Almost every game has some kind of “experience” based advancement mechanic. As you play your character you accumulate experience and in doing so your character becomes cooler by degrees. Some games give out experience that is then spent on improving specific things: buying skills up, learning new abilities, becoming stronger, faster, smarter, etc. In other games at predefined experience totals your character goes up a “level” and improves in several areas at once as a kind of package deal. None of this should be new to anyone.
What I’ve been thinking about though is that in many games as you play the characters accumulate wealth in addition to the experience. In Dungeons & Dragons you get magic items and gold (which is then used to buy magic items). In Shadowrun you get money and use that money to buy spells or guns or cyberware or any thing else your greedy little heart desires. In these games wealth seems to me to function almost as a secondary experience “bucket”. So much so that if a character were join a game that has already been in progress for many sessions with an experience total similar to that of the other PCs but no additional money, they would be noticeably under-powered in comparison to the PCs that received both the experience and the wealth rewards.
In other games however, money is relegated to a lower priority. White Wolf’s World of Darkness games are good examples of this type. For example, a thousand year old hobo vampire is comparable in power to a thousand year old millionaire vampire because any time the hobo wanted, he could probably find some wealthy mortal to puppet in some way or other. That hobo vampire is probably a hobo by choice.
This is most evident in character generation where the games in the previous group only give out a specific amount of starting wealth while in games from the second group the difference between rags and riches is a fairly cheap initial expenditure. It mostly depends on the type of person you’d like to play and doesn’t give an inordinate amount of advantage or disadvantage either way. A PC joining one of these games with an amount of experience comparable to the other PCs’ but with no additional cash wouldn’t be at any serious disadvantage.
The reason this came to mind is that I’ve noticed I tend to favor the second style of game so much that even when I run the former they end up being much like the latter. I tend to see wealth as simply another bit of bookkeeping that I’d rather avoid if possible in favor of focusing on the story. Did the corporation offer you $10,000 or $100,000 to investigate the R&D facility they’ve lost contact with? I don’t really care. Just get moving. It’s going to be awesome!
I’m not a fan of bookkeeping in my games. I don’t usually make lists of NPCs with all of their stats and histories and whatnot. I don’t keep concrete records of what was and was not exactly said in that last meeting, because unless someone is recording it in character, it all depends on memory anyway. Your character develops a hatred for this NPC because you think they used a troll racial slur and you happen to be a troll. Did they really say that? Who knows? What matters in my mind is that your character remembers them saying it. I’ll probably check my mental image of that NPC and decide if they’re racist against trolls. If they are, then they probably said it. If they aren’t, they might still have said it, but not have meant it that way. Or in either case they might not have said it, but don’t remember perfectly and find the idea that they’d have said that either believable or not depending on their personality. To me, the important question is this: What is the PC going to do about it?
The downside to this method is that when I run or am in a game where money matters I tend to forget about it and then confusion ensues when something in the book cost X and the PC in question only has Y. Damn. I meant for them to be able to buy that by now. Did I forget to pay them for something or did a big monster not drop all of its loot? Hmmm…. maybe the seller is willing to give them a deal or wants something the PC can barter with to make up the difference?
Unfortunately that gets annoying for players/GMs who enjoy the bookkeeping side of games. Lots of people I know really love the details. They want names for every NPC even if we’re just talking about the guy on the bike dropping off flowers sent to you by your quirky nemesis. (What’s his name? I don’t know. Jim? Jim FTDGuy. It’s French.) Being told they have “enough” money isn’t good “enough”. They want pay stubs. (How long has it been? I don’t know. A couple of weeks. Why? Oh. Sure, you can get paid again in that case. Your stock port folio? Are you serious?)
Anyway, it’s just something I’ve been thinking about. I suppose I can’t really say that one method is better than the other, but I give advice to GMs here so my advice would have to be this: Keep enough records for the game you’re running and the group you’re running it for. If you’re running a game where money matters, that was your choice at the beginning so keep track of it or delegate one of your PCs (preferably the one most interested in it) to do it for you. If you’re running a game where money doesn’t matter, but for a group (or just one member of the group) for whom it does matter, then keep track of it (or delegate again). However, keep an eye on these things and make sure you don’t get lost in the details. If you set up a pay scale or level of detail that starts to get in your way (you didn’t expect them to pause for 6 months and just fill their bank accounts or memorize the entire populous of your city so that they know it better than you do) change the game. Lose the job. Move the setting. Shake things up. Just make sure it’s interesting.