“What am I supposed to spend my gold on?” That question has sent many DMs of 5e Dungeons & Dragons scrambling to create land holdings, businesses, strongholds, and other gold sinks as an answer.
When D&D 5e dropped the magical item economy, many players were left wondering the purpose of acquiring vast amounts of loot in a world where magic is rare and there is no established market for such items.
And while the publishers of D&D offer some suggestions like lifestyle expenses, reoccurring expenses, and a variety of downtime activities which all burn gold, this approach is flawed. The main problem being that the published gold sinks offer very little in return for the gold spent, and end up just being a “tax”.
Of course DMs are free to just reduce the amount of treasure found, but then the problem is just postponed. As the players level up the store of gold will continue to grow, just at a reduced rate. Lower payouts don’t really resolve the question of what to spend your gold on.
If a DM is using an adventure published by WOTC the problem can bite you in the ass pretty quick. Take Hoard of The Dragon Queen for example. If four players finish that published adventure, the loot acquired will be roughly 25,000 GP each.
What does a player do with 25K in gold? Well according to the PHB, a comfortable lifestyle expense is 730 GP a year. So HotDQ sets the PC up for the next 34 years. Even a high-roller lifestyle on an Aristocrat only costs 3,650 GP a year. That same 25K buys almost 7 years of living like a prince.
Now according to DMDAVID’s calculations the average PC will earn around 800,000 in gold over the course of their adventuring career. That is over 200 years of living like royalty, IF the player chooses to voluntarily pay a higher tax rate. I say voluntary, because the PHB doesn’t really offer much benefit to choosing this lifestyle over a comfortable one. Considering the majority of in game time will be in locations like dungeons, caves, the wilderness, and strange towns, benefiting from the added expense is not an option a DM can easily convince a player to take.
With lifestyle expenses, which cover the majority of day to day costs, out of the way, DMs start to scramble for other gold sinks and players start to wonder the point of adventuring if they can’t improve their characters with the gold.
And that really is the heart of the problem. Players want to spend the gold, but they want to spend it on things that improve their characters. Some older versions of D&D used gold for XP to conquer this problem, while more recent versions used the Magic Item Economy. With 5e, players are left with a pretty large hole in player agency and the ability to impact their character’s performance. The best 5e has to offer is “training” where for 250 GP and 250 days you can learn a language or a new tool.
So what can a DM do without breaking the game or dramatically altering the economy? Well it’s your world, you can do anything you want, but I do have a few suggestions you may find helpful.
The easiest way of creating a gold sink that feels like you are getting something in return, and doesn’t break the game, is to start charging for things that once happened for free. We use a Ceremonial Advancement house rule. Clicking that link will take you to an in depth explanation of our system. The short version is this:
Tier Advancements in character levels that provide a bump in proficiency bonus (5th, 9th, 13th, and 17th) require a player to perform a specific ceremony, rite, or trial to advance to that level. The supplies to complete this tribulation are expensive and are consumed in the process. For example, a Barbarian advancing to level 5 would need to procure:
A carved ivory animal statuette (250 GP)
The PC could perform the ceremony by covering their body in white paint, climbing the tallest nearby peak, burying the statuette as an offering to the wild, and building a fire of scented wood. As the Barbarian bathes in the smoke, the level is awarded.
Now from a player’s perspective this level goes from “Hey guys you all leveled up,” to 5 minutes of spotlight on their character as he/she makes skill check after skill check ascending the peak.
From a DM’s perspective, an ordinary level advancement just became more meaningful in game and removed a chunk of gold sitting around doing nothing.
Now our Ceremonial Advancement Rule has more details, explains the math and gives a DM some suggestions based on class, but the player and DM are free to work together to create a memorable ceremony. We like keeping the cost to roughly ¼ to 1/3 of the player’s current GP hoard. This effectively reduces stores of gold by up to 30% every 4 levels, but you as a DM can implement it any way that works for your table.
My next suggested house rule that can help pull gold from the game is altering the rules for recharging magical items. Currently, many items in the DMG have a stipulation that if the last charge is used, a d20 is rolled and on a 1, the item either crumbles or is no longer magical.
Our Arcane Incense house rule says that when the last charge is used on a magic item which requires a d20 roll, instead of rolling, the item automatically goes dormant and can only be restored through the use of expensive Arcane Incense.
This rule is outlined here, and doesn’t really alter the mechanics of the game all that much. Just now, instead of being destroyed or useless, a magic item can be restored to its former glory by spending some gold and bathing it in the magical smoke of Arcane Incense.
What about player agency and improving their characters? That is where our final suggestion comes in and to be honest it is the one most likely to alter game mechanics. However, it is also the one that most players love; changing the training rules in the Player’s Handbook.
Currently the Player’s Handbook allows players to use their downtime to learn a language or the use of new tools, but why stop there? Our Variant Training allows players to spend time and, most importantly, gold to learn languages, tools, weapon proficiency, and skills.
Now before you scream that will break the game, let me assure you; it won’t. The PHB and DMG already provide for all of the above except for weapon training. Actually the DMG kind of provides for it with the option to award Grandmaster training which can grant a feat: Weapons Master. So we are not really breaking new ground here. We are just streamlining it, simplifying it, and making it easier to obtain though gold expenditure. Check out our Variant Training Rules and see if they can work for your table.
Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition has a lot of thing that work really well, but the economy of adventuring has taking a giant step backwards. In an attempt to simplify things, the designers have almost removed any reason to actually go adventuring and snatch loot. Weapons and armor no longer wear out. Lifestyle expenses provide for repair, food, drink, and lodging. There is no market for magic items and most recharge daily. Spell components can be replaced with a one-time purchase of a component pouch. The list goes on, but with some creative thinking, a DM can do more than just say “buy a castle” when the players ask what to spend their gold on.
- WTF do I do with all this gold in 5e Part 1 (introduction)
- Part 2: Ceremonial Advancement
- Part 3: Arcane Incense Rules
- Part4: Variant Training Rules