Sunday, June 26, 2016

Grain Into Gold versus Coins of the Road (or why fantasy trade goods are really tough to figure out)

I’ve touched on this before, but due to a recent review of Grain Into Gold I thought I might address in more detail why GIG doesn’t have a full blown trade goods system:

Grain Into Gold was always intended to be the “micro-economics” book. Those of us who had to take Econ in college probably took both micro- and macro-, and each of the books was probably 200-300 pages. I still don’t believe in economics. It’s like sociology to me. It’s not that it doesn’t exist, but it sure as hell isn’t a science. Two professions where you can be wrong all the time and still keep your job: weathermen and economists. Oh, and every government job, but that’s a rant for another day.

So Grain Into Gold specifically and intentionally does not discuss supply and demand. OK, but why no macro-economics? We’ve been working on Coins of the Road off and on since finishing GIG back in 2006. Coins of the Road was always intended to be the companion piece to GIG. Coins of the Road would discuss barrels of whale oil, instead of pints, and discuss getting it from one place to another. Sounds simple, huh? Yeah, try and do it.

First, you need to figure out what something costs at its source. Well, GIG did a lot of that, but there would be more needed. Ignoring that crucial and most important part, let’s think about the rest of it. A barrel of whale oil isn’t just the oil, it’s the barrel. You need to figure the cost of that. And you need to figure out the logistics of the barrel. How wide is it, both at the rim and in the middle? How tall is it? How much does it weigh? We said how much does it cost, right?

OK, so how many of those barrels can you fit on a wagon? Well that probably depends on the size of the wagon. And while you’re at it - are these 50gal barrels? 30 gallon? 25? 10? What sizes are those? What if you use a crate instead of a barrel? Don’t try to tell me that a fantasy era economy has an established barrel size that is consistent from culture to culture, because that would be BS! OK, so figure out all the barrels. (I actually have that done) Figure out all the wagons (I have a really good start on this). Now you’re ready to travel.

But how do you travel? A reviewer pointed out years ago that I neglected to discuss river transport and how river transport was vitally important throughout European and American history. He was right! But I originally built the economy for Fletnern, which only has a few trade rivers, since it never had an Ice Age. (Don’t argue with me on that right now, I’m too exhausted to start another fight.) But Coins of the Road would need river travel, land travel and sea travel. OK, land and sea - now you have to figure out the ships instead of the wagons.

But land travel is easy, right? Not so fast my young friend. There are wagons, there are pack animals, and there are porters. There are also push carts. Is the wagon pulled by an ox? a mule? a team of horses? How many horses? and what does that do to the speed of said wagon? And how do you write this so that it’s still generic even though a lot of games have established speeds of travel? Let’s assume that you figure out how much a wagon can hold, how many animals it will take to pull that weight, and how fast it will go. Done? Nope! How much does it cost to feed those animals? How fast can they really go if you expect them to pasture at the end of the day vs being fed feed?

That’s just the logistics of engines and containers. We haven’t even started on the political impacts of trade. Taxes and tolls? Bandits and how does the risk of bandits affect what the merchant wants as a profit (risk management)? How good are the roads? Should you consider camels going across the desert?

But I haven’t even touched on the real issue when trying to determine trade in a FRPG: It’s fantasy!! At what point does a golem horse make sense? What about pegasi pulled wagons, or maybe blimps? Does every merchant ship have a wizard who can summon up the winds to fill the sails or is it that just some of them? Do dragons act like bandits or like warlords?

But wait! There’s more! Everything from can you legally fly over a city’s walls to can you teleport into their cities should be considered. Is teleporting a legitimate form of transport? Can you use carnivorous beasts of burden? What is illegal and what is smuggling? and if you think that’s easy, we still have to discuss the additional trade goods that would come from a fantasy environment. Is the selling of dragons slavery? Are there races who trade in human flesh as they would beef jerky? Is it illegal to be undead? Slavery in general? What about zombie slaves? and to top it all off - What about brand names? Do you just talk about “wine” or do you start thinking through which wineries have the best wines? Is beer worth carting around the continent? What about the best beers?

OK - so this is huge! Hopefully you can see why Coins of the Road is only partially completed. It’s not dead! but we don’t have an expected release date either.

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