Friday, January 23, 2009

The New Economy

There are only two mechanic-based rewards in 4th Edition: level-ups, and magical items.

Check it out - look what they've done to gold. A small fraction of your starting wealth will buy you an Adventurer's Kit, complete with bedroll, food, torches, and all that other mundane crap that it's a pain to keep track of

Once you have an Adventurer's Kit purchased, it's all about the magic items, baby. Gold is not the currency of goods and services - gold is the currency of gear upgrades. Buying groceries is dull. Shopping for magical items is sweet. Welcome to the new economy.

Every magical item in 4th Edition is assigned an item level; all items of a given level have the same cost. +1 plate armour is a level 1 item; so is +1 leather armour. Regardless of the theoretically larger benefit given by plate, they both have the same value in gold. That's because plate and leather are balanced by other mechanics. Spending a precious feat on the ability to wear plate is already a hefty price tag; the player is no longer re-penalised every time they upgrade their kit.

See what I did there, by the way? +1 plate armour. This is a stylistic constant across all the 4th edition supplements. Magical items get italics. The designers are very subtly reinforcing that magical items are special, and are on a different mechanical and narrative plane to such things as "bedrolls" and "rations". It's particularly noticeable in the new Manual of the Planes, where "ship" is printed normally but "planar dromond" gets the special treatment.

In the new economy, 280 gold is no longer a year's living expenses - it is "halfway to a level 1 item". Just as players watch their XP rise towards the next level-up, they can view their burgeoning bank balance as progress towards their next gear upgrade.

In Keep on the Shadowfell, the first encounter describes the enemies carrying basic weapons that the players can take - but after that, the trash loot is never mentioned again. Every time an enemy goes down, only two things are relevant - what magical items they were guarding, and how much their assorted low-grade detritus is worth in gold.


[1] Everyone starts with the same amount of gold, and everyone needs an Adventurer's Kit. Why didn't they give you the Adventurer's Kit for free with every new character?

[2] +1 plate costs the same as +1 leather, but the non-magical versions have quite prohibitively different costs. Why isn't the standard loot balanced in the same way as the magical loot, and why don't they just give you your choice of basic weapon and armour for free at character creation?

[3] 4th Edition still refers to "silver pieces" (worth one-tenth of a gold) and "copper pieces" (worth one-hundredth of a gold). Keep on the Shadowfell often gives out "50 silver pieces" instead of just saying "5 gold". There is nothing remotely interesting a player can buy with a silver piece. The comparitive value of a silver piece, and the number of times a player will ever want to spend one, is so trivial as to be nil. Why didn't the designers simplify the maths by doing away with the small change completely?


Kelly said...

Brilliant questions.

Titanium Dragon said...

I think the reason why they didn't eliminate silver and copper pieces was so that players could basically hand them out as tips and stuff without really losing much cash. It also allows you to give players a lot of coins; 1000 sp sounds like more than 100 gp, even though it isn't.

However, I really question why they didn't just use the silver piece as the standard and keep up the 100s. So:

Copper piece: 1/100th of a silver piece.
Silver piece: 1/100th of a gold piece.
Gold piece: 1/100th of a platinum piece.
Platinum piece: top of the scale.