The Gold Problem, and Solving it with Rest Variants

This is an immediate follow-up to my most recent post here where I discussed the notion of switching between different modes of resting that changed the exact times while preserving relative time difference. I mostly discussed this in the context of pacing play and also managing your encounter quota. However, those are not the only things the system allows you to achieve, and the ‘6-8 encounters per rest problem’ is not the only one that this system can solve. I wanted to go into a little more depth on some of the other major benefits. Today I’m going to talk about what possibilities this approach to resting opens up in terms of gold expenditure, and how it can help us solve what I call “The Gold Problem”.

The Gold Problem

The Gold Problem is one I think most, if not all, DMs have come across at some point in their campaigns. Strictly speaking it’s not a problem only experienced by DMs, as the problem itself pertains to the PCs accumulating gold, so truly this is a problem that affects everyone at the table.

The problem is, in its simplest terms, that there are more ways in DnD to earn gold than there are to spend it.

Inevitably, it seems, every party is doomed to accumulate so much gold that a) they have no want for more gold and therefore b) cannot be motivated by gold. A common solution that is often touted is to reward characters, especially Tier 2 and higher, with things that aren’t gold. A magical item as a reward for performing a task is a great way to go, but a ranger can only have so many magic bows, and we end up back to square one.

Within this particular framework another commonly touted solution is ‘give them land and titles’. This is a great solution from a thematic perspective, and one I love employing when my party becomes renowned enough that they are consorting with kings and doing favours for royalty. Unfortunately it’s a terrible solution in terms of actual gameplay, because owning land is inherently meaningless unless we build a series of robust systems for what can be done with that land. Matt Colville has obviously attempted to do this somewhat with Strongholds and Followers, but that supplement isn’t without its flaws (no offense meant to Matt Colville) and the reality is most DMs can’t really put in the work required to create such robust systems for their own campaigns. Indeed, it’s a lot of work for what is often not much return. You are creating a gold sink more or less for its own sake, so to avoid it being for its own sake you need to have satisfying rewards for the gold sunk in to the land one owns, and now you’re having to come up with more non-gold rewards for our characters and we’ve essentially come full circle.

The Downtime Problem

This is an additional problem I think many DMs struggle with whether or not they know it. Once again we find ourselves somewhat limited by DnD 5e’s inherent design in that there is no particular definition for what rewards one gets from doing things during downtime, and even then the things that can be done during downtime are somewhat vague and limited. Xanathar’s Guide to Everything sought to adjust this, but I find it went the other direction and became all at once too specific while also being far too generic.

I also do not believe that it is satisfying from a roleplay standpoint. Having your Mastermind Rogue say ‘I’m going to brush knuckles with the aristocracy’ and responding with ‘You learn 1d4 rumours’ is ultimately unsatisfying. Yes we can spice that up with more detail, but the underlying problem is that the rogue has to earn something for whatever it is they’re doing in their downtime, but that means either we have to give them something for minimal input (the player saying ‘I’d like to brush knuckles with the Aristocracy’) or build scenes for them to engage with wherein they are attending parties and interacting with socialites. That’s a whole lot of work, and also a whole lot of time the Rogue is doing a lot of roleplay while everyone else twiddles their thumbs waiting for their ‘turn’ of downtime. It also means we as the DM have to come up with something actually useful or interesting for them to earn.

The Common Element

Here we have two problems. The first is that with Gold we are limited in terms of satisfying rewards, and the other is that with downtime we are limited with an appropriate level of input per reward in downtime. There’s an opportunity here.

I mentioned that this solution leans on the Gritty realism rest variant, or at least the notion of having long rests take a number of days when in the “Overworld State”. Here’s where that part comes in:

Better Ways to Spend Gold When Long Rests Take a Week

We don’t want to have to build a whole new framework of rewards for PCs when they spend their gold during downtime, so let’s lean on what’s already there in the game.

Your Mastermind Rogue wants to pick up the Magic Initiate feat next level? Have them spend a bunch of gold studying at an academy in their downtime. It’s immersive, flavourful, and a great way to keep the PC’s wallets lean until at least late T3 play. The same concept could apply to anyone wanting to take really any feat that implies an expanding of skillset.

A PC wants to earn proficiency in a skill? Have them train in it during their downtime. Work out a formula that suits your campaign. Maybe something like ‘200 gold per long rest, 3 long rests worth of training’. First of all that will take some time, second of all it will take some money, but the outcome is a significant reward that doesn’t require us to build whole new systems of reward just so players have stuff to spend gold on. It also helps us circumvent the issue of a player with enough gold being able to just throw it at trainers to become proficient in every skill, since the time investment involved with Gritty Realism resting makes it non-feasible. While the fighter was training for months on end to become proficient in every skill, the kingdom they were trying to save fell to the Necromancer’s army.

Spending Gold to Facilitate Adventuring When Long Rests Only Happen in Town

This one actually came up in the comments of the last thread, so some folks have already had a preview of what I’m going to talk about here. If long resting takes a solid week of good sleeps and light activity then it’s not really possible to do it in the wilderness. Really PCs have to make sure they can get back to town after dealing with whatever trouble is out in the world. This certainly encourages a sort of ‘radiant quest’ design, but we’re not bound by that if we’re willing to put in just a little bit of legwork.

The PCs have heard about a fantastical treasure in some forgotten tomb a good 2 week’s journey from the closest thing that could be considered civilisation. This is going to be a challenge, and when they can’t truly long rest in the wilderness a mere 2-3 events on the road could dash their plans to dungeon delve before they’re even within a day’s walk from the dungeon.

Here’s where gold comes in. The PCs can hire retainers to travel with them who will, once the party is within a day of the dungeon, establish a sort of ‘base camp’. With the extra manpower, chopping down trees to make palisades and digging out earthworks for defence is suddenly a real possibility. The retainers can also do things like hunt and forage, keep watch, and all sorts of other general maintenance activities that see to it that the PCs are safe and can have their 5 restful days (Long Rest) before making the final push to the dungeon’s entrance where they can begin their delve.

A few days later the party returns from the dungeon, cozies up in the camp for another few days, then begins the journey back home. In this time the retainers might even be heading to and from the now-cleared dungeon to collect loot the players couldn’t carry out with them.

Again adjust formulas as need be, but let’s say it’s 10 gold per day for 5 non-combatant retainers. Two weeks there and two weeks back plus roughly 8 days of rest at the camp puts us at around 350 gold. Between a party of 5 that’s 70 gold apiece. If we assume the party made maybe 100 gold each and some other magical goodies from the delve then they walk away with a reasonable profit. In short, it’s a really great money sink that actually brings them a reward.

It also allows us as DMs to ‘soft gate’ certain things behind a gold cost that start-out adventurers will not be able to afford. That mysterious island the locals all talk about? You’re not going to be able to go there until you’ve earned enough gold to pay the only captain willing to sail there, and he charges a lot of hazard pay.

A Solution and Then Some

Not only do we solve The Gold Problem (or at least significantly delay its effects until early T4 when the PCs are rolling in enough gold to buy a small country), we also create a far more immersive experience for our players.

Why doesn’t the average peasant have dozens of skill proficiencies if they live in a town with every trainer imaginable? Because they can’t afford it. It’s not just a time investment, it’s a gold investment, and not one your average schmo can afford.

Why aren’t all mercenaries effectively adventurers? Because they get paid mostly to stand guard and perform menial labour, they aren’t going to risk their lives on a dungeon delve when they have a family back home to take care of.

Why hasn’t that tomb already been sacked? Because no-one really had both the means to get there while also having the aptitude to explore it.

We also open up an enormous wealth of RP and gameplay opportunities. Maybe one of the retainers has gang connections, and your rogue learns that gang’s particular version of thieves’ cant from him so that he can get in with the gang and have some powerful connections when they get back to town. Maybe a retainer dies on the road and you have to deliver the news to his family when you return to town. Maybe one of the combats on the way home is more about protecting the retainers and the loot they’re carrying than it is about killing the bandits attacking you.

I mentioned the idea of areas and quests being ‘soft gated’ by cost. The PCs can find out about that ship’s captain that will take them to that island ‘for a price…‘ loooooong before they have the means to pay him, and it can become a form of motivation for them to build up their wealth.

Broad Conclusions

I always feel that gold is the biggest motivator for start-out PCs. Indeed, the wealth one can gain from adventuring is far greater than that of even a skilled labourer such as a smith or wainwright. It just comes at a far greater risk. Sure, we can force the PCs to be motivated by other things depending on the circumstances (survival, escape, information, etc), but the best goal is one that is gated by gold. “One day I will avenge my father, but first I need to be able to afford a scrying service so I can find out who murdered him”.

Once the PCs have gold, though, this starts to fall apart. I don’t believe that the solution is to give them things other than gold as rewards, I believe that the solution is to keep gold relevant as a reward. The best way to do this is by having meaningful things for the PCs to spend their gold on. This guide has shown a few ways that you can do that as a DM without having to come up with whole new systems of purchasable goods or ‘money-sinks’ like castles and armies. Indeed, you can do it just by using the Gritty Realism rest variant.

I hope this has given you all some ideas, and I’d love to hear them if it has. There’s a few more of these to come that explore some other opportunities granted by the concept of switching between game states that determine the length of rests. For now, thanks for reading!

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