The Virtues of Sharing

Abu, from Diney's aladdin

This is something I try to promote at any table I’m at. Share everything equally. Disparities in experience points and those kinds of out of character rewards I’ll talk about in two weeks, but in character, it’s generally better to share everything equally. It builds trust, helps with prisoner’s dilemma, promotes fun, and generally is a good idea in a cooperative game.

We’ve all been there at one time. Someone in the party comes across some treasure, and not everyone is around for it. Maybe it’s a magic item, some small, easily pocketed gemstones, a potion that might come in handy, or just a bag of gold. No one would know, right? Maybe you do it in the open, or notes are passed, or you’re online and you send a pm. Even send a text with your phone. It’s some extra wealth for you, and it’s what your character would do. Win/win. Only not really. Here are some good reasons why it’s better to share things openly and evenly than secret those valuables away.

1. It builds trust

In character and out of character relationships depend on trust. The other PCs need to know that they can rely on your character, because they’re going to have to trust their lives to them at some point. It helps to know that the party rogue won’t root through their purses during watch, and that PCs will generally treat each other and by virtue of that their property with some respect. Sharing helps create this trust, because although the opportunity for subterfuge is there, they didn’t take it. Out of character, players want to know they can rely on each other too, and in a game of resource management, keeping resources from the group can create some rifts.

Trust in an rpg is basically a big iterated prisoner’s dilemma┬áinside another one. Everyone is using different strategies, and while your character may get some short term gain by defecting, in the long term they’re always going to be better cooperating in a cooperative game, which most rpgs are.

2. It creates uninteresting conflict

Kender from Dragonlance

Art by Mark Nelson (1990)

Remember kenders, the race of professional jackasses in Dragonlance? The ones who steal from their friends (they call it borrowing, the kind where you don’t tell the person you’re borrowing it and then forget to give it back. They’d never steal. Dicks), incite violence in others, natter incessantly, and are generally regarded as the greatest pests in any fantasy universe? They create lots of conflict in a group, but conflict based on irritating everyone around you is rarely interesting, and the hoarding bit goes along with that. When it’s a crime of opportunity, then all it represents narratively is a character coming out of the closet as a jerk. If there’s a narrative reason, like they need the money to pay their sick mother’s hospital bills, they have to do so knowing that they would be better off disclosing this to the group and dealing with it. That’s how groups deal with pretty much everything, and they do it pretty effectively.

3. It’s not even beneficial

The amount of leverage, wealth, or power gained from these asides is often so trivial when compared to the wealth of the group that it makes people wonder why you’d even bother. A few hundred gold pieces isn’t really going to matter either way, so it hardly seems worth going to all the trouble of concealing it. If it’s not a trivial amount, then it’s likely going to cause the deep rifts from the first point. If a PC has a million gold socked away, that represents a pretty significant disparity. If they’re not using it to contribute to group efforts, they become a part of the problem rather than a part of the solution.

Abu, from Diney's aladdin

Don’t trust the monkey


There are always exceptions. this isn’t an always rule, it just tends to be a good idea when managing resources and cooperating. share and share alike. But sometimes there’s a character who’s a defector. That’s their thing, their story, and that’s great. There’s a lot of interesting conflict that can come out of that, but at that point you want the other players to be in on it. Instead of hoping the character doesn’t get caught, you want them to so their cowardice or pridefulness comes to light in a burst of dramatic tension. Some games aren’t cooperative, and it’s everyone for themselves. In that case, obviously go nuts.

I find that sharing makes the game more fun though, by taking a worry off of everyone’s plate, helping everyone trust each other, and generally not encouraging jerkitude, which is a word now. It’s not something I try and enforce by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s something I try and encourage.

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