Monday, June 3, 2019

El Dorado

The nice thing about working with real world geography is that the maps already exist. That's nice. Of course, translating those to hexes is kind of a pain in the ass (especially for a mapmaker as lazy and incompetent as myself)...but it's doable.

Setting up the trade thang though is a little tougher.

Working with the fantasy setting of Karameikos, I came to the realization that not only is this a pain in the ass (having no real world numbers to use), but it's pretty much a waste of time seeing as how I don't plan on anyone adventuring in the Grand Duchy. And rather than waste my time, I've decided to simply move into my fantasy version of South America. If I never get an "advanced" campaign going (as is my hope) I can always default to something brainless and simple like Karameikos...and no hard adjustments for a "living economy" need be made.

Alexis will probably *shudder* to read this, but I'm screwing around with his methodology a bit. I don't have ready access to the same world almanacs that he does, and while I do plan on getting some books from the library, there are a few difficulties working with 15th century South America as opposed to 17th century Europe, not the least of which is that the best references are in languages other than English. Anyway, there are a few assumptions that I need to use in order to make things work and while I recognize this won't result in anything super accurate in a "real world" sense, what I'm striving for is consistency. Something that makes sense.

ANYway: for me, the first place to start is gold because, boy oh boy, there sure was a lot of it in the new world. The internet records I found said that somewhere between 10-12 tons were being pulled out of West Africa and South America by the 17th century. As 5 to 8 tons of that was from the African continent, I'm inclined to use 4.5 tons as the amount of annual gold production in the South American region...which I'm sorry to say is also going to include Mexico and the Dominican Republic (home of the second largest gold mine in the world, Pueblo Viejo, established 1505 by the Spanish).

["sorry to say" because my adventurers probably won't be getting to Mexico OR the D.R....that's just outside the scope of what I want for my campaign setting. Plus, Mexico is just enormous...throwing it into the campaign setting is like throwing China into your pseudo-European game. I'll keep the Incans as the main empire front-and-present, thanks]

Considering a single ton of gold production per year from Europe (a bit generous at this point in history) and ignoring the rest of the world (because we're only concerned with conquistadors and the indigenous population) I end up with an average of 12 tons of gold, or 384,000 ounces, of which 144,000 are coming out of the Americas. Or rather will be coming out of the took a while for the Europeans to start mining the hell out of their colonies. However, the gold IS there...the indigenous people of the Americas were making good use of it even before the I'm inclined to use the same figures.

As I said, my methodology is going to end up different from that of Alexis. I don't have books from which to draw references, so I'm making my own artificial ones. In this case, I've decided that each of my "gold references" will be 1600 ounces...a nice round number that works out to 100 pounds of gold per reference...of which there should be 90 in Latin America. To figure out the exact number of references per region, I used the current world production figures to establish percentages by country, figuring gold production has probably remained proportional over time. Probably...but even if not, it's good enough for my purpose.

90 references, of which 17 belong to Mexico and 5 to the Dominican Republic. That leaves 68 references in South America proper, about a third of which (23) are found in the mountains of Peru. The Incans were an extremely wealthy civilization in terms of mineral wealth. Even though the present day political boundaries haven't been drawn upon the maps of 15th century America, I can still use those regions to place my gold references, based on the communities I can find.

Figuring out coinage is a tad tricky because the Spanish used so many different types and denominations of coins during the time period in question and the Incans, for all their wealth, apparently had no money or economy at all. Sticking with the Spanish, we see that the Iberians had a currency reformation right at the end of the 15th century, replacing the Moorish maravedies with the silver real, in an attempt to unify both the country and the currency. By the 1530s they were also minting large quantities of gold coins (both the escudo and the doubloon or pistole) in multiple denominations, and the values of these, along with that of the real and the silver peso ("piece of eight") fluctuated in relation to the older maravedie, still in circulation.

Here's a bit where fantasy is probably going to need to come into play: I'm not writing historical fiction, I'm manufacturing a setting for play, and ease of play is going to require some compromise. What didn't change all that much in the 15th through 18th centuries was the relationship of the gold to silver as far as coins went: one gold doubloon (a quarter ounce of gold) had the same value as four silver pesos (four ounces of silver). One ounce of gold was thus equivalent to the value of 16 ounces of silver...which the Spanish had access to a LOT of, thanks to their American holdings (silver was the colonies' main export besides sugar).

Copper coins were also present, but they were much less valuable...two copper blancas were valued at one maravedi (at their best...they were later devalued), and 24 blancas had an ounce of copper in their manufacture which, if you do the math, means one ounce of silver was valued the same as (approximately) 22.6 ounces of copper...and you can multiply that by four to get copper's value in relation to gold.

I like the doubloon...the double it appeals to my pirate fetish. So does the "piece of eight," AKA the peso or "Spanish Dollar." But I think both the escudo and real are more important, and had more historic importance in the economy of the 15th century. An eight of an ounce of gold (one escudo) I think will be the best measure of the D&D "gold piece" and the silver real (of the same weight) being the pest model of a "silver piece."

All right, that's enough money talk for now.

The gold escudo


  1. I strongly encourage you to make up whatever information you need. It sounds to me like you have the concept well in hand.

    1. Thanks, Alexis. That's encouraging.

      I *am* running into a couple problems, however:

      - in relation to what they actually dug up and exported, the Americas manufactured very little; nearly anything that might be considered a "equipment" was manufactured elsewhere and shipped to the colonies. I can't help but anticipate this as an issue looming on the horizon.
      - the more I research the subject matter, the more terribly depressing I find it. I'm currently reading Eduardo Galeon's "Open Veins of Latin America;" oh, boy. It makes me wonder if I REALLY want to use this setting for a campaign.

      However, for now I'm soldiering on. At least it's getting me a bit more educated about "real world" stuff.
      : )

  2. Decide on your ports of entry and then designate "offshore" references that are being steadily shipped in. Grant them a greater distance; you don't have to determine the characteristics of the products origin.

    If you want to go a bit further, figure out how many South American resources are simply flowing out of the country, and not being shipped to other markets in S.A.

  3. Regarding pyramids and such, you could always add in some classic REH ideas from the Hyborian world...

    In the Hyborian age, central and south America were known as Mayapan. Mayapan was the original home of the Khari, who built pyramids there; they colonized the western coast of Thuria, enslaved the local Lemurians, and created the realm that eventually became Khitai (which is SE Asia, not actually China), and at the time, were still pyramid builders...

    Centuries later when the Lemurian descendants rebelled, the Khari fled east -- into Stygia, the land of the Giant Kings, the successors of the Serpent Men and their ilk. And there they... built pyramids (yep, all the major pyramids in the Hyborian world were build by the Khari).

    So back on Mayapan, surviving Khari and successors would have built all sorts of pyramids, until they were overthrown in the modern era by other peoples... who also built pyramids in Central America.

    Perhaps some of those ancient Khari pyramids, mummies and treasures and all, remain in hidden parts of South America, considered taboo by the locals, but also the perfect place to tell the conquistadores "over there, that is where you will finds El Dorado..." and death...