(Originally posted May 2009)

I was thinking about how old school D&D awarded EXP primarily based on the GP value of treasure, not on kills: you were encouraged to figure out how to get the monsters’ loot without having to fight them, if at all possible.

Out of curiosity, I ran the suggested Wealth by Level guidelines against the EXP to level chart. It turns out, if you gave out 1 exp for every 1 gp the party is awarded, you’d stay fairly close to the suggested relationship between wealth and level (the party’s wealth spikes to double the expected amount towards 10th and then shrinks back to 94% of standard by 20th). For complete parity, you could just use the Wealth by Level chart (p. 135 3.5 DMG) instead of the EXP chart.

It might make for a very interesting, old-school feeling game to have high lethality but a story set to encourage the PCs to think their way around the opposition to get its money. It also might create some interesting intra-party dynamics as to loot distribution, equipment sale, and consumable usage if level was pegged directly to wealth-on-sheet rather than EXP being awarded at acquisition.

Here’s how a Level by Wealth setting might work:

The value of a man* is measured by the value of his possessions. Great men create, and enrich the world through their works. Poor men are unable to reach their potential, for they have not the capital to build upon. Rich men show their wealth as a sign of their accomplishments.

In this setting, the accumulation of wealth is sign and an enabler of power. “Levels” have an abstract relationship to the learning potential of wealth: it is left vague whether there is a clear mystical relationship between raw lucre and pure prowess, or whether great wealth is simply a sign of great deeds and an enabler of greater learning.

Yet some basic assumptions can be made.

A man cannot progress further in his career with no ready funds, save as a Commoner. If total wealth earned exceeds total wealth possessed, a man must once more build his value to the correct limit before continuing along his path. Wealth may be stored as equipment, land, buildings, furnishings, businesses, or liquid wealth: so long as a man may point at a thing and truthfully say, “this is mine, and I know its worth,” it may be considered wealth. True men of power exchange goods, services, and coin to the mutual enrichment of both.

As mentioned, a man that earns but keeps nothing is called a Commoner. Each coin of value earned contributes towards a man’s experience in a certain career, and income earned from careers a man does not wish to pursue serves merely to prevent losses from stopping progress. A Commoner, however, advances, woefully as that advancement may be, despite having a ready source of long-term wealth. Every coin that he keeps long enough to simply feed and clothe himself he still considers experience, and is made the poorer for it.

A man that earns his bread through work and prudent saving may be called an Expert, for he has mastered the goal of turning hard work to hard coin. It is a long path, and a cautious one, but an Expert can reap great wealth and great reward for long discipline in his trade.

A man that earns his bread through military service, be it in defense of a city, support of the law, or time in the army may be called a Warrior, for strength of arm allows him to earn a fair wage. As many men of the sword have their physical needs cared for as part of their contracts, a prudent Warrior may grow powerful by careful investment of his salt.

A man that earns his bread through mysticism may be called an Adept, for the rites mysterious were ever a fine way to grow in wealth and power. Serve he as priest of the flock or wise man of the tower, his earnings are prudently invested back into his research.

A man that earns his bred through the sweat of others, be it his vassals or his forebears, may truly be called an Aristocrat, for the surest road to power is a steady source of tithed or inherited wealth. Aristocrats are amongst the most powerful, for they have much time to hone their skills when not making sure their coin continues to grow in value.

These five careers make up the bulk of the careers of men, but they are merely a stage show for the true road to power. True men earn their bread through danger, through cunning, and through great deeds in times of darkness. These men are called Adventurers, for their path to power truly is peril and passion.

A man that earns his coin through trickery, through unearthing long-buried gold, through reward for great deeds, or through deadly combat may learn the secret arts of the Adventurer. Only in those forged through such dangers do the true powers both mystical and martial emerge. But the road of the Adventurer is a difficult one: a normal man may some day allow shrewd investment and much-requested but easy labor to carry him onward and upward, but an Adventurer must always defy death in the pursuit of his own wealth or abandon the great rewards of his profession.

It is a terrifying road, but a rewarding one. When you find your first goblin hoard or receive your first monetary commendation for valor, think hard whether it is a road you truly wish to begin down. Once started, it is difficult to leave.

* The society so detailed can be assumed to gender neutral. However, the use of pure income as a gauge of level makes me feel all Bioshocky, so please forgive the masculine pronouncements.