That is, characters doing frivolous stuff like drinking too much ale at the tavern and getting drunk. Spending gold to see a minstrel show. Gambling and brawling. Patronizing the local house of ill repute. Splurging on a lavish meal. Activities which real adventurers or soldiers would do in real life after surviving a harrowing adventure, but which a D&D player hoping to maximize XPs or gold earnings wouldn’t consider. By “encourage” I mean mechanics that use either a carrot or stick approach to prod PCs.

For me in particular, maintaining suspension of disbelief in an adventure is important. That means characters aren’t just monster killing machines but do believable things that add color to the adventure. I’m not saying players need to roleplay all of these activities; a simple die roll to check if a character is wise enough to steer clear of the whorehouse would work. If he doesn't make the die roll he's out 1d8 gp. (Although if the PC is a country bumpkin who's never been to the big city, maybe there would be an XP reward for doing crazy stuff at least once?) I’m limiting the discussion to adventure themed activities that are potentially fun – so for example having a picnic or falling in love and getting married probably isn’t something players want to simulate in a game even if it is something “real people” might do.

I’m interested in D&D v3.5 and Pathfinder rules, as written or homebrewed, but rules from other versions or even other RPG systems that can be easily ported into D&D are welcome. I suppose I could come up with rules on the fly, but I'm hoping someone's already thought of this and has tried and true rules that are consistent, intuitive, and of course fun. :)


6 Answers 6


The simplest and most common (it's part of many D&D retroclones) is to let "wasted" money convert to XP in some way. This hugely encourages spending it on things that otherwise give no advantage (carousing, careless gambling, anonymous church donations), while balancing it against the desire to use that coin for practical advantages. This balance ("do I throw a party for some bonus XP or do I buy a batch of healing potions?") adds an enjoyable layer of strategising to the game. A variation on this is to have the XP be "banked": it's not immediately available, but is added to the starting XP of the player's next character, as a kind of death insurance policy. Yet another variant in campaigns with XP costs for magic item creation or when cheating death, the bank can be used to pay these XP costs instead of the XP a PC is currently "using" to maintain their level.

Not everyone enjoys this though: players who keenly feel the need to make optimal choices may pull their hair out at the idea that they can't do both and have to choose. This will largely depend on your group's play focus preferences.

It also alters the dynamic of resources in your game: you may see a divide between PCs who go for more XP and those who go for more gear, resulting in a divergence of levels and of situational-readiness. This works in those other editions of D&D and in their retroclones because they are built in such a way that level and gear disparities are non-issues (a 1st-level can adventure with 8th-level PCs), but will not work if you and your group's campaign structure rely on PCs advancing in tandem.

Despite the caveats, when it fits a campaign structure it works well: players do react to the incentive to spend their coin on ephemeral frills, which are sometimes fun to roleplay and can establish character even when not. You will see some characters who are conservative and eschew the partying, and others who break the bank every time they come home with a good haul.


The Easy Thing

You want PCs to do the stuff normal folks would do. Encouraging that is challenging in Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 because the game assumes the PCs aren't normal folks. Their cash goes toward adventuring and time spent not adventuring is time wasted--at least insofar as the game is concerned. XP is awarded for challenges, and unless its a drinking (or more esoteric) challenge, just chugging as much dwarf booze as one can won't be rewarded by the game.

The DM can still reward such activities, though: Allow such activities to count as Gather Information skill checks. It only takes a DC 10 Gather Information skill check "to get a general idea of a city's major news items" (PH 74), and as low as DC 15 "to find out about a specific rumor... or a specific item..., or obtain a map or do something else along those lines" (PH 74). As a house rule I charge PCs the amount of time the Gather Information check takes in gp (i.e. the check takes 1d4+1 hours so the PCs spend an equal 1d4+1 gp), but what the PCs can get depends on where they ask and what they're asking for. Major news items are different--depending on city size, obviously--in the court of King Gaston than they are in the halfling rest stop near the Briarwood on the outskirts of Ptarmagin Roost, despite them being in the same city.

Specific Suboptimal Things Characters Can Do (and Associated Rules)

Instead of town being a place where gold is spent to replace gear destroyed by rust monsters and disenchanters, there's other ways to waste time there.

  • Go Sightseeing: Okay, you needn't actually go; all you really need's the trinket for the feats Touchstone (Sa 53) and Planar Touchstone (PlH 41), but it's more fun and rewarding if you do.
  • Get Blitzed: Go drinking using the rules on page 32 of the Arms and Equipment Guide.
  • Get High: Take drugs using the rules from Book of Vile Darkness on pages 41-3.
  • Learn Secrets: There are actual secrets in Dungeons and Dragons 3.X--true names of evil outsiders, how to build some weird stuff, origins of things--that aren't mechanical at all but are still cool. Pledging yourself to an elder evil, for instance, is a good way to temporal power, but it's not like you can just dial one up.
  • Make Contacts: The rules are scattered across the Dungeon Master's Guide 2, Cityscape, and, I think, Races of Destiny, but when combined there's a fairly robust I-know-a-guy system in Dungeons and Dragons 3.5.
  • Perform or Profess: The Perform skill can be used untrained, so any character can just start singing and try to make some cash (PH 79-80) (and trained characters can use the Sleight of Hand skill, too). Any character with 1 rank in a Profession can spend time making extra cash (PH 80).
  • Shop Hard: If the DM grab a Dragon magazine and drop a mundane yet weird item on your PCs. If a PC grab a Dragon magazine and ask for something weird at a shop.
  • Start Businesses: Become an investor using the wonky rules from the Dungeon Master's Guide 2 on pages 180-8.
  • Torture Folks: Extract information--information you don't even need ("What's your favorite color? Tell me!")--from the unwilling using the rules from Book of Vile Darkness on pages 37-9.
  • Train Pets: A lone rank gives any character a slim chance to spend a week training an animal to fetch. Or whatever. Rules are on Player's Handbook 74-5.
  • Train Friends: Does the party have any teamwork benefits yet? And some downtime? Teamwork benefits are available using the rules from the Dungeon Master's Guide 2 on pages 189-93. The system gets expanded in later books, too.

Most of the PCs' screen time is better spent adventuring and crafting stuff to help adventuring, but many--arguably most--Dungeons and Dragons 3.X books have at least 1 minigame you can play that doesn't require adventuring at all, and Dragon magazines have all sorts of articles on things like this, especially gambling.


Borrow the Lifestyle Concept

Shadowrun has the concept of "Lifestyle". Essentially, the character pays a fixed amount of money to cover all the various parts of life that aren't part of adventuring (in that case, shadowrunning). There are different tiers of lifestyle that they can buy with varying amounts of money from (I don't have the source book handy, so this is from memory) "slumming" where they are living on the streets to "Luxury".

For the most part, Lifestyle is just a flavor device and tells the gm what kind of food the character is eating, the (non-armored) clothing they are wearing, and that sort of thing that has very limited mechanical affect. But it can have a mechanical affect in things like the type of security the character has available if they are actually attacked at home or when dealing socially with people from a different lifestyle.

This concept could easily be imported into just about any other setting. The character pays a fixed amount each month so they don't have to worry about tracking every little bit of spending, and they describe their activities accordingly. The characters with the higher lifestyle have better clothes, better wine, etc.

If you want to make it more mechanical, characters with a higher lifestyle get better reactions when dealing with "high society" and that can be a bonus to checks. Characters with a low lifestyle are more likely to be attacked while sleeping. (But a high-lifestyle character might be more likely to get mugged by walking into the wrong part of town.)


WBL Covers This

'Wealth By Level' is not 'how much treasure you should hand out'.

It's how much wealth the players should have on them. So if they spend 75% of their loot on parties, you need to drop 4x the treasure somehow.

Problems With This;

  • It's pretty metagamey.

  • If one PC throws huge parties and another doesn't, and they normally split treasure equally, you're in a pickle (Solution: Sunder the rich guy's gear, or find something for him to spend that extra money on).

  • Keeping track of people's wealth is a pain in the a.

Positive Consequences of This;

  • Solves the problem without needing to ask the players to metagame heavily.

  • Fairly simple solution.

The Wish Economy

There is a concept, created by Frank Trollman and K which is called the 'Wish Economy'.

It posits that after a certain level of power, it's too easy for the Enchanter to mass-mind-control the treasuries of small nations, or the Necromancer to animate a giant workforce to plumb the poisonous depths of the gold mine, or the Conjurer to call Earth Elementals and Bind them to mine the Plane of Earth for a year and a day for precious metals en-masse, so forth and so on. If creative players can get more gold than they are supposed to, and directly convert that gold into power, it can be awkward for the GM.

Conversely, if the GM strictly limits how much gold the players have, then any skerrick of money the player spends on anything other than adventuring gear is 'wasted'. Either you're metagame managing their money (as the WBL system wants you to) via treasure drops, or you're letting them become king-gods of the magical item system, muhahahaha, haha, ha.

The Wish Economy's answer to this is to essentially split the DnD economy into two halves. The 'Gold Economy' which contains Minor magic items and potions and things, which can be bought for gold, and the 'Wish' Economy, where things like wish 'vouchers', souls, rare planar substances (the stuff used to create magic items) and Medium and Major magical items are bartered in mafia-style backroom deals in planar metropoli. It's not a hard and fast rule - it's fine for the occasional Major magic item to be sold for gold, by some hick Material Plane rube who doesn't know any better, but the idea is that after a certain level (8-11), players stop caring about gold as much since it can't buy the things they want to buy. So they can use it to build fortresses and hire priests to minister to their lands and hire armsmen and pay for wild parties etc, because the gold is not worth as much to them at that point. Or they can buy huge wads of minor magical items, or scribe heaps of scrolls, or whatever, if that's their bag - but either way, it doesn't change their overall power that much, since at level 11 a Minor Magical Item is small beans.

The Wish Economy assumes that 'free' wishes from Genies and things are being directly converted into wealth which is why the bottom falls out of the gold economy at level 10, but there are many ways for spellcasters and rogues and even Fighters to make inappropriate levels of wealth once they get into the middle levels, so it really covers both scenarios.


  • Assumes spellcasters etc are trying to leverage their abilities to create wealth and power in the setting. There is an unspoken rule against this in some games, to create a medieval pastiche setting, so it won't suit settings or games like that.
    • Assumes, to some degree, a planar multiverse, or a setting with a large enough number of high CR people and Major Magical Items to support an economy based on that.

Positive Consequences;

  • Decouples 'Gold' and 'Power' at high levels, thankfully, finally.
  • Creates interesting plot hooks by creating a 'planar economy'.
  • Allows you to have things like a 'dragon hoard' that is actually the size of Smaug's in The Hobbit without making your players gods.
  • Gives the party an excuse to build a giant fortress and army even though it's suboptimal normally.
  • Lets you tell stories about leveraging economic power without the PCs just taking it all and dumping it into a magic mart to get personal power.
  • Is pretty fun to roleplay, since getting a major magic item explicitly becomes a planar shopping trip with associated mini-quest every time.

I think what you are trying to do is a bad idea (at least the way you are approaching it). Forcing the players to do these things, or rolling a dice to see if they could not "avoid" the whorehouse and spend d8 gp, will only make your players resent you. As the GM, you have to create situations where the players WANT to participate. So, if you would like them to go out drinking, create a situation where it is fun for the PLAYERS to have the characters go drinking — same for gambling, etc.

Some ideas on how to do this could include:

  • Have them make NPC friends that invite them and, on occasions, when out with these friends, have the players learn adventure related stuff.

  • Have some of the players play NPC's and challenge, taunt, provoke or induce the other players to participate in some activities, or have the characters attend some type of activity where the PLAYERS will play the NPC involved in those activites. For example: The characters go to a fight club and can bet on the fights while the PLAYERS actually play the NPCs who are fighting.

  • Simply begin a situation by saying the characters have gone to an inn for a night of entertainment. Tell them what is going on and see what they do.

My point is, you have to create the situations that your players WANT to participate in.


The easiest way is by giving them XP for Roleplaying.

If they drink and hire prostitutes (male or female, depending on the character) and seek monsters to slay and eat lavish meals and blame the gods for the rain and drink more and seek more mosters to slay, they are roleplaying, and they should be rewarded with XP.

If they calculate how much gold and XP an adventure or an action is worth, they are not roleplaying and will receive no XP for that.

You can even make Roleplaying XP worth as much as half of the total XP at stake (this is already the system in other games). Or make it a multiplier (from x.5 for very poor roleplaying/going out of character to x3 for a super-brilliant roleplaying) each session.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks again @SevenSidedDie... still "roleplaying" in another mother tongue. \$\endgroup\$
    – Envite
    Commented May 22, 2014 at 15:41

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