Thursday, April 10, 2014

Misers and Non-Problems

How long it seems since I have written purely about D&D here.  Yet every waking minute it seems I write about nothing else.  The DM, the DM, the DM, those are my waking thoughts, and about the DM I write and write.

A few days ago John Arendt of Dreams in the Lich House talked about The Vast Wealth of Dungeons, and I have from time to time been thinking about it.  The presupposition is, of course, that the DMG gives the 'right' amount of experience necessary to go up a level, or the 'right' amount of experience for monsters that are to be killed, such as saying that if I need 2,000 x.p. as a fighter, and I expect to get that strictly from killing goblins (speaking the Dungeon Master's Guide here, sorry to the later edition readers), that I must kill 137.931034 goblins to reach second level, on average.  If I don't want to kill all those goblins, of course I can supplement the experience with gold I find, an average of something like 123 g.p. per 10 goblins, or something like that, if we're basing the numbers on the treasure table generated by the Dungeon Generator in the index.

But what does any of that matter?  Why even state definitively that the fighter needs 2,000 experience? Several people at the Lich House talked about using silver instead of gold, and giving experience for silver (which I did myself once, in the game I ran through the 80s), but why not simply give experience for very, very rare gold and cut the actual amount of experience down to 200, or 20?  It is only a ratio after all.  The important thing isn't how much experience in round numbers is necessary, but how the experience compares from class to class or level to level.  If the fighter needs 20 x.p. to get to second level, and to get 1 x.p. requires finding a gold piece that's 1/100th as common as it is in ordinary D&D, or 1 x.p. requires killing an opponent of equal or greater strength (or a group of opponents of approximately equal strength), the system works precisely the same.  And it gets rid of all that gold choking up the hallways of dungeons.  Remember, the number "2,000" was just pulled out of the gamemaker's ass.  It wasn't written in stone and given to Father Abraham upon his departing Mesopotamia.

We have a strange habit of seeing problems that aren't really problems, they are merely issues of scale.  If the scale of coin is an unworkable issue for your campaign, than simply change the scale.  Does it really matter how much gold exists in the world?  Is that a creditable issue?  If it is the weight of all that gold that bothers you, remember that gold coins in the Roman era weighed only 7 grams.  That's a quarter of a troy ounce, or 64 coins to the pound.  Of gold.  And a pound of gold doesn't take very much space, you may believe that. The specific gravity of gold is 19.3.  These small coins didn't seem to confuse the Romans at all and weren't, of course, made entirely of gold ... they were somewhat less dense than 19.3 grams to the cubic centimeter.  Still, gold was mixed with other dense metals, silver and copper.  So you see, you could get a lot more into a sack than the rather silly 200 that's named in AD&D.  Having 10,000 gold just doesn't take up as much space as you think.

And what difference does it make if a suit of armor costs 5 gold, 50 gold or 5,000 gold?  Don't you think that a theater-goer of 1945, who used to pay eight cents to see a movie, would think you were silly for spending twenty dollars?  The cost of things is entirely relative.  You don't make something more 'realistic' by supposedly removing the inflationary price of things.  Where do you begin considering where the 'inflation' started?  Silent movies used to be a penny.  It was inconceivable that a movie would ever cost eight cents.

Much of your perception of 'too much gold' or 'dungeons filled with gold' are only prejudices, not actual game problems.  As game problems, they are painfully easy to solve.  The difficulty isn't how much wealth exists or how much coin, it's how much coin does he, an admiral, have compared to her, the madam of a successful brothel?  How much gold do 50 orcs have compared to three minotaurs?  Those are actual problems.  The distribution of coin compared to the relative difficulty in acquiring it.  If we're going to offer a bit of brain sweat, let's apply it there.

Let me just end with a small addendum, about those out there who might think, regarding the post from earlier today, that I'm wrong to put a cute girl on a T-shirt to make an impression. What exactly is this, an image of Ava Gardner from the 1954 film, The Barefoot Contessa ... bad thinking?

It is an awful shock, but people like beautiful people. All the insistence of others that we shouldn't has little weight where it comes to encouraging people to buy something. Moreover, I like Ava Gardner in this movie. I like the movie as well, and strangely feel the need to review what it says about wealth and success and purpose often. But the reality is that I am biologically designed to find Ava Gardner attractive.  Her appearance in this film, which is about the attractiveness of a woman who nevertheless eschews her attractiveness, came about because film-makers at the time recognized that human nature is a better selling tool than guilt or finger-wagging.

Whatever you wish to do with the coin of your world, comprehend that biologically players are also inclined to like gold and to want to pour it over themselves, and feel they have a lot of it, because it makes them happy.  And if you will take a stance that insists that your players be ascetics, you've got to realize that you're going against nature.  In the long run, you're going to lose that fight.

One has to wonder, why would you be such a miser with something that costs you nothing?

1 comment:

Lukas said...

There are additional design benefits to high numbers.

Increased granularity of reward as well as the ability to reward in almost meaningless amounts that FEEL like progress.

This is of course in addition to the ability to reward in the triple digits to make players feel like the benefits are raining down on them.

If you work on the 20xp system, players wont feel very rewarded by 'less than challenging enemies', but if you grant 10xp in a 20k xp system they at least feel like they're getting something. Even though it essentially is meaningless per goblin.