Thursday, September 29, 2016

Guest Post: Why the Economy Sucks in the SSI Gold Box Games (Part 2)

The second of two parts dealing with my most frequent complaint among the Gold Box titles.


Why the Economy Sucks in the SSI Gold Box Games
Part 2: No Money Sinks and a Real-Life "Monty Haul"
by OldWowBastard

In the first part of this article, we considered the frequent claim that SSI was forced, either by contractual obligation or personal preference, to adapt AD&D first edition rules literally. We saw that SSI, in fact, made numerous changes to AD&D rules in other aspects of gameplay. Here, we look at decisions made to the economy specifically that resulted in a hopelessly broken aspect of gameplay.

My Pools of Darkness party has specifically not been picking up any money the entire game, and they still have all of this.

1.9. Changes to training rules and costs

Training costs in the Gold Box games are massively reduced from the arguably broken rules presented as written in the AD&D 1st edition DMG. As written, training cost is based on a per-week, per-character level fee. This is the formula:

-1500 gp X current character level X number of weeks trained = Training cost.

Number of weeks required is based on a stat invented just for this purpose; the “how well did this player play their class” stat. As written, the DM is instructed to assign a value of 1-4 to a character every time XP is assigned, 1 meaning they played their class perfectly, 4 meaning they did not.

When a character has enough XP to level, they are supposed to average that score out to find the number of weeks required to train; so in a perfect world this would be a minimum of one week, but would generally average more than one.

Please note the costs derived from said formula do not reflect the costs charged by the entity training the character. These are material costs associated with training; the rules clearly state that. So in an imperfect world, these fees would be larger than written, as you have to pay for your trainer’s time.

Now, as written, these rules are fairly interesting. I’m assuming this is unintentional and more due to an improperly thought-out system than any intentional design. In their true form, it is incredibly expensive to train at lower levels--to the point that in many cases you would never have enough gold to pay for training, despite having enough XP.

This table offers a breakdown of the XP required to train as a thief, along with the gold cost if you’ve played optimally and only need to train for a single week. You see the gap between what the thief would have on hand versus what they’d need to spend, in the last column.
Current Level
Total XP earned
XP to next level
GP to Train Current
Spent on Training
XP/Gold Gap

A 1st level thief needs 250 more gold than XP to train to second level under optimal conditions. A starting Thief needs to earn 2500 xp total to get up to third level, but would need to have earned a total of 4500gp to train to that point.

Since a character earns 1 xp, per gp earned, a level 1 thief that could afford to train level 2 would have 20% more XP than needed to gain that level. A Thief with just enough XP to level could not afford to pay for training, even if every point of XP they obtained was via gold acquisition, as opposed to any coming from actually killing a monster.

These rules, as written, would completely solve the “broken” economy, albeit in the wrong direction.

Clerics and thieves, who have lower xp requirements to level, would often need the monetary assistance of characters with higher XP requirements, to afford leveling. This would peak around level 5, and go away by level 7 or so. Characters with higher XP requirements would, at best, be able to train when they earned the xp to, but would literally spend every piece of gold they had doing so.

You would essentially end up burning all of your party’s gold just on training, up until level 7 or so. In many cases, you’d have to make the choice of which character to level across an entire party, and would likely often have characters with enough xp to level, but not enough gold to train them.

This all assumes the bare minimum training costs, and optimal PC play. If your training modifier ever goes above 1, the whole system breaks even more as your “break even” point of cumulative training cost vs xp required moves substantially. Even a 1.5 multiplier drastically exacerbates the gaps above; a Thief that has a 1.5 multiplier to train levels 2 and 3 would have spent 6750 total, which brings our xp/gold gap from 2000 to 4750. Since a multiplier can go as high as 4, it’s pretty obvious this system was never “mathed out” for balance purposes.

As the Gold Box changed this to a flat 1000gp fee, this potential money pit was avoided. This is a bit unfortunate, as the mechanic could have been adjusted slightly (e.g. make the base 1000gp X current level instead of 1500 X current level x number of weeks/player rating) to make training a legitimate way to force the player to spend money.

And Pools of Darkness makes it worse by not charging for training at all.
2.0. Overall distribution of treasure

As mentioned briefly in the first part, the AD&D 1st edition rules were heavily derived from OD&D and its supplements, Greyhawk, Blackmoor, Gods, Demi-Gods, and Heroes, and Eldritch Wizardry. Tables utilized in those sources were really a "ol' college try" kind of setup. They were minimally play-tested before being codified. They were not heavily reviewed prior to publication.

Gygax clearly grew to feel said tables were overgenerous if applied verbatim. 

2.1. Monetary distribution

In the AD&D 1E Dungeon Masters Guide, Gygax details his thoughts on the matter in the sections "Placement of Monetary Treasure" and "Placement of Magic Items" on Pages 91-93. First, he establishes that the treasure values corresponding with those tables is not applicable in general situations:

All monsters would not and should not possess treasure! The TREASURE TYPES gives in the MONSTER MANUAL are optimums and are meant to consider the maximum number of creatures guarding them. Many of the monsters shown as possessing some form of wealth are quite unlikely to have any at all. This is not a contradiction of the rules but an admonition to the DM to not give away too much!

He instructs the DM to convert the bulk of monetary treasure into valuable goods instead, except in those rare cases where hard currency would be the most appropriate. Here he gives an example of what a 2,000 g.p. ogre cache would look like:

There are many copper and silver coins in a large, locked iron chest. There are pewter vessels worth a fair number of silver pieces. An inlaid wooden coffer, worth 100 gold pieces alone, holds a finely wrought silver necklace worth an incredible 350 gold pieces! Food and other provisions…

This continues for several more sentences which are omitted for the sake of brevity. Suffice it to say, a 2000 g.p. ogre hoard was never supposed to consist of raw cash. It was, at least in the example above, supposed to take substantial effort to transport and liquidate, before being converted into gold and XP.
You can see a few examples of this in Pool of Radiance, in the Kovel Mansion area, and in a few other sections, where the PCs end up with tapestries, statues, and other valuables, instead of raw cash. It was really only briefly touched on in the games, and instead treasure was almost always gold, platinum, gems or jewelry. It should be noted that this occurs rarely enough to cause player confusion. An average player would not know said items were there just to sell and might have held onto them, thinking they were some kind of quest items.

Some of the loot from the kobold king in Pool of Radiance. By this time in the game, there's no point in hauling all of these valuables back to the city for sale.
Regardless, following those guidelines it would be nearly impossible for a party of PCs to acquire massive piles of wealth, without substantial logistical effort.

2.1.2. Magic item distribution

In the aforementioned “Placement of Magic Items” section, Gary gives the DM a very severe set of warnings against providing too much magical treasure: “…the placement of magic items is a serious matter. Thoughtless placement of powerful magic items has been the ruination of many a campaign.”

This is a point that could benefit from expanded discussion, but essentially the sense I get, after researching this heavily, is that Gygax knew how unbalanced games became when excessive treasure was provided.

Rob Kuntz, an extremely early and influential play-tester who played the character Robilar, was co-DM on Greyhawk and probably DM'd for Gary more than anyone else. Per his statements to me on the Dragonsfoot Forums, he would explore Gary's Greyhawk dungeon with Elven Boots and a Ring of Invisibility on. This essentially made him immune to any combats he chose not to fight as he was able to move invisible and silently at all times. “I avoided more encounters than I attacked.”
At the end of this Gold Box battle, every slain Fire Knife has a set of magic items. If I bothered to pick them all up and sell them, the loot from this one battle would probably be enough to get through the entire game.
It is my honest belief, after reading about Rob's play style, that a lot of rules in the AD&D DMG were written as a reaction to Rob, and others in Gary’s campaign, breaking the game in this manner.

His discussion on treasure seems to be one of those situations. He boils it down to "don't give them the stuff as written because they'll become TOO rich and powerful and then the game stops being fun to referee."

Gary’s specific guidance on the matter, when discussing magic items towards the onset of a campaign, is as follows: “You never allow more than a single item or grouping (such as 3 magic arrows) to a treasure, nor more treasures with magic items than 1 in 5 to 1 in 10, as this is an initial adventure setting.”

Gateway to the Savage Frontier, for example, gives the party 3 magic items in the first scripted encounter that provides magic items. This is maybe the 5th required encounter in the game, but can be the 2nd or 3rd with proper play or prior knowledge. Not quite in line with the suggestions, clearly.

2.2. Unguarded treasures that do not correspond with the rules

There are tables present in the AD&D 1st Edition DMG that one can roll on to determine the amount, quality and contents of unguarded treasure that has been placed in a dungeon. These tables are modified by dungeon level, as in the original AD&D rules dungeon level was used in a lot of cases as a power indicator. In theory, a DM was supposed to have creatures of levels 1-2 on the first level of a dungeon, 2-4 on the second, and so on.

Unguarded treasures generated by these tables would be larger in lower dungeon levels due to the additional risk required to venture into said areas. A third dungeon level would have a very high risk ratio for level 2 characters, but would, in theory, have rewards commensurate with said risks.

In the SSI Gold Box games, the unguarded treasures, especially in cases where said unguarded treasure is clearly not the "hoard" of a creature you killed nearby, are drastically larger and more valuable than they should be based on their approximate “dungeon level”.

Even in cases where one could argue that the layout of these games demand an overlap of dungeon level/areas you explore there are problems.

Per the table on the 1E DMG p 171, an unguarded treasure would have either 1000 cp/level, 1000 sp/level, 750 ep/level, 250 gp/level, 100 pp/level, 1-4 gems/level, 1 piece of jewelry/level, or a single magic item or grouping of magic items.

In Pool of Radiance, for example, there is a very large, hidden, unguarded treasure in the far northwest corner of the slum area. That slum area is the first area you adventure in and is arguably equivalent to the “first” level of a dungeon. That treasure contains money, a short bow +1 and 20 arrows +1. This would not be possible via the tables as they only allow a single magic item, and both the bow and set of arrows count as separate items.

There is a similar treasure in Sokol Keep, which could be considered the second or third dungeon "level". Again, it contains both money and 4 magic items, a shield +1, Long Sword +1, Chain Mail +1 and Mace +2. That would not be possible with the tables.

It should be noted that the tables are part of the “random dungeon generation” section of the DMG. It would be logically assumed that said tables are supposed to be a guideline despite their being no text evidence directing the DM to respect the results of said tables. So, one could give SSI a pass for not respecting them, as they could be simply considered guidelines.

2.3. Guarded treasures that do not correspond with the rules

There are several treasure caches present in the Gold Box games that cannot be a product of the random determination tables SSI claims they were forced to stick to.

These caches contain either money or magic in quantities that simply are not in line with the values listed for the foes guarding them.

An early example of this is the cache in the Guild hideout in Curse of the Azure Bonds. It contains these magic items:

4 Potions
Dust of Disappearance
Ioun Stone, Deep Red
2 Magic User Scrolls
Long Sword +1
Banded Mail +1

These monsters should have treasure type A, which provides a 30% chance of the foes having a total of 3 magic items. That list included 10 magic items; there is literally no treasure type that could provide that result.

This a consistent problem with many placed treasures. As a result, any clams from SSI that they were forced to follow the rules are simply incorrect.

I should note than the treasures that are randomly generated in the game, e.g. dropped by random encounters, are usually in line with the Monster Manual’s Treasure Type suggestions.
2.4. Magic items possessed by "classed" NPCs

In almost every case, especially by the later entries in each respective series, the magic items possessed by classed NPC enemies are not in line with the equipment they should have.

In Treasures of the Savage Frontier, for example, Black Robed Masters carry Plate Mail +2, Long Swords +2, Shields +2 and Helms +2.

The 1E DMG, pp 224-226 a Fighter classed NPC has a 7% chance per level of having a +1 Long Sword, a 10% chance per level to have a +1 Shield, and a 6% change per level of having +1 Plate Mail.

I cannot find a level on those NPCs, but as the maximum character level in this game is 11-12 we can assume they’re at most 12th level.

They only have a 1% chance per level, plus their chance at the corresponding +1 item, minus 90% (if that sum is above 0) to have a +2 item. For example; a 12th level fighter has a 120% chance to have a +1 shield, 120% - 90% = 30% + (1% * 12) = 42% chance of having a +2 shield. When you math it all up, a 12th level NPC fighter has a 12% chance of possessing Plate Mail +2, a 42% chance of possessing a Shield +2 and a 12% chance of possessing a Long Sword +2. Magic helms weren’t included in the rules as written.

So, at best, 1 in 8 “Black Robed Masters” should have the aforementioned Plate +2 and Sword +2, about 2 in 5 should have a Shield +2. With the rules as written, the remainder would have NO magic items. If you attempt to roll for the +2 item, and come up empty you cannot roll on the +1 item.

So just in this single example you have a NPC magic item possession rate far above what was recommended in the rules. 

2.5. Monty Haul DMing

Gary Gygax spends several paragraphs in the AD&D 1st Edition DMG condemning “Monty Haul” DMs. Monty Hall was a game show host in the 70s, and that pun was used to describe DMs that were more akin to game show hosts than impartial referees.

Several paragraphs are spent explaining that this type of behavior will lead to bored players and broken economies. It is vehement enough that it seems almost as if Gary was calling out a specific person.

A "Monty Haul" after a fire giant battle in Pool of Radiance. There's no way to even begin to carry so much coin.
Essentially, though, one would have to reasonably believe that the discussion regarding this play style was part of the ruleset. Gygax was stating clearly and for the record, that as a DM you need to be careful about distributing treasure. If you did not the players would quickly get bored of acquiring money and magic, your economy would break, and they would lose much of their motivation for playing.

Not only are such ‘Monty Haul’ games a crashing bore for most participants, they are a headache for DMs as well, for the rules of the game do not provide anything for such play – no reasonable opponents, no rewards, nothing! The creative DM can, of course, develop a game which extrapolates from the original to allow such play, but this is a monumental task to accomplish with even passable results, and those attempts I have seen have been uniformly dismal. [1E DMG p. 92]

2.5.1. Who was this mystery man?

Gary Gygax was, per James “Jim” Ward's own admission, basically calling Jim out for his DM style, which per Jim was overly generous. He enjoyed the positive reactions from players and fed off of that.

This exchange from the "Save Or Die Podcast," episode 68, starting at 8:15 or so illustrates Jim’s mentality quite clearly.

Jim Ward: "In my game I had lots of treasure, because I always liked the way people smile when they get treasure. But I was playing in front of Gary Gygax and he scoffed at that notion and started calling me the Monty Haul DM….I took it as a badge of honor…It’s kind of grown up in the world as a bad thing. If you’re a Monty Haul DM you give away way too much treasure and soon your game goes out of control, but in the 30 plus years I’ve been gaming I’ve never had a game go out of control ever."

Jim Wampler [co-host]: "So no matter how loaded up on magic items and weapons the party gets you can still kill em?

Jim Ward: “Well, yeah, kill em or…"

[Jim then gets interrupted by another co-host who provides an anecdote about a Gamma World game she participated, in with Jim Ward GMing,  in which he successfully killed their characters despite allowing them to pick whatever rare/high powered items they wanted.]

Jim actually ended up writing a column for Dragon magazine for a while, detailing the exploits of a fictitious Monty Haul DM and his players. Generally, these were parody columns that joked about the fact that the players of said DM would need to face enormously overpowered foes in order to be legitimately challenged.

So, again, Jim Ward was Monty Haul. He literally was the DM that Gary told you to not be like. The guy who wrote the rules said, almost literally, in the rulebook “don’t DM like Jim Ward.”

2.5.2. Jim goes to California

By the later 1980s, when TSR and SSI started working on the Gold Box games, Gary Gygax no longer worked for the company he founded, and no longer worked on the game he created.

(For more information on that, one should reference this wonderful article by Jon Peterson.)

As a result, when it came time to send someone to work with SSI on the Gold Box games, to coach the SSI team on their usage of the AD&D rules, Gary, the creator of the game was not sent.

In his place, they sent Jim Ward. Monty Haul. He was a well-respected, senior employee, at this point and his affable nature made him a good fit for this type of collaboration.

Now, in a tabletop game DM’d by Jim, excessive treasure distribution was not a problem, per his own statements above. He can still kill you, even if you’ve been showered in treasure. That pile of money won’t save you, that pile of magic items won’t save you. You play smart, or you die.

The least offensive image that came up when I Googled "gold shower."
This unfortunately does not translate to the CRPG version of that ruleset, and minus Jim’s organic DM-ing style, it is very clear that the treasure distribution he instructed SSI to use had a drastically negative impact on the economy of the game.

Jim did a lot of work on Pool of Radiance, outside of his general coaching. He has a co-writer credit on the pen and paper module used as the basis for the game, he co-wrote the novelization as well. [Ed. We later determined that the module was based on the computer game, not the other way around.] By all accounts, he was the primary designer on the module, and the other listed co-writers created specific sub-sections.

It was technically Jim’s job to tell the SSI folks to not use the written tables verbatim.

It was technically Jim’s job to let them know the unguarded caches mentioned above were a bit much.

It was technically Jim’s job to not allow the level 7-8 characters in Pool of Radiance to get items like a +5 Long Sword at the end of the game, thereby forcing the “reset” at the beginning of Curse, when your team loses their equipment.

He clearly did not do the job he needed to do.

Now, in all fairness, Jim was not a game designer that did a lot of work on this type of a closed system. Any product he created at that time, any games he ran, any rules he wrote; were subject to a human interpreter. With written rules, the DM reading them would either make adjustments on the fly, or hack it somehow.

I think that in this case he just did not understand that tuning would matter--that a secondary pass, to review if the numbers lined up, would mean the difference between a post mortem like this, or something that just worked.

So, unfortunately, in his 30 + years of DMing, he did have a game go out of control due to his views on treasure distribution--several, in fact. Every Gold Box game.

I do want to note that by all accounts Jim is an incredibly affable fellow. Every interview I’ve read, or heard, that he’s participated in has really painted him as a super nice guy. It just seems like he lacked the experience to make the right call here.

3. A complete lack of money sinks, or, what they conveniently left out

For whatever reason, a majority of the rules included in AD&D 1E, that could have allowed players to meaningfully spend the money they acquired, were omitted in the SSI Gold Box games.

These items encompassed everything from hiring support personnel, to building a fiefdom, and were by all accounts very core to the intended play style of the rule set.

3.1. Building a team

As mentioned earlier, the rules of AD&D 1st edition are often derived from the OD&D rules. In many cases, the rules of OD&D were heavily influenced by Gygax's players, and based on historical anecdotes he definitely shaped his game around their play style.

In most cases, his players were wargamers: folks that enjoyed nothing more than commanding armies of soldiers in both board and sand table wargames. As a result, many of them wanted to build small armies around their PCs, both for personal protection and eventual conquest.

They also built a personal retinue for another simple reason: if one cannot survive in a dungeon alone, but one wants the lion's share of the treasure from a dungeon location, why drag along other PCs who will want an equal share? Hire some meat shields, give them a cut of some sort, and get on with it.

To add to this, in AD&D 1st edition, as written, XP is only given for treasure that is successfully found and returned to "civilization" of some sort. Simply finding the treasure, and subsequently ditching it, leaving it behind or having it stolen, does not qualify one for an XP reward. [Ed: This is, of course, another rule dropped by SSI. Experience is rewarded when you find treasure, even if you leave it on the ground, as you typically do after the 6th hour of campaigning.]

This made essential the role of hired bag carriers, teamsters with wagons, and similar NPCs. In 1E, coins weigh 1/10 of a lb per coin. 10,000 gp would weigh 1,000 lbs. You’d clearly need people and equipment to move that.

Since characters often fought and explored in the complete darkness of a dungeon, and one obviously needs to have both hands free for fighting, spell casting, bow use, or other tasks, the role of torch bearer is a required addition to any dungeon expedition.

As a result, there are very robust and detailed systems in AD&D 1st edition to deal with the acquisition, maintenance, and loyalty of henchmen (secondary player characters), hirelings (untrained 0 level NPCs like torch bearers and teamsters) and specialists, such as sages that the party hires to acquire information or identify magical items.

3.1.1. Henchmen

In early AD&D and OD&D, there was, at least at Gary's game, a rule of one PC per player. This appears to have been somewhat strictly enforced. In order to work around this somewhat, while still maintaining "gameplay" of some sort, the henchman role was added to OD&D.

Essentially, a henchman is a secondary player character that is hired by a player character, after being recruited and diced for. There is a decent amount of random determination included in the acquisition and creation of a henchman so the resulting hired character will often be further out of control of the PC's player, in terms of initial generation, then a PC would be. There's also a decent chance that a PC attempting to hire a henchman will be unsuccessful based on a number of factors including PC level and size of the town one is recruiting in.

However, once a Henchman is hired, he essentially becomes a secondary PC for the player that “controls” them. Outside of extreme circumstances, they generally would be under the control of that player, unless the player did something very out of character for said henchman (e.g. "henchman, charge that dragon to buy us time while I go get backup") In those cases the DM would make a loyalty check and the henchman would act based on the results.

Henchmen needed the following from PCs:

1) A share of treasure equal to one half of a PC's share. A party with two henchmen and three PCs would split a treasure into fourths, each PC would get a fourth, the remaining fourth would be split evenly amongst the henchmen.

2) Room and board. This would be a minimal cost, but is required.

3) Equipment and training costs. This would be a bit more substantial.

It was assumed that upon a PCs death, the player could swap to a henchman and either make that his or her new PC, or work to recover the PC for resurrection. PCs would generally "play" their henchmen during sessions; albeit with the restriction that actions not in-character for a henchman would be prohibited or would result in some loss of morale for the henchman.

In many cases, characters had multiple henchmen. Gygax's character, Mordenkainen, had 4 or 5.

Characters with high charisma, who could easily maintain a large number of henchmen, often would, to the detriment of their wallets.

Due to the requirements above, henchmen were fairly expensive to maintain, in terms of overall party costs. A team of PCs that comprises 6 PCs and 6 henchmen would see each PC's share cut to 2/3rds of what it would be without the henchmen. That additional share, plus the upkeep cost of henchmen, conspired to lessen the purse of many PCs.

I miss the hirelings from Pool of Radiance.
It should be noted that Pool of Radiance did allow your team to recruit followers that would each take a treasure and experience share, akin to henchmen. Unlike a pen and paper game, however, you were limited to a maximum of 2 total henchmen in a 6 player party.

A more accurate experience would involve 1-3 henchmen per Player Character, by level 5 or so, for a total party size of 12-24.

3.1.2. Hirelings

Hirelings, unlike henchmen, would not receive an actual share of treasure, but were instead paid a daily or monthly wage. Also, unlike henchmen, hirelings are entirely considered NPCs and are always under the control of the DM.

Lastly, unlike henchmen, hirelings are often hired in very large quantities as they generally cannot advance past 0 level, and are usually hired as a labor force, or as grunts.

A standard party would need at least 2-3 torch bearers at lower levels, a few folks to cart gold back to town with, and maybe a few 0 level man at arms to either assist in the dungeon, or to protect the other hirelings on the surface.

As characters gain levels, and decide to build and man strongholds, their personnel needs would obviously increase. Hundreds of expert craftsmen to build a castle or cathedral. Hundreds of troops to properly man and fortify a holding.

Rules are codified for all of this, and as it takes a fortune to pay and feed an army, it can become a money sink like no other.

These rules were omitted in the Gold Box games. 

3.1.3. Sages

Magical item identification in AD&D 1st edition is a bit of a mixed bag. Potions can be identified by taking a sip. There is an Identify spell introduced, but it is extremely limited in scope and ability.

Bards are able to discern the attributes of unknown items in some manner as well, but bards are absurdly rare, nearly impossible to make as a PC, and only the higher level ones have a solid chance of success.

As a result, the rules assumed Sages would be hired by PCs in order to identify the traits and abilities of found items that were determined to be magical in nature via "Detect Magic."  A character would deposit the item with a trusted sage, pay a healthy fee determined by the DM, and wait a DM-chosen amount of time for the sage to complete his or her work.

This in theory would allow to very cleanly control money supply. "Sorry, this sage says it will be 30,000 gp to identify this incredibly rare and powerful item you have brought him. Oh you only have 32,000 gp. That terrible….”

In contrast to this, in the Gold Box games the party can simply wander into any store and pay 200 gold to immediately identify any item. That ability simply did not exist in AD&D 1st edition as written. Its inclusion retools the process of identifying magical items from a very difficult and expensive one to an incredibly simple and inexpensive one.

Even worse, they seem to have reduced it to 100 gold by the time of Pools of Darkness.
3.1.4. Granted followers
In AD&D 1st Edition rules, most classes are granted a large number of followers at or around 9th level or 10th level, dependent on class.

These followers tend to reflect the class they are assigned to.

Fighters get a large number of men at arms, a small group of leaders for those men, and a few special troops as personal guards. Clerics receive a similar contingent of religious devotees to guard the churches or temples that they build. Rangers receive a set of nature-based followers: animals, woodland spirits, and so on.

A character is generally responsible for the upkeep of these followers, which could become quite expensive when one includes room, board, feed, and equipment. In the case of the fighter’s granted troops, one would need to add, at a minimum, several blacksmiths, armorers, and farriers to the roster, just to keep the equipment of said troops in good order.

Granted followers were omitted completely from the Gold Box games.

3.2. Strongholds and fortifications

As mentioned above, PCs would spend a dramatic amount of money building and staffing strongholds and fortifications. A PC can choose to spend anywhere from tens of thousands to millions of GP just building the fortification. Then one has to pay for staffing and maintenance and upkeep.

Often, characters high enough level to build strongholds would own enough valuable items that they need their own strongholds to house them safely, and armies to protect them. When your PCs have a few hundred thousand GP in gems, jewelry, and assorted coin at their disposal, it becomes quite difficult to find and maintain adequate safe locations to house all that wealth.

Despite potentially having serfs on the land they control, PCs would gain minimal amounts of money from actually holding and maintaining any sort of domain or stronghold. As a result, these fortifications and their associated staff of hundreds quickly become a money sink and a motivation to adventure and acquire money.

In a lot of ways, strongholds are the biggest “money sink” included in the original game. A player could feasibly spend his entire career up until 9th level just saving money to build a stronghold.

Upkeep costs, especially when staff-related expenses are taken into account, would be quite heavy--large enough to force a lazy semi-retired adventurer out in search of a dragon hoard or two just to keep up with the bills.

To frame this in a “real world” scenario, how much more money would your average worker have if any and all of his housing costs vanished tomorrow? Most folks would seem drastically overpaid. This omission drastically unbalances the economy of the game.

 4.0. Conclusion

With all of the data above in mind, it becomes exceedingly clear why the economies in the SSI Gold Box games are so broken.

Many of the rules in the game are only referee-able by a human, and require an organic brain in order to run properly. Many of the rules, as written, require human interpretation in order to “work” in a real scenario. Most of the major money sinks were removed.

SSI was adapting a rule set that was written in a disjointed manner and had an accepted playstyle that, in actual practice, generally comprised a sampling of random rules from several, slightly different, rule sets. In reality the rule set they were adapting was something that was honestly never executed “properly” outside of official tournaments. Even then, the accuracy of their implementation was rarely in the 90%+ range.

In addition, the person assigned to adapt these rules had no desire to create a balanced economy in the process of adaptation, and was, in his own words, philosophically opposed to the balance the creator of the game attempted to build into it.

It was built to spill. Tuning would have been trivial, and the implementation of spell components, increased training costs, realistic item identification costs, and either a henchman/hireling or “stronghold” system would have easily bled off that extra cash.

As-is the “meat” of the games, exploration, and combat, are quite enjoyable, so the weakness of this particular facet is excusable.


Chet here for some final thoughts. First of all, I thank OldWowBastard for this incredibly well-researched article that at least tripled my knowledge of tabletop D&D.

I also echo his last statement: these are fantastic games, as their places on my list of "highest rated" titles clearly demonstrate. It's primarily because of how good they were in other areas that the failure to adequately implement this one facet of gameplay is so frustrating.

Many of the ways that SSI could have "fixed" the economy, either by adhering to the original rules or creating their own, would have added significantly to game development time, complexity, disk space, memory, and other "hard" considerations. I wouldn't really have expected them to include hirelings or strongholds, for instance, or even an item-breakage-and-repair system.
Note that by the time of Pools of Darkness, treasure and experience do seem more divorced from each other than in earlier games.
But there are numerous other fixes that would have worked within their existing programming. Bastard covers a few above. My "master list" of such potential fixes would include:

1. Increased costs for training.

2. Higher costs for staying at inns, especially for the multiple days it takes higher-level characters to memorize all spells.

3. Higher costs for item identification, perhaps tied to character level.

4. Roaming healers. In most of the games, the only places to pay for healing are found in towns, when you're perfectly safe to rest at your leisure.

5. Bribing wandering monsters to disappear.

6. Transportation costs. It must require mounts, equipment, and food to gallop around the Moonsea. Having each trip cost a reasonable amount of money would add a tactical element to the otherwise-easy decision whether to frequently return to "home base" for healing, item identification, training, and so forth.

7. Magical items that you actually want to buy. Make them incredibly expensive; I don't care. If at the end of Secret of the Silver Blades, the party combined its amassed gold for the entire game and was just barely able to afford a Girdle of Giant Strength, it would be a much better economy.

8. Eliminate the rule that you lose a point of constitution on successful resurrection. With that rule in place, no one pays for resurrection. They reload.

9. Mimic the "spell components" system by draining money for every spell cast. You'd think twice about spamming "Fireball" in late-game battles.

10. Allow spellcasters to buy specific, named spells instead of just scrolls where they don't know what they're going to get.

11. And, of course, just offer less treasure in general. You could grant each party a tenth of the treasure found in each game and they'd still have more than enough. 
I hope this two-part article has been informative, and that overall you're satisfied with the first "guest post" on the CRPG Addict. I'll think about offering posts from other commenters in the future!


  1. Do you know if anyone has patched originals to fix this "economy sucks" thing?
    I guess no. So, i am pretty sure someone could implement these last fixes in a patch release some newer more interesting versions?

    BTW, HUGE and GREAT two-part article. Congratulations the author!

  2. Thank you again for extending the offer to write this guest column sir!

    I did want to point out an error I made in 2.4 with two data points, that I was not able to correct before submission. It makes more sense to correct it here, as it's a fairly minor point, in a rather extensive argument.

    1) I misread the Fighter's chance per level to have a magical longsword, and accidentally used the value for Druid, which is right above it. Fighters have a 10% chance per level to have a +1 longsword, equal to a shield.

    2) If the role for a +2 item is failed, after a successful roll for a +1 item, the NPC would still get the +1 item.

    So, TL;DR, my "summary" paragraph for that section should read:

    "So, at best, 1 in 8 “Black Robed Masters” should have the aforementioned Plate +2, about 2 in 5 should have a Shield +2, 2 in 5 would have a Long Sword +2. With the rules as written, the remainder would have +1 Long Swords, and Shields. About 1 in 8 would not have magical armor, the remainder would have Plate +1."

  3. The "Monty Haul" problem is hugely common in cRPGs and computer gaming in general. Recent Bethesda games, Diablo and the like almost turn it into it's own game mechanic. Of course they do often provide money sinks, but not always. Players like to receive rewards, and the more often the better it seems!

    1. There is nothing wrong with giving players what they like, after they earn it. I have played AD&D with a "Gygaxian" DM who was very tight on treasure and that took a lot of fun out of the game. Item upgrades are part of character progress - and progress is a huge motivation.
      It is just a matter of balancing and also variety. Gold Box games mostly have boring blank +x items. There are lots of interesting magic items in the manual, but very few of them are in the computer games - supposedly because that would be too complex to code - there are so many effects where you have to code reactions to into the game.

    2. I think the idea of massive amounts of "loot" as feature, not a bug began with Diablo, permeated most other action RPGs, and then starting influencing other RPGs as well. The last game I played like that was Marvel Heroes... there's something wrong to me about punching Venom in the face and having him explode like a pinata.

      It does seem to be a comment on human psychology since you would think developers would not continue making loot-focused games if they weren't popular with players. It's like games have become virtual Skinner boxes.

    3. I completely agree that many modern games overload on loot. It becomes overwhelming, particularly when you come into the game hard-wired with an old-school mentality that you have to pick up every magical item. My main house in Skyrim was a veritable hoarder's paradise, with hundreds of items I would never end up using (I encourage you to watch the parody youtube videos if you haven't done so yet).

      I would much prefer if Bethesda handed out one tenth or one twentieth the items it does and just focused on making the items interesting. Spare me the "increase frost resistance by 5%" potions and just make something useful and unique (I know, easier said than done). A game I'm playing now that does this very well is Lords of Xulima. Recommended for the old farts.

    4. I like what they have done in Fallout 4, where most of the stuff I collect and COULD sell for money is better stashed in various settlements and used to build things. I never know when a new upgrade I unlock will need nuclear material, or if I'll have enough oil to build the turret array I want in my new settlement.

  4. Bioware seemed to have a good grasp of the broken Gold Box economy when they designed their Infinity Engine games. From memory, I think that they implemented at least #7 (Expensive Magic Items), #8 (Buying specific scrolls to get new spells), and #11 (Less treasure) in the Baldur's Gate series, along with needing to raise money to finish certain quests, restoring strongholds, etc.

    When I think back to the modules that I played when I played AD&D, nearly all of them awarded treasure in the Monty Haul style rather than the Scrooge style of Gygax. One series in particular, the Scourge of the Slave Lords, *minor spoiler warning*, took all of the party's treasure from them two or three times during the course of the campaign, probably to keep the party's power levels low enough for the next adventure much as Curse of the Azure Bonds did.

  5. I don't think housing and having personnel does add anything to AD&D and nothing of that would have improved Gold Box games. In the end, it's just a chore to force a player to manage staff and do other clerk stuff. I never understood the appeal of that.
    It also subtracts a lot from the heroism of your party if you use subcontractors. If you already play a party of 6 people, why have another few sub-members around you? The temporary henchmen are just right.

    That is just a part of realism a game should leave out, the same as going to the toilet or filling out tax forms.

    A money sink for the sake of having a money sink, without a proper concept to add fun, depth, strategy or anything to the game is just bad design.
    Rather throw less money around.

    1. Wasn't it the Addict himself who wrote an article about heroes like Siegfried or Beowulf letting his henchmen and buddies do the heavy lifting while landing the killing blow for their own glory? Or was it another RPG blogger? I forget. Somebody wrote about it.

    2. Oops, hit send.
      As stated in part 1, building a stronghold an all that was part of the sandbox style of play and maintenance of that stronghold gave the players a reason to do their adventuring. They could eventually become kings themselves and even have to quell rebellions led by feisty murder-hobos like thy once were.
      Even Conan was a king every now and then.

    3. The sandbox style surely has its merits, but that's a different thing when playing pen&paper over months or even years. A gold box game represents a single adventure and that shouldn't be enough to accumulate that much wealth.

      If adventuring was such a well-paying job that you could run a huge stronghold (on a huge deficit), nobody would be a farmer. People would be adventurers or earn money by providing ressources for adventurers.
      There is be the question why the baddies are so rich that by obtaining their stuff, you could be their lord or king... Sooner or later, somebody wouldn't kill them for their loot, but find a way to cooperate, trade or do something else. A "killing monsters for loot"-economy is no stable base for even the weirdest fantasy world. It makes no sense at all.

    4. Pillars of Eternity has a huge money sink stronghold that is basically pointless. If it didn;t have it though, you'd be swimming in money after the second dungeon, rather than the 8th.

    5. "If adventuring was such a well-paying job that you could run a huge stronghold (on a huge deficit), nobody would be a farmer."

      Sure they would. Not everyone is up for the dangerous life of an adventurer. Not everyone has the sort of wanderlust. Some people just want a simple, honest, hard working life of a farmer.

    6. Being a farmer is a low risk, low income, secure job. If being an enterpreneur was such a well-paying job...

    7. Still adventuring would have a far larger impact on economy than D&D simulates. It's not only about adventuring itself, but also an economy around..

      You can compare that to professional sports nowadays - there are some athletes who earn a lot of money, but there also much more managers, reainers, consultans, therapists, advertisers and many other occupations who make their living around sports without actually doing the sports by themselves.
      Adventuring creates a multitude of the wealth of sports, so there would be a multitude of jobs around that as well.

    8. There is a comic in Order of the Stick where a small town changes all price signs when the heroes enter:

    9. Having your town occupied by an evil overlord, who decided to build his very own dungeon in it, is like getting selected to host the Olympics.

    10. It really depends on the tone of the game as well. Having lots of henchmen and hirelings goes well with a DM who's difficulty rating is calibrated to "an average of 1 PC death per session".

  6. Both Secret of the Silver Blades and Pools of Darkness have story reasons, it would seem, to not charge for training. I agree that it hurts the economy, but I can see the reasons. It also explains why Gateway brought back the 1000 g.p. cost again. Frankly, when I play Pool of Radiance, I use the temples as well as the training halls. In both Pool and Secret, I have used bribery, albeit rarely. Secret's problem also is the excessive amount of magic gear. Between the Black Circle's gear and the stuff you find in the ruins, mines etc. it takes effort to sort it all out and know what to use, or sell etc. I have even considered making a house rule that certain treasure caches would be "tainted" and thus reduce the load. Thank O.W.B. for detailing the background. You write very well and your command of the subject is impressive.

  7. As Andy_Panthor, sucinum, and Vonotar point out, lots of other games do this now.

    I think they probably gave out the loot because they had money staked on this and thought the players, who after all were 12-15 year old boys, would like it. Balance and realism in D&D were the concerns of guys in their 20s and 30s trying to kill long Midwestern winters. (I am convinced that D&D is a product of the American Upper Midwest just as the American comic book is a product of Lower East Side early-20th-century Jewish-American culture, and someday a good book by some NPR type will be written about this.) Teenage boys want to be powerful, like Superman or Batman. Levelling up to level 6 or 8 in a few weeks of play rather than years is part of that. Imagine how excited 13-year-old boys were to find a *long sword +5* on the body of some random B-villain, and what they told their D&D-playing friends in their mom's basement the next Saturday. Nice ad for the game, eh? SSI had sunk a huge amount of money into Pool--it was one of the first games to have a team approach, with separate people doing graphics, sound, etc. and they had to make it back, which meant pleasing their customers, not some bearded sage in Lake Geneva. They wanted to move product, and that meant letting players get rich and powerful.

    There's also the fact that unlike modern products such as Baldur's Gate, where the company has a reasonable chance it will be making another game, doing AD&D in a computer game was something of an experiment. There was no guarantee when they made Pool there would be a next game--compare it with Champions of Krynn, where there's a Dragonlance (because this is Dragonlance) but nothing else above +2 or so, and Gateway to the Savage Frontier, where none of the items (unless you count Vaalgamon's loot at the end) are above +2 (except for the +3 platemail on the shambling mounds which may or may not be a mistake)...with the exception of the +3 Sword of Stonecutting, which requires a sidequest. So it made sense to toss in the most powerful items, because this might be the only time they made a computer D&D game.

    What do you think?

  8. Here's an idea: Instead of raising your own castles and hirelings, etc. have levies for the city you're working for. Dump 10k gold into Phlan's treasury, and they hire enough guards to eliminate annoying random encounters in X region. Continue until you've spent all your money restoring law and order to the Moonsea. Dole out gameplay-negligible but good-feeling-inducing titles to the party to reward them for their contributions. Maybe add a branched ending for players who end the game with a very strong army at their backs?

  9. Great pair of articles. Can't wait for the Addict to experience the one honest money sink in the entire (non UA) gold box series in Dark Queen of Krynn. The only problem being it was a money sink linked to the previous game.

  10. It gives me great pleasure to hear someone tear E. Gary Gygax's dumb ideas apart. You have no idea how baffled 10 year old me was reading the DMG. There were all these rules, like paying for leveling, thrown in and never referenced again. There was no way I was going to figure out how to play a multi-class character and roll for hit points. I thought it was me who was too stupid to understand these rules that clearly everyone else understood.

    "don't give them the stuff as written because they'll become TOO rich and powerful and then the game stops being fun to referee."

    GAAAH. If you're not supposed to give them the stuff that's written then why is it written? I want to follow a set of rules, not improv my own freeform RPG. I'm a kid, I don't know what I'm doing! Sheesh.

    "It is my honest belief, after reading about Rob's play style, that a lot of rules in the AD&D DMG were written as a reaction to Rob, and others in Gary’s campaign, breaking the game in this manner."

    LOL. Yeah, that explains a lot. On one hand: total munchkin. On the other hand, munchkins hadn't really arrived yet. Ol' Rob was a wargamer, and in wargaming you seek every possible advantage for yourself as part and parcel of the game. Why wouldn't you maneuver your troops so as to take advantage of the +1 die roll modifier for charging down a slope? And since OD&D was just wargaming at the single person level, why not take every advantage that exists in the rules? It's what rules are there for!

    "In my game I had lots of treasure, because I always liked the way people smile when they get treasure."

    GAAAH. It's all about THE FEELS. Sheesh. Make players work for it, that way they appreciate it! Going for the cheap feels. Sheesh. Well, players certainly weren't smiling when they left haul after haul of platinum and gems lying on the ground.

    As far as logistics, oxcarts etc., remember that people used to view AD&D as a medieval life simulation. You had to do everything, and players appreciated the versimmlitude. Today it's regarded as horrifying, but back then people enjoyed re-creating medieval history.

    I remember the "stocking a dungeon" rules as well. Did anyone ever create a playable random dungeon generator, using the AD&D rules as written?

    1. "You have no idea how baffled 10 year old me was reading the DMG. There were all these rules, like paying for leveling, thrown in and never referenced again. There was no way I was going to figure out how to play a multi-class character and roll for hit points. I thought it was me who was too stupid to understand these rules that clearly everyone else understood. "

      I had the *exact* same experience.

      Fast forward to ~15 years later when I realized, reading internet forum posts, that *no one* *ever* played it by the book, because the "book" is inconsistent.

    2. Yes, I used the random generator. I soloed a character for fun, and sometimes it gave ideas on dungeon creation.

    3. Yes, EGG was often silly and partisan about the "right way" of doing things. And would then say in the next paragraph that there was "no right way" and that you the DM are the master of your domain lol. Still gotta give him credit he's due, for his same passion about the hobby itself lived in his prose and transferred to the players as well.

    4. In the (rather limited) world of RPG theory, there's actually a distinction between gamist (make the game fun), narrativist (make the game a compelling story), and simulationist (make the game realistic) approaches to RPG. Obviously most people use a mix of all 3 but it is useful in thinking about tradeoffs in game design.

    5. Me and my gaming mates tried D&D in our teens when it came out.

      After a few games, I decided to make an RPG system myself. Because, it seems like we've been doing it all the time in a D&D game anyway.

  11. This makes me think of the RPG Barbarians of Lemuria, a game with a very strong Conanesque swords and sorcery vibe, and how it deals with treasure. It encourages you to throw huge piles of gold and jewels at your players, but before their next session they have to describe how they blew it all in exchange for XP. They might even spend some of it on treasure maps or links to further adventures.

    Obviously that's a game with a very specific feel, trying to capture the old stories where the barbarian hero always started out without any of the vast wealth he should have had from the last adventure. It wouldn't feel right for more realistic games, but I thought it was a clever way of getting around this problem. I'm not sure it would work in a video game that didn't have discrete adventures, though.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. "It encourages you to throw huge piles of gold and jewels at your players, but before their next session they have to describe how they blew it all in exchange for XP."

      Interestingly enough, in Arneson's Blackmoor campaign, a predecessor to OD&D, players had to spend the money they earned, in order to gain XP for it.

      He was a big Conan fan, and as you mentioned, it seems that he included that game mechanic to somewhat mimic that trope.

    3. "I spent it all on whiskey and whores!" - No. 1 most used reason.

  12. The idea that X suggests above is brilliant. I would gladly have dropped thousands of gold pieces into the clerk's hands in order to eliminate random encounters in some areas, and it would have added to the feel that you were actually reclaiming the city.

    Much further along, making the teleporters in Secret function on a gem-sacrifice economy like the Well they surround does would have done a lot of things:

    - a reason to keep collecting treasure and trade it for gems in town
    - a lot more balance around resting (don't want to just fight one battle and then pop back to the Well to rest)
    - a reason for the functional gem-mining stations in the mines to exist

  13. Monty Hall, as a host, was as likely to talk contestants out of their prizes and leave them with something undesirable instead. A DM actually behaving like that wouldn't be causing economic problems constantly, Gygax must not have ever actually watched Let's Make A Deal.

  14. Loved the article and thanks again Addict for allowing this guest post. My only issue with it is the assumption that the game's broken economy was for not "playing by the book" -- the tables given in the DMG seem to me to make 1st-2nd level play impossible to get out of, given that XP was tied to the modest treasure rewards at those levels. It always struck 10-year-old me as impossible to get out of 1st level.

  15. it was the haphazard approach to a lot of things in 1E that made me and my pals switch to BXCMI. Even when 2E came out, the robust nature of BXCMI made it a far more fun system to play with.

    I mean, It established quite well what sort of gameplay you were reasonably expected to play at each stage of your character's growth, and hell, even came up with a way to 'win' (become one of the true gods above Immortals) if you so chose.

    Not to mention the fact that the Known World collection that so much of the world was based on was incredibly robust and fun. All the Gazetteers, the Creature Crucibles, the Hollow World, and so on just made it so rich and fun to play in.

    Man, now I wish I had all my old Gazetteers.

  16. BX and BECMI have withstood the test of time far better than AD&D. 'Basic' as it was called is a super robust system that distills classic D&D down to its most fun, playable form. Nobody wanted to play it back in the day though - we were all too old for Basic, we thought. The laugh was that most groups were playing Basic, only with the classes, spells, monsters and other trappings from AD&D bolted on.

    It should also be noted that even Gygax never (or rarely) played AD&D as written. A lot of the unworkable, complicated stuff from AD&D, like psionics, was stuff he was pressured to include by others.

    I feel like a lot of what doesn't work in old school D&D comes down to playstyle. D&D is terrible for story driven gaming. It really is, and a lot of the changes made over the editions have been an effort to make it work in that context. Old school D&D works at its best as an exploration game, particularly dungeon exploration, and even more particularly when the DM has multiple playing groups exploring the same massive dungeon. That was Gygax's first campaign, and it makes so much sense of a lot of seemingly nonsensical rules.

  17. OWB - This is a question I've been wondering a while, and maybe you have the answer:

    What sort of level advancement rate did Gygax expect from D&D games? A level per adventure? A level per five adventures? The answer interests me, partly because it determines how effective dual-classing is. ie dual-classing is OP in goldbox as leveling takes zero time and can usually be done halfway through a quest, but would be pretty much useless in a situation where everyone was gaining a level per adventure.

  18. As someone who owns all the rule books for AD&D 2nd Edition, this was a very interesting and enjoyable read. I can see where the 2nd Edition rules attempted to address the inconsistencies of the previous one, though the explosion of supplementary material for 2nd Edition likely caused their own issues.

    1. Yeah I always thought 2nd ed was barely updated - what I've learned was that the most important update was that it was now a legible gaming system

  19. There is a fundamental game balance problem between realistic simulation and reasonable economics. You want to give a reasonable challenge to a player who has fought 20 battles and acquired a few magical items. If that player only has a few opponents in a battle, they will have to be similarly equipped to the player to be challenging. So far, so good, but...

    Let's say you've balanced the players' 2 or 3 magic items each with 1 or 2 better magic items on each enemy. The players win. You didn't destroy most of the magical equipment because magic item destruction isn't fun for players. So now everybody has an upgrade or two. After another 20 battles, the players are equipped well enough to fight demigods.

    In "real life", a champion might fight 2 or 3 duels, and might participate in 5 significant battles. In a D&D game, we compress that experience. Players fight far more battles, and gain experience and treasure from most of them. Over an adventuring lifetime, a hero could end up weighed down like the white knight in Through the Lookin Glass.

    1. In the Baldur's Gate games, finding an enemy party is exciting for exactly that reason, but unless it's done really judiciously, you'll end up with the problems you point out.

      I don't think you need to give players the enemy's tools every time. Yes, it's less realistic, but it is really difficult to sustain if you have a lot of weapon wielding combatants - and it makes players return back to stores 5 times during a quest to sell all the valuables.

    2. You can also have them fight drow with their self-destructing / temporary magical weaponry. Wands with low numbers of charges are good too. But players complain about it, a lot, if over-used.

  20. I'm an old hand at BECMI D&D and AD&D 1st edition, so although a lot of this was familiar to me, I still enjoyed reading this well done article immensely. Becoming name level (9th/10th) and setting up a thieves guild/keep/tower/church along with rules for followers and gaining noble titles can be a lot of fun.

  21. One of the major balancing factors in Gygax's games, at least to hear him tell it in the pages of Dragon Magazine, was encumbrance. You could only carry a realistic amount, so if you found an entire chest of coins, it was hard getting it back to town. Experienced parties learned to take the time to sort out the valuable gold and platinum and leave the silver and copper coins, but doing so would trigger a random monster roll. Also, treasure didn't stay around: If you left treasure you found, another monster would take it. If you lug a ton of heavy stuff back slowly, that makes more noise and again, more random monster rolls (which are unlikely to have treasure themselves.)

  22. D&D is high fantasy. I think it's a stylistic, valid choice to hand our far more gold and jewels than the players can ever conceivably use. They're part of the scenery, like farmers and merchants and bazaars. Truly valuable things cannot be bought, they have to be fought hard for as per genre conventions. Money could just as well be simplified completely out of the game. If you want to invoke the feel of high fantasy, concentrate on the fantastic. Money is mundane.

    Lord of the Rings is the definitive high fantasy work. Wouldn't you think it in bad taste if hobbits went to barter away their mithril mails for gold? What use did Gandalf have for gold? Not to mention that everyone who covets the ring and doesn't resist its siren call is destroyed.

    The Gold Box games got this right, even if it was accidental. Wealth is not the motivating factor in the quest to reveal the mysteries of Forgotten Realms. Instead it is adventure for adventures sake. Doing the right things because they are the right things. I say this is part of the charm of the setting. It's not a flaw, it elevates the experience beyond almost all other games of the era.

    1. That's fine if you're not interested in that aspect of gameplay, but some of us find the "resource management" aspect of RPGs fun, and that's conveyed primarily through the game's economy. Role-playing is a system of making decisions, and when you give players so much gold that they can buy anything in the game, whenever they want to buy it, you're taking away the opportunity for a set of decisions.

  23. A late comment, but relevant I think. A CRPG has to give significant progress in 50 or so hours, compared to weeks or months for a "live" campaign. Excessive amounts of treasure is the only way to give enough xp to advance in such a short time and keep within the letter of the rules. Later games gave "quest xp", probably in an attempt to fix this somewhat.

    1. That, I am afraid, is nonsense.

      Yes, a CRPG does tend to be a lot shorter in real-time terms than a tabletop campaign, this is primarily because play goes far faster. A combat in many TTRPGS that could easily take an hour to complete will take ten minutes or less in a CRPG. Even the most dialog heavy CRPG will take nowhere near as long for a conversation as a TTRPG game where half a dozen players try to figure out what questions to ask and what answers to give.

      A ~50 hour CRPG is effectively identical in scope to months or even years of TTRPG campaigning.

    2. Don't be so harsh, Gnoman. It's not "nonsense." This argument has been made before, and some what accurately, for the Gold Box games. The problem is, it's an explanation, not an excuse. There's no reason that SSI had to tie experience points to treasure. There's no reason they couldn't have implemented "quest xp" earlier in the series' life cycle, or just increased the xp given by higher-level monsters without regard to how much treasure they carried.

  24. This two part post was excellent and insightful. It explains a lot about how boring the economy became after you got your part about a tenth of the way through the game. I would just leave loads and loads of treasure behind.

    I didn't know the original rules had items make saving throws against a fireball spell. Personally, I think this would have been a perfect addition to the Gold Box system, since a computer could handle the rule minutiae of performing all the saving throws for all those items the enemy possessed. This could have prevented a lot of fireball spamming in conjunction with the addition of more economy rule tightening suggestions that CRPGAddict mentions. I know I would probably have given more care consideration about using a fireball during certain combats that I thought might have contained some juicy loot. Of course, sometimes it wouldn't matter as much because some encounters you don't care about or some big encounters had a "treasure" cache located after the battle.

    Also, if amount of treasure is kept the same in the GB series, I really think I would have enjoyed the aspect of adding the ability to own land and manage dumping treasure into maintaining a stronghold with followers. I know that might have detracted from the adventure side of the RPG, but it would have been fun to incorporate this into the series somehow. It would have been cool to see your treasure turn into an army that could have gone up against the big bad or help distract the big bad's army for you to go in and finish them off like the ending of PoR and CoAtB.

  25. One conspicuous problems with CRPGs generally is that they ignore the fact that economies outside of the players' own possessions exist.
    Like, suppose I go out into the ruins of Old Verdigis, beat up a few Black Circle encounters, and come back to the New Verdigris Armoury with 20 or so Bracers AC 6. The proprieter of this "rather barren" shop will cheerfully take them off my hands for 6000GP apiece, a transaction that raises a lot of questions. Where is all of this money coming from, in the depressed economy of a monster-beset mining town? What benefit will the shop owner derive from these insanely expensive and high-prestige items? They don't even try to ever sell them back to me, and it's unlikely someone else with more than 6000GP is going to come along and buy them at a markup later on (besides, anyone else who has 6000GP in walking-around money can probably go out to the ruins of Old Verdigris and beat up their own Black Circle mages, if they want some).

    To the extent problems like this arise in either live-DM games or the real world, they're resolved by making it essentially impossible to liquidate high-value items unless you are in an area where the local economy could reasonably absorb them. Like, if I walk into a real-world economically depressed small town shop trying to sell an original Faberge egg (or item of comparable value and rarity), I will meet with either (a) a flat refusal to buy it at all, or (b) an offer which is several orders of magnitude below a reasonably acceptable price.

    Historically, the disparity between apparent local economy and shop resources is most hilariously skewed in JRPGs, where the protagonists often move from a prologue in a thriving city with inexplicably low-level gear to a late game in hinterlants with crazy-powerful weapons for sale. It makes absolutely no economic sense that in the big city your choices of purchases are all sub-100GP mundane weapons, and that in the monster-beset postapocalyptic bivouaced community you can buy your fill of million-GP legendary gear, but that's basically a stereotypicial progression of JRPG towns.

    The one game I know that does this right is Nethack, where shopkeepers will buy all sorts of stuff off of you, but when they run out of gold, they offer you store credit instead, which is nontransferable to other shops and makes about as much sense as anything else does as a shopkeeper's response to you trying to sell more stuff to them than they can reasonably take.

    1. This is a great take for a longer article. Bethesda games in general seem to attempt to model some of the complexities of economies by giving shopkeepers fixed amounts of money; if you want them to have more for regular purchases, you have to invest in their shops. I'd like to see more complexities of this nature, such as items losing value the more of them enter circulation.

    2. Fallout: Tactics features economically-minded shopkeepers. If they have no M16s, they'll buy them at full price. If they already have 10 in stock, they might pay you half-price. You'll get barely more for selling 50 than you would for selling 25.

      In general, I think there are some concessions to economic realities that CRPGs can acknowledge, they just have to be careful of creating too much busywork. It's no different from considerations relating to inventory. You can have realistic weight and volume limits, which will increase immersion, but it might not be much fun. I think the typical middle ground of 'wildly inaccurate but not infinite' backpack space is probably fine.

    3. I'm brought to mind of Shenmue 3, a game which has a substantial "Grind for money" mechanic where your character literally has to go out and get day jobs completely unrelated to the main plot purely to earn not just money for plot-related expenses, but just plain old room and board.
      A loophole was discovered whereby a series of optimized trades at the second-hand stores could leave the player flush with cash. It didn't exactly make grinding for money trivial - you still needed to haul goods back and forth one inventory-load at a time - but you no longer had to quadruple the length of the game (a game with a generous but real time limit) because you were devoting 8 hours of every in-game day to the box-stacking minigame.
      The developers promptly patched out the economic imbalance that let you make significant amounts of money by selling used books. They did not like the idea of anyone completing the game without spending months as a day-laborer.

    4. As I recall from many years ago, Icewind Dale decreases the value of things the more of them you sell. Which was really annoying if you didn't want to spend a bunch of time making sure every gem of the same type was on the same character before you went to sell them.

      Also: What the heck. I'm logged in here on my laptop after years away and can post just fine. Whereas on my desktop, with all the same Firefox extensions I have to copy the URL over to chrome each time and post from there.

    5. I think Baldur's Gate did that, too, but in a very brutish way. It was something like they just halved the sale value once you sold two of anything.

    6. I was curious about this, and turns out you're almost exactly correct -- at least in BG2, each item you sell reduces the value of future sales by 1/6, down to a floor of 4/6 of the base price (most vendors start out buying at the base price, but apparently there are a few that start out at like 8/6). Gems and jewelry aren't subject to depreciation though.

      More on topic, I've actually been playing some Unlimited Adventures modules recently, and it's notable that these user-made scenarios tend to have *even fewer* money sinks than the official SSI games while generally retaining the giant money hauls to keep the XP progression moving.

    7. Thank you for reminding me! Oddly even though I've played way more BG1 and BG1:EE then I ever did IWD, I still remember the IWD manual warning you about goblin battleaxes specifically.


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