How to handle adventuring loot outside of a strong economy?

Lackofname

Explorer
I'm hitting a snag with an upcoming campaign.

The setup is very similar to the pre-Colonial period of the USA. The PCs are part of the first settlers on a new continent full of natives on a similar technological level to the Native Americans.

Part of the result though is that it's probably a barter system instead of a strong currency; "Will give sheep for wood" is nothing that can be translated to GP.

This presents a problem giving out treasure. Characters expect magical items and I want to give magical items. If they get an item they don't want, they should be able to sell it for something--and use that to get something they want. But even before the magical items, there's still the matter of finding something that is worth x gold, and having nothing to do with that gold.

Sure, I know about inherent bonuses, providing alternative rewards, story-awards ("You can have my daughter's hand in marriage" "How do we split that among the party?"), those are already baked in.

What do I do beyond that?

And going back to the issue of the natives not having currency, say the PCs want an item created, or something as simple as healing potions. What do the locals charge?
 
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pming

Legend
Hiya!

Do the PC's "owe" anyone for this opportunity? Like, are they part of "the government", or maybe a "trading company" or are they doing this under the employ of some rich mogul from back home in France/Germany/England/Norway/Sweden/etc?

If they ARE "indebted/working for" someone or an organization, then just have any "GP Value" of stuff they get/recover/etc, then equate some GP value into "Status Points" or "Contribution Merit". This total is then kept by the PC's and they can then 'use' these points to obtain stuff; information, weapons, medical help, horses, helpers, etc.

That way, if they find a magic item they don't want...they "hand it over to the Company" and it gets crated up and sent back to the Homeland. PC gets X amount of StatusPoints, then, if the PC needs to travel down the coast and needs a horse...he just head's over to an outfitter and "shows his mark"; outfitter then basically treats it as an IOU from the Company; PC get's a horse and tack.

This removes the need for specific GP value trading...and it also reinforces the idea of the PC's still having strong ties and responsibilities to the Big Players in the New World (governments, uber rich nobility, churches, trading companies, etc).

Maybe that will work? Once you establish that the Native's can also make use of this...so the PC can give a Chief a "letter of mark/purchase/IOU" that the Chief can then trade with other Europeans for stuff they want...all without the Native Americans actually having to travel directly into, say, 'Boston', or maybe use it as a bribe to an army captain who has designs on a fertile valley for setting up a fort or something...

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
I'm hitting a snag with an upcoming campaign.

The setup is very similar to the pre-Colonial period of the USA. The PCs are part of the first settlers on a new continent full of natives on a similar technological level to the Native Americans.

Part of the result though is that it's probably a barter system instead of a strong currency; "Will give sheep for wood" is nothing that can be translated to GP.

This presents a problem giving out treasure. Characters expect magical items and I want to give magical items. If they get an item they don't want, they should be able to sell it for something--and use that to get something they want. But even before the magical items, there's still the matter of finding something that is worth x gold, and having nothing to do with that gold.

Sure, I know about inherent bonuses, providing alternative rewards, story-awards ("You can have my daughter's hand in marriage" "How do we split that among the party?"), those are already baked in.

What do I do beyond that?

And going back to the issue of the natives not having currency, say the PCs want an item created, or something as simple as healing potions. What do the locals charge?
That period was very much company towns that focused on logging/gathering furs/maybe some mining. Even though the town didn't mint currency they still issued company scrip that could be used to purchase goods in the company store & approved businesses (ie a bar & brothel). You could convert scrip to currency, but just like going to a currency exchange you had a fee & those fees could make the prospect of doing so a huge loss. All of that made sure that the labor couldn't just travel to another company town or book passage on a ship elsewhere. Selling resources to the company could very likely depend on your relationship with them when it came time to tally things up.

I would start by making new price lists for weapons/armor/adventuring gear, any common magic items, & your own trade goods but twist things in two important ways that will keep your players off balance. Keep a list yourself where each widget has a standard value but a range that varies like 20-50% up/down. List the prices in scrip & be sure to include the unpleasant cost of converting scrip to gp/sp/cp (again with a range).Give your players the new price lists but leave out the currency conversion lines & only give them the range rather than the actual price... If the players are buying/selling stuff pick a random value in or around the range based on how well the company likes them.
 

KahlessNestor

Adventurer
The list of trade goods might be a place to start.

Alternatively, figure out what the natives value, what do they have and not have. What are they already using for trade. This is how you get the Dutch buying Manhattan island for a bunch of trinkets that are valueless to the colonials, but valuable to the natives.

The colonials are there for something, too, like furs or precious metals, specialty wood, etc.

The replies above about colonial benefactors (Patrons) are good too.
 

Lackofname

Explorer
Hiya!

Do the PC's "owe" anyone for this opportunity? Like, are they part of "the government", or maybe a "trading company" or are they doing this under the employ of some rich mogul from back home in France/Germany/England/Norway/Sweden/etc?

If they ARE "indebted/working for" someone or an organization, then just have any "GP Value" of stuff they get/recover/etc, then equate some GP value into "Status Points" or "Contribution Merit". This total is then kept by the PC's and they can then 'use' these points to obtain stuff; information, weapons, medical help, horses, helpers, etc.

That way, if they find a magic item they don't want...they "hand it over to the Company" and it gets crated up and sent back to the Homeland. PC gets X amount of StatusPoints, then, if the PC needs to travel down the coast and needs a horse...he just head's over to an outfitter and "shows his mark"; outfitter then basically treats it as an IOU from the Company; PC get's a horse and tack.
Not really? I mean, "horse and tack" is a couple gold pieces compared to thousands for magical items; the most expensive thing I think is something like plate armor, which is about 50gp? Gold exists to buy magical items. Problem is "back home" is a couple months round trip, so by the time they sell that +1 sword for a +1 axe and it shows up on a ship, the +1 now needs to be a +2.

And honestly the PCs already Will be able to get helpers/medical assistance/etc. They are showing up on shore being fairly recognized by the colony leaders, rather than just Joe Settler.

Let me be blunt: I don't care about the actual cost of items. Tracking the minutia of ammo and supplies and rations and individual coinage and going shopping bores me, so I'd rather eat a cat than create a whole new bean-counting system just to handwave whatever they do with the jade idol they find in the sunken temple. Honestly, I'd be happy with "you have everything you need in your inventory at any given time because you're professionals who plan with foresight". And frankly I find buying and selling magical items to be galling.

But all the above violates the expectations of players, especially ones showing up to a table for the first time (which this is). It messes with the status quo. It takes the fun out of discovering a bag of gold when it's no different from a bag of dirt. Some players legitimately enjoy the resource-management mini-game. And in a game where you can't buy and sell magical items, it means every item needs to be painstakingly chosen ahead of time to fit every PC, which is equally annoying when one player will only use Western Extra-Thick Deluxe Spiked Chain because finding an Eastern Thin Premium Spiked Chain will invalidate half his character sheet, so now forgotten ruins need to be peppered with exact upgrades of the PCs' chosen gear.

And it hurts the world, because while I am not a simulationist, there does need to be the veneer of believing it's real and that goods aren't sold with a wave and a smile.

What I'm ultimately saying is, my setting's constraints is butting up against by-the-book D&D economy, but deviating from the book creates a lot of unpleasant work.
 
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Lackofname

Explorer
The list of trade goods might be a place to start.

Alternatively, figure out what the natives value, what do they have and not have. What are they already using for trade. This is how you get the Dutch buying Manhattan island for a bunch of trinkets that are valueless to the colonials, but valuable to the natives.
The problem is when you try to convert beads to gold is what I'm sayin'.

I also don't want to sit and do the math of "how many furs is a +1 sword worth?"
 

I do not give unwanted magical items. By coincidence, every item or weapon the PCs find in my campaign is useful.

This eliminates the entire business of buying and selling magical items.
 

Lackofname

Explorer
I do not give unwanted magical items. By coincidence, every item or weapon the PCs find in my campaign is useful.

This eliminates the entire business of buying and selling magical items.
What happens to the old gear? Do they just toss the ol' +1 axe in a trunk now that they have the new +2 axe?
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I'm hitting a snag with an upcoming campaign.

The setup is very similar to the pre-Colonial period of the USA. The PCs are part of the first settlers on a new continent full of natives on a similar technological level to the Native Americans.

Okay, so... here's some questions for you.
1) Why are the PCs there? Why is the settlement there?
2) What's the relationship with the local culture like?
3) Where are they getting treasures?

A standard situation would be that the natives are the descendants of some previous higher culture that made all the treasures. Those treasures may well then mean something to the natives as part of their cultural or religious heritage.

You can then imagine the following barter system:
1) PCs go out to ruins and come back with treasures.
2) PCs trade treasures with natives for wood/wool/grain.
3) PCs turn wood/wool/grain/cool local products with new settlement, which probably needs the supplies badly.
4) Settlement now owes PCs some number of GP value of other stuff. Local smiths and alchemists and wizards can make them, the settlement can send home for them, or whatever.

You don't need to work out how many furs is a +1 sword. You can still work with GP as your accounting. "You find a bunch of treasures. The natives give you X GP worth of furs for them."

Also, the locals are probably going to be willing to work for favors - "You want healing potions? Sure, our healer's really good at making them! How about you go chase that otyugh out of our midden-trench outside the village, and we'll get you what you need..."
 

What happens to the old gear? Do they just toss the ol' +1 axe in a trunk now that they have the new +2 axe?

Magical weapons are creations of great power that draw from their user and use; when unused, they decline into a dormant state. Thus when you find it, it is just +1. After X number of successful hits, and a couple deeds or kills based on its backstory, it becomes +2, or awakens another ability.

And so forth. A PC will only need one enchanted weapon for the duration of the campaign.

I never liked the 'discard a weapon for another' aspect of D&D. Sting was passed down from family member to family member, after all.

The key is to create a history of the weapon that requires a user to do X, Y, and Z to awaken aspects. I like to use every possible opportunity to create scenarios.
 

Lackofname

Explorer
I'm afraid that's not really going to work in this situation, @Umbran. I could pick apart each reason why, but that takes a lot of words and usually that ends in frustrated parties, so I'd rather cut to the apology.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I'm afraid that's not really going to work in this situation, @Umbran. I could pick apart each reason why, but that takes a lot of words and usually that ends in frustrated parties, so I'd rather cut to the apology.

You don't need to apologize. But do realize that you've given us very little information, so that we are shooting in the dark.

I started my post with some questions - you might get some better suggestions if we have answers to them.
 

Lackofname

Explorer
You don't need to apologize. But do realize that you've given us very little information, so that we are shooting in the dark.

I started my post with some questions - you might get some better suggestions if we have answers to them.
Yeah I was going to edit that reply out and actually reply at length to you, but you replied before I even got through the first couple of questions. :) So, incoming.
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
It sounds like you just want to throw out ant semblance of an economy rather than replace it with something pretending to be something a little different. You can look at how systems with a wealth type stat like d20 modern & fate handle it, but trying to port that sort of thing into 5e is a mess so goodluck
 

akr71

Hero
I highly recommend Grain Into Gold when wrestling with 'real' costs of things and an agrarian economy. From the description on Drive Thru RPG:
70 pages of discussion on the basis for the economy and how the drivers of labor, materials and demand interact. Grain Into Gold is written in a more light hearted and casual tone. This is NOT a text book, but a very common-sense approach to fantasy economics and how it can work in your world.
A discussion on exactly what you need to do to make an economy work for your world. This is a step by step, “how-to” that will guide you right to the end result - a working economy that you can use in game, now. Not after weeks or months of work.
Charts detailing agriculture, ranching, textiles, salaries, and a price list containing over 500 items, including variations due to local trade.
I have no affiliation, just a fan.

I might add that you consider why can't the natives have rudimentary knowledge of metal working. Metal working was certainly practiced in central and south america. That doesn't mean introducing coinage necessarily, but it suddenly opens the way for other treasure options. Add in precious and semi-precious gem and carving and you've got all kinds of loot available.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
It sounds like you just want to throw out ant semblance of an economy rather than replace it with something pretending to be something a little different. You can look at how systems with a wealth type stat like d20 modern & fate handle it, but trying to port that sort of thing into 5e is a mess so goodluck

I don't know if it is all that hard. Start with "the PCs are always considered to have enough money for room, board, and basic upkeep".

Then, you only bother to track wealth in what we might call 100 GP (or 1000 GP, pick your poison) increments. We are only concerned with purchased of things over that value. Call those the new platinum pieces.
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
Why do the natives not have currency? Remember shiny bits of metal arent inherently different to shell beadwork, red feathers, cacao beans and finely woven mats, all of which have been used as means of exchange,

The other option is just changing what you call your currency from “coin” to something like “Influence” or “Favour”. If your PC gets an item he doesnt want then he has the option to ‘give‘ it as a gift to the local blacksmith Which earns him “Favour”. Later he calls in the Favour and the Blacksmiths sister provides the PC with some magic potions.
 

Why do the natives not have currency? Remember shiny bits of metal arent inherently different to shell beadwork, red feathers, cacao beans and finely woven mats, all of which have been used as means of exchange,

The other option is just changing what you call your currency from “coin” to something like “Influence” or “Favour”. If your PC gets an item he doesnt want then he has the option to ‘give‘ it as a gift to the local blacksmith Which earns him “Favour”. Later he calls in the Favour and the Blacksmiths sister provides the PC with some magic potions.

I question how a commoner knows to craft magic potions, but the simple fact is that by the time you have a structured society, you have currency.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I question how a commoner knows to craft magic potions...

By the rules in Xanathar's, "To complete a magic item, a character also needs whatever tool proficiency is appropriate, as for crafting a nonmagical object, or proficiency in the Arcana skill."

Specifically, you don't need to be able to cast spells to craft items. Any "commoner" who has Arcana can do it, if they have the recipe.
 

Lackofname

Explorer
1) Why are the PCs there?
They're part of the colony, on board specifically to be either the Away team (Hexcrawling Exploration and "troubleshoot problems away from home base") or the Home Team (run the colony/diplomatic nation building with the locals and defense). The focus depends on what the group would enjoy more.

I want to sort of run the game like PF's Kingmaker, but I've only read the first module (which is the exploration part) so I don't know how the resource acquisition/nation building is handled, but if the players aren't interested in that part then it doesn't really matter either way.

Why is the settlement there?
1. Be the first to plant the flag on the new continent.
2. Money. They want to gobble up as much resources as possible. Hurry, discover new things--spices? Coffee? DRUGS? Salt? GIMMIE.

2) What's the relationship with the local culture like?
The settlement backer's POV: Politely exploitative. The locals are useful, but once that's over, buy the land out from under them and shoo them off; the native races aren't close to human so intermarriage isn't possible, their numbers and tech level isn't enough of a severe threat (and they're not warlike), conversion isn't a concern, so just bide time.

If the PCs go the "Home Team" route, this will be pressure from the backers urging them to act this way, while the players (hopefully) won't agree. If they're on the Away team, it'll be going on in the background.

3) Where are they getting treasures?

A standard situation would be that the natives are the descendants of some previous higher culture that made all the treasures. Those treasures may well then mean something to the natives as part of their cultural or religious heritage.
Here's part of where things start hitting the skids.

Indeed there was a previous civilization that was more advanced. It was wiped out because of bad things they did, and containing the fallout required heavy magical lifting from both nature spirits and extra-planar assistance. This area of the continent (The starter zone, basically) was walled off from the interior, and the locals considered everything associated with the prior civilization to be incredibly taboo--to the point some conservative tribes think building with stone is courting disaster; everything else made of stone got smote so why risk it? To them the stuff in the ruins is probably cursed or will unleash hell, so those weird foreigners are welcoming destruction on their own heads.
2) PCs trade treasures with natives for wood/wool/grain.
3) PCs turn wood/wool/grain/cool local products with new settlement, which probably needs the supplies badly.

Here's another problem. I don't want to handle these parts at all. This is more like what I am thinking:

Away Team
"While searching this hex, you run into an encounter in a highly saline pool. Looks like this is a potential salt mine, that's really important."
Players: Cool, we'll let the colonists know.

Home Team
"So exploration turned up a spot that could be a salt mine. That's huge."
Players: Cool, let's get some people out there.
Month later: No one's heard from the salt mine in like two weeks.
Players: Aw geez, let's go see what's going on over there...

Also, the locals are probably going to be willing to work for favors - "You want healing potions? Sure, our healer's really good at making them! How about you go chase that otyugh out of our midden-trench outside the village, and we'll get you what you need..."
That's fine at first, but after a certain point, I am not really one for minor encounters like that. Usually I like bigger story things.

Edit: As I write this, the more I'm leaning away from the Home Team, simply because I think it would lead to a lot less action for PCs. I do enjoy the settlement advancement/diplomacy element, but the system isn't built for it and really I want to show off the setting, and that involves Going Forth and Overturning Rocks. Half the inspiration here is Indiana Jones and other Pulpy things, which doesn't have to worry about currency and the specifics; Indy finds the thing, he chases the thing, he hands the thing off mingling with the locals and eating monkey brains.

What @Jd Smith1 describes is more or less my ideal brand of magical item to the Magical Christmas Tree effect; each PC gets one item, it has multiple functions. But 1) I've never successfully done that before, 2) that takes away some of the incentive, the flair, the fun--once you have your own magical item, you don't need gold or to find any loot. When you don't need to find loot, finding a dingus of the thing isn't that important.

Thinking about it, perhaps it might be easier to do the ol' 1e "Treasure = XP".

I guess part of the problem is I don't know what players will like. I don't have a definitive group. :p
 

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