 at 0:06
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Throwing my support behind this answer as well. Had I known about this table, I'd have shut up! :D –  Ernir Jan 17 '13 at 1:27
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“Wealth” is defined as the total value of the assets you have. A potion you used three levels ago is not an asset; its current value to you is zero. A potion in your backpack, on the other hand, has value: you can still use it.

However, consumables, by definition, have fleeting value. Once used, they no longer have value, and a character wouldn’t consider them a part of his or her wealth. In 3.5, it’s expected that the players’ wealth will fluctuate up and down, hopefully roughly around the WBL values for their level. So a potion that gets used results in a loss of wealth, but then perhaps the treasure at the end results in more wealth (and perhaps more potions) until that wealth is used, and so on.

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So what happens if a party is using large numbers of scrolls, potions and consumables every fight? –  Simon Gill Jan 16 '13 at 21:26
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@SimonGill: I seem to recall the DMG discussing that issue, but in any event: then they're going to fluctuate harder, and they may spend larger amounts of time on the "down" side of the curve. It depends on the campaign: some campaigns are simply very demanding and they must make heavy use of such resources, but in other campaigns that kind of thing would be abusive if the players expected to get all that wealth back. –  KRyan Jan 16 '13 at 21:37
    
@SimonGill: It also depends on why they are using large amount of consumables - they might be consistently well beyond WBL curve if they mostly face tough opposition (above their CR), get standart treasure and have to spend much of it to keep winning. This way they will get the same amount of treasure as a more experianced party would (the amount is fixed), but spend more of it, AND earn more XP (because XP awards are progressive). –  Eugene Ryabtsev Mar 9 '13 at 10:18
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Yes, the consumables are included into WBL calculation and you're expected to 'pay' for them at the character creation.

No, that does not mean that anybody is expected to use the consumables. You may not even have them, despite that the relative cost of low-level potions and scrolls is negligible at higher levels. In a certain sense they are free - when we're talking at 760k gp wealth for level 20, 50 gp for a potion is essentially free.

The opportunity cost, I believe, cannot be calculated in general, since the alternatives to using a consumable a highly dependent on circumstances.

For the purpose of estimating treasure given out during play, WBL should be calculated as the sum of the treasure given to players, not the sum of the treasure they still have on hand. Thus it will include the consumables they bought and consequently spent, and therefore the group which spends a potion of Heroism each encounter, as per your example, has exactly the same WBL as the group which conserves their consumables (but probably less cash or permanent magic items).

While the following DMG quote (treasure, p51)

Table 3–5: Treasure has been created so that if PCs face enough encounters of their own level to gain a level, they will have also gained enough treasure to keep them apace with the wealth-by-level information found in Table 5–1: Character Wealth by Level (page 135). Just as gaining a level requires between thirteen and fourteen encounters of a party’s level, so too fourteen average rolls on the table at the party’s level will get them the treasure they need to gain the appropriate amount for the next highest level, assuming that the PCs expend some resources such as potions and scrolls during those encounters.

seems to disregard some consumables in WBL calculations, I personally find this inherently incorrect, as it allows for certain abuse.

For those willing to give the players some spending money for consumables, I suggest that the difference between WBL by table 5-1 and WBL by average encounter treasure (as noted by @Ernir, this difference is noticeable) was used for this purpose.

(This is actually suggested by DMG itself, p54)

As you can see, rewards using these tables generate more wealth than indicated. We assume characters use up that additional money on expenses such as being raised from the dead, potions, scrolls, ammunition, food, and so forth.

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