An Adventurers' Musing #1

Author: Andrew /

I was just reading a bit of an article written by a great Wizards of the Coast author, James Wyatt, on Super Adventures which are adventures that seem to more or less be adventure sites that have the potential for multiple adventures to occur inside of them. This somewhat parallels the idea of instances in World of Warcraft (and other MMORPGs) where you and a group of your pals can go in with different quests and go into the same area looking to achieve different tasks each time by way of quests. This got me thinking about interaction within a pen-n-paper RPG like D&D and something I very much like; interacting with NPCs.

For those of you who may not know the terminology, NPC stands for "non-player character". This is a character who is controlled by the DM (in a pen-n-paper rpg) or the computer (in a video game rpg). An NPC is someone that also is usually interacted with by the PCs (player characters).

One thing I like very much is interacting with shopkeepers and citizens, city dwellers, travellers and people in the game that, really, most players would view as inconsequential. The average passer-by who you wouldn't generally think serves more purpose than scenery. I think it's a great deal of fun to walk up to a villager and ask them for directions or better yet, present them with an opportunity.

One thing that I've noticed (partially from reading the comic Order of the Stick, which makes fun of a lot of things about D&D, seeing as the author used to write FOR D&D) is that while D&D adventurers can be great heroes, they can also be other things, and one of those things can really usually be destroyers of the economy. (You can LOL right there, it's ok, I am too... lol)

The funny thing is that most players, most characters and even most DMs don't really think too much about this. When a player has gold pieces and wants to buy this powerful magic item, most gamers will just crack open the nearest Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide or Adventurer's Vault and look for the goody they want and try to find "Ye Old Magic Item Shoppe." What a lot of players and DMs alike forget (myself included, lots of times) is that these items cost gold. Most of these communities consist of peasants and relatively poor folk who live on copper pieces and maybe see some silver once in a while but rarely, if ever, see gold or (if you're a filthy rich plunderer, platinum).

So, what happens with an established economy? Money starts flowing, businesses get fed, pay rates get established, prices normalize and a pattern is created. There is a steady eb-and-flow to the system where people's means are, generally, what determines how one gets by in the town or city. Shop keepers get used to taking copper for goods and services and everyone's happy.

Enter the adventurers. Here you have about 4 or 5 fellas (or ladies as the case may be) who ransack old crypts, ruins of ancient civilizations, cities inhabitted by vilainous creatures or raid whole dragon hordes and they get filthy RICH. Now, you have these guys, who have more money than these villagers will ever see in their lives just clinking around in their pockets, come strolling into town in shiny expensive armor, weapons that are possibly capable of conscious thought, etc; and they are usually pretty generous (whether out of laziness of a true feeling of benevolence).

So, you have these rather remarkable guys walk into a tavern and order a five-copper-a-pint ale and they toss a gold piece to the bartender! The bartended goggles at the thing and doesn't know what to do. He's never seen this much money in his life, let along held it in his hands and put it in his pocket. All of a sudden, he thinks "Wow, I could become rich!" and starts crankin' up the prices. Then, in order to be able to pay for services, other services in the community start charging more too. Before you know it, in order to survive the prices, EVERYONE has raised their prices and the adventurers now are responsible for the welfare of the city! Chances are, most people that don't own shops or the poor who were just scraping by before now see these wealthy adventurers walk by all decked out in their finery and spit on their shoes because now, thanks to these jerks, they can't afford a loaf of bread because the baker now can apparantly charge 50 silver pieces for it!

The adventurers leave the town and all of the sudden, there's a good several hundred if not thousand gold floating around the place and these people who've always lived relatively meager lives now are in economic shock because these unassuming glorified grave-robbers came waltzing into town with ungodly sums of money.

You gotta wonder at the trail that this would leave behind. Unless there's a place for this cash to go already, changing that structure could wreak havoc on most towns and villages (not so much big cities because there already are some very wealthy lords and ladies there). If the adventurers don't realize what they're doing, they could be followed by someone who just goes around and follows a trail of unbalanced economies across the land!

I think this merits some consideration. Money-sinks are a good idea. What's also a good idea is having this interact with the players or coming up with creative ways for money to influence situations for the players OR having the players think of interesting uses for money besides just outright buying items. Perhaps there are other things that could be done with it? *thinks with a smile* We shall see!

Well, thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed it! Until next time,



mechamonogatari said...

Pretty much the only way the D&D economy works is if nobody ever thinks too much about it. "Realistically" (this word's meaning is somewhat lost when talking about a game where elf wizards shooting fireballs at dragons is normal, but anyway...) inflation would kick in, to the point where mundane goods would be nearly expensive as magical ones.

Think about the California Gold Rush back in the (oh, my history is failing me) 19th century sometime. There was gold to be found, and entire cities sprung up full of people willing to do anything to get it, and then there were those opportunists who knew that the miners would have gold and lots of it, and would jack their prices up accordingly. Then, once the loot dried up, the towns disappeared...

So, if there's really all that gold and treasure and magical power just sitting around out there, why hasn't it already been snatched up? Sure, a PC might fight like ten men, but why couldn't fifty men just storm the dungeon en masse, split the loot, and live like kings?

So...yeah. I usually go out of my way to not think about this, and if it comes up, usually it involves my handwaving skills being tested to their limits. Although...adding a more realistic treatment of the treasure economy would make for an interesting element of a less-than-serious deconstruction of RPG fantasy tropes...

Magus Stragus said...

I'm the kind of master that looks after this. When my players reach a new town, I put limits on what they can buy, and what's the pricest thing out there. If the town is small, I usually let them buy simple mundane equipment, and things like platinum coins are unknown. If the city is big, well, the limits are few and the economy is stronger.

Andrew said...

Yeah. Just thought it was a comical musing and usually it hurts less to not mess with the economics so much and just let it be an underlying thing that "just works". That's one of those things where realism just isn't quite as fun and you gotta remember it's a game.

Magus, I like that idea of having some restrictions on what can be done within a given market and it seems like you've got a good enough system where players can move around within it but restricted a bit so it makes some real world sense. Nice work!

Thanks for the comments guys, keep em comin'!

Post a Comment