Back in the halcyon days of my first ever Pathfinder game, life was good. The gold flowed like wine, my spellbook was full to bursting with new and exciting spells, and every magic item was a fresh wonder. My GM provided loot in the form of quest rewards and slain monsters’ hoards, and that was good enough for the likes of me.

Eventually however, 10th level rolled around. The campaign had gone on for years by this point, and I’d been spending time on forums. According to the internet, my party was long overdue for the staple items of 3.X. Realizing that my party was undergeared, I decided it was time for my wizard to take some crafting feats. First I built a belt incredible dexterity, which I gave to our rogue. Then our paladin got a headband of alluring charisma. Then the party looked under their seats, and EVERYBODY GETS BETTER STATS! If you’ve read any of my past posts on the need to make magic items special, you may imagine my poor GM’s reaction. Nothing make magic feel mundane more quickly than mass production, and I was turning out stylish accessories like I’d multiclassed into fashionista.

The friendly debate I had with my GM at the time mirrors the ongoing debate in the community: What is gold for? If you take Paladin’s approach to the problem, then your mounds o’ glimmering etc. are there as a device for roleplaying. You might follow his example and use your wealth to help the poor. You might buy a network of informants, lead armies, build fortresses, start your own business, or acquire big ticket items like airships. You might even drink your gold away à la Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, providing yourself with a reason to head back out to the wilderness in search of more booty next session. Of course, all of these options take effort on the part of the GM. Building an army is going to have one heck of an impact on a campaign. And since you don’t want to “penalize” players for playing carousers rather than crusaders, even the hypothetical hard-drinking PCs ought to receive some sort of benefit from their pub crawling (useful rumors, popularity among the Union of Tavern Brawlers, etc.). In these scenarios, it’s the GM that decides what mechanical benefits the gold confers.

That can be extremely cool from an RP perspective. However, in games predicated on small bands of heroes kicking down doors and killing monsters, a healthy real estate portfolio isn’t going to help you excel at critter slaying. In fact, it’s not going to do much of anything unless your GM says so. It might be cool for Paladin to found a temple to spread the light of the Goodly Gods, but unless you devote screen time to the effects of this project it’s going to feel pretty hollow. I think that this more than power gaming is the reason players like magic item shops. Looking at the magic item lists like a Sears Catalog might not be especially interesting in RP terms, but it does represent an effort by players to have a demonstrable impact on the world.

This all leads to a bit of a conundrum. If you want to include some kind of gold / power exchange rate in your game, how do you balance that with gold-as-RP? In other words, if you can pay for magic items, new powers, or powerful minions who are willing to fight at your side, how do you balance those hard mechanical benefits against the guy that wants to build a city wall for the town?

So what do you say? How do you make sure that the “personal power” guy and the “good RP” guy both feel like their gold went to a good cause? Do you simply divorce the two, or is there some other solution here? Let’s hear it in the comments!