What to do with stingy D&D characters

OK, so I’ve mentioned I was the Dungeon Master (DM) for several groups of players back in the late 1979 to early 1982 era. Most folks had a good time playing Dungeons & Dragons; however, some few of them became excessively stingy towards the loot they had gleaned from various dungeons. Therefore, I had to find a way to cure the players of that sentiment.

A classic way to play D&D is for adventurers (i.e., the “player characters,” aka “PCs”) to go and explore underground caverns, ruined castles, and such. And if your group plays once a week, you would usually assume that the group was “resting” at a local inn/tavern in between weekly adventures. Of course, some of them needed to rest in order to restore hit points that were lost due to combat. But whatever the reason for resting instead of adventuring, they would of course have to pay for room and board. It is generally assumed that adventurer types in D&D like to live “high on the hog” in between adventures, so I would tell each character to deduct 25 gold pieces (GP) from their money to pay for living expenses between their weekly adventures. But some players would object vociferously to having to pay that much just to live! I would remind them that in today’s world it would be nice if we could get by paying only $25 per week!

So, I set a trap for those stingy characters. (Insert evil gloating laugh here! Think of Snidely Whiplash.) The next time the PCs entered the dungeon they had been exploring, they ended up going down a dead-end hallway. It didn’t matter which way they went, they were going to end up in this dead-end hallway. (insert gloating laugh again!)

So, the characters get to the end of that dead-end hallway, and BAM! An iron portcullis slams down behind them, trapping them in the end of the hallway. They all try to lift the bars, or to bend them, all to no avail. They then search the rock walls and floors for either a secret passage or for a way to release the bars. Alas (for them!), they can’t find a way out.

So then, after the players have been making all sorts of noise by banging on the bars, they hear what sounds like footsteps coming toward them in the hallway on the other side of the portcullis. They see see a humanoid carrying a lantern approaching, and when the lantern gets close enough, they can see it appears to be an old man approaching with the lantern in one hand, and a cane in the other hand. This is where I got to have some fun, as the DM gets to play the parts of all of the non-player characters (NPCs), such as the old man caretaker, in this example.

“What’s all this racket about?” I inquired, in the guise of the old caretaker. One of the members of the trapped adventurers said, “We’ve been trapped by these iron bars. Do you know how to raise the bars?” The old man answered, “Why, of course I know how to raise the bars.” “Well, then, good, raise the bars and let us out” demanded another party member. The old man answered, “Uh, not so fast, we need to discuss terms!” “Terms?” the entire party wondered.

The caretaker then looked the party over and said, “I’ll release the bars for 5 gold pieces per person.” The party was furious! “No! We’ll not pay that ransom to you!” Then the caretaker said, “OK. But do think it over. I’ll be back.” And then he started shuffling away, back down the hallway from whence he came. Someone in the party said, “Quick! Shoot him with an arrow before he gets away!” This is where I really got to stick it to the party. I, as the caretaker, stopped and slowly turned, then said, “Well, you could shoot me with an arrow, I reckon, but then, you might never get out, eh!? Like I said, think it over, I’ll be back.” And then the caretaker disappeared down the long dark hallway.

We then took a short break in the game, and when we resumed, I said it was two hours (in game time) after when the caretaker left. Then the party hears the caretaker approaching again. As the caretaker gets close enough to hear them, the party all agreed, “OK, we’ll pay you the 5 gold pieces to release us.” The caretaker paused, with a sort of puzzled grin on his face, and said, “Well, you see, the price has gone up. It’s now 25 GP per person! You know, inflation, and all that!” Now the party was even more angry! I, as the DM/caretaker, was certainly glad they were not angry bees, or they would have stung me to death! It should also be mentioned that it wasn’t just the PCs who were angry, the actual people who were role-playing their characters were actually fit to be tied, thinking they would have to give up some of their loot, just to gain their freedom from the trap they had wandered into. While the party was arguing amongst themselves, the caretaker again said, “OK, think it over some more, I’ll be back later.” And then he turned and walked away again.

So now a full 24 hours or so (in game time) has passed, the party is out of water and almost out of food, and finally the caretaker makes another appearance. This time, he is pushing a wheelbarrow with a squeaky wheel. He announces, “Well, you know, inflation has gone up again. To release you now, I must have everything you have. I must have all of your money, all of your weapons and armor, and even your clothes!” Once more the PCs were furious, and threatened to shoot the caretaker with an arrow! And, once again, the caretaker reminded them that if they killed him, they might never get out of the trap and would all starve to death instead. So the caretaker stood there for several minutes while the party talked things over. Finally, the party agreed to the caretaker’s ransom, as they had no other option. They had fruitlessly searched for secret doors or release mechanisms, they couldn’t bend or release the bars, nor could any of their magic affect the bars. They were trapped, and trapped good, and they knew it.

So then the PCs had to start throwing all of their stuff through the bars, weapons first. After the players had thrown everything except the clothes they were wearing through the bars, the caretaker ordered everyone to the farthest wall away from the bars, then he cautiously approached and gathered up the PCs’ belongings. He then loaded as much stuff as he could on the wheelbarrow, and went away back down the hall. He had to make several trips with the wheelbarrow before he got everything hauled away, each round trip taking about 20 minutes. On his last return visit, he reminded the party that he also wanted their clothes. “Off with ’em, and be quick about it!” he ordered. So, finally, and quite dejectedly, the party members all disrobed down to their underwear and threw their clothes to the caretaker through the bars. The caretaker gathered up their clothes and loaded them into the wheelbarrow.

Before leaving for the last time, the caretaker did say, “I will leave you with a single torch to find your way back out of this dungeon. It will take me about 10 minutes to reach the release mechanism and to release it. You should have 40 or 50 minutes of burning time left on the torch when the bars raise, so make haste on your way!” Then the caretaker left the torch outside the bars, and went away with the last wheelbarrow load of the PCs’ clothes.

The caretaker left and the PCs saw him nevermore. After about 10 minutes (remember, in game time, not real time), the bars slowly raised. The party didn’t wait to trigger the bars coming down again, but they all ran quickly to the torch, gathered it up, and left the dungeon as expeditiously as possible! After they left the underground dungeon, they had to still make their way back to the inn they had been staying at back in the village, all while dressed in only their underwear!

Aftermath: The players truly learned their lesson. After that treatment, after losing everything they owned (outside of a few coins they had left with the innkeeper), they were suitably humble. They finally realized that what the Dungeon Master giveth, the Dungeon Master could also taketh away. They no longer objected to paying “living expenses.” I also told the (real life) players that I had been so exasperated by their cheapness that I had been tempted to make their actual human bodies strip down to their underwear, besides just their player characters! Also, the PCs had to beg new clothes from townspeople, and had to find ways to acquire new weapons, etc. It caused them a number of problems for a while after. I reminded the group that I gave them two chances to get released rather cheaply, first at only 5 GP per person and then at 25 GP per person, but they lost everything at the third strike.

DM note: Of all of the times I have run dungeons as a DM and have played the part of NPCs, the role of the “caretaker” was my favorite. While playing the part of that character, I would get up and imitate an old man’s halting walk, with a limp, and I put on my best olde-English style accent. I hammed it up as much as possible. I tried to keep playing the NPC caretaker as much of a straight-man as I could, but inside I was laughing like a crazy man. I would also make sure to relate this story to any new groups I DMed for in the future, just so they knew not to get stingy with their swag! And, for the record, no other groups tried to hoard their money like this group had tried.

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