Fortune 500 – Extreme Wealth in D&D

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on November 3, 2010

Today marks our 500th post. When we’ve hit significant milestones at Dungeon’s Master in the past we’ve tried to relate the number of that milestone into that article. Our 100th post was a list of 100 Great Things About D&D. For our 300th post Wimwick and I each created King Leonidas from the movie 300. Post 404 was all about Errors I’ve Made as a DM. When I was trying to come up with a subject to tie in to our 500th post I kept thinking of the Fortune 500 – a list of the most wealthy and profitable companies in the U.S. From there it wasn’t much of a leap to start thinking about extreme wealth in D&D.

From level 1 PCs are a cut above normal people. They are the best of the best and as such become adventurers. As they advance in level they become more and more powerful, acquiring treasure, magic items and great wealth in the process. This is how D&D is designed. After all, who wants to play a character that is just average, has no special items and is dirt poor? We play fantasy role-playing games to indulge in our wildest fantasies, and I think it’s fair to say that the vast majority of us dream of being rich.

So we’ve established that the PCs, who are the heroes of the campaign world, are destined to become the most rich and powerful folks in all the land. But until they actually get there who are the richest people in your D&D game?

Think about it. Whether you’re playing in an established world like the Forgotten Realms or Eberron, or if you’re playing in a world you’ve created yourself, who are the 500 wealthiest individuals? Rhyming off the first 25-50 probably isn’t that hard. Begin by listing all the kings, queens, monarchs, and dictators for every major region in your world. Thrown in the most revered and famous heroes and that’s a good start. But after you exhaust this avenue where do you look next? Monsters, that’s where.

Monsters probably possess more individual material wealth than any single person in your campaign world. Dragons serve as the most obvious example. I know when I imagine dragons they’re usually sitting atop giant treasure piles or surrounded by pools of coins and gems. Dragons are greedy hoarders who accumulate over centuries. If it wasn’t for the lure of such immense treasures, adventurers would be a lot less likely to risk their life by fighting dragons at all. How do you think all of those kings became kings? Often they slew the most dangerous monster in the lands and used the treasure to build a castle and set up shop.

In a fantasy setting there are plenty of monsters, like dragons, that have an extremely long lifespan and amass vast riches during their lifetime. Many of these creatures realize that their possessions are likely to attract would-be thieves so they take great pains to hide their wealth and mask their own existence. This is where all the legends and fables come from. But just because a wealthy monster is hard to find shouldn’t discount or eliminate his spot on the top 500 list.

So if we estimate the number of monsters with vast treasure hordes and add that number to the leaders, landowners, and heroes we mentioned above we’re still not anywhere near 500. In order to complete the list we need to start looking at the PCs and see if they’ve entered the Fortune 500.

Eventually PCs will earn enough wealth that they do indeed start to creep into the list of the wealthiest individuals in the world. When this happens they can and likely will have a noticeable impact on the world they live in and the campaign itself. Determining how disruptive such interaction is depends on the player and the DM.

If a group of adventurers defeat a dragon, claim his treasure hoard and then start spending the money freely and recklessly, it can unbalance the economy in the game world. If gold is rare (and valuable) in this part of the world and suddenly the PCs infuse the local towns and villages with vast quantities of golden coins and treasure, they will quickly devalue gold and possible disrupt an otherwise stable economy. Although this is a realistic possibility I doubt I’d worry about his kind of disrupting in my game. But it is interesting to consider these possibilities.

As PCs keep acquiring more and more wealth they will eventually run out of things to buy other than better gear. I know that in my current LFR games I have a character that recently hit the paragon tier, has over 20,000 gp and wants for nothing. He already has excellent gear and equipment. Spending everything to improve his weapon’s enchantment from +2 to +3 is not where I want to spend his money. After a certain level it becomes prohibitively expensive and has little impact on the character. So as I continue playing I keep earning more gold.

Knowing that the rest of my party is in a similar situation, our combined wealth is easily enough to shape and influence a small country. Together we probably have more wealth than many dragons. Eventually our PCs will themselves become targets for upstart and ambitious adventures. Why would anyone fight a dragon when they can try to defeat six adventurers? The reward is at least as good if not better.

When wealthy PCs realize they could become targets of this kind of harassment, the best and easiest way to solve the problem is to spend that cash. But what should they spend it on, other than magic items? Should PCs feel any obligation to be generous and donate the money to worthy causes? I’ve hear it argued that when PCs accumulate a certain amount of wealth they should retire. After all, why would the character risk his life for more money when he can’t possibly spend all of the money he already has?

But if we assume that there are no caps or restrictions on what PCs can earn then lets looking back at our Fortune 500 list for a minute. Is it possible for PCs to ever top that list? Is there, or should there be, an arbitrary line that the PCs should never be able to cross? If so is the limit based on earnings or ranking? Does the DM ensure that a PC never has more than a million gold pieces in wealth or does he simply say that PCs can’t break into the top 50, no matter how much they earn? In essence should there be any limit on what a PC can earn over their adventuring career?

The most powerful magic items in the game cost over a 3 million gold pieces. I find it difficult to imagine a circumstance whereby a PC has access to that kind of wealth at one time. I see these incredibly big numbers not so much as a price tag as mush as an idea. A PC would never walk into a shop and purchase something so expensive, but rather this number merely represents how much more powerful a level 30 item is than similar lower level items. This is pretty much the basis for the magic item rarity rules introduced with D&D Essentials.

I’m all for just rewards. If a PC defeats a dangerous foe then he deserves the spoils that accompany that victory. But eventually the rewards become so astronomical that it creates extreme wealth in very few individuals. Some will argue that as PC fight tougher monsters they should rightly get greater rewards. I’m on the other side of this argument and believe that eventually the PC’s motivation should be bigger than just accumulating wealth. By the time a PC hits epic tier the reason for adventuring should be so important and potentially world-shaping that any monetary reward is inconsequential.

What are your thoughts on extreme wealth in D&D? I’m, not just talking about treasure bundles, but the massive accumulation of wealth that can eventually be game-changing and possibly even game-breaking? Should PCs be allowed to amass as much wealth as possible or should it eventually be capped? Do you think that a PC should ever be able to top the Fortune 500 list in any campaign world?

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Chris November 3, 2010 at 12:14 pm

Back in 1e days the goal of most players I knew was to accumulate enough wealth to construct a personal castle or keep. I have good memories of my high level thief finally having enough gold to afford a small walled keep with a single tower, stables, barrack, etc. Plus I had to pay for the monthly upkeep and salary for all the henchmen, hirelings and men-at-arms. This keep became the HQ for a thieves guild, which provided the revenue I needed to make it mostly self sustaining after the initial start-up costs. It was a blast to work with the DM to create this achievement. We even had a couple sessions focused on defending the keep from groups of raiding goblins/orcs.

2 Brian November 3, 2010 at 1:56 pm

I’m with the previous poster – why not give PCs an option to build a keep or buy some land? After all, in your article, you noted that some kings come to power by buying some land and building a castle. This could be a great avenue for the PCs to shape the game world politically.

Even if they don’t manage to establish a “country” with political boundaries, it seems inevitable that at the very least a village or town would spring up around a fortified castle – that’s how it happened in medieval times, anyway. Hopefully the PCs would feel a duty to protect those people, were they threatened in some way.

Buying land and building a castle is not cheap, nor is the upkeep thereof. This could be a way for the DM to continue rewarding the PCs treasure as normal, yet turn their cash into political power instead of a new shiny.

3 Tourq November 3, 2010 at 7:17 pm

I agree with the previous two commenters about establishing strongholds of some sort. I remember this concept from back in the day of AD&D, but back then, I was too young to implement it properly (or we just never got that high of level). -It was actually quite fun when we we did this about six months ago, but I think that half of our group would have preferred to just get better gear.

However, I guess (in general) that I have a problem with character wealth as a whole. It seems that in most games, the entire purpose of wealth is to buy better gear, in order to get more wealth, in order to buy better gear, in order to…

Show me a movie where fantasy heroes became millionaires and kept adventuring, and I show you a humbled gamer.

Nice article. I don’t usually read articles word-for-word, but yours kept my attention.
Tourq´s last blog post ..Favorite Site of the Month – Nov-2010

4 Etherrider November 3, 2010 at 11:43 pm

Great write up! I enjoyed reading this as it adds empahsis to something that many people overlook at times. Gods, how I do remember those heady days in the late 70′s and 80′s when my group looked at me and said, “we open the chest….how much gold is in it?” and ahow deflated they looked if I had to reveal that the kobald chief had 12 SPs and 105 CPs.

I too loved working towards building a keep and forging a kingdom as a sort of end game for a character. Heck that is what drew me to Birthright was in its domain system and our campaign revolved around how those types of character might adventure and what would be important to them.

@Tourq – Might not be a movie, but in the new novel Gauntlegrym Bruenor Battlehammer gives up being the uber dwarf king and goes on a final adventure to find the lost dwarven city….that may be a possible example, but yes I cannot think of any other good examples.

5 Noumenon November 4, 2010 at 7:36 am

Cool article. I have no worry about the PCs getting “too much” or unbalancing wealth — it’s just like Final Fantasy money to me, I don’t worry about whether hoarding all the gil is causing deflation in the Zanarkand real estate market. I’m not a simulator.

But I really love the idea of a Fortune 500 including monsters. It gives them personality, starts rivalries, lets the players ask “where do they get all that power? Let’s go there.”

6 Dalrec November 4, 2010 at 12:09 pm

Loved the article – my group and I have started a new dark sun campaign for 4e and its shaping to.be interesting enough as is, but I’ll be suggesting scaled back monetary rewards (though our DM is very receptive and inventive already)

7 Dave Wainio November 10, 2010 at 12:05 am

I’m just starting a 4E campaign (after 25+ years of gaming in various systems) and the economy of my world was one of the first things I took a hard look at compared to the magic item prices and treasure lists for 4E. I quickly determined that the players would be able to change the local economy of a town by around 6th level, a county by 10th, and a kingdom by 15th or so. Heck, an entire warship had the same value as something like a 6th level magic item.

Who needs to track all those huge numbers. I halved the magic item costs (ritual components and consumable alchemy items as well), tinkered with the armor costs a bit (and added a few) based on the historic values of a sword against a scale mail coat in about the 1500s, and then planned on halving the DMG recommened treasures. (althought at 1st level I am going closer to “regular” treaure amounts).

I get the same planned scaling the game designers planned on for characters buying items with the economy challenging gold hordes accumulating much later.

8 Acheron November 17, 2010 at 4:03 pm

Very nice article, but I suspect when high level comes (haven’t had the chance of playing a character beyond 11th), rewards could go very attached to, what many posters and myself seem to agree, in lands, being landlords, maybe even leading an army themselves to expand their lands, many ways to go there, it could get them a keep for them to guard their treasures and since they learn how fast the money changes of hand, in the dragon killing quests, well they could easily spend a big portion of the treasure in better protections for safe keeping them.

Also when the numbers go to millions, what about going looking for the persons that sells you (at an abysmal price) the true name of persons? The more powerful the person the more expensive the name, or instead of a simple keep what about buying a colossal stone gate that takes you to your own 8 mile by 8 mile plane? Don’t know I think when you’re getting to the 16-20 or + levels now the rewords could definitely be world-changing instead of more 0 to the sum.

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