Thursday, April 9, 2009

What I Have Not Solved

The day is coming to an end and I find myself waiting on the sales department, so…

Allow me to explain one of the fundamental problems I am having with the development of a comprehensive treasure table. Keep in mind that this stems from insisting, constantly, that there be a rational logic in the simulation aspect of my game, so that whatever treasure might be found, there is a reason why it is there.

Let us consider the average goblin. The monster manual indicates that our goblin (and I’m not looking at the MM right now, so I’ll come back and fix this later) either a set amount of copper or a set amount of silver on its person. And that is it. Siss-boom-bah, kill the goblin and take its coin.

However…while we are sloughing away with this paltry, pathetic amount of coin, is not the goblin’s sword or mace worth considerably more money? Even if the mace is old and shit, it’s still probably worth three times as much as the pathetic copper I’ve just taken. And how about the belt it hangs on? What about the helmet and shield? What about the leather armor—even if it doesn’t fit me or you, a suit of any leather armor can be cut and split into soles for boots or made into thongs—how much would a cobbler pay for 5 pounds of raw leather? Ever priced leather in the real world? And what about the goblin’s boots? How many children are running around without footwear? The goblin’s pouch is worth several coin according to the equipment list. And if you note the player’s handbook, the goblin’s ichor (brain juice) is a spell component.

Where, exactly does it end? Just how much “treasure” does a goblin have on it? Where do you draw the line, as a DM? If I’m going to dress up a goblin so that it has the appropriate amount of treasure on his person, how much is too much, or how much is enough?

Look, a player has to pay (let’s say, because in my world it depends on what city you’re in) 10 g.p. for a pike. That takes into account the difficulty in fashioning a straight 18-foot pole (try it sometime) so that it can be used without breaking it. The materials are not the expensive part. I can’t simply assume that the pike in the hands of our friend goblin is worthless. If it works at all it bespeaks of craftsmanship, which means the old “well it is old and cruddy” argument doesn’t fly. During the combat I’m not applying negative modifiers to the goblin’s weapon when he attacks. Which means it’s a pole arm legitimately and it ought to be worth 10 g.p. in experience. Okay, it might be a little shorter for a goblin, so lets say 6 g.p. That’s still worth more than a paltry collection of silver coin.

The same argument holds for the leather armor, shield and helmet. They may look like shit, but if they give the goblin a 7 AC, then the have the same intrinsic value of your sweet-smelling defensive battle gear. How come my character can’t pay for all this “worthless” stuff and have the same AC he enjoys by paying ten times as much?

So we’re talking about a conservative 26 g.p. per goblin, not 2 to 12 crummy silver coins. Plus boots, backpack, clothes, copper holy symbol, probable minor junk like bone dice, playing cards (goblins get bored to), some sort of knife for cutting its food, a tinder box, torches, a waterskin, a small copper pan for eating/cooking, a tool for picking its nose and probably a collection of piercings with copper jewelry that it has out of vanity. These are things that practically every goblin would have with him on patrol…we’re not talking about stuff you wouldn’t carry yourself as your character. Odd goblins in a troop might additionally carry things like rope, grapples, wood axes, a carpenter’s hammer, spikes, a smoking pipe, an ice axe in snowy climes (along with snowshoes and ski poles), netting and shit knows what else. We’re talking 15 to 20 items per goblin, minimum, most having a value at least as much as 10.5 c.p. (the average for a J-type treasure) or more.

Suddenly as a DM creating a rational treasure table you have to somehow account for all this crap, or else turn a blind eye to it. For me, it would mean making some 200 cards of junk every time a party kills 10 goblins. As well, most parties don’t want to haul cartfuls full of various junk home even if it is worth 400 g.p. in totality. There is a mindset players have where they will kill 10 zero-level heavy footmen, pocket the 23 gold coins collectively found in their belt pouches and blithely leave behind the 10 suits of chain mail worth 750.

If you want sanity as a DM, you have to pick option B: “Please, ignore all this that you find which would cost your characters hundreds of gold pieces if you were to buy it as general equipment, since I’m compensating for that by giving you three nice shiny gems worth 100 g.p. each. No, all of their clothing and equipment is worthless…even though that worthless sword five minutes ago hit you a critical wound for 18 damage.”

That is the way everybody plays.

I have struggled for eighteen months now to build up some kind of system of standardized carried gear, tailored for level/power of the creature concerned, with the expectation that if the party can’t see the value of the gear, to hell with them. Do you think that a universal system, one which does not require an individual treasure table for every kind of creature in the bestiary, could be created?

I thought so for a time. So far it has escaped me. But I continue to pound my head over the problem, and over the other problem besides, the one I haven’t mentioned yet:

What treasure, logically, should exist in this part of the world?


Ryan said...

Not absolutely everyone plays that way. Several of the guys I game with loot every single slain monster/NPC (and fallen PC) for his weapons, armor, and gear. Granted, we don't take the boots, belt buckles, etc. but the Swords and Wizardry crew I'm involved with found ourselves carrying around (or, if it was better, wearing/using) equipment from the slain.

As a DM, I've always allowed a fair amount of looting, but fair is fair, so I enforce the encumberance rules. If your party kills ten footmen and has ten suits of chainmail and ten pikes, you're going to have to figure out how to get them back to town. Several times in S&W (which I didn't run, btw), our party left behind captured equipment (and several huge sacks of copper) because being slowed down wasn't worth it.

Interestingly enough, nobody tried this in the mercifully defunct 4th edition game I ran, as if the NPCs were action figures and their weapons were simply glued to their hands.

I suppose where in the world you are might also determine the suitability of captured gear for resale. One can assume that the armor or a slain character is damaged and/or splattered with blood. Or, it might be in good repair but you'll never get the stench of bugbear off it. Some places will probably buy those items gleefully but I can imagine a city where a group of armed thugs showing up with bloody, used armor for sale might draw some suspicious glares, or perhaps rumors might begin spreading that the characters are bandits and brigands. (Of course, many PCs in old D&D are bandits/thugs, so fair play.)

I was always satisfied that the potential difficulty for selling captured clothes and gear balanced out the relative worthlessness of the monster's coin. You're definitely more detail/simulation oriented than I am, though, so I doubt that such a solution fits what you're looking for.

I always wondered, though: why do goblins carry coins at all? In most campaign settings I've seen or played in, there really isn't any town for them to spend it in anyway. (Which of course leads back to your original question of why any treasure is to be found anywhere)

Is the determination of worth of carried gear your prime goal? What about lairs of monsters, etc?

Alexis said...


Those are very fine points, and I think exactly stated with regards to difficulties of encumbrance, the effects of bugbear odor and so on. I'm still stuck on how to create a table to take stench into account, along with "the determination of worth of carried gear."

The problem with regards to the lair of a monster, particularly a humanoid monster, are WORSE. If what I say about carried gear applies, then what is in the lair applies ten fold: ie., home furnishings.

Every home of every intelligent creature would be laden down with more than a hundred articles of home furnishings, most of which would not be the size and shape of a emerald fire gem. Intelligent creatures could easily spend thousands of gold pieces on fortifications, tools, handicraft goods, tiles, windows, furniture, toys, livestock, dry goods, barrels and so on.

Obviously, the problem of haulage is a prescient one for players. But as a DM, how do I decide what is an automatic furnishing, one which would always be there, what is a probable furnishing and what is a rare furnishing? And how much is the total worth divided between those three aspects? 1:1:1? You tell me, because I have no idea. You and I and my other gentle readers make upwards of 40K a year. How many valuable gems/jewels/hard cash do you have in your house?

Carl said...

I read Ryan's response and your comment after writing this. I may have to post another comment. :-)

Throw out the treasure tables in the Monster Manual. You already have enough economic data to figure out what a goblin from a particular place should be carrying in your world. I feel compelled to ask you what kind of super-rich goblins you have though. Check out this equipment list!

Mace, belt, helmet (iron?), shield (iron-bound wood?), leather armor, boots, pouch, pike, backpack, clothes (breeches, shirt, tunic, coat or cloak), copper holy symbol, bone dice, playing cards, knife, tinder box (with flint and steel), torches (2?), waterskin, small copper pan, personal grooming tool (wood), assorted copper jewelry....holy shit! I'm not even going to touch the miscellaneous equipment carried by a troop.

That's a rich-ass goblin from a rich-ass goblin tribe. Shoes and playing cards and a copper holy symbol? Those are indicators of wealth, not to mention the flint and steel (the Zippo lighter of the medieval set). If your goblins are that well-equipped I'd consider dropping the cash awards entirely and saying that the monetary value of the goblin is its equipment. I'd feel comfortable doing that for nearly every monster in the book aside from the dedicated hoarders like dragons. They and the other truly fantastic monsters might require special tables, but maybe not. Again, your economic model should tell you how much a dragon in a particular spot will have in its hoard.

I think you won't need to create an individual treasure table for each creature in the book. You probably know how many calories per day each requires, you probably know how much land they'll need to control to meet that requirement and based on the "treasure" that's within that area, you should know how much treasure a monster will have on its person and in its lair. I use treasure in quotations because treasure might include things such as livestock (cows, goats, pigs and sheep -- all very valuable) tools, lumber and slaves -- just to give a short random list of assorted items.

When I worked on my own fantasy economy, I found quickly that not only were there not enough coins in the world to explain the recommended treasure allotments in the monster manual, but having these monsters carrying around coins was ridiculous. Who is going to take a soveriegn from a goblin? How many goblin tribes are going to mint their own money? How many non-goblins are going to accept goblin coins? The wealth in my game was found in commodities. Foodstuffs, lumber, medicinal herbs, and salvaged weapons and armor (rare! expensive!) made up the bulk of the treasure in my last short-lived fantasy game.

What I did, and what you have probably already considered, is eliminate the cash payouts for murdering monsters. You just killed a cyclops. You don't get 200gp in cash. You get a gnarly club, and his sheep flock along with a sack of random crap (bone carvings, some pretty rocks, et cetera) that was valuable to him (or her). Voila! 200gp worth of stuff.

I don't think I remember a D&D game (not a serious one anyway) where I was DM or player that the group didn't drag a cart or pack animal along with them so that they could strip the bodies of all the armor, weapons, clothes and accessories to be sold later at bargain-basement prices to middle-man merchants with stalls set up around wagons on the outskirts of town.

This shouldn't be a stuggle for you, Alexis. From what I've seen of your economic model, the hard work for this problem is already done. Now all you need to figure out is how many calories a goblin needs to survive and figure out how much land that will require if he/she supplements his/her diet with the occasional raid on a nearby human/elf/dwarf settlement. I would be a little suprised if you didn't already know that, too.

The treasure cards might prove to be an issue with this kind of system. It's easy to write 500 on a yellow card and call it gold. It's much more labor-intensive to make a card for each item on our well-equiped goblin from your example. I'm not sure how to address that other than to recommend you print out loot lists on paper and cut them to the desired size. Incorporating the cards is a head-scratcher.


Alexis said...

“This shouldn't be a stuggle for you, Alexis. From what I've seen of your economic model, the hard work for this problem is already done.”

Well Carl, you would think, wouldn’t you? I felt pretty confident myself, once.

Calories a goblin needs to survive: about 400/day (146,000 per year) based on weight.
Calories per 1 square mile for livestock and animal energy: 512,000 per year
Cow milk production from one 17th century era cow over the period of one year: 200 lbs.
Number of calories per pound of whole milk (full fat): 363
Value of one pound of whole milk in Dachau: 3 c.p.
Total comparative value of all consumed calories for one goblin in terms of the price of milk: 1,207 c.p. (about 6.28 g.p.)

We can make an estimate from all this that our goblin would need to own 2 cows to provide enough milk in order to provide his caloric needs for the year. The value of a cow in Dachau is 12 g.p. (having discovered an error that described a cow as 120 g.p. on the table I published). From that we could posit that the total value of our goblin’s worth is 24 g.p...and if my gentle reader can follow this, the 24 g.p. need not all be in cows.

The flaw in this reasoning is that, of course, our goblin did not pay for his cows. He raised them, or his family raised them, from calves, at no cost except that of the grass growing outside the front door. He could just as easily raise four times as many cows, which he distributes to others, since watching 8 cows is virtually the same amount of work as watching 2. Eight cows, incidentally, was accepted as the usual number of cows that a herder would be permitted to manage by the manse lord.

But why assume the goblin owns anything at all? This is only an indication of consumption, not of possession. I don’t know anything more about how many “cows” or other equipment the goblin owns. Nor do I know how it is distributed between cows, weapons, clothes, what the goblin keeps at home, what the goblin takes out on patrol, how much the goblin has that is “loaned” by the village for the sake of being on patrol, etc., etc.

You call the goblin wealthy. But having the holy symbol would be expected for a soldier, who would have obtained it from family or from his dead companion from the last campaign; the flint is needed for the same reason you have one—to keep from freezing in the wilderness. Waterskin, torches, knife, pans...same thing. The goblin isn’t a hobo—who incidentally can be expected to have a lot of these things in one form or another. The mace is pretty useless without a belt to hang it from, and its the Monster Manual that gives goblins swords and javelins and what have you. Half of this stuff would be the sort of thing that the chieftain, who would not be broke, would make sure his soldiers had if they were out raiding or defending the tribal village, no? Since most of it would be made by hand in the village, it costs the same thing the goblin’s cows cost: labor. Very little else.

Who would take a sovereign from a goblin? Have you met a merchant in your lifetime? Give me a community where everyone is too “proud” to take a goblin’s money and I will show you a very rich sleazy asshole doing a monopolistic business with every goblin in the region. Plus goblins would have the same reason for carrying money as you have: it is hard to barter four live chickens for fish hooks. Goblins would do business with one another.

While my economic system is extensive and descriptive, it falls down where the rubber meets the road in describing how much labor is worth compared to the actual hard goods. It also falls down in terms of any practical suggestion of how these hard goods are distributed, exactly between a peasant and a 9th level lord. These are my problems. I can figure out this or that, but I can’t get a unified system for the whole mess.

Ryan said...

This conversation is making me rethink treasure in general, but it also is making me rethink the acquisition of PC wealth in general. My assumptions always assumed that any coins or wealth the monsters had were stolen or else found in the ruins and horded. Now we're talking about killing a goblin and taking his livestock that he raised himself. Suddenly I kind of want to see the average PC party hanging from the gallows...

But enough of that. You want random tables. What about creating a series of tables sorted out along the lines of "Humanoid", "Demi-human", etc. The humanoid table could take into account things like stench, filt, etc. as described above. Perhaps each table could have a number of sub-tables... "humanoid, wealthy" might have more valuable furnishings. I'm not sure you'd be able to have the thing be entirely random. Perhaps "X GP worth of furnishings" and you decide what exactly they have. It's a starting point, though I'll admit it probably isn't the most efficient solution.

kelvingreen said...

A simple (perhaps too simple) solution is to handwave it and say that the 2cp you roll for that goblin's loot is not an actual monetary amount, but what you're likely to get for selling the gear (taking into account wear, goblin smell, etc). Similarly the lair loot; it's not 2000gp exactly, but 2000gp worth of stuff, which may or may not include actual money.

Honestly, I've always found it a bit odd that monsters carry currency when they'd be killed on sight if they went into a town to actually spend it!

Kent said...

I have to say your dedication to realism is impressive and must have been very time consuming at some stage in the past. I imagine it is pretty unnerving for players though, no?

Alexis said...


My whole point would be that I do not want to hand-wave it. And in return for your last comment, I've always found it odd that players assume that intelligent monsters do not have their own towns, monetary systems and merchants.


I don't know about unnerving. You'll have to ask my players who have been running online for two months.

kelvingreen said...

Fair enough, just offering a suggestion. No offence meant!

Alexis said...

Don't go getting all sensitive on me. I am not biting your head off. I'm disagreeing with you.

Jesus H fucking christ in a danged dinged sidecar, what the shit does a person have to do to have an intelligent fucking conversation?

Bwah hah ha. That is a joke. Seriously Kelvin, don't sweat it. And incidentally, I like Brad.

Anonymous said...

I imagine it is pretty unnerving for players though, no?

It hurts... at first. But after a while, the pain goes away, just as they promise.
-- Jack, Chronicles of Riddick

Kent said...

Chgowiz, Tao:
The difficulty I was wondering about is mitigated somewhat in online play. I was thinking of a repeated hesitation before action because of a need to visualise the environment correctly before action. In an environment that is very explicitly detailed a player can forget to see things.