How to Blow PC Loot?

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0533

A Brief Word From Johnn

Crimson Dawn Season Two

In case you missed it, season two of Crimson Dawn, a zombiepocalypse campaign by RPT blogger Jenette Downing, started up recently.

Here’s how Jenette describes her campaign:

= The Wave =

It was the fall of humanity, the rise of the undead, and what would become one of the Darkest of Winters.

For a small group of survivors on the Happy Trails Horse ranch, the end of the world is the beginning of their adventure. They search for salvation in the frozen north.

Their harrowing journey across the rotting remnants of what used to be America is made all the more difficult by a young child and pregnant woman within their group, and the realization that even in a land of the dead, the living is the worst enemy.

= The Cast =

  • Riley, a Gulf War veteran and communications specialist, now the group’s medic and sole source of military strategy. Can his training and discipline lead them to salvation?
  • Jessy, once the proud owner of Hannaford’s department store chain, now the sole surviving relative of his 12-year-old nephew. Can his wisdom and dogged determination see them to safety?
  • Renee, former Hollywood action movie star and sensational martial artist. Will her athletic prowess and worldly experience be enough to keep the group alive?
  • Heather, a southern cowgirl and dog trainer who’s no stranger to six guns and rodeos. Will her western skills and loyal canine companions prove an effective combination?

Join them as they seek a safe haven within the chaos, and discover the most import part of being human, is hanging onto your humanity even when all hope is lost.

Crimson Dawn, a new hope for the future with a promise of salvation, and dangerous plan to turn back a den of evil that has plagued a peaceful community for far too long. The groups loyalty will be tested, their determination challenged, and their quest for salvation, ended.

You can find the entire campaign to date chronicled at

Congrats to The First Round of Magic Item Contest Winners

Adam C. won the Player’s Guide for Aces and Eights and Fantasy Craft Core Rulebook from Crafty Games.

Scrasamax at Strolen’s Citadel won AstroSynethesis 3.0.

Jason B. won a PDF of his choice at the Kobold Quarterly store.

Next prize draw is November 21, so be sure get your entries in.

To enter, follow this 3 Minute Magic Item template to create a magic item and then email your magic item creation to [email protected]

  • Awesome Name
  • Appearance
  • Benefit
  • Drawback
  • Lore
  • Twist

Multiple entries are welcome, and give you more chances to win.

Thanks to Gator Games for sponsoring this contest!

How to Blow PC Loot?

Last week I posted a reader request to help a GM’s PCs part ways with their money.

I received a bunch of responses, so thanks very much!

Following are just two responses. More to come in future issues.

Here Cometh the Taxman

From Jack Butler

The first thing that came to mind when I read the question was, “Well, are they current with their taxes?” No self- respecting local warlord is going to let wealthy people just sit there and keep all their money when there are legal ways to part with it.

And you don’t even have to get overly-strict with it. Do they own real estate? Then a property tax. Are they an “independent mercenary force” (meaning, do they operate on their own rather than as vassals of the local noble)? Then a license/charter in which to do so, plus a sword tax.

Do they live near a bridge? Maintenance taxes. Within a walled city? Maintenance taxes.

Again, don’t be taxing them just to tax them. Actually give the taxes a purpose they can swallow and they’ll go along with it.

As for things they can invest in, how about businesses? Have them become partners in a workshop that makes left-handed orange widgets? Anything that is expensive to make and expensive to sell, so they are breaking even, but prestigious to own so everyone wants one.

Or race horses. Or a merchant ship cargo, either as an investor or as an insurance bettor (that’s how insurance got started, after all).

Have a religious figure they admire? Hit them up for a contribution to put a new roof on the local orphanage. Or maybe to build an orphanage in the first place. Or a hospital, or a madhouse. Or a school.

In like mean, how about tithes to the church? If there is an established religion in the area, you’d better believe that tithing will be mandatory (i.e., just another form of taxes).

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Focus On Character, With A Capital C

From Lee Barklam

The distinguishing feature of role-playing games for me is that, unlike computer games (even those billed as role-playing games), the characters do not wander around accruing gold for the sole purpose of purchasing more and better equipment, magic and land.

In role-playing games, characters have families, hobbies, goals, backgrounds and obligations beyond simply guarding the next caravan, killing the next dragon or plundering the next dungeon.

So, if the characters have mountains of gold, the first question to ask is whether this is actually a problem:

1. If the PCs’ motives for adventuring revolve around massing wealth, then maybe the campaign has reached its logical conclusion and the characters are ready to retire, making way for some fresh-faced new characters with their own dreams and ambitions to fulfil (which may or may not also be to retire stinking rich!).

After all, why continue to risk your own life if you have enough money to retire to a lifetime of decadent comfort?

2. If the PCs’ motives are nobler than simple greed, maybe it’s time to stop accounting for every coin.

From now on, just assume the PCs have enough to cover any mundane expense (up to, and including, purchasing new castles).

No more do they need to waste time erasing a handful of silver coins from their character sheets when they replenish new arrows, bribe a town official or reupholster their thrones.

From now own, role-playing time can be spent focusing on the story, the social and military interactions between PCs and NPCs, etc.

Typically, a GM has a thousand tools at his disposal to relinquish characters of their surplus wealth – taxes, tolls, tithes, fines, training costs, fires, pirates, guild dues, wages, bribes, thefts, corruption and even armies of metal-eating ants flooding their treasuries while they sleep.

In fact, a GM’s duplicitous tactics for extolling cash and goods from characters are as endless as he is imaginative. However, none of these mechanisms will fill a player with pride, achievement or wonder.

Instead, players will often grumble and sulk if they feel their hard-gotten gains are frivolously consumed by random events over which they have no control. What was the point of killing the dragon and taking his treasure if it all disappears in taxes, thefts and the bellies of hungry insects?

Where role-playing games come into their own is when the PCs are more than just numbers on a sheet. If the PCs have backgrounds, personalities and their own wants and desires, through good roleplaying and a little encouragement from the GM, the players will gladly spend their wealth and feel good about it in the process:

  • Did the character leave the family business\farm to become an adventurer? Is that business now suffering from the character’s absence?
  • Is the character courting or does he otherwise have a loved one to keep sweet while he is off risking life and limb?
  • Is the character sentimentally attached to a place (i.e. shrine, village, home) that could benefit from a donation of arms or armor (or perhaps just silver) to help protect it from marauders or bandits?
  • Does the character’s church need a new roof or altar?
  • Does the character have any family that wants to join an adventuring profession but just needs some ‘getting started’ equipment before striking out on his own? What else are the character’s family up to that their famous\wealthy relative might be able to help them with?
  • Does a guild\society, of which the character is a member, require some assistance lobbying nobles, merchants or other politicians?
  • What hobbies, interests or goals not related to the campaign, profession or the game affect the character’s decisions? These could include social or cultural events (sporting events, theatre, poetry, recitations) and support (financial or otherwise) for family, charities and friend’s endeavors.

The PCs may be the greatest of the great, the most moral and virtuous in all the land.

They should want to open orphanages and sanctuaries, sponsor theatrical and competitive events, and erect statues to their noble forebears who fell in the same battle against evil and tyranny in which the characters now find themselves.

Hopefully, the next time a character finds a couple of solid silver candlesticks, he won’t think to sell them to buy some new gauntlets. Instead, he will imagine how great they will look on the altar of the church his cousin is founding in the Pagan Lands.

Also, adventures should not always be a source of wealth – they can also be the drain on it.

Not all adventures have to be around thwarting the machinations of the Lords of the Undead (and taking their loot) or holding at bay the demonic hordes from the Blistering Gateway (and taking their loot).

Consider these example scenarios:

  • A village the characters have been helping has a new graf that is now diverting some of this ‘aid’ to his personal projects.
  • A young sorcerer to whom the party sent some scrolls and new robes has been kidnapped and needs rescuing.

(The party could even feel guilty for encouraging or inspiring the naive adventurer to now be in his predicament and want to make reparations to the family.)

  • A church to which the PCs donated some valuable religious artefacts has been looted by bandits.
  • The family farm is suffering after a spate of unusually bad harvests and unseasonal weather. Does it just need a bit of financial support to ride out this bad patch, or is there something more sinister going on?

In pursuing these adventures, the financial costs will far outweigh the financial rewards, but the players will part with their cash and goods and feel good about it in the process. They get to have fun and do not feel swindled by the GM.

If the PCs do not have rich enough backgrounds and personalities to mine for opportunities like the ones above, there are some generic opportunities for the PCs to part with their wealth the GM can offer:

1. Invest in businesses.

2. Invest in expeditions.

3. Outfit a ship with a decent crew and a hold full of trade goods.

The great thing about this is the GM has complete control over when (if ever and with what) the ship returns (and can keep the players on tenterhooks by dropping the occasional rumor into the campaign about ghost ships, pirates and other dangers that might have preyed on their investment…).

4. Sponsor another (junior) adventuring party. GMs can even let the players play out the adventure their characters sponsored as a little distraction.

(Although, the last time I did this, the players double- crossed themselves and ran off with their character’s money and the loot from the adventure!)

5. Commission sculptures, paintings, statues, plays, etc.

6. Set up a network of informants.

7. Enter politics.

8. Renovate slums.

9. The PCs are heroes, after all, and maybe it’s time they gave back to the communities that have harbored, healed and supported them in their successful careers?

10. Sponsor magical (or even non-magical) research.

11. Not just academic or sage research, but sponsor cartographers, diplomats and other explorers.

12. Employ a host of servants to tend to their interests in their absence.

13. Adventurers tend to be away A LOT, leaving their businesses and holdings unprotected and unmanaged.

14. Not just buying property, but constructing it 15. Maybe the PCs don’t want a second-hand castle. Or maybe the one they currently have doesn’t have enough rooms (or enough cellars…) Construction is a long-term and expensive endeavor!

16. Purchase and then keep a rare or exotic animal as a pet.

17. That winged cat they adopted deep in the southernmost jungle can actually only survive on a diet of rare fruits and insects that have to be imported at exorbitant cost.

And they can’t just let it die, because it’s become a status symbol for them.

18. Purchase regular items, but made from fantastic (non- magical) materials (spider’s thread, meteoric iron, etc.).

19. Maybe just as status symbols, or maybe these fantastic materials bestow additional properties to the items from which they are made?

20. Collect antiques and other (non-magical) items with a unique provenance (weapons wielded by great heroes, etc.) – sponsor expeditions to recover them; purchase them from auctions; sponsor public exhibits, etc.

21. Purchase (and possibly become addicted to) rare consumables that cannot be bought on the open market, like coffee.

22. Setting up legacies – parks, monuments, epic ballads.

23. Setting up public services – orphanages, sanitariums, colleges.

24. If it’s possible, purchasing minor noble titles or other titles of status.

Is Reward A Problem?

The problem with characters having a lot of money might not be a problem for the players, but can make it difficult for a GM to be able to reward the characters for an adventure well done.

If this is part of the problem, then there is plenty (in addition to the items above) the GM can offer even the wealthiest of characters as a reward:

  • A day of feasting dedicated in the PCs’ honor
  • Body art, tattoos, piercings, hair styling or other treatment
  • PCs allowed to partake in a cultural ceremony of significance
  • Membership of an exclusive club or guild
  • Information, which could be blueprints, alchemical formulae or other recipes or designs. Or it could be mundane information pertaining to one of the PC’s interests (local history, for example). Consider what value access to the Vatican archives would be to a historian!
  • Training in a unique skill (e.g., harvesting silk)
  • Bestowing a noble title or a position at court.

Consider also that the reward from an adventure could end up costing a character more in financial terms than they gain.

For example, would a character really discard the axe bequeathed to him on his father’s deathbed, used to slay the fell Sorcerer, Nyrrin, freeing his town from slavery, in favor of a seemingly magical axe of dubious provenance, pried from the corrupting hands of an undead crypt guardian?

Maybe. But not before paying to have his heirloom axe mounted and displayed in the family homestead, and paying abbots to sanctify his new axe, removing the mordant taint of undeath that pervades its magical aura.

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Reader Tip Request

How to GM Beginners?

Game master Benjamin C. asks:

I’d like to introduce my wife and a few friends to RPGs, but

I’m rusty and I don’t know how to orient them efficiently.

I played RPGs intensively as a teenager, but with the exception of a couple of fantastic scenarios with a truly excellent GM, I mostly messed around with them by myself. I put them down in 1983 and am only now returning to them.

So, the first issue is I’m not experienced as a GM, and I’ve never played them as an adult.

But the real problem is I need to find a way to introduce my novices to an RPG without spending a lot of time up front rolling up characters with them, explaining all the character attributes and various rules of the game and world.

I can’t simply throw them into combat because my would-be players prefer role-playing and atmosphere, not combat.

As a result, I’m looking at GMing “Call of Cthulhu” and “Rapture: The End of Days,” because they both focus more on atmosphere and suspense than on combat.

CoC, though, is top-heavy with rules – even I am overwhelmed and bored by the rule book, although I see the possibilities.

Rapture is more free-form and explicitly encourages narration from the players. But, it still requires that players make important choices about their characters about their political alignments, personal goals, and so on *before* they start playing.

I see how important those decisions are for player engagement, but if I have to spend much time on this, my wife will be frustrated and checked-out by the time the game actually starts.

Does anyone have any suggestions? Any ideas would be appreciated.

From Johnn:

Hi Benjamin,

That’s great news about playing RPGs again after all those years, and teaching them to others!

I would check out Wushu or FATE. Fudge is another. All are rules-light.



I would also give each player a pre-made character. Save character creation for a future time when your new players are more familiar with RPGs.

Consider giving each character a rough personality, to help players get into character better. If a player wants to play a different personality, no problem, let them use it.

Create a one-shot adventure. Don’t try for a campaign. Try to end the one-shot in the first session. That lets your players experience a whole story and resolution in one sitting. This will create excitement and momentum.

Avoid too much with character goals and development. Let the group story of the one-shot take the spotlight. Get into character goals and other nuances in a future session.

Note that the game system you run in the first session need only be the training wheels’ system. You are free to discuss what players liked and disliked about session #1 and then go a different route for session #2.

RPT readers, do you have any additional advice for Ben? Email your tips to [email protected]

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New GM Advice

What’s new at the blog of Johnn Four and Mike Bourke?

+ Hero Lab for Pathfinder: 7 out of 10, but oh so close!

Ian Gray shares his thoughts on this RPG software.

+ Running the Game I: Creating the Mood

The GM Toolbox series picks up again, this time talking about session atmosphere and GM mood.

+ October Blog Carnival Wrap-up: A cavalcade of posts about goodies

39 articles about making loot part of the plot.

+ Why I Fell In Love with Staves Again After 10 Years (PFRPG)

Staves have not been part of treasure piles in my recent campaigns, which is a travesty. I’m not sure when I stopped using them as treasure or NPC possessions, but that’s going to stop today….

+ Making The Loot Part Of The Plot: The Value Of Magic

How much is a magic item worth? Well, there’s the book value, which can be obtained by cracking open the sourcebook to the relevant page. But that just gives its price – I want to talk about how much it is worth.

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What is its value to its owner?

What’s it worth from a character point of view? The Value of Magic.

+ An excerpt from “A player’s Guide to Legacy Items”

Everything a player needs to know to receive and use a Legacy Item in play.

Part 1:

Part 2: