What’s the Treasure for Anyway?

One of the conceits many OSR games inherited from TSR era D&D is that most experience points should be for treasure, sometimes called the GP=XP rule. Or, for people whose notions of realism can survive the premise of mighty thewed barbarians slaying serpent folk but not that it takes 8oz of gold to buy a head of garlic, a SP=XP rule. The advantage of this rule is that it encourages exploration and sneakiness over combat if you scatter gold XP pellets around the dungeon. The disadvantage is that it’s kind of stupid.

With that in mind, here’s a table where each player can roll to see why exactly their PC is so desperate for loot as to routinely wander around haunted tombs by torchlight:

  1. to purchase the freedom of that girl who always flashes you a smile in the market 
  2. to honor your deceased matrilineal uncle with a funeral orgy that will make the earth shake with the envy of your ancestors in the underworld
  3. to bribe a genealogist of the royal court to fabricate a claim to noble blood before the next census
  4. to afford enough yellow lotus to get as high as you did before you built up a tolerance 
  5. to pay the debts of the orphanage where you grew up and/or where you deposit your bastards
  6. to hire mercenaries to destroy the camp of the bandits who sacked your childhood village
  7. to buy that kickass lateen-sailed pleasure boat you’ve wanted since you had a charcoal drawing of it on papyrus hung up in your childhood bedroom
  8. to travel beyond the horizon and see if the tales are true 
  9. to pay for initiation into the sacred mysteries of the Drowned Maiden 
  10. to go back to blacksmith school and get your anvil operator’s license
  11. to achieve a lifelong dream of opening a really nice hookah lounge, I mean really nice
  12. to carouse until the taverns are drained and the brothels exhausted 
  13. to flee a sorcerer who cast your horoscope and saw you would make the perfect sacrifice for summoning the Nameless Horror of the Outer Dark
  14. to pay off your debt to userers of the thieves’ guild
  15. to pay wergild and end the blood feud that has enmeshed your family for a generation 
  16. to provide a dowry big enough to get some schmuck to marry the dancing girl you impregnated several months ago
  17. to make a propitiatory offering to the gods of the underworld who you can feel calling you to enact an ancestral curse
  18. to get the seed money for the really big score you’ve been planning for months
  19. to buy a monkey who is trained to make obscene gestures for the entertainment of your dinner guests 
  20. everybody wants treasure – – that’s why they call it “treasure”

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  1. John

    I assume the mechanic is “kind of stupid” is in a narrative sense (e.g., why does avoiding combat and collecting gold make you better with a sword?). DCC Lankhmar has a “carousing” table that lets PCs recover Luck, with higher rolls corresponding to more Luck likely being recovered and more dramatic in-game results (whether for good or ill) – many of these end up with the characters much poorer, and possibly broke.

    I really like the gold-for-xp gameplay, so as a resolution to the narrative problems with gold-for-xp, I’ve wanted to make a carousing table where higher rolls correspond to more xp per unit gold, but also more of the PC’s wealth spent. As an unplaytested example, at the bottom end something boring happens, they spend a bit of money and get 1/3 xp per gold, at the top end they are run out of town and financially ruined, but with 3 xp per gold.

    The table above would work well for providing narrative explanations of where the money went (#12 the most Fafhrd-ian), and it would be fun to ask the players themselves why it resulted in greater expertise for their character: the smiling girl was enslaved because of her predilection for witchcraft, and as thanks she taught you some things; to back up your forged claim of nobility, you also took lessons with a master fencer so your fighting looks less like tavern brawling; etc.

    The occasional financial ruin keeps the players gold hungry (pretty much impossible in 5e), and when they roll high and end up broke they’re apt to be happy about it.


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