Over on his blog today, Coyote muses about the inconsistencies of treasure in RPGs.

That problem has a long history. We’re all familiar with animals that drop gold or items when they die. Where were they keeping this stuff? In a special “marsupial pouch of holding”?

Then there are enemies who appear to have Neat Stuff, but you never get any of it when they die. You’re lucky to pick up a few coins and a dagger. And the cannon fodder just drop ordinary stuff you haul back to town for selling.

The other side of this is games like Titan Quest, where Monty Haul takes over, and you’re inundated with all sorts of goodies. There comes a point when you start leaving stuff behind, because there’s just too much of it.

This is related to the “gold problem”, which is so unbalanced in many games. Cash is hard to come by at the start when you really need it, but later, you have plenty and nothing to buy.

First, animals oughtn’t to be dropping anything at all. C’mon, a wolf is running around with a broadsword or sack of gold in his teeth? That sort of thing really wears down any suspension of disbelief.

Okay, there might be hides now and again. But certainly nothing more than that. Goodies in the nest, from unlucky adventurers? Sure. Maybe the cubs use the equipment for toys ;). Overall, though, gold and items should be taken from enemies who would logically be carrying them.

Money and treasure are used – or should be used – as progress markers. The player ought neither to be too far behind or too far ahead of the game in terms of equipment. Too little good stuff, and the game isn’t fun, but a struggle. Too much, and everything is too easy.

The difficulty is setting this up properly, and I can’t think of any game offhand that has done it right (although I’m sure some of you out there will be coming up with a few titles).

There are games where you have to haul almost everything you find back to town. Avernum 5 is that way. You don’t get very much for what you sell – only 25% of list – and cash is a constant concern.

This is a dreary exercise, but it’s the only way to build up the money. Human/humanoid enemies do drop some gold now and then, however it’s nowhere near enough; you have to play packhorse if you want to buy training or custom items.

On the other hand, there’s plenty of ordinary stuff to be had, and you really don’t need to buy regular equipment from a merchant. The best stuff always comes from a combat or three.

However, as far as that “best stuff” is concerned, AV5 is pretty good at keeping it in line with the party’s level. Of course, by the end of the game you have more than you can use, even with four characters.

So at least that aspect is okay. But it doesn’t help the need to convert so much junk into cash. So what’s the solution? I don’t know if there is one.

Just converting items to cash value is unrealistic. I recall there was one game where you had a spell that could do that, but it was mostly to alleviate the encumbrance problem. And you didn’t get as much as you would for selling the stuff.

You couldn’t have that automatically done; how would the game know what you wanted to sell, and what you wanted to keep? Of course, there could be a choice involved: “click here to convert item to gold”.

Maybe that would work. But again, it’s unrealistic, and just as dreary in its own way as hauling all that junk back to town. Perhaps opponents (not animals) should drop more gold and fewer items, so that you’d only want to sell better stuff you’re not keeping. Then again, so many of us have “packrat syndrome”, that might not work either.

Yeah, I don’t see an easy answer to this. Check out Coyote’s post, and see what you think.

Trash Or Treasure on Coyote’s blog