Friday 2 August 2019

Bell Peppers and Beef

I like how money works in RPGs - as in, it just kinda does. You start poor and then do missions and get a bit richer - now you can buy better gear to do more missions! You get to see those numbers go up, and with them your characters' social standing and potential to get cool stuff.

It's like real life capitalism, except you don't have to worry about millions of people and the planet they live on being systemically crushed by the relentless pursuit of a few chosen individuals' personal gain! Huzzah! Money is one of those things, like conversation, that you don't really need to abstract through mechanics in a tabletop game because you can just play out the real thing at the table, or else handwave it as needed.

But for the new 5e game I'm starting with some friends, tallying gold and copper just didn't seem ideal. It wouldn't fit the tone, for a few fairly arbitrary reasons, the biggest one being that this campaign takes inspiration from Cowboy Bebop. 

(I almost launched into a Cowboy Bebop treatise here, so this little aside is me barely managing to stop myself from ranting about one of the greatest TV series - not just in sci fi or animation, but of any medium or genre - of all time. If you've never watched Bebop... Watch Bebop. Just... Just watch it.)

I figured our heroes in this setting weren't the classic B/X gold-for-XP murder hobos, as much as I love that conceit. Nor were they 5e's archetypical fantasy rag-tag do-gooders who maybe buy a boat. These are people under constant systemic and societal pressure, worn down by a world that works against them at every turn, struggling to survive through loopholes and dirty tricks - drifters in a cosmic race that threatens to overturn their unstable lives of they ever, for even a second, stop running. They won't ever get rich, and if they do they'll die trying.

Also I thought it would be cool to have scenes of them sipping coffee in a hazy neon jazz club or eating ramen from a street stall between jobs, and I didn't want to undercut that with "ok, everyone cross off 2 copper". Money is a background feature in this world, a system first and a tangible gameable thing a distant second.

But at the same time, this isn't a storygame, and spending power means something to the way players approach challenges. I want to give them the satisfaction of earning something from a job (on top of the best thing to earn from adventures which is fictional positioning, and the second best which is levels and items and stuff), even if it's quickly ripped away again. Money and how it relates to the characters' place in this world is interesting and gameable, and I want it to have weight. I also wanna reinforce the "just one more job" cycle of play that RPGs excel at anyway.

So, I cooked up a little something with what I had and ran it by my players. They agreed it was a good idea - a session in and it's working nicely so far.

Here's my Bell Peppers and Beef (and hold the beef) Financial Abstraction Mechanic. Or as I half-jokingly call it, the Poverty Roll. Kind of a variant on "usage die" mechanics.

The crew has a shared Money stat of 1-20, most likely starting at a 0 or 1 given the implied flavour. Gritter games can use a lower top end to the scale; 1-10, or 8 even.

Each completed mission earns the players 1, 2, or occasionally even 3 points depending on the fiction.

Every time the players:
- spend a day shopping or the night at an inn. Y'know, an in-game day where they make general, normal purchases
- make a significant purchase (relatively speaking, I'm thinking like a magic sword or a big bribe) or otherwise spend more than usual for the day
- take a long rest (1 week in this setting as per the 5e DMG's variant rule)
- other relevant expenditure as decided by the GM

They roll a die, dX, where X is the highest integer that is lower than their current Money stat and is also a die type available at the table - or a d4 if the stat is 1-3. (d2 also possible I guess.)

On a 1, they lose 1 from their Money stat.

At 0 Money, they have no purchasing power and must take a job before they can buy anything.

Try it out! Try not to think too hard about how it mirrors real life financial struggle and the world is a cyberpunk hellscape ✌️


maxcan7 said...

This is a cool idea. I think it could also be cool to embed within the jobs "hidden costs"; in some cases it's just something the players need to learn from experience and budget that in, and in other cases it's a gamble that could pay off or could blow up in their faces. Along those lines, allowing for a certain degree of negative money stat (going into debt) should be allowed, but it could have all sorts of ramifications, like barring them from purchasing certain things later, or putting them on bad terms with certain factions. You could imagine a case where at -1 debt you're going to be barred from making certain purchases until you reach +2 money, at -2 debt you're going to have certain factions that won't deal with you until you reach +3 money, at -3 debt you're going to have people coming after you, and possibly demanding interest, until you're at +4 money, etc.

tipsta said...

I've toyed with ideas like this before and i really like your take on it! I think for my games I'd call the stat Wealth, instead of Money. I also might increase the failure range to 1-2. I also like your implementation because it gives room for certain types of characters or groups, say a ruling caste family to have a higher Max Money score.

If I may, I rewrote the section on how the rolling itself works to make it bit clearer.

The size of the die rolled is based on the party's Money Score rounded down to the nearest polyhedral. For example a party with Money 5 would roll a d4.

D. G. Chapman said...

Oh shoot yeah debt is a good call! I like that a lot

D. G. Chapman said...

Mm yup that's clearer. Blog stuff tends to be very "first draft" for me :P using the different maximums like that is great too!

Dan said...

Yoinked for Mothership.

D. G. Chapman said...

Yesss, crush their spirits into even finer dust 👌

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