9
\$\begingroup\$

After several years of running tabletop one-offs I decided to try a campaign format that would let casual players hop in and out without straining disbelief while allowing for dedicated players to get more deeply involved in the world.

Basic Concept

The concept is that the three players who are available on a regular basis are the founding members and guild masters of an adventurer's guild that's exploring/looting the ruins of a vast ancient city. Each of the guild masters has a deep personal motivation for this - one is a merfolk looking for a cure for a family member cursed by an ancient elf artifact, one is a living construct looking for a 'sibling' that disappeared in the ruins, and one is an ancient undead elf looking to understand the cataclysm that destroyed his nation (found in the first sitting buried under a collapsed building). Players who have less availability are guild members who have other professions and who only join up with the guild to adventure occasionally.

Details

I've highlighted several points of interest in the ruins to serve as adventures with some clearly identified through gather information as being way above their challenge rating or environmentally challenging (there's a very hot ruin for instance) while most of the others I plan to adjust to be appropriately challenging. There are also several settlements around the ancient ruins which can offer alternative adventures to dungeon crawls (for example; a rival guild might abduct one of the guildmasters who has intimate knowledge of the ruins necessitating a rescue mission, the guild could get political by freeing some elven slaves from one of the more evil settlements, etc). Each night the ruins are haunted by innumerable elven ghosts which put a time limit on exploration and along with aberrations below ground / magical beasts above ground explain why the ruins haven't been completely plundered by this point.

I'm trying to keep things in the "sweet spot" as long as possible, for me that's levels 8 to 16. So I'm not using experience but just ruling that everyone active or inactive is the same level. That means that the primary power differentiation will be wealth which leads to the question...

How would you recommend balancing Wealth for player characters in this context?

Over the first few sittings I've been rewarding the three Guildmasters significantly more than wealth by level with the understanding that they'll use those funds to start up the guild - establish a base, deck out said base, contract information brokers, pick up useful resource items, etc. I'm not as concerned about the Guildmasters since they'll have plenty of motivation to spend excess wealth on developing the guild but I am concerned about casual characters who end up being more active or inactive than anticipated. Here are some of my thoughts...

  • Below WPL: If a casual character hasn't played in a level or two, I'm thinking that I should give them the difference in wealth by level to bring them into the same ballpark.
  • Above WPL: I'm not sure how to respond to a casual character acquiring more wealth than anticipated. I don't want to discourage their initiative, especially if they do something fun, but I do want to keep things relatively balanced (i.e. As a PC I've been given high level items at level 12 and then tossed against Pit Fiends and the like, it wasn't that fun of an experience as the individual PCs either got slaughtered or dominated the encounter due to the random items they'd picked up).
  • Guild Items: How should I calculate guild resource items as wealth by level? If players can check out a Ring of Freedom of Movement from the guild for underwater adventures, shouldn't that be reflected in the challenge rating?
  • Artifacts: I'm feeling more lenient in allowing the Guild to acquire artifacts than I would normally be with a standard group (I usually limit it to one artifact at a time)...but I'm not sure how to reflect that in the challenge rating or if I should fight the urge to make artifacts more available than usual as bonus treasure (thinking of having them hidden in higher CR subareas that the guild could discover while on an adventure)?
  • Crafting: This is going to be a slow paced campaign so there will be regular opportunity for crafting. I'm going to strictly enforce the rules but I'm trying to decide how I'll respond to casual characters who reappear after long absences with custom top tier items for themselves or to altruistically hand out to the group (generosity that's perhaps out of place in a guild setting where the world isn't on the line). I don't want to dissuade crafting but I've seen it unbalance games in the past so I'm looking for limitations.
\$\endgroup\$
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Great first question :) \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Aug 13 '15 at 14:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ Just want to say, I love the guild idea, and think it's very clever. \$\endgroup\$ – misterducky Aug 16 '15 at 19:44
5
\$\begingroup\$

The most important thing to keep in mind the purpose of wealth and the WBL guidelines in Pathfinder:

  • Reward players with fun things.

  • Ensure that players have access to the magic effects that the game assumes they have. This is numerical (e.g. cloak of resistance) as well as effect-based (ways to deal with damage reduction, swarming, invisibility, flight, teleportation, incorporeality, and so on).

Thus, we have to define “wealth” as the value to the particular player of the items he or she is personally using. Wealth that gets rolled into maintaining and growing the guild should not be considered part of any of the guildmasters’ wealth for the purposes of WBL. Similarly, items from the guild that a player is using should count towards that player’s wealth, even if it is not his or her personal property. Thus you can expect guild members to have significantly less personal property than WBL indicates, but still being appropriately equipped while on mission (and presumably having greater flexibility in altering gear between missions).

And, in fact, this matches business reality: the profits that the owners get to keep come only after various business expenses have been accounted for, and are tracked as a separate item in the bookkeeping. Even though they own the business, the money that comes into the business is not immediately theirs to do with as they please: they have debts, contractual obligations, and so on, plus they presumably want to roll some of that income back into the guild to keep it growing.

Meanwhile, guild members are going to have contractual obligations to the guild; dues, finder’s fees, whatever. They are not going to keep as much loot as they would if operating completely independently, but the guild is also offering them service: basic gear, finding jobs, and so on.

But I strongly recommend abstracting this away as much as possible: talk with your players and suggest that all of the accounting is just “handled” (include an accountant NPC, perhaps), and it just “works out” that they get something close to WBL in profits, and then the guild itself has its own separate fund that they can play with for the betterment of the guild as a whole. Maybe it’s a specific policy of the new guild, to attract new recruits, that the guildmasters are not taking a (substantially) larger cut than everyone else.

Part of the betterment of the guild as a whole may be baseline equipment available to new recruits. This could be how casual players “catch up” in WBL: the guild provides them with equipment, and the basic baseline equipment improves as the guildmasters funnel more wealth into the guild for that purpose.

And again, that could be abstracted. You could say “it costs 3 million gp from the guild’s coffers to guarantee basic equipment for all members equal to 8th-level WBL,” or whatever, and the next step costs however much more, but even that is more detail than I’d care to handle. Especially if the players aren’t really interested in actually managing the business, abstract further: the guild’s money doesn’t actually get a number, you just “reward” the guildmasters by saying “your guild now has enough money to guarantee basic equipment equal to 9th-level WBL!” And there can be additional options: “you can improve the basic gear for all members, or you can open up a new market for missions,” or something like that.

Then the guildmasters have control over the direction of the guild (discuss this with the entire group and make sure the guildmasters aren’t going to screw over the casual players by refusing to invest in their direction).

And this, I think, should be the approach you take overall. Pathfinder is ill-equipped for this kind of game, IMO, and the best way to use Pathfinder here is to just not use it for the most part, and just handle most of this free-form. Figure out bonuses that the guildmasters can choose between, but don’t get into the actual accounting and logistics. This is just a form of reward for them: they can now afford fancier things for their guild.

For your specific questions:

Below WPL: If a casual character hasn't played in a level or two, I'm thinking that I should give them the difference in wealth by level to bring them into the same ballpark.

Agreed. Pathfinder WBL is very tight on some classes – specifically, the weakest ones. Going below WBL works very poorly.

The guild offers the perfect narrative explanation for maintaining WBL: the personal property of these characters may be dramatically less than WBL, but the difference is made up for by the guild, to keep them properly outfitted.

Above WPL: I'm not sure how to respond to a casual character acquiring more wealth than anticipated. I don't want to discourage their initiative, especially if they do something fun, but I do want to keep things relatively balanced (i.e. As a PC I've been given high level items at level 12 and then tossed against Pit Fiends and the like, it wasn't that fun of an experience as the individual PCs either got slaughtered or dominated the encounter due to the random items they'd picked up).

Ultimately, it takes a lot of extra WBL to propel you so far ahead of the curve. Until players are seeing the WBL of someone several levels higher, it probably isn’t worth worrying about from a “how do I challenge them?” perspective. The issue is purely the comparison between different players with different wealth.

I think the best approach for handling issues of some casual players being much more active, and thus pulling much more income, is to have their reward be less monetary and more social. Specifically, discuss with the guildmasters and suggest that such players receive higher rankings within the guild. Give them authority and responsibilities, and if they really start to pull ahead, invite them to join the guildmasters are partial owners, on a lower tier. In other words, stakeholders. In-character, they may be able to participate in meetings about the direction of the guild, possibly even get a say. And they are more personally invested in the guild: like the guildmasters themselves, they are rolling income back into the guild to grow it.

Guild Items: How should I calculate guild resource items as wealth by level? If players can check out a Ring of Freedom of Movement from the guild for underwater adventures, shouldn't that be reflected in the challenge rating?

I recommend abstracting this more. Don’t say that the guild vault holds this, that, and the other thing: that will become a nightmare to track. Instead just say that the guild can guarantee a minimum wealth level equivalent to the WBL of some level (i.e. the level of the casual players). Thus, people can “check out” a ring of freedom – but it comes out of their WBL, since that WBL is coming from the guild.

Artifacts: I'm feeling more lenient in allowing the Guild to acquire artifacts than I would normally be with a standard group (I usually limit it to one artifact at a time)...but I'm not sure how to reflect that in the challenge rating or if I should fight the urge to make artifacts more available than usual as bonus treasure (thinking of having them hidden in higher CR subareas that the guild could discover while on an adventure)?

Artifacts are always challenging. Unfortunately, there really cannot be any one-size-fits-all solution. I’d probably start by suggesting that the guild has a policy of not giving out artifacts it has come across, and getting an artifact for a particular mission requires the prior express permission of the guildmasters. Getting two would require quite an unusual circumstance, and so on. The guild does not want to risk losing irreplaceable assets.

Crafting: This is going to be a slow paced campaign so there will be regular opportunity for crafting. I'm going to strictly enforce the rules but I'm trying to decide how I'll respond to casual characters who reappear after long absences with custom top tier items for themselves or to altruistically hand out to the group (generosity that's perhaps out of place in a guild setting where the world isn't on the line). I don't want to dissuade crafting but I've seen it unbalance games in the past so I'm looking for limitations.

Easy: the guild is providing resources, tools, and space. The items are “cheaper” than when bought, but the savings goes to the guild, not to the player. Or maybe instead of the player paying 50% for the item, the player pays 80% and the extra 30% goes to the guild. Whatever numbers hit the sweet spot you want. The point is, you can limit how much money is saved when players craft, limiting how much they “effectively” exceed WBL.

\$\endgroup\$
4
\$\begingroup\$

I run a long term pirate game where the PCs run a pirate crew of some ~30 NPCs and occasional PCs of varying levels. Here's how we handle equipment in it.

I want to preface this by saying we don't use WBL much - WBL is only a guideline to let you know if a PC might be lacking assumed abilities at their level and to have a quickie budget to equip NPCs with, it's not a hard and fast rule or all that important really. So this scheme very much does not bother with calculating if someone has "their entitled amount" of gear, I don't think a lot of that.

On their ship, the pirate command staff understands that having undergeared minions on missions is a problem. So they keep a bunch of items around from what they've found to issue as equipment to landing parties when there's a special mission in the offing. At level 16 you probably do want to abstract that even further; at our current level of granularity we do keep track of actual items, which tend to be sorted out into kits of stuff that could get handed as a standard package to a fighter/mage/rogue/etc.

This has a second beneficial effect in that those more intermittent characters don't have to spend their wealth on the usual "Christmas tree" - making sure you have a +level/3 ring of protection and cloak of resistance and weapon and armor and amulet of natural armor and... Instead since those things tend to be filled in from the away team kits (because things like rings, robes, weapons, and wands of one plus below your level appropriate ones tend to be found in bucketloads) they tend to have one or two really cool items as personal signature items. "Oh that guy has that really rare Azlanti magitech shocker net!" And then when it's time for a mission he gets handed a bag of "+2 crap" to adorn himself with.

So does that guy who is only occasionally ensouled have WBL in stuff? Don't know don't care, but they have decent gearing in all the important + areas to make sure they're not overly hindered in AC/to-hit/saves, pick from the bucket-o-potions to cover whatever else they're going to need (fly potion for the fighter, invis for the cleric, etc.), and then they have a couple really nice pieces of equipment that are not only good mechanically but matter to them and their character image.

\$\endgroup\$
  • \$\begingroup\$ Completely agree with having the “standard gear” come out of the guild’s store and the guild members only being appropriately equipped when on a mission using guild gear, rather than all of the time out of their own personal property. That was the effect I was also aiming for. Tracking the individual items that the guild owns, though, strikes me as too much headache even at quite-low levels, and of course I’m nonplussed by the dismissal of WBL, but overall I think we actually more-or-less agree for once on how wealth ought to be handled. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Aug 13 '15 at 17:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah it's all about what's the least bookkeeping. The segmentation of the historical loot (just kept on a spreadsheet) into kits helps; it's also very simulationist for those of us that prefer that playstyle. I'd worry about the time it'll take someone to rebuild using generic WBL every time. "Oh wait I'm rooting through the MIC for another 3 hours!!!"' \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Aug 13 '15 at 19:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ That I would absolutely insist takes place between sessions. If you show up to the session without that figured out, then something occurred in your characters’ lives, too, that prevented them from swapping their load-out. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Aug 13 '15 at 19:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ Oh yeah but that's the problem with occasional players - they're by definition unreliable and a) you're not always sure if they're showing up or not and b) they tend not to do homework. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Aug 13 '15 at 20:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ Mm, point; for that I probably would also have basic “kits,” but they’d just be something appropriate by WBL, not based on the historical loot. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Aug 13 '15 at 20:03

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.