An alternative way to track character wealth

Coins in RPGs have always been something that seemed more like an annoyance to me than something that makes playing the game more fun. Sure, finding treasure and buying better equipment is often one of the most enjoyable parts of an adventure, but all the accounting that goes into keeping track of all your coins is right at the opposite end of the entertainment-scale. In many games, most mundane pieces of equipment have prieces that are completely negible, being counted in silver or even copper coins. When you’re carrying around thousands of gold coins, buying such objects isn’t even felt in your purse. And if you’re playing in a fantasy campaign in which there are no magic items for sale in stores, you can easily have the best weapons and armor that money can buy by third level. You have more money than you could ever spend on most mundane expenses like food, lodgings, and clothing. It is very tempting to simply tell the player not to bother with substracting the 2 silver pieces and 7 copper pieces they just spend. I’m also no fan of pure dungeon crawling, and the hunting for treasure isn’t a priority in my games. It’s something that happens more by accident at the side while the PCs are fighting their way through a place to find a person of item of special significance.

However, I am also a fan of the Sword & Sorcery genre and a big part of it is heroes being completely broke at regular intervals, being forced to get by with barely anything more but the shirts on their backs and having to climb back up towards fame and especially fortune. Especially in some OSR games, you also have some focus on hiring mercenaries and raising small armies of followers, who all need to be equiped, fed, and paid. And I don’t like to just handwave such things and let the players have whatever they want.

Encumbrance is a similar annoyance with all the fiddly accounting involved, and I’ve adopted the simplified Encumbrance system from Pencils and Papers, which has been working out really well for us so far. So I’ve come up with a similiar idea to simplify the tracking of character wealth:

Under this system, players do ignore any costs that are negible, but what constitutes a negible amount of money depends on the amount of money the character currently has in his coinpurse.

  • Platinum Class: A character who has more than 100 pp worth of coins (1,000 gp) tracks his money in platinum pieces. Any item or service that costs less than 1 pp (10 gp) is not substracted from the characters wealth.
  • Gold Class: A character who has more than 100 gp worth of coins tracks his money in gold pieces. Any item or service that costs less than 1 gp is not substracted from the characters wealth.
  • Silver Class: A character who has more than 100 sp worth of coins (10 gp) tracks his money in silver pieces. Any item or service that costs less than 1 sp is not substracted from the characters wealth.
  • Copper Class: A character who has less than 100 sp worth of coins (10 gp) tracks his money in copper pieces. Any prices the character pays is substracted from his wealth.

It’s up to the GM to judge when a purchase is considered to be a single item or the character bought something in bulk. While a character in the platinum class might buy a shield worth 5 gp and not substract the amount from his wealth, buying 100 such shields (500 gp/50 pp) to equip his guards would be a single purchase that does get substracted. Similarly, a single roll of linen cloth wouldn’t count as treasure for the same character, but a whole wagon load of linen could still be sold and add to his wealth. If something is bought or paid for on a regular basis, I think a smart way to handle it would be to check how much it costs the character per month. In Pathfinder, the daily wage for an untrained hireling is 1 sp. So a character of the platinum class could have three such servants in his home, and since their wages total up to only 90 sp (9 gp), it would still be negible and not be included in his expenses. Another important thing to note is, that there can be a difference between the wealth a character has stashed in a vault at his home or is carrying in a coinpurse while on adventure. A character could easily have piles of gold stored in his home, but when his coinpurse gets stolen, he may have to pawn some trinkets just to get back to silver class until he returns home. And when you’re really low on money, finding cheap ways to get a place for the night is getting interesting again. Being a high ranking officer and having to sleep in a barn would be an indignity that greatly enhances the game. (Really, indignities are the best driving force behind great roleplaying. There’s only two ways to hurt a player: Stealing their money and hurting their pride.)

Hey, look at this: Making a character in every editon of D&D

I recently found this video series in the creators thread at the EN World forums, and I think it’s something that should really be shared around more.

Despite the title, it’s not just about creating a 1st level human fighter (as the lengths might indicate), but he also goes into detail about a good deal of other parts of the game and how they change over time. As someone who started with D&D in 1999, a lot of things on the older editions have always struck me as really weird or nonsensiscal, but they are not actually that silly when you hear them explained in context. And some are actually quite cool, once you understand what the creators had in mind. (As I frequently mention, TSR D&D was just horribly bad at explaining things to new readers.)

Character Sheets: Splitting the inventory

I made my first own character sheet yesterday, and having used them in our campaign today, one element I included already proved to be really quite useful. What I did with the space for inventory was to split it into two tables. One for items worn on the body, and a separate one for items in the backpack.

The reason for this is simple: If you are using Encumbrance in your game (and I recommend taking a look at this very practical system to manage it), players have many reasons to consider leaving behind most of their gear in a camp or with followers to explore and fight without being encumbred. It’s particularly useful for thieves, who often need to have no encumbrance at all to use their abilities and rarely have high strength, but can also become very relevant if the PCs have already collected a lot heavy treasure that could weigh them down considerably.

By making the content of the backpack a separate table from the rest of the inventory and writing down the total amount of load for each, it becomes a lot easier to see what difference it makes when the backpack is dropped. It seems obvious to me now, but I think all character sheets should structure their inventory this way.

I also made separate boxes for coins that are carried in a coinpurse on the character, in the backpack, or stored in a vault at a home base. In most games, characters can become ludicrously rich, and it would be nonsense to carry around hundreds if not thousands of kilos of gold and silver all the time. Also, it’s less painful when the characters happen to get robbed or lose all of their gear. (And allows for NPC burglarizing the PCs home while they are away.)

Function and Purpose, Part 3: Application

Now, after I made a list of the kinds of behavior I want to encourage in players of the Ancient Lands in the second post, the next step is to think about what elements would be required or very vulnerable to risk, ┬áin achieving that. In a way, this is defining the Purposes I’ve been talking about in the first post. You don’t necessarily have to start with an idea for an element and then find a place for it to fit. Particularly in the early stages it makes s lot of sense to consider what roles there are that need to be filled.

As I outlined in the previous post, I want players to be suspicious about authority, stand up to their convictions, and question established structures, yet accept their limitations and coming to terms with doing things they are not proud of. How is that done in the works I mentioned as references? What makes those characters develop in the direction that they do?

Continue reading “Function and Purpose, Part 3: Application”

Good artists borrow, great artists steal – Laying the foundations for the Ancient Lands

When I started working on the Ancient Lands, I wanted of course to create a world that contains many of the things I already love in other settings, but would wish to be more explored or developed a bit differently. Not all the things I love, because that doesn’t really lead to consistend and belivable world, but rather to a mess of randomly thrown together pieces. But still a selection of a good amount of things from my favorite settings that I have come to love a lot. Here, I want to provide an overview of the major geographic areas of the Ancient Lands and the works that inspired them. These don’t cover the whole world, or even the whole continent, but are the selection I made for those regions I want to develop in detail, while leaving the rest simply untouched. There’s something there, of course, but I don’t know what it would be either.

Continue reading “Good artists borrow, great artists steal – Laying the foundations for the Ancient Lands”

Enhancing the Ancient Lands

I am starting a new campaign set in the Ancient Lands tomorrow, and as so often I find myself a bit doubting about the setting really being something different and not just another case of generic european middle ages fantasy. So kind of as a last moment effort, I sat down once more, going over notes to remind myself of some special features I’d fallen in love with over the last years.

  • Giant Fungus Trees: These are the one big thing that really makes Morrowind look very different from any other well known fantasy setting, even those of the other Elder Scrolls games set in the same world. Of course, it’s not an original idea now, but I think by including them, it’s adding a certain look to the setting that is still rare.
  • Magic Ponds and Wells: I like the idea of water being a substance with inherently supernatural traits. As the Japanese say, water is the only substance that can clean itself. It evaporates at the ground and when it returns as rain, its perfectly clean and unsoiled by anything, which is the reason it’s so important in cleansing rituals. In Warcraft III, the night elves can build Moonwells that replenish the health and mana of nearby units, and there are also natural magical fountains found throughout the world. The spring in Treebeards house in the Lord of the Rings would be another example. Given that the spiritworld plays a prominent role in the Ancient Lands, magic springs seem right in place as locations of strong magical power, which I prefer a lot over ley lines and the like.
  • Large Insects: Giant Spiders are one of the most generic fantasy creatures and giant beetles, centipedes, and scorpions are also quite common. Much more rare is the use of domesticated insects. Dark Sun has them, as the world isn’t very hospitable for most mammals, and again, Morrowind has giant long-legged beetles as transports in swamps and other difficult terrain. Not quite sure how to implement such things in the Ancient Lands, but it’s something I want to come back to and give some more thought.
  • Giant Lizards: Dinosaurs in fantasy are always a difficult subject. They don’t feel a lot out of place in cavemen worlds, but usually people tend to feel that they just don’t belong into a world of knights and wizards. However, the Ancient Lands is not such a world, but one of barbarians and witches. Outright using dinosaurs still doesn’t feel right to me, but there’s a middle ground here. Instead, I am going with large reptiles that are very similar to dinosaurs in all respects, but not actually based on real species. Crocodiles and comodo dragons are still existing species, and many extinct dinosaurs had an anatomy not much unlike rhinos or cattle. I created two new creatures some months ago, which really were just a bison and a camel with a different appearance. A feathered deinonychus might look a bit strange to people who grew up with dinosaur books from the 90s, but I think it makes a cool fantasy creature. I think they make good replacements for bulls and horses in the southern jungle regions of the Ancient Lands.
  • Limestone Karsts and Sinkholes: While not exactly rare in Europe and North America, large areas of limestone erroded by water has formed amazing landscapes in many parts of Southeast Asia, that actually look quite unreal and fantastic if you’re not commonly used to it. Particularly in coastal areas you get this massive monoliths rising out of the water at vertical angles, sometimes riddled with caves and forests growing on top. A bit inland, you get huge mazes sretching out of sight into all directions. It’s a natural and not that uncommon landscape feature, but one much more exotic than meadows and marshes.

These are not things that are going to feature in any significant way in the first adventure of the new campaign, but by mentioning these things every so often while describing what the PCs are seeing, I am hoping to get the players to see the world as more than just Europe with orcs and dragons.