While amassing a personal fortune is a goal of many Dungeons & Dragons heroes, few of them engage in financial investment as a means to that end; this is an unfortunate circumstance, since heroic investments can make fine starting points for adventures in which player characters (PCs) have strong personal stakes.
This post does not propose that heroes drop their swords, wands, holy symbols or lockpicks in favor of taking up the abacus. To do so would give a D&D game all the excitement of insurance underwriting. But what if the dungeon master (DM) entices the heroes to invest some of their hard-earned coin, and encourages them to help ensure the success of their investments? By doing so, the DM can combine the heroes’ love of (or need for) gold with the hazards of mercantile ventures to place the heroes in the dramatic position of facing grave danger in order to move forward, and losing their investment if they retreat.
The heroes may decide to engage in mercantile activity of their own volition; in these cases, all the DM needs to do is define the investment opportunity and move forward. If this is a goal of the campaign, the D&D Gazetteer detailing the Republic of Darokin in the Mystara setting is invaluable; it even describes how characters can take multiclass levels in the merchant class.
At other times, though, the heroes may turn to investing as a means to obtain funds for another purpose, such as for paying for a necessary ritual or component, buying a non-player character’s freedom from debt or slavery, or even to raise funds for an expedition against a villain who lairs in a distant, inhospitable place.
Creating the investment opportunity
Regardless of the reason for investing , the DM needs to create an investment opportunity promising a high reward which, of course, entails a high risk; a risk high enough, in fact, that the heroes will become personally involved to ensure the success of the enterprise. These opportunities can include:
- Purchasing and delivering high-demand items to a market located on the far side of a hazardous route;
- Buying haunted or monster-infested land at a very low price, which can be sold at a profit when the resident threats are neutralized; or
- Patronizing an inventor, engineer or alchemist who needs to finance the final phases of ground-breaking research, who agrees to share the financial rewards of his new discoveries with the heroes – but who also needs protection from those who would steal his secrets until products inspired by or created through the new knowledge can be brought to market.
Designing the encounters
The nature of the investment will dictate the types of challenges the heroes must face in seeing the venture through. For example, consider a party of heroes who plan to carry precious medicinal herbs to a market located only a week’s journey distant, traveling by land. Locally, the herbs are abundant and cheaply obtained, but they never reach that market, since the week-long journey requires a mountain crossing through gnoll-infested hills. As a result, the market obtains those same herbs from a more distant source located on the far side of the mountains, a source which can’t really keep up with the market’s demand. Due to the low supply and high demand, the asking price for the herbs is very high at the market. Anyone buying the herbs cheaply could make a financial killing at the market – but they’d need to get those medicinal plants through some very dangerous territory to do so. In fact, since none of the locals would attempt such a journey, he heroes will have to personally buy and transport the plants in order for the venture to have any chance of success at all.
For such a journey, the DM might design several encounters around the gnolls defending against the heroes’ trespass, such as skirmishes with gnoll patrols, a skill challenge to avoid detection by an overwhelmingly powerful gnoll war party, or even a role-playing skill challenge with the gnoll war chief if the heroes are captured. Additional encounters can round out the adventure, such as combat with other monsters common to the terrain, such as giant scorpions or kruthik, or perhaps a environmental skill challenge based around cold weather that could freeze the delicate plants or require the heroes to maintain a certain pace to reach the market by a certain day.
Getting the payoff
If the heroes succeed in their venture, it is important to make the return on their investment commensurate with the risks they overcame. It’s also important to know that heroes may decide to undertake a similar mission for the purpose of repeating the process. If they choose to do so, make sure to reduce the payoff for “repeat performances” of the same quest, so that players will be less tempted to engage in grinding. Reduced payoff is also a logical consequence of the heroes’ actions; after all, if the heroes travel often enough to make the gnolls leave humans passing through their territory alone, anybody can carry those herbs, dropping the market price for the product.