Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Workers Of The World ... Stand Up And Be Counted. Please.

While it happens that blogspot seems incapable of producing comments on the last post (I know of two that are not showing on the page), I'll just repeat here to Adam that while I found his comeback very funny, I don't actually have any intentions of incorporating any of the things he suggests from point (3) on down.  Ever.

He is, however, quite right about point (1): I do know the amount of raw materials available in my world.  Sadly, point (2), that I have a pretty good idea of what kind of labor any given item will require to produce, is dead wrong.

In actual fact, I haven't the slightest idea.

Consider, if you will, a sword.  It is made of metal, which is fashioned from a variety of ores - namely, an alloy of iron, nickle and manganese.  I know how much of those three substances are produced in my world, and I can calculate the price of the sword from the availability of those substances, and from the availability of services to make the weapon.  Unfortunately, that 'availability' is calculated according to an abstract economic model which does NOT incorporate labor.  Why?  Because stats for labor don't exist.  They simply don't.

Let us say that we know how much rock a miner can clear in the space of a day.  Does that give us any idea of how much ore he produces?  No.  Ore exists as a percentage of the rock, a percentage that varies widely from mine to mine, worldwide.  Whereas one miner might find that 4% of the rock cleared is valuable ore, another miner might be working a vein where every ounce is.  Or it may take weeks, months, even years of solid work to get to that vein ... work which produces no economic value at all.  Knowing that a set amount of ore is produced from a given mine gives me no idea whatsoever how much labor was needed to produce that ore.  It doesn't even suggest how many miners might be involved.

Farming is exactly the same ... though some might assume otherwise.  But while the grain in a particular field might grow over a given, measurable period, this does not tell me how many people were employed in sowing, weeding and harvesting that grain.  I have anecdotal accounts from the medieval period that says one family typically lived on 30 acres of land - but how large is the family?  How many of the children contributed to the labor?  To what degree does the production of the grain depend upon temporary workers, which we know were employed by peasants? (cotters and such were landless peasants who performed labor in return for food)

And in any event, knowing how much labor it required to produce a field of grain gives no clue or comparison to the number of men needed to produce the ore in the above example.

Add to this that even if I knew how many laborers might work in a mine that produced such and such an amount of ore (which I don't), this wouldn't be any help in knowing how many it took to puddle the ore, or smelt it into the alloy, or even how long it took the blacksmith to hammer the metal into a sword.  How much of the blacksmith's time was wasted in having to reforge a weapon in which an impurity in the metal itself occurred?  How much longer did it take to make a broadsword as compared to a cuirass?  Was it less time?

We simply don't know.  Such information, for every conceivable item that a D&D player might purchase, has never been recorded.  Modern measurements of time to do work are useless, since they are post-industrial ... and at any rate, they'd be a lie.  For instance, how long does it take to do your job, compared with how long your boss thinks it takes?  Why would the medieval world be any different.

It has been a long-time head-scratcher, to be sure, contemplating how to calculate a day's wages from the production of goods.  It is frustrating that I can know a particular city is responsible for the production of a given percentage of the world's swords (or processed tobacco or apple cider or felt hats), but I haven't the first clue how many swordmakers there are.

I'd love an encompassing strategy to solve it, because all too often my parties want to hire people and I'm stuck throwing darts at a dartboard.


Jim said...

I don't know that any system could be created that wouldn't be exceptionally complicated and way too crunchy for my taste. YMMV. I'd base the time it takes on the final price of the object. More expensive = more detailed work = more time (in most cases). Let's say your highly skilled craftsman could produce 100 gp of finished product in 1 week of work. Feel free to adjust this up or down. You could then divide the total time by the number of workers to get the actual time. You could build in a fudge factor of +/- 1d6 weeks for randomness sake. So, a small galley out of the 1st Ed PHB is 10,000 gp. That would take one man over two years to build. Ten men could do it in 10 weeks. (Obviously you can't keep throwing men at it -- at some point you have diminishing returns...) Maybe a minimum of 1 week per 1000 gp no matter what... I don't know if it helps, but its a start... :)

Zak S said...

Could you take gross population figures for a small village or town plus all the available commodity-production figures and work to see if you could get them to meet in the middle?

i.e. Ok, there are x number of people, they produce enough to feed themselves plus, also, this much of a, b, and c, minus people involved in jobs we historically are aware of that didn't produce anything (administration, etc.)...

And then test the results against another such town and see if it makes sense?

There has to be a few villages that some maniac historian has exhaustively catalogued population (using birth and death records and last names) and production figures, if nothing else.

This obviously won't work for mining specifically, because the purity of the rock varies, but it could work for enough other things that you could say "Well, what's left over must be mining."

Plus, wouldn't an exhaustive analysis of how much a given village (or pair thereof) produces and how many people it takes to do it just be a generally useful thing to know for sim-D&D?

Alexis said...


I know that meant well, but I'd guess you haven't read through the trade posts on this blog, and haven't really any idea of how complex my pricing system is. While prices may change worldwide, the labor needed to make any single object is always the same. It is impossible to extrapolate the latter from the former with any viability.


You have identified correct the reason for my working on the information that I posted under the title, Estate du General.

Sorry, it was an interesting exercise, but you can't found an all inclusive system on this sort of thing without pulling a lot of rabbits out of a lot of hats; I can think of all sorts of ways to come up with a guess-based methodology ... but farming and mining are not the only industries. There are just too many occupations to use the argument 'whatever is left over' to really work.

Zak S said...

What about just taking a small village whose buildings haven't changed since whatever century and just trying to account for who in which building did what?

Forgive me if you've tried it.

Mincer of Logic said...

Not sure if you'll find this useful, but it has some demographics that are apparently based on primary source material.


It doesn't list sword makers specifically but it does list blacksmiths.

Adam Thornton said...

Yeah, I was thinking along the same lines as Zak. There probably are extant guild rolls and quite possibly fixed prices for objects (for instance, scribal labor had fixed rates per line, and I would not be surprised to learn that this extended to, say, a standard rate that wheelwrights were allowed to charge for coach wheels or whatever). These prices probably should be representative of being slightly more than the production cost of the item, but not so high as to be reckoned exorbitant. You can extrapolate from the items you ARE able to find out about this way to other ones of similar size and complexity.

You also probably can find actual mercantile records in the right archives (I wonder if any of this is online--probably not for the right period, although something like the Perseus project may have parts of it for the Classical world), although these will of necessity be spot checks rather than any sort of complete transaction history. And don't forget about things like the Roman grain dole, which distort a supply-and-demand market by guaranteeing a selling price for bread, because the government was willing to spend some coin to keep the poor fed and not rioting.

You'll never get it *right*--there are, as you say, too many unresolvable variables, and there is, in any event, the problem that some smiths, doubtless, just HAMMERED FASTER than others. But if you really wanted to, you could probably get it somewhere between "plausible" and "probably pretty damn close on average". You can't eliminate guesswork, but you can gradually reduce the scope of the guesses.

However, even this approach is only going to work for urban economies in which there is fairly abundant cash. In rural areas barter will remain so common as to make this kind of analysis useless, and you'd have to account for seasonal fluctuations in the value and supply of barter goods, and, damn. However, you can equally well make the case that only in cities will you FIND the interesting things your players want to buy, as opposed to "ten pecks of root vegetables and six chickens," which, while requiring seasonal adjustment, at least can probably be calculated fairly readily with your model.

Now, the payback for that immense amount of labor might well be insufficient. God knows *I* wouldn't do it, but then, although I love reading your economics of your world posts, I would never actually build such a complex trade model myself. I don't know where your work-to-reward equation balances.


Alexis said...

Thank you Mincer. I came across this years ago.

And thank you to everyone for the suggestions. I know that you mean well.

Jim said...

Yep. I had no idea... :)