Monday, September 28, 2009

Insanity's Fruit

I have waited until I’ve had all my data prepared before writing this post, and I warn you: it is going to be a long one. It shall be full of statistics, so feel free to duck out now while the going’s good.

I have finished what I call my ‘pricing table’; this is the calculation for each individual piece of equipment that determines the cost. Each item has a substance from which it is made and all manufactures are modified according to the craftsmanship involved. For example, rock salt is refined, and that refining adds to its cost.

I’ve prepared a series of tables which will enable the gentle reader to compare prices in different parts of my world for selected items. I’ve chosen 21 trading locations. It took me about half an hour to input all the locations and calculate the raw data – which leaves me breathless. I never had it so good. Used to be, calculating a new city was an immense headache.

I should take a moment and give the list of cities, and a quick explanation for those which may seem unfamiliar – due to their location and my insistence on using their 17th century designation. And so, beginning in Germany and moving eastward:

Cologne is located on the Rhine in Western Germany; this is as far west as I’ve mapped so far – I don’t intend to add Italy and France for another year, as it is a huge task (many cities, many roads), so Cologne represents for now the one end of the earth.

Nuremberg was a vastly successful trading city throughout the Middle Ages until the opening of India to western Europe. It links the Rhine and Danube valleys, and Venice with the North and Baltic seas. More or less the center of Europe.

Copenhagen in Denmark is an important link between the Baltic Sea and the Atlantic. Without question it is the best connected city in northern Europe – explaining why the Danes were very successful throughout the late Middle Ages.

Ragusa, modern Dubrovnik, is located on the Adriatic Sea in modern Croatia (Dalmatian coast). It long competed with Venice. I can’t include Venice in this list because, as I’ve said, I haven’t added Italy.

Beograd, modern Belgrade, is the capital of Serbia and the Balkan center of the Ottoman Empire’s European territories. It’s location on the Danube River makes it an important trading link.

Krakow is found in southern Poland. Historically it was a larger, more cultured city than Warsaw; it is at the navigable head of the Vistula River, and thus connected the Carpathian mountains to the south with the Baltic Sea to the north.

Archangel, modern Arkhangelsk, is on the White Sea on the north coast of Russia. It is the most northern city I’m including, but not the most northern trading city in my world. That would be Dik’don, in Siberia.

Novgorod was once the gateway to Russia. It declined as influences on Russia from the east and south strengthened Moscow. It still is on the trade route from the Baltic to central Russia.

Kazan is found in central Russia, about 240 mi. east of Moskva (Moscow), on the Volga River. It was a highly successful trading city on the central trade route through the heart of Russia, on the Volga to the Kama River, and thence to the Ural Mountains and Siberia.

Kiyev is located on the Dnieper River, straddling the trade route between the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea; below Kiyev, the Dnieper became impassable to large ships, so that at Kiyev products were loaded onto wagons and dragged to the Black Sea shore (this is why the south Ukraine was historically a backward region – no practical water routes).

Constantinople, modern Istanbul, is the center of the trading world; it straddles the Black Sea and the Mediterranean basin, and as such as access to Russia, central Europe, Africa and the Mid-East.

Rhodes, on the southeast corner of the Aegean sea, on the route from Europe to both Africa and the Mid-East. I add it here to allow the gentle reader to gauge the value of products as they are shipped from Constantinople to Alexandria (where Rhodes costs more than both, goods come from alternate directions).

Alexandria, probably the most familiar city on the list, historically. At the mouth of the Nile River, the gateway to Africa and one of the largest export markets in the World.

Edessa, modern Sanliurfa in eastern Turkey, is an very ancient city, more than 10,000 years old; it is on ancient trade routes between the Mediterranean and Iran, being on one of the “silk routes” to Europe. As my world is based on the 17th century and not the 14th, the silk routes are past – silk is common in Europe (though still expensive), aided in its making by druidic knowledge.

Astrakhan is on the mouth of the Volga river where it enters the Caspian Sea. It has long been one of the world’s great trading cities, as it is Russia’s gateway to Iran and the Middle East.

Esfahan, or Isfahan, is on the high plateau in central Iran. Once it was on major trade routes with the east, but its day has past; by the 17th century it was a royal center and the destination of many trade routes from Arabia, Turkey and Turkestan.

Crater, modern Aden, is an old city in the state of Yemen, on the far southern edge of the Arabian Peninsula; it’s hinterland is a region called “Arabia Felix”, or lucky Arabia, as it is a comparatively well-watered, fertile land. Crater has good access to Africa, Egypt and India.

Ormus, or Hormuz, the link between the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf. While a great trading city, it suffers from a lack of industry – most of the goods which made Hormuz rich were unusual luxury items, such as coral, pearls, indigo and the like.

Sibir, modern Omsk, in Siberia about 600 miles east of the Ural Mountains. Sibir is located on the Irtysh River from China, and was integral to the route between China and Moskva.

Lahore, in the Punjab of modern Pakistan, the southeast edge of my world (India, just beyond, has been sketched out but not completed). Very high population, but comparatively isolated in relation to the rest of the cities on the list – and therefore high prices. Once India is added, I expect many of the raw materials prices to fall.

Hodzhent, modern Khujand in northern Tadzhikistan, is probably the most obscure city on the list. It is located on the Syr Darya river between lower Turkestan and the Fergana Valley, a very fertile plain below the Pamirs mountains on the border between what was once Soviet Russia and Sinkiang (Xinjiang), in China. This is truly the Eastern end of my world at the moment – which explains the generally high prices which occur here.

I should also emphasize the pricing code for the tables which are soon to follow. 1 g.p. is equal to 16 s.p., and 1 s.p. is equal to 12 c.p.. Thus, there are 192 c.p. per g.p.

As it happens, I noticed a certain pattern running through all the material. Whereas the rarity of the raw material does have an effect on the value, as well as the rarity of the craftsmanship involved, the real influence on the general table is the distance between localities. For example, if we consider an area where sheep are common, and therefore wool, we might expect that the price of wool clothing might be low.

But if that wool clothing is produced in Europe, where the number of establishments producing that clothing are very close to one another, the price is considerably lower than in, say, Turkestan, where density of manufacture is very low. There may be many sheep in Turkestan, and much wool production, but each trading city is effectively an isolated universe, up to 20 days apart. There is no competition between them, and therefore the price is high:

Considering those places where travel times are greatest - Hodzhent, Esfahan, Sibir, and Lahore - the prices are high even if wool is cheap. Note that in these locations most clothing is self made, and therefore virtually the entire population would wear homespun clothing made from sheep they themselves owned. The table is meant to reflect that, rather than simply assuming that because there's a lot of wool the clothing would be cheap also. Much wool; few tailors.

Note also that the lowest price is found in Copenhagen, Constantinople and Ragusa - trading ports placed where shipping distances are at a minimum. Many, many tailors.

Compare this with another woolen product:

Here we find many similarities. Prices are still extravagant in the eastern cities; but much lower for Esfahan and Lahore than for Sibir or Hodzhent. Although Esfahan and Lahore are carpet making centers, the price remains high because they are the only carpet makers for hundreds of miles in every direction.

There is one weakness to the table, here, and that is we are speaking of two kinds of carpets. Those from the east are much more extravagant from the common types made in the west (which are much lower priced). This is because I haven't made a designation between the two types, which would involve some additional calculations on my part. The division can be made (and probably will be, eventually), so that the player will be able to choose between "western" and "eastern" carpets ... but honestly, there are so many examples of this type of division that I'm not ready to make them all. I add this to show that changes can still be made to the table to improve it (revising is never done).

At any rate, if you just want any carpet to cover your floor, they're definitely cheaper in Europe, where industry is in high gear. Note, however, the price in Constantinople - Turkey is carpet central.

Here is something more fundamental to the overall system. You will notice at once that there is less range in the prices, as land is somewhat available everywhere. It is least available in the far north (Archangel, Sibir), where much of the land is unworkable tundra, in the desert (Esfahan, Edessa, Ormus) or in the high mountains (Hodzhent) or where population is very high (Lahore).

The cheapest land is found in those river valleys or coastlines where there is much fertility and a relatively low population: Beograd, Ragusa, Constantinople and Copenhagen. Nuremberg and Cologne are comparatively more densely settled than Eastern Europe. And the considerable fertility of the Nile delta is the reason for Alexandria's low price, despite the obviously dense population.

Again, there is always the influence of many nearby localities with land to sell; Lahore's proximity as the only market in its area (most of Asia is very homogeneous) helps keep the price high.

From this you can see the price of grain corresponds to the price of land. Tilled land is calculated from the local value of grain. Remember as you look over the table than 1 g.p. = 16 s.p., so that the price for a sack of grain in Esfahan and Hodzhent is 32 s.p.

Let's compare a few other items of produce:

Excellent Kiyev, land of borsch. It's nice when a table fits with one's personal bias. I don't manipulate these tables - in fact, I don't mind if the numbers fit with my perception or not, as long as the overall system is consistent. But it's nice when the numbers do match. Here the prices are low throughout Eastern Europe, and Denmark too, where beet sugar is made in preference to beets used as a staple.

Naturally the price is high in those places that don't grow beets - much higher in Lahore than in Sibir or Hodzhent. Edessa, Crater, Ormus and Esfahan represent the steady eastward distribution of said beets, and their increased price (though why anyone would want to eat foreign beets when they did not have to, I can't guess).

I neglected to put on this table that a bale is 364 lb., which helps explain the high prices. For once, Lahore has the jump on the world market - the Indus River valley in Pakistan is a center for the world production of cotton. Egypt, also - Alexandria having the lowest price here (and probably for any trade city in my world, I would guess). Note the high prices in Cologne, Nuremberg, Copenhagen and Novgorod ... all places which are far from production.

The low range in prices is due to there being a great variety of source points ... more than 200 in my world. This tends to 'even out' the value of products, so that they change little from place to place, often imperceptibly for the players as they steadily make their way. Often prices don't change, not as they appear to here. These are cities thousands of miles apart. Most players won't recognize the changes unless they travel great distances, and even then they may not be keeping notes.

Compare the above table with one where there the whole product comes from very few sources:

Clearly the majority of caviar originates at the mouth of the Volga, where the Caspian sturgeon spawns. Other caviar comes from the south end of the Caspian, and a small amount from Berat in Albania.

Astrakhan, you'll remember, is at the mouth of the Volga. If a party wants to buy a portion of caviar in Astrakhan and drag it to Lahore to sell it at a fabulous profit (12069%), I am all for it. Caviar is notoriously difficult to keep fresh, however - and the journey would not be a stroll. As well, though cheap, even caviar is in comparatively low supply. Unless the party were to go seek their own from the marshes of the Volga mouth, they would probably have trouble obtaining more than 400 oz. from the local market.

The Ragusa price reflects its proximity to Albanian caviar, while Kazan and Constantinople are relatively the closest trading cities to Astrakhan.

Lapis is another commodity with a low number of sources - this time centered in Afghanistan. Thus, both Hodzhent and Lahore are nearby the source. As lapis is a gemstone, it tends to retain its value over great distances ... so that though it is less pricy in the east, it has a relatively consistent price among the cities in Europe (most of which can be considered to be relatively the same distance from Afghanistan for trade purposes).

Obviously, a trading city where lapis was mined, such as Bactra in northern Afghanistan, would have a lower price than any shown here.

Let's look at another gemstone:

Here is an example of a luxury good from Ormus. Most gems do come from far Asia, Africa or South America. Cat's eye occurs in a number of places, in Balkan Europe, Greece, Arabia and elsewhere. Note the price in Rhodes and Crater.

Now, another bulk commodity:

Here we have a similar situation to the price of cotton, except that the focus has been shifted from south to north ... with one difference. Timber grows as far south as almost Kiyev, which is as I've said at the navigable downstream end of the Dnieper River. Beograd has the benefit of the Danube (which is also a wooded valley), while Copenhagen and Constantinople get timber from everywhere (thus, the lowest price). Many of the northern cities, where wood ought to be cheap, are hamstrung by their isolation.

Historically, Denmark was central to the timber trade from which England and France built their navies. Keep in mind that these numbers do not represent the possible extremes in price - in fact, I don't know what those extremes are. The calculations are too complex; unless I did them individually for every five hundred existing cities, I couldn't know. Granted, it only takes me sixty seconds per city, but I don't care to spend 8 and a half hours doing only that.

Let's consider a few other products made from timber:

This is something really expensive.

This would be a massive ship, almost four times the size of the Mayflower - so, obviously, not the sort of ship most players would buy. For those places where the cost is irrationally high, obviously the markets are far inland, where the ship could not exist. Just as obviously, the cost can be ignored on an equipment list.

Keep in mind that the overall system is not based on capitalism, but mercantalism. While supply is relevant, demand is not computed - it is presumed that if the player doesn't buy, then the demand isn't high enough. Sorry if that disappoints some people ... it is the only manageable system I could design.

This is a time in history when a mortgage is possible. Thus, in exchange for collateral (not the ship itself), a 20% downpayment on a ship will enable a party member to obtain the vessel - with a fairly safe expectation that the mortgage will be recouped by the bank. The ship (description, with glyphs) would be registered with ports from the Baltic to the Mediterranean, the Atlantic and even the Indian Ocean. Anywhere, in fact, that shipbuilding was carried out. If the party wants to ever have their ship repaired, they will pay their mortgage.

A smart party would travel to ensure their ship was built in Ragusa or Copenhagen - obviously. As the Caspian is not connected to the rest of the world, Kazan would be best - the Volga is large enough to allow such a ship to navigate to the sea.

While Ormus seems very expensive for a seaport, the price is based on European vessels. The cost of a dhow is somewhat less. It should also be remembered that virtually every culture other than European gets by with much, much smaller ships.

Carts, being much smaller than ships, fit the European = cheap motif very well. Here we have a good example in Archangel of the wood being inexpensive where it comes to a local industry ... a cart made in Archangel, for the purpose of hauling goods into the heart of Russia, is very cheap. Kazan, even better, takes great advantage of its wooded hinterland. Astrakhan, alternately, has an open steppe for hinterland, and the cost is greater. Markets in the Arabia and Persia suffer from a lack of wood and expertise.

Then there's this product:

Here is a most interesting table, defining the comparable distance to centers of learning. Constantinople beats them all out, of course. Rhodes, Alexandria, Ragusa and Beograd all take advantage of the Eastern thinking tradition. In the west, Cologne is part of the German printing industry - Nuremberg and Copenhagen less so.

Most of Europe does fairly well: Krakow, Kiyev and Kazan demonstrate that. Astrakhan begins to suffer from a dearth of books, whereas Persia and Arabia truly suffer. Historically, many Persian writers of Medieval tradition did not do their writing at home.

It occurs to me that I haven't done any processed food:

Couldn't forget this table. If it seems strange that Beograd, and not Germany, has the lowest price for beer on this table, I can only guess it is because Munich and Heidelberg are not on this list. Both Beograd and Copenhagen have big breweries inside the city limits - Cologne, an intellectual town, has only a few minor ones, and that's reflected in the cost.

Now you know why you associate cows with Denmark. The price is further influenced by the dominance of dairy farming in Holstein and southern Sweden. But the price remains fairly low across the board; again, dairying is a well dispersed industry. Only in those desert areas of Persia and Arabia is it expensive - and note the low price in Arabia Felix (Crater).

The Lahore price is, again, influenced by the absence of India. That should drop also.

Compare with the another product from a cow:

These tables should be starting to look familiar. You just can't overcome the dominance in industry that Europe has over the rest of the world. It helps to remember that these prices are relative. Leather armor might be cheaper in Beograd, but armies from Serbia are not likely to threaten Turkestan in the 17th century (a circumstance that would change in centuries to come). Thus, the price may be very expensive in Hodzhent, but that also increases the likelihood that your enemy isn't wearing any.

Plus, leather simply takes on a greater importance, especially when you compare these prices:

Obviously, no one is going to be wearing chain mail in Turkestan, Persia and Arabia. But no one did, not historically. The price of founded iron was too great to waste on such things, and it was too hot.

The dense European supply of armorer's guarantees a lower price, so that if you do want to take a gift to the Sultan of Qandahar, you know what. This set of lists might actually give you a number of ideas.

I'm pretty much done now, and a bit played out by all of this. I hope it has been an eye-opener. I'm going to work towards publishing an entire, updated list of my equipment table tomorrow. It will have to be a number of images, as blogspot can't print a large pic.

As a closer, I leave you with this last table, depicting the value you could expect to obtain if you found a mother-lode mine. Draw your own conclusions.


Chgowiz said...

Question about the land costs.

Why would tillable land be cheaper around Constantinople, which strikes me as a more urban area. If the population density is higher, wouldn't land be used for a more profitable venture - making the tillable land more valuable as there's less of a supply of it? Or am I overestimating the land use by other industries than agriculture. (I think I am.)

I am hard pressed to wrap my head around more rural areas having higher prices for land itself. The land is not transportable, so distance between towns shouldn't be a factor - the land itself is fixed and dependent on it's use. I can see why the land up in the tundra is more expensive because of the rarity of tillable land - but now we're into supply issues.

I probably need to just digest this a bit more.

Thank you for the peek into the insanity. Ever since seeing these charts back in our short blog game (which I still miss!), I've been fascinated by your system.

Alexis said...

Thank you Chgowiz, I’ve been dying for a question.

There are a couple of assumptions you’ve made that I think I can clear up. The first would be that the land that is available is local. Constantinople would have considerable ties to other markets, and thus could offer cheap land in places far distant from the city itself, in other provinces and regions ... simply because of the number of conglomerates who had business there. True, it might be difficult to find a plot fifteen yards from the Hagia Sofia, but we have a marvellous little place in Epirus that isn’t showing much interest of late. Like any land market, the price shown is only the a baseline from which to calculate more valuable land properties by location.

Conversely, Lahore is a relatively closed market; it isn’t connected and the only land for sale would be land in the Punjab.

This is part of the reason why rural areas have higher prices; less opportunity. But it is also because the price of land is completely hinged the price of grain ... which further assumes that all land which can be tilled IS being tilled. And therefore someone has to be encouraged to sell. Think of it as a period equivalent to life in the far north ... where everything is more expensive. If I sell my land, it will cost me more to buy a cart, more to buy supplies to make my way into another district, and more to move into the nearby city still in the country of my birth. The overall economy is more expensive ... and therefore the cost of land, compared to more central places, is also more expensive.

My earlier systems tried to compare the price of things to their price everywhere on earth. It was a stroke of genius to redesign the system so that the price for any individual location was not based on how a thing compared with other cities, but rather how it compared with other commodities in the same region.

After all, most people at that time lived and died never having gone more than 7 mi. from their place of birth. What does it matter what land costs in Constantinople? We live in Sweden.

Again, thank you, thank you for the question. It’s a pleasure answering.

Chgowiz said...

"Constantinople would have considerable ties to other markets, and thus could offer cheap land in places far distant from the city itself, in other provinces and regions ... simply because of the number of conglomerates who had business there."

This is based on the main engine of the economy and the main (- what's the word I'm looking for... arbiters? People in "charge"?) major players being the merchants and merchant guilds/conglomerates? I'm just thinking about my perception of the 16th century Europe and I thought it was more locally based than that - so that Constantinople would be able to effect their own region, but not the other.

I also get the impression that land was held by big money and not really traded all that much? Wouldn't the price also be affected by who was in the region as well? To your point about the cost of buying a cart and such, I always got the impression that the nobility would grant land licenses and such and didn't really care if the person on the land had to buy a cart to move off.

Land is a weird commodity, from watching/listening to my wife the realtor talk, because although it can be tied to other commodities, I get the impression that it has its own set of rules.

I'm really not poking holes into what you've done, because I certainly couldn't come up with anything better. The land thing just raised my curiousity - most everything else you've put out has a basis in logic that makes sense - which means the world you model has a level of consistency I respect.

Alexis said...

No, no, no, not taking it poorly at all. Sincerely, I enjoy the interest.

I took a Byzantine course as part of my degree some years ago and discovered that many of my misconceptions about the middle ages were quite unfounded – particularly where it came to Constantinople. And recently I read a marvellous book, mentioned on this blog, Cities and Culture, by Lewis Mumford, which also addressed this particular issue.

The Medicis in Florence, the Fuggers in Germany and earlier banking families in Europe, as well as Hanseatic groups, were trading land and goods, making loans and giving mortgages “internationally” as early as the 14th century. It happens that my world takes place in the 17th, a period chosen because I wanted a somewhat developed New World as part of my campaign. Thus land was traded a great deal.

I use a very simple equation for the availability of non-local products, which I found in an economics textbook. If the local product is “x” and the distance in days between markets is “y”, then that produce is available in a specific market by the formula:

x/y = z

The availability of land for sale is influenced by the same formula. The farther you are from land for sale, the less likely you will find it posted in the local market place.

If I wanted to create a dark ages economy, I would only need to increase the modifier for trade by 10 times, or 100 times, which would ensure a very local economy.

It occurs to me that you might also have a misconception of what I’m calling a “market.” Markets in my world would be more than simply the local village or town. Most centers in my world are not markets and do not set the price for anything – they sell strictly local goods for the price designated by the primary market in that province.

For example, the entire province of Lower Austria, which has some hundreds of thousands of people, has only 1 market: Vienna. All other cities are regulated according to that market. That is because I consider Vienna to be the only place in that province that has international ties.

This might mitigate some of the thoughts you have about land being unavailable. Even a small market would have direct ties to an area of one or two thousand square miles.

Please, poke holes. Any that get poked through will give me places in which I need to do more work.

Chgowiz said...

Beating a dead horse perhaps but... is it for simplicity's sake that you've equated land to other items by use of that formula?

I ask because I think that land would engender a different equation, but I'm not as studied in this area.

I also wonder if that equation holds up true to how land was managed and owned. A commodity or item to be bought and sold was much different than land itself, which was equal to power and standing - at least that is my understanding of things. Perhaps that is not true?

In anyrate, I'll leave it alone now - you are well versed in your system and have it working to your satisfaction.

An unrelated question - going back to the "mustard farming" - does your equation and spreadsheet allow you to recalculate for dynamic factors? Take the blog game - Dachau could have been severely affected by the invasion of the Gate. That would have had a dynamic effect on the ability for travel of goods - would it require a complete recalculation, or just a local recalculation?

Alexis said...

Dynamic Factors:

That is, at present, one step past where I am. This is true with all such things as season, natural disasters, booms, busts and the like. I can see where I'd need to modify the programming for such factors, but at the present I'm happy to leave them for the future.

I'm also a bit sick of working on these things. Now that its up and running I think I'd like to work on monsters and ship combat rules for awhile.

Chgowiz said...

I can understand/relate to that. Doing Ultima and then having to immediately think about settings, I decided to take a break and go play in Mesopotamia for awhile. Ultima will forever be my side project.

Considering what you did for giant creature combat with mass/HD/hp, I'm very curious to see how you simulate ship combat.

tussock said...

Just a thought on the Trade system as a whole presented here (loving it).

You don't seem to be pricing the coins the same way you are everything else. You need a neutral number to compare /everything/ with, including the coins, like the "value of a day of labour" (1 sp, though labour could also be a sourced good, relative to the local town and city populations).

Do that so traders aren't selling worked goods to a distant city and carrying plentiful gold coins back to where they're cheap (until the poor town runs out completely).

Instead, they're carrying to a town where coin and bank notes are rare and high value for a poor exchange, but then trading them right there for excess grain at the same now helpful ratio and carting it back to the forging city where coin is plentiful and a good exchange for wheat to buy more iron goods with at a profit overall.

Carry coin to places with none, carry goods to places with coin, rather than the other way around. If you see what I mean.

Then, when PCs arrive out in the middle of nowhere with an ancient dragon hoard, they become a new source of coin wherever they stay, changing the value of gp there from 24 "days of labour" or whatever to the standard 16 or even less. Consider the trade post they're at as isolated in the winter, no connections, and coin collapses in value.

Your gp, sp, and cp can also naturally fluctuate in their relative values where the areas have more trouble sourcing one metal or the other.

Or is 1650 just too late for that effect, with mints and banking houses spread about so as to equalise the buying value of coins everywhere?

Alexis said...


Your last line gives my reply.