I understand what the designers and developers were thinking when they changed how gold and magic items interact in 5th Edition. Magic items are supposed to be special, and having them available at any old magic item shop makes them less so. They just become another way you level up, a steady incline of power the way that class abilities are, which makes them redundant. I get it.
The problem is that 100% of D&D gaming groups I have ever played with have wanted to go shopping for magic items with their gold. Every single one, to varying degrees, particular starting with 3rd Edition. What this has meant in practice is that the DMG was missing something when it was missing magic item prices, something players would almost immediately demand, and so along comes Xanathar’s Guide to Everything with it’s downtime option of purchasing magic items. It is OK, I’ve used it, but it leaves something to be desired.
So I came up with a simple hack of 5E where you can get rid of cash altogether.
When a character wants to buy something beyond the incidental – drinks, simple rooms at the inn, meals, etc., they roll using their flat Proficiency bonus. On a success, they can find what they want to buy and can afford it. On a failure, either they can’t find it, or they can’t afford it, or they get the item but go into debt. Debt is like disadvantage, you can only do it once. Once you’re in debt, you can’t go further into debt. While in debt, your Proficiency score rolls to buy things are at disadvantage.
Sometimes, a PC will be Flush With Cash. This means they just went through a dungeon or pulled of a heist or found buried treasure. When Flush With Cash, characters roll their Proficiency bonus to buy things with advantage. The DM decides when the cash runs out, or you can say that the first time you fail a roll, you’re out of the extra cash and back to your usual means.
When you want to buy something, here are the DCs:
- Something simple and inexpensive, like adventuring gear: DC 8
- Something mundane but expensive, or a common magic item, like a longbow or a healing potion: DC 10
- Something very expensive, like plate armor, or an uncommon magic item: DC 12
- A rare magic item: DC 15
- A very rare magic item: DC 20
Of course DMs can fell free to not allow players to roll for things that aren’t available. Also, I’d use the normal downtime rules for looking to buy a magic item, and make the PC spend a week looking. Often in a game, time is more valuable than gold anyway.
Oh, and all 1st level characters start the game in debt unless they have the Noble Background 🙂