Tuesday, April 3, 2018

D&D Economies - Part Two

Got this HERE. Check it out.

So in the last post, I reproduced an awesome article on D&D economics that I found online. This is the second excerpt I wanted to reproduce, and honestly it contains pretty much everything I like about this guy. Remember this is written for 3.x rules-as-written, and this guy is trying to fix some of the absurdities of that system. He does a good job of it too.




Check it out:

"The Economicon: Making Sense of the Gold Standard
“ 100 pounds of gold for a house? How does anyone make rent without a wheelbarrow? ”

Since time immemorial, D&D has used the "gold piece" as its primary currency. It is apparently a chunk of reasonably pure gold of vaguely standardized weight that people use fairly interchangeably in different cities populated by different species. In the bad old days, each gold coin was a tenth of a pound, which was hilarious and inane. In the current edition, each gold piece is a fiftieth of a pound. That's 3.43 gp to the Troy Ounce, which means that in the modern economy, each gp is about $171 worth of gold. Obviously, gold is significantly more common in D&D than it is on Earth, gold is also undervalued because its status as a currency standard drives it out of industrial uses and causes inflation. Further, populations in D&D are orders of magnitude smaller than they are in the real world, so the gold per person is higher even with the same amount of gold. So the gold piece is massively less valuable in D&D economies than it would be in Earth's economies.

Nonetheless, things are really expensive in D&D, and the high price in gold means that there's a distinct limitation of how much wealth can be transported by any means available. The economies of currency transaction are actually so unfavorable that currency as we understand the term does not exist. Things don't have prices or costs – all transactions are conducted in barter and a common medium of exchange is heavy lumps of precious metal.

Wish and the Economy

An Efreeti can provide a wish for any magical item of 15,000 gp or less. A Balor can greater teleport at will, but can only carry 30 pounds of currency while doing so. Even in platinum pieces, that's 15,000 gp worth of metal. The long and the short of it is – at the upper end of the economy currency has no particular purchasing power and magic items of 15,000 gp value or less are viewed as wooden nickels at best. You can spend 15,000 gp and get magic items, but people in the know won't sell you a magic item worth 15,001 gp for money. That kind of item can only be bought for love. Or human souls. Or some other planar currency that is not replicable by chain binding a room full of Efreet to make in bulk.

Powerful characters actually can have bat caves that have sword racks literally covered in 15,000 gp magic items. It's not even a deal because they could just go home and slap some Efreet around and get some more. But even a single major magic item – that's heavy stuff that such characters will notice. Those things don't come free with hope alone, and every archmage knows that.

Wartime Economies Make for Shortages

Many people wonder why a masterwork dagger goes for more than its weight in gold. That's a pretty valid question to ask; certainly I'm not going to attempt to justify the 600 gp price tag on a masterwork walking stick – that's just an example of simplistic game mechanics run amok. But to an extent the crazy prices can be justified by the fact that every settlement in every D&D world is on a war footing all the time. The idea that Peace is somehow a natural state is a fairly recent one, and based on the frequency of wars all over the world – it's obviously just wishful thinking anyway. War is the default position of every major economy in the world, and that means that weapons have an immediate, and desperate, clientele. Iron is still relatively cheap, because you can't kill people with it right now, but actual weapons and armor are crazy expensive.

That doesn't explain the fact that the PHB charges you over a quarter oz. of gold just to get a backpack, and it doesn't explain the fact that the markup on masterworking a buckler is the same as the markup on masterworking a breastplate – that's just a game simplification that makes no real-world sense. But it's a start.

Coins are Big and Heavy
How many boards could the Mongols hoard if the Mongol hordes got bored? ”

From the standpoint of the adventurer, the primary difficulty of the D&D currency system is that the lack of a coherent banking and paper currency system means that there are profound limits to what you could possibly purchase even with platinum. But the currency system hurts on the other end as well. Untrained labor gets a silver piece a week. That's 500 copper coins a year, which means that no matter how cheap things are they can only make one purchase a day most of the time. That's pretty stifling to the economy, in that however much gets produced, no one can buy it. Demand, from the economics standpoint, is strangled to the point where large production outputs don't even matter (remember that in economics Demand doesn't mean "what people want", it means "what people are willing and able to pay for", so if the average person only has 500 discreet pieces of currency per year, that puts an absolute cap on economic demand, even though the people are of course both needy and greedy enough to want anything you happen to produce).

What's worse, those coins are heavy. For our next demonstration, reach into your change drawer and fish out nine pennies. That's a decent lump in your pocket, neh? That's about one copper piece. Gold pieces are smaller (less than half the size, actually), but weigh the same. D&D currency, therefore, is more like a Monopoly playing piece than it is like a modern or ancient coin. There's no reason to even believe these things are round, people are seriously marching around gold hats and silver dogs as the basic medium of exchange.

Now, you may ask yourself why these coins are so titanic compared to real coins. The answer is because having piles of coins is awesome. Dragons are supposed to sleep on that stuff, and that requires big piles of coins. Consider my own mattress, which is a "twin-size" (pretty reasonable for a single medium-size creature) and nearly .2 cubic meters. If it was made out of gold, it would be about 3.9 tonnes. That's about eighty-six hundred pounds, and even with the ginormous coins in D&D, that's four hundred and thirty thousand gold pieces. In previous editions, that sort of thing was simply accepted and very powerful dragons really did have the millions of gold pieces – which was actually fine. Since third edition, they've been trying to make gold actually equal character power, and the result has been that dragon hoards are… really small. None of this "We need to get a wagon team to haul it all away", no. In 3rd edition, hoard sizes have become manageable, even ridiculously tiny. When a 6th level party defeats a powerful and wealthy monster, they can expect to find... nearly a liter of gold. That is, the treasure "hoard" of that evil dragon you defeated will actually fit into an Evian bottle.

There are two ways to handle this:

Live with the fact that treasures are small and unexciting in modern D&D.
Live with the fact that characters who grab a realistic dragon's hoard become filthy stinking rich and this fundamentally changes the way they interact with society.

But once you accept that the realities of the wish based economy, you actually don't have to live with characters unbalancing the game once they find a real mattress filled with gold. That's not even a problem once characters are no longer excited by a +2 Enhancement bonus to a stat or a +3 enhancement bonus to Armor. Which means somewhere between 9th and 13th level it's perfectly fine for players to find actual money without unbalancing the game. Really, you can stop worrying about it.

Bad Money Drives Out Good: The Penalties of Paper

People from the modern world are generally pretty perplexed by this idea of handing back and forth actual metal as a medium of exchange. It is an undeniable truth in our lives that the idea of currency is just that: an idea. As long as whatever I'm trading for goods and services can be traded for goods and services, it doesn't actually matter if the exchange commodity has any ascribed intrinsic worth. Paper descriptions of value or even ephemeral electronic representations are not only adequate, they're convenient. But more than that, using valuable commodities as a medium of exchange inhibits the growth of the economy. As long as a certain portion of the wealth is locked up in currency, the economy is strangled coming and going: not only is there a completely arbitrary limit on how many goods and services can be exchanged (the gold supply), but there is also a limit on the kinds of industry and artistic expression that can occur (in that if you use gold for anything but currency you're actually shrinking the money supply and producing negative GDP).

So... you're going to solve that by instituting a paper-based exchange system where initially the paper is exchangeable for gold and that eventually gets phased out when the Plebes realize that handing actual gold back and forth is inconvenient and dumb, right? Wrong. Remember that this is the Iron Age, and people haven't invented Nationalism yet. The cornerstone of the Greenback currency is a belief in the nation that prints it – and nations simply don't exist. You've got empires, and you've got kingdoms, and you've got tribes, and you've got unincorporated villages... and that's it as far as civilization goes. When you look at a map in D&D and a colored region has a name on it, that's the name of the region. Possibly it's even the name of some guy in the region. The point is, that it's not a country in the modern sense of the word, so if some new guy walks in who's bad enough the next cartographer will put his name on the region instead.

And that means that "The Full Faith and Credit of the Kingdom of Daxall" is worth precisely nothing. And while King Daxall can, through force of arms, take all the gold away from all the peasants and get them to trade pieces of paper for goods and services in its place – noone will actually believe that the paper is currency. They're literally trading promises by King Daxall that he'll let them have their money back if they leave town. And since the serfs can't even leave town, even that promise is meaningless to them. A serf accepts paper for goods and services only because he'll be beheaded if he doesn't. The black market value of these pieces of paper is pretty close to zero. Worse, nearby governments will see this as a blatant attempt to sequester all the gold in King Daxall's pants and will probably declare war (in addition to the fact that noone outside the reach of King Daxall's pikemen will accept Daxall Dollars).

Powerful Creatures Have a Powerful Economy

The amount of gold it takes to get anywhere as a land lord is very large. The question that arises then, is why awesome architecture exists at all. It's a valid question, the listed costs to put things like pit traps and thrones made of bone into your dungeon are stupendously large and actual magical swag can be made available for much less than that. The answer is that:

People don't actually pay all that gold to have their homes remodeled (see the peonomicon below).
Powerful artificers and adventurers don't even want your gold. If something has a value of 100,000 gold pieces, it can't be purchased with gold pieces at all – because that's an actual ton of gold that you'd have to plop over the counter and the merchant you're dealing with won't take your money even if you have it.

Here we're going to be focusing in on

Raw Chaos

Gems: Truth or Dare

Gems are, to the vast majority of participants in the economy, pretty much worthless. A 500 gp diamond is pretty much the same as a gold piece to someone who intends to purchase things with a value of 1 gp or less. And of course, there are a lot more individuals out there who will stab a peasant in the face for a diamond than a gold piece. So why does anyone care?

Well, two reasons: the first is the obvious one that gold is extremely limited in what it can possibly purchase. A +2 sword is worth your weight in gold. Not its weight in gold, your weight in gold. It seriously costs over 166 pounds of gold, and that's just not reasonable for most people to put into their pockets. So people interacting with even the shallow end of the magic trade need there to be some crazily expensive items that have no purpose save to look pretty and be exchangeable for other stuff. But unlike our world gems actually have real value as well: as the fuel for powerful magics.

On Earth, the only reason that a diamond is expensive is because there's an international organization called DeBeers that seriously has actual assassins that will shoot you in the face if you try to sell diamonds for less than the price they've determined that they're supposed to be sold for. D&D doesn't have that kind of armed monopoly to maintain gem prices, but it does have the fact that people continuously use up gems for spells like raise dead and item creation and the like. So the fact that you can use ruby dust to make continual flames that you can turn around and sell as Everburning Torches means that ruby dust will continue to have value as long as people value light.

The D&D rules actually only go into the spell component uses of a handful of gems, but rest assured that all the rest are similarly useful when we get into the ephemerals of item creation. A lot of those "components" that cost piles of thousands of gold pieces are actually just piles of gems. Onyx keeps its value based on the needs of necromancers, but amethyst is just as needed to bind illusion magic into a cloak. The exchange rate between gems and magic items is in no danger of going anywhere. Minor magic items and gems are traded avidly by shopkeepers, adventurers, and even powerful outsiders and wizards.

But even so, gems can be simply acquired by the very powerful. The realities of the wish based economy ensure that gems can simply be obtained in large numbers by anyone who really cares enough to dedicate a conjured earth elemental to collecting them. Magical items that cannot be created with the application of spells (that is, magic items valued at more than 15,000 gp) cannot be purchased on the open market with mundane currency, not even gems. That isn't to say that you can't cheat a goblin out of a staff of power with some shiny rocks, you totally can (heck, you could also stab the goblin in the face and take that staff of power), but doing so is not considered a "fair trade" and requires a bluff check on your part.

In addition, many D&D worlds posit the existence of magic gems, which can be used to make magic items, increase personal power, make a snazzy grill with the bottom row made of gold, and all kinds of stuff. In addition to getting hot women to ask you to smile, these magical gems are magical and are actually considered fair exchange in the near-epic economy. You can't wish for Eberron Dragonshards or Planescape Planar Pearls, so those things have real value to Efreet and other creatures participating in the Big Pond. Rules for using magic gems appear in the Tome of Tiamat.

Magical Currency

Souls: The souls of powerful creatures are trapped in gems and the trade in them is brisk on the outer planes, especially in the planar metropolis of Finality on Acheron. Once a soul is in a gem, the gem itself is of little or no value, but the soul goes for 100 gp times the square of the CR of the creature whose soul is trapped (see Tome of Fiends for more information on the use of souls).

Concentration: Ideas take form on the outer planes, and really pernicious or stellar ideas can be so powerful that they take a while to form. In the before-time, they can be found as an amber-like substance that is extremely valued on Mechanus, and by extension every single other outer plane as well. Concentration is actually made out of ideas, and while it looks like a solid object it is actually a liquid that flows so slowly that you could watch it for a year and only a Modron could tell you how far the flow had taken it. A pound of concentration goes for 50,000 gp to an interested party, and can be used in magical crafting by those with the patience to learn its secrets (see Book of Gears for more information on the use of Concentration).

Hope: Hope is funny stuff, it has lots of inertia, but those who carry it are not weighed down in the least. It has mass, but not weight. Even the smallest piece of Hope sheds light like a daylight spell (the effective spell level for this effect is 7, and Hope can overcome almost any darkness). Hope is measured in kilograms rather than pounds, and a kilo of Hope goes for 100,000 gp to those who want it, and it can be used in magical crafting (see Tome of Virtue for more information on the use of Hope).

Raw Chaos: The plane of Limbo is filled with possibility and change. Usually this manifests as a continuous creation and destruction that is awe inspiring and terrifying at the same time. Sometimes, for whatever reason this possibility doesn't become anything, and just stays as Raw Chaos. Raw Chaos can have any dimensions and any amount of mass, but from a practical standpoint you either have it or you don't. If you have Raw Chaos and someone else doesn't you can give it to them, and it is generally considered good form for them to give you magical items or planar currency worth 200,000 gp in exchange. Raw Chaos can be transformed into magical items by those with the correct skills (See Tome of Tiamat for more information on the use of Raw Chaos).

Bringing the World out of the Dark Ages

It is historical fact that you can take a ridiculous and crumbling imperium with serfs and horse-drawn carts managed by a tyrannical and squabbling aristocracy and boot strap it into being a technologically sophisticated global power that can win the space race and such in a single generation even while being invaded by an evil and genocidal empire. The people at the top don't even need to be nice or sane, they just have to understand that economics is an entirely voodoo science, and the limits of production can be broken by thousands of percentage points by getting everyone to buy on credit, work on projects that people looking at the big picture tell them to work on, continuously invest in productive capital, and believe in the future.

Right. That's called Communism, and it ends the dark ages immediately even if it isn't run well. Presumably if it was being run by Paladins who actually radiate goodness and Wizards who are inhumanly intelligent and can cast powerful divinations to determine projected needs and goods could be distributed to the masses with teleportals – it would work substantially better. That sort of thing is not outside the capabilities of your characters in D&D. It's not outside the capabilities of the people in the village your characters are saving from gnollish invasion. It's not even technically complicated. But it isn't done.

Partly it isn't done because we're playing Dungeons & Dragons, not Logistics & Dragons. While it is true that you can fix the world's ills in a much more tangible fashion by industrializing the production of grain and arranging a non-gold based distribution system such that staple food stuffs are available to all, thereby freeing up potential productive labor for use in blah blah blah... the fact is that to a very real degree we play this game because telling stories about slaying evil necromancers and swinging on chandeliers is awesome. But the other reason is that the society in D&D really isn't ready for a modern or futuristic social setup. No one is going to understand how they are supposed to interact with Socialism, Capitalism, or Fascism, things are Feudal and people understand that. Wealth is exchanged for goods and services on the grounds that people on both sides of the exchange aren't sure that they would win the resulting combat if they tried to take the goods or wealth by force of arms.

Rome had steam engines. Actual difference engines that propelled a metal device with the power of a combustion reaction through the medium of the expansion of heated water. Really. They never built rail roads because slaves were cheaper than donkeys and the concept of investing in labor saving devices was preposterous. In D&D, the idea of having an economy based around trust in the government and labor/wealth equivalencies is similarly preposterous. It's not that the idea wouldn't work, it's that every man, woman, and child in society would simply laugh you out of the room if you tried to explain it to them."

This one really rules, except for that shit about Communism. Now I want to break down this guy's math and see if it works:
In 3.5, a Great Wyrm red dragon has a CR of 26, and its treasure is listed as "triple standard." Now, these treasure tables are a bit confusing to me, there is both a fixed "treasure values per encounter" table and some random ones too. The table only goes up to CR 20 and says to add magic items if we go above that, so we'll just stick with CR 20 and see what we get.

If we use the "Treasure values per encounter" table, it says a CR 20 encounter gets 80,000 gp. Dragons get triple that to 240,000.

Now in the classic editions, gold pieces were 10 per pound, but it says in 3.5 that:
"The standard coin weighs about a third of an ounce (fifty to the pound)"
So 240,000 gp weighs 80,000 ounces or 4800 pounds.

Then I looked at three websites which purport to convert weight to volume for various substances, and I got: 0.09 cubic meters, 0.09 cubic meters, and 0.11 cubic meters. That's 30 gallons!
So when you kill that red dragon with 40d12+400 hit points, a STR of 45, and a 24d10 breath weapon, all its worldly coinage fits in six of these:

*sad trombone*

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

A voice from the outside... OR The Three D&D Economies

Not a blog, but I stumbled on this dude's writings quite a while ago. I like seeing all these articles in a wiki, there is just enough of the author's voice that you can tell they were all written by the same person, but the personality doesn't quite come through like it would on a regularly updated blog. It's like getting that transmission from another planet in Contact. Makes me wonder what life is like way over there.

Now this guy is trying mightily to do the impossible: make sense of Rules-As-Written D&D. This is essentially a fool's errand, for reasons I have only slightly grazed by in the past (the post about paladins for example): so much of what's in a core D&D book implies, or even demands, a certain setting. (For this reason I almost categorically refuse to discuss RAW in isolation, outside of the strictures of a specific person's game or campaign.) But people don't ALWAYS understand that. The value of a gold piece, the relative frequency of a monster on your random tables, or that stupid druid hierarchy from 2nd edition can have wide-ranging implications on how the game should work, and what the setting should look like, if you would but consider them!!

Of course what inevitably happens is people come up with their own campaign settings and then some of these basic RAW elements clash horribly with what the poor DM is trying to do. This seems to account for a lot of "D&D is stupid!", "D&D is outdated nonsense!" and other complaints that float past every once in a while, because not everyone is willing or able or even has the time to rework every aspect of the rules that may or may not align with their setting. Life is tough!

Obviously the OSR as a whole spends a lot more time than some other folks thinking about this very problem. But what makes this guy cool is that he is doing this for 3.x D&D, which is maybe the 2nd most-hated system around here, after 4th edition. Tons of rules and details, really technical combat, and an extremely standardized system. Now of course, included in these sourcebooks are extra 3.x classes, and feats *shudder*, but watch what else he does with it. Rather un-dogmatically attempting to point out places the rules fall flat, and offering some choices for possible changes:

Tome of Necromancy - Rectifying what negative energy is and does, rules for undead subtypes, better necromancer classes, morality of undead. Pretty interesting, I'd say OSR usefulness 7/10 for moral clarification and more jazz for the bad guys. Plus and everyone likes the undead.

Tome of Fiends - Adventures in the lower planes, morality on the planes, how to do it at low levels, etc. Like an alternate vision of Planescape. OSR usefulness 6/10, seems like most folks stick to low-level "scrub" adventures and planar detours to Carcosa instead of the Abyss.

Races of War - Some stuff to expand 3.x combat (like we need any more of THAT shit), better rules for monstrous PCs (definite improvement), demographics, how warfare would work when you can cast fireball. OSR usefulness 7/10 for ideas on how every humanoid race conducts its warfare.

Book of Gears - Revised magic items, crafting & magic item creation, more stuff on xp and wealth accumulation (watch him try to square the circle of experience points and wealth-by-level in 3rd edition. Lucky for us we know about xp for gold, ha ha ha!), traps, some other stuff. OSR usefulness maybe 5/10 for the further stuff about the economy.

Dungeonomicon - Although it overlaps a lot with things the OSR already deals with a lot (dungeon ecology or lack thereof for example), and takes a very naturalistic approach to everything, it also has the least rules and the most incisive thinking. Pay keen attention to the part about dragon hoards to see how 3.x treasure rules fall flat on their face, and make sure your game doesn't do it (TLDR; In 3rd edition, Smaug's hoard would be about the size of my mattress). OSR usefulness 11/10 for "The Turnip Economy," why you'd build a dungeon in the first place, and the societal dynamics of goblin


One of the best links on those pages seems to be broken. So reproduced in its entirety is my favourite article from these pages, which I saved on my computer because I like it so much. In case it wasn't clear, I DIDN'T WRITE THIS, I JUST LIKE IT A HECK OF A LOT and want people to read it.

Here we go with:

"The Three (or so) Economies

I’ll give you five pounds of gold, the soul of Karlack the Dread King, and three onions for your boat, the Sword of the Setting Sun, and that cabbage. . . ”

Life in D&D land is not like life in a capitalist meritocracy with expense accounts and credit cards. There is no unified monetary system and there are no marked prices. All transactions are essentially barter, and you can only trade things for goods and services if people genuinely believe that the things you are trading have intrinsic value and the people you are trading to actually want those specific things. Gold can be traded to people only because people in the world genuinely think that gold is intrinsically valuable and that they want to own piles of gold.

That means that in places where people don’t want gold – such as the halfling farming collective of Feddledown, you can’t buy anything with it. It’s just a heavy, soft metal. But for most people in the fantasy universe, gold has a certain mystique that causes people to want it. That means that they’ll trade things they don’t need for gold. But no matter what they are giving up they aren’t ”selling” things because money as we understand the concept doesn’t really exist. They are trading some goods or services directly for a physical object – an actual lump of gold. Not a unit of value equivalency, not a promise of future gold, not a state guaranty of an amount of labor and productive work – but an actual physical object that is being literally traded. And yeah, that’s totally inefficient, but that’s what you get when John Locke hasn’t been born yet, let alone modern economic theorists like Adam Smith, Karl Marx, or Benito Mussolini. If you really want to get into the progressive economic theories that people are throwing around with a straight face, go ahead and check out theoreticians like Martin Luther, Thomas Aquinas, Sir Thomas Moore, or Zheng He. If you want to see what conservative opinions look like in D&D land, go ahead and read up on your Draconis, Li Ssu, Aristotle, or Tamerlain.

The Turnip Economy

We got rats! Rats on sticks!”

Most settlements in a D&D setting are really small and completely unable to sustain any barter for such frivolities as gold or magical goods. The blacksmith of a hamlet does not trade his wares for silver, he trades them for food. He does this because the people around him are farmers and they don’t make enough surplus to hoard valuable metals. So if he took gold for his services, he would get something he couldn’t spend, and then he wouldn’t be able to eat. So even though people in the tiny villages you fly over when you get your first gryphon will freely acknowledge that your handful of silver is worth very much more than their radishes, or their tin cups, or whatever it is that they produce for the market, they still won’t trade for your metal because they know that by doing so they run the risk of starving to death as rich men.

The economy of your average gnomish village is so depressed by modern standards that even the idea of wealth accumulation and currency is incomprehensible. But the idea of slacking off is universal. There is a static amount of work that needs to be done on the farm each year and the peasants are perfectly willing to put you up if you do some of their chores. Seriously, they won’t let you stay in their house for a copper pfennig or a silver ducat, but they will give you food and shelter if you cleanout the pig trough. They have no use for your ”money”, but they do need the poop out of the pig pen and they don’t want to do it. On the other hand, they also don’t want to be eaten by a manticore, so if you publicly slay one that has been terrorizing the village the people will feed you for free pretty much as long as you live. That’s why people pay money to bards. Bards spend a lot of time in cities and actually will take payment in copper and gold. And if they sing songs about you, your fame increases. And fame really is something that you can use to buy yourself food and shelter from people in the turnip economy.

Costs” in the turnip economy are extremely variable. In lean times, the buying power of a carrot is relatively high and in fat times the buying power of a cabbage is very low. It is in this way that the people in tiny hamlets get so very screwed. No matter how much they produce or don’t produce, they are pretty much going to get just enough nails and ladders and such to continue the operations of their farms. However, such as there is a unit of currency in the barter economy of the turnip exchange – it’s a unit of 1000 Calories. That’s enough food to keep one peasant alive for one day. It’s not enough to feed them well, and it’s not enough to make them grow big and strong, but it’s enough so that they don’t actually die (for reference, a specialist eats 2000 Calories a day to stay sharp and an actual adventurer eats 5000 Calories a day to maintain fighting shape).

In Rokugan, that’s called a Koku, and in much of Faerun it is called a ”ration”. It works out to about 2 cups of dry rice (435 mL), or a 12 oz. steak (340 g), or 5 cups of black beans (1.133 kg), or 4.4 ounces of cooking oil (125 g).

Higher Calorie foods like meat and oil are more valuable and lower calorie foods like celery or spinach are less valuable because a lot of people exist on the razor’s edge of starvation. The really fatty cuts of meat are the most valuable of all (it’s like you’re in Japan or Africa in that way). The practical effect of all of this is that people who have a skilled position such as blacksmith or scribe get enough food to grow up big, healthy, and intelligent. The peasants actually are weak and stupid because they only get 1000 Calories a day – they won’t die on that but they don’t grow as people. This also means that the blacksmith’s son becomes the next blacksmith – he’s the guy in the village who gets enough food to get the muscles you need to actually be a blacksmith.

When you start a party of adventurers, note the really tremendous expenditures that were required to make your characters. A 16 year old first level character didn’t just get a longsword from somewhere, he’s also been fed a non-starvation diet for 5844 days. That means that at some point your newly trained Fighter or Rogue seriously had someone invest thousands of Koku into him to allow him to get to that point. If your character is a street rat or a war orphan, consider where this food may have come from. Perhaps when the orcs destroyed your village leaving your character alone in the world the granary survived and your character had a huge supply of millet to sustain himself until he could hunt and kill deer to augment his diet.

A Note on Peasant Uprisings

Peasants may seem like they get a crap deal out of life. That’s because they do. And regardless of whatever happy peasant propaganda you may have seen, peasants aren’t really happy with their life even under Good or Lawful rulership. That’s because they work hard hours all year and get nothing to show for it. So the fact that they don’t get beaten by Good regimes or stolen from by Lawful regimes doesn’t really make them particularly rich or pleased.

In Earth’s history, peasant uprisings happened about every other generation in every single county from Europe all the way to China all the way through the entire feudal era (all 1500 years of it). It is not unreasonable to expect that feudal regions in D&D land would have even more peasant uprisings because the visible wealth discrepancies between Rakshasa overlords and halfling dirt farmers is that much more intense. Sure, as in the real world’s history these uprisings would rarely win, and even more rarely actually hold territory (if lords can agree on nothing else, it is that the peasants should not be allowed to rise up and kill the lords). The lords are all powerful adventurers, or the family and friends of powerful adventurers, so the frequent peasant revolts are usually put down with fireballs and even cloudkills.

Students of modern economic thought may notice that cutting the remote regions in on a portion of the central government’s wealth in order to buy actual loyalty from the hinterlands could quite easily pay itself off in greater stability and the ability to invest in the production of the hinterlands causing the central government’s coffers to swell with the enhanced overall economy and making the entire region safer and stronger in times of war but as noted elsewhere such talk is considered laughable even by Lawfully minded theorists in the D&D world. After all, since abstract currency doesn’t see use and the villagers don’t have any gold, it is ”well known” that it is impossible to make a profit on investment in the villages. The only possible choices involve taking more or less of their food as taxes/loot as that is all they produce.

The Gold Economy

What pleasures can I get for a diamond?”
We’ll. . . have to get the book.”

People who live in cities mostly trade in gold. This is not just because living so far away from the dirt farmers makes the hoarding of turnips as a trade commodity a dangerous undertaking – but because people living in cities are surrounded by a lot of people who provide a wide variety of goods and services they are willing and able to trade for substances generally acknowledged to be valuable rather than trading directly for the goods and services that they actually want. These valuable substances range from precious metals (copper, silver, gold, platinum) to gems (pearls, rubies, onyx, diamond) to spices (salt, myconid spores, hellcandy flowers). In any case, these trade goods are traded back and forth many times before they are ever used for anything.

When someone sells an item or a service for trade goods they are doing it for one of two reasons. The first is that they want something that the buyer doesn’t have. For example, a man might want a barrel of lard or a bolt of silk – but they’ll accept silver coins or something else that they are reasonably certain they can trade to a third party for whatever it is that they are actually interested in. Whoever is using the trade goods is at a disadvantage in the bargaining therefore, because while they are getting something they actually want, the other trader is essentially getting the potential to purchase something they want once they walk around and find someone who will take the silver for their goods. It is for this reason that the purchasing power of gold is shockingly low in rural areas: a prospective trader would have to walk for days to get to another place he might actually spend a gold coin – so all negotiation essentially starts with buying several days of the man’s labor and attention. The second reason for accepting a trade good is the belief that the trade good may itself become more valuable. Indeed, when were-crocodiles take over a nearby village all the silver becomes a lot more interesting. This sort of speculation happens all the time and is incredibly bad for the economy. People and dragons take enormous amounts of currency out of circulation and the resulting economic downturns are part of what makes the dark ages so. . . dark.

Gold and jewels can be used to purchase magic items that aren’t amazingly impressive. No wizard is ever going to make a masterpiece just to sell it for slips of silver. However, there are more than a few magicians who would be willing to invest some time in order to get a handful of gold that they can use to live their lives easier with. Making even Minor magic items is hard work, and wizards demand piles of gold to be heaped on them for producing even magical trinkets. And because these demands actually work, there’s really no chance to purchase anything that would take a Magician a long time to make. That means that Major magic items cannot be purchased with standard trade goods at all. There’s literally no artificer anywhere who is going to sit down and make a Ring of Spellstoring or a Helm of Brilliance in order to sell it for gold – because the same artificer can acquire as much gold as he can carry just by making Rings of Featherfall or Cloaks of Resistance.

The Wish Economy

They scour the land searching for relics of the age of legends. Scant remnants they believe will grant them the powers of the Vanished Ones. I do not. The Age of Legends lives in me.”

Magicians can only produce a relatively small number of truly powerful magic items. While a magician can produce any number of magic items that hold requirements at least 4 levels below their own – a wizard is permitted only one masterpiece at each level of their progression. It is no surprise, therefore, that characters would be vastly interested in acquiring magic items produced by others that are even of near equivalence to the mightiest items that a character could produce. A character could plausibly bind 8 magic items, and yet they can only create one which is of their highest level of effect. Gaining powerful magic items from other sources is a virtual requirement of the powerful adventurer.

So it is of no surprise that there is a brisk – if insanely risky – trade in magical equipment amongst the mighty. All the ingredients are there: characters are often left holding onto items that they can’t use (for example: a third fire scimitar) and they are totally willing to exchange them for other items that they might want (magical teapots that change the weather or helmets that allow a man to see in all directions). And while the mutual benefit of such trades is not to be downplayed, it is similarly obvious that the benefits of betrayal in such arrangements are amazingly amazing. Killing people and taking their magical stuff is what adventurers do, so handing magic items back and forth in a seedy bar in a planar metropolis is an obviously dangerous undertaking.

Tamerlain’s Economy: The Murderocracy

The soldier may die, but he must receive his pay.”

Let’s say that you don’t want to exchange goods and services for other goods and services at all. Well, it’s medieval times baby, there’s totally another option. See, if you kill people by stabbing them in the face when they want to be paid for things, you don’t have to pay for things. Indeed, if you have a big enough pack of gnolls at your back, you don’t have to pay anything to anyone except your own personal posse of gnolls.

The disadvantages of this plan are obvious – people get super pissed when they find out that you murdered their daughter because it was that or pay for a handful of radishes. But let’s face it: if that old man can’t do anything about it because you’ve got a pack of gnolls – then seriously what’s he going to do? And while this sort of thing is often as not the source for an adventure hook (some guy comes to you and whines about how his whole family was killed by orcs/gnolls/your mom/ ogres/demons/or whatever and suddenly you have to strike a blow for great justice), it is also a cold harsh reality that everyone in D&D land has to live with. Remember: noone has written The Rights of Man. Heck, no one has even written Leviathan. The fact that survivors of an attack may appeal to the better nature of adventurers is pretty much the only recompense that our gnoll posse might fear should they simply forcibly dispossess everyone in your village.

So people who have something that the really powerful people want are in a lot of danger. If a dirt farmer who does all of his bargaining in and around the turnip economy suddenly finds himself with a pile of rubies that’s bad news. It’s not that there aren’t people who would be willing to trade that farmer fine clothing, good food, and even minor magic items for those rubies – there totally are. But a pile of rubies is just big enough that a Marilith might take time out of her busy schedule to teleport in and murder his whole family for them. And he’s a dirt farmer – there’s no way he has the force needed to even pretend to have the force needed to stop her from doing it. So if you have planar currencies or powerful artifacts, you can’t trade them to innkeepers and prostitutes. You can’t even give them away save to other powerful people and organizations.

That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a peasant who runs around with a ring that casts charm person once a day or there isn’t a minor bandit chief who happens to have a magic sword. Those guys totally exist and they may well wander the lands trying to parlay their tiny piece of asymmetric power into something more. But the vast majority of these guys don’t go on to become famous adventurers or dark lords – they get their stuff taken away from them the first time they go head to head with someone with real power. Good or Evil, Lawful or Chaotic, noone wants some idiot to be running around with a ring that charms people – because frankly that’s the kind of dangerous and an accident waiting to happen. If you happen to be powerful and see some small fry running around with some magic – your natural inclination is to take it from them. It doesn’t matter what your alignment is, it doesn’t matter if the guy with the wand of lightning bolt is currently ”abusing” it, the fact is that if you don’t take magic items away from little fish one of your enemies will. There is no right to private property. No-one owns anything, they just hold on to it until someone takes it from them.

Beelzebub’s Economy: The Trade in Favors

I’m certain that there’s something we can do to help you. . . but eventually you’ll have to help us.”

Every transaction in D&D land is essentially barter. People trade a cloth sack for a handful of peas, people trade an embroidered silken sack for a handful of silver, and people trade a powerful magical sack for a handful of raw power. But in any of these cases, the exchange is a one-time swap of goods that one person wants more for goods the other person desires. But there is no reason it has to work like that. Modern economies abstract all of the exchanges by creating ”money” that is an arbitrary tally of how much goods and services one can expect society to deliver – thereby allowing everyone to ”trade” for whatever they want regardless of what they happen to produce. Nothing nearly that awesome exists anywhere in the myriad worlds of Dungeons and Dragons. What one can see in heavy use is the trade in favors. This is just like getting paid in money except that your money is only good with the guy who paid it to you. So you can see why people might be reluctant to sell you things for it. And yet despite the extremely obvious disadvantages of this system, it is in extremely wide use at every level of every economy. And the reason is because it’s really convenient.

There is no guarantee that a King will have anything you want right now when he needs you to kill the dragon that is plaguing his lands. In fact, with a dragon plaguing his lands, the King is probably in the worst possible position to pay you anything. But once the lands aren’t on fire and taxes start rolling in, he can probably pay you quite handsomely. Heck, in two years or so his daughter will be marrying age and since she’s just going to end up as an aristocrat unless she becomes the apprentice and cohort of a real adventurer. . .

Failing to pay one’s debts can have disastrous consequences in D&D land. We’re talking ”sold to hobgoblin slavers” levels of bad. Heck, this is a world in which you can seriously go into a court of law and present ”He needed killing” as an excuse for premeditated homicide, so people who renege on their favors owed are in actual mortal danger. Of course, everyone is in mortal danger all the time because in D&D land you actually can have land shark attacks in your home town – so it isn’t like there are any less people who flake on duties and favors. Of course, if people know you let favors slide they might be less likely to pull you out of the way of oncoming land sharks. Even in Chaotic areas, pissing off your neighbors is rarely a great plan."

Read it, love it, believe it.

Because I say so.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Image post II - Mirin'!

So I started reading Against the Wicked City! That post about the Dragon Warriors games really grabbed me. I want to play in a game where the goblins have daggers made of icicles, and the wights lurk and loom grimly from their barrow-mounds! (Everything needs more wights.)

In the spirit of that post, let's see if we can't dig up some more goodness from around the internet that goes with this look - and increases our style points in general - and see where might fit in my game!

Go and read that article first, then come back and let's go on a journey. I started by looking for other "Dragon Warriors" images to see what else was out there, but that phrase was to say the least difficult to google precisely, so then I spread my net a bit wider for some more fun:


A more English Elf. Actually, that book was really quite good.

Hunting on the moors at night!

Doré forever!! This adventure looks like it ended badly.

Doré, also note the ruined spiral staircase going nowhere - I want to see what that's all about.

Un-human based horror. I don't specifically have pig-men in my setting but a) House on the Borderland does not screw around, b) it's set in the UK (Scotland I think?), c) I have goat-men so why not, and 4) maybe I will have to work the pig-boys in.

I want to put this picture up the next time the PCs trip over a ruined castle. See if they even want to go inside!!

I dunno what this is about, I love it though.

They only work in certain doses, but definitely for some elfy stuff at times.
I'll just leave this here. For later.

BARROW-WIGHTS by Ian Miller. YES!!!

Semi-related, but this band actually rules.

Some really deadly artwork of all kinds of fantasy stuff, including a ton of Tolkien scenes, here. This guy rules!!!

Elves: because DiTerlizzi doesn't screw around. The Elven parts of Annwn will be a pretty strange place.

I'll bet her one spell for the day is pretty damn cool.

DAMN me it's Arthur Rackham!!


Did not think I'd be bringing Goya along, but this one works for goblins I think.

Do not fuck with this here ogre.

This medieval mythos stuff rules, and more is found here.

I suppose I am learning about this Piranesi guy just now...

To sum up, I feel like this is a real shit-mix. It's really hard to google up a general "aesthetic"!

Monday, January 22, 2018

The Spoils of Annwn: Session 1 Play Report - The Triumphant Return!

We actually had a lot of fun! Except when Mike fell asleep.


I am glad none of the characters died, especially since one of my players brought a girl who has NEVER played an RPG before. She got right into it though, was talking to NPCs and strategizing with the other players, she even said "forsooth" a few times (this is more participation than I expect). I am the most proud of the fact that I didn't ruin a first-time gamer's day, and maybe she will come back to play again. That's a big win in my book.

So I started things off on the Isle of Wight, with a lone survivor of the last party that ran through the ruins on the island (a much older version of the dungeon!) stumbling back into town, mostly dead, with a half-drawn map, a key and an odd statue of what looked like a skeleton anti-pope. This got the PCs together and hustling into the dungeon, and the game was afoot!

Who would make a statue of this guy?

The intrepid group of 4 PCs (two goblins, a dwarf and a sea-blood accompanied by 2 hirelings and 2 mangy dogs, with maybe 20 hit points between all eight of them) fought a moss hog (oh you fucking bet!!!!), then ran into a squad of terrified bloblins (same link). They rolled nice on the reaction roll - you can bet nobody had ever done THAT before - and the bloblins told them about "Jack," who had been asking about the strange statue, and the "big whippers" who oppressed them. The PCs wanted to help the bloblins, and promised to fight the whippers if they would then lead the way to Jack. So venturing further into the dungeon without too much incident (the random encounter tables were very mild that day - another happy accident for the new player is that there wasn't much combat, and diplomacy carried the day), the PCs did battle with some giant goat-men with whips!


After the battle with the goat-whippers, the bloblins failed their morale check and said they would take the PCs to Jack right now, or that was it. Leading them through the dungeon, they also came across a wall with a damaged mosaic of a battlefield, depicting some kind of figure in the foreground - the only thing left was a set of horse legs though. Maybe that will come back later!

The bloblins gave them directions to Jack, and told them "don't go through that other door," before running off to hide somewhere in the dungeon again. Jack of course turned out to be a small, walking scarecrow with a pumpkin head. He couldn't talk, but when the PCs gave him back the statue he was relieved of a curse and really dished the dirt. The players asked him about the dungeon, how long he's been around, if he knew where any treasure might be, a ton of other questions. He told them he was from "down the stairs," and wanted to go back there. Since they freed him, he gave them vague directions to some sort of useful magic nearby, and offered to lead them to the stairs he spoke of.

Jack led the party through some strange rooms, including one with a glowing spectral eye that scrutinized the players, and another crammed with shelves of earthenware jars - nobody opened one, but Jack said they contained human brains. Through another room with strange insectile statues, Jack led them into THE STAIRS: a gigantic, glowing red shaft that extended up and down as far as they could see, like a giant underground missile silo of stone. A narrow walkway headed across to the other side, and a similarly narrow stairwell circled around the wall of the shaft, heading down and up.

Jack had a few parting words for the PCs when they asked him where he's from: "it's always the same season at home... you know the one, with all the orange leaves." He told them the queen's name is Gloriana, but he "doesn't really follow politics." With a nod and a wink he jumped off the ledge and plunged down the stairway shaft into the distant red glow.

Bemused at this departure, the adventurers crept across the walkway to the other side of the stairway shaft and followed a tunnel to a heavy stone door with a symbol of the sun, and a strange keyhole.

Then I had to go to band practise, so the PCs retired to the outdoors again (no random encounters at ALL in this latter half of the adventure) to camp out on the hills and await the next delve!


All told this was a success and better than I hoped for a first run-through with this group. The players saw some cool stuff. Nobody died. There was some combat and some diplomacy in equal measure. The newbie had a good time, there isn't much else to ask for. I threw out some cool elements in this session I've been thinking about for a while, so hopefully I can blog about them in more detail soon!


!!! ACHTUNG !!!
Actually, the whole top level of this dungeon is this find-and-replace dungeon that I got from D&DwPS.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Or close the wall up with our English dead!

Welp... Tomorrow morning I'm running something I've written myself for the first time in a couple years. The dudes weren't too into the Maze of the Blue Medusa (they thought it was "too weird" and none of the NPCs were helpful enough), so god only knows what they'll think of my own stuff. They are already starting to cry about having "shitty stats" and not enough hit points. I hope tomorrow doesn't suck.