Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Fantasy Economics (p. 2)

Apologies for the lack of writing the last few days...was a busy week, PLUS had a sick kid at home (sick wife, too, which didn't make things any easier). Thankfully everyone is on the mend and life is settling down.

Back to fantasy economics.

In my last post on this subject, I made note of the fact that Washington State (the basis for my campaign world) contains an estimated 519 metric tons of gold. So, just how many coins are we talking about? Well, one metric ton weighs a smidge less than 2,205# which (more importantly) converts to 32,150.7 troy ounces. As there are 400 troy ounces to the gold ingot (bar), that means about 80 ingots per metric ton...a bit more than 41,715 bars in total if ALL the gold in Washington was mined and smelted.

Now how many coins per bar requires one to figure out how many coins can be struck from a single ingot. However, we've already established that in DragonLance (well, in DL2) each ingot of gold found in Pax Tharkas is worth 1,000 gold pieces, giving us 36 coins per pound of metal (about twice the thickness of the old Spanish gold doubloon, a coin with a diameter of about 1.5"). So, if using DL has a base (which is fine...for now) one can say there's enough gold in "fantasy Washington" to cast 41.7 million gold pieces.

Except, of course, it doesn't. Gold mining and smelting isn't solely concerned with the minting of coins. Gold is used for everything from decoration (gold leaf, gold plating) to...well, decoration (gold jewelry). But it's still mainly used for currency (for a medium of exchange) while wearing gold is a sign/show of wealth and ostentation. It's saying, I can afford to decorate my home with money.

The original D&D game only had three types of coin as "standard:" the gold piece, the silver piece, and the copper piece. Pretty solid reasoning considering all of these were used as currency at various points in history (the "gold standard" only really ended in the 20th century). Washington State has plenty of silver and copper in its mountains: roughly 4,040 metric tons of silver and 13,200 metric tons of copper. That's plenty of precious metal for coinage of lesser value. Proportionately these aren't quite the 1/20th and 1/200th you might assume would be laying around (given the relative value of gold to silver to copper in the AD&D game)...however, "value" can be based on a LOT of factors, besides just weight of metal. Ease of acquisition for example (how hard is it to mine silver or copper compared to gold), or the amount of coinage already in circulation. Just because there's only 7-8 times the amount of silver as gold, doesn't mean you can pick up a gold piece with 8 silver coins. Silver does tarnish after all.

Anyway: if we assign the same number of troy ounces to a silver/gold coin as for a piece of gold (which we needn't do, especially given the density of gold in comparison, and the necessity of smaller, more portable coinage for lesser "everyday" transactions)...*ahem* IF we were to assign the same figures (400 troy ounces to a bar of metal, each ingot being worth 1,000 coins of its type), then we could come up with finite figures for the amount of monetary treasure that can be pulled from the campaign world:
  • 41.7 million gold pieces
  • 324.7 million silver pieces (16.2 million g.p.)
  • 1.061 billion copper pieces (5.3 million g.p.)
For a total value far, far north of 63 million gold pieces. That's a lot of experience points to be acquired...a campaign that features 20 characters could each end up taking home 3M (or more). Even cut down to one-tenth (call it "available adventuring treasure") we've got something in the 6.3M range...for coinage alone...which is enough to get eight well-played (surviving) PCs nearly 800K in x.p. apiece, leveling even paladins and rangers up to 10th level.

Pretty respectable gains for a finite money supply? Thing is, it's really only the tip of the iceberg. While valuable metals stripped from the Earth may have an absolute limit, money in circulation circulates. Here...let me paint folks a picture:

PCs spend their starting wealth to acquire supplies from the local merchant. Merchant puts together a caravan of goods for a trip "over yonder" (including a supply of coins for expenses/purchases). Caravan is waylaid by bandits (orcs, humans, whoever). PCs raid bandit hideout and acquire treasure (including coins from merchant). Back in town, PCs spend coinage to acquire henchmen, armor upgrades, fresh supplies, etc. Coins make their way from various vendors into collection box at local church. Apostate devil-worshipper steals temple treasury to help finance secret cult. PCs break into cultists' lair, kill cultists, take treasure. More wealth is spent or paid in taxes to the local ruler. Ruler distributes largesse, pays hefty salaries to staff, including his chief vizier. Vizier's daughter goes missing in the town's sewers/catacombs whatever...vizier hires PCs to bring her back alive using the same treasure they've already recovered twice already. PCs spend money for local spell-caster to remove curse of lycanthropy inflicted on party member by the wererats in the sewer, Spell-caster pays off debt to local merchant owed for supplies and spell components. Merchant puts together a heavily armed caravan to make it to next town (no chances this time) and hires PC adventurers as escorts using the same money as salary (though much of it has also been used to pay for horses, tack, feed, new wagons, etc.). 

The same hundreds or thousands of coins can easily end up being the same "loot" over and over again, allowing players to level far beyond what one might assume possible given the supply of coin currency in the region. No, money may not grow on trees...but there are things that do (I'm sure farmers in eastern Washington looks at the fruit in their orchards and see dollar signs), things that money acquires. And, as I've written before, adventurers have costs, and the proper running of a campaign requires enough world building to ensure enough costs to eat into all that treasure the PCs find along the way. It's the steady diet of want and need that drives a campaign onwards.

Okay, more later. 

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