D&D 5E World Building: Commerce and gold

World Building question 1

So I asked for general DM advise, because hello I am new to Dming. However I would like to start a series of specific posts asking about different parts of world building. This isn't a plus thread per say, but if you think I should not world build that is not very helpful.
Also Warning, I ramble when I am excited even in text.

Okay, so wind up to question 1: trade and commerce.
In meat space I am tangentially part of the business world, and know how trade and business work. Badly most days. However I have seen DMs try to come up with things like who trades with who. I have even seen players care, but I have also seen players not care.

So current group has players that with some math help from me figured out how to game buying in one place and selling in another when a DM didn't realize the ramifications of different cities having different prices for goods. There was also at least twice before I joined times that players actively started businesses and they still talk about those games. So I am NOT in a group that has never considered trade and commerce, HOWEVER it isn't like every campaign breaks into bar ownership.

SO I want to have at least a base idea of the economy and see where the players take it or leave it.

So I said I had a question 3 points ago, How much do you prep your commerce in your worlds?


Related questions: I understand fairly well how business works today both big and small in a capitalistic democracy with modern tech. I was able to back figure how that would work in a free kingdom with some hand waving form the DM. However I have no idea what a Totalitarian dictatorship and or feudalism will effect this… my world is complex but can be quick explained as: big warlord has multi smaller warlords under him and those smaller warlords hold feudal control over sections of the empire, but it is dysfunctional and the smaller warlords sometimes even war with themselves.
SO this isn't a freemarket at all.

Also as someone who watched Game of thrones but didn't enjoy the books as much as the recaps I hear other talk on youtube about, I have heard more than one rant that fantasy writers don't understand how things would work. I don't need it to work perfect but I need some ideas on making it look like it works.

TLDR: How does Commerce work in your games and how do you prep it? Do evil empire have commerce at all?
 

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I may end up spamming all of your questions with this answer, but it is important. It was a lesson a guy who was a history teacher and a DM gave me.

"Do what you want, trust me it works"

The long version is to imagine the dumbest most ridicules thing you can. Something no sane or even boarder line intelligent person would do. I bet someone in history did it or something worse.

The example this guy would give was the "no resource" city. A city in what was more or less a dessert that had a salt mine that ran dry (ha pun intended) 2-3 generations ago. There is no farm land in less then 2 days. There is no water within a day, and that day is only a small oasis. When his players protested he not only had more then one example of it in history, but he had worse... ones that had no record of ever having a mine or anything of value.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
So I said I had a question 3 points ago, How much do you prep your commerce in your worlds?
I have a very basic idea of a kingdom’s 1-2 main items of import and export. I have some basic limits on rare and expensive items, think a clock or usage die. I randomly fluctuate prices to show swings in availability. And I simulate saturation and inflation by lowering or raising prices when adventurers come to a settlement and try to dump mountains of cheap stuff or expensive items and coin on a town.
TLDR: How does Commerce work in your games and how do you prep it?
It works as above and I try not to prep it more than having a loose framework. It’s too much work to bother with if the players never care. And I have less than zero interest in turning an RPG session into Papers & Paychecks. The goal isn’t realism, it’s verisimilitude. As long as I can create the rough illusion that it’s adjacent to realistic, that’s good enough.
Do evil empire have commerce at all?
Yes, especially those. It’s what tends to make them evil.
 

So I asked for general DM advise, because hello I am new to Dming. However I would like to start a series of specific posts asking about different parts of world building.
...
TLDR: How does Commerce work in your games and how do you prep it? Do evil empire have commerce at all?

My advice here would be: think smaller.

As a new DM, you don't actually have to figure out how the economy works across your entire world. If your PCs travel between two towns, and prices are different at each location, you only need to figure out the economy of those two places. Even then, keep it simple. The difference in price is either due to supply (e.g. one town grows something locally, it's imported to the other) or demand (e.g. something is popular in one town or disliked in the other). That's it. No mass commerce economics, no world-sized problems.

It might be a good thing to have a few "big idea" plans for the world. Decide if the economy is based on gold or something else. Have a "rich" city and a "poor" area. But you absolutely don't need to worry about filling in those ideas with details until the players actually go there. Build the parts of the world that the players will interact with first. If you want to spend time world building, make the next town the players will go to, then the next ancient abandoned dungeon, etc. As you build them, add them into the economy one bit at a time.

It is possible to build worlds from the top down or from the bottom up. But unless your players are starting at the top, it makes a lot more sense for a first time DM to start at the other end. Trust me, you'll have plenty of design work to keep you busy.
 

I may end up spamming all of your questions with this answer, but it is important. It was a lesson a guy who was a history teacher and a DM gave me.
feel free, I would love the feed back even if it's the same since someone might come across this later and be there first look at it
"Do what you want, trust me it works"

The long version is to imagine the dumbest most ridicules thing you can. Something no sane or even boarder line intelligent person would do. I bet someone in history did it or something worse.
I like it, but I still want some consistency. maybe more so then reality

I have a very basic idea of a kingdom’s 1-2 main items of import and export. I have some basic limits on rare and expensive items, think a clock or usage die. I randomly fluctuate prices to show swings in availability. And I simulate saturation and inflation by lowering or raising prices when adventurers come to a settlement and try to dump mountains of cheap stuff or expensive items and coin on a town.

It works as above and I try not to prep it more than having a loose framework. It’s too much work to bother with if the players never care. And I have less than zero interest in turning an RPG session into Papers & Paychecks. The goal isn’t realism, it’s verisimilitude. As long as I can create the rough illusion that it’s adjacent to realistic, that’s good enough.
first I love "papers and paychecks" as a supplement on D&D accounting. Second that is most likely what I will do. The small town I built has a farm and a mine that can get diamonds and Adamantine, I figure both are great trade goods.
Yes, especially those. It’s what tends to make them evil.
that seems too real.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
Personally, I don’t think D&D (or RPGs broadly) is well suited to simulating the complexities of actual economies. You can’t really have an economy without trade, and there isn’t really any trade going on apart from the PCs occasionally buying and selling goods to fund their adventuring. The best a DM can hope to do is to make it feel like there are market forces at work when the players buy and sell goods. And you don’t need complex charts of who’s buying and selling what to and from whom to achieve that; all you need is some variability in prices.

When players find valuable gems, art objects, and trade goods, instead of just telling them a fixed value for it, give them a range. Maybe ask for a skill check to appraise their loot and give a tighter range the higher they roll. Then, when they go to sell it, randomize how much they can sell it for. Allow them to haggle the price up, within the range of possible prices for the item. This will give the players the sense of invisible market forces, as though supply demand for these valuables is fluctuating naturally, without their direct influence. That creates the feel of an economy, without having to actually write up spreadsheets and stuff to keep track of a bunch of imaginary transactions the players will never perceive.

If this approach interests you, I’d be happy to share my own charts for randomized appraisals and prices.
 

I’ve learned over many, many (too many) years to keep things simple at the beginning. My current OSE campaign is in one small country in Greyhawk, and the party started smack in the middle of it, and will likely do a majority of their adventuring in and adjacent to that starting point.

That allowed me to build a small network of towns and villages, set up basic outlines for trade/merchants between those handful, and basically flesh things out. Greyhawk helped as a start because their Atlas in the box set has a map of major items produced in certain areas (wheat, iron, gold, minerals, etc.).

We had a discussion about the level of ‘commerce’ we wanted in the campaign, and we decided on a middle of the road (the easiest end just being ”prices in the PHB” and job’s done; hardest was an item by item chart of commodities and commerce materials from “source, to nearby town, to far town, to distant city”, which, while realistic, would be super complicated.)

We settled on a system where the towns and villages and cities are ranked by ”Market Size”. A village or smaller is a Market VI, for example, and only has 10 items available priced 1gp or less, 5 items priced 2gp-10gp, 1 item 11gp - 100gp, etc. - or something like that. Basically, you’re not buying a merchant ship in a village. And you could buy them out of daggers or torches, for example. A Capital City would be Market I, and have lots of cheap stuff, and at least the availability of super expensive stuff.

One of the characters is pursuing being a Merchant, and we’re going to collaborate on what that might look like (i.e. investing adventuring money into a caravan between a higher and lower market would generate x income, and potentially increase the smaller market’s rating, etc.). I don’t think we’d get that in the weeds with it though.
 

Personally, I don’t think D&D (or RPGs broadly) is well suited to simulating the complexities of actual economies.
yeah I agree, I am looking for more advise and antidotes from trying to do more basic stuff.
The best a DM can hope to do is to make it feel like there are market forces at work
yup that's what I am looking for
If this approach interests you, I’d be happy to share my own charts for randomized appraisals and prices.
that sounds great
 


Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
yeah I agree, I am looking for more advise and antidotes from trying to do more basic stuff.

yup that's what I am looking for

that sounds great
Here’s my reference doc. Spoiler tagged cause it’s pretty long.
Appraising Valuables

With 10 minutes of work, a character can appraise any valuables in their possession. For each valuable appraised, the character must make an Intelligence check, the DC of which is determined by the valuable’s rarity, as shown in the appraisal DC table below. A character automatically fails this check if the valuable is a gem or work of art and its rarity is Uncommon or higher, unless they have proficiency in a relevant skill or tool.

Appraisal DC

RarityDC
Common10
Uncommon10
Rare15
Very Rare20
Legendary25

On a successful check, the character can estimate the item’s resale value. Roll twice on the appraisal table below to determine an approximate range, or use the average value, shown in parentheses. If the item is of superior or inferior quality, the character learns that as well.

Appraisal

RarityTrade GoodGemWork of Art
Common3d4 (7) sp2d4 (5) gp1d4 x5 (12) gp
Uncommon3d4 (7) gp2d4 x5 (25) gp1d4 x50 (125) gp
Rare3d4 x5 (37) gp2d4 x10 (50) gp1d4 x100 (250)
Very Rare3d4 x10 (75) gp2d4 x100 (500) gp1d4 x500 (1,250) gp
Legendary3d4 x50 (375) gp2d4 x500 (2,500) gp1d4 x1,500 (3,750) gp

Selling Valuables

With one day of downtime in a settlement, a character can sell any valuables they have that are of a type and rarity that is salable within the settlement, as shown in the market limits table below.

Market Limits

Settlement SizeTrade GoodsGemsWorks of Art
OutpostUncommon--
VillageRareUncommonCommon
TownVery RareRareUncommon
CityVery RareVery RareVery Rare

For each valuable sold, roll on the appraisal table to determine the highest available offer for the item. If the item is of superior quality, increase the offer by half. If the item is of inferior quality, decrease the offer by half.

If a character has access to contacts who can find them a buyer, such as an artisan’s guild or criminal organization they belong to, they can spend a day of downtime to sell a single valuable of a rarity up to one category higher than would normally be salable in a given settlement.

Haggling

If the character wants to haggle for a higher price than the initial offer, they must make a Charisma check, the DC of which is determined by the item’s type and the size of the settlement, as shown on the haggling DC table below.

Haggling DC

Settlement SizeTrade GoodsGemsWorks of Art
Outpost101525
Village151520
Town201515
City251510

On a successful check, roll for a new price and increase the offer to the result if it’s higher than the original offer; otherwise, the buyer can’t afford to increase the offer any further. On a failed check, the buyer refuses to deal with the character. If the item is salable within the settlement, roll a new price and decrease the highest available offer to the result if it’s lower than the initial offer.
 

Voidrunner's Codex

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