D&D 5E Magic Items, Gold, and 5e!

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
If Wishes Were Gold, then Dead Bards Would be Fort Knox

So I've been thinking about how it's more common for people to use Wish as a meta spell to cast other spells than to, you know, WISH ... along with all the different comments people have made about the lack of utility of gold in 5e, and I thought that there might be a commonality on these issues that I had previously missed.

And if there isn't a commonality, I'm gonna create one! That's my superpower! To paraphrase the single best example of that Bard in your campaign, Air Supply....

I know how to make different things seem the same
I know all the rules and then I know how to break 'em
And that D&D is the name of the game
But I don't know how to stop these bad jokes
And I'll always be a know-it-all
And I can't stop myself from doing it...

Making meaning ....out of nothing at all
Out of nothing at all, out of nothing at all
Out of nothing at all, out of nothing at all
Out of nothing at all
Making meaning ... out of nothing at all


So I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that the issues people have with this is related to the concept of the paradox of choice - the idea that an abundance of choice is not necessarily a good thing, and can cause anxiety and unhappiness and, on occasion, paralysis in terms of decision-making. (Okay, this concept is actually more nuanced than the popular version that's been presented, but it's close enough for horseshoes, hand grenades, and my essays).

A long time ago, in a D&D edition far, far away, I ran a campaign where I gave the party a "deus ex machina" magical item. Essentially, it was a "get out of jail free" card that could be used one time, and only one time, as kind of an unlimited-powered wish as a failsafe for the party. You may already know where this is going. The party had encounters. Characters died. There were numerous opportunities to "use" the magic item that would have saved the party untold suffering and grief.

But they didn't. Afterwards, the players told me that while it was a cool campaign and idea, they absolutely HATED having that one use magic item, because they always thought there might be a better use for it .... and then they felt robbed because they never used it! They would have preferred to not have it, and not stress about the perfect use of it!

Which is similar to how I always felt about wishes. ESPECIALLY in 1e. I mean, sure, it was nice to have the whole "use a wish to raise a score one point up to 16" rule that was fairly common. But other than that specific example .... the sheer limitlessness of the power in so many ways (except those ways, like ability scores, in which it was limited) made them nearly unusable - at least, for me. Even putting aside the caveat that powerful wishes tended to bring out sadistic DM interpretations, the nearly-unlimited scope of the wish made it less likely that I would use it. Which is why I think later editions specified more particular uses for the wish- after all, it's easier to select from a menu of choices, that to be told you can have anything you want.

I mention this because I was thinking about the different threads on gold and its uses (or lack thereof) in 5e. More often than not, there is a discussion (and/or argument) between those who want more detailed rules for spending gold, and those who argue that gold has so many uses you don't need more rules. Even with publication of more material (such as Tasha's) there simply doesn't seem to be enough uses under the rules to soak up all the gold in a standard D&D campaign- which is why you'll see suggestion for moving to a silver standard (for example).

Personally, I tend to fall in the camp of not needing rules for gold, as my campaigns always have uses for gold. This is most likely because I am used to campaigns that spend gold on things other than magic items, and I have rules and heuristics for doing so, and my players usually have well-defined goals for their PCs that involve the use of gold. And maybe the reason I have these heuristics is because I started playing long ago, when there were rules and goals ... for using gold!

But I'm putting it out there for general discussion. Is spending gold in your campaigns a big issue? Do you think that the best solution is to reduce the amount of gold (either by reducing the amount, raising prices, or move to a silver standard), or to have additional rules for spending gold that go beyond what we've already seen? Is the additional material we've seen so far sufficient, or insufficient, for the gold problem in your campaign?
 
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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I always want to build a stronghold and hire minions, so I never run out of uses for gold (more minions!), but that might be because I started playing back under AD&D 1st edition, where that was a major assumption of what you'd do with gold.

Same! As a player, I am constantly coming up with ideas to spend the gold- towers, keeps, wards, or crazy stuff in general.

When in doubt, why not an army?

But I do think it's that baleful 1e influence .... ;)
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
Well first of all, I think the issue with your one-use super-wish was not analysis paralysis but the classic healing potion problem. In RPGs, players are often hesitant to use consumable items for fear that they might not have them at some hypothetical point in the future where they need them more, and end up not spending them at all. This is a very common phenomenon, but I don’t think it’s what’s going on with gold in 5e. I’ve never heard a player complain that they don’t want to spend their gold because what if there’s something better to spend it on later. What I do hear players complaining about is having so much gold and nothing to spend it on.

Now, to some, the idea that there’s nothing to spend gold on seems like complete nonsense. Of course there’s stuff to spend your gold on! Strongholds, mage towers, hirelings, boats, a spyglass… How could anyone feel like there isn’t anything to spend gold on when there are tables and tables of big-ticket items to do exactly that?

I think the real culprit is the shift in the game’s focus over time. As the game has moved away from troupe play in a shared sandbox and towards following the exploits of a particular group of characters, the things PCs used to spend their gold on has lost its value to most players. What do I care that my character owns a house if the gameplay entirely takes place away from that house? What use is a mage’s tower when I’m off on an adventure? And a boat is only useful if you’re specifically playing a nautical adventure, and if you are, you’ll get a boat anyway because otherwise the adventure can’t happen.

This is also why no one pays any attention to the rules for Lifestyle Expenses. Who cares if I’m theoretically living an aristocratic life style? When the actual game is happening, I’m gonna be eating canned rations and sleeping on a bedroll in some haunted forest anyway.

Hirelings can at least be useful on an adventure, but… They also take up mental bandwidth on managing them in combat, table time executing their turns, and spotlight time while exploring and socializing - or if they don’t, they’re boring and get forgotten about. Not worth it.

So what does that leave to spend gold on after you’ve all chipped in to buy your party tank a set of full plate armor? Some ridiculously expensive poisons that will be useful for exactly one attack? Potions that I’ll just end up saving for some hypothetical future time when I’ll need them more? (Ooooooohhh, there’s the Wish connection!) No. All this gold feels useless despite the game giving you plenty of things to spend it on, because none of those things are useful in the game as it’s typically played nowadays.

So, what’s the solution? Let players buy magic weapons and armor. Seriously, that’s the only thing that’s going to be valuable enough to the folks who finds gold useless for them to want to spend it on.
 


payn

Legend
What do I care that my character owns a house if the gameplay entirely takes place away from that house? What use is a mage’s tower when I’m off on an adventure? And a boat is only useful if you’re specifically playing a nautical adventure, and if you are, you’ll get a boat anyway because otherwise the adventure can’t happen.
This. The players only needed gold in the past for XP and magic items. Folks have become accustomed to needing to collect gold to open new levels of crap for their characters. It's not a problem if you just get back to adventuring and forget about it.
So, what’s the solution? Let players buy magic weapons and armor. Seriously, that’s the only thing that’s going to be valuable enough to the folks who finds gold useless for them to want to spend it on.
Who really wants to go back to that?
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
So, what’s the solution? Let players buy magic weapons and armor. Seriously, that’s the only thing that’s going to be valuable enough to the folks who finds gold useless for them to want to spend it on.

See, I'm going to disagree with that last bit. That's an option, but not necessarily the option.

Just like OD&D / 1e people all have the kneejerk, "There's plenty of things to spend money on," I think that there's a 3e style which is always, "Sure, and those plenty of things are ... MAGIC ITEMS!"

Not that there's anything wrong with that, but ... well, there is. :)

(In my opinion ... obviously, others can shop smart, shop S-Mart.)
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Gold can be used to hire assassins to kill Bards. And the world never runs out of Bards.

....just like I thought. Bards are like the mosquitoes of D&D, you can never be completely rid of 'em.*

Doesn't mean you shouldn't try!

*Also? They suck! Thank you! Don’t forget to tip your server…
 
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Mort

Legend
Supporter
In my campaigns, as the players get more gold, there always seem to be many more options to spend gold on. Whether it's magic items or land or building on the land - or expert craftsmen to build stuff for the party etc.

As for the wish problem? I don't think that's the same problem as with gold - it's as @Charlaquin said more the fear that sometime later the item/wish will be more useful. In a prior campaign I gave out a potion of giant strength (fire giant? can even remember at this point) at 2nd level. The campaign got to 8th, there were MANY situations where it would have helped greatly - yet it was never used.
 


Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Well first of all, I think the issue with your one-use super-wish was not analysis paralysis but the classic healing potion problem. In RPGs, players are often hesitant to use consumable items for fear that they might not have them at some hypothetical point in the future where they need them more, and end up not spending them at all. This is a very common phenomenon, but I don’t think it’s what’s going on with gold in 5e. I’ve never heard a player complain that they don’t want to spend their gold because what if there’s something better to spend it on later. What I do hear players complaining about is having so much gold and nothing to spend it on.

Now, to some, the idea that there’s nothing to spend gold on seems like complete nonsense. Of course there’s stuff to spend your gold on! Strongholds, mage towers, hirelings, boats, a spyglass… How could anyone feel like there isn’t anything to spend gold on when there are tables and tables of big-ticket items to do exactly that?

I think the real culprit is the shift in the game’s focus over time. As the game has moved away from troupe play in a shared sandbox and towards following the exploits of a particular group of characters, the things PCs used to spend their gold on has lost its value to most players.
While your analysis is quite good as far as it goes, I think there's one more step to it:

Yes, "the game has moved away from troupe play in a shared sandbox and towards following the exploits of a particular group of characters", but beyond that the game has moved away from looking at what those characters do in the setting as a whole in favour of focusing almost exclusively on what they do while adventuring.

Adventure-path play is the worst for this; the design expects the party to jump straight from one adventure to the next along the path until the path is complete, at which point the campaign ends.

Put another way, there's very little if any design-level focus on downtime; on what characters might do when not out in the field. Contrast this with 1e where downtime between adventures was almost baked into the rules, particularly via a) the very slow natural healing and b) having to train in order to level up; and in any case it was usually somewhat expected that a party - even one with no character turnover - would take some time off between adventures.

Strongholds, houses, towers, guilds, etc. - setting those things up are all downtime activities, as is spending the requisite funds. If the game as designed doesn't put any consideration into downtime it's no wonder these things just don't come up.
What do I care that my character owns a house if the gameplay entirely takes place away from that house? What use is a mage’s tower when I’m off on an adventure? And a boat is only useful if you’re specifically playing a nautical adventure, and if you are, you’ll get a boat anyway because otherwise the adventure can’t happen.

This is also why no one pays any attention to the rules for Lifestyle Expenses. Who cares if I’m theoretically living an aristocratic life style? When the actual game is happening, I’m gonna be eating canned rations and sleeping on a bedroll in some haunted forest anyway.
Lifestyle Expenses are an active disincentive for a party to take downtime.
Hirelings can at least be useful on an adventure, but… They also take up mental bandwidth on managing them in combat, table time executing their turns, and spotlight time while exploring and socializing - or if they don’t, they’re boring and get forgotten about. Not worth it.
I disagree about the not-worth-it part, but hirelings generally don't cost very much and thus aren't that useful in draining money from PCs.
So what does that leave to spend gold on after you’ve all chipped in to buy your party tank a set of full plate armor? Some ridiculously expensive poisons that will be useful for exactly one attack? Potions that I’ll just end up saving for some hypothetical future time when I’ll need them more? (Ooooooohhh, there’s the Wish connection!) No. All this gold feels useless despite the game giving you plenty of things to spend it on, because none of those things are useful in the game as it’s typically played nowadays.

So, what’s the solution? Let players buy magic weapons and armor. Seriously, that’s the only thing that’s going to be valuable enough to the folks who finds gold useless for them to want to spend it on.
Magic items, yes.

Another thing is some sort of party-member-revival insurance fund; such that if a party member dies and the survivors have to pay for getting said person revived, the insurance fund (which everyone's already chipped in to) covers it.

Whci is one way you-as-DM can cause some adventuring-related expenses to arise: put costs on various spells. Don't go the 3e route and insist on diamond dust, that was dumb. But have it that a certain value - be it in goods, cash, or whatever - must be sacrificed in order to pay for divine* spells, whether cast by a PC or a hired NPC.

* - this works best for divine spells as the offerings can simply vanish... :)
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
See, I'm going to disagree with that last bit. That's an option, but not necessarily the option.

Just like OD&D / 1e people all have the kneejerk, "There's plenty of things to spend money on," I think that there's a 3e style which is always, "Sure, and those plenty of things are ... MAGIC ITEMS!"

Not that there's anything wrong with that, but ... well, there is. :)

(In my opinion ... obviously, others can shop smart, shop S-Mart.)
I mean, to have value to the folks who find gold useless currently, it will have to be something that directly helps them while they’re out adventuring, and isn’t consumable. Does that have to be magic items necessarily? No. But it’ll end up being magic items by another name. Permanent items that either increase their damage output, reduce incoming damage, or grant them special abilities they can use in combat, exploration, or social encounters. So, magic items, even if they aren’t necessarily “fluffed” that way.
 

Galandris

Foggy Bottom Campaign Setting Fan
Everyone playing in a high or wide magic setting? Rules have a severe impact on world design, if they are taken into account. There is no reason for your elves to be reputed for archery if they don't have a free proficiency and higher dex, and there is no way for a world premised on the availability of magic items if +1 weapons (that were mass produced for elite units and should flood the market after the war) to be bought because "boo ye olde magicke shoppe"
 
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Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
While your analysis is quite good as far as it goes, I think there's one more step to it:

Yes, "the game has moved away from troupe play in a shared sandbox and towards following the exploits of a particular group of characters", but beyond that the game has moved away from looking at what those characters do in the setting as a whole in favour of focusing almost exclusively on what they do while adventuring.

Adventure-path play is the worst for this; the design expects the party to jump straight from one adventure to the next along the path until the path is complete, at which point the campaign ends.
Yeah, this shift towards adventure-path play is definitely what I was zeroing in on.
Put another way, there's very little if any design-level focus on downtime; on what characters might do when not out in the field. Contrast this with 1e where downtime between adventures was almost baked into the rules, particularly via a) the very slow natural healing and b) having to train in order to level up; and in any case it was usually somewhat expected that a party - even one with no character turnover - would take some time off between adventures.

Strongholds, houses, towers, guilds, etc. - setting those things up are all downtime activities, as is spending the requisite funds. If the game as designed doesn't put any consideration into downtime it's no wonder these things just don't come up.
I don’t think it’s a matter of lacking design level focus. 5e does include downtime activity as part of its design, and even added some more robust downtime mechanics in Xanathar’s Guide. The problem isn’t that there aren’t rules for downtime, it’s that those rules aren’t any more useful than gold in the way the game is typically played. It’s a lack of campaign-level focus, because “campaign” has become synonymous with “adventure path” (for most players).
Lifestyle Expenses are an active disincentive for a party to take downtime.
True. They could become an incentive though, if they did something other than soak up gold. Hypothetically, your character’s lifestyle is supposed to affect them socially - NPCs will associate with characters in similar lifestyle categories and distance themselves from characters in lower categories. But, it’s all very nebulous with no hard rules for how it actually affects any given character, and again, none of this matters while adventuring, so nobody cares.
I disagree about the not-worth-it part, but hirelings generally don't cost very much and thus aren't that useful in draining money from PCs.
I don’t think the amount they cost even really matters, because most players these days don’t really care about hirelings. The campaign is now about the party’s exploits. Adding hirelings to the mix just distracts from that. Players don’t want more characters in the party taking away from time that could be spent spotlighting their own character, especially not NPCs.
Magic items, yes.

Another thing is some sort of party-member-revival insurance fund; such that if a party member dies and the survivors have to pay for getting said person revived, the insurance fund (which everyone's already chipped in to) covers it.

Whci is one way you-as-DM can cause some adventuring-related expenses to arise: put costs on various spells. Don't go the 3e route and insist on diamond dust, that was dumb. But have it that a certain value - be it in goods, cash, or whatever - must be sacrificed in order to pay for divine* spells, whether cast by a PC or a hired NPC.

* - this works best for divine spells as the offerings can simply vanish... :)
Yeah, expensive material components can be a good gold sink for casters - Arcane included, in my opinion - to make up for their decreased reliance on magic weapons and armor. But, having specific components for specific spells runs into the healing potion problem again. Players hold on to whatever doodad they need to cast a particular spell “in case they need it more later” and it never gets spent. This is I think part of why 3e moved to generic diamond dust and 4e used residuum. 4e’s ritual spells were actually an excellent gold sink in my opinion.
 

Lakesidefantasy

Adventurer
I would rather see more towards boats and armies, but, without that, perhaps upkeep of equipment could be made into a gold sink.

Perhaps armor and weapons could become damaged more often, but not too often so as to avoid too much more bookkeeping.

Perhaps spell component pouches could need refilling regularly.

Perhaps deities could give boons for large donations.
 
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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Yeah, this shift towards adventure-path play is definitely what I was zeroing in on.

....

Yeah, expensive material components can be a good gold sink for casters - Arcane included, in my opinion - to make up for their decreased reliance on magic weapons and armor. But, having specific components for specific spells runs into the healing potion problem again. Players hold on to whatever doodad they need to cast a particular spell “in case they need it more later” and it never gets spent. This is I think part of why 3e moved to generic diamond dust and 4e used residuum. 4e’s ritual spells were actually an excellent gold sink in my opinion.

So, essentially, the issue I have with treating gold like this is that it becomes just another resource in a resource management treadmill- like a RTS videogame.

"We have to mine the gold so we can transmogrify it into residuum. Then, we can use the residuum to make stronger units!"

I agree with you that there is an increased focus on the adventure qua adventure, but it just seems so bizarre to me that-

1. People rightly note the increased interest players have in their characters and their backstories and motivations, and NO MO' HO BO MO DO! (That's absolutely Who-vian!).

2. People also seem disinterested in the interactions of their characters with the world outside of the adventure.

To me, it's a profound thing- why do adventurers, adventure? Are they all George Mallory ("Because it's there?"). Or do they have other motivations? To get rich (or die tryin')? To set up their own kingdoms? To become the most powerful wizard in the world? To muster large armies and sweep through the countries, driving their enemies before them? To become a bard that doesn't suck?

Ha! Okay, some goals aren't realistic. But the idea that gold only exists as some sort of thing that exists to gain and spend in increasing amounts to further enable you to adventure seems really sad. It's the absence of the campaign world, and the elevation of the idea that the gold only exists as an abstract "point system" that allows you to be able to better adventure. Which allows you to get more points. To get more adventure. And so on.

It's not wrong, per se. Just ... not for me.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
So, essentially, the issue I have with treating gold like this is that it becomes just another resource in a resource management treadmill- like a RTS videogame.

"We have to mine the gold so we can transmogrify it into residuum. Then, we can use the residuum to make stronger units!"

I agree with you that there is an increased focus on the adventure qua adventure, but it just seems so bizarre to me that-

1. People rightly note the increased interest players have in their characters and their backstories and motivations, and NO MO' HO BO MO DO! (That's absolutely Who-vian!).

2. People also seem disinterested in the interactions of their characters with the world outside of the adventure.

To me, it's a profound thing- why do adventurers, adventure? Are they all George Mallory ("Because it's there?"). Or do they have other motivations? To get rich (or die tryin')? To set up their own kingdoms? To become the most powerful wizard in the world? To muster large armies and sweep through the countries, driving their enemies before them? To become a bard that doesn't suck?

Ha! Okay, some goals aren't realistic. But the idea that gold only exists as some sort of thing that exists to gain and spend in increasing amounts to further enable you to adventure seems really sad. It's the absence of the campaign world, and the elevation of the idea that the gold only exists as an abstract "point system" that allows you to be able to better adventure. Which allows you to get more points. To get more adventure. And so on.

It's not wrong, per se. Just ... not for me.
I mean… ultimately D&D is just a resource management treadmill and gold does only exist as an abstract point system. There’s just a layer of narrative that we attach to the points we shuffle around to make them meaningful to us. And that’s pretty much what RPG gaming is.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I mean… ultimately D&D is just a resource management treadmill and gold does only exist as an abstract point system. There’s just a layer of narrative that we attach to the points we shuffle around to make them meaningful to us. And that’s pretty much what RPG gaming is.

Ha! KANT MAKE ME STAY ON UR RESOURCE TREADMLLL!

7B6f.gif
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Yeah, expensive material components can be a good gold sink for casters - Arcane included, in my opinion - to make up for their decreased reliance on magic weapons and armor. But, having specific components for specific spells runs into the healing potion problem again. Players hold on to whatever doodad they need to cast a particular spell “in case they need it more later” and it never gets spent. This is I think part of why 3e moved to generic diamond dust and 4e used residuum. 4e’s ritual spells were actually an excellent gold sink in my opinion.
My problem with diamond dust is that it isn't generic at all. Gold, or things that are worth gold, is generic.

For example if a divine spell requires a sacrifice of 900 g.p. I should be able to lay down 900 gold pieces, or 1800 electrum pieces, or a jewel-encrusted dagger worth 850 plus 500 silver pieces, or a couple of potions worth 1000 in total (and not expect any change!), and have the receiving deity treat it all the same when it comes to getting the spell cast.

And note this can drain the whole party rather than just the caster, if the characters take as party policy that the beneficiary - rather than the caster, when different - always pays for the spell. (in my game, by far the most commonly-asked question during Speak With Dead with deceased PCs is not "Do you desire revival?", it's "How would you like to pay for it?")

With arcane, the component requirements are usually way more specific and - more importantly - often only have to be acquired once. I don't mind this.
 

see

Pedantic Grognard
I think the real culprit is the shift in the game’s focus over time. As the game has moved away from troupe play in a shared sandbox and towards following the exploits of a particular group of characters, the things PCs used to spend their gold on has lost its value to most players. What do I care that my character owns a house if the gameplay entirely takes place away from that house? What use is a mage’s tower when I’m off on an adventure?
I'm left wondering, are these people aware they're playing a roleplaying game?

I'm just . . . if the character doesn't want a house, or a tower, or care about his living standards, or have a charity to support, or some end they want to achieve, why is he character going on adventures at all? And if the character does have goals, well, aren't those goals an obvious use for the gold?

Would this whole "gold is useless" thing be solved if we added a Random Life Goal Table in the "Personality and Background" chapter of the PHB, so that people who don't invent goals for their own character can say, "All right, my character wants to be emperor, and to recruit and equip an army, I'll need this much gold, so . . ."
 

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