Monday, April 7, 2014

The Vast Wealth of Dungeons

Four Million Reasons to Embrace Campaign Style Play

There are a number of inter-related factors in old school D&D that work together to support the megadungeon as a campaign centerpiece.  Dungeon level equaling monster level and difficulty provides the players the most direct control over danger versus reward during their planning.   XP for Gold means that creative problem solving and ingenuity is more important than combat - avoiding fights and still making it out with the money is the best path to victory.

One thing you're going to have to face in a dungeon-oriented campaign is the phenomenal amount of wealth that adventurers are going to draw out of the dungeon.  The ratio of experience from gold versus monsters is somewhere near 4 or 5 to 1.  A first level party, needing 10,000+ experience points to move everyone up to level 2, is going to need at least 8,000gp from the first dungeon level alone!

I posted a chart in one of the "scoreboard" posts the other day on how much wealth a party will have retrieved from the dungeon in order to gain a certain level.  It becomes astronomical.  A 10-level megadungeon needs to have something like four million cumulative gold pieces to get to level 10.  If the dungeon is large enough to support multiple adventuring parties, you can double or triple that amount.  What's that mean for your campaign?

Party Level / Wealth Gained
1  10,000
2  10,000
3  20,000
4  40,000
5  80,000
6  160,000
7  320,000
8  640,000
9  1,280,000
10 1,280,000
*Sum is 3.8 million gold to get to level 10...

There seem to be a few schools of thought.  One school of thought attempts to perpetuate, for as long as possible, the experience of scraping coppers, collecting old dented helmets for scrap metal, and really making the adventurers work for every last gold piece.  The idea seems to keep the adventurers poor so they have a natural motivation to take whatever crappy plot hook the DM throws in front of them - or risk getting thrown out on the street as paupers.  It's adversarial and risks making the campaign about defeating the DM's attempts to strip wealth, versus letting the players find fun things to do with the money.  Even Conan got to be king eventually.

I prefer a different approach, which is to continue to ramp up the campaign challenges and provide natural outlets for spending the money.  Adventurers don't follow the same rules as everyone else in the campaign world.    They are the proverbial sports heroes and rock stars of the campaign world.  Their extravagant income is matched only by extravagant needs and expenses.  Giving the players the chance to actually spend the money they've earned is an opportunity to let them make interesting decisions and exercise choice and resource planning.

One of the largest potential expenses is new magic items, especially the expendables and charged items.  I'm going to assume that if ancient dungeons filled with magic and treasures are a real thing in your campaign world, and the adventurers aren't unique, that there are places in the world where magic items are bought and sold, and places where adventurers with way too much cash can go and get their own bespoke magic items made to order.  The meager sword +1 is 5,000gp new, and that high level suit of leather +3 the thief really needs is going to set him back 35,000gp.  Engaging in the magic economy is going to drain money quickly.

Providing campaign incentives for the characters to invest in strongholds, churches, wizard laboratories, and hiring large staffs of NPC's is another natural outgrowth of mid-level play, which progresses into the need to outfit armies and conquer domains in high level play.

The tricks of the "gotcha" style of DM are still fair in small doses - taxes and salvage fees from local rulers skims money off the top, as does a little bit of protection money paid to the thieves' guild.  In fact, one reason mid-level characters need to look at strongholds and lots of retainers is because their own hoards can be targeted by lower level adventurers and thieves while they're in the dungeon deeps!

Embrace the power fantasy aspect of the old school gaming style.  I don't know about you, I'm not fantastically wealthy, and I have to 'punch a clock' Monday through Friday just like everyone else.  Part of the escape of this style of gaming is getting to play a character where money stops being a problem.  When the characters decide to go on an ocean voyage, they go and buy a ship and crew - because they can.  Fantastic wealth doesn't stop sports stars from suiting up to play the next game, and it's not going to stop your players from tackling their next challenge either.  Money is a powerful resource.  The players are going to earn a ton of money in a long term dungeon campaign.  Embrace the challenge of providing creative reasons to spend it and keep the game about player choice and resource management.