As my players will tell you, I am generosity personified while running a game. They are often overcome with the amount of gold, platinum and magical items they uncover.* Their main problem is how to transport their almost boundless wealth from the dungeon!
*This is all somewhat untrue.
In reality, I like to run a low magic, gritty style of campaign and part of that atmosphere comes from limiting access to vast amounts of wealth. In turn, this limits the PCs’ ability to buy themselves out of trouble—the PCs must use their wits, cunning and innate abilities to prosper and thrive instead of buying tons of magic items to solve every problem.
That said, once I benevolently gift the PCs their treasures, I rarely take it away from them as they’ve earned it. However it now seems that accordingly to Gary I’ve been doing this a tad wrong!
So what did Gary have to say?
“It is important in most campaigns to take excess monies away from player characters, and taxation is one of the better means of accomplishing this end.”
AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide (page 90), Gary Gygax
I think Gary wrote this for a couple of reasons—while the game is unabashed fantasy, Gary strove for a certain level of realism in his games and taxes are (sadly) a very real part of life. Indeed, Gary goes onto discuss how in medieval times, the average person suffered much higher levels of tax (proportionally) than we do now.
In game, it makes a certain amount of sense that greedy lords, scheming church officials and officious town officials would all want a piece of the PCs’ wealth—after all they’ve just liberated from the dungeon more wealth than most people see in a lifetime!
I think the other reason he wrote this passage was to give his PCs another imperative to adventure. After all, one of the major reasons to adventure is to gain loot and if you lose it as quickly as you get it, you’ll need to get more pronto! 1st Edition didn’t really embrace the concept of magic shops and I suspect Gary was reacting to PCs with relatively vast amounts of wealth who had nothing to spend it on. (Of course, wise PCs saved for the fortress they would eventually establish once they reached name level or spent much of their wealth on their henchmen and hirelings’ wages.)
I cannot recall if taxes and suchlike got much coverage in 2nd Edition, but by 3rd edition they were well and truly a thing of the past. Thinking about it, though, I think that’s a shame as taxes—and the people that collect them—are part of a living, breathing campaign world. While I wouldn’t want to set taxes at a level that impacted the players’ enjoyment, I nevertheless think they could be a fun part of the game: chaotic PCs are going to try and avoid them—gaining a sense of satisfaction when they succeed—while lawful characters will no doubt be delighted to pay because the various authorities receiving these taxes will look kindly upon those paying taxes and may even be a source of future assistance or adventure.
As an aside, we often joked how in Red Hodges campaign, we ended up working for powerful clients for no pay except we got to keep what we find. (Although taxes never really came up). Coincidentally, Red Hodges often runs us through old classic modules of yesteryear. It would be fascinating to know if the designers assumed PCs were normally taxed on their ill-gotten gains.
What Do You Think?
Do you use taxes, tolls and more in your campaign? Is this too much realistic details for you? Let me know, in the comments below.