Eyes Up: Messing with Money

Creating a story out of, or imposing a story upon, a roleplaying group is a very daunting thing. Taking a look at what The Angry DM has written this week got me back thinking about why we use anything at the table, from an NPC to a blaster pistol. There are so many different levers you’re able to use to get to the same place whether it’s character power or world based.

The one currently on my mind is money. My Co-Host on Tales from the Hydian Way @Xphile was talking about the things he’d buy in the Lepskin campaign that he’s playing in and I run. He was bemoaning the fact that about the only way he’d be able to make any credits in the game is to take one of the ships that they steal and sell it on the black market. He’s exactly right. I haven’t been giving out any credits to the party, though, to be completely forthcoming, the actions that the party has been taking haven’t been conducive to bringing in any money.

The party has been acquiring ships. Currently the tally is a Bulk Cruiser that they were sent to see if it was salvageable, a Vigil-class corvette along with about 2/3 of a skeleton crew, and recently, as they were meeting up with a few last recurring NPCs, they ‘borrowed’ a medium transport. All in all a good haul for the Rebellion. But the comment from Xphile made me think about why I wasn’t giving out credits and why I would want to be.

Money in a game is a variation of giving items to the party and letting them sort out what is there. Money allows for the players to tailor their gear and capabilities to what they are expecting to go through, as well as what they just went through. Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition lists a specific gold amount that each magic item has and one is considered equivalent of another from a balance standpoint only being made more effective by devious players. This explicit use of money as a form of character power growth is very much present in a D&D campaign.

Large quantities of money is very much a choose your own adventure style aspect for longer campaigns. Whether it’s buying a new ship to soar off to a new planet or getting the +3 Dwarven Fine Mail of Foot Tickling, it allows a player to customize their character much more in line with what the player is wanting as opposed to what the GM is imposing.

This is a very sharp double edged sword. Money in most games with  well-supplied shops becomes “I win” buttons if the players are allowed to deal with purchasing in the middle of completing a puzzle. This hopefully isn’t disastrous for a GM, but it is something that needs to be recognized in order to hand out gear and money appropriately. Two of the more explicit ways of using money while an adventure is running are to bribe NPCs—thus lowering difficulties in whichever way your system allows—and getting equipment in a hurry to solve the party’s current problem, keeping in mind the axiom of “Cheap, Good, or Fast. Choose two”.

When dealing with monies outside of the main adventure structure it’s viable to look at it as a player determined item. Each of the players has their own ideas of what is going to be needed down the line, especially once you get further into a campaign, and will be preparing for the challenges they see ahead. As the GM you can use these out of adventure purchases as the building blocks for higher level campaign puzzles so that the equipment is being used in a way that isn’t its normal function.

One of the better ways I’ve dealt with this is have space be one of the main sub villains (or dragons) of my campaign. The party has to try to prepare for things that you’ve hinted at but they won’t have the ability to go back to the shop once the final act gets going. This can easily be done with prepping to go into a lair or area that is accessible for only a limited amount of time. The time pressure being present doesn’t allow for haggling or detours without a more significant cost to them than party funds.

With that in mind I haven’t been giving out money, I’ve been giving out things and equipment. Providing stimpacks for the players as they use them as well as the ability to upgrade their equipment from the ships they’ve sourced. This has allowed the players to get equipment that they need without really allowing too much frivolous spending.

I’m expecting to change my approach to money in the Lepskin campaign in two ways, as the act that the players are on is coming to an end I’ll be affording the players some funds to ‘go wild’ with since they have earned it, as well as providing a new base for them to have fun taming and exploring to find the little curios that they are interested in having.

If you have any suggestions on ways I can work money into my own campaign, or ways that you’ve used it well in your own please let me know below.

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