Dollah Dollah Platinum Coins, yo!
Bling, Bank, Cash, Coins, Gold, Platinum, Loot, Simoleons, Creds, Cha-ching, and those sweet, sweet, artifacts. There isn’t a character in the game that isn’t, some way, heavily affected by wealth in the game – even those “Vow of Poverty-stricken” monks are very conscious in their avoidance of it. But in the fantasy world, what does being super-rich even mean? Let’s look at wealth in the DnD world, and what it means to your players:
Having it all
There are characters in any story that are absurdly rich – Kings, businessmen, Necromancers, Characters far richer than any PC could ever be – wealth by level is an outright lie for these people. Wealthy characters in a campaign can have many purposes – a rich foe might seem to have insurmountable forces at their disposal, making them seem far more a threat than any individual opponent. On the other hand, a wealthy benefactor might provide a party with direction, as well as resources, to tackle quests that they normally would feel themselves out of their depths for. Understanding how these characters gained their wealth can form a richer story for your games world, and possibly give your characters some aspirations to gain their own wealth, which can be an important part of a characters’ development.
Wanting it all
Unless they’ve taken a Vow of Poverty, any character will have at least some interest in wealth – From the money-hungry rogue just wanting a gold-filled pool to roll around in, to the noble paladins, who believe that +5 vorpal holy flaming keen bane-of-bunnies sword(The DMG is great for building magic items, but if you really need something special, check out the Arms and Equipment Guide) will be their key to finally ending that evil demon’s reign of terror.
Even in an evil campaign, that world-domination-seeking necromancer needs to pay off her henchmen, build her lair, feed her monsters until she decides they’re more useful to her as undead, bribe lawmen who might otherwise thwart her evil plans, or get her own do-gooder-smiting equipment. Whatever the case, understanding your player’s motivations – how much gold they really want, and what they’d do with it given the chance, is an important part of involving them and their interests in an adventure.
When a character has a clearly defined goal or even desire, it’s easier to get them invested in a quest – after all, it’s probably not something so fancy as “the goodness of their hearts”, so why else would they be risking life and limb in the first place?
Getting it all
Every adventurer that has stepped foot in a dungeon has, at some point, been bitten by a mimic, desecrated a corpse, or spent hours searching an ordinary wall for a secret treasure room, all in search of treasure – but “looting corpses” isn’t the only way your characters can get their wealth – certainly not the most efficient method either.
Players might have some Ed, Edd & Eddy style cockamamie schemes to make some money (I once had a bard convince a druid to grow him a pot farm), or characters might seek more specific forms of wealth. This is an important point of how they get their ill-gotten gains, and how to plan your adventures accordingly – a rogue may perk up whenever talk of a big score comes up, but characters with more specific goals will always respond to things that directly further those interests, far more than the actual amount of gold needed to buy those things.
A studious wizard will be far more interested in rare tomes (especially that tome of clear thought) than the exact amount of gold that one happens to cost, and the same applies to a warrior seeking powerful weapons – especially the kind that you couldn’t just pick up at your local smithy. While some characters might be motivated just by being rich, to most it’s a means to an end – and that end is what they want out of their wealth. Of course, allowing them to “spend” their wealth on their weapons, books and castles is also a great part of the game:
Spending it all
Characters should be rewarded for actually using their coins instead of hoarding every last coin for that +10 epic blade of everything-killing at level 12 (wealth-by-level is a LIE) in the course of their adventures – after all, most profitable ventures, dangerous or otherwise, will always have some overheads to make them work.
Assassins need to budget for poisons, thieves need tools, and any adventurer worth his salt never leaves home without a couple of potions to keep them from an untimely end. Being a better Assassin/thief/warrior/necromancer/banker/smith will always result in getting richer in the long run in the real world, and this is one of those things that translate well to the game – in the same way that constantly getting their charges killed would land a bodyguard without any clients. A party that generates a reputation for being effective would naturally get better-paying jobs.
Having that long-term reputation can also give a party a better sense of urgency in their quests – meaning players get more into the game, even between the heavier boss-battles. On the same note, a good DM should give their players reasonable opportunities to benefit from their possessions – Having their own small fortress (See the Stronghold Builder’s guidebook), for example, could be more than just a base of operations, but a sanctuary for allies being hunted by some enemy, or a staging point for an attack on roving barbarians in the area. A Dragonslaying sword should get at least a couple of fights against, well, dragons, and that might even be an opportunity for making dragon-scale armour.
A means to an end
However much wealth your characters accumulate, be it in weapons, armour, land, knowledge or coins, most characters will have a goal beyond the wealth itself – to achieve something specific that those resources will simply help them along with – remember that players will always want a bit of loot, but to also let them focus on the end goals. Get that balance right, and their adventures, and every time you roll on that loot table, will be that much more meaningful and grant a better game experience.
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