Friday, August 28, 2009

gold pieces, horses and swords: A better RPG economy

The flaw I'll talk about today is pricing in role-playing games. Often pricing is a vast list of charts with a generic price listed in coins. This is by and large fiat to make and rote to remember. Its also often illogical , "so if I buy a ladder I can smash it into two ten foot poles, sell each for half price and make money?"

This fails to deal with issues such as exchange rates, local availability of materials and skilled labour, demand and previous stockpiles. Now a good GM can adjudicate these, and often why have the large and bulky charts at all?

I don't. Piecemeal uses the "dollar system". In this coins are assigned a theoretical modern "dollar value". Any time you go to buy an item you base its price upon the value of its modern day equivalent.

Buying a sword is thus akin to buying an assault rifle. If we go with a copper coin being $1 a sword thus can cost somewhere around 20 gold (depending on ALOT of factors, in same places as little as two). A riding horse is a car, a war horse a Humvee. A suit of carefully designed plate mail is much like a tank, a suit of mail an armoured car.

Now difficulties still arise, misjudgements and the like. But it allows for a lot more "fast and furious" bargaining and haggling with merchants too. After all, things don't have price tags on them. Every price is negotiable, some merchants might refuse to sell if you don't haggle (thinking something suspicious is up, like maybe the item is worth a lot more than previously thought)


  1. I found the resources skill in the Luke Crane family of games (Burning Wheel, Mouse Guard) to be a cool solution. I think other systems have that, as well. Just make a resource skill test to figure out whether you're able to buy item X. I support that mainyl because my players seem to have zero interest in "bargaining and haggling".

  2. I guess it depends on how you feel about resource management.

    It also depends on the era, in the modern era with credit being so freely available, a wealth stat makes more sense.

    In an era where if you don't have it on don't have it, less sense.

  3. From what I know, most of the transactions in medieval were not done in cash, but rather as favours or by trading goods, which does make an abstract approach meaningful and counting coins downright bad solution.

    Or consider a tribal community. Using cash to measure wealth simply does not work.

    This also makes the situation of adventurers awfully difficult, since they don't know anyone and have position in society. The actual difficulties of adventuring....

  4. If you're running fantasy world where magic is normal that is usually not taken into account. Depending on what type of magic system you use, magic-users with productive type skills (I am thinking the GURPS system) they can mass produce quality items in less time. If a mage has a shape metal spell he can make horse shoes and fit them in no time. Or if he has that spell plus a sharpen spell he can make weapons quickly and in less time. These two spells are low cost in terms of fatigue and stress to the caster.

    Of course that is where (if you have these in your campaign) the merchant guilds can step in and they provide a stability to pricing and who can do what.

    This is something I am always tinkering with. In a 'points of light' style adventure I developed gold and precious gems have no value. Steel, iron, bronze are what is valued to make the weapons and armor.

  5. @thainur:

    This is true depending on the point in time. In a tribal society a wealth stat is just as useless as coins.

    Your wealth stat is replaced with a fairly quick roleplay of talking with the person who has the skill or item you want, and trading for it.

    The concept of large marketplace with someone with the item (or ability to craft said item) readily available does not exist. It isn't so much that a wealth stat matters, its that coins aren't useful either. Food would be a much better guage of wealth (trading say goats or cattle) or children (arranging marriages) or simply friendships. Even then the dollar system works fine for an idea of how valuable something is. Having someone chip you 10 flint arrowheads might be 4 or 5 days work. The cost is thus a weeks wages for a skilled labourer (say a plumber or mechanic), thats about a grande to twelve hundred, while a fatted bull might provide a months worth of food for a family of 4, and meat to boot, thats about eight hundred to a grande.

    The old economic theory (from the medieval market place) was that if you pay to have something made, someone will buy it because there is now currency floating about unused.

  6. The reason I see value in abstract wealth rules is precisely because they can be used to codify such factors as having reputation of always paying back favours, having good standing in one's community and even knowing the right people. And, yes, having enough money (or goods or whatever).

    That way, when character wants to buy something, you can simply roll wealth, narrate how the item was or was not acquired, and move on to consequences.

    Fixed prices for goods are useful in situations where they can be meaningfully defined; any relatively stable (and thereby large) market, I think.