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Money Options

This document collects various options to help a GM decide how they want to handle money in their Pathfinder Fate Accelerated campaign.

Pathfinder Fate Accelerated doesn't concern itself about the economy in the game setting a GM is using, or defining "starting funds", or even tracking money by default.

From a character definition perspective, wealth or a significant lack of it should be reflected in a character's High Concept and / or Aspects, and that is sufficient.

Unless the GM objects, gear can just be written out narratively as trappings without worrying about associated monetary considerations.

A thing that occurs in the source material is that high level adventurers often accumulate absurd levels of wealth, which then gets funnelled into purchasing encroachingly more powerful magical items to make them even more capable so that they can go out and accumulate even more loot in an ascending cycle of power creep. It causes the rules to feel it necessary as a matter of game balance  to detail precise breakdowns on how much wealth is appropriate for characters of each level. It causes the already lengthy process of stating up a high level NPC to take even longer as appropriate magic items must be purchased, closely following the wealth per level guidelines.

Thus as adventurers succeed (i.e. survive to reach higher character levels), accumulation of wealth and "getting enough" to "stay competitive" with the game's expectations actually increases  in importance rather than decreases. And as characters accumulate more magical loot, they eventually become more defined by what magic items they carry than their own intrinsic qualities.

However, Pathfinder Fate Accelerated doesn't care about loot. It only cares about interesting characters and telling a good collaborative story with them. Thus, the only value tracking money or managing an economy has by default is the extent to which such things help tell a more interesting story, and as soon as such things are no longer helping to drive the story they are just getting in the way.

Therefore, by default, Pathfinder Fate Accelerated doesn't do anything fancy to track money. How much stuff player characters are currently dragging around is assumed to be enslaved to the needs of the plot and to be subject to change as the story evolves.

So, whether one character starts off wealthy and another starts off poor is not really that big of a deal in the scheme of things. The rich character can lose it all to a twist of plot, while the pauper character might stumble into wealth if that's the way the narrative's all grist for the story mill. Ultimately, Pathfinder Fate Accelerated is a narrative game, so "whatever serves the story" is the primary focus.

But different GM's will vary on how best to serve the story, and some GM's may worry about "game balance" and the desire to make "better gear" "cost more". Thus, individual groups are free to handle it however they like and the below options are offered up with commentary on why a GM might choose one of them.

Note that this isn't intended to be comprehensive; it just hits the most obvious options.

Option: Old School Loot Tracking

Many GM's might prefer to maintain an in-game economy with price lists for goods and services, such as is done in D&D and many other games. In such a model 10 gp is just 10 gp and characters simply keep a running tally on their character sheet or a scrap of paper of their loot, old school style. When more money is acquired the number is bumped up, when it is spent the number is bumped down.

It should be fairly safe to assume that most gamers know how this works and laborious details or an explanation of basic addition and subtraction are not required here.

One of the pros of this approach is familiarity, and being able to use existing price charts from the source material. It is concrete and easy to reason about. It gives GM's a stick and carrot to motivate characters with; being out of money is a powerful motivator for going out to get more, and the promise of a big payoff is often sufficient to "hook" characters lacking any other motivation into a particular adventure. If the characters are kept poor, the concreteness of this method can also contribute to an overall "gritty" tone, which can help a GM tell a particular kind of story.

The main con of this approach is that it can be a giant pain in the rear end, adding a tedious layer of bookkeeping both during play (tracking the numbers) and in between sessions for the GM (keeping players honest and character sheets up to date, detailing the contents of opponents' purses during adventure design).

Another con is that the concreteness of the economy and personal loot and gear will generally bleed into other areas of a character, and as Fate Accelerated characters are fairly abstract this is usually an awkward and undesirable development. For instance if a character has a Stunt defined as a "magic sword" that just grants a +1 to attack in a game where old school money tracking is being used questions like how much is the sword worth, can it be bought and sold, etc will naturally creep up...but really the "magic sword" is just supposed to be part of the character's concept and not a commodity.

Lastly and perhaps most damningly, it can also bog the game down in accumulation of loot to the detriment of story.

Option: Situational Aspects

Some groups may not want to deal in the tracking of filthy lucre and prefer to lean on Fate's excellent Aspect model to deal with it. In this method money is handled as situational Aspects with some number of invokes on them (Big Score! (2), Beer Money (5), Bag of small loose gems (3)). Such Aspects can be attached to characters, a scene or a location, the adventuring party itself, or whatever makes sense.

The main pro to this method is it is nicely simple and abstract and doesn't get in the way of the story; indeed Aspects help tell a story and often rise directly from emergent play. Another pro is that it encourages players to not get bogged down in numbers and loot accumulation. It also simplifies encounter design for the GM as they don't have to put on their accountant's visor and pull out the old abacus to determine how much money is appropriate to be in every lizardman's lair or dragon's horde.

The main con of this method is that due to its abstraction, basic monetary transactions that would normally be mere addition and subtraction require adjudication; for instance what is the conversion rate when a player wants to "break" an invoke on their My Share Of The Dragon's Horde situational Aspect into some number of invokes on a Basic Living Expenses situational Aspect? Another con is that tracking of situational Aspects is just another kind of bookkeeping; less concrete than tracking individual coinage and thus less bothersome, but bookkeeping nonetheless.

Option: Wealth Stress

The excellent Fate System Toolkit describes a means of handling wealth using a Wealth stress track, detailed on page 69.

This method is similar to using the Situational Aspect option; they have similar levels of abstraction and the same basic pros and cons. However this method grants characters with wealth-related Aspects extra stress boxes on their Wealth stress track. Pathfinder Fate Accelerated doesn't normally attach weight to Aspects in this way, and doing so incentivizes players to take Aspects for metagame reasons rather than character concept reasons. Whether this feature of a Wealth stress track is a pro or a con is left to individual GM's to decide, and the basic mechanism could still be used with a slight tweak of course.

Option: Narrative-based GM Fiat

A GM willing to adjudicate on the fly if characters have enough money or resources to do something or not can go "no-system". The GM just makes decisions based upon the context of what has occurred previously and what is happening currently in the story. When the GM feels that the characters have sufficient resources to do whatever they are attempting, they allow success or success at a cost. When the GM feels that the characters have insufficient resources or need to do something specific to justify moving the story forward, they simply state that to be the case and the story proceeds accordingly.

Using this method, the GM should be fair and indicate to the players when their characters are running low on resources. Of course even lack of resources can be turned into a positive thing by weaving it into the emerging story, using it as a hook or a goad, even tying it into consequences or compels on appropriate Aspects if lack of resources is appropriate and relevant.

A pro of this approach is that it is purely based on character concept and narrative. For GM's comfortable with this style, it is incredibly empowering, and gives the GM yet one more tool to help develop the emerging story. There's also no bookkeeping beyond any notes a forgetful GM might want to jot down to jar their memory.

The main con of this approach is that many people, GM's and players alike, are not comfortable with this level of "hand wavium" abstraction. Some people want hard numbers and are frustrated by the lack of them. Some GM's are not willing or able to make the many snap decisions this sort of method requires, or to be consistent enough to make it work.

Hybrid Option: Scaled To Power Level

A GM might consider the power scale of their campaign and adjust how they handle money and economy as the player characters advance. Funds or lack of funds can be a powerful story element for starting adventurers, and thus using a more gritty or exacting means of tracking resources can help establish a particular feel for lower powered characters. But at a certain point, powerful adventurers rise above all that and resources or lack there of are no longer a compelling story element.

Put into context, do we need to know how many copper pieces Fizzbane The Apexmage, Archonix of the Fell Mountains, Spell-laird of the Far Reaches, Pact-holder of Ten Thousand Demons has in his belt pouch? Is that really a matter of interest? Does it further the story? Is a scene where such a character has to grope through his belt pouches to come up with a few bits to buy an apple from a street vendor going to be a thing? Maybe in a farse or satire, but typically not in a high level adventuring campaign.

A GM might therefore start off using old school loot tracking or situational aspects or a wealth track or some other structured method, but at some point switch to a unstructured method such as narrative GM-fiat when it no longer really matters to the story how much money player characters have.