Idea Collection: Draining Money

Posted by The Architect on January - 18 - 2016

gold-gold-goldI must admit I never really thought about money in RPGs until I found the CRPG Addict and CRPGs Revisited sites and their rating category “Economy”. To summarize the Addict, a game would get a high “Economy” rating if there were lots of ways to make money and lots of ways to spend it.

The first part of that statement is usually not a problem; the games that are really stingy with their money are few and far between. The second part is more tricky, as at some point you’re often winning dragons’ hoards and raiding royal treasuries – what would you do with that kind of money, buy an island or four?

Thinking more about it, I realized that up to then, I had taken it for granted that just as I was definitely far more powerful than the general populace at that point – and wanted to feel that way -, I also was bound to be richer – and wanted to feel that way! But extending that line of thought: If there were still high-level challenges for my power, how about high-level challenges for my purse? In Skyrim, I was definitely annoyed that I would collect hundreds of thousands of gold coins, but had nothing useful to do with them. Buying the first house is cool, buying the fifth not so much.

The only games that came to mind that would fit both of those criteria were Might & Magic IV and V, collectively known as the World of Xeen. In the final stages, I would be carrying around something like 50 million gold coins (picture that), yet could have spent all of it on leveling. This would require going to a trainer, who would charge 100,000 gold for leveling in the 100 level range and several million gold in the 200 level range. Now while it was pretty irrelevant how far above an average level of 80 you had trained your party, spending your excess riches this way at least didn’t feel totally useless…

In any case, it made me think about the various ways you could part a party and their money. If you really want to keep the heroes’ purse empty, just increase the recurring costs. The fact that we are used to those being negligible does not have to restrict us here… in Might & Magic III-V, filling the party’s backpacks with food for fourty days would cost you a few hundred coins, almost barely noticeable, whereas the food stand in the desert oasis in Lords of Xulima will charge about 5,000 gold for five days worth of provisions. Pretty greedy, but it’s not like you have a choice.

Recurring costs:

  • Provisions / Rations / Camping supplies / Inn room costs
  • Combat potions (healing / mana)
  • Other regularly needed one-use items (lockpicks, spell reagents, spell scrolls, crafting ingredients)
  • Identify items
  • Repair equipment
  • Training (if necessary, as in the Xeen games)
  • Travels (if there is no quick travel option or easily accessible portal system)
  • Tolls and taxes (a common occurrence in medieval Europe, but rarely found in games. Maybe having to pay each time whenever you enter a city with more heavy weapons than the average blacksmith has in store would be too frustrating?)

One-time costs:

  • New pieces of arms & armor (while you will usually update your equipment regularly, you’ll often do so with items found in dungeons)
  • Enchanting / upgrading items (could technically be included with the above point)
  • Special equipment (you will only need one Magic Compass ever, but that first one you need)
  • Acquiring spells & skills (as opposed to advancing / training them – depends very much on your role-playing system)
  • Housing (both purchasing and advancing your real estate – if we are talking about restoring a ruin to glory, this may add up to quite a sum, as Pillars of Eternity shows)
  • Special costs – whatever you come up with (in Might & Magic V, descending to a certain dungeon area will randomly cost you 280,000 gold; later on, you have the option of deactivating the traps in another dungeon for the low, low cost of 2,000,000 gold – a bargain, right? In a temple of the archdemon of greed, such an offer might even make sense)

There is also another real-world phenomenon that gets seldomly used in games – thieves. Again, there is the chance of player frustration, but only if there is no way of counteracting theft. There might be vaults that safely store large sums of money (even if they don’t pay interest), thief protection spells that should be maintained and so on. Honestly, the usual RPG party has thousands, if not millions of gold pieces in their possession – how exactly does this not attract thieves? The only game I can remember taking this into account is Realms of Arkania – Blade of Destiny, but the Arkanian cut-purses are pretty cute: If your party is running around with hundreds of golden ducats, they steal maybe one or two. My own Bal Karesh has a few thieves as well, but even though the place is called “City of Greed”, they were only added as an afterthought. That’s what you get when you skip this overrated “planning” phase…

Happy crafting!

(Picture: Creative Commons, thao_zyn. Click the picture for a link.)

Categories: Allgemein

4 Responses so far.

  1. I don´t like recurring costs very much, maybe it reminds me too much of what happens to my money in real life 😉
    You mentioned Lords of Xulima in particular, in that game I usually took a few minutes to harvest any edible fruit in the starting area. Just to avoid paying so much gold for the privilege of continuing to play the game (like the good old arcade machines). Especially since there is another gold sink: you can train to get additional skill points and the costs increase every time you do it, almost like Might and Magic. I liked that mechanic much more since it rewarded me for spending my money carefully and prevented me from getting to the point where money doesn´t matter anymore.

  2. The Architect says:

    Hm, I don’t see a difference between the food costs and the training costs in regard to making money matter later on. But there is one real difference I agree I neglected to mention: The food costs feel like you’re forced to spend money, as you describe it (repair costs would fall into a similar category), whereas with the training, you’re paying for something you actively want to do. Just like saving for a new magic sword would feel different from saving to pay for, say, royal taxes on adventurers…

    • Yes, that is basically the essence of it. The player should be looking forward to spend his money. Spend it to get some nice things.

      And when was the last time you thought: “Damn, that was a hard dungeon. I can´t wait to get back to town to see how high my repair bill will be!”

      • The Architect says:

        Let me think… never. (Surprise!) But at a certain point, you have to think about the costs in grander schemes. Take the food costs: They are not only an upkeep cost mechanism. Rather, LoX tried to severely limit resting and increase the appeal of resting in an inn, mainly as a counterpoint to the old Might & Magic games where you could rest anywhere, anytime, and instantly got all HP and SP back. This made inns superfluous and journeys even far away from the home town pretty trivial.

        Now this may be easier on the player, but it also takes away a lot of excitement in my opinion, and it devalues the town as an adventuring place. I like my overland journeys to be a little more dangerous and unpredictable (see the entry in the Library), so I will probably follow the LoX approach at least partially, although a simple limit on rations that can be carried might suffice.

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