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A DM’s Guide to Treasure

Treasure is one of the biggest incentives a Dungeon Master can dangle out there in front of the party, the lure of gold and gems being irresistible to adventurers. But in addition to drawing your party into the next dungeon deep, or cavern old, gold and treasure can prove to be a very versatile tool for a Dungeon Master. Today, we will discuss what your gold can get you in D&D Adventurers League play, and how a Dungeon Master could use a player’s fat coin-purse to their advantage.

The D&D Adventurers League Player’s Guide has rules to cover specific situations when it comes to how gold is awarded in game. Should a DM encounter a situation where there is no rule, remember the following guidelines when making your ruling:

  • No activity that can yield gold (downtime, selling goods, etc.) should negate the need to adventure. In other words, a character’s primary source of income is through adventuring. That’s where they get the money to live off of.
  • D&D Adventurers League play assumes that all players are being completely upfront with each other and not trying to profit at the party’s expense. So if the party rogue comes across a 500 gp gem while off exploring on their own, it goes into the party treasury like everything else.

THE USE OF GOLD IN GAME

Treasure Gold Electrum PlatinumJust like in real life, money has many practical uses in game. Characters have no shortage of expenses to pay: buying new gear, paying for services in town, getting resurrected, etc. However, in D&D Adventurers League play, there are some things that your gold can’t do for you.

A character’s treasury belongs to the character and is used for their expenses only. The D&D Adventurers League Player’s Guide disallows players splitting the cost of goods, like two players going halfsies on the cost of dragonscale armor. It does however allow the splitting of services, such as helping another character pay for a raise dead spell. There are exceptions to that rule, and the guide lists them [pg 6].

Some players have come to me and asked if they could pay for the party’s meals at the tavern. or pay someone else’s toll to enter Baldur’s Gate. I have allowed it in the past, especially if not allowing it would put the character at a disadvantage. (“Sorry, but you can’t proceed in the adventure because the guards won’t let you through. You’ll have to wait outside. But don’t worry, splitting the party never turned out bad for anyone, right?”) But, these instances are rare; generally, if a player can pay for themselves, they should pay for themselves. And every time I’ve let a player pay for another, it is very clear that the gold is a gift, not a loan. The last thing a Dungeon Master needs is a player charging another player interest.

Similarly, gold usually cannot buy you magic items, either from vendors or other characters. Buying consumable magic items like potions of healing is one thing; buying +1 Arrows of Dragon Slaying is another. Most magic items are so rare to be considered family heirlooms or otherwise priceless. See this article for more on Magic Items in the D&D Adventurers League and Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Fai Chen’s Fantastical Faire (but Were Afraid to Ask)

Finally, a character can’t use gold to buy an item off another character. The only way items exchange hands from character to character is through trade, and the only items that can be traded are magic items.

GOLD AS A DM TOOL

Treasure Silver CopperOrganized Play tends to award gold after every session. So, if a player attends a few sessions, it stands to reason that they’ll have a pretty sizeable treasury after a while. Having a robust bank account is something most of us would strive for, but in D&D, the gold you don’t spend means nothing mechanically. In our store’s current D&D Encounters season, the players have been on the go for so long, they haven’t had much time to stop off and spend their wealth. After several months of play, the party as a whole has enough gold to unbalance the economy of a small city.

But the gold the party earns doesn’t have to sit and gather dust. With a little creativity, a Dungeon Master can use a party’s coin-purse to bring new areas of the game to life, and keep the party’s spending power in check.

Gold is my favorite bargaining chip in the game. In our world, money is an instrument that fosters an agreement between two parties, a payer and a payee. In D&D, gold has the same function, both between characters and between a Player and a Dungeon Master. Players are always finding new ways around a problem, ways that might not be covered in the DMG. So, if a player comes up with an idea for something they want to try, I’ll usually say “yes” and charge them an appropriate amount of gold for the task. The player feels great because they don’t feel like I’m blocking them, and I get to take some gold that might otherwise have gone to a healing potion. Everyone wins!

Treasure ElectrumBut sometimes, the party won’t give you ideas for how they want to spend gold. If that happens, the DM can draw inspiration from the world around the party. Our world is filled with small expenses that can add up over time. The world of D&D is no different. Here is just a short list of what the party could run across. All of the following may or may not be used by a particular DM.

  • Bribes: Similar to the above “gold as bargaining chip” theory. If the players want to have an easier time in town, they may have to grease palms. This is also helpful to the DM if you are running short on time and need to fast-forward through some exploration.
  • Taxes and Tolls: The money to rebuild Neverwinter has to come from somewhere, right? This all-too-present fact of our lives can weigh on the adventurers as they come into a new city or town. Entry fees, weapon fees, taxes on leisure activities, etc. I don’t recommend DMs use this one too much because it can put the party on the defensive. And what if the party refuses to pay?
  • Guild/Faction Fees: If a PC is a member of a faction or a guild, maybe they have to pay a membership fee? Guilds don’t run themselves on charity, after all.
  • Donations to Churches/Temples: Speaking of charity, a religious character may be urged to pay a tithe to their church for continued membership. Similarly, if a character goes to a temple asking for services (healing, divination, etc.), they may be asked to make a charitable donation to the temple as payment. I use this whenever I can because it makes the religious centers of the world more like actual houses of worship than just healing centers.
  • Temptation: This can be a fun one to spring on your players, especially if you’ve got some extra time in the game. Shop owners can upsell goods, unlucky PCs can run across NPCs running confidence tricks, gambling and other vices could call to the PCs. It’s not applicable to all situations, but should the party stop off in Luskan, you can bet there are more than a few unscrupulous ways to spend your money there.
  • Thieves: One of the downsides of walking around with a lot of money is becoming a target for those who want to take it. Like temptation, a DM should use this one sparingly and with extreme caution. It is a very aggressive move on the DM’s part to reach in and take gold from the PCs, and most won’t take kindly to being treated in such a way. I’d only use it to drive home a point about how dangerous the area is and allow the victim a chance to reclaim the stolen wealth.
  • Encumbrance: If you’ve ever exchanged a bill for a roll of coins at the bank, you know how heavy even $20 in quarters can get. Imagine $100 in quarters. Or $1000. All the coinage the adventurers collect has to weight something, and if you notice it getting too abundant, it might be helpful to remind them of that fact. Also, they should be reminded that people usually don’t walk around with their entire wealth on their person.

Treasure SilverLike other resources in the game, if the players don’t spend it, it loses its meaning. Gold is the players’ reward for a job well done, and every gp should feel valuable. So it is the Dungeon Master’s obligation to make sure the players are not getting too rich, rich to a point where every problem can be solved with money, or finding a large treasure stash has no thrill, or being raised from the dead is not a big deal.

Until next time, may you always make your saving throw.

Chris Wood

Chris Wood

Chris has been playing D&D since 2011 and a Dungeon Master since 2012. In that time, he has run games for Organized Play at PAX East, Gen Con, and Twenty Sided Store (where he can be found every Wednesday) and racked up an impressive bodycount. His name is spoken in hushed tones in taverns across the land, and the clack of his d20 strikes fear into the hearts of adventurers everywhere.
Chris Wood

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Author: Chris Wood

Chris has been playing D&D since 2011 and a Dungeon Master since 2012. In that time, he has run games for Organized Play at PAX East, Gen Con, and Twenty Sided Store (where he can be found every Wednesday) and racked up an impressive bodycount. His name is spoken in hushed tones in taverns across the land, and the clack of his d20 strikes fear into the hearts of adventurers everywhere.

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