Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Gold vs. Abilities: Unintended Consequences

How much will it cost to make me smarter?
In my AD&D-ish game, characters roll 3d6 seven times in order for their abilities, the 7th being for Gold which is then multiplied by 10 to determine starting GPs.  However, before they do the multiplification, players may swap the Gold result with any one ability if they so choose; I call it the Gold Swap Rule.

The result has been most significant for fighters.  Not only have they taken a pay cut down from an average of 125 (50-200) GP to 105 (30-180), but they're going to trade a 6 Con for a 13 Gold every freakin' time.  As a consequence, PC fighters are wearing scale mail and wielding voulges and spetums for the first time in recorded history.

Gone are the mail-clad rookies bristling with armaments for every occasion, and I like it.  The penurious paladin in my recent Hommlet campaign couldn't afford a sword so he settled for a morning star as his sole armament; Nice!  And the elven archer often has to use that long bow he sprung for--really, why does anyone bring a long bow into a dungeon?--as a handheld weapon too, since his only other weapon is a dagger. The Swap does seem to make 1st level fighters a bit more vulnerable, which is maybe not something AD&D fighters really need to be.

Spellcasters have also been significantly affected because I've also enacted the Holmesian Scroll Rule--any MU can make a scroll for 100 GPs and a week in the library.  Now magicusers are doing anything in their power to get a Gold score of at least 11 so that they can have an extra sleep spell in their back pocket before they head into their first dungeon.  This is a 100% increase in a prestidigitator's spell capacity, but it can result in a lot of insolvent spellcasters.

Thieves seem to benefit the most, financially, from this system.  Not only do they get a substantial pay raise--up from 2d6x10 GPs per the PHB--but their low startup costs allow them to swap or not to swap their Gold score at their leisure.  The shakedown is that we're having some very well equipped thieves, which seems appropriate for a class whose purview is, nominally speaking, illicit commerce.

It also reinforces the notion of the thief as the expert treasure finder, because now s/he's pretty much expected to provide for any equipment necessary for the retrieval of treasure--including sacks and rope and the like, but also food, pack animals, and hirelings.  This allows the fighters and spellcasters to focus on their jobs and gives the thief a more administrative role.  Indeed, the thief is generally in charge of negotiating fees, procuring supplies, managing NPC personnel, and even finding the next gig, on top of his traditional duties such as opening the occasional lock or backstabbing the odd hobgoblin.  If the party were a band, the thief would be the bass player and the manager.

When I enacted the Gold Swap rule, I assumed it would eliminate some egregiously low ability scores from character sheets at the table, but never really considered what consequences the diminished seed money would have on party structure.  Starting fighters definitely look more like poorly armed beginners should in my mind, 1st level spellcasters have more to contribute, and thieves have shed their roguish image and become invested--literally--members of the party.  The surplus cash generally available to thieves has also introduced hirelings into the game in a way that I never anticipated--though my encumbrance rules also went a long way to encourage this; the stuff of a later post.

Of course, the reason we've had so much experience with starting characters--despite the sporadic playing time my gang manages--is that we're losing an awful lot of PCs; 2-3 per session.  Is this death toll exacerbated by our lightly armored fighters?  Probably.  But it has definitely encouraged the players to find other ways to survive encounters besides head-to-head combat.  Which is also not such a bad outcome. 


Zenopus Archives said...

I like it.

Might also work with using Starting Gold as Social Status (7th attribute). See S is for the Social Status. A boost in Prime Requisite at a cost to Money/Status.

Timrod said...

The Social Status principle does seem to dovetail quite nicely.

Personally, though, I like the weightlessness of the "Gold" score: it's just how much money you've been able to invest into your career to date and does not reflect any specific baggage from your past. That way I can make up any number of reasons why my thief has 150 GPs in his pocket the day he graduates from thief school--had a wealthy patron, successful previous career as a cobbler, took some insider trading tips and is now wanted by the SEC, etc.--or I can ignore the matter entirely, just as I don't have to justify his wisdom or constitution scores.

Erin Smale said...

Another flash of brilliance, Timrod. So intuitive - can't believe it's not been proposed before (which translates as, "I'm jealous that I didn't think of it first.").