I know that nobody likes inflation. Today it is considered to be this country’s number one problem, it even overshadows the terrible afflictions that are unemployment and wars, just for starters. We constantly complain about the Government’s ridiculous inability to balance the country’s budgets, and yet we allow it to be present in our fantasy worlds, the very places where we go to forget the pains of reality. We never seem to notice it, in fact we enjoy it, as long as we are on the receiving end. If you do not believe that many of the fantasy campaigns of D&D are suffering from inflation, then perhaps we should take another look at what the word means: inflation: the loss of a unit’s value related to monetary, currency. In our world it’s the dollar losing its value. What about in D&D? What can you do with one gold piece in your campaign?
Some Dungeon Masters were given the idea of rewarding experience only for money spent instead of for money gained. While this may help get rid of the players’, loot it’s not terribly realistic. In most cultures you gain power (experience levels) by gaining material wealth, not by getting rid of it. But if you don’t give players incentive to spend their money they won’t; and so the problem of too much money remains. Such is the result of too much gold being given to the players.
An analogy should be made between the dollar. How many dollars is a gold piece worth? While I recognize that such a comparison is impossible to make, you could imagine the gold piece being equal to the dollar in value. In various campaigns players gain thousands of gold pieces by slaying a single monster (not always worthy of possessing such treasure). If we converted that to the modern scale it would make the player instantly well off, else rich (depending on the country you are in, as some countries are much cheaper to live in using U.S. dollars than in the U.S.).
Using the 1:1 ratio we have common peasants, players, societies walking around with hundreds of gold pieces on their persons. How many of us routinely carry hundreds of dollars in our pockets? If you have that much money floating around, available to anybody, what happens? Because of the merchants’ attempts to stay even, the prices go up. Inflation.
And if you are one of the many who consider a gold piece is worth more than a dollar (maybe 5 or 10) then the situation becomes even more unbelievable. There is another thing wrong, if everyone has that much money they can easily buy land, build castles, towns, etc. Usually this is in a setting where most (the vast majority) or people didn’t even own their homes; rather, they lived according to the feudal system. But I guess everyone owns their own place in these campaigns. The Middle Ages were never so good!
What about silver and copper? They seem to exist merely to add variety to the treasures so easily found by the players, they are merely converted to gold and then forgotten. After all what are they worth? What can you buy with a copper piece? With a silver piece? Instead, the need is seen for such metals as Platinum and Electrum, worth even more than the inflation ridden gold piece!
The whole idea surrounding precious metals is that their rarity makes them valuable. Is it any wonder that gold is virtually worthless when the world contains so much of it? That must be why the preconditioned players, used to monstrous amounts of coins, grumble so loudly when they enter a campaign and initially receive only (?) 1-10 gold pieces, or when they go to all the trouble of pickpocketing some poor little commoner and get nothing but a few copper pieces? What the hell can you do with that? Much of the same things that you use gold for in most other campaigns. You could merely cut the prices when you cut the amount, that you give them; thus silver and copper are brought into use.
Money is not the only thing that has lost its value to inflation. With the advancement to 10th or 15th level what is a single hit point worth? It’s worth a heck of a lot when you don’t have too many of them at level 1. Magical items are also in ridiculous abundancy. “Now, come on people and smile on your brothers, let’s get together and give gold to one another right now.”
So, those of you complaining that your players have too much gold, possess too many magical items, or are of too high a level for ordinary monsters to kill, can do something. You are the Dungeon Master, you are God of their world, if you don’t want them to get that powerful then make it so they cannot or at least make it so that it is very difficult to do so. Maybe you have room in your campaign for every player to own their own castle…but most DM’s don’t, else shouldn’t because small is beautiful.