OD&D Certainties: PC Death and…?

On page 24 of The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures there is a throwaway rule related to upkeep. I have not seen it used in any version of D&D but think trying it to see what emerges is a worthy experiment.

Player/Characters must pay Gold Pieces equal to 1% of their experience points for support and upkeep, until such time as they build a stronghold.

It is a tidy way to relieve characters of money and makes intuitive sense: the upkeep and daily needs of a hero are more costly that those of an unrecognized veteran [1]. But what emergent behavior will it create?

The reason no one does this, of course, is the enormous and annoying book-keeping task created. The DM will have to calculate upkeep each time experience and treasure have been divvied out and experience totals have changed. This implies a weekly levy using the recommended rules on time in the campaign, or possibly a one-time fee each time a character gains experience.

One behavior the upkeep rule might reinforce is desire to attend each game session: miss too many sessions and your character’s coffers are slowly depleted. The rule might also create an incentive for players to spend their money quickly to prevent it being bled away over time.

Have you done this in your campaign? What other emergent behaviors have you encountered?



[1] For instance, a veteran spends between 0 and 20 gold a week on quarters, food, mending armor and weapons, training, and the like. A hero has deeper responsibilities and a reputation to uphold: more expensive repairs, upkeep of retainers, henchmen, horses, perhaps established rooms at an Inn, and thus spends 80 to 160 gold a week. A superhero will have visitors, guests, emissaries to entertain, minor bribes and tributes to bestow, taxes to pay, a retinue requiring day-to-day allowances, one or more bases of operations as she prepares a stronghold, exchange costs and commissions, and could easily spend 1,200 to 2,400 a week.

14 Responses to “OD&D Certainties: PC Death and…?”

  1. August 9, 2011 at 7:27 pm

    The reason no one does this, of course, is the enormous and annoying book-keeping task created. The DM will have to calculate upkeep each time experience and treasure have been divvied out and experience totals have changed.

    Or, the DM can just drop the last two digits of the character’s experience.

    DM: What’s your fighter’s current experience points?
    Player: 1,456 xp.
    DM: You owe 14 gp in support and upkeep.

    Last time I brought this up, though, there was a discussion about whether this should be weekly or monthly. I’m not quite satisfied with either answer being the “right” one, so it should probably be tweakable by the DM.

  2. August 9, 2011 at 8:01 pm

    I found doing it at the beginning of each session works as a reasonable compromise.

  3. 3 Charlatan
    August 9, 2011 at 8:03 pm

    My intuition is quite different. There’s no guarantee a level 4 character will be better outfitted than a level 2 character- perhaps even a level 1, though one hopes so. Moreover, the supporting fiction for our games regularly features characters whose lifestyles are independent of their skill or power.

    It’s one thing to create a schedule of maintenance costs for different player decisions, it’s quite another to bill them progressively for a hypothetical lifestyle.

  4. August 9, 2011 at 8:06 pm

    Player Character Expenses, p25, DMG.

  5. 5 Charlatan
    August 9, 2011 at 9:05 pm

    I’m comfortable taking precisely the same exception with the DMG rule, though I appreciate the specification of the period. I usually take the stance that the rules are right, and try to think of the systems that they imply. In this case, however, I fail to understand the system that ties accrued experience points to lifestyle.

    It’s more intuitive, I think, to say that the expenses are a proportion of the character’s wealth than their experience.

  6. August 9, 2011 at 9:06 pm

    @Charlatan: I actually lean towards monthly lump sum, with an option to go with itemized billing. If players want to scrimp, they can try the pay-as-you-go route; if not, the 1% monthly lump sum fee is easier on bookkeeping and generally cheaper.

  7. 7 Charlatan
    August 9, 2011 at 9:17 pm

    @Talysman: Is there a break-point at which your pay-as-you-go scheme becomes cheaper, or is that scheme tied to level as well?

    I think the thing that chafes me about these rules is that itemized living expenses, or expenses as a proportion of accrued wealth, match in-character expenses to in-character determinants, whereas the XP basis matches them to a game concern, but supports them with narrative fluff of imposed in-character effects.

  8. 8 Scott
    August 9, 2011 at 11:11 pm

    I use it as a monthly fee and have found that it actually eases bookkeeping. I assume that it covers such matters as room, board, normal carousing, armor and weapon repair, replacement of torches and mundane ammunition, food for a one or two day dungeon delve, etc. At the lower levels, the characters get off a bit easy, paying less than they probably would if we tracked individual expenditures. Higher level OD&D characters are paying more than they probably would for the de minimis expenses, but are presumably living high on the hog, maintaining a reputation, being gouged by vendors and menials, and dealing with the other hazards of being a wealthy vagabond who Needs Things Now. If that becomes too onerous, they can always build that stronghold.

    It’s honestly less of a hassle to check once a month and mark off some gold than to repurchase every single arrow, pay however many silvers for every drink and night’s lodging, etc. At some point these become insignificant expenses that are easily handwaved with the upkeep rules.

  9. August 9, 2011 at 11:57 pm

    @Charlatan: by “pay-as-you-go”, I mean “look up the cost of what you want to buy and pay that”. GM has to set prices for a room at the inn and other items Scott mentioned. No level involved in the calculations at all. If the PCs live as cheaply as they can, however, they will be assumed to be 1st level by townsfolk, which will affect reactions.

    I think I’m going to write a blog post about level and status…

  10. 10 maldoor
    August 10, 2011 at 1:08 am

    Great comments!

    @ jrients: I have been doing it at the start of each session also, but as a book-keeping exercise, subtracting the gold in my campaign spreadsheet. Now I think it should be a part of the opening of the game: “you each spent gold on upkeep; what did you spend it on?” It should allow everyone an opportunity to embellish the sandbox and develop characters. It could conceivably be worked into a carousing system in a way I have not figured out yet.

    @ Charlatan: I like your concerns about player agency. Making upkeep an option makes a lot of sense. I also like the way Talysman addresses it, providing the option to play out decisions to players who want to make it a part of their character’s style to watch their money, spend it obsessively on one thing, etc.

    @ Scott, I completely agree: this rule is ultimately a time-saving device for players and DM alike and keeps people from obsessing over minutia.

    @Talysman: I like your thoughts about repercussions of not spending your loot on “normal” upkeep: there may be reputation issues, that character will have a harder time attracting henchmen, etc. Looking forward to reading your post!

    The hard part, I think, is how you decide to track upkeep in your campaign. Here are some of the questions I want to think through: If you assume a week between expeditions, do you charge upkeep for all your characters, or only the ones who are at the present session? Or only the ones who earned XP at the previous session, and so have a changed XP total?. If you are relying on players to keep track of exp and gold totals, do you not charge players who are not present, or do you keep track of how many sessions worth of upkeep they owe next time they return to the table?

    For me, these are interesting questions because any solution is fine as long as it works for the DM and players, but different decisions will nudge the game in different directions.

  11. August 10, 2011 at 1:34 am

    Pathfinder actually has a rule like this, but it’s the more a price per month depending on the character’s lifestyle. I don’t remember the numbers, but there were ratings from squatter to noble with a monthly upkeep, and then it could be assumed that any item up to a certain cost it was assumed you had at home, and you only had to pay for meals, ammo or lodgings over a certain threshold.

  12. 12 zhai2nan2
    August 10, 2011 at 1:37 am

    It strongly depends on the system and the setting.

    E.g.: In Shadowrun, skipping out on rent and committing outright thefts are somewhat appropriate: the PCs are criminals. Dying in a gutter is *also* appropriate, and some Shadowrun PCs get gunned down by their former partners in crime.

    In Mage: the Ascension, the PCs have mundane expenses that can mostly be ignored, but perhaps they have to pay precious Quintessence to their Mentors.

    In one D&D 2nd Edition campaign, I played a nobleman involved in government. I never had to worry about copper pieces, but I had to make sure the bureaucracy supported my political position.

    Most games I have been involved with have ignored problems of upkeep. The primary reason was that players got bored easily, and needed action and excitement. The secondary reason was that players switched systems easily, and often they would want to play a different rule system rather than advance characters. One week we would play superheroes, the next week we would be TPK’d by Cthulhu’s minions, the next week we would do ElfQuest.

  13. 14 1d30
    August 10, 2011 at 6:10 pm

    I like replacing all the miscellaneous costs for an upkeep cost.
    PC: While I’m in town I need new iron rations and wine, a few torches, a replacement rope for the one THE DWARF BURNED, horse feed, and new clothes. I’m also gonna stay in a nice inn, meals, baths, and a good stable for my horse.
    DM: You’re level 3? All that is taken care of in upkeep except the inn, which you’d have to pay an extra 1 GP per night for the room and stabling.
    PC: Nope, I just leveled to 4 last game.
    DM: Oh, ok, then don’t worry about it.

    PC: I’m heading down to the temple to pick up 4 vials of holy water and see if they can spare any heailng potions.
    DM: Level 4, right?
    PC: Yep.
    DM: The old priest can spare the holy water, but says you haven’t been tithing enough to cover the cost of the potion. If you want one it’ll be 500 GP.

    PC: I’m spending the week training, then on the last day I’m going on a carousing spree and spend 50 GP.
    DM: Since you’re level 2, you manage to get a few youths from the militia to help with sparring practice. They have thin clubs and quilted cotton armor, so you all end up with a bunch of bruises. You spend the last night before setting out again drinking a lot of average local beer and gnawing a haunch of roasted mutton, with a pretty village girl at your arm listening wide-eyed to your tales. Take 50 XP and roll on the carousing table.
    PC: … looks like I got hitched. I’m getting out of town early in the morning.

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Past Adventures of the Mule

August 2011

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