Thursday, December 22, 2016

Loot, Consumables, and Profit in DF

Yesterday I posted about treasure. I really meant to just talk about that "Wow, that's a lot of money back now" effect. Or the Dr. Evil problem - "One MILLION dollars!" "Bwahahaha!"

But as often happens, the comments went somewhere else. Specifically, in GURPS Dungeon Fantasy, loot issues.

evileeyore wrote:

"DF 8 is great for covering "weekly upkeep" and discussing how much PCs will need for Upgrades... but it falls down for me on replenishing consumables.

It talks around it, but how much should be out there? Enough to replenish 1/2 their consumables? 100% of them? What if you don't know in adcance whether or not the PCs will even use consumables?*

How do you plan out treasure for an adventure when you don't know how many PCs are coming or what the party will look like? Etc.

* For instance in the DF games I've played in, the PCs have been loathe to even /use/ consumables... which matches my old D&D days expectations. We used them in emergencies and tried very hard to avoid emergencies.
(Link added to DF8 by me, so you can follow along at home!)

My answer is, naturally . . . it depends.

Replenish how many consumables?

I think this depends on a few things - largely what you mean by consumables, the GM's preferences for the campaign, and the PC's use of consumables.

Mundane consumables seem like an easy start - you should provide enough enough to replenish them at the very least, plus potentially make a profit. I think this is a given. If you're giving out so little loot people can't buy rations and arrows and torches, they really need to stop adventuring ASAP.

Magical consumables and miraculous consumables - Alchemist's Fire, Potions of Minor Healing, etc. are the next level up.

If the game you set up as the GM assumes you will use and need to use a lot of consumables and charged/limited/one-use magic items, you'll need to provide either more consumables or more money to buy them.

If your players use consumables a lot and assume the game will include use of lots of consumables, you're going to need to include more loot or more consumables.

If your players hoard consumables and never use them, then this is kind of a moot point. Or not - if players hold on to everything for that one big use all at once for the Big Boss Villain Fight, then you'll need to adjust the BBV for the fight if you don't want it to just drop under a wave of hurled grenade potions and hacked apart by PCs buffed with Agility, Strength, Invisibility, Flight, Invulnerability, etc. etc. etc. potions quaffed by everyone.

If you're writing an adventure for an unknown group, read on.

Treasure for an Unknown Group

evileeyore and thecollaborativegamer asked about this - how do you set treasure if you don't know who you are setting it for?

This is actually what I do.

I set treasure based on . . . well, random rolls. But I built the table for those random rolls to do a few things:

- set treasure based on the perceived risk to gain it.

- set it based on the perceived need for money by the group to gain it.

- put in a larger amount than that.

The last part is so critical I want to examine it first. PCs will not find all of the treasure. They won't realize the full value of everything they find. If the PCs need $100K and you put in $100K, they'll get between $0 and less than $100K out of that and suffer for the lack. It's possible that thanks to skills and advantages they'll realize more, but it's not likely. They'll miss the hidden door, bypass the trapped safe "until next time," kill the loot-less monster and bribe the monster with the hidden stash of gems with the delectable bits of the first monster, and so on. Or they'll take 2-3 sessions and four dead PCs to get what you expected them to get in one session without losses.

It happens.

So you need to put in more than that.

You also need to make the loot commensurate with the risks and costs. This doesn't mean you can't have a broke dragon or a rich goblin, but in general, put more treasure where it requires more work. Put in the monsters and treasure for the area so, on the whole, there is a sufficient amount of loot there to make up for the risk and enough risk to make the loot exciting to get.

How much is that? It depends on your campaign.

In mine, I found I was putting in a little too little. Encounters with tough monsters with 1112 copper pieces, 22 silver pieces, and 8 gold pieces and a gem worth 100 sp sounded good, except that fixing any one of the lopped-off limbs from that fight used up that and more. I found I was giving so little loot (and unwisely charging upkeep too often) that the PCs would have been better off with part-time jobs in town. So I upped the discovered loot.

Enough Treasure?

You have to assume the PCs need enough money that delving isn't break-even most times, but profitable most times. This isn't panning for gold, this is modern pirates rolling out on a motorboat to seize a ship. They might die as a result of this, and risk serious consequences. The payoffs can't be piddling. Better too much than too little. You can always restrict what they can buy, but it's hard to deal with PCs who can't afford anything.

If they go and spend all of their money on magical item upgrades and healing potions and have none left for Resurrection or actually skilled hirelings, so be it - but it can't be the GM who did that to them. Give them more than you think they need, and watch them reduce it down to less than that.

Not knowing how many PCs, or what kind of PCs, will show up is an issue. Have a base idea of group size. I assume about 6-7 PCs, with a base of around 4-5 and a max of 10. As long as the loot I hand out divides reasonably well with those numbers, I'm happy.

Things I do:

- Ignore Wealth and Merchant skills. I put in treasure on the assumption that you may or may not get the value it potentially has out of it. Some PCs will benefit more or less.

- Put in at least some solid portion of the value in the form of fungible loot. Gems, jewelry, coins - things that are worth what they are worth. If you assume $20K and put in 75% of that as saleable goods and the PCs get 40% when they sell it off, it's not really the $20K you thought you were handing out.

- Ignore the particular PCs. I don't put in a magic sword because the PCs use swords. I don't put in wizard's robes until all of the PCs have them. I do put in items I think fit, or are interesting, or which randomly come up from the DF8 tables when I use them. If the PCs have two Scouts and find a magic bow for each, great. If they have none and find those bows and sell them, just as good.

- Accept that the PCs will not always do what you expect. They'll sell the magic sword because "No, short swords have too low of a ST stat and with a Strength potion and a Might +5 spell I can't take advantage of it." They'll keep the giant gemstone eye to use as a Power Item, meanwhile everyone is making Urban Survival rolls in town to live out of the gutter because that was the main loot. They'll sell the Potion of Doing That Cool Thing You Need to Do Next Session. So much so that it's better to not plan at all. You'll just be wrong.

- Adjust to your game and the power of the PCs. If you require more loot for something (like for my XP system), or because the game has a tithe you need to pay or domains to take care of), put in more loot. At least put it somewhere - there isn't any requirement that because Grimman the Dwarf needs $10K a delve to make his castle payments that a lone rat on level one has $10K. It does mean that maybe he and his five friends need to whack the lich-king's twelve troll bodyguards in the caverns at the bottom of the dungeon and take all each ones' $5K gold badge of office back to town to sell. Risk:reward still applies. That's fair - more powerful adventures should take more risks and get more money. The stakes should be higher for those dice rolls, even if they're still the same dice as when you started as a mere potent delver and not a dungeon-shaking super hero.

All of that is a long way to say what I'll say again right now:

- If you assume people need to use a lot of consumables, make sure there is enough loot to replenish those to the level you want (fully or partial);

- set the loot according to the overall risk to get loot in that area;

- put more than you think you need to put in;

- have an idea of how many players and roughly how powerful they are to be for that loot.

And yeah, I just stock away and see who shows up and shrug as the PCs repeatedly pass huge treasures or fritter away wealth attaining nothing. That's part of my entertainment, and part of the game's fun.

I hope that helps!


  1. It's the thing about trekking through the woods: you *have* to keep track of at least rations. As such, using consumables doesn't bother my players, since they're already consuming their most important resource.

    1. I'm mostly talking about more limited consumables, but yeah, enforce starvation rules and all of a sudden everyone finds it terribly easy to track rations. "It's hard and annoying" becomes, "I have 17 and 1/3 days worth of rations left, thank you very much."

  2. So your next article should be some tips on how to /measure risk/ and properly /set reward/... ;)

    1. You can use Christopher Rice's excellent CER. Reward, well, that would need some work. I have nothing so developed beyond something quite megadungeon specific. Go deeper, get more loot. But go deeper, and the monsters get tougher. "Fodder, Few" becomes "Bosses, Many." ;)

  3. On thing about DF, as opposed to some other fantasy games, is that PCs start by default at a power level high enough to make mundane consumables not matter (if the PCs choose it). Torches and lanterns and oil? Ha, Continual Light. Rations? Ha, Create Food. Blankets and 10' poles and whatever other mundane objects become needed in the middle of nowhere? Ha, Create Object. Arrows? Ha, Cornucopia quiver (at RAW price; I think you've adjusted it up in your game). Of course, low mana / sanctity zones can affect all of this, and spending FP to cast these spells sometimes matters, so there's still some value to buying the real stuff, just not much. So the grubbing for torches and food and less crappy mundand equipment that's a big part of some video games and Torchbearer, and a small part of D&D, doesn't really matter in DF.

    So once you're past the bare necessities, treasure is needed for a few things: XP (if you give points for treasure), training costs (if you charge them), living expenses in town, and Better Gear (if it's available).

    If you restict the gear that's available in town to mundane stuff and very basic magic items like healing potions, then non-magical loot pretty quickly ceases to really matter. (The casters can always upgrade their power items, and the warriors can buy even more healing potions just in case, but that's about it.) In theory the PCs are delving to get rich, but in practice the players are delving to have fun, and probably won't retire their rich characters if they're still having fun. So the gold collected becomes mostly a way to keep score. PCs who've already bought the best equipment that's available for sale are like billionaire CEOs battling for profits they no longer personally need.

    I'm personally fine with this, so I don't stress over the exact level of loot too much. If you do want to make players struggle to upgrade their cheap shortsword to a good shortsword to a fine shortsword, you probably want a lower-point game than DF.

    Your game gives XP based on loot, which gives players a strong reason to dig for loot even if they don't need it to spend. I think that's a good way to provide a sandboxy goal, as opposed to handing out points for figuring out a plot, but it kind of assumes that all the PCs are Greedy. (Dwarfquest!)

    1. Yes, pretty much. Although there are a number of non-upgrade things to spend money on. Here are just a few off the top of my head:

      - healing in town (Resurrection isn't cheap)
      - henchmen and hirelings
      - overcharging power items
      - researching new places to delve
      - replacing destroyed gear

      XP for money doesn't really assume Greedy, any more than working for money assumes Greedy. It assumes there is a need for money in the game world or for the PCs or both. You can have a completely non-Greedy PC in a system based on finding money who still needs that money for worldly concerns. Yes, even Paladin-types, who everyone seems to assume are a big problem in play (they aren't).


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...