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I'm DMing a campaign partially at the request of one of my friends who has a munchkin build he's been wanting play for the past 2+ years. The last time he tried it, the DM was incredibly stingy with giving out gold and loot to the point that the party was literally taking chairs and candlesticks so we could afford to buy gear.

This time, I'm the DM and I'm giving out gold, loot, and levels like candy. So far it hasn't been too much of an issue, but the party recently needed a boat to cross an ocean and I looked up how much a boat costs: ~10,000gp.

These players received five +1 shortbows from a single goblin encounter alone (8 level 3 Goblin rogues with said bows, point blank shot, and precise shot), and at this point they could outright buy several boats (well, one or two).

My question is this: how do I reign in the gold/loot to more manageable levels?

  1. If I increase the price of everything, then we're right back at the beginning where a +1 short bow (~1,000gp) is nothing compared to the newly increased price of a boat (~100,000gp)

  2. I stop giving them monetary loot and instead focus on loot that is either a) character specific (oh hey, the druid found a periapt of wisdom) or very niche in its use (an origami boat or something).

  3. Something else?

RPers often talk about power creep, but I rarely hear of economy creep. How am I supposed to justify the vast amounts of money that exist in this world?

For reference:

  • I have not mentioned/used either copper/silver at all during this homebrew campaign meaning that 1gp is more like $1 than $100.
  • The party were level 6 at the time of the goblin encounter. I don't bother with XP, levelling them up at major quest milestones instead, and they're level 7 now.
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This doesn’t have to be a problem. This is the game they seemed to want, and you seemed to be OK giving it to them: now you just need to understand what the ramifications of this kind of game are. Their wealth pushes them past a lot of mundane problems—like travel—so challenge them with greater, more supernatural threats. Magic is fantastically expensive, after all.

Because if you have been giving out levels like candy, then yes, they are supposed to be able to buy a boat on a moment’s notice with some spare change. That’s part of what it means to be high-level (or really, even mid-level) adventurers.

The expected wealth of a 5th-level character is 9,000 gp (or 10,500 gp, in Pathfinder), each. A 10,000-gp boat is quite an investment for a party of four 5th-level characters. The expected wealth of a 10th-level character is 49,000 gp (62,000 gp, Pathfinder): for a party of four, with somewhere around 200,000 gp between them, that’s not much. By 15th-level, they instead have 200,000 gp (240,000 gp, PF) each, so four of them have nearly a million gold pieces’ worth of funds. A 10,000-gp boat is not a serious expenditure.

You know those scenes in TV shows and movies where someone walks in and just buys things no one thought was even for sale, by just casually writing a check for fantastic sums of money? Bruce Wayne just buying the hotel so his lady friends could play in the fountain, Mr. Saito purchasing an entire airline rather than trying to bribe all the appropriate personnel because “it seemed neater.” Those things: D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder characters can be those characters by mid levels.

More importantly, powerful options for transportation, such as teleport, greater teleport, and plane shift become available at high levels. A 10,000-gp boat might be cheap, but a high-level character wouldn’t buy one anyway: they can move much, much faster than merely sailing anyway.

And that’s normal. If you have been offering more wealth than this, then you are going beyond recommended values, so the cost of a boat becomes trivial sooner than this. But it’s really not anything new, just early. By giving more wealth than normal, you are suggesting that something like a boat is not supposed to be a significant cost to the party. And that’s OK.

The reason that this happens is because wealth is directly tied into character power. In order for characters to keep up in power, in addition to levels and class features and so on, they also need magic items. And magic items are, compared to any and all mundane expenses, fantastically expensive. An entire boat costs 10,000 gp: a +2 adamantine dagger costs more than that. A +5 longsword costs much, much more than that. Basic ability-enhancement items (gloves of dexterity and so on) cost 60% more than a boat in the +4 version, and in the +6 version, cost three-and-a-half times what a boat does. A single mid-level magic item is worth enough to hire a score of fantastically-skilled laborers to work non-stop on something for most of a year.

Such are the rewards of adventuring. Considering their life expectancy, plus the need to invest so much of their money in preposterously expensive magic items just to have any hope of survival, maybe that’s not so ridiculous.

But ultimately, you don’t really need to have a problem here. Mundane concerns are now beneath them in all but the most ludicrous amounts and qualities. They can have the fastest, most luxurious mundane boat in existence, they can even afford to pay premiums to get it now and so on. That’s because they are adventurers, with serious, magical problems to thwart, and magic problems require magic gear and magic gear costs several fortunes.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, I appreciate the perspective. It really is a high-powered fantasy world that they're playing in, so if I'm giving them tons'o'loot then I should really just be ramping up the difficulty of encounters to justify it. \$\endgroup\$ – ghosthardware Nov 19 '16 at 21:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ghosthardware - One caveat to "just ramping up difficulty" is that increased wealth doesn't increase everyone's power the same. That's not a huge issue - while 3.5/PF are supposed to be balanced around the wealth-by-level table, it's not well balanced at all anyway, so some extra inbalance from wealth shouldn't matter tóó much - especially since it usually helps the weaker classes. But it is something to keep an eye on. \$\endgroup\$ – Danny Cuppen Nov 23 '16 at 9:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ protip: If you happen to have an artificer in your group, DON'T give him money. Bad things happen to campaigns when artificers have too much gold in their hands \$\endgroup\$ – BgrWorker Nov 23 '16 at 13:39
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If it hasn't been an issue then this isn't something to fix so much as something to have fun with.

Sure, you could stop being a monty hall DM. Or you could pile on the living expenses.

It's time for the PC's to visit the magic shop of PC destitution. We specialize in rare and sundry items that will astound and amaze. We have swords of exceptional quality (non magic +1 to attack or damage, never both). We have lucky four leaf clovers (your luck may vary). We'll cast continual flame on whatever you'd like (our best seller). We have the best potato soup you'll ever eat (it's honestly good, and you'll forever crave it). And bards who will make you laugh and cry for a small fee (whatever's left after the shopkeep turns you loose).

We also have certified diviners who guarantee that all magic items sold are curse free.

Our +1 shortbows sell at retail prices because they are verified to function as advertized.

But if a band of adventurers walked up and tried to sell us some off the street +1 shortbows we ain't paying them retail price. They could be cursed, stolen, counterfeit, illegally modified, or permanently become disenchanted at the first casting of dispel magic. PC's NEVER get to sell items at retail prices. They're lucky if they get wholesale.

If they did charge someone full price for a +1 shortbow and they weren't in the magic shop guild they have some hefty fines to pay when they get caught. Worse, if the item turned out to be cursed or misrepresented when sold they could be held liable.

If you want to separate a fool from his money you just need a skilled shopkeep, and maybe his lawyers.

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Your scenario #2 is quite good; nothing about WBL requires that their wealth be in gold, or even in useful items. If you wanted to be particularly cruel, you could give them items that are extraordinarily expensive but also useless to the party (a single massive gem that nobody could afford to pay full price on, maybe). You could even use this as an adventure hook, where they have to find a potential buyer or accept a lowball offer.

One suggestion is to simply require that the PCs use expensive services as they level up. Maybe instead of requiring a ship, which takes a long time to travel, they need to transport themselves and some goods immediately using repeated casts of Greater Teleport, which would cost a great deal more. Alternatively, their destination could be inaccessible via mundane travel, and require that they hire a high-level psion to guide them. This strategy allows you to justify your scenario #1 without overtly inflating the value of your gold (since they're really paying for the expensive magic or training), and allows the PCs to enjoy their obscene wealth in the mundane world on occasion.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Wealth is absolutely supposed to be in useful items. The most relevant “value” to calculate wealth by is the value to that character. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Nov 19 '16 at 13:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ Removed the comment about towns' GP limits; I think the rest of the answer still stands. I think that the PCs needing to find a buyer for an item is totally consistent with a game in which they can't buy powerful magic items whenever and wherever they want. It's up to the OP to determine if that's the type of game they're playing, though. \$\endgroup\$ – Icyfire Nov 19 '16 at 17:08
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I ran into the same problem in my early DMing years in the 1980’s. In reading your question, you have a partial answer right there: your players have bought a ship.

Ships cost a lot to maintain

They will need to pay monthly expenses just to own the ship, even when the ship is not in use. Offshore vessels are huge money pits. The salt water and salt air quickly rusts iron/steel equipment and fasteners. The ship must be maintained. Old wooden ships required periodic keel hauling for hull repairs and to have barnacles scraped off. The boat will require new canvas from time to time.

If the players plan to stay alive, they must pay an experienced captain and a crew with provisions, supplies and a quartermaster. Will they be sailing into uncharted waters where rocks and sea monsters are life threatening? It might take a LOT of extra cash to get a good captain and crew to go along with that.

Storms can cause serious damage to a ship even if the ship doesn’t sink. I know from RL experience.

  • I had friends 120' down spear fishing while we were 25 miles for shore when a very bad storm came, I couldn’t leave my friends nor could I contact them so we had to ride out a storm with waves reaching 25’ due to a nearby waterspout. No one died but the damage to the boat was severe. Repairs cost almost as much as the original purchase price.

Things to do with adventures

You’re the DM. If you’ve given out too much money, you can adjust that through an adventuring incident. While they are sailing not too far from a foreign port or dock arrange an encounter where a storm breaks their mast and rips their canvas apart. At this point, they have to get the ship repaired in a foreign dock where the locals gouge them the price. It costs money just store to a ship at a dock.

Create an adventure that has prospects of loot, but make it an expensive endeavor – even more expensive than the payout. (They'll still get XP ... and you can use items per your second point).

  • Not every adventure has to be profitable.
  • Not every wandering monster uses money and those that do don’t always keep it on their person.

I remember an old adventure in AD&D called “All that Glitters”. My players found an old map but they didn’t know where to start. They hired a sage to research it and ended up buying a ship and crew to get to the starting point. Just getting there was expensive. While they got some money and a few magic items during the adventure, their loot didn’t approach their level of expenses. When they got home, I had them do another expensive adventure. The reward wasn’t money or magic. It was a land grant a little ways out in the wilderness. So they went about building a tower and clearing the land.

I found that if I gave them stuff to spend their money on they loved it.


What's gold worth in your game economy?

I did some research a while back comparing D&D gold value to gold values in medieval times. The D&D gold piece is the same weight as the old English gold noble that was first minted in the 1300’s. Back then the wages for a skilled worker per day amounted to about 1/24 of a gold coin. That same skilled worker in D&D gets paid 2 gold per day. Gold in D&D has about 2% of the buying power that gold had in the 1300’s. I’d judge that D&D prices are nearly 50X what they were in medieval times. The existing rules have made finding gold blasé. You need a pack animal to carry your money. I adjusted the prices in my world a long time ago to make things more immersive. 2 gold pieces will pay for a decent private room in a decent inn for 6 months – just like it should.
A good set of leather armor costs 2sp.

Whenever my players finally find gold, they are extremely excited – even when it’s not a lot. Adjusting the overall economy is another way to approach this challenge. (Depends on if you want to do the work to remake the tables/values).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE. I edited your answer to format it a bit from the "wall of text" presentation, and while so doing made some modest revisions. Please review the edit to make sure that your intended meaning was retained. Edit it again for clarity or in case I made an error. Thanks for the answer and happy gaming! \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jan 24 '17 at 13:20
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Big >spenders< attract thieves. Thieving is resolved through (secret) rolls, results usually only come into play just AFTER finishing successful negotiations...

The DM giveth, the DM taketh. Be careful with the taking though, use it only to ENHANCE play, making it part of your story, in stead of restricting it.

Also, be aware that local economies differ, and that big equipment often has to be made. Sure, you can order a ship for 10.000gp, and then wait 3 years for it to be completed. Good luck with that ;)

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    \$\begingroup\$ No PC wants to just wake up and discover half their gold is gone. I know if that happened to my party, it doesn't matter what quest we're on, we would immediately divert our full attention to tracking down the thief, getting back our money, and then turning in the scoundrel for some more gold. \$\endgroup\$ – Cyberson Nov 19 '16 at 20:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Cyberson: That's probably the difference between you expecting all work done for you as a PC, and me presenting the party with some lively, unexpected challenges that often lead to extra rewards if they choose to work for it. A.k.a. side-quests. But no worries, it's all good. \$\endgroup\$ – agodwithoutananswer Nov 20 '16 at 15:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ "All your money is gone" is not a challenge, though. And trying to track down the thief is often the best course of action. Either it's a 5-minute diversion and their wealth is back, or the thief is a serious threat that needs stopping anyway. \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Nov 23 '16 at 13:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm sure there's some groups that enjoy this kind of thing, but as blanket advice it's no good; most players won't enjoy this. \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Dec 14 '16 at 12:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Erik In a setting where actual thieves guilds exist, and thief is a standard profession (even a rewarding one), the prospect of being stolen from is a natural part of the world setting. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jan 24 '17 at 13:29

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