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One of the long-standing settings our group keeps returning to is classic medieval fantasy. (Examples are MERP, Rolemaster, The Dark Eye -- But this question is aimed to be system agnostic and is valid for any system relying on a more or less medieval'ish background.)

I feel we often encounter a problem with player characters quickly getting too wealthy. And I don't mean too wealthy for the designed system: in Rolemaster, for example, magical items, potent herbs/potions/poisons and high-quality goods in general are very, very expensive. So the problem is not that PCs can afford overpowered gear.

My issue originates with the very large societal span of wealth which was common in the middle ages, and -- as these often are a base to classical fantasy -- is also inherent in many fantasy RPG settings. Although there are obviously rich nobles, powerful wizards, and wealthy merchants, these make for a tiny fraction of overall society. The absolute majority are peasants and craftsmen, generally with a very low and only just self-sustaining income.

Just take a standard long sword: in many systems, its value is as high as what a farmer or small craftsman will earn in half a year. In my experience, this quickly leads to PCs being wealthier than 98% of the people they come in contact with.

With what a PC is walking around in his purse, he could easily buy a peasant's farm, all his cattle, and the craftsman's workshop next door as well.

Now, I am not criticizing the way wealth was distributed in medieval times (that is another story) or the way wealth is distributed in many fantasy settings.

But how do you, as a GM, handle players that are so wealthy that they could buy basically anything a 'normal' person in that setting would want to? (not including powerful artifacts, war horses, or Mithril plate armor...)


Some Issues

I'll maybe elaborate some more on what my problem is, as this seems to have been unclear. Here are some examples I struggle with:

  • I feel encounters between PCs and NPCs are somewhat unbalanced by the enormous difference in wealth. If a PC would give a farmer some pieces of silver (say, for a bit of information) that should send the farmer singing and dancing over his fields as he just earned some months wages.
  • It is difficult to even find something that common folk could offer PCs in a trade or as a reward: anything that is even slightly of interest to the players will be of such enormous value that the commoner would probably rather employ 10 workers and open a business than giving it away.
  • The merchants dealing in items which are 'interesting' to PCs are sitting on stocks worth amazing sums. (A potion maker or a weapon smith could probably buy an entire town with what his goods are worth.) If they are able to acquire products from the PCs they also need to have very big sums of money ready at hand.

Solution?

Up to now our group only had one way to deal with this kind of issue: it mostly includes not letting PCs get too wealthy in the first place. This works out well for a certain time, and we also all enjoyed playing characters who can not just afford (almost) whatever they want.

But eventually the bandits will not be clad in rugs and armed with sticks, but one will wear chain mail and they'll be wielding swords. And Bam!, one looting later the player characters are filthy rich -- by standards of common people.

I am especially interested in solutions that work once the PCs already gathered a fair amount of wealth, be it in currency or valuable goods.

P.S.: Sorry for the re-edits, I realized that the question/issue was only coming together in my head after reading the first responses.

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Your characters are heroes - they are better than almost everyone they meet. Why shouldn't they be wealthier too? –  corsiKa Jun 18 '14 at 15:10
    

14 Answers 14

up vote 15 down vote accepted

I used to play The Dark Eye (Das Schwarze Auge) myself and in my opinion it strongly resembles medieval Europe - apart from the obvious fantasy additions. It's rule books give information of the economy, trade and demography of nearly everything.

Therefore the dilemma is quite understandable; in medieval Europe a sword was worth a fortune and in the world of The Dark Eye it is the same. However, a hero needs a sword right?

Well, maybe not necessarily. In our group we don't have a rule to handle wealth but here are some thoughts on how we somehow deal with it usually (after writing it down I realised that our heroes are not that wealthy because of these guidelines so it may not suit your question that well):

Equipment has flaws. Nearly everything a (starting) character possesses is not a shiny new blade but rather a crude axe, and old dagger from the grandpa, a warm winter coat with some holes, the elven bow that was handed to the character in a ceremony and would not be considered for sale.

Producing goods has its cost. It is true that potions or magical items are worth a hell lot of money in The Dark Eye. But producing these is an investment and requires material and knowledge - both of which can be costly to find.

Valuable findings are rare. Again, nearly everything a character finds, loots or gets possession of has either flaws or is an unknown object that requires identification. However, here you'll find yourself in a situation where player and character knowledge interferes. An adventurer may not have ever seen a telescope and finds no use in keeping it but the player knows it is worth a ton of money. We also have some problems with stealing because the players have knowledge about the worth of goods - also stealing creates a difficult situation by either letting it pass or punishing the character that may hinder adventure progress (but that's a different story).

Carrying gold or whatever currency is not very common. Carry a chest full of gold and silver and it will attract thieves. Taxes may be imposed upon crossing borders and cities. And the greedy tavern keeper will charge more if he spots the characters entering in bling bling.

Value comfortable but rule-speaking unnecessary goods. Create an environment where player not only value the next best weapon or armor because it will raise their damage and defence in battle. Good shoes can be expensive but keep from getting exhausted and have a minor impact on game balance. The same with regular feel-good massages, company during the night, the feast at the end of an adventure. The more characters act with each other and the more a personality they have the more readily the spend money on that. All these are sorts of money sinks.

But in the end the characters are heroes and it may be frustrating to not get a bit wealthy at some point. The reward for risking their life is loot, treasure and occasionally - a very special event - the acquisition of a new and shiny sword.

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Thanks for your reply, there is some good stuff in here. However, it deals with this issue the same way we tend to deal with it: try not to let the PCs become wealthy in the first place. –  fgysin Mar 8 '13 at 15:11

Stop dealing with the 98% of the population. If they're so rich, they are now peers of the 2% of the population who rule in various ways. Peasants may have little to offer in reward (perhaps fealty?), but queens, nobles, generals, and the heads of merchant empires will want to either control or ally with such powerful figures – before their rivals do.

As a bonus, your cast of NPCs becomes easier to manage. The number of movers and shakers in any one location is small, and instead of "you see a noble and her entourage as you walk through the city", now it's "Lady Deyer greets you frostily; she must be upset by your growing favour with the King."

As a further advantage, their new allies will expect this "new money" to start acting like it, paying for ladies' maids, manservants, cooks, and guards; food, lodgings, wages, and fine gear and clothes for the servants; reception halls, fine silks, feasts, expensive wines, quality horses; and the list goes on. Being rich is expensive!

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+1 for 'Peasants may have little to offer in reward (perhaps fealty?)'. I find that getting followers can be a very good reward for some players, especially if they can be useful in more ways than 'I get them to attack the orcs!' –  Dakeyras Mar 8 '13 at 19:42
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+1 for "Being rich is expensive!". Wealthy characters will be expected to maintain staff, to follow fashion, to attend and run balls, to patronise the arts, and so on. –  Greenstone Walker Mar 10 '13 at 22:29
    
As always, 7-sided to the rescue. I always imagine epic-fantasy characters (e.g. D&D above 5th level) as traveling medieval knights with superpowers. The other solution is to run modest campaign: an ordinary man can be a hero without being able to fly and shoot lightning. Sacrifice, courage, winning over one's own daemons don't need a handsome millionaire that can lift a truck to manifest. –  Vorac Oct 23 '13 at 9:43
    
@Dakeyras this basically means becoming (self-proclaiming!) a nobleman. Other noblemen will notice and act accordingly. Either way, you'll have to deal with them. –  Lohoris Sep 11 '14 at 14:47
    
As far as my understanding goes, the PCs aren't really supposed to be part of the 98% after a decent amount of adventuring that is. If they were, then why wouldn't every random villager be an adventurer? After you play for a while you would want to be set apart from the rabble, and would need to be so in order to take out the higher level enemies that will pop-up with adventuring. –  Cyberson Dec 4 '14 at 22:00

I see no problem.

Let's assume the characters are not essentially rich, they just have very valuable equipment. They could have stolen it, found it, or rewarded with it. Apart from that, they don't need to be very rich.

If they want to trade their equipment for a cheaper one and buy a house or a farm (if they can), let them have it.

On the other hand, characters could be simply rich. What's the problem? Nearly all of the fellowship of the ring could be considered rich. Elric was definately rich, and so are many fantasy heroes. In a medieval setting, simply being well fed is near to be rich.

Common poor ordinary people didn't go adventuring. For them, feed themeselves and their family was all the adventure they could afford. So, who is going to rescue the duke's daughter?

Of course, poor people could be hired to do something. This would work better for people who had no posessions, as a peasant must stay in his land to take care of it. If you want your characters being of this class, simply limit the money they receive, and the equipment allowed. I have been in games where only wooden weapons and no armour were allowed at the start.

EDIT

Answering the new questions:

  • I see. The only problem here is that for the characters is very easy to have other people do what they want. You can try to fix it (making poor charactes are above), or you can simply accept it and make adventures that already assume that.
  • Yeah, life is hard. Peasants cannot hire mercenaries or any other services. That's why being a peasant sucks. They would depend on characters altruism most of the time. They could also offer other kind of things: "it is said that the witch that enchanted my child have very powerful magic items" or "there are lot of gold in those caves". And maybe if an entire village joined effort, they could offer some nice reward.
  • Maybe the merchants that provide such objects are not sitting and waiting in the market square. This objects would be luxury objects. The characters must meet these merchants in different ways. About selling these items, they must make a great effort, but there are many nobles or even kings rich enough to pay for them.
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I added some clarification, hope that explains better what I mean. –  fgysin Mar 8 '13 at 13:19
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Bilbo/Frodo's Mythril armor was, as said in the book, worth greatly more than the entirety of the shire and surrounding countryside. –  DampeS8N Apr 16 '13 at 19:49

There are several ways to approach this. The most common and easiest is: Handwaving.

In short, probably the traditional approach to this problem is to essentially ignore it. The peasant needs to offer a reward of 1000 Gold Pieces and it doesn't make any sense for his entire family to have anything close to that... well he does anyway. It's not realistic, but we accept that there's a dragon over the hill so we'll just accept that the peasant has 1000 Gold Pieces.

Another approach is Consistent Inflation Due to Magic and Abundant Gold. This doesn't work so well in a low magic systems, but in a high magic system it's fairly likely that the lot of the average peasant really is much better than it was in Medieval Europe. There are potions to cure diseases and treat wounds, magic users that can control the weather to help with crops (and even if the peasant can't afford to pay the magic user to cast the weather control spell, the lord of the region that gets a share of those crops can). Magic, along with fantastic beasts that don't exist in the real world, can also help in construction, meaning that less labor is needed for large manor houses. It's fairly likely that due to the magic the peasants are much better fed, cleaner, and overall wealthier than they were in reality.

Gold also tends to much more common in fantasy stories than it is in the real world. This tends never to be explained other than gold is awesome so it's more abundant.

Now, even taking that approach the average peasant should be much less wealthy than the average adventurer. But the difference might be a lot smaller than you describe, so therefore the adventurer can't afford to buy and sell the entire village.

And finally, as SevenSidedDie mentions, you can focus on their peers to make the issue less apparent.

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Thanks, @belacqua –  TimothyAWiseman May 21 '13 at 19:38
    
The "Handwaving" suggestion is simply horrible, while the "Inflation" highlights a common problem that plagues badly designed universes, like most D&D ones. –  Lohoris Sep 11 '14 at 15:39
    
@Lohoris Could you expand on those comments? Handwaving is how most games handle it and unless you want realistic economics to be a major part of your game, it seems to work. The Inflation seems to me what would really happen if gold were more easily extracted and resources more easily acquired due to the existence of functional magic. I'd be interested if you could explain why you don't like handwaving or why inflation is not both realistic and able to resolve at least a large portion of the issue. –  TimothyAWiseman Sep 11 '14 at 17:05
    
Thanks, I'll try to explain. Many settings are carelessly "designed", so that they lack any resemblance of internal consistency. Talking about that kind of inflation equals to talking about this general problem. But this is a general problem that affects the game as a whole, so if it would be acceptable to use it as an answer, any question on any problem in this setting might have the same answer. –  Lohoris Sep 11 '14 at 21:44
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@Lohoris I largely agree. But given a system that was not designed to realistically simulate economics, I think using inflation due to the advantages of magic as a rationale for why peasants have a lot of gold makes sense. Still, I see where you are coming from. –  TimothyAWiseman Sep 12 '14 at 16:06

Relationships as Rewards

Your awareness concerning the disparity-in-wealth issue might be more of a solution than a problem. While many GMs are looking for trouble for PCs to get into, you have already identified an excellent jumping-off point for all kinds of adventures.

Poor NPCs will naturally seek help from characters that appear to have more resources. Wealthy NPCs will often be threatened by characters that are rising into fields of influence that they used to control.

I think the key is to retreat from the idea of rewarding the players with loot. Let them loot all they want but refuse to let accumulation be the engine of your story. Look to relationships as a source of motivation. Wealth and power would certainly change relationships between the PCs and various NPCs but how would that alter the way the PCs are viewed by all their old friends and enemies?

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It's actually hard to sell things quickly and easily

Let's say you've found a gem, clearly worth a lot of money. You're rich, right? Well, who's going to buy it? Certainly not anyone in a podunk village at the outskirts of society. Anyone who might want to trade for it certainly can't give you much anyway until you get to someone with real wealth, so you have to drag it to a larger town.

Now you get to the larger town - how do you find buyers? Do you have to hire 3rd parties to verify the gem as real? How much will they pay you for it? Did you end up spending weeks, months, or even years finding someone who could give you more than 10% of what it's worth? Are you taxed for entering the town? Are you taxed when you make sales?

What about tools, arms, armor? That's stuff people can use, right? Again, you have to find folks who a) want these things, and b) can give you anything worthwhile in return, and c) you have to drag it around until you can offload it. A local militia that needs these things is also probably too broke to pay much for it, the one that is well supplied already has enough gear, and might only buy a couple of pieces. Given that a lot of this may look stolen (spoils, loot, booty, is stolen), merchants and authorities might not trust you fully on it. Corrupt authorities might declare it stolen and just confiscate it. Oops.

How about coins? Coins are easy, right? Are the coins you have recognized locally? Lots of coins only had value a bit past local borders. Are these coins from lost civilizations no one has heard of, and as far as they know, all of you strangers walking in from the wastes with a pile of "gold" are probably counterfeiters or deceivers of some type who aren't to be trusted? (again, authorities declare them fake, confiscate them). Who is a local moneychanger who you can get your coins verified with? Are they cheating you too?

In our modern world, we have standardizations, managed economies, and it's really easy to buy or sell stuff. In the past, we had people cheating each other every which way, we had slow trade networks, and often getting goods around was a giant pain in the ass.

Connections allow you to make wealth

So to transform that loot into real wealth, you really need connections. You need to know who to go to, you need to have some reputation or association with a group (guild, noble house, religious order, hell, you can be "Markev the Peddler" that everyone knows for the last 8 years) and you will need time - you can either sell it quickly at the barest fraction of it's worth or you can find the right buyers and have to store/transport it.

Oh, but wait, if you have the backing of an organization or group, you also have obligations. If you suddenly come into a lot of wealth, they're going to want a cut - they're going to start making demands on how you spend it. You probably have rivals within and without the group who will become jealous and start thinking of ways to screw you over.

Time is money

How long does it take to sell stuff? Where do you store it? Who guards it? How much do you pay in food and lodging while you're looking? Do you have porters helping carry stuff? How much do they cost? Are they trustworthy?

You're losing money while you're waiting to make money.

The Peasants

Sure, your gear and spoils are worth more than what the farmers will ever own. But it's not like the farmers could use, or sell most of the stuff you have either. So there's a lot of stuff you simply couldn't trade them anyway.

If you wanted to buy the land and the farm? Odds are you'd be buying it from the lord or noble who owns it - the villagers probably don't own their land. If they do, however, they might not be willing to let go if it anyway - their dead ancestors are buried here, generations of hard work cleared those fields, built those houses - and where would they go? They don't know how to trade or where to go next anyway...

So... unless you have some kind of authority over them (class, caste, religious, etc.) you're really just another traveller.

They may have learned to generally avoid people like you, just to be safe, or maybe they try to squeeze you out of what few things they could use. If it's a culture of hospitality, they share what is appropriate with you, and unless you're a particularly helpful worker, or a healer, or somehow can help them out, they will wish you well and hope you move on quickly, since you're eating their food.

Recognized Wealth

If you're not of a wealthy class or social position...nobles, established merchants, well-to-do religions... these folks will see you with your collection of treasures and spoils and mostly, they will be happy to buy what they need, at a price they see fit. Unless you're pretty adept at appraisal and trade, you will probably get a less than great price.

It you seem to be trying to get into their ranks, they'll probably see if they can use you or find a way to cheat you out of the wealth you have. A few bad deals, a slick wedding and sketchy inheritance laws, or simply abusing their authority to take it from you all works just fine.

No one blames you for trying to better your life, they just blame you for thinking you were capable of doing so.

If you ARE of recognized wealth, rest assured, someone above you is probably seeing you get a bit too rich and considering how to squeeze it from you. If there's no one above you, the people just below you are thinking about how to get their cut.

Magical Treasure

Magical items are either something you can consistently produce ("healing potions") in which case it's priced as any other expected good, or else they are a rare object which makes pricing them extremely hard. In the latter case, all the issues of scams and jealously multiply greatly. You can expect people to find ways to demand or steal it.

Again, good luck finding a buyer, and finding a buyer who isn't going to simply bring more problems your way.

And, of course, culture plays a big part in this as well. Some cultures might worry that such things are cursed, fey-touched, demonic and dangerous to the soul. Other cultures might consider such objects holy - you don't sell these things, you gift them to someone pious and worthy.

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Thanks, there are some good inputs here on how to make the life of my players characters more difficult... :) –  fgysin Jun 2 at 9:03
    
It's never been easy to get rich quickly for the majority of people. All you have to do is look at the real world history of reasons why. –  Bankuei Jun 2 at 14:44

Before the phat loot, players had to go to mayors and governors to beg them for quests so that they could get rewards.

After they get rich, make them pay for that expedition to Magic Africa to get the sacred idol of who cares. Or magic items, or more money, or whatever they find (they may even not get their money back in more loot, but they could gain something intangible).

And I mean actually make them finance the thing, figure out how many carriers, carts, guards, guides, etc. This is even before any of that Make Your Own Castle/Kingdom business that seems to be all the rage in high level groups.

Fiction is full of examples of "found a map, finance expedition (or get rich uncle/sponsor to do it and then die horribly)".

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Okay, lets start point for point.

I see your initial problem and encountered it myself often before I started to develop open plots that use that wealth to their benefit (needs some time of experience as a GM, I must admit).

The given answers are very good. Still it is nearly impossible to stop the PCs from growing wealthy. Most of the time, I think, that is a good thing, because they will need the wealth. Points to balance the issue in the early stages (low exp) in the game for me are:

  • Time issues: Most of the time, PCs will have some kind of Quest and are in a hurry. Earning money, however, takes time. Creating an item, finding a buyer, making a potion and so on. Besides, not every day is a market day in most places. If on a quest, my PCs are watching their time well, at least, since they once simply came late to a quest (what a shame for heroes with a certain reputation).

  • Social issues: Yes, your players may be part of the 2%, but they are special in many ways. For example: magic is rare, knights are and heroes are the rarest thing. "Normal" people might be offended of that, remembering the plundering knights of the last war and having natural superstition against magic. It often might be easy getting stuff, but not the often way more important intelligence. Imagine the heavily armed weirdos at your doorstep: "Hello, we'd like to... uhm... talk."

  • Trust: Let your group be the wealthiest out there, but NPCs still have to trust them. Wrong nationality? Bad! Magic? Bad! Too highborn? Bad! Something better? Bad! You give me money for your question? Okay, I will just tell some fairy tales. And the weaponsmith for the special stuff might look much more for certain reputation than for money (thus it might still get expensive as hell).

  • Travelling: Most of my adventures don't play at the PCs doorstep. And hell, travelling can get very expensive, especially when you are in a hurry. The riverboat for 5 PCs with luggage, horses and all the stuff, eating, drinking, oat for the animals then sailing on the big ship etc. etc. Being realistic on travel gets a lot of PCs to the point, where they need to use the smallest time in a town to get some work.

  • Weight and currency: Ever tried to carry 1000 gold coins? Or paying 500 $ notes at a flea-market? Okay, there still are gems, diamonds and so on... then you better not get raided. Or market price for gems drops because of a new mine. There still is a bank, but still that is expensive and where is an atm if you need one.

  • Loss: What to do with our horses in front of the dungeon-cave or in the mountains? In a sea battle PCs may fall over board. Death sentence if they don't get rid of the heavy armour. Many things can consistently keep players from growing too rich to early.


Deal with it!

Okay, we can keep PCs down for a while, but at some point it just doesn't make sense for the famous heroes that saved the kingdom many times to not be wealthy.

That is okay and I learned that with a little effort as a GM this is the best thing that can happen! It starts with the players not running for money but for reputation. And in time this will lead to much more. The archon might learn of the hero, letting him officiate something, the mage gets a tower or a chair, heroes get titles, feud and so on. This brings special quests with it, on which other PCs could not even participate. State affairs, intrigue, overthrow, religious issues, quests from the King or similar and endless others.

Being famous also has dark sides. You will not only be loved but also hated. There might be influential enemies that want you assassinated. By the time the PCs have land and men, they will be called to arms in case of war and have to set an army (big expenses). In our group that makes for a wonderful metagame. Often we meet only to discuss matters of the village of a player or the chess moves on the political level. (Great fun whilst having a drink in a nice bar.)

For our group this is just the most exciting thing. Decisions can change history for all characters and influence the whole world. For me as GM its wonderful if a new group encounters a tavern owned by a player of a different group. There is so much detail, depth and background in that place because players often put a lot of effort in that. For me this makes a realistic and consistent world. And there often comes the time, when all political intrigue, war, economic developments and administrative issues are becoming so much a headache that you have a famous hero sitting in a tavern, a beer mug in hand, saying "Ahh, with all the trouble and politics might and wealth brought us, I miss the good old times. Sleeping in the woods fighting for your life, living the easy life. When we were the good and the orcs where the evil. Now there seems to be a knife behind the back of every smile".

After that experience most of my group's Players where changed. They had way more fun also playing less wealthy characters, didn't go for loot that much, and enjoyed the small things again.

Whereas some of the "big" PCs got very happy by retiring from political life to work in their profession, like a weaponsmith for example. And some are exciting to see in play because they are so mighty and know how to play the now famous "Game of Thrones" that nearly everything is possible. With such players you never run out of quests for smaller groups.

Meta play was the biggest gain our roleplay ever encountered. It makes the world we play in more familiar to the players, history awesome when you hear a song of a long forgotten hero that actually was an old PC and works great for getting out of the routine of saving the world on and on.

Nice topic, leaves me with a lot of lust to play DSA (The Dark Eye) again :) Couldn't agree more with a lot of the answerers. Sorry if my spelling and language is not perfect. I'm not a native speaker.

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So much great input! But how do can this happen: 'a new group encounters a tavern owned by a player of a differend group'. Do you manage different groups simultaneously? –  Ludi Jun 5 at 22:44

How about some explicit disadvantages of being wealthy? It starts by having crowds of beggars waiting for the party whenever they go outside, neighbouring farmers starving after a bad harvest, and priests seeking donations to rebuild the cathedral.

You go on to taxation. The simple way is a high tax rate on 'unearned income' with the whole army turning up to collect, but you can be more creative; one popular tactic in mediaeval Europe was for the king to "ask" his rich subjects to lend money to finance his next project. Refusal would be treason, and since the project was almost certainly a war of some sort, you might have to get involved just to protect your investment.

Of course there are (other) thieves as well. Guards and walls will protect normal wealth, but the more you have, and the more highly portable it is, the more burglars will be attracted to it. How much do you pay a guard who could, if he wanted, fill his pockets with enough to retire on? Perhaps the party will need to build an underground complex to protect the money, and fill it with traps and monsters...

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Wealth is not as valuable as you think it is.

In the modern age, (people assume) wealth equates directly to power. In medieval settings, who you knew equated to power because people fought paper wars rather than actual ones - the Duke of Somerset is valuable as a friend because he controls 200 knights, and those knights give him significant pull both with other people who control knights, and the King (who theoretically controls all the knights).

At any time, the King can take your wealth off you and suffer only the repercussions of how many knights your friends are theoretically willing to bid against that. So can any lord, if you have no friends with knights who are theoretically willing to bid against that. Which doesn't mean they will, but it does mean everyone is aware, all the time, that if they have 300 gold sequins in their pocket, every lord, gate guard, or whatever is going to look at it, go 'I, or someone I know, could take that off you probably', think 'wait, they probably have powerful friends', think 'or do they', and then decide discretion is the better part of valour and simply take a cut as a 'tax'.

And i'm not saying this as a way to 'control' your PCs wealth - simply that if you flash your cash to a peasant and say 'hey i'll give you gold for ', the peasant is going to poop himself. Either he buries it, or runs away to a city and tries to leverage that gold into a better life, or it gets taken off him and he gets executed for theft.

The entire concept of Wealth is different to the modern day, and what it does (used as the means of exchange for the well-to-do and not at all by 98% of the setting) is completely different to what we use it for in the modern day.

Peasants don't earn money.

The 'amount' a peasant earns is a kludge to describe the quantity of goods they generally produce that don't get taxed from them. They have money, but only from exceptional transactions, or in trade from peasants who have made an exceptional transaction by selling home-made candles at a county fair or something. They will rarely use it, and generally only to buy speciality goods very occasionally.

Wealth is actually an amalgamation of any actual money you have and your political power.

Every transaction not backed in some way by political power (often that of a lord who holds the fealty of the individual, a guild of which the individual is a member, or at worst the lords of a city who feel their rights are being encroached on) is effectively only secured by the physical force of the person attempting to make the transaction - a criminal, black-market style interaction. 'I'll do this deal, but only because i'm not sure if you have a gun or not'.

Political power can directly secure wealth, wealth can only indirectly secure political power. Ergo, the valuable commodity in a medieval setting is not gold - it is the skill to turn gold into political power, or simply being born into the right family.

Keep this in mind and your setting will be a lot more reasonable while also solving the 'money problem'.

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Wealth, I agree with the idea that starting out the players may actually start out with low quality items, and that is a good idea but such probably will cost less. Maybe half or three FORTH's if there are no current game systems about it, with critical item damage failures, but even then.

The players are wealthy why? Even if the characters are low class the money may have been put up by their clan when the character was lucky enough to get a Letter of Marche and Reprisal from the local Lord, dusty foot court, or adventurers guild. The clan is of course expecting thier money back with interest when the local March court condemns the property taken.

There are games that have standard of living rules, the ones I know of are based on the charactors household. Persons may ask why would adventures have households, who watches their very expencive property while they sleep? Who cleans their armor, who cooks the food, who.. But why would characters who have to move around all the time have a household.. Think hunting camp, with the camp run by a guild guide. The party pays for the for his fee plus a lump sum for camp expenses. If a character requires his own servants he or she pays their head servant (valet/handmaid) and they work out the split with the Camp guide. If the group or party members require arms-men under their own command they must pay those officers like they pay the guide.

Yes.. your characters are that wealthy they need servants, followers and hirelings. But the staffs pay depends on their social class and class expectation, who expects to have to use weapons to protect the master and households. Camp followers, aren't paid by the characters they are family of hirelings so paid or independent contractors looking for work amount the servants.

P.S. duty to bear arms to protect the household does not equate to following into lairs and expeditions beyond the camp, though taking personal pay from a player character with the character as their officer, may require entering lairs with a hazard bonus or crew portion of Letter of Reprisal treasure.

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I feel like most of the answers here are ignoring major parts of economics in a world that does not have ebay or telecommunications.

Firstly, not all assets can be liquidated. If you have ten gold pieces and a mithril shirt "worth" ten billion gold pieces, you don't actually have 10,000,000,010 gold unless you can find someone who actually has that much money and wants to part with it and really, really needs some swanky armor. Yeah you could trade, but nobody is likely to let you outright buy a town with a shirt that only one guy can wear. Even a king with autocratic power likely wouldn't make that deal because a town a) generates regular revenue, b) can be readily converted into other assets (slaves, soldiers, laborers, etc), and c) represents a certain status that gets him into the social circles of other monarchs. You could, I suppose, sell the shirt piecemeal as a bunch of individual rings, but the problems with that plan are very obvious. Turns out being rich in terms of stuff doesn't typically translate to being disruptively powerful.

The flip side of this phenomenon is a problem too, even though it's less of a problem. Yeah, money can raise an army, but you can't just walk down to the army store. Raising an army (or razing a castle, or running a business empire) is a logistically complex process. It involves not just money, but time, effort, and expertise on a level that basically precludes adventuring. If a player somehow manages to acquire a city, a kingdom, a chain of Carolina-style BBQ places, or whatever, the game becomes....a very different kind of game. If they like that, then they have very different goals than you and you might want to find a new game group. Or punch them. Either/or. In any case, if they don't enjoy it, suggest they delegate the day-to-day management and resume adventuring. Lacking debit cards, the game returns to a balanced state. Bonus: when they return you can have an epilogue where their delegates refuse to give back control, and now you have a new adventure hook.

If your concern is not the game itself--how it plays--but some aesthetic distaste for the incoherence of of the setting, then I feel like the problem is on your end. I don't mean that in the "haha ur dumb" sense, just that I see it as a problem with perspective. At the end of the day we're talking about fantasy here, and fantasy is kind of inherently nonsense. That's actually the point. If you try to apply any kind of rigorous logic to the way the world works you're going to quickly and repeatedly run face-first into the fudgery that the entire setting is built on. Specifically, I suspect you'll end up recreating the very aspects of real life that make adventuring in the RPG sense impractical. That, or force all player characters to be born into wealth.

TL;DR version:

  1. Ultimately, you're in control of the players' ability to liquidate assets, and have the power to stop a lot of nonsense entirely in-universe.
  2. If the players really want to use their wealth in a disruptive way, you can just let them, and then let them lie in the bed they made.
  3. Making the economics of a fantasy RPG world completely coherent/simulationistic may well be a fool's errand, especially if handwaving doesn't bother the players. Your best solution may be to learn to stop worrying and love the bomb.

Comedy option: make your fantasy world socialist and have the players get audited for undeclared adventuring income.

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This looks like it lays the groundwork for an answer, but it leaves the specifics of “how to handle wealthy PCs” as an exercise in extrapolation for the reader. As this isn't a discussion site, answers do need to explicitly answer the question, even when challenging its assumptions. Could you edit this to say what all these points mean for practical, at the table actions a GM can take? –  SevenSidedDie Jun 1 at 20:39

A bandit with mail and a horse is a Lord. Are you simulating medieval class society?

That rich merchant is infact the Lord Mayor (and 10+th level thief, etc). The wizard who can sell potions? The Chancellor of the Free University. These NPCs have motivations other than wealth: fealty, religion, enslaving vast numbers of peasants, stealing other people's vast numbers of peasants, what Brian said about our Charlene back when we were about to resolve the crisis about killing large numbers of peasants.

If your PCs are rich, then they are not nearly noble enough. Ennoblement itself requires payments to kings, dukes, princes, popes, imams, mayors, etc. Give them a holding, make them pay to defend it. Or strip their wealth for a crusade. NPCs capable of selling high level items don't [just] want money in payment.

And if you walk into town with the value of the town on your back, you will be arrested, tried, and have all your goods seized, just before being killed. Gross wealth without nobility was often effectively criminal. And if it isn't, why that's where ancient customs get invented. And gold attracts followers, and followers carouse and live in idlement.

Or that high level cleric, the one too many levels higher than the PCs? "We could use a new cathedral/mosque. You could use not being anathemised and burnt alive. I think you can see what I mean."

If you're simulationist, and you've got problems with the verisimilitude of great wealth, then you're probably not simulating NPC reactions to class society. Like killing the adventurers when they walk into the village and stealing all they own, ala Seven Samurai's revelation of lost armours.

Confiscate the gold, by giving them social relations and non-treasure motivations.

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I think it's important to realise a couple of things: -

Firstly, although there are costs and prices for many items listed in most games' core books, the price for an item varies wildly in "real life". For example, to paraphrase Matt Easton of Schola Gladiatoria on "Value of Medieval Swords" : A foot archer (a common soldier) in the Hundred Years War was paid about 6 pence a day . "Old rusty swords" (as described in peoples' wills) were valued at as little as 2 pence. On the other hand, King Henry V had twelve swords made to be given to other kings, each valued at 2,000 pounds - or about enough to build a modest Cathedral. Other items might also be second-hand or of particular quality, but not really be functionally any different from any other item of that type.

So we could say that a level 1 Figther might have a notched, rusty sword from campaigning, but a 15th level Fighter who hangs around with the nobility might buy something worth considerably more to "keep up with the Joneses".

Secondly, if you wander about the place wearing full plate armour, with a gold-hilted sword at your hip and a helm with griffon feathers on the top, people of a less-than-honest nature are going to fleece you (at least in my games). How much is that brass mirror? 750gp? Reasonable!

Anyway, I hope you come up with something that works for you.

(Edit: Note that above-listed prices are in olden-day money. Today we'd be looking at much bigger numbers, in dollars or pounds)

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protected by Oblivious Sage Jun 18 at 23:18

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