Sunday, September 28, 2014

Things I’ve Learned from Grain Into Gold

Grain Into Gold is Board Enterprises’ best-selling book. It describes a fantasy game world economy building from the price of a loaf of bread and going all the way up to the cost of an ocean crossing merchant ship. It goes into great detail about why things cost what they do, most of it based on real world research seen through the eye of me - a game designer with over 30 years of experience in writing worlds, games and missions.

If you read my mail (or even some of the reviews) of Grain Into Gold, one of the chief criticisms is that I made too many assumptions. Maybe I did. I included a lot of those in the original book, because I wanted game masters to understand where the assumptions were in case they wanted to alter them for their own worlds. So what have I learned? I learned not to show all my cards. Going forward, I’m not going include the assumptions, just the end result of the calculations. Now I know why a shovel costs 10sc, but I don’t need to let everyone know the value of the handle vs. the weight of the steel vs. the labor of the smith. As long as the whole system works together and the prices make sense in comparison to each other - people are going to be happy about them. And oddly enough, the less they know the better.

I have also learned that there are people with really deep feelings about medieval craftsmen and exactly how they did their crafts. Now I expected that from the type of people I consulted when I did all the research. Yes - I have spent untold hours watching YouTube videos of re-enactors, reading books about European banking and mining, talking to people at those Colonial and Civil War living museums, and even trying to do some of these things on my own. The issue is that when I try to do them - I normally don’t have the best techniques, nor the right tools. But it isn’t those guys who argue with me - maybe they don’t read Grain Into Gold. It’s the guys who also read some of the same books as I did (or sometimes similar but different books). I can’t prove them wrong - but I still think that on the whole, I’m closer to being right.

I have also learned that even after 68 pages of narrative and 13 pages of price charts, I cannot make everyone happy. The most common criticism is that I either stressed too much on Western cultures or not enough on weapons and armor. On the weapons - I wanted it to be generic, and thought bashing my system’s way into the purchasing of weapons would make it less generic, and hostile to the systems that people loved. That’s why I listed nine weapons (long sword, long bow, battle axe, a few more, and on top of the nine are arrows and bolts). I thought GMs would just use my examples to interpolate the rest of the systems they needed in their games. Probably a bad guess - though there are a lot of math geeks who are game masters. On the Western thing - that was an unintended bias on my part. I bothered a few Europeans with my American terms as well (especially “corn”). Anyway, I was trying to avoid incorporating Fletnern (my game world), and I think that steered me towards those things that truly were generic - standard role-play game stuff.

So what else have I learned? I’ve learned that I can do it right. I’m getting closer and closer to releasing two d1000 random loot charts. These are going to dramatically expand the items in the lists. This time - I think I’m done telling everyone where the prices came from and just giving the values. I’ll also see what can be done about expanding into some of the other cultures. That might be more for Coins of the Road - our long delayed trade supplement. Stay tuned! There is definitely more to come!

1 comment:

  1. I just have to say; GiG represents the best sort of 'generic' supplement. If anyone criticizes it for being "too" anything, whether Western, detailed, assumptive, then they must truly struggle with using their imagination when GMing. I still have not bought FantasyCraft, the 30+$ supplement of 300+ pages, mostly because it doesn''t appeal to me to have the sort of focussed scope that GiG has. Plus, GiG is cheap; not in quality or quantity, it just represents a huge value for the small sum of money that it costs.
    I will make the assumption that most people reading GiG are coming at it from a Western background. It is written in English, after all. For the author to research and list prices and processes from, say, Mayan culture would open him/her up to much more criticism. You can't please anyone, but, if anyone can truly say that GiG is not one of the best supplements for GMs with regards to building more 'realism' into their campaigns; well, they are what Europeans call "short".
    The fantasy genre is Western. Much of it of Norse extraction that was not completely accurate either. Tolkein took enormous liberties for our benefit. As for the labour techniques and processes, well, none of us were alive in medieval Europe, so every re-enactment, reproduction or description thereof is assumptive.

    Anyway, can't wait for Coins of the Road! Anything from BE is (in my experience) of great quality and well worth the money. If anyone thinks they can do better; get working on it and make a better product, I dare you!

    BE fan