Monday, January 26, 2015

Itemized Expenses in RPGs

We've all suffered from under the thumb of GMs who have made us account for every copper spent, every arrow shot, every ration consumed (every half-elf prostitute back-alley murdered, GTA-style), and I'm sure a lot of people are exhausted of the concept of all-consuming accounting when what players most want to do at the table is have their characters shoot arrows into shady fantasy hookers while making it rain and eating the D&D equivalent of filet mignon and then seamlessly move on to ever more glorious acts of simulated sociopathy.

As a player, I tend to agree with the above. As much as I treasure Chargen, I feel that when I sit at a table in front of a GM, the only time I should have to break out the calculator app on my phone is during new character generation or, very occasionally, after a milestone level up is achieved. Having to deal with the minutiae of everyday expenses is tedious enough in the real world, and on those few occasions I actually have the bravery to look at an itemized credit card account statement I feel like the child that is eternally decomposing inside my now-adult psyche just sloughed off another layer of ability to feel pure, unadulterated joy.

That said- and it may come as a surprise to people- but there are players out there that might seek to take advantage of the fact that very few tables tend to enforce even the barest sense of bookkeeping at the table. They purchase expensive weapons in low-money campaigns and fire hails of bullets cast from silvered plutonium. Their materiel expenses per-round can rival a city's yearly operating costs, and they get away with it, too, either in the name of narrative or because we, as GMs, just don't really care to call them on it.

Whether or not this constitutes a problem to you depends on the type of GM you are, and there are all types out there.

Lately, I've become more of a stickler GM. I've begun to sweat the small things, and I've started calling out situations in games where established rules would make some player actions impossible, according to the mechanics of the game.

I'm not saying this to start some kind of discussion over whether or not games are meant to be run RAW (rules as written) or RAI (rules as interpreted). I'm pretty sure those are the proper acronyms...

Actually, quite the opposite. I'm thinking of attempting to figure out a way to ease the burden of bookkeeping so that a middle-ground can be reached. I am reminded of the Pendragon system- possibly due to the fact that I am playing in a weekly Pendragon game- where every year, an accounting phase occurs, called the Winter Phase. It is organized, there are sheets, and charts, and everything else needed to accommodate this potentially-tedious game phase. I am thinking of pirating that line of thinking for my own purposes; definitely not to the extent of the manner that Pendragon does, though.

Rather, what comes to mind is the creation of a sort of itemized expense sheet. Form-fillable, consisting of the monthly cost of room and board, equipment upkeep (included ammunition expenses), and miscellaneous expenses (too many potential draws on income to list here, but also good ways for players to inform as to what they end up doing in their downtime).

This would also be an appropriate location to put in miscellaneous income, for those characters that might have professional skills, in order to offset the drain their expenses come from. This would create a final tally, whereby players know exactly how much surplus money they have each month for carousing, or splurging on equipment; it also means that if their expenses result in a deficit, it shows how much reward/loot money from in-game plot quests they actually accrue.

This would create a simple form that would only need to be updated in the event of a significant character upgrade (in either equipage or status), but would also give the player some sense of bargaining in systems where they were unfamiliar with the value of their currency.

For example, in the IKRPG, an average room in an inn costs 1gc for the night, and each meal at that inn costs 1gc. This may seem high or low or inconsequential (depending on how one is doling out monetary rewards in-game), but it informs that a player living at this level would expect to be paying 120gc for room and board each month in an average living situation. Now, imagine that player's GM were to offer them a job that would take them more than two weeks to conceivably accomplish, but only pay them, say 150gc for it. That might seem like a decent offer, until one realizes that 150gc is to be split between a party of four players.

Suddenly players actually know what their time is worth, GMs know what kind of rewards are actually appropriate towards their players' party, and as such they know what kind of jobs, and the danger associated with those jobs, is likely to be on offer to them.

Just some food for thought. Appropriately enough, I'll be broaching this topic to my IKRPG players hopefully this week, and perhaps we'll see how they take it.

1 comment:

  1. The only time--and I mean the only time--I've found it worthwhile to keep such careful note of equipment has been in the course of playing old school D&D. Because that whole system was designed around resource management, be it rations, gold pieces, or spells per day. I mean, this is a game where you're supposed to track how many feet the party moves in 10-minute increments, and how many torches or flasks of oil their light sources consume in an hour. So if you're not tracking that kind of stuff, you're essentially giving the PCs a HUUUUGE advantage.

    The problem is that, since D&D set the tone for every game that followed, that sort of penny-pinching approach was simply passed down in the gaming DNA without really thinking about whether it was a good fit for the mechanics of the game. That was one of the things I was happy to see changed with 7e Call of Cthulhu, them finally dropping the D&D-style inventory approach to equipment. (Although a friend and I did once spend a wonderful evening equipping his Gaslight-era character using a reprinted 1902 Sears Roebuck catalog. Suffice to say we knew every single volume in his home library and exactly how many forks and knives were in his silver service.)

    Ironically, D&D also introduced the approach you're discussing here, where you simply calculate a monthly living expense and deduct it. As you mentioned Pendragon, I could see doing a sort of monthly "Winter Phase lite" where you run through a simplified economic system with a couple rolls. GURPS 3e had a pretty cool little sub-system for determining monthly income based on a "Job Roll"--with fumbles leading to loss of job or (in the case of hazardous professions) physical injury or incarceration!