2019-06-05

Individualism vs. Communism in RPG Parties

When we played AD&D as kids, the party mostly worked as a team.  Except at the end of the adventure, when we divided up the magic items.  At that point we rolled dice to determine the order of picks, and then each player would usually take the best available item, not necessarily the best item for their character to use, or for the party's overall effectiveness.  It could get merciless sometimes.  "Yes, I'm a fighter, and yes, I can wear armor, so no, I don't really need the Bracers of Defense AC 4, and yes, your mage really could use them, but, you see, they're worth a lot of money.  Do you have an equal item to trade?  I guess I need to keep them then."  Level training was expensive in AD&D, so there was always a need for large stacks of gold pieces.

That was before GURPS, and before Gordon Gecko in Wall Street, but most of us played like we had the Greed disadvantage.  Maybe that's the way most American boys were in the 1980s, or maybe it was just us.

Many years later, the current group of 5 PCs in the Castle Whiterock campaign amuses me, because they want to play almost exactly the opposite way.  Almost all found items remain "party property", unless they are easily divisible (like cash or items that everyone agrees are useless that should be sold and turned into cash).  Occasionally someone asks if they can buy an item that only they want from the party, but most of the time, they just ask to use it, while not needing to take ownership.  PCs freely loan money to each other to help them afford major purchases.  To put it bluntly, they're a Communist Party.  They're trying to win the game as a group, and don't really care too much about whose character gets what treasure.  (The one exception is that the PC who bought Wealth, and thus sells all the party's treasure at a much better price to everyone's benefit, gets a bigger cut to compensate him for spending all those points.)

So, as a GM, is this okay, or is this something I should try to stop?

For the most part, as a GM I think inter-PC relations are up to the players.  They can do what they want, as long as one player isn't completely ruining another player's fun and thereby threatening the existence of the game.  The big exception is that if a player gets points for a disadvantage or quirk, they need to earn them by playing it.

One obvious DFRPG disadvantage related to money is Greed.  If a PC takes Greed, they should pretty much wreck the idea of a Communist Party unless it clearly works in their personal financial favor all of the time.  "All for one and one for all", not so much.  "What's mine is mine and what's yours is ours," sure.  Maybe this could work if there was one Greedy PC and the rest just let them keep an unfair share of the treasure because they don't care.  Dwarves in DFRPG have Greedy by default, so if you want to have a Communist Party, you might not want any short bearded folks ruining it.

Another one is Wealth.  The GURPS 4E rules say "The GM should not allow wealthy PCs to bankroll their poorer associates.  This makes below-average Wealth little more than 'free points.'  The
GM might allow rich characters to hire poor ones."  Basically, if anyone collects disadvantage points for below-average Wealth, they can't be propped up by a collective in a way that makes that not matter.  ("A Disadvantage that is not a disadvantage is not a Disadvantage.")  So if you want to make a Communist Party, probably everyone should have at least Average Wealth.  Or, if someone insists on playing a Poor PC, they should be reduced to the status of mere hirelings, to earn those disadvantage points another way.

The other one is Miserliness.  A miser might be okay with pooling the treasure, as long as they get to be in charge of making sure nobody spends any more of it than necessary.  A Communist Party needs a quartermaster (someone has to track all that party-owned stuff), so if there's a miser, they probably need to take that job.  If some other party member has a spending-related disadvantage (Compulsive Spending, Compulsive Carousing, Compulsive Gambling, the need to eat an expensive diet of health food to maintain Chi abilities, etc.) then there's going to be conflict.  But maybe it could work if enough cash is paid out to each PC to more than handle their own basic upkeep, and only the remainder is kept in common.

The other problem with party-owned items is what happens when the party composition changes.  If a PC leaves the game, it seems reasonable that they would want to take their fair share of the party's stash with them.  (If a PC dies and can't be resurrected, they probably have heirs who'd want their share.)  Conversely, if a new PC joins, the existing group is certainly free to share their resources, but if any of them object, the system might fall apart.

It might be interesting, though possibly out of pseudo-historical genre conventions, for an adventuring party to be a formally incorporated business entity with actual legal rights, shares, a board of directors, etc.  That would be a way to get the advantages of a Communist Party (the PCs pool their resources to try to win, and only the players who enjoy accounting have to worry about accounting) while putting a capitalist face on the system.  ("We're totally going to liquidate this and all be rich someday, just not yet.  We're still in startup growth mode, you see.  Plowing all the profits back into the business.  Dividends are for later, after we run out of dragons to kill and rob.")

There's more than one way to have fun playing an RPG.  Perhaps individual versus group ownership of items should be part of your next Session Zero.

1 comment:

  1. I was a bit surprised we went this route, but hey, it met my 'melt it down in the pit of doom before we auction it' criteria

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