Friday, May 31, 2019

The Tao of Trade

Pictured here is an image capture from my phone...sorry, I'm not a great photographer. The dogs are my "running beagles," not quite as spry as they were ten years ago (but then, neither am I). The colorful hex map on my coffee table is the pull-out map from my copy of GAZ1 The Grand Duchy of Karameikos, purchased some 30 odd years ago, and the subject of my A-Z blog posts in the month of April.

The scale of the map is 8 miles to the hex. The Grand Duchy isn't all that big: I estimate the dimensions of its land mass to be roughly equal to Washington State, which itself is only slightly larger than Uruguay, the second smallest country by area in South America.

[note to future self: if using South America as a campaign setting, probably going to want to use a larger scale than 8 miles to the hex; how about 48 just for sanity's sake??]

And that's the reason I'm looking at the map: it's small. And I'm working on trying to learn the basics of Alexis Smolensk's trade system.

Alexis is a mad genius; most folks looking at his stuff will come to the conclusion that there's no need to go into the depths of world modeling (i.e. "modeling game rules based on real world subjects") that he does. a degree...those folks are right. You can play D&D for years...nay, decades!...without ever worrying about the price of grain, or whether or not it's the rainy season, or how good your camp cook happens to be. I know it's possible to play without that level of detail, because I've done it myself. And just because you play a simpler game doesn't make it a "bad" game...heck, I wouldn't even call it a worse game. It's just...simpler.

And I'm looking to play something a bit more advanced.

So a coherent economy, not even a "real economy" (as Alexis will tell you, he doesn't really model "reality," he's just trying for consistency, and only so long as it improves his game), seems like a good way to start deepening and enriching my campaign...just as picking some real world geography and history as a setting can also create depth and richness. But, of course, I can't just implement something that I don't understand...that would indeed be batshit crazy. So I need to practice with something small.

And Karameikos is pretty darn small.

The nice thing about GAZ1 (What?! Actual praise for the GAZ?!) is that it does a good job documenting the demographics of its territory. It doesn't matter to me if it's based on realistic figures or could always go back and justify weird population spikes and decreases based on plagues, monsters, refugees, or the presence of "magical healing waters" or whatever. What matters for my purpose is that the information has already been written down for me (thank you Aaron Allston!) and it's not a huge chunk of info.

There's only 13 detailed communities in the Grand Duchy, ranging in size from 650 to 500,000 (each community has its population given). Yes, there are also the scattered Callarii elves...about 7,500 in communities of 100-200, but I figure they'll have a single "market place" somewhere in their forest north of Specularum. Thus a total of 14 markets.

The Vyalia elves, keeping their distance from the other communities of Karameikos, won't count for purposes of "trade," and thus it doesn't matter that I have no population figures for them. Perhaps they live some sort of weird communist lifestyle, or perhaps they exist solely on what they can raid and won't really matter unless the PCs somehow end up in their woods and want to buy shit from them.

Likewise the estimated 6,000 people scattered in random communities of 2 to 200 don't matter much; if they want to trade, they'll probably be going to the nearest market so, you know, ignore them.

[hmmmm...actually, just noticed that Rifllian IS the "trading town" for the Callarii, so there's no need to add an extra market. Well, that just made my job easier...]

It is unfortunate that the GAZ is a little light on information about what is produced and traded in each community...I mean, there is information there, it's just sparse and I'll have to fill in a lot of the blanks myself. And that's fine; as I said, it'll still serve my purpose. I'm sure the authors weren't intending for a person to try to create a living economy out of the information when they were writing it; I'd guess they simply wanted a more detailed setting in order to make for a deeper game experience. And if I can get a handle on this trade thing it will definitely do that (though perhaps not in THIS particular fantasy setting).

Anyway, that's what I'm working on at the moment. I am going to assume that I probably will end up "dumbing down" Alexis's original system; I sincerely doubt I'll end up with 1500+ references (probably more like a couple dozen). But I'm very interested to see if I can get it to work even a little bit...I can't see the exercise being anything but helpful for when I start building my own campaign setting.
: )


  1. Why don't you start small? The idea I mentioned in the previous post was to start using the area of Uruguay and the brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul. Both are "circled" by the Uruguay river. You can take advantage that many geographical borders and make a similar approach.

    1. @ G.B.:

      I'll definitely be "starting small" with the S.A. campaign. However, the current political boundaries didn't exist at the beginning of the conquest (circa 1500). I'll be checking out first "landing zones" for my starting areas.

    2. I meant geographical boundaries, like rivers, mountains, lakes, etc. Many political boundaries here follow geographical.

      From the Portugal, the landing zones may be anywhere in the northeast brazilian coast because, after they discovered the atlantic gyres and the trade winds, they started to test them goind further south and west trying to bypass Africa until stumbling on Brazil.
      More in:

  2. GAZ 1 and some of the subsequent ones are excellent resources. The maps are keen. I would prefer a multiple of 5 or a multiple of 6 (ideally 6) for the hex sizes. 48 works because that’s divisible.

    As far as economies go, you only need them if your party are doing commerce rather than doing adventuring stuff. It’s nice to have the info in the back of the binder.

    I’ve been working to automate the ongoing costs of supplies for overland travel but it may be too much trouble to be worth it.

  3. Riflian would be the center for Elven trade, also I think some of the communities in the gaz wouldn't count as markets.

    Interested to see if you can get it to work out. My ultimate goal with my web map was to apply Alexis's trade system at the end.

    You also might want to check out gaz 9 and 11 for more info on goods available in the area

  4. @ Lance:

    Yeah, I figured out Riflian (see the note in brackets). I thought about using Selenica (from the Republic of Darokin) but figured *as an exercise* that I would simply stick to Karameikos. 13 markets is plenty to work with!
    : )