Greatest Hits 2011: Should PCs Charge Other PCs for Services?

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on December 16, 2011

While the Dungeon’s Master team enjoys some well-deserved vacation time, we’re breaking out the greatest hits and shining a spotlight on a few of our favourite articles from 2011. We’ve searched for hidden gems that our newer readers might have missed and our long-time readers will enjoy reading again. Enjoy a second look at these greatest hits from Dungeon’s Master.

Although charging for services can have devastating consequences for your game – especially if the demand for payment is completely unexpected – I do think there are ways to make it work. An alternative way to tackle this issue it not to charge PCs for services out of the blue, but to make special arrangements where payment will guarantee services or garnish special treatment.

For example, in a lot of the D&D encounters sessions I ran this year there was only one leader for a party of six or more. With only two Healing Words to go around per encounter the competition for who got healed was pretty fierce. When multiple characters were injured the leader knew he needed to heal someone on his turn but wasn’t usually very picky about who it was. If two character were in equal peril (both bloodied or both unconscious) then it became a coin toss or roll of the dice. But what if one of those PCs made an arrangement with the leader ahead of time? He’s not asking for special treatment, just preferential treatment.

In circumstances where this PCs need is equal to that of another PC, the leader will earn extra compensation if he chooses to heal this PC first. The leader isn’t charging but is willing to accept payment for the service in order to help him decide who to help first. Once the other players learn that the leaders service are for sale they can offer him more lavish rewards or a greater cut of the loot. In this case they are less likely to resent the leader since he’s not charging all-of-a-sudden for healing, nor is he withholding it when needed most. He’s merely letting the PCs determine the way to break the ties. It wasn’t his idea to charge, he’s just taking advantage of the situation his allies created.

It could work.

From June 14, 2011, Dungeon’s Master once again presents: Should PCs Charge Other PCs for Services?

What if, during the heat of combat, when you’re down to your last few hit points and in desperate need of healing, the Cleric only agrees to use Healing Word if you promise to pay him 500 gp? What about a Rogue who won’t disarm and open a locked treasure chest unless he gets half of whatever’s inside it? Should characters be able to charge party members for performing unique services?

Normally this kind of behaviour isn’t tolerated at any D&D table. The game is cooperative and everyone’s supposed to get along. It’s assumed that all character brings something useful to the party dynamic. In the end everyone will contribute as necessary to accomplish the greater objective and by doing so everyone is entitled to an equal share of the spoils. But isn’t it reasonable to assume that every once and a while a PC will feel that what they bring to the table far outweighs that of the others? And in these circumstances is it wrong for them to take advantage of the situation for personal gain?

I must admit that this isn’t something that’s happened in one of my games for a long time. We just assume that all members of the adventuring party are friends and that friends don’t exploit their buddies in this way. Charging in this way is almost seen as taboo in D&D. Yet NPCs and other non-party members charge for their services all the time and no one feels that it’s out of place. Why then is it any different for PCs to charge each other?

Unless the PCs are all long-term friends with an interwoven back-story and common goal it’s reasonable for new members to charge for services. In fact, many adventuring companies will set terms at the beginning of an adventure. The Rogue agrees to join the party for an equal cut of any treasure found along the way and in exchange he’ll provide his services with no additional ad hoc charge.

In circumstances where the PCs are brought together randomly, like in an LFR adventure for example, you’re likely to have six complete strangers at the table. Neither the players nor their PCs have ever met before the events that brought them together for this adventure. In these circumstances why wouldn’t the only leader in the party charge for healing? In fact he’d likely charge more depending on the urgency.

I can already anticipate a lot of strong objections to this kind of play. After all, it’s clearly not how D&D is usually played. However, there’s nothing in the rules against it. Taking this approach will make you a lot more enemies that friends, but if the character you’re playing is a greedy, opportunistic bastard, why not charge?

The danger of charging for services is that once one PC decides to charge everyone else will likely follow suit. It may begin by a leader withholds healing, but next it’s a defender refusing to mark opponents, a controller refusing to push targets away from endangered PCs and a striker refusing to use his bug guns without adequate compensation. It is indeed a slippery slope. Before you know it the PCs are demanding payment from each other not to kill party members while they sleep.

This kind of in-game behaviour in public play is likely to cause the player serious hardship once word gets out. But in a home game where the players all know one another and are willing to accept some unique role-playing hurdles, this kind of experiment might actually be good for the game.

I know at my gaming table everyone feels that they are the most important member of the party. If you’re suddenly forced to pay for everyone’s services, it will become really apparent really fast just how important a defender or controller really is.

Before this kind of play-style is undertaken I strongly encourage the DM and all players to discuss it first. Having one player demand payment out of the blue is likely to get that PCs killed. Sure the wounded PC agrees to pay for healing after the monster is defeated; however, once the foe is down the rest of the party, knowing that they’ll likely be charged the next time they need healing, will (at best) expel the PC from the party or (at worst) kill him where he stands. Neither of these alternatives are appealing for the PC (or player) charging for services, and may cause real life friction.

Putting PCs under this kind of ultimatum when they have no choice but to accept can have even more detrimental effects. If the wounded PC calls the leader’s bluff and refuses to pay for healing will the leader actually let a party member die over a few gp? And if he does how will the rest of the party treat him after the fact?

For the most part I don’t think that PCs should charge each other for services. That being said, I do think there is merit in actually having the conversation in-game and outlining exactly what everyone’s responsibilities are before the campaign gets rolling. It could be something as simple as a conversation at the beginning of the campaign. All party members agreeing that they will carry their weight in and out of combat, helping each other as required, without any additional compensation beyond an equal share of the reward. Doing this early on could eliminate any thoughts that some players may have about suddenly charging other PCs for services.

Have you ever played in a game where PCs charge each other for services? Have you ever had a PC spring this on you at the worst possible moment? How did the rest of the party react to the demand for payment? Did they pay? Did they kill the PC charging afterwards? Do you think that PCs have the right to charge other PCs for their services?

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1 Jacob Y (@DelayedSession) December 16, 2011 at 4:15 pm

I once played a bard with the Enchant Item ritual. I charged PCs the cost of the ritual plus a 10 percent markup on any weapons or equipment they had me make. The party was cool with it, because I asked them about it first, and because I was the only ritual caster in the group and often payed out of my own pocket for other rituals we used. It worked for our group.
Now, admittedly, that’s a much different ballgame than charging for heal-usage. Most powers like that are used on a strategic basis in the campaign I run now: if the striker and the defender are both down, they’d pick based on what monsters were standing and who was being threatened. I think that if paying for spells were initiated in my home game the group would fall apart in bickering and we’d have to abandon it. I’m not sure we have a mature enough dynamic for it. :p

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