Wednesday, July 7, 2010


Adam Thornton seems duty bound to provide me with subjects to write about, and for that I am grateful.

His comment on my last post ended with him wondering what the payback might be for the “immense amount of labor” that I do to create my economic system. “I don’t know where your work-to-reward equation balances,” he says.

It balances in three ways.

First and right off the cuff,

Adam’s self-same comment expresses pleasure at reading my economic posts. I get a fair amount of interest for them from people on the web, including people trying to reproduce my work, and people making the effort to understand and/or discuss directly the foundation of the system.

In other words, I’ve created something original that has many people scratching their heads, agreeing or disagreeing with the value, either praising me or damning me. It feels good to generate discourse among intelligent people, and to be recognized as the creator of that discourse. I’m as vain as anyone; I like having people describe my efforts as either insanely “crunchy” or “jaw-dropping.” It is a very tiny celebrity, but I like it.

I am better known for this particular windmill that I joust with than for anything else - with the exception of my prickly, backbiting, pitbull-gone-rabid attitude that I spray like a garden hose on any luckless fellow who dares to make a small point on my blog. And yet, in spite of that, I’m respected for the hard work that I do, for my honesty in tackling the subject of D&D and for my refusal to cater to authority.

I have worked very hard at this system, and I’ve demonstrated that work to an extent that shows my commitment to producing solid numbers and practical returns. This means that, whatever my personality, no one can casually dismiss my work without themselves looking like an idiot. The gentle reader may hate me, the gentle reader may disagree with me, the gentle reader may find me irritating, and irrationally focused on things of baffling irrelevance, but the gentle reader cannot dispute my sincerity. It is a question of what we find important. I don’t expect the world to come along for my ride; but goddamn it, the world is going to step back and let me go where I want, or there will be hell to pay.

When I recognize that people have seen that, I feel paid back.


That isn't enough, not by half.  I started this system back in 1986, twenty-two years before beginning this blog ... so clearly, I'm not doing the work to get the fame.  I did not start back then thinking someday I'd get the chance to show others.  The only people I ever expected to see any of this were my players - and my players back then were tortured by the dozen or so faulty and disastrous incarnations that preceded this one, the one that works.

But I feel I am breaking ground, and fundamentally adding something to the game that wasn't there to begin with.  When I used to play, I was always enormously frustrated with the short, lame presentation of the laughable equipment list in the Player's Handbook.  Here I was with hundreds of gold pieces to spend, and sometimes thousands, and already possessed of all the weapons, armor, dungeon equipment and horses that I could reasonably expect to use.  Buying a ship is an expensive proposition, sure, but once you've bought one what do you do with with the next 25,000 gold pieces?

I was highly dissatisfied with DMs rattling off random numbers whenever I would ask about anything like wanting a velvet dress for my female character prior to visiting with the Duchess who was expecting her, or an altar for my male cleric's church that would include my clan's heraldic system carved into the front of it, or how many books I could buy in a town - and their contents - for the "world's greatest library" I had committed my monk character to building as my contribution to a sandbox campaign.  DMs seemed to be universally at odds and sods when it came to providing any information about purchase items, and overall seemed to downplay the importance of my materialistic interests when it came to building up my character.  But hell, it was important to me what my character wore, and ate, and carried ... and I took it with disfavor that the numbers shooting out at me - a hundred gold for this, fifty gold for that, a thousand gold if you want this done - were random punishments for my being particular.

Obviously, I expected to pay more for things that were rare, or artistically fashioned ... but the lack of any framework for how much more seemed to me pretty ad hoc and ridiculous.  And made worse by the fact that if the DM had chosen to say "30 gold" that day rather than "50 gold," I could afford to buy two swords in the 'everything-breaks-like-glass' world that I was running in.

So I felt I owed it to my players to have more to say about the outfitting cost of their recent venture than, "Because I said so."  I felt that on some level, to make my world more fair and open and legitamately a place where players could apply their imaginations without getting fucked up the ass for it, I ought to produce a level of equanimity to the single most important aspect of gaming after combat: BUYING THINGS.

Yes, admittedly, my ambitions for how crunchy said equanimanous system would ultimately become were far reaching.  And it did take a great deal of time to fabricate and implement ... during which time I have vastly increased my knowledge about the creation of ordinary, everyday objects - not to mention the means by which everything from concrete to fireworks is made - the working of economic systems and a great many other things.  So I have been paid for my time right there.

But I am also watching my players expand their knowledge about these same things, and I am encouraging a greater knowledge overall among other DMs, suggesting that perhaps we should start seeing things in their complete capacity.  My players are growing quite adept, and this in turn is promoting a wider resource for their imaginations, encouraging them to pursue adventures that are more creative and deeper than the ordinary killing of dragons.

So I feel very well paid indeed.

And Thirdly,

In Adam's comments, he made reference to things like the Perseus Project, and mercantile records that I might seek out for more information, specifically from the ancient world.  I have been there, for as I've said on this blog many times, I was a Classics graduate.  I was thrilled when I ran across such things back in '88 and '89 in my second and third years.  But the fundamental point I want to make about this is that Classics is a pursuit that people undertake because they love it.  Whereas it's study is a great contribution in things like law, politics and public speaking, for those people who stay in the field, they need little other encouragement to continue piecing together parts of the past than the simple love of the material itself.

It is a love I can relate to, as for seven years, during my time as a professional student, I was deeply steeped in the subject.  As a student who had no intentions at that time to ever stop going to school, there were many subjects that I undertook to understand; I took quite a number of options for no other reason than because I wanted to learn.  When it came time for me to leave university, I had a number of different choices as to what to finally declare as my degree ... and that did happen to be Classics.

But leaving school did not mean, for me, ceasing to learn.  I have continued the pursuit of scholarship, which I learned did not require professors or yearly fees.

In the late '90s and up until 2003, I worked on my trade system when I had no players at all ... proving that the subject has such an appeal for me that I don't actually need to apply it to Dungeons and Dragons.  There is something compelling, indeed, hypnotic, about determining the source of materials, tracing them through their manufacture and movement over a simulated map - the creation of which is, itself, enthralling - and then establishing their final value according to a wide range of natural and geo-political conditions, expanding my comprehension at the same time.  Hell, I don't even care if the results are accurate - though they repeatedly seem to coincide with alternate source materials which have no influence on my trade system - such as the matter of the Khyber Pass, which I recently posted about.

And lastly, now and then I am able to solve the error in some calculation that has been poisoning the system for some period of time ... causing me to feel, for a day and a half, like an amazing fucking genius.  Major payback.


If I could be allowed to sum up: I have created something that is original and which brings me respect, while causing people to see in a new light a game which they love, while at the same time providing my world with clarification and depth and indulging myself in a complicated puzzle that fascinates me to the core of my being.

Not to mention that I have been pursuing a singular, constructive commitment that has carried me through more than twenty years of pleasure and time that I see as being well spent ... with every expectation that the complexity of the problem will allow me greater insight and greater opportunities for achievement in an unlimited future.

Let me ask, then, for the gentle reader who does not 'get it':

"What the fuck have you done lately?"


Jim said...

I'm very much looking forward to see what you come up with. It sounds like you are very energized by the topic! Best of luck to you!

Isle said...

Well said.

GragSmash said...

The amount of work you are doing on this is, frankly astonishing. It is a labor of love, not profit, or you probably wouldn't have done it. This isn't a high-demand commodity and there have to be easier ways to make money.

I don't know that I can bring myself to your particular level of simulationism, but damn if I won't be willing to take advantage of it in whatever form you make it available.

Are you, or do you know a coder who might make a java "commodity price generator" based on your system?

Does your system take into account seasonal variations, scarcity or difficulty in transport because of bad weather, flooding, frozen roads? Exotic goods could be most likely to show up towards the end of "travel season", and only the most locally available of goods during the bad times.

I was thinking about the labor number issues -- I'm wondering if figures and timetables produced by practical anthropologists would work for this?

Ryan said...

I am also fascinated by what you are doing, Alexis. I also envy you in that I have absolutely no idea how to implement even a much simpler version myself. You use spreadsheets for most of your work, right?

Roger the GS said...

This would make a great online application. Key in your sources, cities, trade routes and distances ...

Also reminiscent of the detailed supply and demand in PC games such as Patrician III.

Roger the GS said...
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