This column provides advice for DMs whose campaigns are in trouble. Do your players constantly bicker or complain about issues both inside and outside of the main campaign action? Do your best ideas fall flat? Have you set up a situation that you now wish you hadn't? Worry no more, because Jason Nelson-Brown has the answers to save your game!
Problem: Class Purity
I've had a trouble with a DM running a "purist" campaign; i.e., no prestige classes. But I've run up against another problem in his campaign, the lack of funds, he's severely crippled us in that area as well. How would you suggest going about rectifying this situation.
-- Joshua, from Ask Wizards
A "purist" is the most obnoxious brand of anything, because that label carries with it an implicit (or explicit) snootiness that declares that any other way of doing things is not only impure but also substandard and unworthy. There's a pretentiousness involved in declaring yourself a purist, and it seems as if you see this as a point of friction between yourself (and the other players perhaps) and the DM.
That said, there's nothing inherently wrong with playing with just the core rulebooks. There's plenty of gaming to be found between those pages -- plenty of variety, roleplaying, and even powermongering, whichever fits your taste. Mixing and matching the basic eleven classes can approximate the scope and focus of pretty much any prestige class. You won't have the same specialized game mechanics, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. In a way, it makes things easier to predict and easier to scale, because you don't have to deal with hyper-focused or special-case-inducing prestige classes and the rules complications those entail. More rules can be fun, but more rules can also lead to a crazy, bloated system where everyone needs (or feels that they need) to carry half a dozen hardbacks and rules supplements just to run their character, and where each new iteration seems more twinkie-licious than the one before.
So the first part of your message may be a complaint about nothing. The campaign has no prestige classes -- OK. As long as you knew that going in and decided to play the campaign anyway, then what's the problem? It's not as if the DM let you start with prestige classes and then unilaterally ruled them out and made you redesign your characters. Every game has house rules, and that's the one facing you. The prestige class optional rule doesn't exist in the campaign, so you play the hand you're dealt. Anyone who thinks you can't min-max with just the base classes isn't trying very hard. It can be easier with prestige classes where someone has done the work for you and served up your power mix on a silver platter.
If you really want prestige classes, talk to the DM, and talk to the other players. Decide what you'd like the shape of the campaign to be, and if you can't come to an agreement, then you or the DM might need to look for a gaming group that's a better fit. Your agreement may be a compromise on the rule (maybe allow a limited number of prestige classes, like just those in the Dungeon Master's Guide, in the campaign), a compromise in how you play (alternating campaigns, his with no prestige classes and maybe you running a game that does have them), or simply an acceptance of one position or the other (you decide to play the campaign anyway, even though you don't get prestige classes, or the DM decides to let them in after all).
The second question is also in part a matter of style, and it is probably something you should discuss among the group -— the level of treasure and such that is to be expected. The rules for CR and EL are based on a standard level of wealth. If your DM wants to keep you on a tight budget, he needs to make an adjustment in how he designs encounters and awards xp to reflect that, because things will be harder when characters have less stuff. If he doesn't, you're liable to fall into a negative cycle -- because you have less stuff, your characters die or suffer major ill effects more often, which means you need to spend your already limited wealth to fix those problems, which further depletes your resources, which leaves you more vulnerable to getting wasted, which means you have to spend more stuff getting back up to par, which leaves you even further behind the curve, and so on. There is a difference between having a challenging or even difficult adventure or campaign and one where adventuring essentially ends up as a money-losing proposition.
You may need to talk to your DM about how he designs adventures. Is loot evenly distributed throughout all encounters, or is wealth typically concentrated at the end of adventure? In some ways, the former feels unrealistic -- why would the evil mastermind scatter his loot throughout the entire Evil Castle with all her henchmen? Wouldn't she keep the main stuff under her safest lock and just pay out the minimum to her legion of evil minions? Sure, that makes sense, but if the party gets two-thirds of the way through the adventure, hacking through minion after minion and finding precious little coin, they may decide that the entire adventure is a loser and bail on it to do something else. The DM knows that the big stash is waiting just one or two more sessions away, but the party has already given up and moved on before they get it. Players have no way of knowing that that's how things will be. If you see this pattern repeat itself a couple of times, you end up with a party that's made it halfway through a bunch of adventures without completing any. The risk/reward ratio is messed up because they've slogged repeatedly through the high-danger/low-treasure part of the adventures without any payoff.
On the other hand, your financial woes may be a temporary thing. Maybe you are being set up for some particular adventure, or the financial hardship is part of the challenge you have to overcome. It's a very different thing when your trip to the poorhouse is a visit versus it being a theme for the whole campaign. Your tone suggests the latter, but you should ask the DM what is going on.
Is this metagame thinking? Sure it is. But the players deserve to have some idea of how the DM tends to operate, because that will help them to anticipate what's necessary to play the game the DM created. Otherwise, they're playing what amounts to a separate set of rules from the DM, one at which it will be very hard for them to succeed. That doesn't mean that everything the DM does is going to follow a set pattern or that's the way it's always going to be, but there should be some sort of clue, either metagame or even in-game, that can give them some sense of how to approach the adventuring career.
If you feel that your characters are truly cash-starved, and it is affecting your enjoyment of the game, talk to the DM. Do a wealth audit and see where your characters stand vis-à-vis the assumed average wealth for the game. Your DM may not realize how stingy he's been, and if you point it out, he might reshuffle things a bit to help you catch up. If it turns out that dialing down the money was an intentional thing, you can ask the reason why and negotiate about how and whether you want the campaign to continue.
Of course, you could handle it a very different way, following up on the last two columns (Vow of Poverty 1 and 2), and simply create a character that needs little or no wealth to get things done, such as a monk, druid, or sorcerer. Heck, see if your DM will let you take Vow of Poverty!
About the Author
Jason Nelson-Brown lives in Seattle with his wife Kelle, daughters Meshia and Indigo, son Allen, and dog Bear. He is an active and committed born-again Christian who began playing D&D in 1981 and currently runs one weekly campaign while playing intermittently in two others.