Friday Favourite: Should PCs Charge Other PCs for Services?

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on August 1, 2014

On Friday we comb through our extensive archives to find an older article that we feel deserves another look. From June 13, 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 characters bring 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 big 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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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 T'zonarin August 3, 2014 at 2:10 am

As a general rule, I kind of believe that it really goes on the gaming dynamic and how mature the players are in working with each other. There is, quite often

Now, as a PC, my character has borrowed gold from another character because he wanted a souped up weapon a bit early, which was of benefit to the party as a whole. But it’s still like asking your buddy who’s in a tight spot to help you out with the rent – you do it out of friendship, but restore it as soon as possible. If certain services come with a high cost, then charging for a service is equitable.

I can definitely see interactions like this affect overall party cohesion. It is up to the players to manage their characters in such a way that they are able to maintain cohesion – so they will adventure together. If the players are not able to do this, then yes, refrain from creating that micro-economy inside a party – except for MAJOR stuff, that is. But in the end, it really is based on how many out-ward pulling strands the party can handle and still stay together.

-Tzo

2 Ozymandias August 13, 2014 at 12:44 pm

“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?”

It’s different because NPCs are purely fictional constructs. The PCs are not. True, the character is fictional, but the player is real. The player is sitting at the table with the other players and the DM. To make the comparison between the PC and the NPC is to ignore the player’s very presence in real life. For this reason, and this reason alone, it should be sufficient to require that players behave like adults and not engage in such churlish behavior (as, for example, demanding payment for services in the middle of combat).

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