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D&D game world economy, wages and modelling the ancent world

Celebrim

Hero
I don't believe Dungeons & Dragons was designed with accurate simulation of the human experience in mind.
I disagree, but fundamentally it doesn't matter. What Dungeon & Dragons was designed to be is an entirely different discussion. What's important is you don't care whether D&D is an accurate simulation of the human experience, and don't really intend it to be one.

And my response to that then is, "Then for a game like that you don't need any sort of game world that accurately models wages, economy, or anything else."

You are the one in charge of what your game is about, and no one - not even the game's creator - could tell you that you were wrong for having a game about that. An RPG system is in many ways like a language. It has some structure, and it may be particularly expressive or inexpressive regarding certain ideas, but ultimately you are the one that gets to decide what to say in and how you want to say it.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
If we're in a situation where a guard could be bribed I would much rather just do that and move on to a more exciting bit of the story than fight them. Bribing, sneaking, or clobbering all sound like an easy encounter.
I want the bribery to happen sometimes sure I just do not want it to be trivial because of extreme income disparity. Just as I don't want hiring them for a "level appropriate" task to necessarily be trivial and so on.
 

ad_hoc

Adventurer
I want the bribery to happen sometimes sure I just do not want it to be trivial because of extreme income disparity. Just as I don't want hiring them for a "level appropriate" task to necessarily be trivial and so on.
Right but the encounter is already trivial so it doesn't matter.

And the point when it isn't trivial is also the point where bribery is likely to fail.
 

Fenris-77

Explorer
I think there's two things going on with economics and D&D, for me anyway. First, I think large simulationist attempts to model fantasy economies are bound to be wasted work past a certain point. By which I mean past the point where it matters for the story. I don't really care much about magic (oddly?) because I'm pretty happy to just shrug and say Wizards are inscrutable and have better things to do than white room economic shenanigans. You can account for that as much as you think necessary, but I wouldn't loose any sleep trying to figure it out. That said, rationalizing the economy up to a certain point can be useful, which leads me to my second point.

Where economic modelling can be really useful is when it comes to story, especially at the larger political level. Economic factors can be real prime movers when it comes to disputes between kingdoms, and having a base model that makes sense can add some story options that you don't have when issues of economy don't extend farther than some vague hand waving, The example that springs to mind is Feist's Rise of a Merchant Prince. That was probably the first time I'd read a fantasy novel that had economics as the prime mover for a bunch of the action and at the time it was a relevatory read. Here was a fantasy story about grain futures and shipping concerns, and it was awesome. Anyway, that's my two cents.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
Right but the encounter is already trivial so it doesn't matter.
And the point when it isn't trivial is also the point where bribery is likely to fail.
Ideally you want that to be so and so do I but it is easy for the game numbers to not bear that out.
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
Some comments:

Completely figuring out a setting's economy is an enormous amount of work, and rarely worth it. however sometimes you do want some hard numbers, and it's where having an "economic yardstick", a number you assume is correct is very useful. And the wage of a common laborer is a good yardstick. In D&D 5e, that number is 2 silver pieces a day, a number that is roughly plausible, historically speaking.

That number comes from the "daily expenses" table. Those numbers... they add up. If you want the "comfortable" lifestyle (at 2 gp/day) well that's 700 gp a year... the aristocratic lifstyle is 3650 gp/year minimum. So an easy way to ding the characters a bit is have spaces of time between adventures where they aren't earning but spending money.

The other way is with reasonable reward. If you know the daily wage of a common laborer , you can derive the GDP of the country/town/barony/whatever and thus have a rough idea of what kind of reward they could reasonably give out. (see Reasonable rewards ).

Lastly, having too low rewards can lead to some PC behavior that you may not be fond of. For example, in warhammer the rewards are stingy. If the party is being paid 1 gp/day to watch over a merchant's caravan, that's actually pretty decent money (a mercenary makes 25-50 gp/year in this system). Because of that, often the belonging of fallen foes may be the biggest reward you get from an adventure. Just killed half a dozen brigands? Sweet, strip of their weapons, armor - and what the hell, clothes - pile it on the merchant wagon's and we'll sell it to a fence in the next town! Sweet, there must be like, what, 30 gp's worth of gear here? score!

So if you want that grubby gritty feel, fine. But if that's not the tone you are going for, then you will need to give out a bit more money...
 

Fenris-77

Explorer
The other problem with fantasy RPG economies is that the economy of the culture, while possibly well designed and coherent, almost never matches up with the economy of adventuring. What a mercenary or tradesman make a year bears almost no connection to what an adventurer makes, even when the GM is on the lighter side of treasure seeding in their encounters. If you pay adventurers like mercenaries they're gonna start looting the bodies. Daddy needs his full plate, and the day job isn't paying for that.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
The other problem with fantasy RPG economies is that the economy of the culture, while possibly well designed and coherent, almost never matches up with the economy of adventuring. What a mercenary or tradesman make a year bears almost no connection to what an adventurer makes, even when the GM is on the lighter side of treasure seeding in their encounters. If you pay adventurers like mercenaries they're gonna start looting the bodies. Daddy needs his full plate, and the day job isn't paying for that.
I think adventurers are indeed eventually going to enter the realm of the wealthy (I have actually had campaigns back in Gurps era where all the pcs had backgrounds such that they were never worrying about petty cash so the deep level looting was ignored... I am pretty sure deep level looting was encouraged in 1e though.
 

Fenris-77

Explorer
Adventurers mostly enter the realm of the wealthy, or at least it's periphery, pretty GD quickly. I think it's probably fair to say that most parties of four accumulate 200gp (the wage of a good mercenary in a year each) in way less than a year, and that's probably a good thing. I like the notion of using background to prevent cash related body looting though, that is a really tedious way to play (and really not very heroic either). It's not quite as tedious as checking every single 10 foot section of dungeon corridor for traps, but it's close.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
Adventurers mostly enter the realm of the wealthy, or at least it's periphery, pretty GD quickly. I think it's probably fair to say that most parties of four accumulate 200gp (the wage of a good mercenary in a year each) in way less than a year, and that's probably a good thing. I like the notion of using background to prevent cash related body looting though, that is a really tedious way to play (and really not very heroic either). It's not quite as tedious as checking every single 10 foot section of dungeon corridor for traps, but it's close.
Yes actually I started it before playing GURPS I had players who were Justiciars and Councilors and Embassadors and Heralded Priestesses and Bodyguards of some these and the like. (a few odd ball wizards apprentices). They started out with goals other than get rich which had as muc of an impact
 

Celebrim

Hero
I think adventurers are indeed eventually going to enter the realm of the wealthy...
There is one hugely important thing to understand when looking at the default D&D economy and that is that back in 1e AD&D, Gygax created not one but two economic systems. The first economic system was the "Adventurer Economic System" and it was primarily used to price treasure pulled from dungeons and expenses that Adventurers were likely to incur. Using modern parlance, the system was explicitly "gamist" in its purpose in that it priced treasure based on the idea that in a fantasy you should be finding large hordes of gold coins, and it priced expenses based on what Gygax perceived as balanced game play. The standard coin of this economic system was the gold piece.

At the same time, Gygax created a second economic system based of his knowledge and understanding of real world historical economies. This system was used to model the ordinary NPC's in the universe that made up the flavorful backdrop of the adventuring world, and was also used to value the amount of wealth that players could pull from the economy through non-adventuring means. The main purpose of this system was "simulationist" in modern parlance, although there existed for it also a "gamist" purpose of deterring groups from abandoning the core intended gameplay of going down into dungeons and kicking the doors down. The standard coin of this NPC economic system was the silver piece, and consequently it was only 1/20th of the size of the PC economy.

I'm not experienced with 5e, but as soon as someone said that the standard wage of an NPC in 5e was 2 silver pieces, I started expecting that like past editions before it, it has artifacts of Gygax's original two system division. And anyone that is planning on looking at realistic economics for their campaign has to immediately recognize the unreality of the two separate economic systems, the troubles that can come when those two systems intersect, and figure out how to reform the game so that both PCs and NPCs are using a single system.

In particular, the two systems are intersecting on the subject of bribery. If the NPC is accepting bribes scaled to the NPC economy, but the PC's have bribing power based PC economy, then the PC's will have 10-20 times the wealth of the NPC's and as a consequence bribing susceptible officials will have trivial cost.
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
There is an important consideration about money in D&D: what edition are you playing?

In some old versions of d&d, you gained xp with gold -how much treasure you retrieved from a dungeon determined how much xp you got. So the amount of treasure was very important.

In some less old editions of d&d, you could buy/make magical items, so instead of gold = xp, gold = power , so the amount of treasure was again super important.

In 5e however, the amount of gp you get is not important, and I for one am glad of that flexibility.
 

Greenfield

Adventurer
I disagree, but fundamentally it doesn't matter. What Dungeon & Dragons was designed to be is an entirely different discussion. What's important is you don't care whether D&D is an accurate simulation of the human experience, and don't really intend it to be one.

And my response to that then is, "Then for a game like that you don't need any sort of game world that accurately models wages, economy, or anything else."
I disagree. The game world is a dramatic portrayal of an escapist fantasy world. Exact realism isn't always called for, and in some cases is what we're trying to escape. What games like this call for is a world/economy that's credible, in the theatrical sense.

In theatre, as in writing, the goal is to create an environment in which the audience can suspend disbelief and accept the tale as presented.

In game players will try to find the seams in the rules, economy included, to gain some advantage (or simply to amuse themselves. So our goal in the storytelling is to minimize and smooth over those seams, make them hard to see and harder to exploit.

In short, we want them to pay no attention to that man behind the curtain and play along.
 

Celebrim

Hero
I disagree.
What are you disagreeing with? It's not at all clear from the context. If you disagree with my disagreement, does that mean you are agreeing with OP's statement, or that you are disagreeing with the particulars of mine?

The game world is a dramatic portrayal of an escapist fantasy world.
Whose game world? I mean, now you are making assertions not only about the system, but the setting. And I put it to you that a GM can make up any setting they darn well please, from an escapist fantasy world, to a 4th wall breaking comedy, to a gritty dark world of horrors, to one with more artistic aspirations that wants to address serious questions through dramatic play. None of those are right or wrong.

Exact realism isn't always called for, and in some cases is what we're trying to escape.
This statement is a qualified and therefore doesn't fit in between the two unqualified statements you book end it with. I can fully agree that exact realism isn't always called for or that in some cases it is what you are trying to escape, because those statements are qualified. But because they are qualified, it is not a supporting argument for a statement like "The game word is a dramatic portrayal of an escapist fantasy world." It's only supporting evidence that that can sometimes be true.

What games like this call for is a world/economy that's credible, in the theatrical sense.
But we have not established that D&D equals "games like this". D&D is a lot of different things to different people, which is a part of the point I was making in the post you are disagreeing with. Depending on what sort of game you are playing, you may need entirely different granularity to the economics of the world. In the case of MCGibster's fourth wall breaking comedy game, it isn't established that the economy or world need to be credible. And in the case of a world where you are going to focus on play as a merchant captain and smuggler and his crew where one or more players at the table have degrees in economics and medieval history, then much more than merely credible in a theatrical sense may be called for because the audience in this case doesn't want to suspend disbelief at all with respect to the economic systems. Accepting the tale as presented might not be even the point. The point might be to really dig into the economic system as a deeply immersive part of gameplay.

In short, we want them to pay no attention to that man behind the curtain and play along.
Your bias in this discussion is that an RPG is most akin to a theatrical performance, and not to as for example a professional wargame and therefore that the "right" way to do this is run an RPG more like a theatrical performance and less like a professional wargame. But in origins, the game was much more like a wargame than a theatrical performance, and there is no right answer regarding the level of detail or area of play to explore.
 

Greenfield

Adventurer
Wow. Not to get personal, but are you having a bad day? That was a nit-pick like I've seldom seen in these forums.

To clarify though: Your post, or at least the section I quoted, seemed to say that "if we can't have realism in this then we might as well give up on everything." My response was that "realism" may be impossible or impractical for many aspects of a game world, and is in many cases the wrong goal. In a medieval fantasy setting, realism says that one stab from a sword will drop a human being. Might not kill them, but shock, pain and blood loss will almost certainly end the fight. Trying to move when muscles have been cut just makes it worse.

In a more modern setting explosions and gunshot wounds disable or kill pretty consistently. mankind has spent centuries finding new and better ways to mangle the human body, and we've gotten depressingly good at it.

So in any game setting where a character can take several hits with no more consequence than changing a number on a sheet, it's a fantasy. And who wants to play a game where you die the first time somebody shoots at you? (Note: Shadow Run actually has a growing disability effect from wounds. System sucks in a lot of other ways, but that part was okay.)

So what we're looking for isn't "realism", it's "theatrical acceptability". Something that feels right, within the setting.

You complained about my assertion that game worlds are escapist fantasies. So, name for me a game system, setting or private campaign that isn't a fantasy, or escapist to some degree.

In my experience the single most prominent fantasy, common to almost every game, is that the player suddenly becomes someone who can, as a single actor, significantly affect or change the game world.

"The fate of the kingdom/world/civilization is hanging in the balance, and only you can save it."

How often have we heard that line, or had it played out for us at a gaming table? And if that isn't escapism then I guess I don't understand the word. Or at least one of us doesn't.

Over all you seem to be complaining about what I wrote, while largely agreeing with it.

Hence my initial observation: Are you having a particularly bad day?
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
And in the case of a world where you are going to focus on play as a merchant captain and smuggler and his crew where one or more players at the table have degrees in economics and medieval history, then much more than merely credible in a theatrical sense may be called for because the audience in this case doesn't want to suspend disbelief at all with respect to the economic systems.
Indeed. What is "good enough" for one player is absolute nonsense for another. The D&D two weapon fighting rules are garbage. This isn't how two weapon fighting was done at all. (I don't mean 5e here, I mean D&D in general). Buuuuut that's because I've studied sword fighting. For 95% of players, they are fine - they might not like how 5e did it, but they don't realize that the basic portrayal (2 weapons = more attacks) doesn't makes any more sense than eating lightbulbs to gain HP.

So what to do? Well sometimes as a player you just have to grit your teeth and move on. But if everyone cares about the issue well... you have to change the rules.

Realism is not important, until it is.
 

Vyas

Villager
I did to think of a classic D&D dungeon as the California Gold Rush: rumors of a, "Dungeon", attracts adventurers and everyone thinking they are going to get rich quick. Local merchants raise their prices and any adventurers that happen to find loot, end up giving it all to the local merchants due to inflation.
 

coolAlias

Explorer
The other way is with reasonable reward. If you know the daily wage of a common laborer , you can derive the GDP of the country/town/barony/whatever and thus have a rough idea of what kind of reward they could reasonably give out. (see Reasonable rewards ).
Just wanted to thank you for that writeup and doing the math.

I try to keep rewards somewhat reasonable in my games (e.g. 10 gp from a village, 1000 gp from a town), but I'd never bothered to figure out what was "reasonable" beyond a general gut feeling.

I'll defintely use this system in my adventure design from now on!
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
In 5e however, the amount of gp you get is not important, and I for one am glad of that flexibility.
Why and how is it suddenly less important than in the real world wrt the shared fiction

Every module sold by WOTC or even it looks like 3rd parties creates actual expectations of character gold and magic items and they really are assuming SOMETHING and they can pretend otherwise but I am not accepting the claim.

However if a game designer admits like how 3e did and 4e did you can then easier adjust to what the assumptions instead of guessing while changing modules. Now this has little impact on those of us who do not purchase modules. I could throw on the inherent bonuses rule in 4e and neglect magic items entirely for a particular campaign AND still use every module coming down the pipe or ones shared by others. And I could give any or no gold (it would annoy my players when they had to forage all there food but hey some would like that I enable foraging for ritual components too)
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
Just wanted to thank you for that writeup and doing the math.

I try to keep rewards somewhat reasonable in my games (e.g. 10 gp from a village, 1000 gp from a town), but I'd never bothered to figure out what was "reasonable" beyond a general gut feeling.

I'll defintely use this system in my adventure design from now on!
I'm more than happy to help :)
 

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