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.