Loot and Pillage: Now It's Your Turn


Kerek drained his mug and stood. As much as he liked the food, atmosphere, and company in The Frothing Otter, he could not laze about the tavern all day. His slender fingers reached into his belt pouch to fetch a silver crown for the tab, and maybe another for buxom Lucinda behind the bar. But all his hand encountered was hard leather. He scrabbled in the pouch, not believing his senses. Where were his fat gold crowns? Where had all his silver gone? Had he not even a filthy copper penny to his name, for all love?

Kerek drained his mug and stood. As much as he liked the food, atmosphere, and company in The Frothing Otter, he could not laze about the tavern all day. His slender fingers reached into his belt pouch to fetch a silver crown for the tab, and maybe another for buxom Lucinda behind the bar. But all his hand encountered was hard leather. He scrabbled in the pouch, not believing his senses. Where were his fat gold crowns? Where had all his silver gone? Had he not even a filthy copper penny to his name, for all love?

The look of horror must have been plain on his face, for he saw wavy-locked Lucinda grinning at him as she filled a round of mugs from the keg of dark Caspan beer.

"Caught short today, Master Kerek?"

"I. . . that is, I. . . curse it, Lucinda, I seem to be a pauper. And I have just eaten two meat pasties and thrown back three mugs of your fine ale."

"Never you mind it, Master Kerek. Your credit is good here. Tessler knows you will darken the door of his tavern again. I'll tell him you will pay him when you are able."

"You are a sweetheart, Lucinda." Kerek sketched a quick, self-effacing bow and headed for the door. Blood burned in his cheeks. He, Kerek Firthmoor, ablest screwsman in the city and finder of the treasure of Merkos, was so poor that he could not afford a common meal in a common tavern. So humiliated was he that he didn't even notice the short, pudgy man follow him out the door and tail him into the street.

Kerek spotted his friend Azaf the Tall purchasing a smoked goat shank from the stall of a streetside vendor, and hurried over to him.

"Azaf, old comrade," he said, slapping the massive, dark-skinned warrior on the back. "How fare you? Say, I find myself impecunious. Surely you can spare a few silvers for the fellow whose lockpicks have brought you so many. . .?"

Azaf smiled as he gnawed his shank. "Kerek," he said, pausing to spit out a piece of gristle, "my last three pennies purchased me this glorious feast. Unless I can find a fat merchant in need of a bodyguard today, I sleep beneath the stars tonight."

Kerek cursed.

"City life does not agree with us, my friend," Azaf continued. I saw Robin Rosegood playing songs for pennies in the marketplace."

"Robin Rosegood working the market like a common troubadour?" Kerek gave a low whistle.

Azaf shrugged. "She is a common troubadour."

"She is the finest bard in the County!" Kerek exclaimed indignantly. "I've watched her hold a score of rabid trolls in a mystic trance for hours on end. It's not right that she should come to such straits."

"Truly a shame! The city's heroes down on their luck! Truly a shame," a voice said behind them. They turned and saw a well-dressed but pudgy man mopping his brow with a handkerchief. "But perhaps I may be of assistance. I represent the Moneychangers' Guild. We have a special task we need performed, one that requires the consummate skill of Kerek Firthmoor and his distinguished companions."

Kerek made a face. "What is your task, moneychanger?"

The man spread his hands in a dismissive manner. "It is a small matter of a rogue necromancer who has overrun one of our offices with a few paltry zombies. We would be obliged if you. . . err, brought him to justice."

"What's the pay?"

"One thousand gold crowns, and the eternal gratitude of the guild."

"One thousand crowns?" Kerek frowned. "Do you imagine we would work for so little?"

The man's smile became indulgent. "It is no fortune, but it might help to settle your account with The Frothing Otter, among other things."

Kerek and Azaf looked at each other. "Find Vella--I think she's practicing spells in the garrison courtyard," Azaf told Kerek, tossing his half-eaten shank to a nearby dog. "I'll away to the market to fetch Rosegood."

"Ask for Oskar Ambleman at the Guild!" the pudgy man shouted after them. "He can tell you where to find the Necromancer!" But the two adventurers hardly heard him in their eagerness to find their friends and begin a new quest.

So. . . the PCs in your campaign have crested 10th level. They are all well-equipped and comfortably wealthy. Some of them are pursuing the best magical items available in whatever magic market you will permit; others are contemplating the development of strongholds. They are powerful, and their concerns have become larger. Having passed the point where they are easily slain in battle, they no longer need concern themselves with bandits and petty evil. They will face ever more powerful foes, and will grow only wealthier from here on out. Right? WRONG! What are you thinking?

A fantasy world is full of magical treasure and gleaming coin. Wealthy people swagger about waiting to be plundered. I refer to your PCs, of course! Loot them as thoroughly as they would one of your dungeons!

Promoting The Drama: Why Poor PCs Are More Fun

How often, in a continuing literary epic, does the hero attain material success in the middle of his/her story arc and keep it for the remainder of the tale? Remembering my favorite stories, I want to say: never. Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser often hit it big, but they just as often lose almost everything they had and find themselves starting over again. Lucky Jack Aubrey captures an enviable number of prizes in one book, yet finds himself a step away from debtor's prison a few books later.

Why do authors make our heroes suffer so? Because success is boring. It's fine to end a tale "And they lived happily ever after," but you'll notice that no one ever says that in the middle. Until there are no more adventures to be had, our protagonists must struggle. Their struggles are what we find entertaining, and make their ultimate successes seem more important for the trouble that preceded them.

A role-playing game is not a story in the strictest sense of the word because the players help define the action. All the same, it is your responsibility as the gamemaster to keep the action entertaining. One way to do this is to prevent your PCs from ever becoming so wealthy they become complacent.

The most important reason to keep your PCs poor can be summed up in three words: plot, plot, plot! Adventurers are at their most vulnerable to your gamemaster-ish machinations when they are hungry. Complex character motivations are nice when you can get them. It's lovely if your PCs will listen to the impassioned pleas of a nation/town/village in need of saving. But money talks, and when your PCs are poor, it is loud and eloquent. The promise of material reward is one of the oldest plot hooks around, and is still one of the best.

Poverty can also provide an amusing and interesting obstacle for your PCs to overcome in the course of solving other problems. Have you ever heard of the Call of Cthulhu session where the fate of the world depended on whether or not the investigators were able to catch a bus on time? That kind of situation isn't possible when the PCs can simply pile into their private helicopter and flit off to save the day. If an NPC has important information for the characters, he or she may expect a bribe. But what if the characters can't pay it? They'll have to do the NPC a favor. . . and in addition to having to use their brains to resolve the problem, your players will have handed you another plot opportunity.

There are three basic approaches to keeping your PCs' coin purses thin: preventing them from getting money, preventing them from keeping money, and preventing them from spending money.

Approach #1: Don't Let 'Em Get It!

If your PCs never get too much money, you don't have to take it away from them. There are several ways to accomplish this.

Low-Power Campaigns. In this type of campaign, money and valuable materials are scarce. Perhaps the entire world setting depends on barter, and the only easily portable assets (such as gemstones) are so valuable that any bartering for them will tend to produce uneven trades. This approach is well-suited to low-tech and post-apocalyptic campaigns. Advantage: Your PCs will appreciate every little bone you throw them, and will treasure something like a +1 longsword or a fully functioning pistol forever. PCs will never become fabulously wealthy, because wealth on that scale doesn't exist--people in the campaign world literally cannot conceive of it. Disadvantage: You have to tell your players you are running this kind of campaign from the beginning, and you may have trouble finding players if your gaming group is used to piles of gold and silver.

Alternative "Treasure." If your PCs are always hunting for ingots, gems, and stacks of specie, you may be able to deprive them of treasure by disguising its nature. Consider the Cyclops from The Odyssey: does he have any use for gold? No! His wealth is in his flock of giant sheep. Livestock are extremely valuable in many settings (see my notes about horses below), and are one good way of disguising treasure. I sometimes tie my encounter table to a list of omens. When marching through a primitive country, my players were baffled whenever the omen for "wealth" appeared because they could never find anything. The reason? They passed by the beaver dams they kept encountering. To the people of that land, beaver pelts were very valuable indeed. Other forms of alternative treasure include trade goods, mundane-looking but valuable art such as ancient pottery, and hard-to-spot treasure such as gold dust (which looks a heck of a lot like regular dust) and unpolished gemstones. Advantage: your players will pass over lots of valuable material and never know what they've missed. Disadvantage: once they get the hang of your campaign, your players will be more alert for anything valuable. If you're using a system with something like the Appraise skill, you'll need to make sure that any 'disguised' treasure such as gold dust has a suitable difficulty modifier.

Fools' Gold. Your PCs may encounter leprechaun gold or junk enchanted to appear valuable. Once they've put it away for safekeeping, it may disappear or revert to its actual form. Fools' Gold may lie near an actual cache of treasure that is hidden or enchanted to look like junk. If it does, you should be reasonable in letting your players try to make the right decision. . . but you should take care to design the area so as not to give away the trick to an automatic game mechanic, such as an elf's chance to notice the secret door guarding the real treasure. Make your players figure it out for themselves, and be merciless if they don't. Advantage: This trick makes your players hopping mad. Disadvantage: This trick makes your players hopping mad. It also tends to work only once.

The "Thoughtful Dungeon." There's no rule that says every crypt must contain treasure. If you think about it, the amount of treasure generally assumed to be lying around in a fantasy world is absurd. If your players are tomb-robbers, it stands to reason other tomb-robbers have preceded them. Try designing your next few "dungeons" like real-world tombs. Your characters will be hard-pressed to find any treasure in the average tomb at all. . . especially if the only monsters they encounter are undead, vermin, and the like. Only about 1 in 5 tombs should have intact or only partly looted treasures, or much less if you're trying to be realistic. One interesting example of a "thoughtful dungeon" was Firewine Bridge in Baldur's Gate: you met fools who speculated about its wealth, but if you went there, all you found was a harrowing maze of kobold-filled passages that left your weakest party members exposed to ambush and arrow fire. Though there was a neat little quest in the middle of the dungeon, there was almost nothing in the way of treasure. Advantage: This approach will make your world feel more realistic, and will have your characters probing piles of dust and filth for signs of anything valuable. Disadvantage: Designing tombs like real-life ones may require a bit more research, and may restrict the kinds of monsters you can include. If your players don't find enough tombs with treasure in them, they may get discouraged and assume no tombs have anything worth taking, or quit your campaign altogether.

Other Rewards. Not every adventure need culminate with the PCs filling their saddlebags with loot. You can also reward your characters with status or titles, knowledge such as little-known spells, or owed favors ("our village will always be in your debt"). Advantage: When done properly, this approach is even more satisfying to your PCs than a big stack of gold. Disadvantage: This approach is hard to sustain. Sooner or later, even the saintliest of adventurers may begin to wonder what they stand to gain from pursuing the next quest.

Approach #2: Don't Let 'Em Keep It!

This is the GM's classic approach to reining in an overly wealthy party. Though requiring less planning than the previous approach, it can be difficult to accomplish without making your players feel you are treating them unfairly.

Cost of Living. I think not enough GMs make their players spend their money on living expenses. Unless she is playing a monk, don't let a player tell you her character is perfectly happy subsisting on hard tacks and water and sleeping in the stable every night. Adventurers face far more peril than ordinary folk; in real life, such people tend to spend their money as quickly as they earn it. Keep track of how much characters need to spend for food, rent, spell components, weapon and armor maintenance, retainers, and general carousing. If your players aren't looking at their sheets and grumbling about how much they spend between adventures, you're not enforcing this enough. Advantage: This is a pretty by-the-book method, and your players should expect it. Disadvantage: It can add to your bookkeeping woes, and may gain you a reputation among your players as a tightwad.

Horses. This may seem a strange thing to spend money on, but horses are expensive and always have been. If you play D&D, I recommend you not use the prices listed for horses in the Player's Handbook--even in a world with teleportation and pegasi, these numbers are entirely inadequate to reflect the cost of the setting's chief source of transportation. Remember, a horse is basically the medieval equivalent of a car: price it accordingly. Compare the cost of horses in alternate systems: GURPS lists the cost of a warhorse as comparable to that of a full suit of plate mail (both around $5000 GURPS), and Palladium lists the cost of a trained warhorse at anywhere from 4,000 to 24,000 gp (many times the cost of full plate). Horses also incur maintenance costs for food and stabling. Advantage: this is a realistic expenditure, and easy to justify. PC travel times and loot capacity will be restricted until middle levels, and your players will be less sanguine about tying all their horses up untended outside the dungeon. Disadvantage: In a campaign that emphasizes dungeon crawling, players may decide that horses aren't worth the expense.

The Price of Fame. From time to time, titled and other high-status characters can reasonably be expected to sponsor feasts, gladiatorial games, or races. These events are expensive in the extreme. A visit from a high-ranking superior can be just as draining, as a beleaguered noble may be expected to feed and house the Royal Entourage for months on end with no compensation other than the "honor" of being the host. Advantage: This is very realistic, and can siphon off truly vast quantities of money in a hurry. Disadvantage: This only works for characters who have status to maintain.

Gambling. Even computerized RPGs usually feature gambling in some form. This is a no-brainer. Advantage: The odds favor the PCs losing their shirts. You know this because you make the odds. Disadvantage: Unless the economy of the setting is stunted, most characters won't have a reason to gamble. Adventurers will tend to assume their next quest will be a safer bet for income than the craps table.

Theft. This is the old standby: "A boy bumps into you in the marketplace. Later, you notice that he cut your coin purse!" If you rely on this method, you should allow your players some way to avoid it in terms of game mechanics (Pick Pocket rolls opposed by Spot, etc). Advantage: This is very realistic, and is common enough that almost any player should know to expect it. That cuts down on the complaints. Theft also gives your cities and bad neighborhoods a realistic atmosphere. Disadvantage: Players know to expect it, and will take steps to avoid being robbed. Thoughtfully played PCs can be extremely difficult to rob without resorting to unfair tactics. Theft can also be overdone, and should be reserved for big cities and bad parts of town.

Swindlers. In real life, rich people are constantly beset by people trying to cheat them out of their money. The same should be true for your characters. A swindle can be as simple as the sale of a bunk magic item, or as complex as the scam in The Sting. If you're going to use swindlers, though, you need to make sure you also offer legitimate investment opportunities--otherwise your players will never bite! Advantage: done properly, this can cheat your characters out of a huge sum. It also provides a great plot hook, as your characters attempt to get revenge by legitimate means or otherwise. Disadvantage: As with gambling, PCs need a reason to believe the investment may be more profitable than adventuring. As with Fool's Gold, a swindle generally only works once.

Taxes and Tithes. Adventurers may be held liable for taxation if they discover great wealth on land claimed by some nationality. . . and most land is claimed by a nationality. In real life, windfall taxes are around 50%! You'd be justified in asking your characters for a higher percentage (it's realistic for a medieval kingdom to be greedy), but you may decide to be more merciful if you're running a fantasy campaign. Law-abiding characters MUST pay their taxes. Clerics, paladins, and other religiously affiliated characters are liable to their temples for tithes as well. Make them pay! Advantage: If the PCs pay their taxes, you've taken some of their money. If they don't, they've just handed you a plot hook since they must figure out how to avoid being punished for it. And any religiously affiliated character knows to expect tithes. Disadvantage: Players who are unused to being taxed on their dungeon crawls may mutiny. It can be difficult to "prove" that the authorities know the PCs have the money in the first place--the King's Guard can't always show up just as the dragon is slain.

Corruption. Many societies run on bribery: these can include bureaucracies, networks of informants, organized crime, and even powerful monsters. Advantage: The PCs must keep a bankroll handy as often as they can, and will spend a considerable portion of their income on bribes. Disadvantage: Bribery may make the PCs as corrupt and lazy as the society they live in. They may forget how to solve problems by other means.

Inflation. A sudden influx of huge amounts of coin into a small economy would logically cause inflation of even the commonest goods and services. If players are abusing a game world mechanic (such as Resurrection), you can use inflation as an excuse to jack up the price to something that you feel is more reasonable. Advantage: This is realistic, and can make your PCs very uneasy about their level of financial security. Disadvantage: Calculating realistic inflation can be a headache. Unless you play with die-hard simulationists, the use of inflation will be very unpopular with your players.

Criminal/Legal Proceedings. One or more characters can be sued or prosecuted under the law. Whether or not the characters are innocent, the proceeding will be expensive and inconvenient. If the characters are charged with (let alone convicted of) a crime, their property may become forfeit in many societies. Advantage: Wrongfully accused characters who must prove their innocence to regain their status (and, possibly, their assets) make great plot devices. Disadvantage: If you use this method more than once per campaign, your players will hate you, and rightfully so.

Fiefdom. A character with a title may be required to build a stronghold, and to supply his liege lord with armed warriors. This is very, very expensive. Advantage: Many characters will plan to do this anyway. Disadvantage: Characters with strongholds and numerous followers can make adventuring awkward or even pointless.

Needy Friends And Dependents. If your PCs have strong plot connections to certain NPCs, you can cause the NPCs to require financial assistance of almost any kind (medical bills, posting bail, debts to crime lords, etc). Advantage: Most player concepts and backgrounds will give you hooks for this method. Disadvantage: Characters with no strong plot connections will be immune to the wheedling of NPCs.

Catastrophe. "Bad Joss, Taipan! Your warehouse has burned to the ground!" Any PC with material assets can lose them to wicked twists of fate. Strongholds can collapse or be assaulted by dragons; banks can be robbed; homelands can be invaded; stocks can be rendered worthless. Advantage: This method is highly flexible. If your catastrophe is realistic and dramatically timed, your players may have a difficult time arguing with you about it. Disadvantage: This method should not be used more than once per campaign.

Approach #3: Don't Let 'Em Spend It!

If PCs cannot--or more interestingly, will not--spend their money on anything that can give them a game advantage, they might as well not even have it. This approach can make huge bankrolls less of a problem.

Unique Items. I recently discovered this, and it's become one of my favorite gimmicks. If your players aren't pure loot-and-pillage types, they may become fixated on treasure that has some greater meaning in your campaign world. I was intrigued when PCs began setting aside expensive necklaces for their in-game love interests, but it got better. The party included a number of fire worshippers who had extensive dealings with one of the fire god's chief minions (an elemental named Kizzit). At one point, I created a huge ruby worth tens of thousands of gp and placed it as treasure. When the PCs found it, I told the character who made the appropriate Knowledge Roll that this was a famous, one-of-a-kind stone called the Heart of Kizzit. I expected them to sell it, but they formed an attachment to it despite the fact that it had no in-game properties whatsoever apart from its name and cash value. I also noticed some of the more conventional items I put thought into describing were kept by PCs as personal adornments, gifts, and so on. Advantage: Your players will decline to sell hugely valuable items while simultaneously forming a deeper attachment to your campaign setting. Disadvantage: This method doesn't work at all on players who only view gems and jewelry as denominations of gp.

Tax Evasion. If the PCs have come across a hoard of loot they know the authorities will tax if discovered, they may have a hard time spending their ill-gotten gains. PCs who flaunt more money than they should have will come under investigation by the authorities. Advantage: This is a great way to control PCs' spending levels, and can also provide plot hooks as the characters try to avoid detection. Disadvantage: Law-abiding PCs will pay their taxes rather than risk arrest.

Illegal/Hard-to-Sell Treasure. This is another new favorite of mine. In the recent computer RPG Morrowind, you can find a substance called Moon Sugar (and its refined version, the drug Skooma) that is valuable but almost impossible to sell. Upstanding merchants won't even do business with a character who has any of this stuff in his inventory. This kind of illegal treasure can be a fun temptation for your players, and can even provide them with a moral dilemma. Aside from illegal treasure, you can create treasure that is valuable only to the right buyer. As one example, in my last campaign I often placed coins from a previous civilization as treasure in tombs. While the PCs were free to use these coins at their face value, I told the players with knowledgeable characters the coins would be worth more than their face value if sold to certain sages or collectors. The result was the characters delayed using coffers and coffers of this money until they could find the right buyer--an event which occurred months later in real time. Advantage: The PCs will have to jump through hoops to sell their "treasure," offering you numerous plot hooks in the mean time. Disadvantage: This method is really a means of delaying expenditure rather than preventing it.

Long-Term Investments. If PCs' assets are tied up in investments, they will have less readily available cash. Advantage: This is realistic, and can be combined with the use of swindlers to keep your players on their toes. Disadvantage: If their adventures make them wealthy, few PCs will find reasons to invest in anything but better gear.

Impoverished Markets. If the PCs are in a place with few luxury or high-quality items, they may find being extremely wealthy is no better than being moderately so. Furthermore, the GM has the right to decline to sell certain goods in ANY market: "I'm sorry, Bob, but +5 greataxes just aren't ever put up for sale." Advantage: As long as the party remains in an impoverished area, they will be unable to purchase any goods or services that are prone to abuse. Disadvantage: The PCs can always decide to head back to civilization. If you're using GM fiat to control the sale of certain items such as +5 greataxes, your players may accuse you of being arbitrary.

Striking The Balance: Interest Vs. Annoyance

You may have read this article thinking: "Sheesh! What's the point? Why would anyone ever want to game with you, Cocytus, if you won't let them have any fun?" Well, the point is not to deprive characters of wealth and power. The point is to control the rate at which they attain it, and also to hand them setbacks from time to time.

It's important to remember you probably don't want your PCs to be miserable forever. A good, simple character arc might go like this: the PCs start poor, gradually become wealthy, lose much or all of their assets to a sudden catastrophe, and then gradually rebuild their wealth again.

I've written this article from the perspective of a fantasy world, but the principles hold true for any genre. With some modification, these methods can be applied to modern day and sci-fi settings as well.

You can use any of these tricks or more than one, but I encourage my fellow GMs not to go overboard. You want to keep your players' interest, not drive them away from your table! If your PCs are hell-bent on getting their money back, you've done your job: now give them the plot you've developed that allows them to recoup their losses.

I am known as a stingy GM. My parties always start poor, and have "realistic" expenses. So when they accumulate any wealth at all they feel a real sense of accomplishment.

Another great way to drain party resources is travel. A long trip requires supplies for the party and any animals. plus lodging/stabling and eating out when in towns.

Also, quests that require special equipment. Paying for the location and purchase, or even better the manufacture of custom equipment can drain a few GP.

Tolls and ferries are good too. If the river is too deep to ford, you may just have to pay to get across.

A great non-cash reward for a service is a minor title, or membership in an honorable institution. Especially if it comes with some sort of obligation.

For example two of my players were invited to join a noble dwarven order of service. It is a great honor, they are treated with respect by all dwarves they meet, and at court are refered to as "sir". But there was no monetary reward, and they occasionally have to provide a service to the order, or the dwarven court. This was my best reward idea ever.

Another good reward was when a skilled armorer presents the fighter of the party with a well made sword with +1 damage bonus. Or finely crafted paper as a reward for the group's scholar.

Keeping characters from getting too wealthy is one of my hallmarks, so I thought I would share a few ideas.

This is easily the most intelligent, useful, and thorough articles that I've seen on this site. Well done, Cocytus.

Wow. Fantastic article. I know that in my soon-to-be-starting D&D campaign, I'm gonna use some of this stuff. I also like John's idea of using titles or special memberships in place of cash and goods.

I like this article. When I was a fledgeling DM I had real trouble with this. I leardned very quickly to not use the treasure tables listed in the rule books. So now my players rarely, if ever, recieve treasure from monsters.

Now this is not to say that players don't get rich, just not to the extreme that they might otherwise. I also sieze any oportunity to strip the group of cash. An example of this is two of the characters had five bars of platinum, worth roughly 1000 each, in thier backpacks. While on a boat they had a shipwreck and got dumped into the ocean where on of them lost their pack. 5000 pp sunk very quickly to the bottom while the elf was trying to hold onto his life. He even went diving for it later and everything, it was great.

The group was still rich after but not quite so much. They also liked to live extravagantly like renting penthouses for the three of them complete with lush meals and hookers running them about 200pp a night. That alone served to nearly bankrupt the group so they finally had to skip out on their bill and escape into the wilderness.

Good times. Which is the point. The game wouldn't have been as much fun if they could buy their way through everything.

This article makes me feel better about not giving my players so much treasure during the game. They got the amount of starting treasure that the DMG says they should, but it'll be a high powered campaign. They just won't be getting much else for a while, I think.

I agree with all this.... to a point. As you say Cocytus, you need to retain a balance and your interventions should never become annoying. In particular, tey should never appear contrived or artificial.

Also there is one other type of character to consider. The guy who genuinely is out to get rich, and use his money to buy power and influence, land ,titles etc. You shouldn't try to artificially restrict this kind of character by stealing his hard won cash in a fit of DM power freakism. But hey, his schemes will be exdpensive, so you can quite legitimately impose expenses.

Remember all players and all characters are not the same. A palidin needs little money to survive, but a lord with land holdings needs a lot.

Heh... I just remembered something. The Monarchs of England used to tour their kingdoms , living at the expense of their powerful lords. Imagine bearing the expenses of the royal court for a couple of weeks ! the gifts, the feasts, the entertainment. The price of power I guess.

First, thanks to everyone who has posted so far for the feedback and support.

Second, John: those are some excellent ideas. I touched on the "minor title" idea in my "Other Rewards" paragraph under the Don't Let 'Em Keep It" section.

Third, Mohammed:

"Also there is one other type of character to consider. The guy who genuinely is out to get rich...You shouldn't try to artificially restrict this kind of character by stealing his hard won cash in a fit of DM power freakism."

Actually, I think many characters fit that description.

I can think of three major divisions of character motivation off the top of my head (I'm sure there are others as well):

The first type is motivated by the nature of the class itself. Paladins and Clerics are good examples of this type.

The second type is motivated by the player's attachment to the game setting and the NPCs that dwell in it. Characters with thoughtfully written backgrounds often have built-in attachments to the setting: their families, their homesteads, their pets, their noble houses, or what have you.

The third type is motivated by power and money. Rogues are often explicitly this type: part of the purpose behind the Rogue class is to expedite the separation between NPCs and their money.

Each of these types is easy to motivate, provided you understand the characters involved and use the appropriate motivators in your campaign plot.

I think a good GM wants at least some of the starting characters to achieve their goals. But whatever their goals are, it's the GM's job to make them difficult to achieve. A linear progression of challenges can be boring and predictable; handing the players a setback, be it the loss of a level, the loss of a prized item, the loss of a beloved NPC, or the loss of a fortune, can serve to inject a bit of drama and uncertainty into your campaign. No, you shouldn't go wild with it, but on the other hand, you shouldn't necessarily assume that characters will achieve their goals at a steady pace. Sometimes they should fail, and sometimes they should even lose a little ground. It can help keep the players feeling interested in what will happen next. If there's never a risk of loss or failure, the game can become very stale.

The intent of the schemes enumerated in the article above is not to promote "GM power freakism," but rather to suggest means of keeping the interest of the players by manipulating the purse strings of their characters.

"Remember all players and all characters are not the same. A palidin needs little money to survive, but a lord with land holdings needs a lot."

Ah, but it's easy to keep paladins poor. Where's the fun in that? =)

Seriously, while the GM should try to meet player expectations on many counts, s/he should also attempt to confound player expectations to some degree. There's nothing wrong with allowing the lord to become wealthy, but I submit to you that there is something wrong with allowing him to become complacent about his wealth. If he's a little paranoid at all times that someone might try to take his money away from him and ruin all his schemes, then the GM is doing a fine job.

"Heh... I just remembered something. The Monarchs of England used to tour their kingdoms , living at the expense of their powerful lords. Imagine bearing the expenses of the royal court for a couple of weeks ! the gifts, the feasts, the entertainment. The price of power I guess."

Yep. This was part of the inspiration for the "Price of Fame" paragraph under the Don't Let 'Em Keep It" section.

argh. My response to John was supposed to refer to the "Don't Let 'Em Get It" section. Sorry.

What a wonderful article! I especially appreciated the reference to BG. I have, like, a billion story ideas now. This is what happens when I read a good article: I have all of these ideas floating in my head.

It's too bad that I am a shitty DM, but it might be just as well because I don't have anyone to play with anyway. :)

Dammit! I guess I must go back to playing Temple of Elemental Evil to get my D&D fix.

I should write an article but I don't have anything to write about... crap! It's one thing after another!

- Tra'Hari

Hey Tra'Hari,
You should write an article, so what if you don't have anything useful to write. Don't let that stop you. It's not like any of the writers have anything useful to say.

Cocytus wrote
I think a good GM wants at least some of the starting characters to achieve their goals.

That sounds like a fair statement. It shouldn't be easy or guaranteed, but occasionally the characters ought to fulfill their goals. I had one Player who retired his character into npc-hood, since his reason for adventuring was satisfied.

By the way, I really liked the article, and look forward to more.


absolutely brilliant article. I'm printing this one for my WARP society.

yep, i'm jumping on the what-a-great-article wagon too. Nicely done, Cocytus.

- have mercy on the newbie -