When I first played D&D, using the AD&D rules in the early 1980s, every gold you earned gave you XP, and thus gain levels. You also gained XP from killing monsters, but based on what I observed from the published adventures and comments in the Basic and Companion rules, about three-quarters of your XP would come from treasure. (Some players did away with this, but there was a lot of treasure in the published AD&D and D&D adventures, as analysed in this old EN World thread).
The sums were much larger from what we expect today. A second-level fighter had probably gained about 1,500 gold pieces to reach that level; a tenth-level fighter? Likely about 200,000 gold pieces for their next level.
The question then becomes, on what do they spend their gold?
These were the activities proposed at that time:
- Employing henchmen and hirelings (and armies)
- Building strongholds
- Training for the next level
- Researching spells and crafting magic items.
- Taxes, tithes, living costs, etc.
- Replacing and upgrading equipment
- Spell component costs
- NPC Spellcasting
Variants of these costs have continued through the years since in D&D campaigns. They typically didn’t work that well, and you’d have a lot of gold left over.
So, what do you use gold for in the D&D Adventurers League?
Henchmen and strongholds don’t work within the structure of the campaign. Training costs are no longer part of D&D (for the most part), and the lifestyle costs don’t come up that much (and aren’t that significant).
That leaves research, magic item crafting, equipment, NPC spellcasting and spell component costs.
Researching brand-new spells? Not a good fit for DDAL play. The equivalent ability is wizards scribing scrolls into spellbooks, which still exists.
Crafting magic items? Not a thing in default DDAL play (or in many D&D 5E games).
Replacing and upgrading equipment? That’s something. But once you have your platemail, most of the costs are pretty trivial.
So, on what do the high-level adventurers of the D&D Adventurers League spend their money?
- Wizards scribing spells into their spellbooks
- Potions of healing
- Spell component costs
- Living costs (only when coupled with downtime activities)
- NPC Spellcasting (Raise Dead and Restoration spells, primarily)
- Special events (Fai Chen’s, Faction Rewards)
From that, you can probably see the problems with the economy: Most of the uses for gold are for spellcasters; wizards in particular. The special events don’t even occur for many players. You have characters that need a relatively small amount of gold, and some characters that need a larger amount of gold.
Meanwhile, the amount of gold being given out in D&D Adventurers League games? It was huge. Not so much at Tier 1, but in the later tiers, most PCs would accumulate far more money than they needed. The guidelines for how much gold to give out in a DDAL game weren’t as nailed down as the XP awards, and tended towards giving out a lot!
Gold is interesting when you don’t have enough to do everything you want, but can do some things. If you need to choose between casting heroes’ feast or buying two potions of supreme healing, you’ve got an interesting decision. If every time it is “I do both and still have more than 10,000 gold pieces!”, then there’s no decision to be made.
The suggested method that the D&D Adventurers League want to use next season is this: You don’t gain gold from adventures. Instead, whenever you gain a level, you gain gold according to the tier you’ve achieved. Tier 1: 75 gp. Tier 2: 150 gp. Tier 3: 550 gp. Tier 4: 5,500 gp.
When we discovered that, howls of surprise and dismay began. This change breaks immersion for me more than any other that has been proposed. I’m fine with the abstraction involved in advancement checkpoints and (magic) treasure checkpoints. This gold one feels more wrong.
Part of that is due to the way a typical DDAL adventure goes: You go on a mission, and you get rewarded for it. That’s still how it works for advancement and treasure checkpoints. However, the gold reward delayed until you level? That feels weird, and I’m far from the only person to note this.
Mike Mearls had this to say on the subject:
We’ll see how it plays out. If the amount of gold and how often you earn it is an issue, we’ll make changes. For instance, we could pretty easily tie a GP reward based on the tier you gain in addition to each treasure check earned. So, if an adventure gave 2 treasure checks, it would also give 2 * that tier’s GP reward packet.
Having gold rewards at the end of adventures (or sessions, for hardcover play)? That feels better. It still doesn’t fix the “we found a hoard of treasure in this hardcover and couldn’t take it” feeling, but at least gold rewards would be more constant.
It should be emphasised that the rules are currently still in draft form, and Wizards and the admins are still gathering feedback. While some things are unlikely to be changed, others are – and I think the gold rewards will be one of those.
The other aspect of the dismay comes from how low the rewards are. If I plug in the suggested treasure from hoards in the DMG, I get the following approximate values:
||7 hoards (Challenge 0-4)
||150 gp per level
||18 hoards (challenge 5-10)
||3,000 gp per level
||12 hoards (challenge 11-16)
||15,000 gp per level
||8 hoards (challenge 17-20)
||175,000 gp per level
That’s a bit of a gap compared to the suggested rewards in the DDAL! Now, I’m fine with them being lower due to fewer things you can spend money on compared to a home campaign. However, the difference in rewards at Tier 2 and 3 is surprisingly large.
Strangely, though the amount of money available to characters has sharply diminished, the number of things they can spend money on has increased! The new rules make spell scrolls and a small selection of potions available for purchase, and the list of spells you can get NPCs to cast for you has also increased.
I like that spellcasters can get scrolls. I like that all characters can get potions. I just wish they’d have enough money to do this!
Copying spells into a spellbook is also an issue: at present, it costs 50 gp per spell level to do so. That would take most of the money for a level-gain for one spell of the appropriate level for the first two tiers.
Although I like having less money in the game, a few things about this proposed method strike me as rather odd!
EDIT: For some reason, lifestyle costs remain (and must be spent when you spend downtime). Odd. I’m not sure how much that adds to the game.