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I am thinking about using a OSR-like XP for Gold rule for my next 5e campaign. Instead of handing out Combat or Quest XP, I want to use the following rule:

  • Players can purchase XP / a level when they spend X pieces of gold. This gold cannot be used for equipment purchases of any kind, but instead can be used for things like:
    • wine and song
    • building a library of arcane knowledge
    • building a temple for a deity
    • having an artist create a statue of the character
    • anonymous gifts to the poor/charity/...

Basically, they need to waste gold to get XP for it.

XP for Gold Table

Now, since I will be DMing Ravenloft: Curse of Strahd next, I need to know how much gold per level I should ask for. In the OSR games I played, it was generally 1000 gold for level 2, and then doubled for each successive level (3rd → 2000 gp, 4th → 4000 gp, etc.), but 5e rewards seem much too low to use that conversion rate.

Given the expected gold rewards for a 5e campaign (or Curse of Strahd specifically), how should this Gold per Level table look like?

Assumptions

Assume that the players don't need gold for ordinary equipment, and that magic items can never be bought, only found. The table should be built assuming that all gold they find, steal, extort or receive as gifts will be used for levelling. Magic items (other than those of common rarity) cannot be sold, either.

Notes

  • A good answer would provide a table ready for use, and some explanations on why the table is reasonable. I am not interested in answers or comments telling me my goal is bad, or that such a system does not fit 5e and Ravenloft specifically.

  • Part of the motivation is that my players have voiced their disappointment with monetary rewards, since they felt gold was largely useless — so much so that they sometimes stopped tracking it in the second part of the last campaign. (Elemental Evil: Princes of the Apocalypse, and they got the rewards as per book descriptions.)

    I know that there are uses for gold without a magic item economy, and I get it, but it doesn't change anything. I actually reminded them of what they achieved story-wise and atmosphere-wise with the gold they spent during that campaign when we discussed this, but they were still disappointed. What to do with gold isn't the problem I am trying to solve, since I've already decided to use an tried-and-true OSR-style gold-based XP system for more than just this reason. I just need a balanced conversion rate to implement it.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mala on the assumptions of the question: can magic items that are found be sold? In other words, will magic items play into the "GP" that adventurers are "spending" on leveling? Either by gifting someone and getting the gold "credit" or by selling it and then carousing with that gold? \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Jul 8 '16 at 20:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 From what I read of Curse of Strahd until now, there aren't really that many magic items, and no buyer except the antagonist that could actually afford them. So I guess no purchase or sale of uncommon or better magic items. \$\endgroup\$ – Mala Jul 8 '16 at 20:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ You mentioned wine & song, building temples, charitable gifts, etc. as gold sinks. I'd also add to that list gold spent for personal training (for the melee classes) and spell research (for the magic classes) as a plausible explanation how spending gold translates into higher levels. \$\endgroup\$ – RobertF Aug 11 '16 at 15:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 I didn't use it in the end. I talked to my players and they preferred to keep my usual one level / 7h-session scheme. \$\endgroup\$ – Mala Dec 28 '16 at 8:05
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Based off of DDAL1 modules...

The Table:

\begin{array}{l c l} \text{Total GP Expended} & \text{Level} & \text{(Expenditure for next level)} \\ \hline 0 & 1 & (700) \\ 700 & 2 & (1,000) \\ 1,700 & 3 & (1,350) \\ 3,050 & 4 & (1,850) \\ 4,900 & 5 & (2,500) \\ 7,400 & 6 & (3,500) \\ 10,900 & 7 & (4,750) \\ 15,650 & 8 & (6,500) \\ 22,150 & 9 & (8,750) \\ 30,900 & 10 & (12,000) \\ 42,900 & 11 & (16,500) \\ 59,400 & 12 & (22,500) \\ 81,900 & 13 & (31,000) \\ 112,900 & 14 & (42,500) \\ 155,400 & 15 & (58,000) \\ 213,400 & 16 & \\ \end{array}

The Method:

I went ahead and tabulated the possible XP to earn and possible treasure haul2 for each of the two-dozen or so DDAL modules I've got on hand. Each module is designed for one of the following level spans3: 1-2, 1-4, 5-10, or 11-16. From the XP earned in each I calculated a fraction of the indicated level span that would be "traversed" by completing the module, and used that to extrapolate how much gold would accrue to one gaining a level in that span. I then weighted each by the recommended hours of play4 and ran a power regression.5. Finally there's just a bit of rounding to make the numbers... round.

The Application:

  1. Full confession: I don't think this ^^ is the best way to come up with these numbers.6 But I think it's a way and figured it's worth letting voters see so that wiser heads than mine can decide.

  2. Those numbers are just... insane. Dropping that much cash--per adventurer!--onto the population of Barovia is just ridiculous. I know that D&D doesn't try to model any sort of functioning economy, but this is a bridge too far for my credulity. So you've got to find ways to ameliorate it. Perhaps use this table as a party table, so that once PCs have dropped 700gp everyone bumps to level 2? Perhaps adapt Delta's advice and switch to a silver standard (for XP) so that this all drops by an order of magnitude? Or perhaps...

  3. magical items should be allowed as part of this scheme. Buying everyone a round and carousing for a night doesn't feel (to me) very different from rescuing a villager from weres and tossing a potion of healing their way. But this could also be a place where you can exert a GM's thumb on the scale, since the "values" of any items that the players disposed of in a way that buffed their renown aren't terribly standard. (And to that end, I'd recommend the Sane Magic Item Prices index; it may not be perfect, but it's waaay better than following the DMG's loose guidelines.) And now you've given players the interesting choice between hanging onto their widget of frobbing or "cashing it in" to level up. (Or level everyone up, per point 2!)


1 - Dungeons & Dragons Adventurers League, WotC's organized play program that was (and sort-of is?) active during 5e. The modules published through this program followed a rough set of guidelines for XP and treasure given out, and I'm using this as an insight into what WotC employees (Chris Tulach, specifically, perhaps with input from other designers?) thought was a good pacing of treasure accumulation by level.

2 - only coinage; since you indicate your players won't really be able to "cash in" any magical items, we're going strictly off of currency here. But more on this later.

3 - I'm using the term "span" rather than "tier" as "tier" is a defined term in 5e (PHB p.15) and these modules don't all correspond to tiers. It feels clunky, but I didn't want to conflate the ideas.

4 - Some modules--only in the lowest two spans--are recommended for two hours, most are recommended for four. This then has the effect of dialing back the impact of these smaller modules. However, there are many more of them (fifteen in 1-2 and 1-4) than in the higher levels (six in 5-10, one in 11-16) so the model's still drawing more of its info from those levels.

This weighting toward low-level information strikes me as fine in one way, as that's where the majority of play tends to happen. On the other hand, this means that any "errors" in the model are likely to appear at the high end, where it's going to take a while for you to notice and be really hard for you to fix: "oh, dear, we've been on level 10 for five sessions now, and are only halfway through. And I want them at 12 to face Strahd et al. for the last time and there's almost nothing left to explore!"

5 - power regression based on eyeballing this curve.

6 - I can think of one better way, but it's going to have to wait until I get my copy of CoS back from a buddy.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Great answer. Silver standard definitely makes sense, and also the party-level buy, since we already used per-party levelling in the past (all players are always on the same level). \$\endgroup\$ – Mala Jul 9 '16 at 8:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ I checked Death House (L1-3) and Vallaki (L4), and got the following numbers: 1150 gp for Death House, 7700 gp Vallaki. If we use the values from your table, assuming they don't find everything, it matches up ok if the cost is per 'party-level' not character level. \$\endgroup\$ – Mala Jul 9 '16 at 9:46
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As a specific rule, I would not allow to gain more that 1 entire level during the whole game by spending gold, characters can then decide to spend a vast amount of money in any given moment to gain 1/2 full levels, or instead spend few money sometimes just to get the missing exps for the next level.

As a general rule for D&D versions starting from 3.5e, and keeping into account that certain games have Wishes available.

Just rember that Wishes can give somethign worth 25000 gp and costs 5000 xp, so I would take a conversion rate that avoid gaining infinite XP by giving away the price gained from a wish. But since players are creative in breaking wish limits I would instead use a conversion rate that is doubled (they have to break more than twice the limit for a Wish to be able to gain infinite EXP).

To avoid infinite EXP-Wish chain a realistic conversion rate should be 50000 gp for just 5000 xp, wich is just too unfair because in D&D5, 10000 gp is already a lot of money. And probably no one is willing to pay so high price for so small exp.

The simplest idea is to start with a generous conversion rate that quickly becomes unfair.

  • Start with a conversion rate for each character of 1 to 2 (1 gp for 2 exp)
  • The conversion rate goes up by one category every 1000 gp spent treshold

Categories are:

  1. Spend 1 gp for 2 exp
  2. Spend 2 gp for 3 exp
  3. Spend 4 gp for 5 exp
  4. Spend 1 gp for 1 exp
  5. Spend 5 gp for 4 exp
  6. Spend 4 gp for 3 exp
  7. Spend 2 gp for 1 exp
  8. Spend 5 gp for 1 exp
  9. Spend 10 gp for 1 exp

Cumulative gold cost => Cumulative EXP reward

  • 1000 gp => 2000 EXP
  • 2000 gp => 3500 EXP
  • 3000 gp => 4750 EXP
  • 4000 gp => 5750 EXP
  • 5000 gp => 6550 EXP
  • 6000 gp => 7300 EXP
  • 7000 gp => 7800 EXP
  • 8000 gp => 8300 EXP
  • 9000 gp => 8400 EXP
  • from now on the cost is 1000 gp for 100 EXP.

If you change the tresholds to become 3000 gp instead of 1000 you allow the players to cheat on the first Wish to gain huge amount of EXP. But then the second wish is already unworth for gaining EXP.

Example: with a treshold of 3000

  • 3000 gp => 9000 EXP
  • 6000 gp => 13500 EXP
  • 9000 gp => 17250 EXP
  • 12000 gp => 20250 EXP
  • 15000 gp => 22650 EXP
  • 18000 gp => 24900 EXP
  • 21000 gp => 25500 EXP
  • 24000 gp => 25800 EXP
  • from now on the conversion rate is again 10 gp for 1 exp

How the Wish is exploited the first time? Simple!

  • Ask for 25.000 gp or ask for item and sell it at 25.000 gp (if you find buyer of course)
  • Use 21000 gp to buy 25500 EXP
  • you are left with 4000 GP and 25500 EXP, or instead
  • You can ask five more wishes
  • In this case you ends up with 4000 GP + 500 EXP + the result of 5 wishes. (the cost of 5 wishes is 5000 x 5 EXP)

My Idea is to not allowing cheating on Wishes and go with the 1000 treshold, players this way will be carefull and would spend money only to gain a level before a difficult mission (if they miss few Xp to level up). That would also be very realistic, because also in reality soldiers tried to have some fun before a battle (playing dices, visits pleasure houses etc.) or at least that's common assumption in many trash fantasy novels.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Note the 5E tag. There is no XP cost to cast wish in 5E listed anywhere. Additionally, I don't think the main concern of this question is how to avoid abuse with wish, since that's not until the top levels anyway, and in 5E wish is self limiting if you do anything other than duplicate a lower level spell. \$\endgroup\$ – Ethan Aug 10 '16 at 15:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ There's an important bit of context I think you're missing: OP wants to run Curse of Strahd, which runs something like levels 1-12. (I finished my play of it at L10, but I think we "speed-ran" it.) So wish isn't really germane. <spoiler>I know there's a way for the party to get their hands on wish in CoS, but they're not going to run a "wish-chain" like you describe.</spoiler> So all this wish-indexed math just strikes me as poorly-founded. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Aug 10 '16 at 15:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ Sorry I just searched for dnd 5e on google and found Wish description. I noted the 5e tag. \$\endgroup\$ – GameDeveloper Aug 10 '16 at 16:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ I edited the answer so now it can also answer the OP, I left here the limit for wishes because I find it interesting and I'll eventually came back here as futher reference for my games :) \$\endgroup\$ – GameDeveloper Aug 11 '16 at 14:03

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