I mean, I could share my opinions on what I think of the price of RPGs and the pay rate of game designers. I could just as easily talk about Argentina, whose economy (to me) feels like its on the brink of collapse. Have you ever been to Buenos Aires? To me, it's kind of the Paris of South America (especially considering the size and beauty of its boulevards and the presence of dog shit that no one bothers to clean up). But when you ask a hotel concierge where you can exchange some money, and he says "Oh, yeah...there's a guy on the street corner about 20 meters down the block who seems pretty legit" there's a whole new type of surreality you've entered as a world traveler.
Seriously. Shady dudes propositioning you "Change money?" as you walk down the street, with the same frequency as I used to hear "Buy some acid?" in the University District back home. And then there's the whole counterfeit money thing going on (where even the black-market dealers warn you about trying to give 100 peso notes to taxi drivers, 'cause they'll flip it on you, and the tourist warnings that you're slightly less likely to get counterfeit cash at the bank). For a city that's so big and hip and educated (you can't throw a rock without hitting a couple book stores)...maybe it's just me, but it sure seems to be teetering on the edge of (economic) destruction.
Anyway, NO...that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the economy of the fantasy campaign setting I'm working on. Worrying about the real world economy is waste of my sweet, precious time, considering all the power and control I have over it (i.e. "not much"). The new fantasy world, though...well, there I have a chance to make a difference. Maybe. If I can get it straight.
There's a lot of stuff that's gone into my mind to make this mess of soup that's currently driving me crazy. I mean, so many that, well... *sigh* Let me post a few just so you can get where I'm coming from:
- There's this recent post from Peter Schwieghofer. A lot of my recent game designs have included rules for choosing equipment without going shopping. This is a practice that I first started when I began rebooting Cry Dark Future in an attempt to cut down the absolute torture of chargen from scratch when you have an equipment list roughly the size of Shadowrun (the same issue holds true with actual Shadowrun, which is why they give you a robust list of pre-gens...um "archetypes"...to choose from). The thing is, choosing equipment for one's character is one of the very fun and captivating things about D&D. It puts you in the mindset of your character, it helps you feel the character, selecting your gear...so long as the list isn't overwhelmingly long, of course. For a D&D-style game, I want that feeling of "equipping oneself for an expedition." It's damn necessary to the feel of the game.
- Then there's this article from Mr. Lizard regarding the various coinage of Arduin which (like Mr. Lizard) I find incredibly inspirational and suggestive of the scope and possibility of a fantasy campaign. Of course, it helps (or doesn't help) that I've had this other post from Tim Shorts saved on my laptop since March, because I've been wanting to talk about it and the possibilities it suggests. Not just the different cultural currencies, but as a medium of exchange...how different coins are worth different values to different peoples. Maybe the "10 gp = 1 pound" measurement makes a bit of sense...if you consider that (due to the exchange rate) you need a pound of coins to get 10gp worth of value.
- There's my own recent work on a B/X supplement in which I finally managed to hash out a cosmology that (for me) justifies the way magic works vis-a-vis the B/X rules/systems. And how, if the DM plays RAW and doesn't give away spells for free, the acquisition of spells for magic-users and elves can be a good train of excess party gold. It's got me thinking of all sorts of ways to balance the fantasy economy. This recent post by Alexis regarding henchmen is also excellent food for thought...even PCs who steadfastly refuse to "settle down" and buy castles should have things to spend cash on. There's no reason for PCs to be hauling "useless" hoards of treasure at the mid-to-high levels.
- Then there's Alexis again. Damn it, Alexis. If you're a regular reader of his blog you've been subjected to all manners of posts on the fantasy economy via the man's extensive and elaborate trade tables (here's an example). The point often missed by folks, including me when I first started looking at them (*cue eyes glazing over*) is that they're NOT about modeling "reality" or a "realistic" economy. They're just about modeling an economy...period. In aid of making his campaign setting a more immersive experience for his players. Mr Smolensk doesn't want a world where every town carries an identical "adventurer store" stocking the same inventory found on page XX of whatever edition you happen to be playing. Likewise, the inclusion of such a system creates ideas for adventures based on its very system, as the players (via their characters) interact with a world with an uncaring, driving, elemental (economic) force. I don't want to create (or recreate) a system or world like that of Alexis, but its worth noting the power that having such a system...such detail...gives to one's game. Now that I've seen that, I can't "un-see" it, you know? The idea is there.
So, then how does all this stuff combine to cause me worry? Let me give you an example from this morning:
I was taking a break from my analysis of clerical spells (that's a subject for a different post) and thinking about armor in general. This may have been due in part to some recent thoughts about two-weapon fighting (another subject for a different post), and considering whether or not I wanted to have an actual list of armors in this fantasy world I was building, or just go with something abstract ("light armor" versus "heavy armor," for example). Going back to that idea of "the fun" and potential immersion of actually buying something for your character, I started considering what specific armor would I like on a list, were I to do that.
From there I started thinking about there really not be something called leather armor, but if we were to say a gambeson, or thick furs, or other type of "padding" and then add the armor value of a simple helm (not a fully enclosed, visored thing), we might be able to get to the light armor category B/X calls "leather armor." That would be AC 7, two points better than the unarmored AC 9, and we could even go so far as to break that down into:
Gambeson: 1 point of armor (+1 to AC), and
Simple helm: 1 point of armor (+1 to AC)
From that little idea, it was short trip to breaking down all the standard B/X armors (chain mail and "plate mail") into their component parts. For example:
"Half" chain mail (short hauberk) (+1 to AC),
Full chain mail (+1 to AC)
|This guy? AC 4.|
Which, when added to the gambeson and helm gives one the AC 5, right? Once you start breaking things down, you can do all sorts of fun things, like add greaves and vambraces to a cuirass without the benefit of mail in order to model some ancient soldiers, or add little bonuses like AC +2 for a great helm (instead of the standard +1). You can even list full suits on your "shopping list" for people who don't want to bother mixing-and-matching various armor pieces.
Anyway, I thought it was a neat, rather simple way to add a little detail, a little extra "player choice" to the game, or even to spice up NPC encounters with component bits of armor.
[hmmm...note to self: need to review the partial armor system in BECMI's Orcs of Thar]
*ahem*...as I was saying, it was a neat little idea, but then I started thinking:
How much should I charge for a gambeson?
And it all went to hell. Because the implication...of doing the research and getting consistent values for something based not only on game considerations but also a modeled (fantasy) economy, just made me want to throw up my hands and quit.
Because even though it's possible to do some research on what things really cost 5-600 years ago and then transcribe those costs onto the currency/value of an Arabian world that had a similar level of technology (as I did with Five Ancient Kingdoms)...or even to look at current, real world costs and extrapolate them into the future using a fantasy currency (as I did with Cry Dark Future), what do you do when you're making a gonzo culture that mixes medieval tech with super science and magic in a post-apocalyptic landscape? Especially one set on a different planet with (presumably) different levels of resources, not to mention and ecologic and geographic features that may make trade of some goods more or less valuable? Even if take some arbitrary number or coin or measure to start, I've got to balance it against everything else.
I spent a lot of time reading through the Song of Ice and Fire Wiki, looking at that particular fantasy world and it's currency and trade info. While there's neat stuff there, it's ill-defined because it only gets brought up in relation to the plot at hand (i.e. as Martin requires for his fiction). We learn that 100-300 gold dragons is a reasonable ransom for a captured knight, and that a complete set of good steel armor costs 800 silver stags (a bit less than four dragons), but these are subject to wild fluctuation based on the state of the fantasy economy (things like war causing rapid and incredible inflation of prices)...which means "these things can change at any time," right? How do you build that into a game?
The end result of all this? Probably just spinning my wheels again. That's really the sad truth of the matter. I will probably, probably just throw up a bunch of arbitrary numbers on a sheet of paper (or spreadsheet), most likely arbitrary numbers based in whole or part on B/X or Holmes. Because it's expedient. Because there are other aspects of game play and world building that requires attention. Because it's just a game.
BUT...but, I'm not sure that's really good enough for me. I've got too many ideas crammed into my skull. If my posting seems slow this week, it's because that's what's occupying my focus.