4e Excerpt: Economy & Reward

Today’s D&D 4e excerpt, “Economy & Reward,” is emblematic of the core ethic behind 4e that makes it hateful to me.

Their new theory on giving out treasure is even more obsessed with everyone getting the same stuff than previous editions. So rather than random treasure, or DM-placed treasure without doing math (God forbid) to make sure every 5th-level PC’s net worth is identical, the DMG has a “fifth level treasure parcel,” containing everything a good little group of adventurers should get while they’re fifth level. It’s broken up into ten chunks, and you just place the chunks in encounters where you think they should go. So they’re guaranteed to get the planned cash. Because any 5th level character not having the exact same amount of treasure is wrong.

Here’s the trick – people could do that under 3e. There’s a recommended target $ by level table. But they don’t do that. Why? Well, because that’s lame. To break down lame into technical terms, it’s gamism over simulationism, it deliberately limits DM choice and campaign variation…

Do you think I’m exaggerating? Go read the excerpt! OK, here it is:

Paragon Tier Treasure Parcels

Party Level 15 Total Monetary Treasure: 50,000 gp
  1. Magic item, level 19
  2. Magic item, level 18
  3. Magic item, level 17
  4. Magic item, level 16
  5. 14,000 gp, or 140 pp, or one 7,500 gp art object + one 5,000 gp gem + one 1,500 gp art object
  6. 12,000 gp, or 120 pp, or one 7,500 gp art object + 4,500 gp
  7. 8,500 gp, or one 7,500 gp art object + 1,000 gp, or one 7,500 gp art object + one 1,000 gp gem
  8. 8,500 gp, or one 5,000 gp gem + one 2,500 gp art object + 1,000 gp, or eight 1,000 gp gems + 500 gp
  9. 5,000 gp, or one 5,000 gp gem, or one 2,500 gp art object + one 1,500 gp art object + one potion of vitality
  10. 2,000 gp, or two potions of vitality, or two 1,000 gp gems

Yep, that’s right. You’re level 15, you should get one of these standard parcels per encounter. No, no, not a different parcel with about the same value – why, some PC might get gypped out of a f*cking gold piece that is “due” them in some cosmic way. Jesus, even World of Warcraft doesn’t get this lame and formulaic. I have to move on because I’m throwing up a little in my mouth the longer I linger over this section.

The XP section is OK though. XP is given per monster defeated, and also quest rewards. Though still, it seems too regular – “[adventurers] gain a level after completing eight to ten encounters…” Oh, OK, eight to ten, cool. Gotta leave a little variation in there! Just saying “nine” would be wrong.

Then we get to the section on civilization and economy. Naturally, nothing about a civilization’s economy matters except “what kind of magic items can adventurers buy there” so that’s what it’s boiled down to.

You know, 3e actually had a halfway decent economic model, once you did the analysis and looked at the costs, standard community levels, craft/profession revenue, etc. Farewell to that.

Anyway, they continue to screw the pooch. Now, PCs can only sell “used” magic items for one fifth of their value. It was bad enough in 3e where it was half – yes, no one can find a buyer for a +2 sword that will pay more than 50%, even though adventurers routinely buy for 100%. Yay economics! Now, even pawn shop owners have nothing on merchants, who won’t go about 20% of the value on an item that by its nature doesn’t degrade in value over time. And, they usually sell for above value. (50% chance of 10-40% markup!)

If you decide that’s retarded, good news, you can instead disenchant items into magic dust that’s the component to use to make new items. “But we’re not ripping off World of Warcraft!” Damn, if someone put out a tabletop RPG as close to D&D as D&D is getting to WoW, WotC would be sending them cease & desist letters.

I know by this point everyone out there thinks I’m just a dyed in the wool 4e hater, but I really would like it if they would show one part of the rules that doesn’t appear to be totally dicked up to even cursory observation. Welcome to the Windows Vista of the roleplaying world!

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5 responses to “4e Excerpt: Economy & Reward

  1. Michael Dingler

    Games and economics just don’t mix. This has been a problem in any game where it was possible to “upgrade” the players just by spending money, e.g. fantasy games with made-to-order magical items and cyberpunk games.

    Yet I don’t see why 4e should be a bigger problem than 3e here. The current ruleset has similar tables. Players crafting just the items that you need is a bigger problem, and lowering the selling price actually makes this more expensive and you’re more likely to wear and wield the loot you’ve got.

    Don’t get me wrong, I find that putting list prices on magic items has always been a wrong idea, players crafting them in a reasonable amount of time (days or weeks) is even worse. Both inherently lead to a point-buy game within a level-based game…

  2. Well, I totally agree that 3e took a big step in this direction with the “trivially easy to make” magic items, that is one of the major sources of the last problem in my post. But this “fix,” if one can call it that, tries to repair that rule just by making the “world stupider around it.”

    I think that you’re right, the real fix is to make magic items harder to make – not impossible like in 1e/2e, but more than a couple days of labor certainly. My gaming group is always amused at their wizards consuming a huge mound of coins and pooping out a magic item a day later…

  3. Michael Dingler

    Adjusting the world to the game seems to be the general leitmotif of 4e. This has been evident in previous editions, too, although never as strong as now (e.g. when all the assasins died after the 1e/2e switch).

    This will make it harder and harder to just use the rules for your own world. You’d have to make concessions that go far beyond the usual divine/arcane split or other minor changes. 3e already was a rather delicate system, where changing one minor sub-system brought the whole mess coming down. And now that usage of the property by third parties doesn’t seem to be as important anymore, there’s nothing to hold the developers back. We will be getting a very fine-tuned, comprehensible system that’s still rich in options from this effort. From a pure mechanical aspect, I have no doubt that this will be the best iteration ever.

    And it will be the least generic. Either you buy in to all the prerequisites, or you won’t be happy. For me, this is a big issue…

  4. As far as the loot distribution tables, I’m having a hard time understanding your objections here. This is just another tool for DM’s, and I’ll probably use it maybe 50 or 75% of the time. But if i want to throw in an artifact, or a cache of low level magic items, or a nearly priceless named gem with a history, be damn well sure i’m gonna. Nothing limits the DM’s choices or campaign variation – the DM runs the game. Period.

    All these treasure tables offer is a faster, off the cuff method of generating treasure and a better defined baseline – both of which are pluses IMHO.

    I agree though that “disenchanting” magic items for components to make other magic items is way too derivative of WOW. There’s five of you around a table, you don’t have to deal with economy the same way a MMORPG does. I play enough WOW as it is, I turn to tabletop gaming for other reasons.

  5. @Sean: Well, two things – one, WotC is deliberately shifting 4e to minimize the DM’s power, both real and implicit. More and more the game itself is working against the “old school” theory of the DM runs the game and whatever they want to do goes.

    Two, you can’t rate a game system based on what we’d do when we ignore the rules as written! If I am making it up myself anyway, there’s no reason to buy their books. It’d be one thing if the DMG was looking like it’s full of goodness with some bad bits – mostly it’s looking like it’s full of badness.

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