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 [D&D] High Level Economics

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Caedwyr Posted - 31 Mar 2008 : 00:01:18
There is an excellent post by a game developer (Frank Trollman) over on the Paizo boards that offers an interesting take on game world economics and some valuable insight and suggestions on what to do about high level economics.

This may be more appropriate in the DM board, so please move the thread if that is the case.

High Level Economics Thread

We don't want to throw Astral Diamonds at the problem, but D&D's economics are badly in need of a serious overhaul. Here is an essay about the direction I would like it to go (note: assumes that we use 3e wish as opposed to the broken 3.5 version):

Spending the Loot: 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, noone 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. Noone 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 guaranty 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.

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 Efreet 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 silverpiece 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, noone 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:

1. Live with the fact that treasures are small and unexciting in modern D&D.
2. 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.


Mod Edit: Shifted to a more appropriate shelf.

Mod Edit 2: Alterted scroll title to better reflect content.
22   L A T E S T    R E P L I E S    (Newest First)
Jorkens Posted - 16 Apr 2008 : 19:09:38
Protection and payment is one thing; feudalism is a system that organizes more or less the whole society after these lines. One warlord with ten knights guarding a village is not really feudalism. Cormyr has some feudal elements, but also many that does not fit within the system. Tethyr before the Black Days had even more and even after the restoration there are strong feudal elements. But in both these cases the peasantry has far to much freedom from their lords.

I usually make the realms more feudal and medieval than the official versions, so I agree with Rino's last statement. The law of the DM: Do as thou wilt.

Rinonalyrna Fathomlin Posted - 16 Apr 2008 : 18:36:47
It is ultimately all about what the DM wants or needs, in my opinion.
ShadezofDis Posted - 16 Apr 2008 : 18:22:02
Originally posted by Rinonalyrna Fathomlin

Originally posted by ShadezofDis

How do you see the interaction between the "common people" and those they turn to for protection?

I'm going to pull an Ed Greenwood and say "It depends" (on the protector, the protectees, where the settlement is located, etc.).


I mean, I completely understand and it's the absolute truth, but I'd say there's a decent amount* of feudal type systems in more "frontier" type areas.

*decent amount means "however many the DM wants or needs"
Rinonalyrna Fathomlin Posted - 16 Apr 2008 : 18:16:06
Originally posted by ShadezofDis

How do you see the interaction between the "common people" and those they turn to for protection?

I'm going to pull an Ed Greenwood and say "It depends" (on the protector, the protectees, where the settlement is located, etc.).
ShadezofDis Posted - 15 Apr 2008 : 19:13:34
Originally posted by Rinonalyrna Fathomlin
No, because most of the Realms isn't "feudal"--and from what I've heard from actual historians, the term "feudalism" is dubious to begin with.

Well, in the sense that the typical farmer "pays up" to those who protect him I'd say it mirrors feudalism, at least in areas where there is someone to "pay up" too. (be it adventurers, nobility, intelligent monsters or whatever)

How do you see the interaction between the "common people" and those they turn to for protection?
ShadezofDis Posted - 15 Apr 2008 : 19:06:22

Actually, looks like his information is old, as per the price of a 50th of a pound of gold would be 296.83 USD.

Anyhow, I liked the posts and like the thought behind them. I've only ever allowed VERY minor magic items to be available for sale, if the PCs want to acquire anything above that then it's going to take some searching and then a minor game arch (which is the same thing I do with PrCs). This isn't to say that they don't find magic items in their adventuring but those will be magic items of my choosing, if they are looking for something specific (I want me a +2 flaming burst two hander!) then they're going to have to research where one might be found (It was rumored that Jarek Filligan's famous sword Mercies Fires was lost in the corrupted forest of Brien) or find someone who can make it and convince them it's a great idea (Well, I do have a certain problem with Ridnark the Ice Mage, if he were to meet with an unfortunate accident and his spell books find their way to my hands then I could see fit to make you such a blade)

I'm also not a fan of the "Wealth per level" mechanic, for starting at higher levels yes, but I never glance at that otherwise.
Rinonalyrna Fathomlin Posted - 15 Apr 2008 : 17:33:21
Originally posted by Caedwyr

@Faraer: I'm guessing the assumption of subsistence level farming/villagers is related to the feudal system that tends to show up a lot in D&D. Feudal systems don't tend to produce a balanced level of wealth and with the more dangerous fantastic beasts existing in the D&D world the part of a peasant probably would have a lower life expectancy. This isn't necessarily for the realms.

No, because most of the Realms isn't "feudal"--and from what I've heard from actual historians, the term "feudalism" is dubious to begin with.
Apex Posted - 15 Apr 2008 : 16:42:51
Let's just be honest and agree that when it came to treasure AD&D (specifically 2nd edition) worked vastly better than 3.x. There simply were no by the book ways to purchase magic items and even spells were extremely costly. The other issue with the article is that if I am not mistaken his math is somewhat off and that 50th of a pound of gold per coin is more akin to $18 instead of $171.
Caedwyr Posted - 31 Mar 2008 : 04:16:51
The discussion was largely based around the gold values listed on most items and the recommended wealth values for various levels in the 3.0 and 3.5 edition material. The biggest issue he appeared to have was with the change in the wording of Wish in 3.5 that made it capable of generating unlimited quantities of gold

@Faraer: I'm guessing the assumption of subsistence level farming/villagers is related to the feudal system that tends to show up a lot in D&D. Feudal systems don't tend to produce a balanced level of wealth and with the more dangerous fantastic beasts existing in the D&D world the part of a peasant probably would have a lower life expectancy. This isn't necessarily for the realms.

@Kentinal: What I took from the discussion was that as a player's levels and monetary wealth levels climb, switching to non-monetary systems and more to a barter/favour system for the truly valuable items/goals will keep a game more interesting and retain the value of these things. When the players have enough wealth to swim in a Scrooge McDuck money bin, you need something to do with all that cash. This has often led to the extremely silly situations of dumping piles of gold into purchasing/creating magical items at overinflated prices. I tend to like to avoid monty haul style games, and so retaining value in magical items and such (money can't buy them) even after obtaining a dragon's hoard is an attractive goal for my personal games.

Still, discussion is good and so I'd love to hear more of what people think about his argument and proposed solutions.
Kentinal Posted - 31 Mar 2008 : 03:10:32
Replacing one broken objective model with a broken subjective model is not a good idea IMO. When is a carrot worth more then a cabage? What happens to those that will not or can not batter a soul? Or those that do not get wishes?

Now the objective prices of D&D is indeed broken, however provides a set price to remove uncertaincy. The transition to a barter economy provides no subjective price to use. When is a soul worth more then a carrot (only when carrot is needed to continue life or perhaps cast a spell)? The PCs in effect will drive market price in some ways, after all they can not die from lack of food.
Faraer Posted - 31 Mar 2008 : 01:49:16
One of the ways 2nd edition AD&D carried over the mechanics of 1st edition without their underlying thinking is in ignoring that Gary Gygax's D&D economics don't apply setting-wide but to small regions of gold-rush inflation caused by adventurers unearthing treasure from mega-dungeons like Greyhawk Castle's. Gary's post-RPG fantasy work has a less inflated and fantastic system based on a silver standard.

How the Realms fits into this, I'm not sure, but I think all published monetary numbers are liable to be rules artefacts, thus no good for extrapolating economic systems from.

Out of curiosity, where does he get the idea that D&D villagers are on the subsistence line?
Caedwyr Posted - 31 Mar 2008 : 01:27:28
Gotcha, thanks.
The Sage Posted - 31 Mar 2008 : 01:23:34
I've placed this scroll in the D&D Products sub-forum, as it's a discussion that deals primarily with economics in core D&D.
Caedwyr Posted - 31 Mar 2008 : 00:21:41
Idran wrote:

Heh. Unfortunately, even that's not an option for me. My setting of choice is Planescape, so even if I did stick to low levels, I still would have to keep in mind these consequences, and either rewrite pre-existing material so that they express themselves, or figure out why they don't. I mean, it doesn't make sense for, just to give an example, the Dao to have their millions of earth elemental slaves toiling away in the plane of Mineral if they can just find someone they can use their Limited Wish with and split the magicked-up proceeds.

Ooh... just... ooh.

Yeah, Planescape is not an appropriate setting if you don't want magical economies and heaps of wealth beyond mortal understanding and so on and so forth. I mean, that's a setting where there are places where the ground is literally made out of steel and anyone who works that steel into a weapon gets a magic weapon for their trouble.

If you want a setting where the engines of the Wish Economy are not in full swing I suggest Birthright - a setting where only an arbitrary and small group of characters (PCs included) can ever achieve high level, meaning that there's no one conducting high level economics and if you want powerful items that would be traded in the Wish Economy you have to take them off the corpses of people from the ancient past. Or you could go with Eberron, where the high level characters have almost universally been killed in the recent war, meaning that the Wish Economy has been temporarily disrupted and for the time being society is limited to that which can be accomplished with low level magic.

But the Dao's horde of elemental slaves actually does make sense in a horrible way. See, while they can create literally tonnes of metals and stones with their intrinsic abilities, the amount that they can create is finite. Extremely large, but finite none the less. The Dao have slaves mining away for them night and day because they want and have more than that. A tonne of iron is actually only a fraction of a cubic meter, and these guys have fortresses that are literally made of iron, silver, and gold.

A simple 10' x 10' x 1' wall section made of solid gold weighs in at 56 tonnes, and is approximately 5.9 million gold pieces. And the Dao have that in the Planescape world. They have that for the walls, ceiling, and floor of more than one 10x10 room. Even fleeting contact with these guys instantaneously and irrevocably alienates the player characters from the Gold Economy, because these guys operate at a level where they could buy and sell a complete set of epic equipment a thousand times over if you could purchase such equipment with gold.

There can still be an economy in high level goods, it just can't be conductible in Silver and Gold. We don't have to eliminate anything from the setting or the rules to retain playability, we just have to have higher level goods traded back and forth for other high level goods and specific and restricted trade goods that high level characters and outsiders actually want. Souls, magic gems, liquid pain, etc. can all come in with a GP equivalence and the caveat that they can be sold for magic items beyond the scope of that which can be purchased for iron, platinum, or salt.

So the actual new rules are fairly simple:

  • Eight Item Limit - even a segregated gold economy will break if people are allowed unlimited Ioun Stones.
  • 15000 GP Gold Cap
  • 15000 GP Wish Creation Cap - it was in 3rd edition and they took it out for 3.5. That was very bad.
  • Items beyond 15000 GP are still purchasable with "high level" trade goods.
  • High level trade goods are not creatable with spells like wish - I honestly have no problem with characters making Liquid Pain farms or harvesting the souls of powerful creatures they defeat; but mass production of wealth that can be traded for epic gear has to go.

And that's it. All the spells stay pretty much the same, and the multiverse as described in the Great Wheel cosmology stays essentially as-is.

Caedwyr Posted - 31 Mar 2008 : 00:16:12
Idran wrote:

I see your point here. But this puts me, and DMs like me I would assume, in a conundrum.

I want to play D&D. However, I don't want to play in a setting where wishing items into existence is so common as to be the basis for an economy, because that just doesn't seem fun to me. And I also don't see an alternate system, because the problem you bring up is a real one.

The thing is that what I am proposing is actually a restriction of what the rules already allow. As discussed in the Actually Broken Things thread, the actual rules of 3.5 D&D are that player characters can enter the Wish Economy at level 9 and fill their pockets with literally any magic items at all - all the way up to staves of wishes.

The proposal is a compromise, where characters can only use basic sorceries to accumulate items up to the arbitrary limit of 15k in value - so that they can mass produce +2 Swords or +3 Shields, but not +10 swords or staves of disintegrate or whatever. As it happens, those items are well within the kinds of things that characters of 9th to 11th level can deck themselves in without unbalancing the game.

Idran wrote:

So, what are DMs and players that feel similarly to me supposed to do? And I'm saying now, "play a different system" isn't an option, because I don't want to play a different system, I want to play D&D.

My suggestion is to play at lower level. High level play in D&D is actually quite mad, where player characters can literally transport themselves across the world and even to other realms of existence and wipe out entire cities with a wave of the hand. If you don't want to deal with the transdimensional magical economy that D&D implies, you'll want to play at levels 1-8. Because at level 9 every Cleric automatically knows planeshift and can literally go to the City of Brass and bargain as an equal with the residents who can create two and a half tons of silver as a standard action.

Idran wrote:

So, what alternative solutions to the Wish economy exist at these high levels, Frank?

At this ppoint you are looking at radically overhauling the entire game system, abandoning D&D, or simply hoping that the characters in your personal game happen to stay focused enough on the plot that they never go to the deep end of the pool where the big economics are being thrown around.

You can't really stop them. Any 9th level Cleric can literally prepare a spell on the morn of any day that will take him to the foot of the 6th level of Mount Celestia where he can fill his pockets with "as many precious gems as he can carry." A 9th level Wizard could have any of a number of spells in his spell book which will create wealth beyond what any of the characters could physically transport.

But if they choose to just never prepare those spells and never talk to the creatures that operate on this level, then they can choose to fight monsters, rescue princesses, and limit themselves to the magical swords found in the dragon hoards that they uncover in their adventures.

They could do that. But I would like the game to be robust enough to survive for 30 seconds if the players decide instead that they do want to go barter in Sigil or Union or the Brass Fortress.

Caedwyr Posted - 31 Mar 2008 : 00:12:46
Here's the very simple description of my ideas:

While XP can be (and is) restricted on the accumulation end,
GP has to be restricted on the spending end.

  • Characters gain power from XP and from GP in 3rd edition rules.
  • Wisely, the rules prevent you from gaining XP by defeating challenges who are more than a few levels lower than yourself.
  • Gold, however, is a genuine physical object, and you literally can get it by defeating "challenges" that are not worthy of your character's level.
  • So long as characters can gain real personal power in that unsportsmanly fashion we are back at having characters boil anthills in order to gain levels (or crank through stupid crafting tricks to purchase +5 swords, which is the same thing).

Now obviously you can't say "Sorry, you're a 12th level character, you can't get Gold by doing 3rd level quests over and over again." because the gold is a physical object that is genuinely right over there. What you have to do instead is to segregate the purchasing of equipment so that the treasure you get from lower level adventures is not convertible at any exchange rate into the kinds of equipment that higher level characters want and need.

And that's where the Turnip Economy, the Gold Economy, and the Wish Economy come in. If you establish right at the outset that equipment over the 15,000 GP limit is not purchasable by gold, then having characters do stupid gold accumulation tricks stops being problematic the moment that a character wants and needs equipment that is in a higher price bracket than that.

And we literally can't stop people from doing stupid gold accumulation tricks, because gold is a physical object that exists in the fantasy world in discrete locations. If people want to take on non-threatening tasks to get that physical gold and put it in santa sacks that is totally possible.

Caedwyr Posted - 31 Mar 2008 : 00:09:07
Wrecan wrote:

I don't get why people are so resistant to Frank Trollman's ideas. Essentially he's saying...

Barter Economy Mundane items like room and boarding generally will be bartered for with some labor or maybe a favor. Don't bother keeping track of copper and silver, unless you're in a big city. (In other words, this reduces bookkeeping!) This is for level 1.

Gold Economy Mundane adventuring equipment and minor magic is specialized equipment. For this you probably need gold pieces. This applies up to the extent of minor items (10,000 gp). For magic items you are buying from people who will make this stuff using minor creation magics, or around 6th spell level. (This is no different that what we had before.) 10000 gp is about 200 lbs. of gold, so a single bag of holding is all you'll need. This takes you from 2-11.

Favor Economy Once you're powerful enough to make minor magic for the gold economy, you don't need gold for equipment. Major magic items are created by people with wish or miracle, and they certainly don't need anything as pedestrian as gold. Major items are either found, stolen, or granted in payment for favors, like adventuring. The Magic Item Compendium already lists items by recommended level. Just take this concept and expand it a bit. This takes you from 12-17.

Wish Economy At the highest end of the spectrum, the players have access to wish and miracle. Any magic that can produce most things they would need. The only items that you still might seek are artifacts whose magic is beyond even those you could summon with wish and miracle. This takes you from levels 19 through epic.

So what do I do with my dragon hoard? You become a political player, or you hoard it in a dungeon of your own devise and live comfortably, dishing it out in reasonable amounts the economy can handle for favors, rare components or to hire lesser adventurers to handle problems not worth your time or effort. Just as in prior editions of D&D. In other words, you use it to set your player up for retirement.

Why follow this system?
1) It's not nearly as complicated as people think, and most of the building blocks are already in the game.
2) It restores the fun of being able to spend your gold frivolously for flavor and character building, instead of being forced to hold onto to it to increase your headband of intellect from +3 to +4.
3) It's more flavorful than the system we have now in which PCs are dragging around tons of gold and dropping them off with wizards to manufacture items at a 100% markup.

Why not follow this system?
1) GP is an easy "points" system to keep track of how well your character is doing. It's like keeping score.
2) It requires a bit more faith in your DM to provide you with opportunity to collect the items you need. However, some player-DM cooperation should work nicely, with the player telling the DM what he wants to acquire, and the PCs next employer arranging for that to be the payment.

What is not a problem with this system?
All the arguments that economies are inherently broken. My response? So what? Yes, a 10th level wizard can toast any community smaller than a town for change. So what? They can do that now. That's not an economics problem. That's a problem with having superheroes in a world.
Caedwyr Posted - 31 Mar 2008 : 00:05:25
crosswiredmind wrote:

I will stick with the simple formula - kill monsters + take their stuff = PC wealth

Precisely. This is why "gold" (which high level characters can magic into existence at the rate of 1500 pounds a day) should not transfer into "character power" for high level characters.

* Gold -> Power punishes players for doing fun things with their characters instead of saving all their pennies and living like a hobo.
* Gold -> Power destroys the game when players do anything vaguely clever involving wall of iron or plane shift.
* Gold -> Power destroys the game and the setting (literally) the moment the DM uses cool areas like castles made of Blue Ice or bridges made of onyx in adventures.

High level equipment should not be purchasable with precious metals at all. It should cost other things when it's purchasable in any manner.

Caedwyr Posted - 31 Mar 2008 : 00:04:41
High Level Characters Can Get Lots of Money

This has ever been so. In AD&D days they just handed out millions of gold pieces on occasion. There were cities made of precious metals. And we made spells like planar binding and plane shift that would give you as much money as you wanted, because it seriously didn't matter. And now these spells and planes are still around.

We seriously need to just accept the vast piles of gold that high level characters have, and adapt our economies to fit. In AD&D (1st and 2nd edition), we forbade characters from spending these piles of gold on ever more powerful magic swords, and in return we were rewarded by having the game not break when people did crazy crap to get gold, and we were rewarded by having characters not getting punished by spending gold they did earn on having fancy homes and hiring people to raise horses (or whatever) on your behalf.

The game is better if we segregate the gold expenditures out from the things higher level characters want and need to do. And by "better" I mean works at all.

Caedwyr Posted - 31 Mar 2008 : 00:03:29
Disenchanter wrote:

Frank Trollman wrote:

No. It honestly doesn't. Remember that we are talking about a barter economy. Creating 5000 vials of alchemist fire is interesting and all, but who exactly are you going to sell it to?

Who said anything about selling?


Once you use 1000 of those vials, people will give you almost anything you ask for to leave their land alone.

And with 4000 "in reserve," you can wreak havoc on any standing armies as well.

There is no real way to have a reasonable economy, that the majority of DMs will give two squirts about, in D&D. When you pack "ultimate cosmic power" in your little finger, the two sheep for a masterwork hand ax just doesn't mean much.

There isn't any realistic way to force resource distribution of an effective level into any game, other than your own personal game.

Especially with the design/battle cry of "keep it simple, stupid."

Wait a minute. Are you seriously suggesting that economic systems don't work because high level characters can destroy villages? Or are you saying that economics don't work because high level characters stop having low end expenditures? Either way, that assessment is stupid.

High level characters don't have to pay gold to stay in hotels because they can sleep in Mordenkainen's Magnificent Mansion. They don't have to pay gold for arrows or alchemist fire because they can use major creation to provide every day's ammunition for free. And this all conspires to not ruin the gold economy because the high level characters are naturally removing themselves from it.

A 10th level Wizard does not have to spend gold for stuff that he wants or needs on a day to day basis. And ironically it is therefore better for the game if he also can't spend gold to get the big ticket items that he uses to compete with monsters of his level. He's out of the gold economy. He's playing in the Wish Economy, and we should codify that.

Caedwyr Posted - 31 Mar 2008 : 00:02:44
Balabanto wrote:

Well, actually, the problem with high level economics is this.

If you just want to adventure, that's not the way D+D has ever been designed to be played.

When you are playing Fardeeg Hobergundy, somewhere around 12th level, he becomes Knight of the Lower Hills, since the Duke knows Fardeeg is tough. Now he has to spend money on a stronghold and taming the surrounding Lower Hills. Should Fardeeg take Leadership as a feat? Probably, if he ever wants to go on adventures again, or keep his holdings and new castle safe. Furthermore, let's say his domain borders on the Suretmarsh, and a lot of unpleasant creatures live in the Suretmarsh.

Seeing that his lands are safe under Lord Hobergundy, somewhere around 15th level, the Duke appoints Fardeeg the additional position of Warden of the Suretmarsh. Now, he has to spend money containing the threats that live in the Suretmarsh, and the Duke doesn't have to grant Fardeeg any money, because hey, that's Feudalism.

People forget that doing these things (Building Strongholds, forming towns, etc) COST MONEY. And they cost A LOT of money.

And if the PC decides to tell the Duke !@#$!#$! you, the Duke has far more money than Fardeeg does. He can hire any number of adventurers, would be rogues, or unpleasant courtiers to harass, offend, and tax him. If Fardeeg continues to be a nuisance, the Duke can repossess his castle, and strip him of his lands, if not his titles.

Precisely. The biggest obstacle to having a sensible economy in D&D is the fact that people are supposed to be able to purchase +4 swords with gold. Six hundred and forty seven pounds of gold. That's not only completely ridiculous just from the standpoint of the party halfling rogue carrying in the weight of four men in gold coin just to upgrade his dagger - but it also means that player characters can never get out of the stupid Diablo economics and into positions of real authority because they never have gold to throw around even when they are staggering a team of mules with the stuff.

The solution is dead simple. In 3rd edition rules, you can wish for any magic item of 15,000 gp or less. And we just accept that, and then we don't let people buy magic items that are more expensive than that for gold.

This kills lots of birds with one stone. It means that we get Out of the perpetual debt engine caused by people being literally incapable of even carrying sufficient wealth to purchase the magic items that they need to fight level appropriate challenges. It means that people don't have to constantly live like a damn hobo to save money while they have literal wagon trains full of gold and gems because beyond a certain point the gold and gems no longer translate directly into personal power and they can start spending the stuff. It means that you can put cool architecture and massive dragon hoards into scenarios without unbalancing the game or making the players do stupid crap to pry all the valuable materials off the walls.

The idea that you can purchase a +4 anything with stupid huge piles of gold has got to go. It hasn't worked since 3rd edition started and it's not going to start working any time soon.

Caedwyr Posted - 31 Mar 2008 : 00:02:12
Disenchanter wrote:

Really? So a ninth level Wizard being capable of creating roughly 5000 vials of Alchemist Fire (assuming needing to create the vials as well) per casting doesn't screw up any economic system that is in place?

No. It honestly doesn't. Remember that we are talking about a barter economy. Creating 5000 vials of alchemist fire is interesting and all, but who exactly are you going to sell it to? And for what? You don't seriously think that there is someone out there who is going to upend its market value of twenty five tons of gold onto your lawn in some reasonable amount of time do you? Even if there was, what the hell would you do with twenty five tons of gold?

Indeed, once you factor in the fact that Alchemist Fire materials have some kind of price, it's virtually impossible to imagine actually making a profit in any kind of reasonable amount of time by the expedient of transforming those materials into Alchemist Fire. But Alchemist Fire is also a really bad example because we have no idea what it is made of.

A better example for your position is transforming iron into masterwork weapons and armor. That transforms really fast and we know for certain where the raw materials come from (castings of wall of iron as it happens), and we can easily assume that there is a virtually bottomless market for it so long as the world stays at war (which is a pretty good bet because we are talking about D&D land).

But even so, who cares? Even though the demand is bottomless, it's still barter based so the demand is not infinitely elastic. The amount of masterwork swords sold in any given month is pretty much fixed, because people don't have very much money. If you make a few hundred extra that doesn't even put other sellers out of a job, because the auction yard doesn't ever clear on this or any month. The world is always in a state of over production, and your ability to over produce even more is essentially meaningless.


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