This is a post on one of the resource mechanics in SDM – Our Golden Age, but it should be applicable to any rpg system that uses some kind of discrete wealth (as opposed to abstract wealth levels).
Our Golden Age (OGA) is a kind of [*]quel to the Ultraviolet Grasslands (UVG) that I am assembling on my patreon, the stratometaship. If UVG deals with a strange long trip through wide trackless wastes, OGA is more geared towards a series of Tintin-style “there-and-back” adventures in a baroque world full of strange (and often silly) people.
The assets mechanic is a sort of complement to the UVG trade mechanics. I’d been meaning to write it up for ages, but kept putting it off because I didn’t have somewhere it would fit neatly (and I didn’t have a clear “thread” for my big UVG [*]quel book. That’s a design lesson all its own – if you can’t describe what you’re writing in one sentence, you’ve got a problem.).
The theme eventually came together: “Tintin-style adventures, there-and-back again, in a civilization far too old to tell.”
After testing, I stripped out some ideas (for example, starting with ageless, undying PCs turned out to … make games hard to run … so I moved the world-clock forward, to a time when infinite life-extension was a rare ancient magic available to only the richest and most powerful).
But one idea that stayed (and that I’m refining) is the idea of wealth (₥₢₦€¥) as a lever of PC motivation in an old human civilization (after all, humans are wired to seek status, and they use wealth as a proxy for status, so …).
[An aside: when I’ve run games, I’ve often found that players gravitate to accumulating GP as much as they seek XP. A problem I found was that most fantasy games don’t give all that much to spend GP on beyond a certain point. In D&D, you’re not supposed (pff) to be able to buy magic items, and if you don’t want to run a thieves hideout wizard tower fortress temple, well, your multi-class 9th level rogue-mage-fighter-cleric is just plumb out of luck, right? Conversely, one of the most memorable games I’ve ever run involved the players deciding to take down a dragon by hiring army … so I quoted them a price of 1 million gp to hire a big enough army. They decided to aim for 2 million, because they didn’t trust me. And a whole campaign unfolded with these weird rogues on a brutal quest to accumulate the wealth to hire an army to destroy a dragon … princes were toppled to fuel the PCs’ dreams of revenge, traitors were catapulted, banks were set up … anyway. Back to the post.]
In the UVG, the PCs have their caravan as a mobile repository of liquid wealth: loot, treasure, and more. All traveling together with them, all labelled with a discrete value in cash (or gp or whatever currency you use).
This makes sense, since they’re traveling outside the civilized realms where things like reliably mercenary banking and finance are not so accessible. But, in the Circle Sea area, there are cities and corporations and banks.
What happens when PCs return to civilization? If their caravan journey was successful, they can buy a house, hire servants, make some investments.
But playing a game where every month (or year or whatever) you deduct so many hundreds of cash for wages, so much for expenses, this for lifestyle, that for bribes. Then add the incomes from fields, farms, furrows, farriers, and fo on. This makes the passage of time a pain. It also involves a lot of addition and subtraction. Or an excel sheet. And I really don’t love Excel the Roleplaying Game! It’s a bit too much like real life …
I give you four short words to make managing PC assets easy: estate, revenue, expense, income.
Cash invested in an Estate generates Revenue
Income = Revenue minus Expenses
But Luka, those words are terrible accounting terms! They’re not easy!
Hang in there, by the ghost of gygax the accountant, we got this!
Though, to be fair, there’s a lot of reading ahead. Maybe get a cup of cocoa?
Every proper rainbowlander knows what cash (€*) is. The twice-barred “c”. Liquid assets.
1€ = An unskilled human’s day wage.
Cash is an abstraction for the different kinds of bills, coins, cards, cheques, and credits that the humans of the Circle Sea Civilizational Megaregion use in their daily truck and barter. If you prefer silver or gold pieces, use those.
Cash is your most versatile social resource. Credit crystalized. You spend it to buy gear for your adventures. You use it for fines and bribes, food and tickets, hotels and guides. Anything, really.
In play, you can get by without tracking coins and credit when something costs much less than a day’s wages.
Crucially, you need cash to become a better person, because the more you are worth, the better you are. This is obviously true. Everyone says it, even the Mother Machine.
The secret to having a lot of cash is to be very wealthy. The way to become wealthy is to invest your cash in your estate, where it will be fruitful and multiply and come back to you by the mysterious workings of the Invisible Hand. Praise Mohlack (but discreetly)!
1,000€ invested in your estate gives you a revenue of 1 cash per week (+1€/wk).
Obviously, the key to more extravagant adventures is a bigger estate! And, clearly, an estate can never be big enough. As the old folk faith song goes, “make number go up to the moon.” Academics disagree which moon the song refers to, as there are at least 17 easily visible moons.
If cash is the petty coin that hammers and other proles spend to keep themselves in bread, the estate (Σ) is the wealth that gives and keeps giving. The land and bonds, stocks and cryptids, digital daemon tokens and other arcane promises. Illiquid assets.
Estates come in different sizes, and all healthy humans want big wealthy estates. So teaches the Cogflower.
- Humble Estate. Worth €5,000. Generates a revenue of 5€ per week (+5€/wk). Enough to scrape by.
- Small Estate. €10,000. +10€/wk. Enough for a poor family.
- Middling Estate. €50,000. +50€/wk. Enough to live comfortably in a middle class neighborhood.
- Fine Estate. €500,000. +500€/wk. Upper class life.
- Grand Estate. €10M. +10k€/wk. The minimum to call oneself a proper baron.
In play, you will find that estates are excellent money sinks.
You can mortgage your estate to get quick cash.
Reduce your revenue by -1€/wk and get 500€.
It will probably cost 1,000€ to pay off a 500€ mortgage. Hope you invested that cash well. Like in a profitable trade adventure.
Revenue (R) is your cash flow before expenses. It’s the amount of money you imagine you could have if you were a creature of pure light, who didn’t need air or water or food or shelter or a social life.
The simplest source of revenue is your estate, but it can also come from other sources like titles, tributes, tithes, contracts, and other nifty rent-extraction schemes.
Tales say that once, long ago, when the Dream Canopy was untattered, every human received a cash each day to dispose of as they saw fit. Some say this was a lovely time.
The other common source of revenue is, sad to say, work. Yes, it is embarrassing to admit, but even a hero of leisure such as yourself may be forced to stoop to trading your precious limited time on this Given World for liquid assets.
- Unskilled Labor. Earn 7€ per week (+7€/wk). If you have no skills, or your skills are not in demand, you can always work as a golem polisher, street sitter, manual substitute, or some other job too unprofitable to automate.
- Skilled Labor. +15€/wk. Tinker, tailor, soldier, spy.
- Expert Labor. +30€/wk. Specialization has its perks.
- Master Labor. +60€/wk. The pinnacle of the wage labor pyramid. You’d better identify with the authority, now! Look how much it’s paying you!
Expenses (E) is the cash that leaves your accounts every week, like grains of emerald sand pouring through your fingers as you try to hold it together while the jade dragon’s visions assail your sanity.
Your most basic expense. In the short run, it defines how others see you. In the medium run, it can help you adventure more effectively. In the long run, it decides how long you live, if you get sick, and even whether you die.
- Humiliating. You incur expenses of 5€ per week (-5€/wk). You cannot have nice things. If you want toilet paper, you cannot go out for a coffee. If you want shoes, you can’t get a haircut. If you want vegetables, you won’t have a coat. The tradeoffs are constant, and grueling. When you go on an adventure, start by subtracting 1d4 life per level.
- Frugal. -10€/wk. If you don’t go on holidays and avoid any unnecessary expenses, you can just about make ends meet. To adventure, come as you are.
- Comfortable. -30€/wk. You can participate as a full member of society, go to the opera, enjoy promenades, have a bit of cat’s whisker in the evening, buy books, and afford some basic health insurance. When you go on an adventure, start with 1 bonus life per level. If injured, you can get one limb or organ replaced every 10 weeks.
- Luxurious. -150€/wk. You get the best of everything. You are welcome everywhere. Doors open when you flash your vantablack status card. You rarely have to pay for anything, since your credit is so good everywhere. On adventures, start with 1 bonus life per level and 1 immunity die per level (works like a hero die, but only for resisting daemons, diseases, and other negative effects). If killed, you are revived in your rack-ready clone in 10 weeks at no extra fee.
Lifestyle changes take effect after 10 weeks.
If you share a lifestyle with your friends, like in a household or commune or labor-unit hot bunking system, you can reduce your lifestyle expenses by 30% (rounded down) per body.
Of course, this does mean living together. And you know how loudly redlanders snore. High-altitude adaptation.
Income (i) Is revenue less expenses. This is how much cash you actually gain per week. Your disposable income.
Revenue (R) – Expenses (E) = income (i)
Go on. Go wild. Spend it on something nice, like a longsword or a classic cinematic vidy or maybe that fancy hat you’ve wanted for a while.
Income increases your cash pile. If you need a large amount of cash to go on an adventure, you can simply spend some time accumulating cash, let the world-clock wind along, seasons come and go, events happen, and then finally go on your adventure.
Of course, time will crumble your collections, visit illness and indignity upon you, and kill everyone you’ve ever loved. But, hey, trading time for money is still worth it, right? Right?
Or you can just borrow some money. The terms you get depend on your status in the community.
- Nobody. Get €100 and increase expenses by -10€/wk until you repay the full €200. Wait, what?
- Disreputable. Get €200 and increase expenses by -5€/wk until you repay the full €300.
- Ordinary. Get €300 and increase expenses by -3€/wk until you repay the full €400.
- Reputable. Get €500 and increase expenses by -2€/wk until you repay the full €600.
- Wealthy. Get €1,000 and increase expenses by -2€/wk until you repay the full €1,100.
Note: actual loan rates are up to your local butcher banker branch. Please avoid taking loans from the hexads or other self-organized co-operative syndicates or secret societies.
Effects of This Mechanic
With this mechanic, PCs can convert cash assets (1000s of gp) into estates that generate 5% annual returns (like in Pride and Prejudice!).
Conveniently, with a 50-week year, this means that €1000 becomes exactly +€1/week. Or, y’know, 10,000gp becomes +10gp/week.
This has a few effects:
- hiring hirelings, er, becomes simple. Instead of adjusting assets by week or month, you just increase expenses and reduce income.
- saving up money for a new adventure becomes trivial: take the amount required, divide by income, and that’s how many weeks of downtime the PCs have.
- conveniently, this adds the passage of time to the game (wait X weeks to earn X money as income). Finally, there’s a good in-game reason for PCs to get older: they need money. This gives space for in-world events to occur. What’s the fancy word. Surrealism? No. Uh. Wormisillitude? No. Ah! Verisimilitude.
- setting up in-game businesses also becomes trivial (but that’s something I’ll elaborate in a later post).
- and, you can link lifestyle expenses to status, giving an ongoing reason for adventures. After all, if the PCs want an audience with the king, they need to look like nice poncy wonces, not muddlerhobos.
Here’s the asset mechanic in a convenient pdf.
These asset mechanics are an excerpt from the property section of Our Golden Age, a companion to the Ultraviolet Grasslands (back in stock!) that I’m assembling on my patreon from the SDM, the simplified shell of Uranium Butterflies, notes on the Rainbowlands and the Circle Sea, maps, and more. It brings more backgrounds, traits, equipment, and spells to the game, as well as some more setting stuff, like mechanics for sacrificing to the so-called gods, exploring the noösphere, and more.