We’ve all been in that position when running a roleplaying campaign. That moment when you realise that you have allowed your players to amass more wealth than is healthy. All of a sudden they are buying their way out of the challenges that you place before them, there’s no magic item they can’t afford and they are building a huge palace or fortress on prize real estate. Then, when the local lord gets upset, they either buy him off or raise an army and go and crush him. Yes, we’ve all been there and had to deal with it in one way or the other. What follows are a handful of ways that I have dealt with it in the past as a GM, or experienced as a player.
First things first – the majority of players out there do not respond well to having their newly found wealth just taken away from them. If you choose the ‘thief in the night’ method, you are quite likely (and quite rightly) going to have a player revolt on your hands, one that will start with “but I was keeping watch” or similar and then snowball from there. No, you will need to be much more crafty in dealing with the over abundant riches of your players.
Anybody with a large amount of money who is prone to flashing it about will attract con artists. This is true now, and it has been true ever since idiots have been rich. This is handy, as the majority of your player’s will probably not expect a con artist to come after them. There are any number of ‘cons’ that you can run against your players. The easiest one is the “It’s only gold paint” con. If your players are starting to buy lots of items that they probably shouldn’t be using and it’s mucking up the challenge levels of encounters or similar, the next item they buy could be a complete dud, but in an interesting way. For example, say they buy this awesome new sword. The player has looked through the Adventurer’s Vault and has decided on this kick-arse weapon that is going to throw everything out of balance. Let them buy it. In the next combat, however, it seems every monster is determined to fight only the player with the brand new sword. Strangely enough, in the next encounter after that, the same thing happens. When they get into town again, a random footpad leaps at the player, taking them by surprise and starts beating them up. It turns out, every creature with an evil heart will attack the player with the weapon…
The important thing about using the ‘con’ method is that the player made the choice. They allowed their own greed and avarice to get them into the situation they are in. You can even allow them to make perception checks or similar to see if there is a risk, or use a skill challenge. Once the realisation has sunk in that they have indeed been conned, you now have a new NPC villain that the players will be very keen to track down, giving you more story hooks to use as well.
Apply a little economics
Playing AD&D at uni many years ago, a group that I was a player in managed to achieve untold riches. We were insanely wealthy. However, the GM was an Economics major and had learnt a thing or two about inflation. We did what most parties do when they come back to a large town with more gold than Midas and we started buying everything. Property (we needed somewhere to store all our loot), fine furniture for aforementioned property, hirelings, guards, weapons, armour, trinkets. I even went so far as to buy my own pub so I could be guaranteed my favourite table every night.
This went on for quite some time, the GM writing down all the money we had spent, and all the items we were acquiring. It took us a little while to realise that things were starting to cost more and more. Soon, we were having to spend 10GP for a single tankard of ale. The bastard had been applying inflation to the town’s economy. Eventually we called him on it and he proceeded to explain. “You have arrived with almost three times the entire wealth of the town in your sacks. You have proceeded to spend aforementioned wealth. The economy is now completely saturated with gold, it doesn’t have the value it did a week ago”.
While he may have been a little heavy handed with his formulas, we couldn’t fault his logic or reasoning (we were mostly History majors and knew enough about Weimar Germany…). We ended up with some nice stuff, but the maintenance costs of running our new properties, armies, etc. were prohibitive. We needed to adventure more and more just to keep running our estates.
A little used commonplace element of everyday life in the ancient and medieval world is the concept of taxes. If you look back over your campaigns of the last year, I’d imagine the majority of you will struggle to find one example where you have taxed your player’s characters, despite them being a) wealthy, and b) probably quite well known. No-one likes paying taxes, but the local lord should certainly like charging them. It only makes sense, as the person in charge of the town, city, etc., is responsible for maintaining a standing army, administrating the local justice, supporting local merchants in keeping the economy running, and so on. If you have players running around with lots of money, they instantly become targets for the district’s tax collectors. While this will certainly be unpopular with your players, if they choose to resist payment you suddenly have a fairly interesting encounter with the local law enforcement up your sleeve.
While I stated in the opening section of this post that merely stealing the player’s wealth was a bad idea it can, if handled correctly, it can be the impetus for a story arc in its own right. You should consider using this method if you only want to skim some off the top of what the players have and then return their wealth to them when they are a higher level. For example, your party encounters a large band of miscreants on the road whilst laden down with vast quantities of loot. Clearly outnumbered they choose to surrender… OK, this might not be as likely as you might hope for. If they choose to fight, have thieves get in behind the players and steal their gold as the combat progresses, or really thump the hell out them and leave them tied up to a tree. Either way, the money’s gone.
The next step is to leave a calling card, a mark, or some distinguishing feature of the main thief resonating with the players. They will, I am pretty certain, chase after the would be Robin Hood to gather back their ill gotten gains. After an appropriate series of adventures where the players may gain a level or two, they finally kill off the evil taker of things not belonging to him and get back their riches. Well, most of their riches. Clearly the thief had some expenses throughout the campaign too…
Monty Haul or Shangri-La situations can quickly end the fun of a campaign as players start losing the impetus to go on adventuring. While you can be tempted to merely take back the gold that you have given your players, there are many different ways of doing so that add to the story instead. If you have used any other methods yourself, let us know how they went in the comments below.