Nov 262012

This post comes on the back of an entertaining little read that can be found over here by The Warden. I liked it a lot. So much so that I chucked a link to it up on Reddit so a lot more people could take a look at it. The Warden seems unhappy with money in his games, and I can’t really blame him for that. I’ve seen games get bogged down by the time and effort it can take to allocate treasure and wealth, and then sell it off, and spend the profits.

I have also played games with a basic ‘wealth’ mechanic. The World of darkness manages this pretty well, with ‘Resources’ acting very much like a skill; the more points you put into it, the more money you have. It still doesn’t do away with money however, and most GMs (in my experience) just set a minimum level of Resources that are required to buy an item, rather than allowing it to be used as a skill. I think it could instead be rolled, with success granting more than expected, failure meaning possibly losing points in it for the session as you catastrophically mismanage your finances. So, a possible solution is making money a bit of an abstract, but for the most part, I would be happy leaving it as is, or maybe with some kind of middle ground.

It’s quite odd for me to say that, as I usually prefer to keep things abstract and almost movie like in a lot of the games I run. True, I run a realistic combat, but that comes from an appreciation of biology and a rather worrying knowledge about what weapons can do to the human body. For pretty much everything else though, I tend to go with what feels right for the game, and for maintaining the mood my players are comfortable with. As long as they don’t push it too far, I tend to let realism take a back seat, and keep all its charts and modifiers back there, while I take the wheel and have a lot of fun. Money though? I like my players to keep a good track of it.

In a lot of games I run, it can be just as important to the character’s survival as their skills or other equipment, and it’s worth knowing if they only have 25 bucks, or the 30 they’ll need to bribe their way past a guard. I also will admit to being practically unique amongst the gamers I know, and say that I love the bit at the end of character creation where you’re handed a rule book and told to spend your money. Cyberpunk still remains a firm favourite for this, with four Chrome books, and Blackhand’s along with a good few pages of cool stuff in the main book, I can spend longer equipping my character than creating them.

Don’t get me wrong, during game play there are plenty of times when it is unnecessary to keep track of each copper coin; if the players are buying a meal, along with getting rooms for the night, and having some drinks, I find myself often just coming up with an appropriate amount of money, and asking them to pony up a bit more if they’re planning on getting drunker than usual. This kind of thing just makes game play quicker.

It’s the same for reloading a gun. I expect that the characters will know that once a fight is over, they will need to replace spent casings, or replenish the rounds in a magazine/clip. I don’t worry too much that the players might forget, as I have no problem seeing that they have different priorities than their characters. Just like I don’t worry that they haven’t kept me up to date on their latest bowel movements…

So, I love having money to spend as a player, and I like my players to keep track of this when I’m running a game, but I’m not a fan of endless book-keeping. Is there a way to keep  me happy on both fronts? I’m glad you asked, as I think there is. I’ve mentioned on here in the past that a couple of my friends are working on a game of their own. Well, it’s getting remarkably close to completion now, and they’re seriously considering Kickstarting it to get the funding for the first print run. Well, I have no money to invest in such a venture, even though I really wish I could, so I’m doing something a bit different, I’m talking about their game whenever I get the chance, and talking up some of their finer ideas as I do so.

A player character in their game will of course have access to money, and it is expected that they keep track of it throughout the game. But in terms of small purchases like food and drink, as well as keeping a roof over their heads, this is handled differently. At any point during the game, the player can take money from their character’s purse, and put it to one side as a living maintenance. At the end of game month, the GM just checks how much you have in the fund, and checks what standard of living this has afforded you. Too little spent, and you run the risk of contracting a disease due to poor living conditions and a sub-standard diet. Hit the average  an everything is good, but you can spend more than that if you have it, and could end up with a bonus. And all this means that there will be no more tracking every small coin denomination as you buy drinks and meals, leaving you to spend money on interesting things, like weapons and armour. Even the state of repair of your clothing, and how fancy they are is covered by this ”Lifestyle Level”.

If anyone else has their own ways of handling in game finances, then I’d love to hear about them; post below as always.

  5 Responses to “Damn it Jim, I’m a Role Player, not an accountant!”

  1. I’m usually a proponent of minimal accounting in my games (that is, when I’m a player. I tend to do more accounting as a GM!), but in the recent World of Darkness chronicle (V:tM) we use a sort-of double system. We have the Resources for the “big stuff” – flat, car, savings… but we also keep track of cash, like, pocket money. It adds a flavor, as all characters are kinda always broke. We recently lost access to the only car one of the characters had, so now it’s taxi all the time. The chronicle is set in the early 90′s, so we have no cell phones – we literally had to gather every cent to make an important call via a payphone.

    It’s lucky we’re vampires and don’t have to spend money on food, haha! But buying your future prey an exquisite drink is also out of the question.

    (Also, I recall a past game I ran: there was a VERY rich Ventrue guy who used to ride around all the time in his limo, always had his secretary ghoul handle the business, e.t.c. And one time for some reason he ended up being alone, and he decided to bribe some information out from a hot dog seller. “Gimme ten bucks and I’ll tell ya”, says the hot dog seller. “Do you take check?”, asked the Ventrue after I told him he simply had NO cash in his pocket…)

    I’m also not a fan of excessive gear lists. One of my first sessions of Shadowrun turned into a massive three-plus-hour gear-buying extravaganza, we even used that “design your own weapon” extension (don’t remember the title). It was kinda fun… but I’d rather everybody spent that time introducing their characters.

    It’s a “different strokes for different folks” thing, of course.

  2. I’ve found a couple of fun ways to handle cash in some of my games:

    In Cyberpunk, everyone has cred chips, with cash being the rare exception rather than the norm, and lets face it, not everyone has an exact knowledge of their bank balance without checking occasionally, a problem that is even more prevalent in the moral grey area occupied by most ‘punk characters who deal with less than savoury characters who may or may not charge the agreed price… To represent this I discovered that the Monopoly set that uses cards not cash works a treat, I make note between sessions of each players wealth (the card reader doesn’t hold on to balances to just leave them on), input each players cash at the start of the session and handle all the transactions. Players are free to check their balance at an ATM but other than that they have a vague idea of how much cash is in their account, unless they are lucky enough to have their own credchip reader.

    In Deadlands I found that phys-repping cash with Monopoly money works is a similar fashion, the main difference being that you can count your physical cash any time you wish to advertise how much you’re carrying (and yes, if the player counts their cash when their character is in public then potential thieves may well notice). It makes the players think a little more about their cashflow when they can physically see their supply dwindling, such as one recent example where a character ended up down to $9, and was then told it would cost $10 for a room for the week…

    I think my players are enjoying these systems (I haven’t had any complaints yet) as they actually reduce the bookkeeping required during the games, and mean I only have to record at the end of each session how much they’ll start with next time.

  3. I like the Rogue Trader system which represents profit factor as a score out of 100, as a percentage this represents a core chance of acquiring anything from a company of elite infantry, to 10,000 medical kits, to an ancient historic power weapon, to a small moon. A series of modifiers, including your bridge crew’s actions (damnit Jim, I’m not an accountant, but damned if I didn’t just save the life of the Praxis Centari ambassador at a dinner party and now he want to give us a Jupiter Diamond!), time spent, scarcity of item etc.

    It strikes a good balance of letting the players spend ages salivating over equipment, add-ons for the ship, drop ship, tanks etc. but distilling the whole process into a narrative expereince ending in a single roll.

    Profit Factor is much like the Call of Cthulhu Credit Rating skill which increases, and decreases on the basis of in-game actions.

  4. [...] have commented on forum threads, and other blogs on such subjects, and waxed lyrical about how much I enjoy the spending of money in games where it makes sense. My favourite example is [...]

  5. [...] have commented on forum threads, and other blogs on such subjects, and waxed lyrical about how much I enjoy the spending of money in games where it makes sense. My favourite example is [...]

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