February 22, 2024

What is gold in an RPG? What is it in your game?

Maybe its as simple as it sounds, unremarkable gold coins to be spent by PCs. Maybe it’s a bit more abstract… Blades in the Dark references it as Coin’ and I’ve always seen 1 Coin as a sack of gold in a very Victorian or almost Wild West sort of style while still also being a metacurrency . These are acceptable to some but I have an interest in numismatics and currency. I’ve spent a lot of time reading and using Luke Gearing’s &&&&&&&&&Treasure book and it does a lot interesting things with currency. As part of the Wolves Upon the Coast setting it decouples Gold for XP successfully and makes treasure and coinage desirable, actionable and novel.

Gold remains the abstraction OSR games deploy to manage experience and advancement. I’m really not into that idea but I do love the idea of Wealth Is What You See. Being able to progress and advance PCs power by splurging on fancy clothes and goods, taking it a step further investing in community, keep, or whatever the PCs prioritize. Gold for XP is a stick more often than a carrot keeping play focused on plundering and delving when there are so many other things to do.

Decoupling Gold from XP enhances players sense of agency and presents options for diegetic progression and power consolidation which encourages domain play well before most games achieve liftoff. Heists, politicking, expeditions and mercantilism yield more interesting results at the table than endless dungeon delving.

Similarly, this post was brought to my attention and I really enjoyed it’s explanation of applicable venues for spending each kind of currency ramping up in a way I find compatible with the Wealth is What You See approach. Silver is for most people to conduct business with, Gold is the domain of… Domain level Play. This aligns with how silver presented in settings like Wolves Upon the Coast and others where silver is the standard.

All of this is to say there are plenty of other avenues to explore surrounding currency and gold, other places to look for adventure beyond go to the next tomb and plunder it for treasure’.

Here are some examples I have deployed in the past:

Taxes & Tariffs - The local authorities see what PCs are doing and need to be paid off or kept at arms length if possible, remunerating the Powers That Be” through the Proper Channels. Becoming enmeshed in local happenings and hired by the same entities or given letters of marque.

Bribes & Gifts - Enhancing or bypassing the above option through backchannel deals and encouraging the corruption of the polity through Improper Channels. These alternative means of establishing relationships can lead to other less desirable gigs carrying some actionable blackmail material.

Tithes & Tributes - The church (s/cults/spiritual guides/religions) requires patronage after the extensive blessings performed there to revive, restore and otherwise serve PC needs. Sometimes invoking the gods and demiurges themselves and bypassing clergy or wonder workers with tribute yields better effects.

Gambling & Wagers - Pouring the PCs new found liquidity into less stable… investments”, either short term or long can deliver dividends and further complications when they inevitably accrue debts. Find a fun and easily resolvable minigame to deploy.

Carousing & Making Merry - Evergreen as always, carousing and its many complications are well documented, ripe with potential character entanglements. The interesting thing here is the exchange of agency from players who almost always get the final say of what their characters do in exchange for potentially unexpected outcomes.

Borrowing & Investing - Banking & stashing wealth is as conspicuous as consuming it with flashy outfits. This ties in with PC Retirement allowing for PCs to get out of the field and focus on other matters. Potentially becoming a part of the Domain a bit later but to greater effect.

Currency Conversion & Redemption - As mentioned at the beginning of this rant, there is value in limiting how currency and gold are spent by PCs, debasing some of that currency and charging for it to be converted. This changes the inherent power of the treasure being spent. Siloing specific coinages into areas or purposes creates interesting branches for PCs to pursue. Perhaps the players are more content sitting on a hoard than traveling to spend it 1:1. Perhaps it simply makes them ripe for robbery.

Wages & Development - Hirelings, Retainers, Squires, and Heirs all need funding to become more skilled. These allies need time away from the party and the dungeons to Get Better at these endeavors and hone their skills, its up to the PCs to foot the bill and enhance their entourage.

Dues & Tolls - Due to any Guilds, Brotherhoods or Associations that might be allied with the PCs, gaining them access to facilities, tools and the right people who might have further connections to leverage.

Fees & Fines - Sometimes PCs end up through no fault of their own on the other side of the law or a faction. It can be beneficial to resolve these issues with coinage instead of other less than savory means. Keeping the peace and preserving a status quo.

Insurance & Indemnity - Expeditions and dungeon delves are a matter of course expensive investments. When the PCs can’t be there as part of the company perhaps it makes more sense to invest in some protection.

Ransoms & Weregilds - Paying off a foe who has the PCs favored NPC, hireling or heir would definitely make some sense after investing in their development. Inversely PCs might need to pay to make things right when their own machinations or kidnapping goes awry.

Alms & Charity - Investing in the community, repairing a ravaged village, restoring a disgraced but beloved NPC have all brought PCs dividends when it comes to social capital, acting as a moral outlet as well for people so inclined.

Patronage & Commissions - Hiring artists to make grand works for the PCs. Commissioning skilled tradespeople to work on projects, weapons, armor, etc. Bespoke spells from sages and the like each of these flexes for the PCs further invest them into the community their domain is in.

Funerals & Memorials - Similar to Patronage & Commissions, friends and foes alike are worth memorializing and lamenting publicly. Its just the inverse position from carousing and making merry, a bit more somber but deeply satisfying.

February 22, 2024