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Inspired by some of the answers to Pitfalls of using the optional 'XP for Gold' rule in a Basic D&D Retro Clone game?

As DM/GM, you slipped up and ended up giving the PCs significantly more gold/treasure than should have been given. Granted, bandits can jump the PCs between the gold-lined dungeon and town to reduce the haul, but players will feel cheated (or track down the bandits, kill them all and end up with not only their gold back, but also any wealth the bandits had accrued).

What are some ways that as a GM you can pull gold out of a party without the players complaining that you are being a gold-stealing, jerk DM?

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Related closely, but not a duplicate: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/22786/… –  SevenSidedDie Apr 16 '13 at 21:26
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12 Answers

up vote 16 down vote accepted

I once had a Shadowrun group who hit a truck transporting gold, and they walked away with something like two million nuyen (each) in a campaign where that was more than they had combined through character creation and their careers.

It was somewhat of a mess, but it counteracted itself nicely, because I didn't just let them spend it on anything they could afford-they had to justify finding, and purchasing their new gear, so instead of immediately buying weapon and power foci and cutting-edge augmentations and weapons the massive haul wound up sending them on missions to build relationships and find things that they could then spend their money on; in addition to the copious amount spent on outfitting the team with headquarters and new shiny vehicles so they no longer had to take the bus or drive personal vehicles around on their runs.

Basically, look at the windfall as a stepping stone to future encounters; players probably don't have the relationship with the master artificers or merchants who sell the sort of things they can now afford to buy some of the stuff they want, so they'll have to work to it.

Of course, though this doesn't work in every setting, spending a lot of money at one time tends to be frowned upon in certain places, especially when tax evasion or criminal acquisition is suspected.

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Definitely like the "use gold as plot-hook" motif here. –  Pulsehead Apr 18 '13 at 14:39
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The most straightforward answer I can give you is: have them gain less treasure during the next encounters, until you reach the intended balance.

In games where XP and money (or their equivalents) are independent, it's fairly easy. The PCs are now over-equipped, so they could also be able to handle some higher level fights for bigger XP awards. While accelerating the XP gain is not necessary, it could solve your problem and let you all go back to the regular encounters faster.
Choose enemies that don't need any or much equipment to avoid having yet more wealth land in the PCs' hands. Have their level catch up to wealth. If you want it to resolve even faster, you can increase the XP rewards.

Keep in mind that if you increased the encounter level (assuming the game cares about such things) the PCs will level up faster than normal while you are fixing the balance. Be careful if this causes pacing problems for your campaign or your players.

This is best done by dropping some items now and then (thus slowing your catching-up process), since stopping treasure gain for a long time is not fun.

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Once word gets around, opportunities that your players might never have heard of will suddenly become available to them. Those who traffic in rare, powerful, and expensive items will target that new money, and begin to dangle things in front of them that they just can't resist.

Of course, since you know what lights up your players, you can be sure they're practically irresistable. The key from your perspective is to make these items expendable. By way of example, in a D&D-esque setting this may be an amulet of ressurection (auto-activated, 1 shot only), a potion of titan strength or some other extreme physical enhancement, a powerful wand that can't be recharged, magic arrows, etc. Even if you have to offer them something that's unbalancing, it's temporary. What's more, you can insert extraordinary circumstances into the next adventure or two that give them the opportunity to expend those resources.

The trick is to make them feel like they got their money's worth without unbalancing your campaign and without making them feel railroaded. When they perform some incredible deed with their high powered item, make sure they hear that the story has become a song that's frequently played in local taverns. Or make the player's become synonymous with overcoming impossible odds or exceeding one's abilities, e.g. overheard in a bar: "Fight them off? There were 6 of them! Who do you think I am, (insert character name here)??"

Also, if the item is rare and powerful enough, some players will just hoard it, always figuring they can find some other way out of their current situation, and they better save that special item until they REALLY need it. I've seen items like that sit in inventory until the players advanced to the point that they weren't even overpowered anymore.

Lastly, (and this is a good general technique), if the players still feel manipulated, drop hints that the manipulation might be in-game, not GM fiat. Have them learn things that unexpectedly tie the adventure where they acquired the cash to the event where the results of that cash were expended. Having shadowy manipulators is a useful plot device, and even if you don't have an immediate plan for them, they can be easily developed into future campaign material.

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What separates people from money in the real world? Isn't it mid April?

Tax Collectors!

When adventurers roll into town with their exhausted ponies quivering under the weight of all their treasure, wo do you think will be waiting for them?

They will also attract the attention of:

  • every relative they've (n)ever had.
  • every charlatan, snake oil salesman, and "entrepreneur" within rumor-distance of them
  • everyone they've ever owed ANYTHING
  • local religious organizations and individuals, both legitimate and otherwise
  • politicians and leaders
  • beggars and charities and philanthropists
  • con artists and cheats and gamblers
  • sycophants and hangars-on

EDIT:

Also, being rich can just get expensive:

  • Where are you going to store all that gold? In your root cellar? You'll need a vault - and vaults are expensive!
  • What about a lock for it? You want the local locksmith to know how to open your vault? If not, you'll need to bring in an expert from a distant land - not a cheap proposition!
  • Who's going to guard this vault? Will they do it for free?
  • Let's not forget that if you buy your way into a higher level of society, staying there is a hugely expensive proposition.
  • Want to spend all your time keeping track of every coin? You'll need an accountant! And you'll need to pay him enough to make stealing from you seem like it's not worth it...

One of the poets of our age noted that problems increase proportionally with wealth.

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Well, some people consider it theft in reality. But how do your players think the kingdoms and empires work? –  gomad Apr 16 '13 at 20:22
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@KyleWilley There is an excellent dungeoncrawl module I read once that starts you out in a keep near and old ruin. It has you tell the players straight-up before they go that "old coins" have a 10% gate tax. They don't have to come back to that keep, but it's a long ride to the rest of civilisation, so they're forewarned and have a choice. –  SevenSidedDie Apr 16 '13 at 20:44
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It's not that it's implausable, @gomad, it's just that unless it's in the rules players start to get paranoid. –  Kyle Willey Apr 16 '13 at 21:23
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@KyleWilley That's a matter of how artfully (or more to the point, how hamfistedly) the GM deploys the tax collectors, though. If they turn up out of the blue, not good. But there are ways to integrate the tax into the game more subtly/organically. –  Lowly Minion Apr 17 '13 at 1:44
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True, but unless they brag about it, or adventurers get audited by the IRS on a regular basis (not having a steady address kinda might prevent that, though it certainly could work for something like the Pathfinder Society members), the only way to know is to see after they've spent it rather indiscreetly at places of ill repute scattered throughout the lands, at which point balance has already been lost. –  Kyle Willey Apr 17 '13 at 4:28
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  • Fairy gold. It turns out some of the gold they found is not real. They've spent it but now the merchants are angry and want pay back, but will consider a service as amends.
  • The gold is cursed. They have to find a way to dispose of it.

After all you're the DM and infallible by definition. To think that you'd give them so much gold by mistake is unthinkable. It was just a plot device for the next adventure.

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Small warning: Fairy gold is something I've tried on my players before, and I had to run for my life. They consider it stealing. –  Kyle Willey Apr 17 '13 at 4:24
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I like the idea of allowing them to spend the gold before it is found to be counterfeit. That way they still get the benefit of the gold, but they have to retrospectively earn it. –  Lowly Minion Apr 17 '13 at 4:33
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GM guides have long advocated solutions like bandits, tax collectors, and runaway inflation, but they rarely work out well in practice. Partly that's because those solutions have unintended consequences like vigilanteism, tax evasion, and bookkeeping headaches. The bigger problem is that players are sensitive to loss, and they react very poorly to losses that occur outside the normal course of gameplay. While players might accept a tax solution if you made it an established part of the setting from the beginning, most will angrily reject a sudden and arbitrary tax. It gets worse if they feel like you are punishing them for your mistake.

Game balance issues (including wealth) are largely meta-game problems, and I prefer to deal with them on that level, by discussing things directly with the players. Admit that you made a mistake, and decide as a group how you'd like to fix it. Explain the consequences of the current situation and offer a couple of alternatives. Let the players recommend fixes too; they will often volunteer solutions that they'd never accept if you imposed them yourself.

Example:

Sorry, I made a mistake and put too much treasure in the last haul. Can we talk about how to deal with it? Here are a few approaches we could take.

  • You can keep the gold and spend it on gear normally, but overpowered gear might turn your characters into glass cannons: too tough for normal difficulty and too fragile for higher difficulty.
  • You can spend the excess gold on a home base or a minor noble title, or donate it to the church for special indulgences.
  • We can pretend it never happened and remove the extra gold from the game.

It's important for everyone to agree on the same solution, because they have different game balance implications. If one player spends his gold on gear and another trades it in for intangibles, you'll have a hard time challenging them both reasonably. Also, be prepared to revisit the discussion if the choice turns out badly.

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+1 loss aversion is the big issue here, as well as the avoidance of arbitrary taxes and not taking the DM's mistake out on the PCs. Very good answer, welcome to the site. –  LitheOhm Apr 17 '13 at 4:06
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I don't think you can steal their gold without them realizing you are stealing from them.

You made a mistake, but using your control of the world to make the gold disappear seems unfair and will break their suspension of disbelief.

So, my advice is: don't actively seek to make them lose the gold. Instead, think of how to manage the imbalance. And if sometimes an unplanned situation gives the opportunity to steal the gold (characters losing a combat, forgetting their packs or doing something stupid that could lead to it) take advantage of it. Just don't force it.

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You don't necessarily need to "steal their go[l]d", you can just make it so that the gold is no longer the defining part of their mission. Now that their finances are secured, they can quest for an epic artifact, hiring guides, assistance, and more. –  Kyle Willey Apr 16 '13 at 23:07
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Turn the gold from asset to liability.

Do not let them spend it in the first place. Perhaps they stay for a few more weeks in the dungeon/desert/swamp. And carrying the gold will be such a huge burden, especially if you have to choose between carrying your food and water rations or the gold. So perhaps they decide to hide it somewhere, to be collected later when they'll have the means. And perhaps someone will find it. There you go, an adventure hook!

Or, assuming they get back to civilization with the gold, it may turn out that spending the gold is not that easy. It is a small village, after all, and the village smith can only make basic swords and axes. So they decide to go to the big city and enjoy the wealth. But the big city is far, far away, and the road is through outlaw territory. And of course, the vultures are already gathering. You don't have to steal their money, you just have to intend to. Paranoia sets in, preparations and planning begin - another adventure hook!

Of course, eventually they get to the big city with their wealth more or less intact. But life here is more expensive than they thought. Everything costs more than in the country, and there are so many things that they can spend it on: gambling, the ladies, good wines. Easy money, easy come, easy go. Now within a much more expensive milieu, they are again without money. Or perhaps even with a huge debt. So many more adventure hooks!

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"You don't have to steal their money, you just have to intend to." That is devious and clever. –  SevenSidedDie Apr 17 '13 at 3:15
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This one is good and devious. Alternatively, their quest to reacquire their old gold means that they don't make any more on the way; essentially pushing them to an appropriate gold level (this works better if you gave 20k instead of 2k instead of 2M versus 20k as I once did). I may use this sometime. –  Kyle Willey Apr 17 '13 at 4:26
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I suspect the method that the players themselves will prefer is to let them keep the gold, along with all the benefits. That would make the characters more powerful (how much more depends on how much extra gold is in question and what system is in play), perhaps faster than you planned for them to advance. But then start giving them quests more appropriate for their new power level.

Also, you can consider the impacts of inflation in a fantasy setting. That wouldn't work so well in Sci-Fi, but in fantasy a sudden influx of gold to a region can cause rampant inflation and soaring prices. This has actually happened in real life during the hajj of Musa I. If a sage were to warn them of this ahead of time it could encourage them to spend the gold slowly, mitigating the problems of them having it.

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Some systems have Character Wealth by Level data to solve this balance issue (see Pathfinder's example).

You can be stingier with the gold until your characters have caught up with the expected balanced level.

If by "significantly more gold/treasure" this is impractical, you have the opportunity for a lot of inventive of ways to force players to spend their cash...

  • An economic disaster: hyperinflation! Oh noes.. the greedy bankers! Occupy Sandpoint!
  • The opportunity for charity RP encounters, what gods/factions/causes do they want to help?
  • An magic item/weapon/macguffin that consumes the gold that they can use it as ammunition for the course of an adventure, then sell off, give as a present to a greedy king who deserves it.
  • Any item that is desirable and novel and frivolous that your players can't resist a shirt of +10 Bling to soak up the cash.

You could have a drunken NPC unwittingly ask them what would they do if they won the lottery and that will get the group's creative juices flowing.

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The party having too much gold is a plot in itself, especially as other characters in the setting discover it. The gold came from somewhere—they're going to want it back. The thieves and merchants guilds, whether they were even defined in your setting before this, are now going to want a piece of the action. Religious figures and potentates can demand tributes, taxes, or favors.

In short, balance the newfound wealth with newfound problems that will required spending (some, but all of) the wealth to deal with.

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Take a lesson from real-life windfalls: Investment

First - don't panic! This happens all the time: http://www.fudco.com/chip/lessons.html (read from "You can't trust anyone".)


Give them something to invest in - let them make a down payment on a keep or an airship - something that will really pay off for them in the future.

The Paladin/Cleric should give to their faith. The group can hire henchmen to do interesting tasks, etc.

My party built a HQ and turned the bottom floor into a hopefully self-sustaining tavern. This now ties them to this town, and various patrons and (theives) guilds pretty closely.

Simply put - use the money to plug them deeply into your campaign environment.

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I shall remember this answer, even though I play DW, a game where wealth has a more narrative effect. Excellent answer! –  Undreren Apr 16 '13 at 20:27
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This is the easiest solution... give them something to spend it on. Do like they do in modern businesses... up-sell, up-sell, up-sell. Sure, that sword is nice, but this one is nicer. And if the characters are overly cautious spending, then you dont really have a problem anyways. –  GrandmasterB Apr 16 '13 at 20:30
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In addition to the Habitat example, the early history of the browser-MMO Kingdom of Loathing might give you some ideas. It had some serious item- and money-duplication bugs, most of which were addressed by special world events rather than resetting the database. Start reading here: kol.coldfront.net/thekolwiki/index.php/Black_Sunday –  Zack Apr 16 '13 at 22:07
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I made this mistake my first time as DM in quite a few years and gave too much gold and treasure. The DM who took over the next section of the campaign offset it by following this route. We donated a huge chunk of the treasure to renovate an old fortress and turn it into a citadel to defend the city we are based out of. –  BBlake Apr 17 '13 at 1:35
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This is a great idea, one of the techniques I recommend in my own answer to the question. Noble titles are another good investment in places that allow you to buy them. This gives the players something to spend their money on that doesn't affect combat, the most fragile area of game balance. –  Bradd Szonye Apr 17 '13 at 5:27
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