Monday, July 25, 2011

The Jeweller's Dilemma

Here I am back in harness after vacation.  And I will be getting started on the equipment tables again, for those readers who might be concerned.  The only reason I haven't been doing so this last week has been the problems associated with the Jeweller.

Price this.
My idea was to produce a simple table that would randomly generate jewelry varieties, then determine randomly what the materials would be; and then determine randomly the workmanship; and then determine randomly if there were any gems, what kind of gems, how many gems and of what size.
And it is in the matter of gems that I ran straight in quicksand.

See, part of the problem is that in reality, most jewellers don't sell jewellery that is wildly valuable.  Oh, sure, 'Tiffanys' exists somewhere, but most of the time the jeweller of a small town is going to make their money on selling trinkets to the masses, things made of copper, brass, pewter or bronze, with a bit of silver thrown in.  Gold is very expensive, even white gold, so likely only a few pieces would exist, usually white gold, 14K or 18K.  Platinum might turn up, but that might be just one or two pieces in the district.

That's no problem, but when determining which gems go into what items, the considerations start to produce a lot - and I mean a LOT - of individualized tables.

For example, if the jewellery item is a ring, it can only have a stone that is so large; a brass ring wouldn't have a precious stone set into it, and a gold ring wouldn't be set with an ornamental stone ... but excellent workmanship that's present in the former might mean a better setting while ordinary workmanship in the latter might mean that something like a citrine or a bloodstone wasn't out of place.  If the piece is an earring, the stone can be much larger than the setting, since it can hang from a tiny bit of gold, so the balance of what kind of stone can be mixed with what kind of base metal is different.  If the item is a necklace, it might have very little metal and a lot of gems, or it may have only a few gems set in lots of metal.  Moreover, a necklace could be one string, or it could be ten strings, so there has to be an algorithm for determining the actual size of the item, which has to be a separate algorithm for determining the size of a tiara or a locket, since obviously the range on a necklace is far greater.

And all this is in relation to the trade tables themselves, which determine the type of gem or metal according to the part of the world one is in, so that turquoise would be common in jewelry here but rare over there, while over there pewter would be common but over there pewter would be non-existent.  And so it goes.  With all these different comparisons and random elements and circumstances and associations mixed together with the costs for lapidary and gemcutting and so on and so forth, I did reach a point last Tuesday where - after four days of fighting with it - I wanted to scream and stop trying.  And since I was on vacation, I did.

I have not felt a need to pick it up since, so I may leave off the jeweller's table (and probably the lapidary's as well) for now and just move forward.  At this point, that seems healthy.  Then, when it no longer is holding up the posting of the grand table, I can get back to it and work at a half-rate version which can be steadily improved.

Look for me to get something up for the tables tomorrow or the day after.


Oddbit said...

I do think this is quite a challenge in comparison to most of the products you implement in your system. Without belittling the object itself it would be difficult to sum up the value of the item specifically and regionally.

Aside from limiting the number of types of gems and number of types of materials, you're looking at assembling something difficult to do in Excel. If you were to limit it to X types of gems, and X different size of gems, and X numbers of materials, you're looking at creating a single sheet per piece of jewelry.

It might honestly be easier just to create the random list on request. Determine a number of items with approximate values, then when a player comes in looking for something in specific roll to see if it's in there.

If it weren't such an important part of looting and pillaging. And such a valuable item, you might be able to just break it down into basic values. Just as you might another composite item. You might not break down each patch of leather and thread into the spreadsheet for a leather jacket. Or the materials for each piece in a set of plate mail.

Eric said...

Yes, this one is fairly brutal. I notice that it's a real-world problem for jewelry companies too:

Strixy said...

Have you considered starting with the value and calculating what might fit, kind of working the problem backward?

Sometimes (random) it could start with the type of jewelry ie. A ring, a neckless, a broach, etc. Sometimes it could start with the type of stone, the number of stones, etc. In all cases the remainder is used to find the appropriate value of the next random piece of the puzzle until there is a ruby, cut, set well in a solitaire ring... And 3cp, the remainder of the calculation. You could build on that to split the value of the haul into random chunks of value, place those random chunks into the calculation and produce a list, including the total of whatever value is the total of the remainder in coin. So if the total value of the haul is 100gp, random chunk that into 3 items of 40gp,30gp, and 20gp. That's 3 items of randomly generated jewelry for the haul.

That doesnt quite fit with you equipment table, but it would solve the issue of distributing loot to character parties. The tables could be reversed I suppose to calculate the price of a found item. I'm lost from that point though.

Eric said...

I would think jewelry demand would be somewhat localized too, perhaps not to the same extent as for alcohol, but that that would be something that would affect what was at the local jeweler too. The example that comes to mind for me is that growing prosperity in India is putting pressure on the price of gold, since it's a traditional marriage gift in many parts of India if you can afford it. The small-town jeweler is going to stock a fair number of rings that are suitable for local weddings; there may not be the same market for jewelry not produced in the local style.

Oddbit said...

@Eric: Assuming your weddings require jewelry.

@Strixy: The problem mainly isn't generating the jewelry. It's generating the jewelry automatically via Excel spreadsheet. Excel spreadsheets aren't exactly the best for dynamic fields. Usually you have to set exact limits on the data. Therefore there would have to be at most X types of gems, each type having at least 4 visible cells. Meaning each type of gem would likely have a row to itself, meaning each piece in the excel sheet takes up like 6 rows for a necklace with 3 different sized emeralds of the same cut, one diamond, and made out of gold. And if you wanted anything more complicated, you would likely have to reserve more rows. The example necklace taking up a TON.

Currently most of his items take up one row.

Alexis said...

Oddbit has the matter very well in hand. That is exactly the problem.

There is one other consideration that I haven't mentioned. In the real world, the details of the jewellery is obvious to the eye, but for D&D it requires that the jewellery be described rather extensively so that's its re-sale value can be determined by the DM six months later.

For example, consider a pair of earrings and what the player would have to record. D&D would usually have us describe it as "gold earrings with fancy gems," worth 150 g.p.

But I am forced to have the players write, "14K gold earrings of typical setting with level two workmanship, with one citrine, polished and cherry-sized, three bloodstone, polished and pea-sized, and 12 blue zircons, gemcut, pin-head sized." Granted, it's not War and Peace, but can you imagine writing out a list of 20 jewelry found as treasure? If the piece of jewelry, lawd help us, turns out to be like the one in the picture, we're talking a lot of intricate detail to write down how many stones of which type so it can be priced again ... because even if I keep the thing on file (and I'm not keeping every piece of jewelry on file, I'm generating more and more randomly), then I still have to work out the price if it is sold somewhere it wasn't purchased. And the bookkeeping is dumped on the player.

Eric said...

There's no way (that I can see) to make sure that a random assortment of gems and metal looks remotely pleasing. Bloodstone doesn't look like it'd go well set next to any other gems. Those would be some big, gaudy earrings even if all the stones were the same, just from the gem count, unless they're set around the outside of a big hoop or something.