Monday, January 30, 2012

Money in RPGs, Part 2

Last Friday, I looked at a couple of ways in which money is used by characters in RPGs. This time, three more examples.

GURPS by Steve Jackson Games has a bit of a reputation to some role-players. I can't speak to 4th Edition; I do have the core books but I haven't played. However, I do like 3rd. Edition. It's very simulationist, and you can add on any number of extra rules, following down the rabbit hole as far as you wish. At it's heart, though, it's just 3d6 versus a target number. The sourcebooks are my favorite part of GURPS, by far. They can't be beat for detailed campaign background information suitable for any system.

The GURPS 3rd. Edition Basic Set, Revised, has several passages in the main text and sidebars about money use in a campaign. Because it is meant to encompass any genre and time period, these are vague; however, several passages apply to the money characters might carry on them in a standard fantasy game.
Starting Wealth

"Starting wealth" covers both money and property. Start with the amount of money your "wealth level" entitles you for your world....Realistically, characters with a "settled" lifestyle should put 80% of their starting wealth into home, clothing, etc., leaving only 20% for "adventuring" gear....

Standard starting wealth depends on the game world....Some suggestions:

Fantasy/medieval worlds: $1000 (that is, 1,000 copper farthings). (p.16)

In a low-tech world, rings and jewelry are also money. They may not have a set value imprinted on them -- but they are small and portable, and are easily traded for coins or bartered directly for needed goods. In fact, many societies exist largely by barter -- which can be a test of the players' ingenuity. (p.189)

Bankrolls and Possessions

The money a character has on his person should be listed on the front of his Character Sheet, just like his other possessions. If a lot of transactions are taking place, this can be recorded on a separate sheet of paper to avoid erasing a hole in the Character Sheet! (p.190)
This section of the rulebook also has details on historical coinage and its possible weight and volume, noting that in a 14th-century English economy, the "dollar" value listed as standard in GURPS would be treated as a farthing, a copper coin equivalent in size to the U.S. quarter. A character could conceivably carry $20,000 in a backpack. There are also some guidelines for possible ways to "relieve" characters of their wealth, and ways that treasure might not be portable, recognizable, dangerous or illegal. Clearly, coinage is meant to be kept track of in detail under the standard GURPS rules.

Conan: The Roleplaying Game from Mongoose uses a derivative of the OGL/d20 rules as its main system with some changes such as Base Parry Bonus. As such, coinage is assumed to be used:
Starting Equipment and Money

Each character begins the game with a very small budget with which to buy equipment. This is usually just sufficient to buy a weapon or two and cheap, light armour for those who need it. Starting equipment budget is dependent on character class....Note that this budget is not the same as starting money. If the budget is not used, the character does not get to keep the money. The budget represents items he has managed to acquire and keep for himself over the years prior to the game beginning, not actual money. Any player can choose to have a starting equipment package for his character instead of a starting equipment budget. These are similar in value to the appropriate budgets.

Starting Money

In addition to his starting equipment, each character has 2d6-2 silver coins at the start of the game. At the Games Master’s discretion, this may be reduced to zero, if he wishes to start a campaign in which the characters begin desperately short of money, rather than just very short!
However, Conan reinforces the ideas found in many sword-and-sorcery stories, where money isn't the ultimate goal of characters. It isn't even that important to game play, as illustrated by passages right at the beginning of the Equipment section:
Acquiring wealth and objects of value is a central theme in many adventures. However, spending it is a good deal less interesting....The only times money should be especially useful to your characters are when their weapons or armour are lost or destroyed and when it could be useful to them to buy influence or power, usually in the form of followers. Certainly there should be no need to have players keep track of every last silver piece in their purses. Either they have enough money to get by, or else it is time to go adventuring again.

High Living

It is in the nature of adventurers to spend money like water whenever they have it. Folk who regularly risk their lives in the hope of gaining unimaginable wealth live for today, spending their gains on gambling, good company, expensive food, fine wines and spirits in enormous quantity and even more frivolous pursuits. The Games Master should feel free to enforce the High Living rule whenever characters have a large quantity of cash and no definite plans for spending it:

Every week, all characters will spend a minimum of 50% of their current wealth on high living, if that wealth is currently over 50 silver pieces.

This expenditure includes all ordinary living costs such as food and accommodation. The Games Master should also consider granting circumstance bonuses to Gather Information checks made by adventurers who are spending particularly large amounts of cash.
Finally, I want to take a look at Green Ronin's universal OGL system, True20. Among other changes, including the use a Toughness save instead of hit points, True20 has the Wealth Score. This number is equal to 5 plus Charisma (ability scores in True20 range from -5 to +5). The Wealthy feat adds a +4 bonus. It's meant to be abstract, although there is a table in the rules that gives general guidelines -- +5 to +10 is considered middle-class, for example.

This score includes all cash on hand, credit, and regular income. Instead of making purchases with money, the player makes a check by rolling a d20 plus the Wealth Score versus a difficulty number. The normal price of an item of equipment is labeled Cost, and this is the usual difficulty number for the check: a battleaxe is Cost 9, a sword is 11.

The Wealth Score is fluid:
If you successfully purchase an item with a purchase Difficulty higher than your current Wealth bonus, your Wealth bonus decreases by 1 point for every 5 points the purchase Difficulty is higher than your current Wealth bonus (1 point for 1–5 points higher, 2 points for 6–10 points higher, etc.). (p.74)
When I ran a True20 Freeport campaign, I didn't use the Wealth Score rules. Instead, we used coinage as given in the system-neutral Pirate's Guide to Freeport.

I'm uncertain on the idea of how to handle money in RPGs. There were good comments on the previous post concerning the idea of abstract money or recording individual amounts, especially where it makes sense to use abstract monetary values in modern games. Pulp fantasy heroes regularly chase after extraordinary treasures, but rarely have two silver pieces in their purse.

I would want to use whatever method make sense for the campaign at hand. My priorities would be 1) what is "in character" for the campaign world and the genre, and 2) what is easy for the players to keep track of, and doesn't lead to excessive paperwork.  


Marshall Smith said...

For those following along, I did a follow-up post covering the Spycraft and FantasyCraft wealth systems here:

I really like the High Living rule from Conan. Definitely fits in well with the genre.

I'm not a big fan of the Wealth stat as presented in d20 Modern and True20. It can create some really wacky situations caused by the swinginess of the d20 (Bruce Wayne's credit card is refused when he tries to buy dinner). It can also be abused (I go into the store and buy everything I can that will fit under my "take 10" result, then go to the next store and do the same, and so on. I have infinite duck tape.) It's a good attempt at a system, but it just has some ugly warts.

Kaiju said...

I didn't use the Wealth Score in True20. It just did not make sense for that campaign.

A stat of some kind like that would be nice as part of a system, if it works. I like what you describe for Spycraft/FantasyCraft.