Saturday, April 2, 2016

The Benefits of Gold

Hands up if you started working on your own trade system along with my posts and now you're anxiously waiting for me to get started on the advanced features.

Then again, hands up if you started working on your own trade system, only to think to yourself, "fuck this," then stop.  Hah.  Gotta bet that has happened.

I'm at sixes and nines regarding the advanced course at the moment - and none-too-sure what to get started on first.  Probably changing the actual references for Pon, rather than giving 2 of everything - and setting up more kinds of references, too.  I've got a complete, corrected list of raw material ratios per reference based on earth now - but I'm reserving that for Patreon.  It's tricky, trying to decide what sort of references to use . . . because somewhere down the line, something always gets simplified or left out.  Trying to account for everything is a long, dark, deep rabbit hole.  I could go with including everything - but then I'm building two trade systems, my own and one for Minaria.

Then again, I could chuck Minaria and just discuss my trade system, making all further references to Earth.  The problem with that plan is that: a) the earth references don't disentangle very well, making it hard to look at just one part; b) the earth system is ludicrously huge and therefore unwieldy for a tutorial.  Hell, right now the Earth system isn't even 'working,' exactly, because I'm steadily rebuilding the price calculations from scratch (that's step 7 of the trade system).  Because of those reasons, Minaria is better.

Perhaps I could just add 5 or 10 different references per month, going forward, until all the references were ultimately added to the Minaria system?  That might be doable.  I could discuss each type reference as it gets added (even make a specific page for it).

There is nothing in the world like inventing work.  I had this totally different idea today of building a town map in the shape of a hex that would be filled with hundreds of slots that buildings could be fit into, sort of like the Sims but more flexible . . . but hey, I don't even want to start something like that just now.  I wouldn't even know how to start it.

This is working up to a very long preamble I hadn't intended.  I was going to talk about gold.

Not the real thing

If the reader has gotten familiar with the wiki tutorial, it is very clear that gold is the critical element around which all other elements revolve.  I felt that it might do some good to talk about why I use gold and not some other base, such as I've seen others use, such as grain, food, labour or even population.  There are some strong, basic reasons.

To begin with, gold is the one that actual humans used.  There have been temporary cultures that used other materials, including banknotes, beads, ivory, livestock and even cowrie shells.  It should be pointed out that, with the exception of paper, these things were all discarded when something better came along - namely gold.  Paper, as well, only became practical as an international currency when the world became largely governed by just six or seven, predominantly European, world powers.  Prior to that, paper money was only effective in the borders of one's own country and usually only within the upper classes; the poor and foriegners still had to be traded with using metal coin or ingots.

Secondly, gold is durable.  Unlike grain, cows or paper, it can't be destroyed by simple means.  Gold doesn't chemically react with anything, though pure gold will tarnish with long, long exposure to the elements.  It can be dissolved in aqua regia, but there's very little of that around and in any case the gold can be reacquired from it if the right agent is used.  For the most part, the only way that gold is likely to remove itself from an economic system if it is actually lost . . . which most people try to avoid if they can.  Gold is bound to be lost into the sea and filtered down into dungeons (we are talking about D&D), but imaginatively it can be recovered and reintroduced.  There's always the possibility of someone like Mansa Musa, who turned up to dump huge amounts of gold into Egypt in the 14th century - but usually this happens only on a very small scale, and rarely, so that it becomes more a source for good stories than a challenge against a working system.  In any case, as I run the 17th century and not the 14th, my trade system is more world-wide . . . and a D&D trade system can be as absolutely stable as one wants it to be.

Thirdly, gold is convenient.  It is small, easily counted and provides for subdivisions when compared with other metals (unlike cows or grain).  An equipment table, even one based on grain, is bound to have the prices listed in gold or silver, so it is easier to use these as the base instead of having to first exchange the price of some other base currency into what we're going to use anyway.

Fourthly, gold is potentially everywhere - unlike grain, for example, which is difficult to grow in large areas of the world - including polar regions, basaltic/granitic regions such as Northern Canada, Siberia and Central Africa, jungles and deserts.  Grain is practical only for European-like temperate climes, just as cows.  Food would be a better measure than a particular kind of food, but then that would be difficult to add together (one could create a system based on calories, but really?  Even I don't want to do that).

Finally, gold is transportable.  I don't think I need to really go into that.

If we're going to have one substance that, everywhere in the world, is exactly the same price (as the system I've designed demands), then it might just as well be gold.  Nothing else comes close to being as practical - except perhaps copper, silver or platinum.  And if we're going to use any of them, we might as well be using gold.


Maliloki said...

I am definitely one of those waiting for more info on the trade system. Mostly how to turn the different parts we've built (by following along) into a single "machine" so it's easier to use. I'm stumbling through it on my own, but I feel like there's an easier way just outside of my comprehension.

But more types of references and descriptions of how they're used/what they are is good too.

Alexis Smolensk said...


Do you feel it is managing the calculations, the layout of your system or the actual pricing of objects?

Or something else? If I know the central core of your problem, I can address it.

Maliloki said...

Mostly just layout in a way so that it's easier to add new tyes of references and cities. A way to calculate the total references from base references with just some copy/paste.

I feel I have a pretty good handle on the calculation side of things thanks to your tutorial.

I assume the final pricing of things is based on the weight of the final object (sword is based on ounces of smithed metal, etc), so that's just a matter of making an equipment list with the things I want on it and making fairly simple calculations based on the info we've made from the basic tutorial. I think.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Pretty much it. Have a look at the post I put up earlier today, Calculation Table for Minerals, to see how I lay out my calculations.

You can see the headings I use to keep the calculations straight for c.p./lb., lb./cub. ft., references and so on for the raw materials, then description, weight, unit, workmanship, c.p./item and so on.

Daniel Osterman said...

I have a couple of questions regarding references. What is the scale you envision for the Hothior map? And would you mind complicating your comments on placing references? I realize that in your own process, references are via your encyclopedia and not from your imagination, but I'd appreciate any observations you might have made regarding reference density. Lastly, what correlation, if any, have you seen between the sum of a market's total resources and its population?

Alexis Smolensk said...


For ease of use, I had decided to go with 20-mile hexes for the Pon-Hothior map (you can see a complete map at this link. It's the world of Minaria, from a game called Divine Right.

On placing references, I had thought about addressing that. In my system, my reference to product ratio runs backwards from the example in the tutorial. I'll explain:

In the tutorial, I suggested increasing the amount of product each time we add a reference. This means that the value of the reference will never change, as the value in gold per total production of the good will always be the same. 5 references for 5000 lbs. of opium, worth 5 references for gold, won't change the base price if we add 5 more references, so that there are 10 references for 10000 lbs. of opium, of course worth 5 references for gold.

In my game, the total amount of opium is set ahead of time - so that each time I add a reference for opium, I simultaneously reduce the weight of opium per reference - and increase the value of opium in the whole system. Thus, 5 references for 5000 lbs. of opium is different than 10 references for 5000 lbs. of opium. In the second case, the value of opium vs. gold is doubled throughout the system.

So, if you're at odds with how much iron, gold, horses and so on should exist in your world, sit down and start by identifying an "ideal" ratio between these things. That ideal ratio could be based upon an equipment list you already have, the world production of things (comparing our world's population to your world's population) or just a gut instinct. Then establish those as the FIXED amounts of good, no matter how many references exist in your world. Then, each time you add a reference (to anything except gold, which will bring down the price of everything else), you make it more valuable.


Alexis Smolensk said...

Another way you might look at the Pon map from the tutorial is to assign at least one reference per hex. You could create a table for what sort of references could exist in a plain hex, a hills hex, a mountain hex and so on, then roll on that table to produce a random result. Then, if somewhere like the Heap in the Hills has four hexes that are "hills," you might get one cow and three horses, or two sheep and two stone. You could assign an empty slot on your table to enable some places to have less, creating that ever important scarcity.

To build your table, you could dig around the net, steal from an existing table in some game or other, video or otherwise (like civilization 5, for example) or just go with your gut.

You know, Daniel, I've worked off and on to make something out of the GDP number of comparing total value in references to total population. When I started, it seemed obvious; I had the total number of people in the market area, I had the total value of all goods, it was easy to calculate the GDP. But you know, you'd be surprised how completely without value that number really has, when trying to apply it to something. What the average population possesses in wealth has almost nothing to do with what an innkeeper possesses versus a landless noble, since there is no ratio that compares the wealth of one against another. I've tried to create several such ratio-based tables, but in game they always choke. It just doesn't seem to be a good system for giving wealth to players, who need enough to make it worth their while - and that never seems to fit the "reality" of a model. I'll keep trying, though. One never knows what sort of enlightenment will hit.

Incidentally, I assign the number of people in a market the same way I assign everything else: we have to think of the number of "people" in Marzarbol's market including people trading out of every other market, some of which are doing the buying and selling in Marzarbol as well as in their own markets. Therefore, I just treat people as another 'good' - with the exception that there is no 'reference' for people.

That's probably the root of the problem with the GDP, but I have no idea how to create references for people - and in any case, we don't buy and sell them (I have created references for slaves, because my encyclopedia mentions them once in awhile).

Daniel Osterman said...

Thank you again, Alexis. I really appreciate your expanding upon reference placement. I think I'll combine both suggestions to avoid oversaturating my markets while still getting the placement and diversity I want.

I did not state my question very well - rather than looking at GDP, have you noticed any correlation between a city's population size and its total reference count?

Daniel Osterman said...

Speaking of calculations, I don't know if it would be useful, but I wrote an excel function that lets me calculate a city's references for a good based upon a distance table in the same excel document in a single step. I'm happy to e-mail it to you if such a thing would be useful. That might help with Maliloki's trouble, too.

Alexis Smolensk said...

I'm curious, Daniel,

Does your calculation work if there is more than one route from A to B? For example, if there were roads in existence, would the road from Adeese to Alzak be shorter through Marzarbol or through the Heap in the Hills?

I have additional adjustments to the distances between cities based on elevation of travel, so that if one has to climb and then descend between places, that is added to the distance of the journey; as well, there's the matter of navigable rivers, which also includes the distance being different if you're moving up river vs. down river.

I do have a table that I also use to calculate these issues, to determine the shortest distance between one market and all other markets in the system. Have you seen this?

Daniel Osterman said...

No - the function is only used to determine the references for a given good in a city.

I have many fewer markets than you do, so I am busy hand-calculating the distances between each city. For the most part, this is very straight-forward, and I input the final travel time (and I follow your recommendations for upriver versus downriver travel, sea travel, and elevation differences, although I don't subdivide travel within a hex between multiple modes of transit) into a giant table. This means that each column represents the distances from every other market to that city, so I can combine that with the list of references from each city for a particular good (say, grain, for old time's sake) inside my function to compute the total grain references in my target city without any other work on my part - select the two columns and press Enter.

I'm not nearly a good enough programmer to path out the shortest distance between two locations.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Amen, Daniel.

I had exactly the table you describe and kept it until I couldn't maintain it any more. Part of my specific problem is that I'm adding new parts of my world; and each new part means new routes to be added between places.

I started with Russia. Things were fine even after I added Finland, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Romania, because I was still basically creating a circle. The thing began to fall apart, however, when I began adding the Black Sea and then Greece and Turkey; with Sea distances, the re-calculation process each time I added a section meant a lot of reworking my previously existing numbers. The addition of Germany, then Yugoslavia and Hungary, making the Danube a fast and easy route, really messed up my numbers and made the table you describe impractical.

Soon I'm going to add Spain, which means there will be sea routes from the Mediterranean to the Baltic, which I haven't had prior (one of those strange things about my world, it is like a bottle that only reaches to the edge of what's been created). I had to have a system that could recalculate those distances automatically without my having to do it one by one.

I will put up that system eventually; but if you're not ever planning to expand your world, then what you're doing now will work forever for you.

Daniel Osterman said...

I had a feeling that was going to happen. I'll do this for now and look forward to your sharing your revised system.

Maliloki said...

For a trial I'm using the small area map that comes with the game Symbaroum. There's only maybe 15 markets in the area so it's not a big deal for now.

But when I move over to my world (once I work out layout issues and feel I understand enough to really run with it), I would like to have a "future proof" table layout where I can add cities without hand calculating the new total references based on distance for every city each time. I won't have as many markets as you, Alexis, but I plan on having enough that I would rather do more upfront, setup work so that the actual process down the line becomes easier.

I have something that works for now. It's just cumbersome and feels inefficient.