It is easy to dismiss the extravagant purchases of the wealthy as nothing more than throwing around their gold in an attempt to demonstrate their superiority over the common populace. Most such items fall into four categories; property, rare goods, patronage, and commerce. Property almost always gains in value and in the genre fantasy setting has magical, social, and strategic value. Rare goods are also investments, as later on these rare goods can be sold or bartered with. Patronage is it's own reward, as is commerce.
On a side note, not all nobles are wealthy, and not all wealthy are nobles. While nobles do tend to be well off, this is a generality. A noble can be cash strapped from financing war, suffering from heavy taxes, or be decimated by poor harvests and peasant rebellions. With the rise of the middle class and factions such as merchant and other powerful guilds, there will be those who have gained wealth through commerce rather than land holdings. Some of these can be merchant or just long term wealthy families, others are neuvo-rich, new to wealth. Those new to money are much more likely to be extravagant and garish in it's display and use, while those long accustomed to wealth might be a bit more subtle in it's display.
1. Mi'lord's Tourney
A suitably rich and influential gentleman can be a sponsor of a tournament, drawing in knights and a would be heroes wishing to prove themselves from across the land. Such venues draw trade business, which generate revenue. It also allows for the patron to observe warriors and fighters he might employ in the future. The patron generally provides the grounds on which the tournament is held, as well as a suitable prize for winning.
2. Fight for my Entertainment
Gladiators and prize fighters can be owned by the wealthy in societies that allow such things. In societies that do not, the wealthy can maintain illegal fighting stables of coerced or magically bound gladiator slaves. These warriors fight one another in staged events for entertainment, gambling purposes, and for settling disputes. These warriors, in dire consequences, can be used as defensive fighters, or used to attack and kill other people of importance. On the flip side of this dark coin, the gladiator can be a professional, killing criminals and animals in carefully choreographed displays, his own life rarely in any danger.
A wealthy patron can entertain the notion of keeping a separate part of his or her home as housing for slaves of a social and sexual nature, rather than menial. These painted ladies or kept men are as much a form of recreation as they are a display of wealth and status. In a society that doesn't allow slavery, a harem may instead by stocked with compensated decadenti and willing folk who exchange their bodies for a chance to live the gilded life.
4. Secret Society
Secret societies require secret meeting places, financial support for ritual gear and ceremonial garb and so on. A wealthy person looking to garner influence can become a patron or even starter of a secret social society (as opposed to a cult). Other wealthy and influential are likely to be involved in such circles, trading favors and rare goods among each other out of the sight of the other nobility and the common populace. This sort of society can range from the harmless sort where the favors exchanged are bottles of wine and fudging scores on gaming cards, to the subversive sort that undermines legality and morality.
A suitably wealthy patron, with suitable permission from the local and regional nobles might sponsor a unit of huskarls, or house troops. These soldiers would be equipped, trained, and housed at the expense of the patron. Unless called upon by higher powers, such as the royalty, these troops would be largely under the command of their patron, and could be used to protect their interests and investments. Most greater nobility would be wary of lesser nobility fielding professional soldiers, as most would see this as an impending threat against their own power. Thus, most huskarl units will have a very strict set of limitations, such as max number, or limits on weapons and armor.
6. Artistic Patron
Minstrels, troubadours, musicians, and acting troops don't grow on trees. A wealthy patron can demonstrate his wealth by sponsoring a group of artists, providing room and board, some supplies and such while they learn and hone their craft. In exchange for such patronage, the artists will generally dedicate their works to their patron, or to something of value to the patron. A religious wealthy person might sponsor religious artwork, while a decadent devotee of the goddess of love might support sculptors to fill her temple and his garden with nude stonework.
7. I've got big Balls
Balls, galas, soirees, these are the social battlegrounds of the wealthy, where they show off their expensive purchases and talented musicians, and anything else they want to subtly brag about. Music is common, as are large feasts, dancing, and entertainments such as limited tourneys or displays of illusionary magic or even fireworks or parades. In addition to all of that, these events can be hotbeds of intrigue and settings for assassination.
Not content to just toss dice or flip cards, the wealthy gamble in more extensive games, games with more involved rules or elaborate pieces. In an alternate form, the wealthy can gamble on the outcome of various events, such as gladiator fights, horse races, or on the outcomes of chartered ventures such as Adventurers-upon-Return seeking specific treasures. Some patrons might send their retainers on such missions for the sheer purpose of betting on their outcomes.
Children collect strange and interesting things that they find day to day, a funny shaped rock, a perfectly pointy stick, the shell of a large beetle and so on. The wealthy are also prone to collecting. Some collections my be scattered across a dozen interests with no focus or depth. Rooting through such collections can be a major waste of time shifting through junk to find a few treasures. Other collections are very focused. A patron might collect all sorts of swords, from common, to masterwork, local and exotic, mundane and magical. Collections can be artwork, weapons, pottery, and so on and so forth.
10. Rare Booze
Good wine can be gotten with enough coin, that is simply not enough for the wealthy. Rare bottles are highly prized for being rare or hard to get, rather than quality. Almost any wealthy family will have a wine cellar lined with a variety of wines, ranging from daily table wines, to the dust covered bottles that are only pulled out to impress those who are in need of impressing.
11. Magic Potions and Spells
Magic isn't cheap, and a major way to show of financial fortitude is the visible purchasing of magical favors and potions. Magical protections are common, as are illusions and animations of common items. Potions can be traded as favors or prizes, and spell favors can likewise be bartered. Some other examples; a bound demoness as a sommelier, a fire elemental as a cook's assistant, golems as huskarls, or extraplanar beings bound as servants for an important gala.
You cant take it with you, so the solution is to just not go. Wealthy patrons can sponsor expeditions to find fountains of youth, alchemists to research potions of longevity and the like. While the commoner might expect fifty to sixty years before the grave, the most well-heeled of the wealthy might expect to live for almost two centuries before passing away or being assassinated by their children.
People like to leave a mark on the world before they pass away, some leave their mark in passing away. Monuments are common among the wealthy, ranging from architectural wonders (the Pyramids, Taj Mahal) that double as crypts, to giant statues, faces carved in mountains, or endowments to continue their legacies. A wealthy patron with a love of magic might sponsor a magical school after his death, while a lover of horses could have a trust set up to keep a certain breed of horse alive and vital.
14. Patronage of the Faith
Temples and churches don't build themselves, a wealthy patron can gain a lot by supporting the financial costs of the faith. Workers need to be paid to support their families, and building sites need protection from raiders and thieves. If simony isn't an issue, a wealthy patron might even be able to buy their way into the church, becoming part of the clergy without suffering clerical restrictions. Another avenue is that a particularly decadent patron might be seeking to buy his way out of hell for the illicit and immoral deeds of his past or present.
15. Hawks, Hounds, and Horses
The three animals of the nobility, no noble worth his leggings lacks a hawk, hound, or horse. The wealthy, be they noble, or merely aspiring, have stables of horses, kennels of hounds, and keeps of hawks. Hawks tend to be restricted by station, only the king may keep an eagle, a lesser noble may only have a certain breed of hawk. Owning outside of your station is courting insult to the king and nobility. Hounds are kept for hunting, horses are as valued as transports, military purposes, and hunting mounts.
16. Exotic Pets
It is common for the wealthy to keep exotic animals in a sort of personal zoo. In a typical fantasy setting, peacocks and tigers simply will not do. The wealthy will have chained wyverns, magical birds that can speak, and animals from other realms, such as elemental creatures, deer made of ice, fish made of fire that burns underwater and so on. Some of these animals might be utterly harmless, while others much less so. The lord of the manner has given up on taming a griffon to ride, but that doesn't mean he's going to give up his pet.
17. Palaces and Mansions
The most common measure of wealth is the size of the patron's home. The larger and more grand the home and the estate it sits on, or the more posh and high scale the part of the city their palace is in, the better. They will strive to have the most visible architecture, large ball rooms, towers and rooms to keep their collections and whatnot. Rural estates will be sprawling affairs with large lawns, and low decorative walls and gates, servants often have their own residences on the grounds.
18. The Castle
The wealthiest of the wealthy will often have tower keeps to outright castles, maintained at their expense. While considered under the jurisdiction of the nobility and the crown, these fortifications are nexuses for regions, both as meeting and social places and as points of defence. A patron of a castle can somewhat expect visits from the royalty and upper strata of nobility. This is both a social favor for maintaining part of the realm's military, and as a check to make sure that said castle and inhabitants are not plotting against king and country.
19. Exotic Gardens
Topiaries, decorative mazes and fountains in the center of flower strewn labyrinths are displays of not just wealth, but of taste. A common green is just that, common. The gardens will have rare and beautiful plantlife, ranging from the common yet lovely such as roses, to the foreign, rare, and exotic such as ghost white Bone Orchids. A large enough garden, with proper care might attract the attention of a treefolk guardian or other plantkin to inhabit or watch over it.
Navigation and ship building are often the pinnacle of a society and culture. The ability to travel safely and reliably in seaworthy vessels is a great boon in commerce and in warfare. While not outfitting warships, the wealthy own merchant vessels, often multiple vessels. Trade is lucrative, plus supplies them with exotic goods and wares from foreign lands. Also, the wealthy are able to travel to these foreign lands. This is a display of ability and influence as aside from sailors, most folk seldom venture more than a day's travel from their place of birth.
21. Brutally Handsome, Terminally Pretty
One of the perks of wealth is not dressing in sackcloth. Silk and linens are the basic materials of the clothing of privilege. Each piece is hand tailored to the wearer, often by a full time employed tailor or seamstress. In a fantasy setting, their are likely to be magically prepared clothing, such as silks that never wrinkle, dresses that change color with a thought, and brocaded vests that can turn a dagger strike like a steel breastplate.
22. Bling Bling
Nothing says wealth quite like gold, silver, and precious gems. The wealthy will have rings, necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and all sorts of other sparkly accessories. These items can be the repositories of spells or protective enchantments, personal enhancements, and the like. They are also highly transportable wealth. Some of the wealthy might become known for their tastes and style with jewelry, such as the provincial merchant who always has a large diamond in his ear, to the local noblewoman who is never seen without a ring on each finger, thumbs included.
If you believe the ads, perfumes and colognes have almost magical powers to attract members of the opposite sex and ward off bad luck. In a fantasy setting, this could certainly be true. Mundane perfumes can be brutally expensive, magical perfumes could be restrictively so.
24. Which Fork for the Manticore?
it is my personal belief that most delicacies are food based dares put on by the rich. Delicacies are rare, expensive, and usually have a slight ick factor, such as caviar (large fish eggs) foie gras (goose liver) and truffles (giant underground fungus). In a fantasy setting this opens up the realm of cuisine fantastic, such as manticore liver, roasted imp, and perverse flesh. It is only cannibalism if you eat your own kind, so a human gourmand sitting down to a plate of goblin liver isn't really a cannibal...
25. Purchased Patents
Some settings and realms allow for the patents of nobility to be purchased from the crown. For a suitably large donation to the king, the donator might be named a count, marquis or some other title of the middle nobility. Most of the upper levels of nobles are drawn from long standing noble families, or are distinguished by military service. Patents so given, are also easily taken away, so most gold coin nobles tend to be well behaved.
26. But I want 3 levels in Magery!
With enough free time and money, talent and ability not withstanding, a wealthy patron could hire a wizard to teach them the art of magic. While this might go against the rules of wizardly organizations, there are always renegades and rogues in need of coin and shelter. These tutors can expect demanding students who only want the flash and dazzle, but are not interested in learning the basics and fundamentals. If magic is a natural aptitude and not a learned skill, said tutor could be hired to test and possibly train the patron's children in the sorcerous arts.
27. Going on Campaign
With the constant threat of ogres, goblins, orcs, tieflings, and gnomes on the rampage, there is always an opportunity to win fame and glory on campaign. The wealthy can sponsor units going to war, or ride with them with a suitable bodyguard and entourage. Their exploits can win them martial praise, expand their holdings and fill their coffers with the spoils of war. In the case of a long running war, similar to the 100 Years war, War of the Roses, or the Crusades, this is an even more likely proposition.
There are new lands to find, islands to explore, native peoples to meet, and resources to find and exploit. It only takes money to charter ships, crews, captains, and navigators to find them and bring them back to the old world. A wealthy patron could sponsor missions to find legendary lands, hidden sea passages, mythic islands, or lost treasures.
29. I have a Dream/Plan
With leisure time, wealth, and a penchant to become bored or socially sensitive, it is common for the wealthy to take up a cause or begin scheming. One wealthy patron might start founding orphanages for all the lone survivors of pillaged villages, with magical cures for the rampant amnesia. Another patron might tire of pompous clergy men and scheme to cause the church to embarrass itself in front of the masses. This can range from good civic works to minor mischief, eccentricity, to outright evil.
30. Hire PCs
Serve as a champion in a tournament
Serve as a judge-referee in a tournament
Fight as a gladiator
Help put down a gladiator rebellion
Train apprentice gladiators
Capture monsters and beasts for gladiators to kill in the arena
Protect a harem while it is being built
Protect a group of harem girls in travel
Free a notable person sold as a slave to a harem
Capture a notable person for a harem
Serve as guards for a meeting of a secret society
Be recruited to join a secret society
Sign on as retainer huskarls
Train apprentice huskarls
Fight as mercenaries in a battle between nobles
Provide martial entertainment at a gala
Serve as guards at a gala
Hunt for an assassin at a gala
Go on a red herring mission for the purpose of gambling
Have their services given to another patron to pay a debt
Gamble in the patron's casino
Find the dingus for the collection
Find items to make a magic potion or spell
Find the Fountain of Youth
Slay the lich to find secret of immortality
Assist the faith in defending a church at patron's request
Find the patron's stolen prize stallion
Capture an exotic animal
Retainer at a castle garrison
Special missions against a foe from the castle garrison
Investigate castle staff for spies
Collect rare plant for botanical garden
Serve as marines on a merchant ship
Serve as guards on a road caravan
Serve as liegemen to a newly appointed noble
Teach the patron magic, swordplay, thievery or theology
Go on campaign
Rescue a patron captured on campaign
Be explorers in a strange new land
This submission was greatly inspired by EchoMirage's Luxury Items submission. It is a great scroll, go read it, then add to it!
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? Responses (9)-9
Very good. I so wish that I was rich.
A good collection of possible ways through which nobles can dispose of their wealth. Nicely done.
Very good, though it could easily have more linkage and there are a number of spelling issues.
Corrected the spelling errors, as for adding links, I could certainly add them. I could add links in each section. Unfortunately I feel that the amount of time that would take would not really be worth the effort.
Nothing is perfect.
Just wanted to add something about magery - using magery to spy on your enemies and friends. Could become a obession with a handful of nobles.
Nice. Easily usable in any game and system.
This is nice, it can be easily used for any scenario if your willing to take the time to modify it a little.
Everything a 30 should be -- complete, useful, and thought-provoking. Could easily be applied to any genre, with a little imagination. Looking forward to drawing on this in the future.