Friday, May 29, 2009

Campaign: A Reordering of Status

There is a moderate stream of people moving out of town - not a flood or anything like it, but you can see a thin line of carts, wagons, donkeys and porters moving away from you along the road north to Ingolstadt. Here and there outside the gates are groups who have gathered, their belongings stacked and waiting to be moved, some of them eating, some merely waiting.

Stragglers are entering the city also, with less goods in their possession, many of them so poor they have no shoes, nor proper breeches. Most are surprisingly clean, however, and one would suspect they had bathed in the river that morning.

When you arrive at the cotter's hamlet, you'll find it deserted. Doors open, what possessions there might have been gathered up and taken away.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Campaign: A Meeting

Having been fetched, Delfig is brought to “...a 3 story stone house, attached to a 20' diameter tower that stands 40' high, surrounded by a wide, comfortable garden. The gate is twisted ironwork.” He is brought within and left waiting.

Within a few minutes a servant comes to greet him. “Herr Hornung will see you now,” the servant says. “Please follow me.”

Delfig is led up a flight of stairs and to a bedroom. Hornung lies in a bed, weak and at the moment unconscious. Two other gentlemen stand near the bed looking quite worried. They greet Delfig warmly and introduce themselves. The elder, thinner gentleman is a physician, Fritz Baum. He appears to be in his early 60s, but with a strong grip and a deep, knowing gaze. His companion is Walter Kappel, clearly a half-elf, sallow of skin and clearly fretting over recent events.

“You were found with my Lord, having prevented his passing,” says Fritz. “I am grateful; my lord wishes to thank you.” He moves to the bed. “My Lord ... my Lord, it is Herr Kolhupfer.”

Hornung stirs. He raises his eyes with difficulty, and focuses on Delfig. “Come closer,” he says. “How can I repay you?”

Campaign: the Foreign Quarter

To begin: a Gypsy wagon “... is being loaded by members of the house – two sons, a young girl, a mother and father, possibly of Greek, Bulgarian or Egyptian descent, difficult to see which – while a landlord harangues them for rent they owe. The landlord has a “for rent” sign in his hand, which he has not yet put in the building’s window.”

Kazimir determined that they were not Gypsies, but Bulgarian, and that the father did not wish to leave town ... his final post said he would listen to the argument and try to ascertain more details.

It is soon clear that the landlord is demanding that the father, Vaslav, must stay and fulfill his obligations – that he will now have no one willing to rent, given yesterday’s events (the foreign quarter is already showing signs of emptying out). Vaslav is refusing.

In the background, the stubborn mule finally gives in, and three carts carrying dead bodies begins to move west along the street.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Old Books

I want to start by saying that I intend to get my blog campaign up and running tomorrow. I’ve spoken to the players and they are all good with that; things were interrupted rather poorly about a month ago, but I’ll still be starting with the party as they toil around the aftermath of the gate opening in Dachau.

Just lately I bought my third DM’s Guide. The second was lost about a decade ago when a roommate of mine moronically destroyed a bunch of my property. I still have the first – it and the Player’s Handbook, which I also have, were bought for me by my parents for Christmas of 1979. They did not really understand the game, though I tried many times to explain it to them ... they were kind enough to overlook that. They bought me dice, too: a 4, an 8, a 12, two 20s and 4 six-sided.

Of those nine dice, I have one – a white 20-sided. I neglected to have one of my players take a picture of it with their cell-phone (I don’t own one), but I’ll remedy that in the near future. The die in question was made in those years when a 20-sided numbered from 0 to 9 twice, and you were expected to color one of the sequences yourself in order to know when to add ten. We usually used a crayon. The die has been thrown the length of a high school cafeteria more than once, has been used as a projectile at me by an angry player, and on one memorable occasion was dropped from a four-story building to find out if ‘high-impact’ meant it would bounce. Not as much as you might think. The die has been worn so smooth that the grooves will no longer hold coloring (though there are stains from when I would repeatedly use a felt-tip), but I still use it as a 10-sided.

Here is a picture of the front cover of the Player’s Handbook:

As you can see, the book has been used. I am actually quite fastidious in my use of books, mildly neurotic about it, actually, but continuous use over thirty years has simply worn down the bindings and scoured the picture on both the front and the back:

The book feels quite worn to the touch, the pages very slightly tattered along the edges – but with none missing, none of them torn and almost no hand-written notes. It feels somewhat strange to look in the PH these days, as for about five years I have re-written much of the text for personal use, changing spells, modifying the descriptions of the character classes and so on. Except for the weapon’s table (which I very rarely need to use as it is quite memorized) and a few of the very high level spells (which I haven’t bothered to copy out as my experience with very high level players pre-dates my decision to rewrite the books), I don’t need it.

The DM’s Guide, however, I continue to use for a number of things (combat notes, magic items), as I’ve never seriously tried to rewrite it. Here is my copy:

Lovely, isn’t it? I remember I decided to duct tape both it and the PH sometime in the late 90s. I know for certain that I have done so twice with both books, which accounts for why the duct tape doesn’t look so bad (I would have last done it around 2003). Still, the book feels a bit grimy to the touch due to the human oils transferred by my fingers over the years. Plus the back and front covers are pretty much both separated from the binding, which I hope you can see from this picture:

Lately the copy of the DMG that I picked up cost me $15 from a used bookstore. There is one near where I live that always has one copy on the shelf. I know from asking that they have dozens in storage and that they sell one every couple of months.

Walking home with it, having no back-pack, I noticed at least two people taking a special effort to read the cover of the book to see what it was. This connected with me – I know that many people would feel a bit shy about walking down the street with a DM’s Guide, as though it were something to be ashamed of. I know also that many people don’t admit they play D&D to strangers because of it’s reputation. Frankly, in a world where NASCAR is on television, I don’t worry much about being thought of as ‘ignorant’ by strangers.

It does occur to me that if you are one of those who want players, you should start carrying your DM’s Guide with you everywhere. That means 3rd edition for most of you, which isn’t as recognized a book for other players, but the policy is the same. Take it to work, take it to the coffee shop, take it everywhere. Make sure that it is set on the table, front cover up, prominently where it can be read easily by everyone in the place. Spend an afternoon at the local college or university where the students eat.

It is called advertising. I'm certain it would work.

Saturday, May 23, 2009


This is a warning. The following contains much anecdotal evidence and personal bias, and is not intended to be a journalistic retelling of events. I write this to express my perspective and emotional response to the game, thoughts which can only be of use to those with common experiences or who have come to believe similar things.

It will be no surprise to many who read this blog that I have no particular affection for Gary Gygax. This seems strange, even for me, as much of my life is wrapped up in playing this game and improving this game. I have been obsessed for 30 years now; certainly it should follow that I should have much appreciation for the game’s existence, and for Gygax and others whose conception made a fair share of my life’s work possible.

And yet ... I don’t. I have been pondering that, and the explanation for that. This is what I’ve chosen to write about it.

In 1980, about nine months after I began playing the game, I met a much older fellow, Bill. His campaign was a stylized version of the Empire of the Petal Throne, which included a great many rules not found in D&D. I did not especially like his system, but I liked him very much. He told a story to me one evening while he and I were walking in his neighbourhood, about having known Gygax in Chicago, prior to the game’s release. At the time I hardly knew Gygax’s name – I had only been playing D&D for nine months or so, and really hadn’t bothered to notice the name written on the front of the DMG. I mean, it was a game. Who could care? Do we know the name of the man who invented Monopoly?

So, ignorant and all of 15 years old, I heard Bill spin this yarn ... something I’ve never been able to confirm. That he and a great many others, including Gygax (and probably Arneson, though I don’t remember any of the names Bill used except Gygax’s), invented the game over a period of time. At some point, Gygax, whose motives were more worldly and self-serving (Bill’s story, remember), ran off with the substance of the game and had it patented in his name. Most of those who took part in the game’s creation were subsequently denied any compensation from the following success Gygax enjoyed – though several, including Bill, attempted to take Gygax to court over the matter. They lost.

Understand if you can: this was one of the first stories I heard about the maker of the game. I accepted it with a grain of salt, not certain precisely what Bill hoped to gain by telling me the story. He certainly didn’t gain more than my sympathy. I did not play long with him, as he was quite resistant to changes in his system ... but I stayed sort of in touch with him over the next decade. Like me, he was obsessed. Unlike me, he wound up losing his family and his job, eventually turning to psychiatric help to overcome his addiction to the game. I ran into him about ten years ago, when he told me he no longer played, but mutual acquaintances have told me that he has returned to the game and now plays regularly.

In 1982, I met Mike, a smart, fast-thinking and brilliantly organized player who ran in my world for twelve years. Possibly the best player I’ve ever had, certainly the most innovative. Mike was born in Evanston and had lived in Chicago, where he had met Gygax during various conventions between 1980 and 1982; having family there, Mike regularly travelled home, often choosing to coincide those trips with SciFi conventions and RPG get-togethers.

It was all Mike could do not to spit whenever Gygax’s name was mention. “Fucking asshole,” I believe was the standard response, with little desire on his part to say anything else. I don’t believe he wanted to waste the time.

These were my sole personal experiences, second-hand, with Gygax. I did not see him ‘live’ until that horrid interview by 60 Minutes. Obviously, the whole show was a pile of crap – connecting suicide or other social ills with D&D always ignores the enormous sacrifice young persons and communities suffer from the pursuit of football and other sports. How many would-be cheerleaders, I continue to ask, kill themselves after failing to make the team? How many boys and girls are crippled for life, from practices or from the games themselves? And how often is it suggested that the practice, pushed onto children at the age of 4 or 6, be suspended?

Gygax says that, naturally, calling it a “witch hunt.” Which it was. It was only natural that 60 Minutes would try to appeal to the ignorant masses rather than the paltry percentage of players in the country.

The whole show is a pile of bullshit. And I am more aware than most, being a journalist, that Gygax’s comments were edited, controlled and designed to make him look like a mealy, weak mouthpiece. That is invariably what is done with the ‘lone voice’ represented as the ‘balanced’ side of journalism. I’ve seen it done over and over.

Why did he agree to do the interview at all? He had lost control of TSR by that time, turning out to not be much of a businessman. Why did he not tell TSR to sacrifice one of their PR guys? Why did he not tell 60 Minutes to get stuffed? What did he have to gain? He wasn’t going to make any more money from the game, that was all over for him. Was it the attention? Was it the entrenched belief that he was the ‘voice of the game,’ and therefore the only possible representative for the game’s position?

The people I played with all thought so at the time.

If it seems very little to judge the man on, you’re right. It is. And I would probably have had a higher opinion of Gygax had it not been for TSR’s clear intent right from the very beginning to squeeze every dime out of my pocket, and if it had not been the very rapid decline in quality product that followed the release of the Player’s Handbook and DMG. I recognize now that many believe both books to be crap, but I will point out that both are written in 8 and 9 point font, with very little white space on the page and both handle a vast number of subjects. Not like the books that have been produced since, and certainly a great deal better than the quality of modules released in those years immediately after. I recognize that many get a real hard-on for nostalgic materials like the Keep on the Borderlands, but we’re talking very poor writing, very poor artwork and a very lightweight treatment of the setting. It has always been my opinion that if Gygax did produce the books himself, he clearly lacked the ability to produce more. Where was the brilliant conceptionist who produced table after table for the DMG? He was making cheesy lists of rumours and describing lair after lair on the formula: guard, storeroom, chief’s room and treasure.

Until the Internet, it was only a theory that Gygax stole everything and then fucked it up. Now there are thousands of stories, about this guy or that guy, from this fellow who has the inside story to that fellow who knew Gygax personally and practically had his babies.

I don’t know what is true. I’ve already said, none of what I’ve written above is verified. This is not a biography of Gygax. I don’t know anything for sure. I do know that for me personally, the possibility of hero worship for the man has pretty much set sail more than two decades ago. The same goes for the rest of the cast and crew who have been part of this game’s creation, including my old friend Bill.

Because, honestly, I don’t give them a lot of credit.

There are events in this world that are truly unique ... and there are events which only logically follow the next step. If everyone connected to D&D in 1973 happened to be on a bus that had been blown to pieces by Black Panthers, I think we would still have hundreds of role-playing games, and I would still be designing a more complex simulation to suit my personal needs. Oh, it probably wouldn’t be medieval-based, but that doesn’t matter. I wouldn’t know the difference. The concept would have been proposed by someone, and over the years it would have been embraced and followed and loved.

I know that in 30 years I’ve never read a word from anyone, or met anyone at a convention, who convinced me that they had any special claim to the game. No one has. No one should. This isn’t the sort of game that can really be conceived of or expanded by any single entity – just as the real world couldn’t have been. It’s too big.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Age & Assets

All right then, I am finally ready to get down to some useful numbers.

Let’s return to the total GDP for the planet, the correct number being 480,067,114 g.p. For the purposes of my system, “GDP” is defined differently than it is in the present, modern world. My D&D system being mercantile-based, the domestic product is not a reflection of the total income of the planet, but rather a reflection of the total improvement of the planet. In other words, dividing the total GDP by the population (178 million) gives not the per capita income, but the per capita profit.

I only recently recognized how this is a more useful means of handling the problem of the distribution of wealth. Let me explain.

The per capita profit proves to be 2.697 g.p. per capita. Obviously this is not evenly distributed among all the people. If you will remember, I divide the status of my citizens into eleven categories, five of which are non-leveled, and six of which are leveled. Before I produce the table to show the profit for each category, allow me to make a completely separate point … one which will take some time.

I don’t think it’s difficult to grasp that a 2nd level fighter is likely to have more wealth than a 1st level fighter. Since I don’t use silly systems demanding “training” according to the DMG (I know of no one who does), the 2nd level has amassed a certain percentage of their experience as treasure, much of which will have been spent or lost as the result of ordinary activity. Still, he will have more. The obvious suggestion will be that since he requires 4,000 X.P. to attain 3rd, and the 1st level requires 2,000 X.P., the wealth of the 2nd level should be doubled.

However, since a 1st level can have no experience at all, and the 2nd level must have a minimum of 2,001, does this really make sense? Potentially, the 2nd level could have infinitely more treasure than the 1st level. Clearly, ‘level’ is not a significant qualifier.

Why not suggest that an individual with 4,000 X.P. has ten times the treasure of an individual with 400 X.P.? This may not always be so, but it makes more sense … except that it is difficult to produce a table which will randomly assign the total X.P. an individual may possess. Or is it?

Okay, and here is where Alexis steps off the pier.

Some years ago I was pondering what an ordinary NPC might do with his or her day, and how non-adventuring persons in my world would gain experience. This produced a theory that a certain average of X.P. would be gained per day, and therefore per year, and that an individual’s experience would correspond with their age. This is, I think, rather obvious.

It made sense to conclude that an active leveled individual would earn an average of 1 X.P. per day. This is equivalent to killing a giant rat per week, or pummeling a typical disruptive human into submission once a fortnight – the sort of thing a tough fighter might do in the daily course of working as a bodyguard. A mage with any number of spells or cantrips might also eliminate various vermin on a weekly basis (hey, Monza, mind using your ‘bee’ cantrip on the giant centipede I saw in my cellar?), the same being true for any other class.

Naturally, some individuals are more ‘active’ than others. The castle Lord might regularly go out on a weekly basis to hunt boar or to joust (technically a form of subdual damage), and therefore collect more X.P. than a 3rd level laboratory researcher. And because of my previously designed status system, it seemed logical to suggest that each status level would gain X.P. at a different rate. Thus I produced the following table:

The gentle reader will take note that a Liege can, by this table, gain 8th level in maturing from 15 to 16, and might consider this unreasonable. But I will draw the reader’s attention to the sort of lifestyle the young king of a country might experience: animals driven into a pen so that royalty might enjoy the experience of killing (a practice followed not only in France, but in China, India and elsewhere), the considerable reward of treasures for small successes and the distributed experience for ‘taking part’ in a campaign. Arguably, a young king could be described as taking part in every death (and X.P. gain) that he gives orders regarding. Note that the number applies only to actual kings … not to future kings, who would technically be title holders until ascending to the throne. Take note also that this would explain the power of young conquerors such as Alexander, who was 18 at the beginning of his campaign. Having ascended the throne at 17, he would have gained 98,000 X.P. by that age, and another 131,000 by the time his army crossed the Hellespont. This would mean he was almost 9th, but not quite … though the considerable riches he gained within the first three months of the campaign would have quickly jumped him to 11th level at least – followed by a continuous gain to a maximum of 29th level in short order.

The reader will also take note that an adventurer will gain 3rd level after a year – and for many players this will seem too little. I will point out, however, that NPC’s are likely to spend more time ‘hanging out’ than player characters, who seem always in a hurry to move onto the next adventure immediately, rather than languishing and enjoying life.

Note also that I have given attendants (whom, you’ll remember, included men-at-arms) a number for experience gained yearly. This is because I play on a system that allows a zero-level man-at-arms who has reached 2,001 X.P. to become 1st level. This is beneficial when the party picks up hirelings, as there is an incentive to keep the zero levels alive so that they might become leveled, thus more powerful AND loyal. ‘Attendants’ who become leveled in this fashion continue to gain X.P. per day as attendants, as it is assumed they never had formal training when they were young and it is harder for them to improve.

As a last point, note that as the individual ages, there is less incentive to take a personal part in experience-gaining activities. This is only logical.

Keep in mind that each of these numbers need not be static. You may, if you wish, roll dice using the base number as an average … thus four years experience might be set against a d8 per year, using simple algebra to compare the total rolled against the average to get a total. For example, Jeremy the Zealot rolls a 1 on a d8 for his 15th year, and adds only 576 X.P. (1/4.5, the average for a d8, x 2,596). What die you roll is entirely up to you.

Very well, then, we have an approximate experience for every kind of individual able to increase their personal power, depending on their age. We can then compare the age of the individual to the total per capita profit which began this post, giving us the following table:

Now wait a minute. Why is it that assets start to drop after age 25?

You remember what I said about 'profit.' The total amount that an individual possesses increases with each year, so that profit is added to the total assets so far. This seems fairly obvious.

However, you may have forgotten or you may not be reading closely, but spoilage destroys assets over time. Assets diminish. Most of what you own begins to break or degrade, while at the same time your capacity for replacing that material wealth suffers with age. You may think that everything you buy and gather together through your life will remain with you always, but that just isn’t so. As you age in life, you will be more and more dependent upon your children to support you – even if you are the King of England. You may continue to gain experience for the activities you accomplish, but your exact contribution to the wealth of your kingdom, or even your court, will diminish over time. Unless you have sons to contribute to your court’s coffers, you will find yourself more and more dependent upon the loyalty of retainers. This is, after all, a Medieval world. By 75, for all intents and purposes, your total ‘wealth’ will consist of your bed and a few nice things in your room.

This may not seem correct to many gentle readers – but I urge them to think outside the box. Instead of supposing that every valuable thing in the castle is the property of the lord or king, think instead that the wealth of the castle is commensurate with the total capacity of its denizens. Thus, as the lord ages, the material wealth in the castle begins to shift in ownership towards those who will eventually inherit – it is, theoretically, theirs already. The king’s ability to hold onto that wealth is dependent upon their support, right? The final number, 4,684 s.p., only means to demonstrate what the king would possess if he had no associates whatsoever. In other words, this would be his total wealth if he had been dispossessed and put into a tower somewhere.

Now, it may seem extreme to you that I’m asking you to work out everyone’s age in a given lair, along with their experience, in order to determine the total worth within, although this is easier than you think with excel. But I’m not asking you to do this. There are obviously short cuts. I may sit down to work a few of those out. For the moment, I am happy to make a few simple propositions that will get people thinking about the power of a simulation and how this might serve to rationally encourage players to choose their targets.

There are still things I haven’t proposed – such as the intelligence/wisdom of the NPC, who might offset some of the spoilage of his or her assets through investments … thus, giving the potential for increasing their wealth rather than having it diminish. This could be a simple modifier to the total – very intelligent creatures might have 50% more than the number indicated, highly intelligent creatures double, extraordinary intelligence quadruple and so on … with the possibility that low intelligence creatures might have less than the number indicated.

This, thankfully, ends my economic articles for the time being. That’s six I’ve written, which is enough. Anyone who has any real interest in this will have gotten the point by now.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Why It's Called A Float

Last post I threw out a figure for the total number of gold coins in my world: 12,958,333. One of the nice things about being a DM and having a simulation world is that this figure isn’t necessarily an estimate. I can say for all practical purposes that this is the exact number.

But it isn’t. My world is in constant flux, as not all of the world is mapped an added to the economic system. At the moment, having included two thirds of Asia and half of Europe (working on Italy at the moment), my population is an estimated 178 million. It covers just over 10,500 20-mile-diameter hexes. The world GDP would be 231,543,624 gold pieces.

The Earth is a big place.

As I said, all the gold produced in the world equals only 0.6% of the GDP. For the record, silver and copper coins represent 0.36% and 0.5% respectively. Total coinage represents a mere 1.5% of the world’s wealth. The rest is made up with minerals, metals, building materials, cloth, foodstuffs, crops, livestock, fish and so on.

It must therefore be that most transactions which occur would be the result of barter, right? Given that coinage is comparatively rare.

Money has a condition which is different from any other form of wealth. A single gold coin can change hands upwards of twenty times a day quite easily. It is the fluid that makes all other transactions possible – merely because, except for a few incomprehensible souls, it is never the item which is meant to be kept. A chicken is bought and then eaten. It does not change hands repeatedly day after day. The same is true for every other item from gems to castles – once purchased, they tend to remain with the possessor until circumstances makes this no longer practical.

Money, on the other hand, will be gotten rid of as a medium for exchange with almost universal frequency. And every transaction, no matter how often or for what reason, is counted as part of the GDP. Therefore, for all practical purposes, the total amount of coinage floating through the system is in fact equivalent to the total wealth, no matter what minor percentage of that wealth it represents. A coin is worth many times its worth.

(As an aside, the total ‘coin flow’ through the system must be said to be much greater than the GDP, since it includes resale of assets and failed financial ventures – the spoilage I made reference to in the previous post. Coin pays for spoilage, but spoilage is not included in the GDP).

The removal of a single coin from the overall system is not the merely the removal of the coin, but the removal of the means of many, many coins which can no longer be used to grease the economic system. This is why, in the present climate, though there is still plenty of money around, the withholding of vast funds by the whole population causes deep wounds in the success of the economic system.

Occasionally it happens that a party will stumble across a vast, long lost treasure, as mine did recently after the destruction of a large polar worm dwelling in an abandoned castle in the Ural mountains north of the Arctic Circle. It happened that the party had recently befriended a mastodon, with monk and druid able to communicate and ranger able to control the beast. As such, the matter of moving several mastodon tusks, a considerable store in coin and other large pieces of treasure (including a remorhaz egg), proved to be quite reasonable. The mastodon itself is five tons in weight; this allows it a payload of at least two tons.

As such, the party stumbled down out of the vast taiga and into the Dwarven kingdom of Hoth after a four month absence from civilization (long story), in mid-November, and proceeded to winter there until May. During which time, in feeding the mastodon, the paladin’s warhorse and themselves, re-equipping and so on, they proceeded to drop upwards of 10,000 gold coins on the local population.

In all likelihood this would shatter the local economy ... which is how I played it. The party became, for all intents and purposes, a recently discovered ‘gold mine,’ which the locals worked for all they were worth. Since for those five months everyone is virtually snowed in, the party were treated with complete deference, regardless of how inconvenient it might be to suddenly have a 700-person town saddled with the maintenance and feeding of a mastodon (crews were hired to leave town and help clear snow to allow the mastodon to feed on surrounding moss or grass). No one complained.

It is not merely that 10,000 coins were spent – it is that the daily exchange of this coin spurs on the motivation of the community to produce labour throughout the winter. It may seem to you that people do all they can during the winter months, but this is not so. The tendency is to loaf. Suddenly there are thousands of coins to change hands over and over, encouraging people to brave brutally cold weather or to express themselves. A winter festival, for example, as there is now a motivation to ice sculpt, produce plays for pleasure, wrestle or box for the purpose of gambling and so on.

Once the party has returned with its vast, previously lost haul, prices should be doubled or trebled once their arrival becomes known – not just for the party, but because the innkeeper is wealthier, the local prostitutes are wealthier, the tax collectors are wealthier and so on. The party arriving in town is exactly like a movie crew who has suddenly decided to film in Nowheresville, Hick County.

Which brings us back to the sort of question I asked months ago: somewhere, a thief rolls over someone in a tavern. How much coin does that person have in his pocket?

The standard is to presume that if the individual is rich, there’s a lot in his pocket, and if the individual is poor, very little. In truth, the answer should depend more on whether the individual just got paid for services rendered, if there’s been time to spend it, or whether the individual is the sort that carries around their own money at all or merely buys on credit. It is exactly the point I made several posts ago. If you hit a castle in early April, not only are you not going to find coin (since the castle earns very little until the summer fairs), but you won’t find any food either. It’s all been eaten. The populace is largely living off the land until the crops fruit in July or August.

So, are you going to hit the wealthy tradesman in the morning or the afternoon? Do you roll the prostitute as the sun is going down, or four hours later? Should you be robbing from the nobleman, or from the quiet, tall grunt standing on his left? Those are new questions.

UPDATE: the previous number for the world GDP is an error. That should have read 480,067,114 g.p.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Where There's Plenty

I admit it – the last post was something less than light reading. I shall endeavor to improve upon it here, since I have less reason to launch into history. As promised, I shall describe the other place the wealth goes.

Naturally, as I write this, I don’t have the DM’s Guide in front of me, so I can’t quote the required passage nor even give the page number. No doubt I’ll update this when I’m able. However, for those familiar with it, somewhere in the money/experience section of the book Gygax suggests that the total amount of maintenance a party should expect to spend is 1% of the total per month. Thus, buy a sword worth 20 g.p., and expect each month to spend 4 s.p. (Gygax money system, not mine) paying to keep it in good working order.

This may be obvious: I have always taken this passage rather close to my heart, as it suggests a method by which spoilage may be assessed. And by ‘spoilage,’ I mean the diminishing value of everything in existence by degradation, wear, ruination and – most importantly for our purposes – loss.

Wealth, having a great many forms, does not conveniently ‘spoil’ at a single rate. Most produced food is worthless within six months its production. Soft goods such as leather or cloth become can unwearable after one or two year’s continuous use. Glass and porcelain can last for centuries, but more often it chips or shatters with use or clumsiness. Wood suffers from the depredations of insects in most humid climates, and will nevertheless rot or otherwise lose its value if uncared for. Overall, of everything that is manufactured and can fall under the heading of ‘treasure,’ only metal and stone endures.

Given an entire society, a certain amount of wealth will slip through the fingers of man. Ships will sink, floods will cover valuables with mud and earthquakes will destroy cities. On a much smaller scale, misers will bury hordes which will then be lost when the miser dies; lone adventures will wander into the wild only to collapse from exhaustion, their coins and their weapons left where they fall; coins will fall out of pouches into rivers and gems will fall out of their settings to lay missing on the landscape.

In considering trade throughout a system, it is a reasonable estimate to assume that all human wealth, in all its forms, might spoil at the rate of 1% per month. While some parts of that wealth are degrading at a much faster rate, it is also true that this is compensated for that portion of wealth which is treasured more dearly: coins, precious metals, gems, stone and magic. If we make the proposition that 1/10th of all the wealth in the world is produced as items which might endure indefinitely, provided it is left relatively untouched, then we might make presume the existence of 0.1% of all the world’s wealth is slowly and steadily collected at the bottom of the sea, in the catacombs and tombs of ruined cities and in the lost corridors of dungeons deep in the earth.

So we have justified treasure.

The failing is not in the economic system, but in the perception that this treasure has come into existence through the machinations of some higher deity. Why can it not be that the wealth is simply there – perhaps unknown to the very creatures who dwell in those suggested underworlds? It is an old story, the argument that dungeons operate on a trickle-down theory … the deeper you go, the more treasure. But might it not simply be that as the treasure is seized and brought down into deeper and deeper vaults, that eventually the dominant monster atop such a final vault is utterly ignorant? That it is possibly some creature that has no use for treasure, but in grabbing and eating so many giants it has simply created a pile of gems and raw metal weapons, as inconvenient as an offal pit?

We might conjecture a ruined city, shattered by an earthquake long ago, later overgrown and forgotten by some Howard-inspired jungle, wherein 99% of what the party finds laying about are things which might have been once valuable but which are now rotten and useless. Except that for every ten square feet they painstakingly search, fighting off a never-ending treadmill of monsters, they’re able to sift out enough valuables to keep searching.

How much might this total lost wealth be?

I can only answer that in terms of my own world. My estimate is that my world produces 311,000 oz. of gold per year. This is based upon the actual world total production, 1,761,000 kg, divided by 500 to estimate a pre-industrial total. The number might be a bit high, but it is consistent with my other estimates and it works fairly well in terms of the average income of my total population. My world is considerably bigger and more populous than other worlds, so you might want to opt for a smaller figure if you’re following along.

Obviously, the total amount of gold produced per year can’t be simply multiplied by a thousand to give the millennial figure, as with a smaller population in the past and many places previously unexplored the amount of gold produced by the Roman world must be less. Let’s divide the number in half, to get an average, and let’s propose that since the time of Mohammed, my world has produced 155,500,000 oz. of gold.

If we want to presume that half that amount has been transformed into coin, and half into ornament (what division would you propose?), it is important to note here that a gold coin in my world weighs a quarter of an ounce and is only about 40% gold (the remainder is usually copper, lead or zinc). Thus, half of all the gold produced monthly in the world during the last millennium has been minted into 777,500,000 gold coins.

In my system, this gold represents a mere 0.6% of all the wealth in the world … which compares with my proposition earlier that 10% of all the world’s wealth is to be found in durable materials. Assume, if you will, that 1% of all the world’s gold has been, for the last millennia, either lost, buried, sunk or otherwise removed from the system each month. Calculate monthly then the loss of that gold, and you will discover that as the years rack up the total amount of lost gold exceeds the gold in the system by quite a lot. By fifty times, in fact. The total amount of lost gold, dribbled away through the centuries, equals 764,671,230 coins. The natural figure which arises for the world’s wealth ceases to increase at 12,958,333 coins, since at that point the amount of gold produced equals the amount of gold lost each month.

That last might be amusing to some or lost on others. The long and the short of it is this. There is much, much more gold to be found by the players by moving out of the social system than they might ever expect to find at home.

Which is good news for the game, I think.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Where The Wealth Pools

Where does the wealth go? Two places ... which I intend to address in this and the next post.

Most of what I’ve said so far applies to the mainstream of those living in the economic system – a collection of ordinary individuals satisfying their needs or their immediate wants, mostly lacking in education or any sort of extraordinary competence. This must describe the greater part of the population.

We live in a world where there exists a myth – that those persons who possess great wealth are, by definition, competent. This has arisen through various public relations exercises, greatly inspired by philosophies which arose during the Baroque period and embraced by most right-wing parties the world wide. It takes brains to make money – we’re told. It takes extraordinary ability. It proves the superiority of those persons who have money. And so on.

The source for this argument dates from the period that I have been describing, namely the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Certain cultures rose to eminence out of the dark ages, principally because they embraced certain technologies and philosophies, or because they were blessed with a superior agricultural base or the geographical position that would allow them to take advantage of the movement of goods throughout the economic system.

Constantinople (modern Istanbul) is the leading example, one which rose to economic pre-eminence before the Dark Ages began and which continued as the greatest center of knowledge and religion the Earth knew for almost a millennium. This was not chance. A close inspection of Constantinople’s location reveals the inevitability. Not only does the city straddle two considerable hinterlands, western Anatolia and the Balkans, but it controls the most natural trade route from Europe to Russia and most of Asia – including China. Astoundingly, this remarkable position is aided by a strait which is a mere 800 yards in diameter – so that it possesses an optimum military defensiveness as well, from both land AND sea. No wonder that it took six centuries of internal bleeding, corruption on a scale not seen since and the massive force of an entire national religious movement (Islam) – which the city yet withstood for seven centuries - to destroy it. Rule during that period was mostly by usurpation, with most emperors lasting three years or less. Byzantium is the classic demonstration of how to fuck up a good thing.

The wealth in Byzantium during its height, while Europe was wrapped in darkness and both India and China were inward looking, would be by our standards today incomprehensible. By the year 1200, it had become a money sink of gargantuan proportions, paying off with magnificent bribes every other culture in the region: the Seljuk Turks, the Bulgars, the Tatars and the Damascan Arabs. And still having the money to hire Venice – not a few pirates, but the entire Republic – to start another war in the Holy Land. However, the Venetians, heavily in debt and lacking in resolve, were encouraged by one of their mercenary leaders, a certain Baldwin of Flanders, to change their target. In 1204 they sacked Constantinople – the first time that had been done. Even during the barbarian raids which touched off the Dark Ages. Constantinople simply paid the barbarians to keep going west. This raid, which filled Venetian coffers and touched off that nation’s success for the next three centuries, failed to empty the city of wealth. Baldwin established himself as the new Emperor, his line ruling for more than a century before being replaced again by a Byzantine dynasty, which then lasted for another century before finally falling to the Turks. That is power, baby.

Throughout the Middle Ages, to greater or lesser degree, certain groups and regions were able through chance or through resourcefulness to establish pockets of great wealth: Lubeck and the creation of the Hanseatic League; Venice, Genoa and Florence; Bavaria, whose position at the north gate of the Alps enabled the Fuggers to become extraordinarily wealthy bankers; Tombouctou, whose position at the north end of the mid-African Niger swamp provided an ample source of paper (papyrus) for documentation, allowing for a vast, intelligent empire controlling West African trade across the Saharan desert. Other examples abound.

The common thread running through these examples includes technology (bookkeeping, architectural and transport engineering, ballistics), philosophy (political ideology, demagoguery, nationalism) and diplomacy, the last a particular consideration in Italy. The simple fact that Tuscany was one of the richest agricultural places in Europe was considerably aided by an educated, largely free population who were encouraged to express their political beliefs openly, even if this meant almost constant civil strife in the various city states within that region. Venice and its considerable naval fleet were greatly aided by a democratic government at a time when a republic was nearly unthinkable. Similar arguments can be made for Lubeck and later Sweden, and certainly for the rise of England at the end of the Renaissance. People, when encouraged to act freely within a state not bound by religious qualms, could band together to impose a vibrant, ready social policy – indeed, a military policy – against their more reactionary, monarchistic neighbours. This was still true in the late 18th century, when a freshly revolutionized France demonstrated the awesome political power available by tapping a recently liberated populace.

Part of the problem in most invented D&D worlds is their emphasis on one form of government, spread throughout the system, mostly unchallenged by new ideas or alternative methods of government. This is mostly the fault of looking at a D&D world through the modern lens – we live in a world which is mostly interconnected and interdependent, where every part of that world is potentially reached within the space of day by anyone with means. I can sell a few things and liquidate other assets and be in Burma by Friday ... provided I already have my passport and am able to obtain my shots by then. If I am a regular traveller to such places, I could be there by noon today.

No D&D world should be that accessible. Though wealth may accumulate in certain logical places within the system due to unusual levels of trade or spontaneous war, those places will still exist in a bubble of cultural isolation that we can hardly conceive. What is more, the residents within a wealthy social environment will be deeply resentful of foreigners or even strangers from within the country, AND will act very proactively when their culture is threatened.

A common D&D trope follows. Take the usual situation of a thief who has attempted to rob a member of the town, and in failing to do so produces the usual thief’s flight through the crowd pursued by the injured party and perhaps a few of the town guard. True to our perception of such events, none of the crowd pays any attention to what is going on. The scene is directly out of a Charles Dickens novel – writing at a time when society has become deeply divided between outward looking industrialists and the inward-looking poor. In other words, a period having nothing to do with the Middle Ages. Compare the representation of that scene to a similar occurrence in a Greek town, even in the 20th Century, of a few thousand persons – in which life was hardly affected by the Industrial Revolution on account of Greece’s lack of plunderable resources. A thief in that situation could not “run through a crowd.” He would be struck down by the first citizen whose arm he ran past.

A considerable amount of D&D adventuring demands either ignorance or apathy ... conditions which we take for granted but which would not exist in abundance in highly charged political centers such as Florence or Zurich. D&D depends upon bored, listless guards, lazy or disgruntled labourers who can be easily bribed, disenfranchised members of the community seeking personal revenge against blithely unaware upper-class twits, who never imagine that four thieves might jump over their easily climbed walls to snatch the family jewels. Never mind that actual merchants from the period lived atop towers more than a hundred feet high (too high for a low-level thief to climb, whatever their climb percentage might be, since only the most enduring would not fall from mere exhaustion) or in blockhouses with windows too small for even a halfling to slip through. Never mind that foreigners in a town were often required to wear marks on their clothing indicating their status, or that they would not be allowed to purchase the clothing reserved for members of the city, or that their odd features or way of talking would automatically remove any chance that they might “talk their way in” or otherwise create support for their cause.

In the poorer parts of the world, in Poland or Portugal for example, strangers might be welcomed since they would almost always bring money to spend. But the greater the potential for obtaining wealth, the greater the resistance of the indigenous populace to incursions by outside competitors. In other words, Mr. Thief and Mr. Fighter, you aren’t welcome here. Go home. We have plenty of money, yes ... but it is our money, and we’d just as soon keep it that way.

If your characters want some of that money, they’d better show up with an army.

Sunday, May 3, 2009


Some readers may have noticed a fault in the post that precedes this – regarding the distribution of grown cereals among the peasants and their caloric intake. That error would have been that a certain amount of the grain, above and beyond what they would eat or give to the Lord of the manse, would have to set aside for next year’s crop. In fact, yields during the medieval period were sometimes less than 2:1. 3:1 was more common. This means that fully a third of the grain would have to remain in storage throughout the winter until the following spring, if the community were to survive.

It is almost incomprehensible to us that yields could be that low. Typical yields today can range from 30:1 in the worst depressed areas of the Third World to upwards of 200:1 in the West. But without mechanized equipment, a proper knowledge of biology or fertilizers, this was the best a farmer could do – grains could not be willed to produce more.

(As an aside, you could argue higher yields from a D&D world, due to arcane knowledge available to druids or others, and generally I tend to predict higher yields with regards to my crops).

There are numerous, similar limitations on food supply in the Medieval world that an unfamiliar DM may fail to take into account: the size of livestock, for instance. Cows rarely exceeded more than 500 lbs. Sheep, swine and horses were all smaller – though efforts to breed larger horses, such as Percherons, Clydesdales and Belgians were started in the late medieval period, they did not achieve quite the success we are familiar with today (though local myths would testify that they did).

Added to less food on the hoof and less food from crop yields is the bizarre notion that many perfectly edible foods were avoided in the belief that they were either poisonous to the body or harmful to the spirit. Fruits in particular were eaten with considerably less frequency than they might have been. Then of course many cultures avoided foods for religious reasons.

All of this makes for both a limited and a scant diet – which in turn disavows most arguments that the typical manse might have existed amidst plenty. It is a usual DM’s belief that if a party were to raid and seize an isolated castle on the borderlands of a kingdom, it would be rich in gold and spoils ... when in fact such a castle would probably have traded such spoils with the more affluent central areas of the kingdom in order to obtain seeds for planting, animals to restock their herds and all manner of tools and handicrafts just to keep the castle running.

D&D also assumes that every castle is managed by a first-rate accountant who apparently never makes a foolhardy mistake in understocking the necessary materials. Every castle is equally under the sovereignty of a Lord who does not gamble, is not a wastrel or otherwise incompetent. No castle in the D&D realm is in debt, nor overextended in lending their coin to others, or “house-poor.” There is always a treasure room; it is always full to the brim and no one present would ever think of spending that loot on anything except more soldiers.

We know from experience that this is a false perception of reality, one which I have been guilty of myself up until perhaps two weeks ago, when I began to conceive of this series of posts. Look at the balance sheets of most corporations and you will find their assets extend to land, permissions, structures, money owed and equipment. Rarely does a balance sheet indicate that the company has billions of dollars in a bank account – this would be foolish, since excess money invested promotes more money to be earned in the future. This was no less true during the Middle Ages – if anything, it was more true, since excess capital tended to disappear whenever a blight destroyed the local seed, or animals began dying of plague, or a long winter demanded considerably more fuel and stored food than had been laid aside. Periods of starvation were more common, demanding expenditures whenever expenditures were possible ... and if something bad hadn’t happened to you, it had to your neighbor, and the polite, politically expedient (and practical) thing to do would be to lend, lend, lend.

In other words, the castle you’ve just plundered might have enough floating capital to survive any immediate threat, but beyond that they are probably dead broke. Guess what? They owe the castle next door 4,000 gold coin, and since the castle next door just suffered the onset of the plague, they needed to collect yesterday. Oops.

Which helps explain why groups such as the Vikings, Pechenegs, Magyars and so on didn’t stop at one castle, or ten castles ... they were living continuously on what they could grab, so that next month if they wanted to eat they better be able to seize two more. All it took was one hard-core castle that could hold out for four of five months, such as that at Brescia, to spoil their fun.

By extension, you might consider that most “lairs” in D&D would have similar problems, from the guild-invested artisan deep in the bowels of the city to the underground lair of orcs twenty miles past the kingdom’s border. Any extra coin could be traded with less than savoury humans who were willing to run tools, meat, ale, leather – what have you – in exchange for whatever the orcs might be able to come across, coin, gems or border guard weapons/armor. Orcs must eat also, and even if they raise herds of giant rats in their underground lairs for meat, those too are occasionally touched by pestilence. Yes, that might encourage the orcs to raid a nearby village, but that assumes the village is stocked to the gills with food ready for the orcs to eat. What if the village is starving also?

While we’re on the subject of plenty and the lack of it, consider at what time of the year your party might decide to seize the local castle: is it late Winter, when most stored goods will have been eaten, the populace waiting in anticipation for the local water sources to open and allow fishing, or for the return of birds which can be caught for food, or for the first shoots from turnips or potatoes? Is it mid-Summer, when the crops are still green, when the coin has run out for good until the sowing can be done and the August festivals will promise good sales? Is it Autumn, after the crops are taken in, after they’ve been sold and the money used to pay off creditors – the party finding hundreds of sacks of beets and turnips to mix with the barley the manse grew this year, ready for the long cold season to come?

Such things matter.

Some weeks ago I questioned the valuables which might be found on ordinary people in my world. Since that time I have been considering the question of payables, and the redistribution of wealth, with the recognition that, by and large, in that time period what the “rich” possessed for the most part was the opportunity to create wealth for temporary periods, which they would then spend on luxuries which themselves would degrade and spoil. Maintenance on the Lady of the Manse’s bedroom could suck the coin right out of a Lord’s purse.

If most people are living hand to mouth, from the lower strata of peasants and laborers, right up through adventurers and celebrities, and even Lords and Kings, then where is the money?

Friday, May 1, 2009

Campaign: Doings Near The Gospoda Gasthaus

Anshelm and Kazimir begin walking through the city, not in any specified path, but one must assume generally towards the foreign quarter, as this would have the least number of guards, and the most “opportunity” for thieves. They find there many persons weeping for the dead, who are gathered up in a less than sensitive manner, most of these having died by slug. There are perhaps sixty bodies loaded on three carts near the gasthaus “Gospoda.” A teamster is struggling with a mule who refuses to pull, while the other teamsters wait for him to motivate the beast. There are two impatient watchmen urging him to get the beast moving.

Nearby, across the narrow street (it is only 15 feet wide), another, smaller gypsy wagon, pointed the other direction, is being loaded by the members of the house – two sons, a young girl, a mother and father, possibly of Greek, Bulgarian or Egyptian descent, difficult to see which – while a landlord harangues them for rent they owe. The landlord has a “for rent” sign in his hand, which he has not yet put in the building’s window.

Campaign: Approached

Delfig and Tiberius are working near each other, bringing paving stones to a cart which has been provided by Helmunt, and which is driven by Udo (whom they will remember was a guide in service to Helmunt), when three men of the Town Watch approach, led by Helmunt. “Yes, that’s him, there,” says Helmunt. “The one with the lyre on his back.”

One of the guard approaches. “You are Delfig Kôlhupfer?”