One of the unique features of the d20 Modern Roleplaying Game is its Wealth system. Using the Wealth mechanics, heroes make checks to acquire items instead of keeping track of cash. Characters can increase their Wealth bonus, giving them better chances at making difficult checks to buy expensive items, or see their Wealth bonus decrease if they spend too much.
Why a Wealth System?
You might be tempted to wonder why such a system is necessary. In most games, it's usually enough to simply keep a running total of your character's cash and purchase from that pool anything your character needs and can afford. In a simpler social setting, like the medieval fantasy world of Dungeons & Dragons, or even the 1920s setting of d20 Call of Cthulhu, this is clearly the sensible solution.
But in the modern world, a character's ability to obtain things isn't limited by, or even related to, the amount of cash in his wallet. Characters have bank accounts and credit cards. They can obtain store cards at retailers. They can get car loans, mortgages, and lines of credit. They may have investments that earn interest or pay dividends.
In short, modern finance is a very complicated affair. In designing the d20 Modern Roleplaying Game, we were faced with a choice between modeling this complexity (which could be extremely complicated) or ignoring it (which would leave many players wondering why their characters can't take advantage of the wonders of modern credit that they themselves have easy access to).
We chose to model it. But in so doing, we wanted to ensure that balancing your character's checkbook didn't become more complicated than balancing your own -- this is just a game after all, and we're supposed to be playing it for fun. The Wealth system keeps character finance simple and flexible. It works much like skills do, making it easy to use. You simply keep track of your Wealth bonus to see what sort of financial shape your character is in.
How Wealth Works
Two factors play into your character's financial strength (her ability to purchase items): her Wealth bonus and her Profession skill.
Profession Skill: In d20 Modern, the Profession skill doesn't work quite the way it does in other d20 games. Instead of being a tool for generating cash in downtime, it's used to improve your Wealth bonus every time you attain a new level. It represents, essentially, your character's degree of professional advancement, measured by the buying power it gives her. In addition, the ranks you have in the Profession skill add to the Wealth bonus increase you receive upon gaining a new level.
Like any other skill, you never lose ranks in Profession. Thus, as you go up in level and gain ranks in Profession, you develop a certain level of buying power that will never go down. A much bigger factor in your ability to buy things, however, and one that can fluctuate up and down, is your Wealth bonus.
Wealth Bonus: Every character has a Wealth bonus. It's based initially on your character's starting occupation (something you choose during character creation, which gives you, in addition to a Wealth bonus, some additional class skills and perhaps feats) and a random roll. Every time you go up in level, you make a Profession check to see if your Wealth bonus increases.
That's important because you have many opportunities to drive your Wealth bonus down. Any time you buy something beyond your everyday means, your Wealth bonus goes down. Buy something just a little beyond your means, and your Wealth bonus goes down 1 point. Buy something way beyond your means, and it may drop by much more. Every time you buy something especially expensive, even if you're quite rich, it goes down an extra point.
To buy something, you make a Wealth check against the purchase DC of the item. Your Wealth check is equal to 1d20 + your current Wealth bonus (so it's just like any skill check or other check in the d20 system). If you meet or exceed the DC, you get the item. If you don't, you can't buy the item at that time (you don't have the cash on hand, your credit cards are maxed out, or the item isn't available at the usual price). The Wealth system includes rules for trying again, taking 10 and 20, how aiding another works with purchase attempts, and other ways you can gain bonuses to the check.
You might notice right away that some things are going to be virtually free. If your character has a Wealth bonus of +7, you can automatically succeed at any check with a DC of 7 or lower; there's no need to even roll the dice. That's the way it's intended to work. For that character, items that have a purchase DC of 7 or less are well within your means, and you can buy as many of them as you like. (A purchase DC of 7, by the way, will get you a taser, a 50-foot length of det cord, a knife, a briefcase, a fatigue jacket, a pair of handcuffs, dinner at an upscale restaurant, or a night at a budget hotel, to name a few examples.) Seven is a pretty average Wealth bonus for a middle-class character, and the sorts of things it buys are the sorts of things average middle-class people can afford without any significant financial duress. A richer character might have a bonus of, say, 14, which puts anything with a purchase DC of 14 within easy reach. (A purchase DC of 14 gets you a very inexpensive handgun, several types of light body armor, a tool kit, a basic electrical tool kit, or a coach ticket on a domestic airline flight.) Again, these are the things a richer character can purchase without any impact on his financial wellbeing -- without even having to roll the dice.
To purchase more expensive items, you have to actually make a check. That character with the Wealth bonus of 7 should have no trouble succeeding in a check with a DC in the teens (which will get him, for example, a decent firearm, some tactical body armor, or a set of night-vision goggles). He could take 20 and succeed in a check with a DC as high as 27 (enough to buy a mid-range car, or maybe even make a downpayment on a small condo). The richer character taking 20 could succeed at a DC of 34 (which will buy any but the most expensive luxury cars, make a downpayment on a fairly expensive home, or acquire anything on the personal weapons list). But these sorts of purchases affect a character's financial state: If the purchase DC is higher than your Wealth bonus, your Wealth drops a point, making it harder to afford the next big item (and reducing the purchase DC that you can make for free). If the purchase DC is 11 or more higher than your Wealth bonus, your Wealth bonus drops by 1d6 points. That luxury car may be pretty cool, but it really cuts into your ability to buy other things.
What You Don't Have to Worry About
The Wealth system abstracts your character's income, savings, and creditworthiness into a single, easy-to-track number and a simple system of checks. That abstraction also covers such mundane expenses as rent, utility bills, car insurance, and the myriad of other routine costs that accompany modern life. Your Wealth bonus reflects your buying power after dealing with these everyday expenses, so you don't have to worry about that stuff. You're only faced with accounting for the gear and services your character needs to face the challenges of modern adventuring.
In addition to accounting for your credit, savings, and income in one easy-to-use check, this new Wealth system offers a number of other cool features. We've included rules for requisitioning items (if your character works for a government agency or similar employer), finding things on the black market, and even dealing with legal restrictions and licenses. The purchase DCs assigned to items integrate easily into these systems much more easily than dollar amounts would. The Wealth system also negates the effects of inflation. The purchase DC for an item is just as meaningful if your game is set in 2002 as it would be if set in 1972, because the DC represents the item's value relative to the economy of the times. There's even a set of "on-hand" rules, allowing you to quickly determine if your character has a baseball bat in his garage or a flashlight in the trunk of her car. This gives you rules to cover the scores of minor items that every reasonable character might have around, even if you didn't write them down on your character sheet.