Thursday, September 24, 2009
My research into Sumerian history and Mesopotamia for the Tombs of Hulkursag has taken me into some really cool mental exercises. Part of the module will be to introduce my take on an alternative history of Mesopotamia, where the Gods really do walk the Earth. (This, by the way, has made me very aware that I don't have a single source book on Deities - no OD&D or AD&D books). Reading up on the culture and viewpoints makes me realize how cultural D&D really is. I know this is no surprise to the smarter of my readers, but it's the difference of "hearing" it and really seeing it.
One such area is the concept of treasure. We, as players, are used to gold pieces, gems, scrolls and things that "feel" right - we're not that far removed from reality in how we view wealth and things of value. Taking a step back into history means that we're winding back the clock and our conceptions on how wealth was collected and distributed. The above quotes really point that out - coin currency wasn't widely used until maybe late in the Mesopotamian era, more likely in the early Greek era. Trade was based on barter and a rough conceptualization of the value of commodities against each other. Silver was the standard and it's use wasn't a "coin" but a weight equivalent. This means that our intrepid band of adventurers exploring the Lands between the Rivers aren't going to be finding chests of gold.
Wealth was also expressed in jewelry and adornments, as well as possessions. Mesopotamian tombs (what few have been found) are not filled with coins, but with rings, necklaces, crowns and headdresses and items of value like musical instruments, oxen carts and even slaves. Now everyone seems to love finding lots of gems and jewels, but what is the very first thing the vast majority of the adventurers do? They go find a fence in town and get gold coins. That's not going to happen in Mesopotamia.
This brings me to a design issue - how far to do I "break" the conventional wisdom of D&D? When players sit down for D&D, there are expectations based on previous play and based on what we perceive D&D to be. Presenting a module and setting that breaks those expectations too much makes it possible that people are going to get frustrated and give up. Do players really want to buy equipment based on trading 5 shekels of grain that they have to store and carry somewhere? I doubt it. I know I wouldn't want to do that - and that's a metric I usually use on my first decisions about a game - would I like it?
I think I may change the terms, but leave the basics the same - gold is now "silver (ingots/shekels)" (same diff), silver becomes "copper" - there is no equivalent to copper pieces in my game. Players won't find mounds and mounds of gold, but if I cast it right, the difference is more in the names, not the feel.
Treasure is going to be more about finding the jewelry and gems and things that can be traded. I'll give equivalent values (in silver) but players won't be able to fence the 3 rings and 2 copper helmets into coins - so they'd better find a secure place to hold their stashes.
Another interesting point is that metal is rare - so much so that finding a metal weapon is equivalent to finding a +1 to +3 weapon.
Does breaking the convention too far limit what you can do, especially in terms of the "rewards"? I think we're all used to strange settings and even limits on classes and races, but the treasure and methods of economy in D&D? I'm not so sure.
What do you think?
(Picture from studio22k.com)