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It's well-known what happens when characters get less gold than they are supposed to according to the wealth-by-level (WBL) guidelines. Basically, the well-known power disparity between casters and non-casters becomes even stronger: money is Fighter's access to magic, and magic is true power in Pathfinder. Without magic, the Fighter has significantly less power.

However, what are the consequences of the party getting significantly more money than it's supposed to? E.g. doubling WBL, so a level 4 characters would get 12.000 gp worth of valuables instead of only 6.000.

Of course, this will make the affected characters more powerful, and they will require harder challenges to have meaningful encounters. But will the power disparity be affected in any way?

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Yes, but...

Consider the logical extreme: infinite wealth

So, at some point, wealth becomes enough to turn everyone into a spellcaster. At some point, using items is better than anything you can do with a feat or class feature, even spellcasting. If anything, non-spellcasting features become more important, because spells can be replicated with items and other class features often can’t.

But no one, so far as I know, has really tested where that point is. I’ve heard of campaigns where there’s been actually-unlimited wealth, and that’s how things tend to go. How much finite wealth you need for that to happen, though, I don’t know—and don’t care to figure out.

About smaller increases to WBL

Doubling WBL will certainly not be enough to turn everyone into a spellcaster-via-items. At lower levels of hyper-WBL, the effect on tiers will be very difficult to predict.

Certainly, generally speaking, mundane characters “need” magic items where spellcasters merely “want” magic items, so mundane characters could arguably be better off, but things are going to depend an awful lot on the precise number of levels in the precise classes in question, and the items available. For example, imagine quadrupling WBL—it allows a paladin to get a +2 enhancement to all four ability scores she needs when otherwise she’d only be able to afford one—quadrupling her enhancement. By the same token, though, the wizard can now afford a headband of intelligence +4 instead of +2—same four-fold increase in gold-piece value. And while the paladin definitely needed all that enhancement, the only thing the wizard needed was Intelligence—and he got it. Who has benefited more? The wizard is certainly still more powerful than the paladin, that much is sure.

Lack of data

As I said, where you find yourself with “enough wealth” such that you might as well have “infinite wealth” is unknown, and likewise, the exact effects of finite-but-more-than-normal wealth is extremely difficult to predict. These things are not coincidental—they both stem from the simple fact that we don’t have a lot of data available on hyper-WBL campaigns.

There simply don’t seem to be a whole lot of such campaigns out there in the first place—and most seem to be “I’ve accidentally given out overpowered items, how do I get my campaign back to normal?” This question discusses a high-wealth game, rather than some specific problematic items, and it’s about the only one I know of for that.

I suspect that the reason why people haven’t really done such campaigns, either accidentally or intentionally, is simply because accounting for gold pieces really sucks. I’ve had characters or whole campaigns that fell well behind on items simply because nobody wanted to figure out wealth. Optimizing your use of wealth is an extremely, extremely difficult problem, and even just a casual decent approximation of optimal use takes far more than casual effort. It’s not even necessarily easy just figure out what your wealth is, when you consider the possibility of selling off portions of what you have but for less than what it’s maybe “worth,” but maybe you can get more value to you that way, and so on.

These problems all get easier the less wealth you have. Since the DM needs to think about your items in the context of determining appropriate encounters, having less wealth can also seem to make their job easier as well (and actually does if they don’t care very much about intra-party balance and having all PCs contribute roughly evenly).

So since people aren’t playing such campaigns, or at least, aren’t discussing them ad nauseam online, as people do with hypo-WBL campaigns, we really don’t know—can’t know—what the effects are going to be. It’s vastly too complicated a system to predict deductively—empirical evidence is mandatory, and we just don’t have it.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ "At some point, using items is better than anything you can do with a feat or class feature, even spellcasting." I take offense at this :p \$\endgroup\$ – RevenantBacon Jan 21 at 14:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ @RevenantBacon The custom magic item pricing guidelines suggest that most magic items you can imagine with that system ought to exist, even if they cost more than the guidelines suggest. With infinite wealth, that detail no longer matters, so you can do truly insane things. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jan 21 at 14:24
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Increasing WBL at low levels impacts classes based on their equipment usage.

Strength-based fighter, Paladin and Cleric all have higher armor needs. Likewise, Monk and Barbarian have low armor needs. Druids may or may not have equipment costs depending on build. Melee-based characters have high weapon needs, but ranged have higher needs over the long run via replacing arrows/bolts/slugs. Most magic-users (arcane AND divine) need expensive spell components, but it's slightly more likely that prepared casters will use expensive one-off spells rather than spontaneous casters.

So at the end of the day, raising WBL would benefit strength-based fighters, paladins, clerics, wizards, and non shapeshifting-build druids. It would slightly benefit bards/sorcerers/oracles, assuming they don't use as many high-value spell components as their prepared caster cohorts. It would also slightly benefit rogues and rangers via making ranged weapons easier to maintain. It would not benefit barbarians, monks, or shapeshifting-build druids very much, due to them having very low equipment needs.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't think you understand equipment needs. A monk or barbarian may not wear armor, but magic armor is half the cost of a magic weapon, and Barbarians and Monks will certainly have use for those. The Druid, on the other hand, will wqant to be saving up for the enchantment (i forget what it's called) that lets them keep their armor when they Wild Shape. You've also completely disregarded non-armor/weapon magic items, like boots of speed, cloaks of resistance, or various wands, staves, and scrolls. \$\endgroup\$ – RevenantBacon Jan 20 at 21:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RevenantBacon These are all generalizations, and I specified for low-level. Once you get past level 10, character specializations make this kind of generalization nearly impossible, especially since a player is going to naturally shape their build towards whether or not they'll be able to afford needed equipment for said build. Yes, Monks can use weapons, but there are few monk weapons over 10 gp available. Yes, barbarians can use a 50 gp greatsword, but they won't need that 1500 gp full plate. Yes, druids will need Wild armor, but that's a +3 bonus, so that's 10th level right there. \$\endgroup\$ – Carduus Jan 21 at 13:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ My point was that literally everyone gets the same amount of benefit from money, and armor and weapons are only a portion of the cost. \$\endgroup\$ – RevenantBacon Jan 21 at 14:18

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