Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Gold-Silver-Copper Conundrum

In most games, gold is ten times more valuable than silver and silver is ten times more valuable than copper.  Do you know why?  Because nobody wants to strain their brains.

That’s the honest answer.  You may not like it, but it is true.  In the modern world, this 100=10=1 ratio is pure nonsense.  Want to see what the ratios would have been historically on Earth?


We set it so silver would always be considered “1.00”, but you can see that not only is it not 100-10-1, but it is constantly moving.

Why?  Well, I don’t want to get too deep into the economics, because I think we have already gone too far in that direction, but ... First off, it is the fiat currency of the US$.  The US$ is worth whatever the US government pretends it is, and whatever other folks will trade for it.  That trade value is actually a detailed calculation based on interest rates in different countries.  So in a shorter answer - the foreign exchange value of the US$ affects the chart.

What else?  Lots of stuff!  People being scared about wars and riots change the prices.  New finds of deposits affect the prices.  New technology in extracting the minerals and metals affect the prices.  Could be anything.  Do you want to run your fantasy world that way?  I wouldn’t recommend it!  I have spent years of my life watching the currency markets and I can tell you without hesitation - do not run your world like this!  This is a small suspension of disbelief that yields an enormous amount of benefit.

So why even bring it up?  Well, I believe it must be addressed.  I believe that if you are stating that 10 silver coins = one gold coin and so on, then in your world, there should be 10 times as much silver as there is gold.  You are not running Earth.  If you wanted, diamonds could be commonplace and topaz could be really rare and valuable.  You’d have a ton to figure out if you tried to do the same with gold, silver, copper, iron, or tin, but you could.  Just because there is no clear gold to silver ratio on Earth doesn’t mean that there cannot be on your fantasy world.

 Then again, the ratio could be artificial.  We mentioned the Gold Guild in our last edition of Small Bites (Hoards & Other Treasures).  The legend says that the Gold Guild holds the ratio consistent by arbitrarily controlling the bulk of the gold reserves in the world.  But no one believes that, right?  There couldn’t possibly be a small group of people who were so rich that they could control the price of gold globally, could they?

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Does Technology Really Matter?

Let me start by saying - Technology matters, and in fact it is required to allow adventuring.  Kind of a bold statement, but let me explain ...

It is pretty obvious by now that I love knowing how economies work in fantasy games.  I wrote Grain Into Gold, and it remains our best-selling product on the internet.  But knowing how the money moves is only a small part of the issue.  I think you need to have an understanding of the technological capabilities of your various cultures and races, or you don’t know what’s possible.

 In my research, I’ve discovered the differences between a bloomery and a blast furnace.  Bloomeries are (in an overly simplistic manner) kilns that smelt iron out of iron ore.  But what’s really important is that they do not liquefy the iron.  Those pictures in your head of a smelting factory where they are pouring molten iron or steel, that’s a blast furnace.  A bloomery produces “sponge iron” which needs to be worked extensively in order to produce useful iron or steel.  But bloomeries were in use in some areas through the 16th century.

Blast furnaces on the other hand were able to actually melt the metal, which could then be poured into molds to make pig iron or other shaped products.  The short answer on this is:  Making a sword blade out of a bar of steel is vastly easier than making it out of a ball of sponge iron.  How much easier?  Well, I don’t think you can even consider steel armors without a blast furnace.  Not even chain mail.  Blast furnaces could be found rarely in the 15th century, but mainly came into their own during the 16th.  So what am I saying?  Well, if you have a game set in (or in the equivalent) of 1425AD, you should make metal armor incredibly expensive!

I assume the following:  Every major city will have access to iron and steel smelted in a blast furnace and therefore access to “iron bars”.  Further, the dwarves are producing various sizes of sheet metal and metal wire.  Want to craft chain mail?  It is vastly better to purchase steel wire from the dwarves (even after paying to have it transported) then to have someone pull the wire by hand.  Without a blast furnace, I don’t think you see anything like plate mail, plate armor or even a great helm.  Certainly not on someone without a noble landholding and the wealth it brings.

So I like to tie these things back into the game for all the gold farmers out there who think that things like this don’t matter to them.  Well, without blast furnaces, I just took away your best armor types, and probably metal shields.  Assuming that something like this existed, it would be incredibly expensive.  If your game has specialized metals (adamant, mithril, etc.), yeah throw those out the window!

OK, so we’ve probably established that your game worlds need blast furnaces - Does that matter?  Well, yes!  The Earth ones relied on water power to power the bellows.  Some kid on the bellows probably doesn’t work here - but does work for a bloomery.  So you either put your smelter (or foundry) right next to a river, or you come up with some “magical” reason that they have other power.  But iron ores are not typically found next to rivers, so the ores and the fuels are likely being transported on the river.  So now you have established a trade route, and trade routes need to be protected from bandits.  OK, few bandits are going to steal iron ore, but they would probably steal the pig iron.

This is the stuff we’re hoping to do:  Help you figure out your world - here the technology.  Help you build out things because they make sense, like shipping iron ore from the mine to the smelter by river barge.  And help you with the adventuring parts too - such as the city’s armorer cannot craft or repair armor for the party because river pirates have caused a problem on the river.  That should motivate most adventurers to get off their butts and go adventuring, shouldn’t it?

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Loot Lists

    Hoards & Other Treasures is the next edition of Small Bites.  It is different from the others because it is not talking about a character archetype or a location, but about loot and treasure in general.  I make no secret of my love of treasure, but what’s actually valuable to a GM?

    Let’s take an example.  There’s a music video in which a famous guitarist (not his video) is sort of playing with a small golden skull.  Golden skull!  With or without gems in its eye sockets (ruby?  obsidian?  garnet?), this is the kind of treasure that adventurers should love.  But if they decide to cash it in - what’s it worth?

    It depends.  You hate that answer; I know!  But how are you cashing it in?  If you melt it down, it is still valuable as gold.  If you stole it, selling it as is might be a bad idea, so melting it down and making it unrecognizable might be the smart play here.  So you need to know what it is worth simply as raw gold.

    But it is clearly an artistic piece.  Some craftsman made it, and that craftsmanship is worth something.  So it has a crafted value too.  But what if it is a historic treasure?  Indiana Jones found a golden skull and it was valuable, not only because it was gold and it was pretty (come on, it was pretty!) but because it was the idol of that tribe.  So to an art dealer it might be worth one amount as a work of art, but to a museum it might be worth far more.  So the GM needs to know the base value, the crafted value, and the collectible value.

    But when the adventurers sell it in the city, who do they go to?  Well, it sounds like a smelter, an art dealer, or a museum curator.  Who then?  Assume it is a sword - not an artistic sword - just a sword.  Well you can still take it to the smelter and sell it as scrap steel.  You can take it to the weapons smith and sell it as a serviceable weapon, but he may not want to sell swords made by other people.  For all he knows it has a fault in it that could get a good customer killed.  You can take it to the peddler who will sell it somewhere along the road.  You could sell it to the pawn shop, the second hand weapons store, an adventurer you meet in a bar, open your own used weapons shop and sell it there, etc.

    These are the “normal” things an adventurer could do with loot.  Because of that, we will typically present the base or materials value of something, along with two others:  1) The “at source” cost is what we often call the wholesale price.  It is intended to represent what you would pay if you went to the manufacturer of this item in his workshop outside the major city.  It is the crafted price.  In most situations, this would be what the adventurers would get for the item if they sold it.  2) The “in the city” price is the retail price.  It is the price the adventurer would pay if they went to the shop and bought it, which means it would be the price the adventurers could sell it for if they had their own shop.  Owning a shop is expensive.  You need to pay salespeople, rent, furniture, and a whole bunch of other stuff.  You also have to pay the taxes and tariffs.  You also want to make some money for yourself so you can eat.  This is really important as the “price list” for what characters are paying when they just wander down to the weapons shop to buy their weapons.

    But we just skipped the collector’s value.  What happened there?  Well, we use to put that in our charts, but so often it is the same as the crafted price, that we felt we were wasting space.  Most charts are tough enough to read.  Eliminating the column would have made them easier, but instead we just added “in City” to make the loot guide a price guide as well.

Small Bites has it's own blog

Small Bites is all about communications - us communicating with you and you communicating with us.  But the Sounding Board is not that.  It’s about discussing things what GMs and world builders run into and what other folks have done about it.  It’s about sparking ideas in each other, and not about how Small Bites is going to work.  So we’re going to slow down the discussions of Small Bites issues on the Sounding Board and move them to the blog site on the World of Fletnern wiki.  Click here to get there.

We really do want your opinion on this stuff!  Raised in the Midwest, I’m bluntly honest about way too much, and I really want folks to be bluntly honest with me.  Polite (hopefully) but still honest.  The whole point of Small Bites to insure that what Board Enterprises is producing is the stuff that you really want for your games and your game worlds.  Help us build the perfect content for you!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Bigger is Better - Loot

    So which is better?  one pound of gold or ten pounds of gold?  Ten pounds, of course.  But how much better?  Well, ten times better.

    OK, which is better, a one carat diamond or a ten carat diamond?  Ten carats of course.  But how much better?  Well, FIFTY times better!  No really!  When you are talking about things that cannot be joined together (like melting gold down to make bigger pieces), bigger (typically rarer) sizes are not just more valuable, they are hugely more valuable.

    So what does this affect?  Well, all of the gemstones to start with, but there are more than just that.  Things like gemstones are also affected.  Things like pearls.  One of the best examples of this in Fletnern is the substance known as chrystalist.  Chrystalist is the only known substance that makes safe mentalist talismans.  So in order to make bigger and better talismans, you need to be able to carve more enchantments into the piece of petrified whatever it is.  So bigger pieces are vitally important.

    But that’s still sort of a gemstone.  What else?  Well horns, or more commonly tusks.  There are tons of things that can be made out of small pieces of ivory, but when you want the gateway to your camp to be two huge elephant tusks of gleaming ivory, you need full tusks, not broken pieces.  And bigger is better.  Getting the tusks off of some three year old cow is not the same level of importance as getting the tusks off of a thirty year old bull.

    Last one:  parchment.  The parchment you can make out of a lambskin is significantly smaller (and therefore less valuable) than what you can get from a full grown steer.  Not as impressive as the diamond, but an important example nonetheless.

    What you are really paying for here is rarity.  Not only are diamonds rare, but big ones are vastly more rare than tiny ones.  Big unicorn horns are far more rare than smaller ones, and intact ones are more rare than broken ones.  The rarer something is, the more expensive that thing is, assuming that you cannot just join things together.  Even when you can join things together, like building a marble altar, having huge pieces so there are no seams will make the bigger pieces that much more desirable and expensive.

    When does it matter?  It matters when the adventuring party recognizes that the altar stone of the subterranean temple they just ransacked is made of rare marble, but the piece is so big, that they can’t carry it.  Cutting it to manageable pieces is going to dramatically reduce the value.  Is it worth transporting the huge block of stone?  It is important when you steal the king’s scepter and there is a 50 carat ruby on the end of it.  Sure, the ruby is worth a king’s ransom, literally, but trying to fence an object that is obviously stolen from the king is incredibly dangerous.  Do you cut it into smaller rubies in an effort to hide what it once was, knowing that you are losing a huge amount of wealth?  I like putting problems like these in front of my adventuring parties.  I think it’s fun to make them think about strategy outside of battle.