OCCUPY THE DUNGEON . . .
Dungeons and Dragons has interesting analogs with real life, with Wall Street and Main Street. Each player character must have a budget in gold to buy gear and purchase spell ingredients and pay bills at the inn. Gold also has political dimensions in the game. It regulates the balance of power among players. So I have been inspired by both the plot of the game and by game mechanics to Occupy the Dungeon.
At the moment, our adventuring party is skulking through the woods at the edge of a large estate. It's our last chance to not go near the castle. But it's a rather nice castle, with spacious grounds obviously meant for farming, and it doesn't LOOK spooky. On the surface it hardly seems likely to be the headquarters of a demon-worshipping cult out to resurrect the Seul Empire and reconquer our home town, the Once-Free City of Greyhawk.
But we have maps from Lady Jane Xia's mysterious sources in Greyhawk's current elven government-by-coup, plus maps from elven Princess Royce's queen Selene. We also have intelligence from the human Brotherhood of St Cuthbert in Greyhawk, enemies of the elves, who have sworn to free Greyhawk from its current masters. If those two opposed sources agree that the Scarlet Brotherhood is hanging out in this castle, it must be so.
Both factions have reasons for encouraging our party of adventurers to stop the Scarlet Brotherhood from summoning their demon overlord to empower their Greyhawk conquest. Both the humans and the elves want Greyhawk for themselves. And BOTH factions have commissioned our party accordingly. Both sides have given us the same two objectives. One is to disrupt the demon's arrival. But more importantly for local politics, we must rescue the young daughter of the matriarch of the nearby market town of Hardbee. The girl has been kidnapped by the Scarlet Broherhood for use as a human sacrifice in the ritual to summon their demon.
Fears for the girl's safety have kept Hardbee from intervening in the affairs of Greyhawk during the elf-human conflict, either on the side of the elves (as an old treaty requires) or on the side of the humans (as more recent centuries of trade would incline the merchant matriarchs to do by choice). Her rescue by the elf faction would incline Hardbee to honor their treaty with the elves, even though Hardbee itself is a human town. But rescue of the child by the Greyhawk humans could swing the ruling matriarchs of Hardbee the other way.
In other words, at the center of this fantasy role-playing game are fantasy politics. They drive the plot.
Moreover, our party is split in half by those politics. The two rich members are aligned with the conquering elves. The remaining commoners are humans with no direct elven ties, and with history of patronage from the Brotherhood of St Cuthbert. This aligns them naturally with the human faction. There is a saying in D&D that runs: "don't split the party." Bad things happen when you venture into the dungeon alone or by halves. Bad things are happening to our party because of our political split as well.
Being a nerd, I am not thrilled about the politics. I want to mess around with symbolic magic and metamagic and runes and use the rules of D&D to build a magical computer.
But to do that, I need gold. To get gold, I need to go on adventures and earn rewards and find treasure in castles I really should not go near. I also need to set up a business back in Greyhawk to bring in a living wage for me while I'm out adventuring. The nobles in our party, like Lady Jane (human) and Princess Royce (elf), seem to have unlimited gold by fiat at time of character creation. But those of us in the party who are commoners or merchant's daughters fall well short of D&D's guidelines for wealth by player level at the moment. I need to get that changed.
Let me quote the wealth-by-level statistics recommended for Player Characters (aka PCs) like myself from the Dungeon Master's Guide for D&D version 3.5:
PC Wealth by Level
2nd - 900 gp
3rd - 2,700 gp
4th - 5,400 gp
5th - 9,000 gp
6th - 13,000 gp
7th - 19,000 gp
8th - 27,000 gp
9th - 36,000 gp
10th - 49,000 gp
11th - 66,000 gp
12th - 88,000 gp
13th - 110,000 gp
14th - 150,000 gp
15th - 200,000 gp
16th - 260,000 gp
17th - 340,000 gp
18th - 440,000 gp
19th - 580,000 gp
20th - 760,000 gp
My character is a 7th level demonic combat librarian, otherwise known as an "archivist". I seek magical writings like the Book of Thoth, the first book of magic ever written, and I use my study of obscure magical writings to give my party members a tactical advantage when they encounter monsters, aberrations, undead, elementals, and other magical creatures. My character was DESIGNED by Wizards of the the Coast (WOTC, publishers of D&D 3.5) so that when I gain the 7th level of experience points, I should also have accumulated between 13,000 and 19,000 gold pieces (gp) of treasure. My character can't function as designed at this level without that much treasure.
But I actually have 39 gp and a debt of 400 gp to Lady Jane. I went into debt in order to make scrolls to protect the party on this mission. In other words, doing my job as a player in the game puts me at a political and wealth disadvantage relative to other players, particularly the two wealthy ones, and it will only get worse if things go on as they have. This kind of systematic disadvantage is called "imbalance" in D&D.
D&D uses gold (among other things) to balance the power of different character types. If you have lots of magic you need less gold. If you have lots of gold you need less magic. And if you play a character who by design must spend a lot of gold to exercise their magical function -- which in my case is creating magical scrolls and runes -- you need both gold and magic.
I did not expect this game mechanic. I would not have predicted that a lack of pretend gold would inhibit the use of pretend magic in a game of pretend. But it does. It's huge.
I can see our DM (Dungeon Master) now, ruminating over just how huge it would be for the 7th-level party archivist to suddenly acquire 13,000 gp or more, and for the 6th-level rogue and 6th-level spellthief to each suddenly acquire at least 9000 gp, and for the 5th level war mage to get at least 5400 gp. IT WOULD CHANGE THE GAME.
And that's exactly my point. The game needs to be changed so that the two noble characters are not the only players with money. Even in a game of pretend, wealth inequality on this scale breaks the game.
Occupy the Dungeon, anyone?