Three Hots and a Cot: Working On The Road


Money is the motivation of most groups. The great mound of treasure inspires most players to heroically stride into a camp of bugbears and slay them by the scores. In fact, very few adventures have ever been played without some sort of payoff. Even when the world is at stake, most players anxiously wring their hands and wonder what the 'end treasure' could possible be.

Money is the motivation of most groups. The great mound of treasure inspires most players to heroically stride into a camp of bugbears and slay them by the scores. In fact, very few adventures have ever been played without some sort of payoff. Even when the world is at stake, most players anxiously wring their hands and wonder what the 'end treasure' could possible be.

Who is to say there is any fault in this? We all know there is one incentive to rule them all. Although it's always a perk when a village is saved or a princess rescued, that only ensures a healthier reward. After all, the poor, starving town will give us a great feast of gratitude before we walk off with a king's ransom. The truth is; players will always go for the gold, whether the campaign is set in the distant future or a classic fantasy. Money is the reward that seems to top all rewards. However, while the best things in life are free, money isn't. Unless our characters go into suspended animation in between encounters, we're likely to spend money as we go.

The adventures we love take us to remote islands, uncharted galaxies, and lands of wonder. Along the way characters will buy guides, supplies, food, transportation, information, maps, and the list goes on. While coins from our last adventure will help, many of us are forced to find money on the way. It is fortunate we often travel through small camps and great cities as we make our way to the great mound of treasure. While spawned monster encounters seem to line the pockets of a PC gamer, Tabletop gamers are only limited by their imaginations. It almost seems wrong to use the same system as such an inferior medium.

Characters who have run into a financial drain will always appreciate the job as a potato peeler if it means dinner and a place to sleep. Sometimes players assume their characters do this in between adventures just to explain having the same amount of gold from story to story. If a group decides to use this assumption, then more power to them, but they may be missing out on more than they realize.

Odd jobs can provide good eating all the way to the dragon's lair. They can also be a source of fantastic role-playing, as the rewards go beyond coins. Jobs give players an opportunity to put their swords down and explore matters of humanity rather than combat. There are many things we can relate to as we share real life experiences of being employed. Most of us have been forced to deal with a personal conflict or ethical dilemma during work. These same problems can help develop our characters in a role-playing environment. Groups who work together in a non-threatening situation will also become more effective during the battles because they understand their companions better. This goes beyond stats and skills, and explores the very heart of the character.

Work often requires certain skills. These may not be the combat skills normally used during an adventure. While the potato peeler may not have any weapon proficiency with his knife, he still had to persuade the cook to hire him. He may have skills that would help him work well with the cook. There are more skills in the handbook than swords or stealth. The reason for this is because it is fun to play skills. They rounded out our characters so nicely when we made them. Why do we forget this when we first hear about the great mound of treasure? The big bad warrior with ten magic swords and dragon plate armor who likes using a little juggling skill to entertain kids would be a great character to play. These little skills separate our characters from the stereotypes and give them flavor. A wizard forced to shuck squid for a month would have quite a story, and a new low-level skill to joke about.

People need people, and jobs can provide campaigns with a long list of fascinating NPCs. Jobs also give characters a chance to get to know the NPC for more than first impressions; instead of a single encounter with an unlovable person one can just walk away from. The character is forced to endure the butthead for a few days, giving the character an opportunity to see the guy for who he is. Sometimes 'once a jerk always a jerk,' but there are times when a good NPC is lashing out for a reason. In literature, and as overdone by network television, first impressions can be the wrong impressions. Lasting friendships and valuable connections make even the lowliest job worth the effort. Besides, having dozens of NPCs can also lead to great sub-plots.

Gaming is about discovery and exploration. Adventures and campaigns carve the path, but sub-plots craft the scenery. Gamemasters use these mini-adventures to pass time, flesh out stories or just to play with the players' minds. The amazing thing about sub-plots is they are so full of new ideas and discovery, that they are occasionally more exciting than the adventure. Often we remember the little extras better than the big adventure. With sub-plots, the story can be new and exciting, even if it doesn't involve bloodshed. The politics, traditions, and people are often just as interesting as a new landscape, magic, or treasure.

When a character has plenty of connections, and a life beyond the dungeon, it is easy to make thrilling sub-plots. A dynamic world full of NPCs is ripe for the picking. If the conflict means a lot to the friend NPC, we want to help. If the business the character used to work at is going under, we get concerned. Jobs provide friends, places and circumstances that all make for exciting and believable sub-plots and adventures

Repeat work
On the way to the dragon's lair a few jobs can provide some coin, and on the way back old employers may want the characters back again. This is good, especially if the players didn't get the treasure. While some GMs are afraid to let players go home empty-handed, this isn't always the case. Working all the way home can be considered a walk of shame, but offers ample opportunity for character growth. The doubters and supporters will all have something to say when the characters waltz back into their lives.

Repeat work also gives the characters a chance to do a bit of follow-up on their sub-plots. The town often represents a static character; this means when players come back, their personal growth can be measure by the fact the town, its jobs, and its people haven't changed. The other aspect to this is if the characters come back victorious, there'll be some friends to celebrate with, a part of adventuring many GM's overlook.

In the end, it all falls back to money. Our characters usually don't get jobs just to meet people; they want the money. The travelling lifestyle may stop them from becoming bankers and shopkeepers, but they can still earn a few coins on the road. The great mound of treasure is just three days journey from here. Let's head down to the town and peel a few potatoes.

"In the end, it all falls back to money. Our characters usually don't get jobs just to meet people; they want the money."

Why? I've personally only found this - the core foundation of your article - to be true with rank beginners and/or people who utterly miss the point of playing a role.

I will go so far as stating that money for its own sake is worthless, other than its worth as a metal. But what of the things you can buy for money? They are, of course, just as worthless; mere numbers on a paper...

Unless these numbers add to the character itself.

You can buy yourself an invulnerable plate armor and a scythe of Ever-cleaving at the local shop (all right, in sane RPGs they don't sell magical superweapons at the market, but I digress), but if it doesn't serve to make the character more interesting to play, it is of little use.

I have played poor characters and rich characters. But one thing I have never done is to define my character by his wallet.

I don't find this to be true either. I find most games I play in the characters do stuff for various reasons driven by personalities, backgrounds, etc.

Never just or even remotely as a top priority, for loot.

Sadly, I've known more than a few long-term gamers who /do/ fall into the 'treasure only' group. Believe me, they exist even when they shouldn't. Irritating, annoying, and abrasive as they are, the majority of the gamers I've personally dealt with fall into this group...

Actually, it seems like a lot of heroes in the D&D worlds go out and face horrible dangers for other reasons than money. And I'm not talking about personal revenge, honour, King and Country or anything trivial as that...

I'm talking about EXPERIENCE.

"Hey guys! I know this dragon is well-known not to keep any treasure and hasnt really terrorized anyone for ages, so theres neither fame or fortune waiting for us if we kill it, but have you stopped to consider how damn tough we'll become if we succeed?"

Need I say more?

I agree that most players are not motivated by treasure.

However, I disagree with the implication that being motivated by treasure is a bad thing. Treasure should be a powerful motivation. Not in all cases but in most cases, playing a PC who is well-motivated by treasure leads to a better game. Great ambitions really help the GM.

(Now here's were I get myself in trouble.)

Many otherwise good role-players think that running a successful PC means having their PCs be either unmotivated or motivated only by spirtual goals. A PC whose goal is just to ride around and help whomever he comes across has pretty weak motivation. He's basically unmotivated towards any long term goal with a vague short term goal; he's really just living in the moment. That causes many of his adventures to seem unrewarding and random. A PC with only spiritual goals can get pretty tiresome. Doggedly pursuing some revenge scenario or spreading gospel is pretty mundane when you get right down to it. The goal is hard to change and grow over time.

In contrast, a PC with materialistic goals has a very easy time. He can set specific levels of goals: get 200 gold pieces, get 1,000 gold pieces, get 5,000 gold pieces and so on. His PC's adventures will naturally change in an interesting way as he goes along. At 200 g.p., he may just be cleaning out dungeons. At 5,000 g.p., he might build a villa and be working on getting noble status. If the GM handles it right, a materialistic PC can have the best and most varied kinds of adventures.

To have a really interesting game, PCs got to accept that their PC will grow and change over time. Having money and magic items is part of that growth. Poo-pooing such things as "bad role-playing" is counterproductive.

As for the rest of the article, I'm not sure if the sessions of potato peeling would be interesting enough to roleplay. And, frankly, in my world, you'd probably only get 1 silver piece per month plus room and board for that kind of work. Not even worth the bother.