I know the title sounds silly, but hear me out.

I'm kinda new to DnD and I'm DM'ing a 1st level campaign for a group of people who have never played before. They've made their characters with what we thought was decent enough equipment to have them start off with.

I'm running the "Keep on the Shadowfell" premade campaign and I just got to the part where Lord Padraig offers the team 250 GP to root out the Kobold menace that's been raiding the roads near Winterhaven. It was at this point that someone in our group chimed in, "Who cares? What could we even do with that money anyway?"

And you know what? I couldn't give him a good answer. I mean, the group has found themselves in a small secluded town with no other cities around for leagues. They already have about the best equipment that they could get starting off at the 1st level. And from my (at least rather limited) knowledge of the rules, they can't buy magic armor/weapons from the blacksmith in town.

So really, what would they do with that money? What ways could I incentivize them to get out there and start cracking skulls?



6 Answers 6


Well, there's two parts to it...

1. They'll need it later, and they can spend it now.

First, if you follow D&D 4e's treasure parcel system described on p126 of the Dungeon Master's Guide, they won't always have the best stuff. The rule books are actually fairly silent on the matter of how players buy items, but you can read more about that here: How do players acquire weapons in DnD 4e?

Basically, it comes down to...

And from my (at least rather limited) knowledge of the rules, they can't buy magic armor/weapons from the blacksmith in town.

They totally can, if you want them to be able to. There's a lot of options for how to handle this stuff: send them on a quest to meet the smith who can craft their items, let them work their way to a nearby city that'll sell them, or a myriad of other things.

Even if there's only small villages around and you want them to be able to buy magic stuff, a village's blacksmith might be holding onto one or two magic items nobody's actually come by to purchase (or could afford). You could ask your players to name a couple of items they want, and treat it as if those happen to be the two magic items the blacksmith happens to have for sale - how fortunate! (You can be totally open to your players about this too: tell them you'll treat certain villages as having a small quantity of magic items in stock that sets the limit for what they can buy.)

2. Finding incentive is actually their responsibility too.

What ways could I incentivize them to get out there and start cracking skulls?

Not all the responsibility here lies with you. Making the Tough Decisions is a must-read article on this note (in fact, it's must-read for players at my table): it asserts that your players have a responsibility to find a reason for their characters to accept the quests you provide them, so that they can keep the game moving and not let it grind to a halt.

A couple of particularly relevant paragraphs are the following (which, for context, follow a discussion of a problem related to Paladins):

Another useful application of this concept involves accepting story hooks your DM gives to you. Try to never just say, "My character isn't interested in that adventure." A lot of people mistake this for good roleplaying, because you are asserting your character's personality. Wrong. Good roleplaying should never bring the game to a screeching halt. One of your jobs as a player is to come up with a reason why your character would be interested in a plot. After all, your personality is entirely in your hands, not the DM's. Come up with a reason why the adventure (or the reward) might appeal to you, no matter how esoteric or roundabout the reasoning.

If the paladin is to blame for the last problem, this one belongs to the druid. Druids have such a specific set of principles that players often mistake them for being a free pass to demand that each adventure revolve around their goals. Raiding a dungeon for gold doesn't appeal to the druid mindset, so what are you to do if you play one and are presented with that goal? You improvise. Maybe the gold will enable you to purchase magic items that will let you protect the wilderness. Maybe the ruins contain unnatural monsters that need to be killed regardless of the treasure. Maybe, just maybe, the other PCs are your friends and you are willing to help them just because. Too often that last part is forgotten; I don't think anyone reading this has never spent the night doing something they'd rather not because a friend asked.

In short, if your players find their own reasons to accept the quest, you don't need to take it upon yourself to ensure they have radical or overwhelming incentive to accept quests. (You definitely should not do things like load them up with cash, unless you're clever and do it within the treasure parcel system.)

In fact, within this framework, there's the possibility of quests with virtually no material incentive at all: cue here Dark Souls, in which the entire game follows an epic quest of one Undead to break the Curse lingering over all Undead.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for linking to this great article. Someone should make a list of the must-read articles for any RPG player. \$\endgroup\$
    – Maurycy
    Commented May 7, 2014 at 11:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MaurycyZarzycki BESW has a few of those things in his profile. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 7, 2014 at 12:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ Every now and again there are questions/answers I wish I could up-vote twice - this is one. And the article is in my Pocket queue... soon as I'm not at work I'll add some more from BESW's profile. :) \$\endgroup\$
    – AnonJr
    Commented May 8, 2014 at 17:22

The most obvious uses for money are buying supplies and equipment, paying for lodging while in town and having some fun (beers at the local tavern). It's true that 250GP can't buy much more for an already-equipped character - most magic items, even the low-level ones, are worth more than that. Low-level characters also aren't likely to spend much money on ritual components.

However, this is where you as the GM should be creative. Give the characters opportunities to use the money. Let them bribe NPC's for additional information, hire a group of thugs to help out in a tough battle, let them present alms for the poor. Have a passing peddler present an an exotic item for sale. Also remind that when they reach a town with a magical item dealer, they'll be glad of every single coin they have.

Finally, if the players feel that their characters have all the money they could ever want, encourage (but don't force) them to roleplay as such. For example, only a true miser would sleep in a common inn when they had a sack full of gold. There could be a finer inn nearby, frequented by passing wealthy traders, and having your party stay in a more expensive place can both allow them to spend their extra gold and allow you as the GM to introduce new flavor.

Remember, money isn't just about being able to buy stuff in real life, nor is it that in DnD! It's a symbol of power and a point of pride, so encourage the players to treat it as such.

  • \$\begingroup\$ What an odd economy they have, if 250 gold coins is something an adventurer can turn his nose up at! As someone who actually owns some precious coins, even a very, very small gold coin (a fraction of the size of a dime) is worth about $80 in today's money. Something the size of modern US currency is worth several hundred dollars. If I was in a position to turn down 250 times that, I would definitely not be someone who needed to be in the putting-my-life-at-risk business in order to make a living! \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 7, 2014 at 22:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MasonWheeler yes, the D&D economy is very weird. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 8, 2014 at 1:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MasonWheeler, DnD adventurers aren't commoners but powerful heroes from the very start. Even the 100 gold they start up with is a considerable amount of wealth, enough to secure them financially for several months, or more typically to buy expensive gear such as suits of mail (it's a laborious process making one). In DnD the poor man's gear the players start with is actually expensive common gear - the better stuff is all magical. \$\endgroup\$
    – kviiri
    Commented May 8, 2014 at 7:34

They can start saving it for better equipment. Their journey will take them to a larger city eventually, where they can buy bigger, shinier tools.

Soon the problem will be just the opposite, as the cheapest magic weapon costs 360 gold pieces.


General means of money

  • Paying for your lifestyle; the cost of living;
  • Preparing for adventure (supplies and food);
  • Upgrading your equipment;
  • Bribing a guard to look the other way as the party sneaks into a castle;
  • Wealth sometimes means getting respect from those who desire to share in your wealth. Money can exert a very powerful manipulative force. Like taking bribery to a whole new level...
  • Sleeping comfortably in an inn, or in a sturdy but expensive tent. Let your characters feel the effects of a bad couple of nights of sleep...

The cost of living

Just like the players do in real life, your players' characters will need to be able to support themselves. You can get as granular as you want, but in a game I once ran, we classified upkeep (or 'the cost of living') as follows:

Upkeep must be paid at the start of every game month (how long that is depends on the activities you are doing) – the first month is assumed to be paid for. Certain lifestyle brackets may be unavailable, regardless of wealth, depending on your surroundings.

  • Destitute: Homeless and lives in the wilderness or streets. Survival checks or theft might be necessary to survive.
  • Poor: Lives in common rooms or other communal situation.
  • Average: Lives in own room in an inn, a small house or similar.
  • Wealthy: Lives in sizable home or suite of rooms.

Expensive necessities

You mention that your players are currently in "a small secluded town with no other cities around for leagues." That means that if they ever do want to go anywhere else, they will need a means of travel other than simply walking for days, weeks, or even months. Depending on your setting, you could have various interesting but expensive methods of traveling large distances fast:

  • Horses (quite traditional in fantasy RPG, and often not very cheap either);
  • Flying carpet (being magical could be expensive to obtain).
  • Coyotes (paying a people smuggler a large sum of money to get you into an area that would otherwise deny you access).
  • Paying a magic user, or acquiring a spell to teleport elsewhere.
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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer doesn't seem situated in 4e. Can you address the system-agnosticness of your answer? \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 7, 2014 at 11:24
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure why this is being downvoted. It seems like a fine answer, and the section about monthly cost-of-living is something that's not provided by other answers (though the numbers do need to be corrected--I suggest relative costs instead of specific values). We allow general answers, after all. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 7, 2014 at 13:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Grubermensch Because it sounds a lot like stuff that doesn't really belong in 4e. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 7, 2014 at 14:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ It is my fault to overlook the 4e tag, but I think gold is a general enough concept with nearly the same implications in many different systems to warrant a general answer. I don't have 4e experience or access to RAW, so I cannot edit my answer as such, as I indicated earlier. If this answer is not really an answer, please flag it as such instead of downvoting. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 7, 2014 at 17:51
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ @MarcDingena No, this is what downvotes are for, and not what flags are for. You've made an honest attempt to answer the question, so the flag would be rightly declined. However, if a reader finds this answer to be not useful or to be poor quality, they may downvote it, which would be entirely appropriate. If you actually want it removed, you can delete it yourself. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 7, 2014 at 22:53

Money is used for characterization and to support the story your players want to tell.

Money in 4e is a very odd beast. Magician ponders on this discrepancy here and notes 4 different ways of using money in RPGs:

  1. Money as motivation
  2. Money as personal power
  3. Money as interaction with the world
  4. Money as part of economy

In 4e, money is tightly coupled to some aspects of character identity, has a few legacy nods towards earlier editions, and fundamentally doesn't make sense. From a technical point of view, inflation is absurd (and player's intuitions rightly flag this as a matter of concern and deempahise money thereby.)

  • At level 1, 360 gp buys a common magic item.
  • At level 6, 1800 gp buys an "upgrade" that maintains the status quo.
  • At level 11, 9000 gp buys an "upgrade" that maintains the status quo.
  • At level 16, 45000 gp buys an "upgrade" that maintains the status quo.
  • At level 21, 225000 gp buys an "upgrade" that maintains the status quo.
  • At level 26, 1,125,000 gp... etc

Now, let's be generous and assume that the DM gives downtime between adventures of a few weeks. Realistically, most groups can expect to hit epic levels (assuming that they play) in 2-3 narrative years. This produces a rate of inflation that puts Zimbabwe to shame.

So, 4e allows money in treasure parcels, distributed as "quest rewards" to be an intrinsic motivator. Characters are expected to follow the narrative pattern of "we want money, we get money via questing, this offers a colourable excuse to quest, we will take the quest."

In the first few levels, money is important in magic item purchases, allowing the party to shore up missing required items. (To a greater or lesser degree, depending on how useful treasure parcels are and the narrative constraints of ye olde magic mart of common items). However, it isn't important in an economic sense.

In a low-level dark sun game, where logistics suddenly matter, money matters rather more, as it directly governs supplies of game-relevant consumables. Beyond that, players should try to set aside their justified misgivings about the identity of money and inflation in 4e, and explore their characters' motivations which should roughly range from charitable, to mercenary, to greedy.

Ironically, character motivations will do very little, mechanically, to adjust how much treasure/resources the party finds. But it can be highly effective in adjusting the narrative trappings of the game to support the story instead of undermining it.


Money is only as useful as you make it.

Show them a use for money. It might have been better if you let them have a shopping trip earlier in the game and showed them a cool, expensive item.

It doesn't even have to be items. It could well be buying their own plot of land. Maybe using the money to free a slave or someone from debt. Maybe charity. Maybe even something like a ship. A lot of experienced players are wary of inflation, so toss flavor stuff at them.

What ways could I incentivize them to get out there and start cracking skulls?

Money and loot is far from the only incentive. You can make the kobolds raid the party, and turn revenge into an incentive. You can have the kobolds kidnap a damsel. Especially if the damsel is connected to someone like a major political figure; connections can be a good reward. Maybe you should offer an item equivalent for cash - a 200 GP sword might be more valuable than 250 GP.

Players in general don't really need an incentive though. They're there to crack skulls.

It's hard to tell, but that player might just be negotiating for better pay. You can still recover from the situation. Just have the Lord run back to them because nobody took up the job. Offer a 'deposit' like an advanced item or magic trinket, with more rewards should they succeed.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Wow, great idea. I really like the one with offering a 'deposit' item. Thanks for that! \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 8, 2014 at 16:27

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