New GM and Some Questions

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New GM and Some Questions

Postby Alchemus » Wed May 02, 2012 11:29 pm

Hi everyone,

To start, I've never been a GM before, and am actually still pretty new to non-computer rpgs. Not really the best candidate for the job, I know. I'm the one doing it because our previous GM left (she got a job and had to move) and I know more about the DA Universe than anyone else in the group (I played Origins/Awakening about 30 times, DA2 15-20 times, read the books and comics multiple times...I've spent more time in Thedas than probably anyone outside of Bioware). I was also helping plan the group's next campaign. So naturally they felt I should take the reigns.

So last night was our first session with me leading. I let them choose whether to continue the previous campaign, of which I knew nothing more than what they knew plot wise, or they could end it early and start the one I had been helping plan. Luckily they chose the latter, and even luckier their first adventure was An Arl's Ransom, slightly modified for my own purposes. So not having to come up with major stuff like that was a blessing.

So my first question is about bad rolls during combat. In the first combat encounter they were basically being slaughtered. Even fudging the numbers a bit on genlock rolls didn't help. Two PCs died, two others had 0 health after the battle, I had to up the number of health and lyrium potions Alenka was carrying, and bring in another character to save them. So in a situation like this, where the PCs aren't landing hits or are doing little to no damage when they do, what can I do to not let them die in the first combat encounter of the adventure? Or should I not do anything, letting them die?

Second question, in the final encounter they save Ser Bridget, Ser Blaker, and the children. In the talk afterwards one of the PCs persuades Blaker to cut Alenka out of the picture. Clayton, another one of the PCs, decides not to go through with the plan and joins Bridget. Blaker joins the other 3 PCs, and Alenka is left to fight alone. They fight and Blaker, Bridget, Clayton, and Alenka are all dead. Two PCs end combat with 0 health, and the third has no way to heal them (no magic, potions, or bandages). I ruled that they survived and can use the 6 hours of sleep rule, but only gain 1/4 of the health they would normally until they get real healing from someone. Should they have died?

I don't want to be the GM that kills off an entire party because the rules say they die, especially if they would die through no fault of their own. But I also don't want to find some way to save every character either. I realize everyone has their own play style, and what works for you may not work for me, but I'm just looking for thoughts and opinions that I may think about if I come to a similar situation.

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Re: New GM and Some Questions

Postby Woodclaw » Thu May 03, 2012 2:36 am

First of all welcome to this forum.

Now on to main topic: killing or not killing?

About bad dice rolls, well this a matter of personal style. I prefer to roll the dices behind the GM screen (or another implement), because I prefer not to allow a streak of luck or bad luck to dictate every bit of the story. One of my friends rolls al the dices in the open and apply the results with utmost fidelity.
Both ways have their charms and their drawbacks. If you roll the dice in the open the sotry will be more challenging and dynamic, but you and your players have to accept the inevitable kicks in the rear when the dices come out with an unplesant result. Hiding the rolls allow more control over the story, but requires more planning and there will always be someone complaining about cheating.

About the killing topic. Lot oof GM hate to kill their PCs, because they think they're wronging the players - which is true in a sense. Still you have to consider the style of the game involved. In a classic D&D campaign death is usually downplayed a lot, even with the worst rolls in history I never saw a character really risking anything after the first few levels. In DA death is supposed to be a more real threat, so if a PC dies it's entirely appropriate.
Granted not every death is the same. Dying heroicly during a confrontation with dozens of enemies might be incredibly cool (think Boromir), dying because the character slip in the shower is painfully stupid.

Mr. John Wick wrote a pretty good piece on this years ago. The truth is that the players are fundamentally masochist. They want to see their character struggling, they want a sense of doom, they want the GM to chew their characters and spit the remains but - and this is the challenge - they want to win too. It like in "Die Hard", by the end of the movie John McClane had been shot, stabbed, punched a number of time, he looks more like a hamburger than a person, but he saved the day.
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Re: New GM and Some Questions

Postby Lynata » Thu May 03, 2012 5:23 am

Welcome here, and kudos for taking charge of the game for your players! :)

Woodclaw raises an important point: The threat of death needs to loom over every encounter, lest the challenge will feel more trivial the more often you let the players get away just like that. Allowing even a subconscious realization that the players are "immortal" to fester will, I think, lead to a lot of problems. Depending on the type of player, some will take more risks than they'd have taken otherwise because they cannot die. Others may lose the fun because it doesn't feel like their characters are truly in danger anymore.

Perhaps a compromise would be to find a better way to let the players narrowly escape death, such as the enemy overpowering the group and taking them captive rather than slaying them outright - which can lead to a whole new story arc when the players have to escape their eventual fate, possibly with the help of other captives. Also, simply turning tail and running away is an option as well, and whilst it may not be the honorable thing to do (and indeed, many characters may take offense), it is better than the entire group "somehow" waking up in a cozy bed the next day when the last thing they remember is having their throats slit.
Unless this, too, is part of some devious ploy. ;)

Of course, neither of the aforementioned "escape options" should be activated regularly, otherwise combat will still lose its threat - rather treat them like emergency plans to pull out of your sleeve when the players really didn't deserve to die because of a streak of bad luck; a way to "slow down" the emasculation of death. If, however, the players own bad planning brought them into this situation, it may not be wrong to let them suffer the full consequences for their actions in either case.

On a sidenote, as a player I'm a fervent opponent to hidden dicerolls - to me, this is synonymous with the intention of keeping the players from seeing the actual results of a roll, which in turn is suspicious in that it hints at the result being different. And if the result the GM is going by is different than the actual dice roll, why roll dice at all? Whilst it does allow for more control over the story, it also feels more forced, as if the players themselves are controlled; chess pieces whose success or failure depends solely on the GM's will. Even if you won't ever use the option to change a test's outcome, simply rolling everything hidden also means every single dice roll can be fudged, and this realization might hang like a dark cloud over the entire game.
That's just my personal feeling, though, and when a game is truly fun and immersive even sceptical players may very well simply forget about this. As Woodclaw wrote, it's a matter of personal style.
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Re: New GM and Some Questions

Postby shonuff » Thu May 03, 2012 8:10 am

Personally, I disagree with Lynata about hiding dice rolls. 1) It does allow for the GM to help the players out, but 2) it keeps an air of mystery about the NPCs/monsters. If PCs know every target on a roll, it can give away story clues and adventure hints prematurely.

As to PC death, I think the threat of death should be ever-present, but death itself should generally be a story choice determined by PC and GM. If the goal of a role-playing game is to create a developed character, then you don't attach yourself if you are having to make a new PC every few sessions. PCs can still be punished... losing items, stats, gold, etc.

On the other hand, some campaigns thrive on re-rolling characters. If that's your playing style, that's fine, too.
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Re: New GM and Some Questions

Postby jgladeb » Thu May 03, 2012 9:14 am

My two cents as I've been GMing for a while. I think It's interesting in the first Game Masters guide for Dragon Age that it mentions the types of game masters and players. I realized long before reading it that I am the benevolent type of game master, but most of my players seem to appreciate that. My players put a fair amount of effort into creating goals and back story for their characters (many wrote full stories), so to up and kill them is a bit of a blow after the amount of effort put into their creation. Also, I want to work in dark moral choices for their characters as their past comes back to haunt them and I feel like that only works over time as you allow the players to really PLAY their characters.

That said, I agree with Woodclaw, you NEVER want to take away the challenge or risk of death. The John McClane analogy is perfect. People want to work for it, otherwise it isn't satisfying--but they want to win too. Because overcoming seemingly impossible odds is the most satisfying. But, sometimes you can't have both. Green Ronin's Dragon Age material tries to reflect that as they preface every pre-written adventure saying how dark and dangerous it is.

My preference is rolling behind the GM screen. Control is key for me, mostly for story purposes, but I don't think my players feel slighted regardless of what the call is. For the most part I don't fudge rolls though and I think my players trust that, I just roll terribly in combat it seems. At any rate, that's really all I have to say about that. Like has been mentioned, rolling so players can see or not is likely a matter of style and preference; there's no right or wrong way. It's a game--as long as everyone is having fun, that's what matters.

Player death is something my players haven't faced yet in our first foray into Thedas. I usually create my own custom adventures and weave them into a story and campaign as things go on. This time I decided to make things easier on myself to start and use the Dalish Curse adventure to kick things off. Not having to face darkspawn right away has made it a less danger start. While facing the Revengers for the first time, one player got knocked prone and she got gored pretty good, and was healed by the party's mage, but never reached 0 hit points. Another was wounded pretty bad but not serious enough to require major healing.

One problem I did have was another PC had heavy mail and barely got a scratch as his axe and long bow cut down Revenger after Revenger with relative ease. (I'm going to have to have creatures use the Pierce Armor stunt on him or something as they would hit regularly, but the heavy mail negated 7 damage every time and seemed like it took some of the challenge out--despite that I REALLY like how Armor works in AGE...) I realize that PC sounds like a Dwarf, but he's actually a Dalish Elf, so the horror of realizing he's just cut down his own Clansmen after the battle was a rather nice twist. We'll see how they handle the Abomination at the end of the adventure...

The nice thing about being GM is you can learn from mistakes or missteps. I think that most players are generally pretty forgiving and again as long as everyone is having fun, that's what is important. It's unreasonable to expect perfection, despite many of us demanding it from ourselves. Luckily, we always get the advantage of hindsight and since we see everything behind the scenes, we know what may need adjusting or improving--the players don't. Often, when I feel like my players are "going off reservation", as long as I'm letting them do what they want to do and am providing adequate detail for their actions they are having fun and the only one that thinks anything is wrong is me.

I ran my first adventure in Dragon Age weekend before last, we are finishing up the Dalish Curse on Saturday, and I have to say, the AGE system and the DA universe are fantastic. It was honestly one of the most fun times I've had running an adventure in a long time. I hope that at the very least Alchemus, you and your group are having as much fun as my group and I have! :D
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Re: New GM and Some Questions

Postby Saisei » Thu May 03, 2012 11:24 am

I think I'm pretty much in the same camp as jgladeb above. My players have created back stories for their characters that they've worked on (well most of them) and I don't want to have to kill off their characters, or have them die for no good reason.

In saying that in our very first session of Dragon Age almost all the party almost died (the infamous Blight Wolves from Dalish curse). After we completed that adventure there was a reshuffle of players and we started a campaign with some new players and all new characters.

In the second session of that campaign (our current campaign which has been going for over a year and a bit now) one of the players did die. He was the party mage and had been abandoned by the rest of the group as they chased down fleeing bandits. He was left with two bandits and was killed by some ridiculous rolls on my part. I had him use walking bomb as he died and take out the last two bandits which somewhat sated his player, but it really brought home to my players (coming from 4e D&D) that this was a dangerous place. It also was a death that was the fault of the pther players for being rash. (NOTE: I also used this death as a plot hook 6 months later when the mage character came back from the dead and had been possessed/made a deal with a demon and sought revenge on his former companions). It also didn't help that the character that player re-rolled was a fighter, leaving us with 2 fighters, 2 rogues and no mage/healer. It made it more interesting though

Since then there have been alot of close calls. One player was almost killed by the Guardian Serpent in Amber Rage, another nearly died from the Bereskarn attack in Where Eagle's Lair, and another was almost killed in the fight on the ice bridge in Where Eagle's Lair. So death has been an ever present.

Only once have I fudged a roll that would have killed a character, and that wasn't even really fudged. I moreso fudged the death rules and allowed him to survive with an "injury" that gave him a -1 to Communication (his throat was actually slit), and a -1 to Constitution from having his lung pierced. This happened in the fight with the cultists in A Fragile Web, which is built for higher level characters anyway so was brutal all by itself.

I do tweak rolls on occasion behind the screen but it's always for the good of the story: I let a boss use a stunt he didn't get stunt points for to do some serious damage and make him scary if the players are destroying him, I've let players succeed on a roll or do an extra thing in combat if they rolled crazy stunt points but failed their check. Little changes that help the story.

I may have yammered on too much. Sorry!
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Re: New GM and Some Questions

Postby jgladeb » Thu May 03, 2012 12:52 pm

Don't be sorry about long posts! I love hearing about things other GMs are doing. It is inspiration for the rest of us (and fits nicely in the New GM category), we all learn from each other. One of the threads on this forum gave me inspiration for my current overall DA campaign and some good ideas of horrible moral choices my characters will have to make in the future. It's devious, twisted, and I love it!

Any other stories or tough decisions anyone has had to make as GM would be welcome and I think very applicable here.
You know, for science. ;)
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Re: New GM and Some Questions

Postby Alchemus » Thu May 03, 2012 1:34 pm

First, thanks everyone for all the ideas and suggestions. As for hidden rolls, I've adopted our previous GMs stance that every roll can be hidden, but not every roll needs to be hidden. So whether or not I hide the roll depends on what it's for.

I don't mind a character dying, or even a couple of characters dying. I just would rather not kill off the entire group (5 people) because of bad rolls. I re-listened to the session and did the math. Roughly 85% of their attack rolls were 4s or 5s. I mean, that's just spooky bad luck right there.

And I agree with jgladeb. I'd like to hear about any strange or interesting situations you guys have come across, or anything else anyone has to say.

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Re: New GM and Some Questions

Postby Loswaith » Thu May 03, 2012 4:10 pm

Im not sure if you cut your RPG teeth on DA, but unlike some other systems DA characters can try anything, so healing is an option for anyone to attempt to use. Typically speaking you dont realy need any components to heal someone either, provided you or even they have some clothing at hand for make shift bandages (so the lack of healing bandages/parafenalia wouldn't be too much of an issue), which only under rare circumstances wouldnt be the case in my opinion. Presuming even a single character makes it through combat often there is a chance that most of the other characters can be stablised (unless they fell eairly in combat).

Personally I prefer open rolling but that tends to fit our group dynamic and we like the ever present fear that "the dice are trying to kill us". Making new characters is actually part of the fun for us too, though we loose very few in our games because we are quite tacticaly minded, resulting in only deaths by usualy lucky rolls on the part of our opponents.

Ultimatly character death is more a learning experience for the players (even if it isn't their own), however they may loose an enjoyed character (how that impacts varies from group to group too).

Fudging a situation for bad rolls that the PCs get out of can be useful to avoid the loss of an enjoyed character, or a sideways story, and provided its not used too frequently players shouldnt get that feeling of underlying imortality.
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Re: New GM and Some Questions

Postby Alchemus » Thu May 03, 2012 4:58 pm

Really? I could've sworn I read that bandages or something else was needed to try and heal someone. I'll double check that, maybe I was mistaken?

That is a good point about makeshift bandages though. I didn't even think of that (I guess no one else did either).

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Re: New GM and Some Questions

Postby Elfie » Thu May 03, 2012 5:29 pm

Minor Actions - Heal: You provide some quick first aid to an injured ally. You must be adjacent to your ally and you must have bandages ready. (etc)
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Re: New GM and Some Questions

Postby Lynata » Thu May 03, 2012 9:15 pm

That said, bandages really aren't that difficult to make when the character wears a robe/tunic/pants/skirt and has a knife at the ready. I have to admit, I like the idea of such improvisation. Maybe include a penalty like "you may not add your Cunning to the Dragon Die" for the hitpoint regeneration, just to differentiate between properly prepared and clean bandages and an impromptu piece of dirty cloth. Either way, it should be enough to stabilize a character and keep him from dying.

Of course, not bringing bandages in the first place sounds like a flaw in planning on part of the players. :P
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Re: New GM and Some Questions

Postby Bardwulf » Fri May 04, 2012 2:56 am

I like to let the dice fall where they will and take the consequences, however, I will only break this rule when I the GM will have more fun doing so. As an example, in the introductory pdf adventure, Alenka the NPC with the party was dying against the darkspawn ambush. I really knew that the fun to come later hedged on her being around to talk to the party, so I allowed her one extra round of life for the players to get to her and attempt a heal. If the heals had failed though, I would have let her kick the bucket in all probability. But yeah, small fudges for GM entertainment.

If you're not entertaining yourself and getting the players to give you entertaining energy, you won't have fun.
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Re: New GM and Some Questions

Postby 5trangeCase » Fri May 04, 2012 3:14 pm

Ok, in the situation when they are getting completely slaughtered, I would alternate the NPCs completely screwing up as well; what I mean is, if all the NPCs screw up at the same time, it's obvious that you are manipulating things, but if only one or two at a time do it, then it seems just like the dice's dictation. Above all, fudge death blows. If a player is on his last legs, play as if he is getting really lucky (if you're not a good liar it can't be helped) and keeps surviving by the skin of his teeth. That is of course, unless the fight is truly epic. In which case, deaths are to be had, but don't allow the PC to be slaughtered even if that situation, because the fight just wouldn't seem realistic if they didn't put up some of a fight. In that situation, I would describe in detail how the enemy was distracted by his hated enemies progress within the fight and thus poorly directed his blow, bouncing off your armour, perhaps repeatedly. As long as you make it seem "real" you can get away with almost anything. Like NPCs suddenly switching sides, or some hazard in the environment you concoct on the spot. Being a liar saves lives.
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Re: New GM and Some Questions

Postby Loswaith » Fri May 04, 2012 6:26 pm

Elfie wrote:Minor Actions - Heal: You provide some quick first aid to an injured ally. You must be adjacent to your ally and you must have bandages ready. (etc)


While that is correct there is also no listing in the game for the cost of bandages (nore even a bandages item) outside of a healing kit (which also doesnt list a number of uses, and is reasonably costly) where of all the listed things bandages are likely the least expensive thing in there. So I've alwasy simply taken the bandages to mean 'something to cover/treat a wound', rather than a specific item.
Given even in modern day first aid you are taught to use clothing (or any other cloth, be it torn or whole) if need be, while I doubt medieval style has any less of an issue with that and less concern about the hygene of it too.

Sorry for the tangent.
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Re: New GM and Some Questions

Postby Saisei » Sat May 05, 2012 1:05 am

In our game I decided healing kits were in and around 25 silver. I also house ruled that players could get a number of uses from the healing kit equal to 3 + Cunning (Healing).

It worked pretty well for us.
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Re: New GM and Some Questions

Postby Elfie » Sat May 05, 2012 4:11 am

Our alternative to having to keep track of healing kit usage is that with any expendable resource (healing kits, lockpicks, etc): If you get a 1 on the dragon die, regardless of whether you succeed or fail, the resource is exhausted. It's worked out great for us so far. It makes buying them relevant, but saves us from having to keep track of every single use.
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Re: New GM and Some Questions

Postby 5trangeCase » Sat May 05, 2012 4:52 am

We have that everyone can perform the Heal action with "assumed resources", but a Healing Kit provides a bonus to success when Healing.
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Re: New GM and Some Questions

Postby Bardwulf » Sat May 05, 2012 10:22 am

Well, on the subject of healing kits, I've ruled that a healing kit when bought gives healing 2D6 times (rolled at purchase). This accounts for differing supplies used for different injuries and keeps the finances drained. After all, a poor group is a hungry group.
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Re: New GM and Some Questions

Postby shonuff » Sun May 06, 2012 4:57 am

Except there isn't terribly enough to actually spend your money on.
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Re: New GM and Some Questions

Postby Bardwulf » Sun May 06, 2012 5:50 am

shonuff wrote:Except there isn't terribly enough to actually spend your money on.


The cost of living should be a constant drain. Food and drink, and for companions, dogs, horses. Stabling. Certain town or city areas will have gate taxes perhaps imposed during war time. Pick pockets might drain funds here and there. Bribery or paying for information.
Do they profess in their RP to be heavy drinkers? Well, they have to pay for that. Whoring, that is another source of expenditure to offer.
Maybe make them have to pay repair costs for weapons and armour from time to time, to stop them losing effectiveness.
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Re: New GM and Some Questions

Postby jgladeb » Sun May 06, 2012 8:45 am

I have a player that has heavy mail that negates 7 damage every hit. In an effort to make sure that players repair armor at least--I'm basically implementing a house rule that makes armor deflect 1 less damage after a whole adventure (not a single combat encounter). I figure that's not too punishing, but still let's players know that there is a cost for upkeep of their equipment.

We finished up our first adventure last night, the Dalish Curse, and Caolin the blacksmith fell in defense of Vintiver. So repairing for them might be an issue, and even though Caolin had an apprentice, he has no experience with repairing or creating armor. I am rather thinking of making them wait to find one where they are going next and make the damaged armor be an issue to drive the point home.

Finding the balance between realism & the drudgery of mundane expenses is always an issue, but it can be, and should be reflected--otherwise there's little point in money or loot.
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Re: New GM and Some Questions

Postby shonuff » Sun May 06, 2012 9:58 am

Bardwulf wrote:
shonuff wrote:Except there isn't terribly enough to actually spend your money on.


The cost of living should be a constant drain. Food and drink, and for companions, dogs, horses. Stabling. Certain town or city areas will have gate taxes perhaps imposed during war time. Pick pockets might drain funds here and there. Bribery or paying for information.
Do they profess in their RP to be heavy drinkers? Well, they have to pay for that. Whoring, that is another source of expenditure to offer.
Maybe make them have to pay repair costs for weapons and armour from time to time, to stop them losing effectiveness.


Except the world is so low-money, that there isn't really that much to spend your money on. Actual inventory options are practically non-existent. And mundane items such as nights at inns, food, etc., are going to be very cheap (handfuls of coppers) that they won't make a dent out of a decent sized score.
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Re: New GM and Some Questions

Postby Loswaith » Sun May 06, 2012 7:46 pm

Well the healing kit cost of 25s, is farly relative considering a longsword costs 18s (abet thats likely post blight charges too, where weapons are abundant), while a mule costs 20s or a draft horse costs 50s.

PCs are almost always the exception to rule when it comes to costs of things (in relevance to earnings), given they earn allot more than a typical individual would (though they risk more too).

A peasant likely only earns around 100s (1g) per year and most of that would be unlikely to be in actual coinage too.

Unlike other systems though very few of the creatures arent all that interested in obtaining wealth, so pickings tend to be slimer.
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Re: New GM and Some Questions

Postby shonuff » Sun May 06, 2012 9:47 pm

Loswaith wrote: Well the healing kit cost of 25s, is farly relative considering a longsword costs 18s (abet thats likely post blight charges too, where weapons are abundant), while a mule costs 20s or a draft horse costs 50s.


But a backpack costs 9 sp, and an outfit costs 15. Personally, I don't like the "outfit" classification too much -- it never stands up if you have to replace part of the outfit.

Loswaith wrote: A peasant likely only earns around 100s (1g) per year and most of that would be unlikely to be in actual coinage too.


1 GP is a little low. The estimate I've been using is the average peasant earns 3-5 gp/year (not in coin), although that might be splitting hares.... neither is a vast sum of money.

Loswaith wrote: Unlike other systems though very few of the creatures arent all that interested in obtaining wealth, so pickings tend to be slimer.


But, IMO, there should (almost) always be some loot. It lets you keep the PCs paying for incidentals, or it gives the PCs a sense of accomplishment beyond XP or magic. And just because the monster isn't interested in treasure doesn't mean that it won't be around.
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