Friday, January 27, 2012

Money in RPGs: Counting Coppers, or Just Wing It?

“Everybody needs money. That's why they call it money.”

I'm not necessarily talking about found treasure and loot, but the cash an adventurer carries on hand. For a bog standard, D&D-style fantasy game, keeping track of money seems like the right thing to do. It fits the model of adventurers who need to scrape together the coin necessary to buy a new sword, spell components, or bundles of crossbow bolts. It also fits the sword-and-sorcery genre, which I'll discuss later.

The strange thing about keeping track of coinage on hand is the problem of large amounts. Thousands of coins can be converted to gems and other high-priced baubles, but then you might run into the issue of paying for smaller daily expenses. Not many taverns would be able (or willing) to make change for that opal you just found in the lich's tomb.

Call of Cthulhu was the first RPG with an abstract money system that I remember. Although equipment and weapons are listed with prices in dollars, money really wasn't an issue -- most likely because treasure hunting wasn't an objective of the game. Unless the characters were going on an expedition or they needed an outlay of cash at that level for some reason, it isn't necessary to keep track of how many dollar bills are in your pocket. At least that's the way we always played.

Additionally, characters have a skill called Credit Rating. This is a measure not of cash and credit reserves, but social status and influence, and the ability to raise cash through loans or even panhandling.

From the 4th. edition (1989):

The players' investigators -- the journalists, authors, professors, and so on -- will need money for their investigations. Their cash can come from (1) wages, royalties, and remittances; (2) from previous savings; and (3) grants, gifts, and loans from various non-governmental sources (government is no granter of largesse in the 1920s).

Money is only a problem if the investigators must perform extended investigations. Incidental investigations can be assumed to take place on weekends, or evenings, or days off.    (p. 14)

From the 5th. edition (1992):
Investigator Income
Income may or may not be important to your play. Take dollar signs with a grain of salt. Many Keepers never mention money or personal property, and rarely do published scenarios raise the subject. Only in campaigns does earning and spending hold much interest or significance; campaigns, however, can be quite detailed. Learn the Keeper's intent. (p. 24)

Savage Worlds has a similar approach to money, at least for starting characters. In the 1st edition rulebook, we find the following at the end of the character creation section:
Next you need to purchase equipment. Some settings may provide your hero with all the gear he needs. In others, you may be assigned a certain amount of money with which to purchase your starting gear. A list of some common gear and weapons can be found in Chapter Two.
Unless your setting book or GM says otherwise, the standard starting amount is $500. (p. 18)

The only other real mention of money is at the beginning of Chapter Two: Gear.
Cost: Equipment prices are relative both to the starting funds of $500 and to their tech level, so a Springfield musket doesn't really cost $250 in 1862. That's just the "worth" of the weapon relative to the tech level and the typical setting it's intended for. (p. 43)

Monday: Three other approaches.


Trey said...

I'm kind of torn on the issue of money. I'm not really a fan of counting every little copper so "wealth rolls" and the like have some appeal. On the other hand, I like things in the game to see real-worldy as if coppers or counted. I want folks to haggle over prices and to be offered specific amounts in payment for nefarious deeds. I'm sure there's a way to do both, but I haven't played a game with the perfect balance.

Kaiju said...

That's what I struggle with also. I don't think the players should keep track of money down to the individual coin, however, like you said I want some of those difficult choices and decisions to matter. There's also the sword and sorcery trope of "hard living", with spending all your ill-gotten gains once you get back to town.

Next time I'm looking at Wealth rolls and the like. True20 uses a Wealth stat but when I ran True20 Freeport we used individual coinage for trade and pirate loot.

Marshall Smith said...

This topic is of a lot of interest to me, too. I've been tinkering with how to handle wealth and gear for a while now.

Are you going to look at the Spycraft and FantasyCraft methods?

Kaiju said...

No, I'm afraid I don't have either one of those games. What do they do differently?

Nebelwerfer41 said...

I've seen some systems (I think it was oWOD) that uses a 'wealth' rating, and anything under that wealth rating was affordable to the player. However, if you wanted to buy lots of something at your wealth rating, or needed to buy stuff above your current rating, you could get it, but the DM could assign a temporary reduction to your wealth rating. I like this method for most modern settings where a person's wealth is more than the dollars in their bank accounts, but their property, connections, credit and ability to call in favors.

Kaiju said...

That's a good point. Allowing characters to buy what they want under a certain level of funds makes sense for modern games. It seems to be the intention in Call of Cthulhu, but without a definite mechanic like the one you described.