Giving & Tithing in D&D

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on April 8, 2013

a-to-z-letters-gMost PCs are rich. I mean crazy rich. Seriously, compare the material wealth of even a level 2 PC to most regular people in any D&D game, the numbers are silly. As the PCs go on more adventures and find more treasure, that PC’s net worth grows exponentially. It doesn’t take long before the heroes have more money than they know what to do with. By the time they reach paragon tier it’s unlikely that they’ll ever be able to spend the riches they’ve earned along the way.

Knowing that PCs earn such tremendous wealth so quickly I’m curious how many players have their PCs give any of their treasure to charity? How much is given to support the local good causes (e.g., homeless shelter, orphanage, down on their luck veterans of war, etc.)? For divine character like Paladins and Clerics, how much of their earnings are tithed to the church? I’m willing to be that for most players the answer is a big fat zero!

Throughout April Dungeon’s Master is participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. The challenge is to write a new article ever day in April, excluding Sundays. That’s 26 articles over the course of the month. To make things even more interesting the title of each article will begin with a different letter of the alphabet. I wasn’t sure if I wanted the “G” in today’s article to be for Greed or Giving. In the end I decided that an article on Giving was a better way to go as it sends a more positive message.

The mechanics of D&D are such that PCs need that material wealth to increase their power base. After all, if everyone else in the party is finding or buying +2 weapons you don’t want to be the only guy stuck with a +1 sword because you couldn’t afford to upgrade. As the monsters get more powerful their defenses increase to account for the PCs’ ever increasing advancement. So a PC who doesn’t upgrade his stuff as he levels up will suffer for it (albeit only by +1 at first).

Designing the mechanics this way it encourages greed. The player may want his character to help the locals and donate some of his wealth to worthy causes, but if it means that he won’t have enough to buy the latest and greatest magical item then forget it – the poor orphans will have to keep living in the house with the leaky roof a little bit longer.

As heroes, one could argue that the PCs have certain moral and social obligations to give to charity. As the PCs level up, stories of their deeds spread. They earn a reputation, for better or worse, and with that comes responsibility. Everyone knows the PCs defeated the menacing monster and that said monster had a sizable treasure horde. The fact that the monster stole most of that treasure from the nearby towns should weigh on the PCs. Yes they earned the treasure by killing the monsters, but do they have an obligation to return any of it back to the inhabitants of the ravaged countryside towns? Obviously the heroes deserve payment so they should keep some of the loot, but do they need to keep it all?

In the case of divine characters there is the question of donating or tithing part of their share to the church. In the original AD&D Players Handbook Paladins were required as part of their class description to “immediately tithe 10% of all income – be it treasure, wages, or whatever – to whatever charitable religious institution of lawful good alignment the Paladin selects.” In this case the idea of charity was part of playing this class. It wasn’t a question of giving or not, it was a question of how much.

Players may argue that it’s up to them to decide how their PC spends his money. The decision to spend, save, or give it away is up to each player on a case by case basis. Demanding that a PC give away any of his possession because the mechanics require him to do so is ludicrous. RPGs are about playing a character the way you want to play him. If you want to play a character that helps other and donated money to worthy causes then that’s up to you. Likewise if you don’t want to give anything away that’s a character choice.

Regardless of how players decide to handle their wealth, DMs should find ways that encourage PCs to help those less fortunate. This is a lot easier if the PCs have a home base or the campaign that revolves around a central location. As soon as the PCs have a familiar locale, the DM can present scenarios where the PCs are called upon to help out. These don’t need to be events that the PCs are even part of, but they should be things that have some impact on the PCs.

For example, while the PCs were off on their last adventure there was a fire in the town. No one was badly hurt but a numerous buildings are in need of repair. A donation from the PCs would allow the locals to have materials shipped in immediately and allow them to hire extra hands to get the work done quickly. How the PCs handle this request will affect how the locals perceive them. If they offer some gold pieces the people will continue to think of them in a good light, if they offer nothing the locals will see them as greedy. This may not seem like a big deal, but a creative DM can reward or penalize the PCs for their actions later in the campaign when they desperately need help from someone in town.

Eventually every PC will acquire so much stuff in the form of coins, gems and magic that they will want for nothing. Because the adventurers put their life in danger every time they go on a quest it seems right that they earn appropriate compensation proportionate to the risk. What they do with that compensation is up to each player. Just because the game mechanics encourage greed don’t dismiss the idea of giving. Helping those who have less is a noble character trait and helps develop an interesting side of a PC’s personality. It also has the added benefit of making those you help more agreeable to return the favour if the need ever arises. So the next time your PCs find a literal dragon’s hoard, think about giving some of it away.

How often do your characters give to charity? Do you ever play divine characters that are required to tithe? What’s the most generous acting of giving your PCs has ever performed? What were the consequences?

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1 Chilly April 8, 2013 at 11:45 am

I played a paladin in the old days and i did tithe! 🙂

When my PCs are asked for help in a reasonable manner they always comply as long as it doesn’t interfere with their goals. Being morally good still seems to be one of the main ideas to shape D&D PCs. Right now I think I would actually welcome some more heinous guy among my PCs, or at least a little more ambiguous, for a change. They do not, however, actively seek to donate to charity.

Thing is, though, that in general I try not to put so much money and stuff at their hands. I always leaned to the realist side and that in my opinion calls for a more balanced approach to economy and for a rather limited supply of magical items. When I read modules I often find it ridiculous how much treasure they have in store for the PCs. Many adventures award hundreds of gold pieces and/or some +1 item even for unimportant low-level encounters. If defeating a bunch of thugs earns you several years’ worth of labor, who would ever do normal work? How is all this wealth generated? Is a +1 sword really worth 2,000 gold pieces? I don’t think so. Not when there’s so many of them around, as the modules suggest.
Of course, you can’t go down the realist road too far, and since it’s so much work to set up your own value system, I just cut the treasure a little and that’s it.

Excellent idea that some of the monster’s treasure should be given back to the victims. Makes me think, where’s all the money from, who were all the victims, etc. I will think about this the next time and try to implement it in the story. I’m also thinking about how it would turn out if the local nobility tried to tax the PCs. I’m sure they would object because they get nothing from the authority, no protection, in fact they are doing their job for them, right? What if the lord insisted? Interesting…

2 Dave April 8, 2013 at 12:04 pm

One of my groups had an agnostic rogue who made it a point to give to charity in the notes and individual activities on the side. He had an orphanage he supported that tied in with his backstory. The rest of the party – the characters AND the players – would make fun of him for being a sticky-fingered stereotypical rogue. But he was the most generous of the bunch, behind their backs, doing it just to do it, not to be noticed. It was an interesting element of that campaign… especially when the villains burned that orphanage down and slaughtered a bunch of kids.

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