Thursday, January 27, 2011

Wealth system

Unlike in D&D, where you track your actual money, d20 Modern comes with an abstracted wealth system, where you have a wealth ranking, and you make "wealth checks" to buy stuff; or to see if you have stuff. I think I can see the motivation for doing so; in a modern game, we know very well what kind of "stuff" people tend to have. Think of your house and all the stuff that's in it, for example. Rather than having out of control equipment lists for your character, the designers decided that if you want to have something, and the GM thinks it might be reasonable for your character to own it, you make a Wealth check to find out if that's something you've managed to acquire or not. I'm not quite sure why making a check is necessary; if the GM decides that it's reasonable for your character to have, say, an iPod even though it's not written down on your character sheet, then why can't he just say, "Yeah, you've got that," when asked?

But one of the hallmarks of the d20 era was that the designers felt that if they could make a rule for something, that they should. Maybe I should say, that if they felt they could make a mechanic for something, they should. Tools, not rules, remember? You use tools when appropriate and when that's what you want and need from your game, not when you don't.

And with that said, I'm having some significant second thoughts about whether or not I want to use the wealth system as presented in d20 Modern or not.

Pros? Well, it's already written, for one thing. All of the equipment lists I'd likely refer to have cost as a wealth check DC, not in any other format. Lots of the occupations and other rules assume the wealth system and have bonuses (or penalties) associated with them. In other words, taking it out might be more trouble than it's worth, because it means that there'd be a cascading effect of houseruling that I'd ideally want to do to capture the changes. Well, maybe not too bad a cascading effect; if I could come up with a "monetary"equivalent to a +1 Wealth bonus; i.e., for each +1, grant a character 500 doubloons or something like that (I haven't actually given much thought to coinage and money in Dark•Heritage yet. I like the idea of having multiple currencies, though... not just "gold pieces." And I want evocative names too; like doubloons, guineas, guilders, pieces of eight and ducats, or something like that. Work in progress.) For prices, I can actually adopt the D&D equipment list and add a few things rather than work backwards from the d20 Modern equipment lists. Actually, it'd almost be easier; for d20 Modern I have to combine d20 Modern, Urban Arcana and d20 Past and then heavily edit the equipment list down; with a D&D baseline, I can just use as is and add a few items back in. Although I'm supposed to be in the pros section here and I'm migrating into reasons not to use the Wealth system.

Cons? It's kinda a hassle, really, in a setting where you don't want to make a lot of rolls to see, "would it be reasonable that my character would have bought this before?" Where purchases are relatively rare and focused, it's easier to just say, "here's how much money I have." I don't think my players will particularly like it. I'm not quite sure that I do, even when I consider the pros for an actual modern game (although I like it better in that setting than I do in any other.) And, it's just not very much fun compared to the alternatives. Keeping track of your pieces of eight, or your thalers or your doubloons, or whatever, is just kinda fun, as long as it doesn't devolve into too much accounting.

So I've decided; I'm going to jettison the Wealth system from my adaptation of the d20 Modern rules. Occupations and/or feats and/or class abilities that affect your wealth bonus instead give you a one-time 500 (currency TBD) bonus to your money.

One thing that I'll have to do is monitor where the characters are with money. Unless it's a feature I want to encourage, I'll make sure that the characters feel the need to actually manage their money, but not make them feel too overtly itinerant and poverty-stricken. I don't have any illusions about "wealth per level" or anything like that for my games, and lacking magical items, they probably don't have a lot of things that are really spendy that they'd want to put their money out on. And for that matter, I don't really care to track day-to-day expenses very much either; every night they stop at an inn or tavern, or every time they buy a meal, I don't have characters deduct a few pennies from their money totals. That's what I mean by devolving into accounting. To me (and my group) that doesn't contribute to the fun of the game, it distracts from it.

So, I'll just keep an eye on it. If the characters find money frustrating because they never have enough, I'll see about having them find a stash, or encourage them to take the Windfall feat, or something. Or, I'll just have them manage to acquire by hook or crook what, exactly, it is that they want the money for anyway. I actually think, however, that there's a lot to be said for not always giving your PCs what your characters want them to have. I had a great run with a character playing under me who's whole goal in life; his raison d'être, was to acquire a ship. The fact that he never really did was part of what made him fun; he was always doing all kinds of things in character to try and get one, and it became a running joke and important character defining element. For that matter, I don't think the player really wanted him to get one either; he had too much fun playing up the obsession and fanatical single-mindedness into which the character started devolving.

Heck; for that matter, I'm the kind of GM who thinks it would even be fun if the characters decided that they were either so greedy or so desperate that they turned to burglary or highway robbery in order to raise more cash. I could run with that.

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