After leveling several characters in Pathfinder Society Organized Play I’ve noticed a wealth discrepancy between some of my PCs. This drove me to analyze the opposite ends of scenario gold rewards from 1st- to 12th-levels. It is important to emphasize that this is an exercise in extremes. While most characters fall in the middle, it is then a question of how far to one side or another each character finds its wealth.
Before we proceed, feel free to consult my data section below and view a copy of my figures.
Lets focus this discussion on characters who would have just reached 10th-level. This gives us several levels of wealth gain to examine, as well as perspective for how it can effect legal PFS characters. According to Table 12–4: Character Wealth By Level (Core Rulebook 399) a 10th-level character is suggested to start with 62,000 gp. Whether or not this is a good figure to compare to PFS wealth is irrelevant, but it does give us a Core baseline to at least consider. What we are really interested in is the discrepancies between what is possible while actually playing PFS.
If a character receives the lowest amount of wealth reward at every possible opportunity, they will receive about 51,915 gp by the time they reach 10th-level. If a character receives the highest amount of wealth reward at every possible opportunity, they will receive about 100,526 gp by the time they reach 10th-level. These two hypothetical characters have a drastically different amount of wealth. There is no question that nearly twice the amount of gold can buy significant advantages. Even if we assume that one character has earned 60,000 gp and another has earned 80,000 gp by 10th-level, this discrepancy can still be noticeable.
According to my figures an average PFS character can expect to earn about 76,000 by 10th-level.
Why is any of this a problem? For characters that have been able to abuse the wealth curve, and for those who have been victim of circumstance, there is a real danger of being overshadowed and sidelined. We all know the juxtaposition between the player who has an average character build and the player who has made every perfect choice from every splat book they can get their hands on. Wealth is no less relevant and the power that an extra 10k, 20k, 30k, or even 40k gold can buy will be an ambiguous, but impressionable difference. And just to be clear, this benefit wasn’t necessarily earned through in-game decision making or roleplaying. It exists because of how subtier and out-of-subtier wealth is rewarded.
This system also punishes players with higher level characters who play down. Its easy to imagine this being the case in smaller venues where less tables are run to cater to varied levels. On the other hand, the system can also be abused by a player who regularly seeks to play up and earn a higher out-of-subtier reward. One might suggest that this is a self-correcting problem as such a character has a higher risk of death, but the risk can be substantially minimized by player actions.
Reward characters solely based on character level. For example, a 7th-level character receives the same rewards as another 7th-level character, regardless of playing up or down. Regardless of playing tier 5–9 or tier 7–11. Yes, there is a little more accounting for the GM, but it would not require new chronicle sheets to be issued for existing scenarios. Instead, Paizo could publish the wealth rewarded at each level in another source (such as the Guide to Pathfinder Society Organized Play) and it would apply to all scenarios. It can be argued that this removes randomness and variability, but there are so many character options and ways of spending wealth that I’m not troubled by more calculated wealth rewards.
The one complication that I can think of that such a system would have for a scenario is how to subtract wealth rewards for incomplete encounters. In such a case, Paizo might see fit to reduce wealth rewards by a percentage for each incomplete encounter. I could see a figure like 10–33% being realistic.
I’ve averaged the wealth gain for every subtier (and out-of-subtier) category available under current PFS rules. This was taken from Seasons 4 & 5, and does not include specials, scenarios that cannot be run by any GM (regardless of stars or venture officer status), and those that do not conform to tiers 1–5, 3–7, 5–9, and 7–11. You can look at a copy of my numbers here.