What we did about Wealth

by mshrm

After the apocalypse, nobody’s got a job. There is no such thing as a steady income.

For this particular apocalypse, I didn’t want any PCs with the super-power that is money. All along, the discussion has been about a world where one PC might contemplate killing another PC over a can of creamed corn. The stakes are never higher than when they’re lowest, y’know? It gets hard to set up that kind of scenario when one PC shows up hauling a wagon load of canned vegetables.

Digression:  Actually, the worst is when the game’s been going for a session or two and the players are really getting into the groove of their characters’ plight, and then the new, rich PC enters. I remember one time, way back when I got to play in other people’s games… It was D&D, and the gimmick was that our characters woke up in a field, naked, with no signs of nearby civilization. The traditional “Robinson Crusoe” scenario.

We played it out for a few sessions, working our way up from nothing. We found shelter, improvised clothing and equipment, started working on a steady supply of food. There were ups and downs. Some starvation. Sunburn on inconveniently-exposed hit locations. Best weapon in the group was a crude staff, best armor was a smelly bear skin.

… and then the cleric arrived, a local on a pilgrimage, well-equipped for a solo march through uncharted territory. He was wearing mail (and pants!), carrying actual weapons (made of metal!), and had a big pack full of provisions (iron rations!). He learned why one always travels with a rogue when he walked into one of our survivalists’ larger snares. One moment, he’s walking along admiring the beauty of the gods’ creation. Next moment, he’s disoriented and upside-down, and there’s a wild man with a beard running at him, winding up with a piece of firewood like he’s swinging for the fences, and clonk

Cleric wakes up some time later, bound in crude ropes, stripped to his loincloth. He’s surrounded by an unkempt group of cave-murder-hobos, squabbling over who gets his pants. One is already wearing his tunic. Another is getting the feel of his mace. They’ve all already gorged themselves on his food. (“Never thought I’d miss the taste of iron rations!”)

So, sometimes, when things get desperate, having a lot of wealth is just a target on a character’s back.

Back to the point: How did we handle Wealth during character creation?

We’re defining starting wealth in terms of what a character has on ’em when the fit hits the shan.

Everybody gets an outfit of clothes suitable to their nominal Status. Since one of the marks of an apocalypse is the failure of society, and Status is one’s ranking within society, nobody needs to pay for Status. Yes, this opens up a potential “exploit” in which a PC gets a more valuable suit of clothes, just for saying “I was rich and powerful in the Before Times!” Interestingly, those who were rich and powerful in the Before Times tend to have skills like Makeup or Propaganda or Savoir-Faire, while those less well-off tend towards skills like Urban Survival and Two-Handed Axe/Mace and Knot-Tying. Just sayin’.

Furthermore, a starting PC gets a base $250 in everyday carry. (Of course, those are GURPS dollars.) The amount was determined by the price of a TL 8 cell phone in the Basic Set. A starting character with no points spent is supposed to be the equivalent of a healthy 18-year-old recruit on the first day of Basic Training, and I see that character as having nothing in its pockets except the latest IPhone.

Regarding cell phones: take special note of the rules for cheap equipment being either clunky or fragile, from GURPS High Tech page 10. (Expensive equipment is also an option, but for whatever reason, nobody seems to care.) PCs can stretch their starting wealth by trading that “latest IPhone” for an older, chunkier phone, or for one that’s easily broken and prone to failure. The PCs thus far have a distinct preference for big phones.

Starting wealth is modified as usual by Wealth Advantages and Disadvantages, with one caveat. All that’s at stake here is starting wealth. As noted above, nobody’s going to have a monthly income. Therefore, all Wealth-related traits take a -50% modifier, since they have no effect, good or bad, on one’s wealth after the game begins. Yes, this means a PC can invest 5 points (of a starting 50) in Comfortable wealth and only get back $500 in starting equipment. That extra $250 can buy an awful lot of creamed corn, y’know.

Wealth is after TEOTWAWKI, not before. A homeless person with a tattered sleeping bag, an improvised tent, and a pointed stick is more wealthy, after the fall of society, than a person carrying an armload of gold bricks. Especially when they’re both being chased by hungry zombies.