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?