HD&D: Wealth

For a while now I have been wrestling with the problem of what to do about money. Economics is as profound a force on the world of Iourn as magic. Goods and services cost gold. Characters acquire gold and spend it on said goods and services. It’s not a difficult relationship to grasp, and it’s one that’s been at the heart of every published edition of D&D. Unfortunately, it’s also very dull.

As Neil recently commented, none of us play role-playing games to balance a budget. We get enough of that in the real world. While I am sure there are GMs and players who delight in the minutiae of the game, and feel a deep sense of joy when they spend 2 copper pieces on a bowl of watery soup. That degree of bean-counting has never really appealed to me. I think it’s time that could be better spent role-playing or moving the story along.

But goods still exist, and PCs will still want to buy them. Also, we should not understimate the value of a working economy. It adds depth and verisimilitude to a campaign if commerce actually makes logical sense. HD&D therefore needs a system that allows for the existence of a wider economy and that limits a character’s acquisition of items based on cost, but also a system that also does away with all this tiresome penny pinching.

Options for HD&D

Various different systems have been published to handle money in D&D. I’ll have a look at  a few of them, and then give you details of my preferred solution. Before I begin, a quick aside on earnings. The average unskilled labourer earns the equivalent of 1 sp per day. Labourers don’t earn enough to live. They probably have to grow their own food to supplement their income.

The third edition DMG gives details of income for various types of hirelings. I have used this as a guide to find the  average daily wage a character with the Craft or the Profession skill can hope to make. You’ll see details of those when the Skill System is finished. These details are largely designed to flesh out the world, and provide context for a character’s own wealth. Basically, they’re for NPCs, but there’s no reason why certain campaigns couldn’t see PC characters having to subsist on their basket weaving skill between adventures.

Now let’s have a look at the some of the options open to us:

The Mercantile System

This is the default system published in the second, third and fourth edition PHBs. The PC has a pot of money from which he buys things. Goods cost their listed value, and buying an item diminishes the money the PC can spend on other items. The PC replenishes their fortune by the usual means (working, stealing or good fortune). It’s a perfectly acceptable system, but it becomes rather a chore to record every little purchase.


An option from p130 of the 3.5 DMG, rules for Upkeep appear in various forms across a number of roleplaying games. You pick a social standing : Self Sufficient, Meager, Poor, Common, Good or Extravagant. Then, every month, you pay a certain amount of gold to maintain that standard of living. Being Extravagant costs you 200 gp per month, under the third edition rules. Upkeep pays for food, lodgings, taxes, clothing and so on. It doesn’t pay for anything that you would need to outfit an adventurer with. You would still pay for that as you would in the Mercantile system.

The problem with Upkeep is that it doesn’t work well for adventurers. “We’ve been crossing the endless desert for the last seventeen weeks! Why am I still paying 200 gp per month for my ‘lavish meals’?”

The Abstract System

Abstract systems don’t bother to assign prices to items. Your character has a credit rating (or similar mechanic) that allows him to buy some items, and denies him access to others. The d20 Modern game has an abstract system. You can appreciate why: set in the modern day the PCs have resourses such as overdrafts, loans, mortgages and credit cards that aren’t available in a medieaval setting. Only the most insane GM would want to get involved in calculating the compound interest on a PC’s loans between sessions, so an abstract system is a welcome alternative.

You can read the d20 Modern Wealth System over at the System Reference Documents website. It makes for interesting reading. In short: all goods have a Purchase DC. The player makes a Wealth Check against that DC, if it succeeds then he buys the item, if it fails then he doesn’t have the cash. As I said: abstract.

None of the three options above really work for me. They are either too exacting, inappropriate or too woolly for my taste. My solution (as always) is to plough the middle ground.

The HD&D Wealth System

I don’t pretend that the following is an original idea. It came to me fully formed, which probably means I read it somewhere and cannot remember the source. The Wealth System seeks to strike a balance between a fully mercantile system, and something entirely abstract, such as the offering from d20 Modern.

In HD&D characters obtain, accrue and spend money just as they would in a standard mercantile system. However, items under a certain price are considered too insignificant to bother worrying about. A character’s Wealth is defined as all the money that he is currently carrying on his person. We divide Wealth by 100 to find a character’s Credit Rating. A character can automatically buy any item that is valued at his Credit Rating or less without diminishing his wealth. If he wants to buy something that is worth more than his Credit Rating, then the cost of the item comes from his Wealth total. The Credit Rating would then be recalculated at a lower value.

For example: Nicos has plundered the horde of the green dragon, Vaprissar, and currently has 11,000 gp on his person. His Wealth is therefore 11,000 gp. This means that he can pick up any item that costs 110 gp (11,000 ÷ 100 = 110) from the various equipment lists without diminishing his total wealth. Nicos could go and buy eight riding horses, each costing 75 gp, and his Wealth would still be 11,000 gp.

Unfortunately, in gaining this treasure Nicos has flash-fried his good buddy Arvan. Feeling guilty, Nicos decides what he really needs to do is buy a scroll of <i>reincarnation</i>. Such a scroll costs 1700 gp, which is obviously more than Nicos’s Credit Rating. The cost of the scroll comes from Nicos’s Wealth (11,000 – 1700 = 9300 gp). Because Nicos’s Wealth is now 9300 his credit rating is recalculated, and it is now 93 gp (9300 ÷ 100 = 93).

It is possible for a character to have a vast fortune, but not be able to access all of it. For example, by all accounts Elias is very wealthy. He has his own kingdom (it’s a pretty crappy kingdom, but it’s a kingdom nonetheless). However, he doesn’t have his nation’s wealth in his personal pocket book. Wealth is the amount of gold that is currently on your person, not all the money sitting in your treasure horde ten thousand miles away.

Selling Items

Just as items valued your Credit Rating or less don’t decrease your Wealth when they are purchased; if you sell any items valued your Credit Rating or less, your Wealth does not increase. So Nicos could sell 75 gp riding horses until the sun grew cold, but it wouldn’t increase his 11,000 gp fortune.


The main check on the wealth system is the availability of items. A potion of cure light wounds costs 50 gp, which is less than Nicos’s Credit Rating. However, this is not to say that Nicos could simply stock up on an infinite number of potions. There’s no guarantee that all these items are going to be available. Ideally, all items on the equipment list should have an “availabilty %” that the GM could modify to take account of circumstances. This seems rather formal, but otherwise it’s up to the GM to say: “No, they only have six potions: that’s all you can have” – which seems a bit arbitrary and open to disagreement.

Critique of the Wealth System

The Wealth system is a cheat: it’s a short-cut and a convenience. It also relies on players following the spirit of the rules. There are ways to break the system, and gain an unfair game advantage. A character could amass a number of items of equal value to his Credit Rating, then make a large purchase so his Wealth fell. The purchased items are now worth more than the character’s new credit rating, so they can be sold and the proceeds added to a character’s Wealth. I’m sure that cunning players can think of many other ways around the rules.

But that’s not really the point. If we’re in a campaign where the buying and selling of goods become the focus of the party’s activities then we’re better off using the Mercantile system. In fact, there’s no reason why we can’t swap between a Wealth system and a Mercantile system within the same campaign if the need arises.

The Wealth system formalises what I’ve always done in the game, which is generally ignore minor purchases but make the character’s pay for expensive investments. However, without formal mechanics I always felt that I was being rather arbitrary when I demanded a character pony up the cash. After all, I have never made a big deal of handing out money or treasure, so it seems a bit unfair to demand characters to buy anything.

The Wealth system also makes it easier to manage spell components. Most components –  bat guano, gum arabic, iron filings – are cheap enough to be under a wizard’s Credit Rating. This means that wizards only have to worry about being able to afford the expensive spell components.

I do foresee that the Wealth system may not be entirely appropriate for the obscenely wealthy. A character with a wealth of 100,000 gp would have a Credit Rating of 1000 gp, which would effectively allow him to buy more or less anything in the game. Maybe a ceiling on the Credit Rating of about 500 gp might be appropriate. Equally, this system is dependent upon me actually handing out cash to the party: something I have not been particularly assiduous about in the past.

16 thoughts on “HD&D: Wealth

  1. The wealth system seems fine to me. the example of someone with 100,000GP is not a problem as realistically you would not or could not carry such an amount of gold with you. In all probability it would be unlikely that you would be carrying more than 1000GP on you at any one time. Gems/jewelry should only count if the PC actually hands them over as a form of barter and therfore has to knock them off his wealth or if he exchanges them for gold. This would stop PCs carrying vast amounts of wealth in the form of gems in order to pervert this system.

  2. Personally – I think you should manage the money. Properly.

    If you take that away then you break the verasimilitude.

    If I give a peasant 10gp because they have provided me with useful and helpful information this should mean 2 things..

    1. That the amount of money the peasant has makes a tangibile difference to their life.
    2. I am 10 gold lighter.

    your credit rating plan *could* allow an unscrupulous individiual to free a cities peasants from poverty and still have the same amount of money they began with.

    I don’t like. The only time money *really* becomes an issue is when the party is in an urban setting. The GM should allow time in the adventure for shopping and the proper tracking of cash.

    Personally I think a modification of you r curren tthinking. Living costs nothing (well it’s subsumed in money found and general “WEALTH”)

    Anything else comes from the PCs money stash which they MUST keep up to date. If they don’t update the money – they don’t have it.

    without the capacity for present buying, random acts of kindness and shopping having a real impact on a players finances and the capacity that choices must be made based on available funds I think you are short changing the environment you are trying to invoke because you can’t be bothered with the maths….

    • I can see Jon’s point…simplification of the system is open to abuse certainly. but it also comes under GM discretion, if the GM believes, a PC is abusing the system, he can as easily say, “if you do that, deduct that amount from your total wealth”

  3. too much emphasis on wealth will only make maths tedious and boring. the system of credit rating is interesting and would simplify things. I personally cant be bothered to calculate how much gold, silver and copper i have left from any purchase it’s just too much hassle (i.e. having a pint at a pub which cause 4 iron pieces).

    however, i would suggest that we create a basic benchmark for credit rating for each character level…so a level 1 character will have an automatic basic credit rating of 1 and a level 7 character at 7. This is then adjusted by your wealth, whichever is higher. So if the character is level 7 and i have 2000 GP, then his credit rating is 20 (2000/100) instead of 7

    Begs another question, can a monk of priest be allowed to have a high credit rating considering they are not meant to have large amount wealth. i would think they should have the same credit rating as far as an adventurer is concerned because item cost the same amount whether you are a peasant, monk or an aristrocat in general.

    So what happens if you are mugged and lose all your wealth? does your credit rating becomes a zero. i believe it should revert to your class credit rating which is your basic level. Am sure a level 10 bard for example whom was just lost all his savings in a bet at a bar, would have friends to give him the cash to replenish his basic equipment equivalent to his minimum credit rating, of course whether he can find all the equipments he has lost is something else

  4. James: I had originally intended to be kinder for characters who convert their wealth into gems. I suppose we could rule that Wealth only represents ready and tangible cash, and that characters with gems either have to barter with them or turn them into cash before they can be considered Wealth. That would probably work.

  5. To Jon & INdran, thank you raising two diametrically opposed views on Wealth. Jon wants something more grounded in reality, while INdran wants something even more abstract. I can see that coming to a consensus on this is going to be tricky!

    To reply to Jon first:

    The reason I have come up with the Wealth system is that I know I can’t be bothered to adminster tight fiscal rules on player characters. I haven’t done it at any point in the last 16 years, and I’m unlikely to do it in the future. As INdran says, keeping track of every penny is just dull. If you find something dull you don’t do it, and if you have a situation where half the party is faithfully marking each copper piece of their character sheet, and half the party can’t be bothered, then you have an untenable situation.

    Yes I could crack the whip and just enforce it. That’s not an unrealistic option – after all I don’t make allowances for players who “can’t be bothered to keep track of hit points”. But I feel that this is somehow different. It seems pettier.

    Now you could just say that mundane purchases don’t cost anything, so getting a room for the night at an inn or buying lunch are irrelevent. But that in and of itself is untenable, because it has no rules to back it up. Everything descends (again) to GM fiat. I want to get away from that if I can, or as least have some solid ground to fall back on when I make a decision.

    The Credit Rating allows you to pick up items of no material value to your character without the hassle of recording anything. Yes, it can be abused, but (as INdran also says) any of use of money that is not with the ‘spirit’ of the Wealth system can just be deducted from the Wealth total instead.

    The system is designed as a shorthand to stop us getting bogged down in the minutiae, but at the same time allowing players to manage their character’s financial resources. Evidently, you don’t think it works too well.

    But don’t worry, because I don’t agree with INdran either!

    For the sake of realism I think we have to tag Wealth to the amount of money a character actually has, not the character’s level. High level characters are certainly likely to have more cash, but that should be the case. If you have 1000 gp on you, and you’re mugged then you lose the money. That sounds fair.

    Those characters who are designed to eschew wealth can still be poor. What’s the point of saying you’re monk with the vow of poverty if you still have the purchasing power of Bernie the Fat Merchant? Characters who enter poverty willingly probably don’t need to buy material possessions of any value. And if they do they can mooch of their friends just as they have always done in D&D.

  6. For realism, if we must go that route between world-wrenching demons and fugitive assassins, I would favour a mixed approach.

    Status / Position may guarantee a particular income, but with it outgoings, for which it may be best to call it even. A sustainable lifestyle is achieved. Status and position, which are often reliant on others, may change depending on the grace and favour of those in a position of power.

    Level – potentially this could set a limit at how successful you could be based on mundane activities. Clearly a king is a king, but a less experienced one might be less adept at screwing money from his populace. Otherwise it’s all down to what you have. If you inherit money, steal money, plunder or scavenge it’s all fair game regardless of level but that is not a mundane event. It also means that with experience comes greater rewards.

    Fortune – how well things are going for you at any time – may give a slight rise or fall in your success, this could be a monthly roll, or set with modifiers depending on recent achievements. If your adventurer makes money weaving baskets sales will increase whilst your star has risen (“I bought this basket from John the Destroyer, you know.”) but decrease when it has fallen. It may be that the group, being associated with each other would have the same roll, or at least similar modifiers. Characters that make expensive purchases whilst flourishing may find they have to hock them when times are rough.

    Historically characters in the real world like Alexandre Dumas went from fame and fortune to penury with no loss of status. Dumas even fled France at one point to avoid debtors. His characters, like the Musketeers, were often in debtor’s prisons or gambling away each others’ possessions whilst their companions slept and they struggled for food some days and feasted on others. It gives a sense of adventure and comradeship to go through the good and bad times together: roleplay rarely reflects this. Characters never truly experience hardship. Our characters were left stranded without anything on an unknown beach and none of us flinched. But now we have money (Bane, Ennui, etc) we’re very quiet about it. Yet money serves no purpose in the game if there are no hurdles it can overcome. None of us have adventured for money under Neil, nor needed to.

    One day the plot may be to get back that device we had last year but pawned when things got a bit tight. Obviously, even if any system we create works there is only a point to it if we have to spend something. Jon’s idea of relieving the poor is great but that is above and beyond the regular expenses you would expect to have – therefore you could only do this when times are flush.

    It might be possible to get a volunteer from each party to act as book-keeper or accountant for the group? Either individual accounts for the party, which one character tracks, or a group fund which everyone has access to. Perhaps a cut of the income would be a persuasive tool for someone to actually volunteer for this task but we’ve already established that some people really do care about this.

    I’ve always supported the idea of the DM directing the start of the story – giving the characters a reason to stay together, which I feel is best done with a strong guidance in character generation. With the right party a group fund makes complete sense. With our average groups we’re lucky we trust each other enough to know what everyone else is called. I’m not suggesting that our next roleplaying team is a crack team of bailiffs and debt-collectors al working on a percentage of items retrieved (though there’s an idea…) but at least it might cut out on the `Why am I travelling with these bozos?` questions which inevitably arise with our showboating character generation extravaganzas. Our characters are great, they really are, but largely they really wouldn’t be together and that has been true for most campaigns I’ve played in [Sorry, veering off topic, I know].

    It’s not well worked out but I am only here to sow the seeds and later reap the harvest. The bit in between is for Neil to work on.

  7. I suppose the question is whether the hardship that Malcolm speaks of is something we want in the game. Should it be a struggle and a quest to find two crowns to rub together, or is that degree of financial exactitude only appropriate for a certain type of campaign?

    I have to confess that the game loses something if you completely ignore character wealth and money. As Jon pointed out, if money doesn’t matter for the PCs then game lacks a degree of verisimilitude. I wish that I devoted more time to this side of the game. Wealth (or at least the absence of poverty) is great motivator to adventure.

    But that is the key point. The game is about adventure. It’s about solving mysteries, fighting bag guys, discovering lost secrets. It’s not about stressing over whether you have enough copper pieces for a slice of Suspicious Meat Pie. But then, perhaps you think the game should be that? If one player wanted to be book keeper for everyone’s wealth, then that might work.

    Keeping track of everything in a purely mercantile system is a lot of work, but I can see how it might be rewarding. Where and how should we draw the line?

  8. Neil says:

    Money eh the root of all evil, or at least the lack of it!

    I’m sure it will not surprise you that I am firmly in the abstract camp when it comes to all things fiscal, though I concede some of Jon’s points. I like your idea of wealth but you are saying this is the wealth that characters have on them, right? In that case there needs to be a mechanic for what you have elsewhere. Take your mugging example, fair enough you can’t afford anything because you have been robbed, however, that robbery only took the wealth on you so you should be able to go back home (or wherever) and get more money. Some sort of status CR perhaps? Or how about temporary CR for such times?

    I agree with you about the monks as well, what is the point of giving up all worldly wealth when you can just buy pretty much anything you want?

  9. I think the mechanic for how much money you have elsewhere, is how much money your character chose to put elsewhere.

    If you have 1000 gp and you chooe to carry it on your person all the time, and you are robbed, then you’ve lost the lot. If you keep 500 gp of that money at home then you’ve only lost half of it. Some PCs are prudent and some are not. Of course, it would be a pretty cruel GM who stole everything a character owned without offering some way of getting it back. It’s only really acceptable to do it repeatedly to Amalgaer.

    Ah Cedric, how we miss you.

    The point you raise about status being a fair replacement for a credit rating is a good one. “You know I’m good for the money, and besides didn’t I save your tavern from a bullywug incursion last Thursday?” However, I think I’d rather leave that to roleplaying or as a result of social skills like Diplomacy, Bluff and Intimidate than have a formal mechanic.

  10. Neil adds:

    Oh forgot to add: if you want a mercantile system YOU will have to be assiduous in handing out cash (or equivalent) and you need to make sure the value is fair, can you really be bothered?

  11. I think the Wealth system will work perfectly well for your game, Neil. I don’t think it’s totally right for all campaigns, but it is a good formalisation of the way we’ve been playing your game.

    I think, in practice, the Credit rating system would relate not just to the money in your pocket, but to the finances you have readily available in whichever form that might take. So sometimes it will be the silver in your pocket, sometimes the money you have in the bank or a credit note from the Odyssian Church. Whatever is most appropriate for the purchase.

  12. Wealth poses a multitude of problems…

    As a ruler you can get credit from other big organisations such as churches, whereas an individual would not – the good old mortgage.

    How do you assign a higher than average base wealth level, e.g. a 1st level aristocrat should have a better wealth than a recently escaped slave. All things that have occurred in backgrounds. Do you feat it?

    If I remember my Dumas, a lot of the money the musketeers was by being gifted it from their married mistresses… Now there’s a career option.

    As a side note wealth also panders to GM style, Malcolm prefers fights against natural disasters and other no “bad guy” situations; I like morally ambiguous situations; Jack tends towards hard realism; Neil you tend towards typical high fantasy. Any homebrew rules will reflect this.

  13. I think you’re right Marc. Bearing in mind the results of the poll on wealth, I can’t see that we’re going to come up with an easy answer to this that suits everyone.

    I think I’m going to go for the Mercantile system – or at least include those as the base rules. When we run through the playtests, I’ll be more thorough at both handing out gold and making you spend it. We’ll see how onorous a task it is, an what solutions the players come up with. I seem to remember that it Jack’s game we always used to have a party kitty.

    As for adjudicating ludicrous wealth… I don’t really know. Generally in D&D all characters are supposed to start with the same amount of available gold. However, I don’t see why the game mechanics should be any barrier to good character background. But if I’m going to implement something approaching a mercantile system, then someone with a vast fortune has an enormous advantage.

    I would prefer not to use feats and talents for things like wealth, possessions or contacts because all these things are ephemeral. I would prefer it if a PC knew that when he took a feat it meant something that would last the entire campaign.

    I think for the playtest we’ll see how it works with no special rules. If it looks as though we need them, then we can invent them then.

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