Having more gold in Dungeons and Dragons allows a player to add things to their character sheet, and effects the actions they can take in a combat round.

But what is gold in terms of game mechanics in Dungeons and Dragons games? (I am leaving it broad regarding editions, as there isn't a huge difference--that much I know).

It is codified in the rules how XP is distributed equally among the party.

When adventurers defeat one or more monsters-typically by killing, routing, or capturing them-they divide the total XP value of the monsters evenly among themselves. -5e DMG

This is not the case for gold.

Over the course of a typical campaign, a party finds treasure

It is clear a PC can do things with gold that effect their character sheet and available actions in a combat round. Being able to cast Forcecage, increasing armor class, having more spells. Note that even in 5e, regardless of intention, the DMG provides options to buy magic items, which many DM's allow, and lists suggested prices--using that rule, gold directly affects your character sheet like XP.

There doesn't seem to be any mechanic in any edition that allows stealing of XP or abilities from other characters, so whats up with gold? Where exactly is the delineation from mechanic and in-game economy?

(Well, there was Psychic Drain psionic power from 2e, but not a lot in this arena.)

So are there two types of gold in the game world: one is more like "mana," and disassociated, while the other can be used to buy bushels of apples, and is useless to the PC's, so who cares?

There are implications to questions like "should gold be distributed like XP, in a manner that PC's get so much each, and can't possibly 'steal' it?" depending on what gold is in the game.


1 Answer 1


D&D 5e is not Pathfinder

In Pathfinder (and D&D 3.x) there was a direct relationship: money = PC power. D&D 5e expects magic items (except for potions of healing) to be effectively priceless: i.e. there is no market for them, they cannot be bought or sold (see Without a magic item economy, what is gold for?).

In addition, due to D&D 5e's bounded accuracy, magic items aren't that important - most of a PC's power comes from their class abilities (particularly what they can do with bonus actions), in Pathfinder and D&D 3.x this is the other way around.

The utility of wealth in a D&D 5e campaign is largely at the behest of the DM. In a game thick with realm building, political intrigue and mercenary armies being hired by the PCs it will be very important. In a kick in the door, kill the monster and loot the room style of play it can be largely irrelevant once the PCs are kitted out with the armor and equipment they want.

So there is nothing inherently broken in the mechanics of this.

I have played games where the PCs all trusted one another implicitly. I have also played games, with the same group of players, where we've stolen from each other and sold half the party to drow slavers - we always intended to steal them back: can't remember if we ever got around to it though. Both styles of play are lots of fun if you can enjoy them. If you can't: don't play that way.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ You do somewhat overstate the situation in D&D 3.PF; items are crucial but they aren’t actually “most of a PC’s power,” except maybe in the case of the weakest of classes (or the most item-centric class, the artificer, maybe, but then in that case items are his class features). Rather, the issue is that class abilities and items do different things—and the game assumes you have both. For example, items commonly grant enhancement bonuses to attack, damage, and ability scores, and resistance bonuses to saving throws—class features rarely do these. Etc. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 0:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ You can "break" any RPG is you step away from its inherent assumptions - D&D 5e assumes extremely parsimonious magic item distribution. The Staff of the Magi is a legendary item and according to the table on page 38 of the DMG, each PC should have ... none of these at 20th level. A Staff of the Magi is what a campaign is built around; not something that happens in a campaign. As to the thief stealing magic items: thieves like cash because cash is untraceable - magic items are distinctive and lead to getting your fingers (at least) broken by the victim. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dale M
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 1:15
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ As to your second comment: I said the mechanic is not inherently broken, not that it is unbreakable. I would never presume to tell anyone to "get over it" - this mode of play hurts you: to resolve the hurt you have three options: 1. ask them to stop, 2. accept that they won't stop and you're OK with that, 3. accept that they won't stop and you will no longer engage. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dale M
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 1:18

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