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Friday, January 11, 2013

Persistence of Cash

In the last post about the all-dungeon campaign, I meant to add a discussion about inns and merchants in the dungeon. In Nethack, when you explore a level, you may stumble upon a shop, where a shopkeeper will be happy to sell fresh supplies to you and usually will also buy items you don't need. You might need a little more to your design to explain how a shopkeeper (or innkeeper) is able to survive in the middle of a dungeon.

But there's another issue that occurs to me, one that applies to ordinary merchants above ground as well. If you write up a description of a village merchant or use one from a module, the notes generally indicate what items are for sale and how much cash the merchant has on hand. How many of you adjust cash on hand after a player buys something? And how do you account for the merchant's own expenses? Or do you?


  1. I probably would only worry about cash if it was something that I thought would come into play. Depends on the player and on the DM; some people like or want that level of detail, some don't (as evidenced by myriad blog posts).

    I am wondering if a bigger question may be the type of economy that a dungeon environment would support. Would it be cash-based, credit, barter? Would there be merchant shops or markets? Would there be merchant fairs? How about trade routes? I personally would not try to create a realistic economy, but it certainly creates a very different environment when the players meet goblin merchants on their way to the next level's fair.

  2. Frankly, I don't track NPC cash. Unless the players are intending to knock the store over, it seems to be a bookkeeping exercise that doesn't move the story along. I can see in a Starship Warden style iso-dungeon where the resources are finite it might come in handy to track. On the other hand, in such an environment who's minting the coins?

  3. If merhcants don't have immunity from thieves DMs should track the cash.

    If we worry how many cp the orc guarding a 10' by 10' square has the cash the local merchant has should matter.

  4. I really don't bother with the minutia — the merchant is part of Civilization and therefore not part of the Wilderness wherein PCs go to adventure. The closest I come to emulating such a thing is rolling a d6 for availability — 1 being lots of cash or items being available and 6 being the item in question is beyond the ability of the merchant to pay for or that an item is not only not available but will take time to make/arrive. I also use barter a lot (especially with potions, where PCs show up with cool ingredients).

  5. If the PCs do steal from the merchant, or magically detect quantity of wealth he has or something, I'll estimate how much he should have. Taking into account his wares, whether he's likely to sell stuff to people, and how much business the PCs know about him doing lately (such as money they have given him). If it's days after PC transactions and the merchant wasn't under surveillance, I assume he got the money out of his shop and spent it on stock, a couple tools, paid his employees, paid off debts, etc. and he's back to a normal cashbox.

    I figure a good guideline would be money equal to 1% of the value of his whole stock in GP, or else 10% of the value of the most expensive thing in the shop (the second is easier but throws it off if the shopkeeper has only cheap things - such as a convenience store in real life - or when he has mostly junk but a couple big-ticket items). Add about 100 SP and 100 CP to be able to make change.

    If the PCs have something the merchant desperately wants but doesn't have cash on hand for, he can send a running courier for money, but it'll take an hour or so and he'll get pretty suspicious if one PC hightails it out of there after the courier.

    Villages won't do couriers and are more likely to keep all the money in the cashbox.