Friday, January 22, 2010

Gold: Lifeblood of the Underworld

Why Adventurers seek it, Dragons hoard it and Goblins idolize it.

Gold is woven into the very fabric of the fantasy role-playing campaign, often being the catalyst for adventure. Characters pursue gold because it is a means to an end for their goals, providing experience and wealth in order to realize greater power within the framework of the campaign world. Gold is, after all, power.

Adventuring characters gain experience through the wealth they extract from the underworld. As detailed in The First Fantasy Campaign by Dave Arneson, adventurers in the initial version of what was to become D&D were required to spend their plundered gold pursuing certain motivations in order to gain experience from it.

Gold allows experienced adventurers to bring order to the wilderness on the surface through the construction of strongholds. The forces of Law desire the plundering of gold from the clutches of Chaos in the underworld that they might spread the will of man across the land.

To further their own cause and maintain their grasp in the fantasy campaign, Chaos must oppose these efforts. He who has the gold makes the rules in a manner of speaking.

The underworld itself relies on gold, its presence attracts and emboldens monsters while luring adventurers into the unexplored reaches below. The absence of gold can lead to a dungeon's dormancy or perhaps eventual abandonment. Gold is the lifeblood of the underworld.

With the assumption that gold is more then mere currency, allow certain monsters in the fantasy campaign to become more powerful based on the amount of gold they are able to amass or otherwise keep hidden within the underworld. The underworld will often reward their efforts much in the manner that adventurers are rewarded for capturing and spending gold.

Goblin Hordes: Keeping the Lifeblood flowing

At the far end of the gold/underworld spectrum are the lowly Goblins. Being an abomination of fae-blood and spawned from the very Chaos of the underworld, Goblins find themselves attuned to gold in a manner not shared by most beings. It is their duty to keep this lifeblood of the underworld flowing, and they do so in a number of ways. Goblins place gold above all other motivations because it is one of the surest means of survival in the dark pits they call home.

Nocturnal surface raids, kidnappings and general Goblin mayhem assure that gold is always entering their world from the surface, robbing the forces of Law even if in but a small manner. Following this flow of gold are adventurers who seek to reclaim that which the Goblins have absconded with from above. The forces below value the activities of the Goblins in luring over-dwellers to their demise, and appreciate the fealty often paid to them by these dungeon underlings.

Goblins garner the benefits of gold as a collective, not individually. A typical Goblin community, or tribe for lack of a better word, consists of 40-400 Goblins as well as a King with 5-30 Guards. The King and Guards form the unit which gains a rudimentary type of experience, while the standard Goblins enjoy greater numbers and more powerful leadership.

Goblins do not earn any benefits from simply hoarding gold; removing it from circulation is how they are able to benefit from gold. Here are some possible methods through which Goblins may gain experience from plundered gold:

Goblin Gold Disposal Methods
Bury/Hide: The intent was to use it later but it is forgotten. Map optional.
Sacrifice: In pagan worship, dropped into a mindless monstrosity's lair or deep hole.
Recast: Typically into pagan idols, sometimes into nose-cleaners and the like.
Distribute: As long as the gold goes deeper into the dungeon, either as fealty, payment or tribute, and falls into the clutches of something more capable of guarding it.

Goblin tribes do not begin to gain experience until they have established a lair, with King and Guards, and subsequently disposed of 8,000 gold. At that time the King and Guards will continue to accrue experience. Individual Goblin Kings and Guards will be replaced if they perish, with no penalty, but if the entire royal court is slain the tribe loses all of its accumulated experience.

Goblin Hordes increase in membership while the King and Guards become more powerful based upon an accumulation of experience earned through gold disposal. These scores are tracked in increments called Goblin Horde Ranks, detailed below.

Goblin Horde Ranks
I – 8K: +25 Goblins, +1 Guard, K&G: AC 5, HD 1+1, SA: Max hits.
II – 16K: +50 Goblins, +2 Guard, K&G: AC 5, HD 2, SA: RT Saves.
III – 32K: +75 Goblins, +3 Guards, K&G: AC 4, HD 2+1, SA: RT To Hit.
IV – 64K: +100 Goblins, +4 Guards, K&G: AC 4, HD 3, SA: RT Damage.
V – 128K: +125 Goblins, +5 Guards, K&G: AC 3, HD 3+1, SA: Lucky.
VI – 256K+: +150 Goblins, +6 Guards, K&G: AC 3, HD 4, SA: Two Lives.

K&G: Stats for the King and Guards. King and Guards all possess Move 9 and +1 Morale, regardless of Rank. The Special Ability (SA) is only learned by the King himself, and all six are cumulative.

King Special Abilities: RT (Roll Twice, using the higher result), Lucky (King can Save vs Death to avoid a killing blow), Two Lives (King will spring from the dead once, fully healed).

Gains in tribe members are cumulative across the periods of growth. For example, a tribe at Horde Size IV would have gained 250 Goblins and 10 Guards, its King and Guards would fight with an increased level of expertise (AC 4 and HD 3).

Keep in mind that the King and Guards will often make use of any magic items found or captured if at all possible. Optionally, if gold disposal is focused in the methods of Sacrifice and Recasting into pagan idols a tribe might also realize members with shamanistic or anti-cleric abilities. These Shamans can replace Guards, or complement them.

Dragon Hoards: Establishing Hearts of Adventure

While Goblins keep the Lifeblood flowing, Dragons and potentially other powerful underworld denizens benefit from the hoards of gold they are able to establish and protect. These hoards create hubs of power, or hearts of adventure. Fed by the flow of gold above and around them, these hearts increase in size through a steady influx of wealth.

Dragons long ago learned the importance of gold, the mythical element. By hoarding wealth Dragons were able to realize greater power while preventing the growth of Law. While Dragons may take a stance of Chaos or Neutrality, and even Law in the case of Gold Dragons, they are normally opposed to the spread of civilized man as his influence sweeps across their ancestral lands. Given the ferocity and cunning of many dragons it is only natural that they are often able to collect vast amounts of gold. This then is the motivation for Dragons, by hoarding gold they gain a limited form of experience which impacts their existence in the fantasy campaign.

Dragons establish a proper Hoard much in the way characters build a stronghold; by gaining experience and using wealth. In the case of the Dragon, experience of this sort is a measure of surviving to the very old age of 100 years. The Dragon may have been accumulating wealth in its younger days, but the proper establishment of a Hoard requires a suitable lair, boasting 70,000 gold or more, and the aforementioned age requirement. Once the proper Hoard is established and cultivated the Dragon will begin to acquire greater power while attracting followers.

Dragon Hoard Ranks use a total gold equivalent value which includes copper, silver, gold, gems and jewels. The collection and massing of this wealth is measured in the increments detailed below:

Dragon Hoard Ranks
I – 70K: Followers: 30 HD. Growth: Maximum HD if not already very large.
II - 140K: Followers: 60 HD. Toughness: 7 hp/HD.
III - 210K: Followers: 120 HD. Prowess: Bite deals double damage.
IV - 280K: Followers: 180 HD. Resilience: +2 on all saves.
V - 350K: Followers: 240 HD. Fearsome Breath: penalizes saves by 3.
VI - 420K+: Followers: 300 HD. Long-winded: able to breathe 4 times per day.

Dragons surviving the loss of their Hoard will not lose their special abilities immediately but may stand a chance to watch their followers abandon them. Hoard-less Dragons so pilfered of their wealth will do everything within their power to reclaim their gold and riches. Such Hoard-less Dragons will begin to watch their experience-earned power wane over time. Subdued Dragons on the other hand will lose their special abilities once their wealth is captured and they are removed from the underworld.

* * *

The above Horde and Hoard benefits are just basic ideas; there's certainly much more that can be dreamed up to flesh out this concept of the gold/underworld system and the advantages earned by the monsters propagating it.

Just a little something I've been bashing about and I thought I'd share for your enjoyment on a rainy Friday.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee


The Frothy Friar said...

Hmmm, that's a pretty interesting theory you've come up with. I hadn't really thought of increasing the power of a monster's clan based on how much treasure they might possess.

I'll have to contemplate this on the tree of woe

JB said...

When are folks going to start realizing salt was just as important as gold?
; )

John Stephens said...

That does explain an awful lot, doesn't it? But let's kick it up a notch:

"The Gold must flow".

"Who controls the Gold, controls the Universe".

I think I'm going to have to reread "Dune" before I'm done thinking about this.

Chad Thorson said...

Goblin gold sounds much better than Goblin spice!

Ragnorakk said...


AndreasDavour said...

Most excellent. This is the first metaphysics of classic rpg world I've ever seen.

You sir, are now the master philosopher of the OSR. ;)

GrimJesta said...

@Atom Kid: Goblin Spice is just another Elven way of saying "Goblin Shit".



James said...

Ooh, I like this, a lot!

Tom Fitzgerald said...

Fantastic. In a world where gold-hard-won translates directly into experience which translates to magical and temporal power. There ahs to be some kind of awareness of the metaphysical economy that accompanies plundering and hoarding. I envisage goblins participating in potlatch/moka tribute ceremonies with the othe humanoid races that exist deeper in the dungeon as a means of gaining experience/power and of buying protection.

The idea of gold flowing deeper into the dungeon towards the vortices of greed and possessiveness that are dragons is very appealing.

There is a dynamic here that explains why dungeons and adventurers exist. It's something I've been thinking about for a while but Sham has nailed down here very nicely.


Pukako said...

I am in awe of this idea.

Not so much the mechanics (although they are worth tipping my hat to), but the concept of a dungeon having an inflow of gold (or other desirables) down through different trophic levels - that is a revolutionary view on dungeons!

So you can plot different power groups in a megadungeon in terms of where they get their gold from and where it goes, with that being the key measure of power and respect - it's a way of building a 'power' web between the different groups, which sorts out relationships, rivalries and protection schemes.

The goblins give tribute to the Red Orcs, who give some to the Minotaurs, and some gets stolen by the Ratmen, who worship the Darkmantles, that give ransom to a Dragon, while the Minotaurs buy protection from the Gorgans...

So beat up on the goblins and orcs, then (much later) the Minotaurs come out to protect their gold supply. Jump some ratman thieves with pockets of stolen gold, but watch out for the darkmantles... Free the darkmantle captives from the dragon, however, and things change completely!

Sheer brilliance!

Verification Word - Puglab, as in Publag the Astronomocalis, master of the third level... he drops his gold into a hole in the floor that goes all the way down to level 5, so he's heard...

Sham aka Dave said...

Thanks for the great comments. This was essentially two topics in one, as you can see. I had the notion of "what if" gold was more than simply currency and then I wanted to give an example of how monsters, like characters, might benefit from it and how it motivates their presence and existence in the fantasy world.

The theory stands well alone without the goblin/dragon mechanics, and even without the idea of "monster experience" as presented.

Gold considered in this method impacts the game conventions of alignment, character and monster motivations, experience, the intangible power gained from experience/wealth, the "why" of the underworld (chaos) vs. the growth of civilization (law), and so on.

It truly takes the game further away from the xp gained from monsters and anchors it firmly in the xp for gold camp.

Motivation - Gold - Power. Overcoming monsters while attempting to fulfill motivations continues to yield xp, but true power is more easily realized with the accumulation of wealth.

There's plenty of potential with this approach and perhaps I should expand and polish the idea at a later date.

ze bulette said...

Just a little late to the party but thought I’d still reply here....

Thanks for this thought provoking post - re: "Goblins do not earn any benefits from simply hoarding gold; removing it from circulation is how they are able to benefit from gold." - Wouldn't removing it from circulation merely increase its (both local and greater) value by its scarcity, negating the benefit of removing it from circulation? Perhaps some small damage might be done to a local economy for a time, but it would be more of an inconvenience as failure to replenish the local supply would simply increase the value of gold holdings there overall. Or maybe I'm missing something more fundamental in your original point.

And while gold can lead to a dungeon's dormancy, it should be noted that if this was the case, it would be determined by the state of the above ground economy, and that capitalistic pursuits are not the only motivation of dungeoneers, or even if they are, gold rewards need not be found in the dungeon itself but might reside in the hands of powerful interests outside of it who nevertheless wish it explored and cleared out.

My own (general) take on the value of gold to (most) monsters is that, aside from the more intelligent and lawful (lawful evil that is) creatures who might see its usefulness in engaging directly or indirectly with the human and demihuman economies, it is simply something to revel in having because it would cause jealousy and desire in the enemies of the monstrous possessor. This itself is reward to the truly evil. Gold, and money are tools of Law (of commerce, taxation, government - order), and of the ones who follow and would uphold Law. Maybe this is what you meant when you were describing how its value to goblins is in its removal from circulation - it increases Chaos.

The examples here in terms of larger goblin tribe size and in dragons attracting and retaining followers by virtue of their gold wealth make a lot of sense! In re-reading my comment here, I realize that my points are probably not really in serious disagreement, but I thought I’d play devil’s advocate for a bit in pointing out that it might be a bit of an above-grounder’s prejudice to see gold as the “life blood of a dungeon” - considering that’s what drives most dungeoneers, the perspective might be a bit skewed - the systems of control, order, and hierarchy, the circulatory or “lifeblood” of some dungeons might be viewed from a totally different point of view, even one that’s completely alien and perhaps unimaginable to lawful surface dwellers. In short, don’t anthropomorphize the dungeon! As an example, perhaps the real lifeblood of a dungeon is actually blood - that is, food! Or maybe it’s blood sacrifice, or slave labor. All of which can be purchased with gold - but which can also just be obtained by the use of force directly. After all, life is cheap in the dungeon.

DestroyYouAlot said...

Awesome. Doing some poking around in my own game on the subject of monster groups "leveling up" - something that, in the Lake Gevena campaign resulted in the Old Guard Kobolds' reign of terror. Just the other day 3 goblins managed to score a TPK some 10' from the entrance, and to come into posession of several hundred GP's worth of illicit trade goods and a newly-looted magic sword - I've got to think that this little windfall is going to attract new blood (same as it does for the PCs), and next time around there might be a new power on the first level... ;)


Walter said...

I love this, especially the notion that by turning gold into pagan idols the goblins manifest powers through their gods unto members of their tribe.

Venger Satanis said...

Just like everyone else commenting here, I love this post!

Now it makes sense why a farmer or blacksmith might make only a few gold pieces each month while an entire dungeon might contain over 10,000 gp. Surface and underground economies are mutually exclusive - except when it comes to goblin raids and delving adventurers.


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