Give the PCs something neat and fun and useful to buy with their money: flying mounts, a cool house, a ship, whatever. Just make sure it’s something that’s actually useful for them. Their house should give them a bit more status in the community, and the human guards and pet basilisk mean the treasure they store there is safe. Never punish them for having spent this money. But do make sure whatever it is requires upkeep. Sailors and guards and servants need to be paid, pet gryphons and basilisks need to be fed, etc. So long as the players feel their getting value from this sort of thing, they’ll be eager to spend the coin.
Let Them Throw Gold at Problems
Let them bribe guards and buy off politicians. Let them hire someone to take care of an annoying side-issue, especially when it is an annoying side-issue that will take up time better spent on something fun. Let them dump a giant pile of coins in the demon-sage’s lap and learn where the secret enemy base is, or the Arch-duke’s hidden weakness. If it moves things along and greases the way to the fun parts, absolutely let them do it. Make it expensive, sure, but not so expensive they decide they’d rather do it themselves.
Bringing Home the Bacon
Page 157 of the PHB lists daily living expenses. As Gygax himself said:
YOU CAN NOT HAVE A MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN IF STRICT TIME RECORDS ARE NOT KEPT.Seriously, this is a good way to keep a low-magic campaign tense. You gotta eat, so you gotta adventure or rob or something.
It also allows the players to say something about their PCs. Are they frugal to a fault? Do they enjoy living it up? When they crash the Duchess’ tea party, are they dressed like they belong or do they look like something even the cat turns its nose up at? In the Real World ™ we spend not insignificant amounts of money to signal our relative social status. There’s no need to go into exactly what colors are in this season; if your PC is spending enough to afford a high-status lifestyle, they (or their tailor) has that all figured out already.
And the PC might not be alone. Characters could have apprentices, dependents, or family. These should be people the PCs can rely on to get the small, annoying tasks done, letting them concentrate on the fun, heroic stuff. Like servants above, the PCs should get value for the money they spend on family and household, through material support, gossip, familial connections, and social status. Avoid the temptation to punish a character for having family; we’re trying to encourage them to spend money, not punish them for having it. Having money (and a house and family and social influence) should all be fun!
Winning Friends and Influencing People
This is kinda similar to throwing money at problems above, except it’s a pre-emptive drip of expense. I’m talking about the sorts of things you do to cement your place in the social hierarchy and secure professional resources. Things like join a guild, attend religious services, take part in political events, donate to charity, throw parties, and all that sort of thing.
Again, make it fun and useful. Let them get access to special tools and knowledge through their guild, allow them to rub elbows with the high and mighty at the temple or get a discount on spells due to their regular tithes and offerings to the gods, have the Duchess show up at their party even though inviting her was more an act of politeness than an expectation she’d attend. And while she’s there, she could let drop a bit of juicy gossip that could lead the PCs to their next quest.
This is my personal favorite: PCs get 1 EXP for each gold piece they “spend.” And I use the term “spend” loosely; they could buy something useful, donate it all to charity, or fritter it away on whores and ale.
I love this because it puts the problem of too much money in the players’ laps. They have to decide how they’re going to spend it all. It keeps them relatively poor and hungry, because they need escalating amounts of cash to “buy” their next level. They’re motivated to actively seek wealth-creating opportunities, which gives the campaign a much more Sword & Sorcery vibe (as opposed to KILL ALL TEH THINGS homicidal computer-gaming that EXP for kills creates).
A variation on this theme is EXP via carousing. Building your own personal carousing tables for your setting (or even individually for each player) is fun, and lots of people enjoy the vicarious gambling that goes with rolling on a crazy table with a wide range of outcomes.
In any case, if you go this route, keep a weather eye on how much wealth you’re putting in dungeons. While this might discourage PCs from killing everything that moves, it will encourage them to cart off everything that’s not nailed down: carpets, tapestries, thrones, silverware, it’s all potential wealth (and a new level) for the PCs.
Ale & Whores by Scott Kurtz.