This blog post is a part of the Got Loot blogfest going on all this week, hosted by Daily Encounter. If you’d like to read what other bloggers are doing on this theme, you can check out the main carnival page here.
Money in D&D has become something that is largely hand-waved. What I mean is, characters “have” gold, but where they have it, and how they move it around is usually not a factor in gameplay. I blame the rise of computer role-playing games, where the balance of gold your character has is simply a number on the screen, without any other game mechanic tied to it. A character could carry around thousands or tens of thousands of gold pieces with no consequences. For some people, that’s ok. Doing more than tracking the balance of gold a character has would be cumbersome bookkeeping for most people. I will admit that, in my games, the idea of “banking” or movement of money is largely ignored. Who cares where my character keeps his money, as long as it’s there when I want to buy something?
At the same time, gold is the second (or, depending upon your players, first) most important bit of information on your player’s character sheets, second only to experience points. XP tracks leveling up, and gold tracks a character’s ability to buy powerful magic items as they level up.
When something is important to us, we have a visceral reaction when it is taken away. In an environment where the players trust the DM, triggering that visceral reaction can lead to some great roleplaying. While there’s no real way in 4e to take away experience points, you can always take away the PC’s money, even if you only do it temporarily. But first you need to figure out one or two things:
1. Where do the characters keep their money?
2. What does the campaign’s banking system look like?
If the characters keep money on their person it might be a good idea to have them quantify that. Do they keep 100 gp? 1,000 gp? Don’t worry, I’m not about to suggest a system for encumbrance, though I might question someone carrying around 1,000 gold pieces. All I’m suggesting is that characters need to carry around some money for incidentals; knowing how much money a pickpocket might see as “up for grabs” as it were could help in planning a small roleplaying scenario.
Hook: The PCs enter a bustling town, and encounter a group of children dressed in rags. The children are begging for money. Later, one or more of the characters notice that their coin purse is missing. Inquiries lead them to suspect the ragamuffin band, but inquiries also reveal that these children are orphans, and are merely stealing to survive. What do the PCs do?
Many medieval banking systems relied on the physical movement of money to execute purchases. It’s a pretty good bet that, at some point in your campaign, the characters are going to be buying some big ticket items. How do they get their money from wherever it’s kept to the magic item merchant? Even with a letter of credit, the money has to get from point A to point B.
Hook: One or more characters need to make a large purchase. The merchant will not accept their letter of credit, and insists upon seeing the gold. The PCs have two choices at this point. They could fetch it themselves, in which case it’s quite likely bandits would be very interested in their cargo. Or, they could contract someone else to move their money while they’re doing more important adventurer stuff. The contractor is robbed; she had no insurance, and she doesn’t have enough money of her own to repay what was stolen. Of course, if your players are clever (and higher level) they may try to teleport the money. Gee, I hope nothing misfires, and lands the money in the middle of a town square 50 miles away….
Hawala is a form of money transfer used is middle eastern countries even today. It works on a system of trust – you bring the money to be transferred to your local hawaladar, and he contacts a hawaladar in the area where you want the money to be transferred to. That hawaladar then gives the same amount of money to your designee (less commission). There is no actual money transferred between the hawaladars in this transaction. Accounts are settled at some later date.
Hook: Since the Hawala system operates on trust, that’s a good place to insert your hook. The simplest hook would involve a doppelganger who poses as the local hawaladar, and absconds with the character’s money. This hook would really only work if doppelgangers are unknown or exceedingly rare in your campaign. One would think that countermeasures against such theft would be common in a world where doppelgangers were common. Another way to hook your players is to affect the other side of the transaction. In theory, the money is being transferred to a merchant to buy something – what if the merchant never receives the money, and the hawaladar swears he gave it to the merchant? Is someone lying? What if everyone is telling the truth?
What if the characters hide their money in a castle, dungeon, or cave? It’s quite possible that, if there isn’t a reliable banking system in your campaign world, the PCs will have to devise a hiding place for all their treasure. As a matter of fact, some players might even, for fun, design a dungeon full of traps and monsters outside of a play session to safeguard their stash. Even if they don’t take it to such a degree, it’s quite possible that the existence of such a treasure hoard might attract the attention of other “adventurers.”
Hook: In a bazzar hundreds of miles from home, the characters come across a wily merchant who offers to sell them a “treasure map.” He’ll give them a quick look at it, but if they want a longer look, they’ll have to buy. One of the characters immediately recognizes the location of the treasure as the location where he has all his money stashed. Has the merchant sold copies of the map to others? Where did he get it?
I will admit that these ideas aren’t for everyone. Most people will be happy to keep treating money in the campaign as an abstract number on the character sheet that doesn’t represent something real in the campaign world. Kind of like the 1’s and 0’s that make up modern bank accounts. To them, their balance of gold can only go up (unless they buy something) and is not something that an NPC could ever abscond with. It doesn’t weigh anything, takes up no space, and is perfectly safe. On the other hand, you could treat the gold like something real that the PCs need to protect. While this probably shouldn’t take up a whole lot of your campaign time, a session or two of “treasure recovery” to remind the players of this could really lead to some great roleplaying. Give it a try, you may just find your players thinking of their gold in “real” terms.
Your turn. What are some mini plot hooks that would involve messing with the character’s gold balances?