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So, basically, last session, the person the players were escorting went back to his hometown, where he owes a massive debt to the residents. The residents of the town threatened to repossess his boat to pay for the debt, stranding them on the island where the town is. Long story short, they decided to go kill an ogre for money.

In the big ogre fight, the person the players were escorting ran off from the fight, so now they have a massive amount of money from the bounty. The original idea was that the money would be used to pay off the debt, and they would have a small amount left. Of course, this is a bit of a problem. I have a couple ideas. There already is a lot of crime in-game, so I could say it was stolen. There also is a financial crisis, so I could raise the prices of items to compensate. The second one might be a better idea, because the players haven't played much D&D before, so they wouldn't know the standard prices.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ How much money do they have? \$\endgroup\$
    – Nepene Nep
    Jul 2, 2023 at 13:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Nepene Nep Thousands of gold pieces. Somewhere around 1800. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 2, 2023 at 13:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ 1800 is far from game breaking even at low levels \$\endgroup\$ Jul 2, 2023 at 16:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ Not a duplicate, but related: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/22786/… \$\endgroup\$
    – Novak
    Jul 2, 2023 at 20:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you elaborate on why you think "of course, this is a bit of a problem"? \$\endgroup\$ Jul 5, 2023 at 9:40

13 Answers 13

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Caveat Emptor

Forcing the PCs to part with their loot always is iffy - unless the game you play has a specific mechanic for blowing your money (like Conan: Adventures in an age undreamed of), getting players to part with their items is always tricky.

But there's two ways out of your situation:

Table Solution: Confessing you messed up

Talk to your players. Tell them that you messed up by having the NPC run and that they were not supposed to have that much money now. Ask them if they are ok to retcon the bounty down by the amount of the debt that the ship secured.

This works great if you know your players, and I used it a couple of times.

IC solution: No payment to the debtor means the debt doesn't go away.

The NPC is gone, but the boat still is one of his possessions and secured the debt. The town thus repossesses the boat as originally planned to cover the debt. Do note, that a sailing ship is worth at least 5 digits!

To get off the island, the PCs would need to buy the boat and hire a crew or pay for passage. This will cost them a lot of money, and with the price of ships, the 1800 gp they have now is not enough to pay for the boat in full. As the town has the only operator of a ship, they can dictate prices for passage.

If the party decides to try and buy the boat, note that they can't lug that to dungeneering, and they can only sell it for a fraction (half or less) of its worth in a different place. Also, they'd need to pay the crew wages to keep it running if they don't want to sell it.

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Let them enjoy it or buy something useful with it

There are several options for you

  • Let them enjoy it. Gold certainly is not useless in the first and second tier of the game. 1,800 gp is more than they normally would expect to have in tier one, and they can splurge and all get horses, nice equipment, maybe some alchemist's fire; or buy an early full plate from it. This will give them a slight edge for a couple of levels, but is nothing that is a real problem. As the expected treasure found increases with every level, the system is self-correcting, and a few hundred gp more per character do not matter that much. This is my recommended solution — I had this experience with the party striking it rich a couple of times over the years, and the players usually loved it. As by default, they cannot buy magic items, and you as DM can regulate what is available to buy, there is little risk for this turning into a serious balance issue.

  • Provide some attractive way to get rid of the money. There are many ways here, and this is how Gary Gygax used to deal with the issue: the PCs may need the services of an NPC — maybe a sage for information, maybe a temple to cast remove curse, or maybe to buy a couple of healing potions. Make these dear. Lots of money and few goods has this effect. Maybe the temple recommends a healthy donation, to be recognized in case they later will need someone to be raised from the dead. All these nice things can cost a pretty penny, and can help you and the PCs to insure them against some unfortunate future setback.

  • Be stingy with additional loot. You can accelerate catching up by just handing out less gold, rewards and treasures for a level or two. That is way less painful to the players than taking stuff away from them they already got. They eventually will of course bemoan how little more they find, but as on average a level only should take a couple of play sessions, you do not need to do it for too long.

  • Have the villagers demand payment for the boat. (As suggested in this answer, either by holding themselves harmless at the cost of the PCs, or better and as suggested in this answer, by selling them the boat so they can get off the island).

In my experience, players hate it when their toys are getting taken away for nothing by the DM if it is not their fault. I'd therefore recommend not to have someone steal the money from them, and I think also the villagers pressuring them to pay them back is unfun and heavy handed. Instead, don't cheapen their success, let them enjoy it. It's gonna be back to feel wanting for more soon enough.

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They don't have enough money to matter.

DMG, page 135:

Unless you decide your campaign works otherwise, most magic items are so rare that they aren't available for purchase.

There's things they can buy that are useful, but their wealth isn't obscene enough to cause much impact.

As such, you can take away that money through normal capitalism and them buying minor items which are non magical. For example, you could sell them a piece of property which gives a regular lesser income, or they could buy a single plate armour.

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The solution is sitting in front of you in your own words. The townspeople are going to repossess the NPC's boat if he doesn't pay off his debt. Now he's run off and can't be found. He can't pay off the debt if he isn't around, right? So I guess they are going to have to repossess that boat. It belongs to the townspeople now.

The players are now stuck on the island, unless they can get a boat. I wonder where they could buy one? Might there be someone on the island that now owns a boat, but would rather have the money? Maybe asking for exactly the amount of money the players were going to give up anyway?

Far from resentment, the players will probably think this is awesome. Because now they have their own boat, which will surely lead to more adventures. And maybe that original NPC will reappear at some point to try and get his boat back (he probably isn't happy about the town taking his boat and selling to the party, even if they were in the legal right). Sounds like a story hook, and maybe even a new villain to face.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm thinking that there could be an auction for the boat in a nearby town. New villiain is a great idea, the players already hate the NPC. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 3, 2023 at 12:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ Plus its an Island, even if the NPC ran off they're probably close by? \$\endgroup\$ Jul 5, 2023 at 0:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DavidWaterworth on top, couldn't the NPC have stolen the boat - either by just commandeering it Cpt. Sparrow style or they could inject a middle man that tells the players they will haggle down the townspeople but then hurry off with the boat and some extra fee or some other stolen goods that the towns people hire the players to get back. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 5, 2023 at 3:16
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You can't. Simply taking items by DM fiat is going to be unpopular.

Having it get stolen simply because there is a lot of crime will likely and justifiably be called out as bullshit, especially if you do it off screen or the players have little ability to prevent it.

Instead, have the players choose to get rid of it. They presumably need that boat which will now be repossessed. Repossessed items are typically sold by the creditor to recoup the debt.

Another option if they haven't already received the reward is to screw them over with the bounty. Yes, this will cause resentment but targetted at the corrupt mayor in character rather than you out of character.

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    \$\begingroup\$ So, 1,800 gold that was, yes? Minus 20% for taxes that's 1,620, Also I will have to fine you with a thousand gold since you let run away someone who owed us that money. Here is 620 for you, have a nice day! \$\endgroup\$ Jul 2, 2023 at 14:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AnneAunyme That is also a very Gygaxian approach to the issue :)! \$\endgroup\$ Jul 2, 2023 at 15:52
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There be Thieves or Aurumvorae, or charity!

You can as an alternative have thieves try to steal their gold and or an item or two in the night - maybe. I've done this at my table a few times and it was fun. They went on a hunt to get their stuff back and it turned into a nice side story. They got some of their wealth back but not all.

Also, you could have a pack of Aurumvorae (sing. Aurumvorax) raid the party. They appear in Journeys to the Radiant Citadel (p. 105). They are burrowers, so you could set up a nice fun ambush and have them devour most of the party's wealth! They tend to hunt on their own - but you can homebrew an exeption.

A bit of lore from 2e: "In order to survive, the aurumvorax supplements its carnivorous diet with quantities of gold. The ability to digest and utilize gold and other ores makes it possible for the creature to develop the dense fur, hide, and bones that protect it so well."

You can create a story-line where they would need to donate a large amount of wealth for a good cause. I introduced this once and the group enjoyed this. They gave a village a lot of their wealth. They made a small shrine in their honour and named it after them. I wove in later in the campaign people hearing about their good deed and this increased their reputation. I gave them advantage on Persuasion checks a couple of times. This might fit in nicely with the financial crisis in your setting.

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If you teach your players that their actions don't have any long term effect on your game, you will reap what you have sown.

Unless you have talked to your players and gotten their agreement that they want to play in a grimy world where all success is transient, don't try to play that way. Let them enjoy their (stupidly trivial) winnings.

Otherwise you are very likely to be back here in a month or two asking about why your players are all now murder-hobos who don't care about your plot.

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The towns people show up and demand either the gold or the boat. They can't leave the island until they pay the debt and get the boat back.

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Play it creatively...

The townspeople still want to be paid. The boat owner is also stranded, perhaps with but most likely without his boat. The party has been seen in his company.

So maybe the boat owner comes back to take his boat (it's not repossessed yet so he simply plans to sail away, or maybe it is reposessed and he comes in the night to steal it). The townspeople have captured him, and are looking for justice in court. He's charged with some fitting crimes for his indebtedness and/or trying to steal his impounded boat. During questioning he names the party as his partners in the Ogre adventure.

Now the local forces for justice (whatever those are) are looking to capture the party as part of the wider investigation.

Will they fight? Will they try to tell the truth and separate themselves (and their gold) from the boat owner's crimes? Whether it's the ever increasing bribes required to remain free of the corrupt magistrate, the cost of a lawyer to keep them out of the local jail, the fines levied on the guilty, the fees for the smugglers who runs a boat each new moon... one way or another it's an expensive journey escaping this island. Definitely an (expensive) adventure though.

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Give them an opportunity to spend the money to advance your story

Personally, I would opt for a way for them to be happy about spending the money, rather than mad you took it away from them. Craft a narrative that they need to travel to a distant land or something and that in order to get there, they will need to buy a bigger boat, and supplies and pay for a small crew, and turn the journey into a short pirate adventure. You could even have them get into an epic battle that sinks their ship, but there are lifeboats on the ship that they can get to, or they can float on a barrel to shore. Or some other idea along those lines. Buy some means of travel to a distant land. Make them choose to spend it and get some really cool stuff for it, but stuff that won't negatively impact the campaign.

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Don't.

An event like this, and the outcomes that result, from it will likely yield stories that everyone will enjoy repeating for years.

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There are already a lot of great answers here. I see another possibility to contribute—1800 is a sizable amount, but it isn't exactly game breaking in itself, and moreover, it's a potential plot point. So, they have their boat back, and the possessor is too dead to be paid. Maybe he didn't leave the deed in anyone's name, or no one knew.

Now you have a rich party with a lot of interest incurred in their wealth, by a variety of potentially unsavory characters.

They can't buy anything that the GM doesn't make for-sale, so you might use the sudden one-time income to incite a new chapter of the game. Maybe they conned, as an example, and have to go on a revenge-quest.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I think the OP is wanting to find a way to "in-game" retcon getting as much money as they did with as little interruption as possible. Having the boat return without it's owner would likely be the natural point to address what happens with the money rather than making a quest to optionally get back what they shouldn't have gotten in the first place, from the DM's dilemma. I agree though in general, just let them have their gold, it's not that much in the grand scheme but maybe earlier than DM planned. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 3, 2023 at 18:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ As it’s currently written, your answer is unclear. Please edit to add additional details that will help others understand how this addresses the question asked. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center. \$\endgroup\$
    – Community Bot
    Jul 3, 2023 at 18:48
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Creative Ways Out

I have painted myself into a similar corner in the past, and have had to find a creative way out without upsetting the players. In my experience there is usually a creative way out of it, that can lead to some interesting choice options for your players.

Half the fun of being a DM is solving the problems your have created for yourself!

Counterfeit Currency

You mentioned there is a lot of crime/financial hardship in your campaign. Who is to say that the villagers in this island-town are not also just as criminally inclined? Did the villagers want a way to deal with the Ogre without spending actual money? One of your PCs could notice that the gold 'paint' has scratched away from one or two of the coins after they have left, leaving them to have to decide whether or not to turn back and confront the villagers.

Greedy Boat-Owner

Perhaps being stuck on an island has left them economically isolated, with their only source of income passing through the boat owner, who turns out to be greedy and unscrupulous, possibly taxing the village a huge sum in order to use the boat? The reward money could be all the money the village had left. Helping the villagers might turn out to be the right thing to do (if you are playing a good-aligned campaign).

Piracy/Theft

Perhaps another band of mercenaries had heard about the Ogre bounty too, but arrived after your players to find that the bounty had been claimed. Could the mercenaries try to steal it from the players?

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