D&D 5E Magic Items, Gold, and 5e!

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
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.

Yes. Option paralysis is a thing, but it is also important to recognize that you can't just have what you want. When you go off menu, you get to play a game of "Mother, may I?" with the GM, which may or may not have a satisfactory result.

And, with only a few exceptions (like magic items) the player then doesn't know the value of what they'll be getting, because, again, it is off-menu. This leads to a pressure against doing so that isn't just about how hard it is to choose, but in not having sufficient confidence that it will be interesting or useful to to do.


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?

I think there are still some gaps in the rules that could be usefully filled.

But, more than that, I think that we need a call-out that expectations on the importance of gold (or monetary wealth, in general) should be set before play begins.
 
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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?

Spending gold, or other wealth is a big thing in my campaign. I can't see why it shouldn't be given how pervasive it is in our world and in the stories, myths, and legends we have. If gold isn't important, then finding the leprechaun's pot of gold or a pirate's treasure becomes far less exciting. If our campaigns are on a [ open sandbox - episodic serial - adventure path ] continuum the further to the right of that continuum I would imagine the less important material wealth is to the flow of the game. There may be a point where you need an expensive gift, bribe or measure of status before you can explore a particular avenue of the adventure, but wealth to be spent on particular peripheral needs becomes less useful.

In order to make wealth useful at all, however, there has to be a game effect, hard or soft. Hard would be buying improved gear. Your armor grants +5 to AC rather than +2, &c. Soft could be nice clothing. You aren't getting into the Noble's Quarter to talk to Baron McGuffin in torn clothes spattered with mud and blood. You need to freshen up a bit. While I greatly appreciate the resource management part of D&D, I also try to declutter it a bit and simplify it to key decisions. Having a monthly upkeep cost with specific benefits for each tier is a way for me to do that. While I don't allow for the direct purchase of magic items in general, simple gold can acquire minor potions, scrolls, and charms. More moderate strength items can be commissioned, and the potent items can be commissioned but require reagents, quests, and favors as well as mundane currency.

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.

I think this plays directly into downtime activities. (I really don't like that phrase since the characters are almost always actively doing things.) If the wizard is brewing potions, the cleric writing scrolls, the fighter training with troops, &c. the place they do that is in their home. Regardless of how much you travel, it's always good to be home. It order for that to be meaningful to the people playing the game, there needs to be at least a minor benefit. Normally I would say your characters heal faster, but a long rest resets everything in this edition. One thing I have added is that if your character does nothing for two weeks, just being on vacation as it were, they gain +1 hp/level to start out. This boost lasts until it is lost, a form of long lasting temp hps.

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

... It’s a lack of campaign-level focus, because “campaign” has become synonymous with “adventure path” (for most players).

... 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.

... 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.

I agree with the adventure path assessment. It strikes me as a movie-like situation. We don't see the downtime of the characters, except maybe as a montage. In this case gold, downtime, magic item fabrication, hireling acquisition, and other "passive" activities are pretty meaningless. The DM talks to the players, figures out what they want vs. what they have acquired, and awards appropriately. While a valid way to play I find it limiting.

Huh, I'll have to look into how 4e did it. I really dislike how free magic is in 5e, in particular ritual spells.
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen
In 3e where purchasing power really mattered the groups I was in usually handled things by a) having a designated group share of loot for party resources like cure light wound wands, and b) splitting everything else up equally. Magic item loot was valued at its 1/2 price sale value. If someone wanted a particularly expensive magic item like a good sword that they could not afford from their share plus their personal wealth they would go into debt to the party and would not get a share of new loot until their new shares paid off their debt.

This way people came out with equal loot over time and good singular items did not need to be sold to be equitable in dividing the spoils. With 3e's escalating loot values over levels debts were paid off fairly quickly with new loot shares.

In my experience under this system everybody did pay off their group debts over time and it worked out well.
Yup. In 3E my groups did much the same.
 

see

Pedantic Grognard
Of course they are. One does not need to spend gold to roleplay though, especially not on things that aren’t relevant to the focus of the game. . . . Second, in adventure path type play, the adventure itself generally provides players with enough motivation to want to go on it - the “adventure hook.” And thirdly, the players want to play D&D, which can’t really happen if their characters aren’t willing to go on adventures.
Okay, let's consider the adventure path hook "Save the world from being dominated by Tiamat manifest". There is a fairly obvious question about this hook - why does the character care enough to go on the adventure rather than stay home, disappointing his wants-to-play-D&D player? Because pretty much any answer to why a character cares about that translates into a use for gold. The character might be an altruist who cares about suffering (and so would spend gold on relieving suffering), or a hedonist who thinks that a Tiamat-dominated world would be less fun for him (and so would spend gold on hedonism), or whatever, but it's incredibly difficult to come up with an actual character that has no use for gold, but enough motive to actually adventure.

If the so-called "character" has a pile of gold but nothing to spend it on, there's nothing there but a pure player-avatar, no role being played. Which, I mean, fine, do D&D however it floats your boat. If you're having fun, you're doing it right.

But "some things in this roleplaying game don't have a function if you aren't playing the role of a character, but just operating a player-avatar" is not actually a problem that needs to be addressed. Wizard spells don't have much function if everybody in your group is playing a cleric, either; that isn't a reason for the game designers to either eliminate wizard spells or give clerics access to them.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Yup. In 3E my groups did much the same.
The 3e groups I ran for and played in didn't do it that way. We just gave the fighter the +5 sword of wounding, and just gave the wizard the staff of power. Why charge them for something that is increasing the survivability of everyone in the group? Any magic items that could be used by a PC were handed out. If we had multiple items and multiple people wanted them, highest roll got first pick and lowest went last. Any money found or received form sold magic items was split evenly.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Okay, let's consider the adventure path hook "Save the world from being dominated by Tiamat manifest". There is a fairly obvious question about this hook - why does the character care enough to go on the adventure rather than stay home, disappointing his wants-to-play-D&D player? Because pretty much any answer to why a character cares about that translates into a use for gold.

I think in your definition of "use for money" you may be including, "could find something to spend the money on that is consistent with their overall personality", while others are limiting it to, "can spend the money to further the stated goal."

In adventure paths, typically the character has a mission - if the money cannot be spent in a way that serves the mission directly, then that money is not an effective resource.

Like, the adventurers are suiting up to go into the dungeon. The party's orc barbarian likes pie. You hand the party a cartful of pies. Having a whole lot of pie is in line with the orc's general approach to life, but it does not help him clear the dungeon.

The character might be an altruist who cares about suffering (and so would spend gold on relieving suffering)

Unless you give a clear indication that relieving that suffering directly helps keep Tiamat at bay, that spending is secondary. Tiamat is coming. If gold falls into my hands, I can toss it at some hungry beggars, or hand it to some cleric who is organizing the months-long project of rebuilding a village, but that doesn't stop Tiamat. If Tiamat shows up, that spending is moot.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
Okay, let's consider the adventure path hook "Save the world from being dominated by Tiamat manifest". There is a fairly obvious question about this hook - why does the character care enough to go on the adventure rather than stay home, disappointing his wants-to-play-D&D player? Because pretty much any answer to why a character cares about that translates into a use for gold. The character might be an altruist who cares about suffering (and so would spend gold on relieving suffering), or a hedonist who thinks that a Tiamat-dominated world would be less fun for him (and so would spend gold on hedonism), or whatever, but it's incredibly difficult to come up with an actual character that has no use for gold, but enough motive to actually adventure.
I find the notion that a character who would rather the world they live in not be dominated by an evil dragon-god must necessarily be a hedonist, and at that, a hedonist who is driven to indulge in hedonism vis a vis spending money pretty absurd.
If the so-called "character" has a pile of gold but nothing to spend it on, there's nothing there but a pure player-avatar, no role being played. Which, I mean, fine, do D&D however it floats your boat. If you're having fun, you're doing it right.
Well first of all, I can easily imagine a fully-realized character not caring to spend money on things that don’t have direct practical use in adventuring. But moreover, even playing a “pure player avatar” is still roleplaying. Roleplaying is simply the act of imagining being someone else and/or in some other circumstance, and making decisions as you imagine you would do as that person and/or in those circumstances. Which you absolutely can do with a “pure player avatar.”
But "some things in this roleplaying game don't have a function if you aren't playing the role of a character, but just operating a player-avatar" is not actually a problem that needs to be addressed.
Of course it doesn’t need to be addressed. But many people want it to be addressed, which is reason enough to discuss on the internet how one might address it.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I find the notion that a character who would rather the world they live in not be dominated by an evil dragon-god must necessarily be a hedonist, and at that, a hedonist who is driven to indulge in hedonism vis a vis spending money pretty absurd.
That's not what he said. The hedonist was just one possible character that might have reason to spend money on something other than stopping Tiamat.
Well first of all, I can easily imagine a fully-realized character not caring to spend money on things that don’t have direct practical use in adventuring. But moreover, even playing a “pure player avatar” is still roleplaying. Roleplaying is simply the act of imagining being someone else and/or in some other circumstance, and making decisions as you imagine you would do as that person and/or in those circumstances. Which you absolutely can do with a “pure player avatar.”
Sure. A cold logic PC like Spock, or an obsessed PC like the punisher who doesn't do anything outside of his narrow focus. I'm sure there are some others, but most PCs are going to care about more than just Tiamat coming to destroy things.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I think in your definition of "use for money" you may be including, "could find something to spend the money on that is consistent with their overall personality", while others are limiting it to, "can spend the money to further the stated goal."

In adventure paths, typically the character has a mission - if the money cannot be spent in a way that serves the mission directly, then that money is not an effective resource.

Like, the adventurers are suiting up to go into the dungeon. The party's orc barbarian likes pie. You hand the party a cartful of pies. Having a whole lot of pie is in line with the orc's general approach to life, but it does not help him clear the dungeon.



Unless you give a clear indication that relieving that suffering directly helps keep Tiamat at bay, that spending is secondary. Tiamat is coming. If gold falls into my hands, I can toss it at some hungry beggars, or hand it to some cleric who is organizing the months-long project of rebuilding a village, but that doesn't stop Tiamat. If Tiamat shows up, that spending is moot.
I think the other thread about RPG win conditions has bearing here. If I'm playing a Cleric of Ilmater and alleviating suffering is a large part of who I am and what I do, then spending money on a hospital to heal the sick and help the poor isn't secondary to my character. Were I to just toss aside a large part of what my character stands for and only spend money on what stops Tiamat, my enjoyment of the game would be less, and even if we stopped Tiamat, the victory(enjoyment of the game) would be tarnished. I think PCs should be true to themselves as well as to whatever mission they are on.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
I like to toss out narrative benefits for stupidly expensive nights of carousing. New allies, contacts, rumors, that sort of thing. One of the things I like about the Black Hack is that in order to level you have to go and do that with the party and tell stories about your adventures or background. It's a neat idea
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
I think what some of us want is for the spending of gold not to be mere color, but have a demonstrable impact on the play space. That can be social leverage, impacting the setting perhaps through donating it to a cause, etc. It just has to actually impact our fictional positioning in a way that can be felt in play. Pendragon is a really good example of a game that makes money matter without being about +1s.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
I think what some of us want is for the spending of gold not to be mere color, but have a demonstrable impact on the play space. That can be social leverage, impacting the setting perhaps through donating it to a cause, etc. It just has to actually impact our fictional positioning in a way that can be felt in play. Pendragon is a really good example of a game that makes money matter without being about +1s.
More specifically the above is very much what I meant. This why PbtA GMing principles very much inform my running of D&D.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
That's not what he said. The hedonist was just one possible character that might have reason to spend money on something other than stopping Tiamat.
He did literally say that a character who didn’t have anything to spend a huge pile of gold on is a “pure player avatar.” Right here:
If the so-called "character" has a pile of gold but nothing to spend it on, there's nothing there but a pure player-avatar, no role being played.

Sure. A cold logic PC like Spock, or an obsessed PC like the punisher who doesn't do anything outside of his narrow focus. I'm sure there are some others, but most PCs are going to care about more than just Tiamat coming to destroy things.
Ok. The commonality of characters so motivated isn’t really what concerns me.
 

see

Pedantic Grognard
I find the notion that a character who would rather the world they live in not be dominated by an evil dragon-god must necessarily be a hedonist, and at that, a hedonist who is driven to indulge in hedonism vis a vis spending money pretty absurd.
If you don't understand the difference between one example and an exhaustive list, I don't imagine there's any way we can communicate.
Well first of all, I can easily imagine a fully-realized character not caring to spend money on things that don’t have direct practical use in adventuring.
I do not understand how anyone can simultaneously imagine a hyper-obsessive monomaniac and call that hyper-obsessive monomaniac a "fully-realized character".
But moreover, even playing a “pure player avatar” is still roleplaying. Roleplaying is simply the act of imagining being someone else and/or in some other circumstance, and making decisions as you imagine you would do as that person and/or in those circumstances. Which you absolutely can do with a “pure player avatar.”
I don't believe that.

I believe that, if you are, in fact, engaging in "the act of imagining being someone else and/or in some other circumstance, and making decisions as you imagine you would do as that person and/or in those circumstances", you will find uses for gold other than "direct practical use in adventuring".

(If people want to complain that 5e does not support spending gold on non-adventuring ends, that's a completely different discussion that I'm perfectly willing to nod along with.)
Of course it doesn’t need to be addressed. But many people want it to be addressed, which is reason enough to discuss on the internet how one might address it.
The problem is "addressing it" by having gold translate into "direct practical use in adventuring" immediately undercuts every character who isn't a hyper-obsessed monomaniac.

There's a certain number of stories in the tension of "If you spend all your gold on an orphanage/books/harem/army/whatever, you can't afford the magic items that you need to adventure", but the game being structured to punish the cleric of Ilmater who spends any gold on orphans instead of upgrading a weapon was one of the big design mistakes of 3e.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
I think the other thread about RPG win conditions has bearing here. If I'm playing a Cleric of Ilmater and alleviating suffering is a large part of who I am and what I do, then spending money on a hospital to heal the sick and help the poor isn't secondary to my character. Were I to just toss aside a large part of what my character stands for and only spend money on what stops Tiamat, my enjoyment of the game would be less, and even if we stopped Tiamat, the victory(enjoyment of the game) would be tarnished. I think PCs should be true to themselves as well as to whatever mission they are on.
Some characters’ pragmatism may outweigh their altruism, and even a deeply altruistic character might reason that donating their money to a hospital won’t matter if that hospital gets destroyed by dragons, and so opts to spend their money on ending the threat first, and then maybe donates what they can once the threat is resolved (and the adventure is over). And a huge part of the fun of roleplaying, at least for me, is getting to make those kinds of decisions. That’s how you find out what a character is really made of; when they have to choose between mutually exclusive desires, which one they opt to go with reveals a lot about them.

And it’s also perfectly fine if you wouldn’t want to play the character who sacrifices their ideals as an individual for the good of the mission. Just like it’s perfectly fine for other players to want to do so.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
He did literally say that a character who didn’t have anything to spend a huge pile of gold on is a “pure player avatar.” Right here:
Okay, but this is what you quoted.

"Okay, let's consider the adventure path hook "Save the world from being dominated by Tiamat manifest". There is a fairly obvious question about this hook - why does the character care enough to go on the adventure rather than stay home, disappointing his wants-to-play-D&D player? Because pretty much any answer to why a character cares about that translates into a use for gold. The character might be an altruist who cares about suffering (and so would spend gold on relieving suffering), or a hedonist who thinks that a Tiamat-dominated world would be less fun for him (and so would spend gold on hedonism), or whatever, but it's incredibly difficult to come up with an actual character that has no use for gold, but enough motive to actually adventure."

Nothing there says, "I find the notion that a character who would rather the world they live in not be dominated by an evil dragon-god must necessarily be a hedonist, and at that, a hedonist who is driven to indulge in hedonism vis a vis spending money pretty absurd."

What the quote above and the smaller quote you just provided to me are saying is that a well rounded character will have more motivations than just, "Must stop Tiamat!" He wasn't saying that a character who didn't want a world dominated by Tiamat must be a hedonist.

I also don't really understand the last part of your quote there. Of course a hedonist will use money to engage in hedonism. Money is a primary way to be able to engage in new experiences. Want to experience a fey originated drug with magically chaotic and enjoyable results? It will probably cost money. Want to experience a hunt for a rare white stag? Paying a local hunter to help guide you is a great way. Money gets experiences done.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
If you don't understand the difference between one example and an exhaustive list, I don't imagine there's any way we can communicate.
You said any character who wouldn’t spend a pile of gold on something not adventuring-related was a “pure player avatar.” I was merely rolling with your example to illustrate why I find the notion absurd.
I do not understand how anyone can simultaneously imagine a hyper-obsessive monomaniac and call that hyper-obsessive monomaniac a "fully-realized character".
Nor do I. I imagine instead a character who is not a hyper-obsessive monomaniac and still doesn’t, during the course of an adventure, find non-adventuring use for their money.
I don't believe that.

I believe that, if you are, in fact, engaging in "the act of imagining being someone else and/or in some other circumstance, and making decisions as you imagine you would do as that person and/or in those circumstances", you will find uses for gold other than "direct practical use in adventuring".
Well, I can tell you I have done so and not found uses for gold other than direct personal use in adventuring, so…
The problem is "addressing it" by having gold translate into "direct practical use in adventuring" immediately undercuts every character who isn't a hyper-obsessed monomaniac.

There's a certain number of stories in the tension of "If you spend all your gold on an orphanage/books/harem/army/whatever, you can't afford the magic items that you need to adventure", but the game being structured to punish the cleric of Ilmater who spends any gold on orphans instead of upgrading a weapon was one of the big design mistakes of 3e.
Call me crazy, but I think the choice to donate to orphans when they could instead be using that money to buy items that will be of direct personal use while adventuring is precisely what makes that decision meaningful. If there’s nothing worth spending money on that is of direct personal use while adventuring, then it doesn’t really matter what you spend your money on. You’re not making an impactful decision that reveals anything interesting about the character.

That said, I certainly don’t think going back to the 3e Magic item treadmill would be a good thing either and if that’s the impression you got from what I’ve been saying then I’m afraid you’ve misunderstood me.
 

Amrûnril

Explorer
There are a lot of good suggestions here regarding ways for characters to spend money. I think its just as important, though, to consider the other half of the equation: an excess of gold can be avoided just as readily by reducing income as by adding expenses.

This can by done across the board if a group thinks it makes for better balance, but it can also be incorporated more organically as parties choose adventure hooks to pursue. Those motivated by money can choose quests promising monetary rewards (either from a patron or as expected loot), while those motivated by some other goal can pursue that goal over more lucrative alternatives.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
Okay, but this is what you quoted.
Right, I’m gonna go ahead and hi light the relevant bit of the quote.
The character might be an altruist who cares about suffering (and so would spend gold on relieving suffering), or a hedonist who thinks that a Tiamat-dominated world would be less fun for him (and so would spend gold on hedonism),
The implication here is that
A. A character who is motivated to stop Tiamat out of self-interest is a hedonist, and
B. That such a character would necessarily spend gold on indulging their hedonism when there’s a Tiamat cult than needs to be stopped.

Maybe inference A is a bit of a reach, but inference B is definitely suggested by the quote, and is the part I took greater issue with.
I also don't really understand the last part of your quote there. Of course a hedonist will use money to engage in hedonism. Money is a primary way to be able to engage in new experiences. Want to experience a fey originated drug with magically chaotic and enjoyable results? It will probably cost money. Want to experience a hunt for a rare white stag? Paying a local hunter to help guide you is a great way. Money gets experiences done.
Sure, but it’s not the only way to indulge in hedonistic experience-seeking, and moreover it is not a particularly pertinent way to do so in the middle of trying to stop the Tiamat cult from taking over the world.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
The implication here is that
A. A character who is motivated to stop Tiamat out of self-interest is a hedonist, and
You think a hedonist who thought his way of life was threatened by Tiamat would not try to stop her out of self-interest?
B. That such a character would necessarily spend gold on indulging their hedonism when there’s a Tiamat cult than needs to be stopped.
The character is a hedonist. "the ethical theory that pleasure (in the sense of the satisfaction of desires) is the highest good and proper aim of human life." Such a person would not stop being a hedonist just because Tiamat needed to be stopped. The character would do both, or that character isn't really a hedonist. Hedonism is the foundation of that person's life. It's not going away.
Sure, but it’s not the only way to indulge in hedonistic experience-seeking, and moreover it is not a particularly pertinent way to do so in the middle of trying to stop the Tiamat cult from taking over the world.
The claim wasn't that it was the only way. The claim was that a hedonist would spend money on hedonism, which is true. The character would ALSO engage in free experiences. He would do whatever was necessary.
 

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