Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Economy in the Dark Ages campaign

So much for "light posting" - I always say that and then I have half a million things to yack about. However, in light of the really fascinating articles that Alexis has been posting on Tao about economies in a "D&D Earth Simulation", I thought I would post this "letter" I just sent to some players in my Dark Ages campaign. I'm going to send all of them the link to this post.

(BTW, Alexis, I have no doubt this will make you weep, but this is my first crack at even thinking about this sort of thing - in the past, I would have thrown dice and pulled a number out of my ass... but you are inspiring me to think about it.)

The whole thing started when the players requested to know how much housing would cost. It was a reasonable question, but it's opened up a whole can of worms.

Up till now, I've put "drain costs" (cost of living) at 1cp for subsistence, 1sp for "common room" living and 1gp for "private room" living, per day. This means a certain amount of food - subsistence, getting by, and comfortable, respectively. That was just by "seat of my pants" and no thought behind it. However, it doesn't give me any sort of metric of how to estimate the cost of renting a room, or building. Again, I could wing it, but this time I wanted to see if I could crunch numbers in a reasonable way.

The name of the game for human civilization in the current time of my Dark Ages game is survival. Civilization is sliding backwards thanks to a cataclysmic event. Food is the "driver" of the current economy, moreso than property. In better times, property and goods were more of a basis, but it was related to food. Now food is king. People want to eat and the economy drives on the unit of food - how much someone eats per day.

What you're about to read below will probably make you wince. It's not an accurate simulation by any means. I used my cost for a chicken (10sp) as a starting point. Why? Because it "felt" right to me. I'm not much of a simulationist, but I am trying to be somewhat reasonable in my thoughts - and I needed a starting point.

I've calculated that it costs roughly 3sp a day to eat a portion of meat, bread and beer/water to have a decent living. This does represent a change to what I had originally just "winged" as a cost of living. How did I get there?

Let's take a chicken and a cow. On "just pulling numbers from books and whatnot", a chicken costs 10sp in Enonia, and a cow costs 20gp. I think that came from the 1EPHB, or perhaps OSRIC.

This means a chicken, which can feed 10 people (8oz meat per person, 80 ozs, 80/16oz in a lb is 5 lbs which is a reasonable weight of a chicken) costs 1sp/day/person. A cow, which can feed 820 portions from a 1,000 lb cow at 42% usage (rough estimates), would cost about 82gp on the basis of meat alone. A cow and chicken have the ability of reproducing and bringing more animals and therefore increased profits, so they should cost more. This is all "napkin math" to get us to a certain point. I like the feel of a chicken feeding 10 people a day, so I feel good about the 1sp a day for meat.

This also means my prices for cows are way low and my chickens are probably going to cost more now too.

So... on the basis of those assumptions - 1sp/day meat (8oz), 1sp/day bread, 1sp/day beer (3cp @ pint - roughly 4 pints for enough "liquid" for a day) - An average person needs to earn 720 sp a year to eat. (3 * 240 days). 72 gold. Roughly 2.5 gold every 30 days.

Figure the average tax is about 20% of wages - so we're up to 90gp to just eat.

Now figure housing is roughly 30 to 40% of wages after taxes, if the person is out and out renting and not in some sort of service to the landowner (like farmers) - so now we're up to wages being around 150 a year (30gp for taxes, ~48gp for housing, ~72gp for food) just to pay taxes, live in a small place and eat.

Now that's not including things like clothing and other items to merely live by. However, THAT gives me a basis for the economy of an average Joe. An average person would earn 6sp, 3cp a day. 3 sp for food, 2 sp for living, 1sp 3cp for taxes. Anything above that is profit.

If we go to 175 gp a year - then we make a profit of 25 gp. That *might* handle inflation and price changes - winter is roughly a 1/3 of the year in my campaign and prices will go up - so if we figure 25% increase on average - that increases the cost of food by 6gp - so now we're up to needing to earn ~ 156, which gives us 19 gp to do things to improve our station during a year.

19gp profit - not much - when you consider that a cow costs 82gp... which means that we're probably looking at someone who wants to afford some "breathing room" probably needs to earn about 200gp a year. (A cow could feed a family of 3 for a year, not counting spoilage).

So, I know that an average person, like a craftsman or apprentice (non-indentured) needs to earn 175 to 200gp a year in my campaign. How does that translate to basic housing costs? I don't know... I have to think about that more. I'm assuming basic living - a roughly 2 room dwelling for sleeping and food preparation.

This also means that I may have to revisit ALL the pricing because now that I have a basis of economy - 150gp a year for an average person - a short sword which has x amount of metal and materials, plus y time for a person to create and make a profit...

In terms of land ownership in my campaign...

Prior to the Doom, the King was considered to own all lands, except for the lands he titled to others (or his official regents titled/deeded to others) as their own. This would be "name class" and nobility. Someone like Kristian Sion or Rirallo MacKine were probably titled the land that their shops are on, due to family and importance to the community. All other lands are either run by the town/cities or administered by the nearest Lords/representatives of the King, which in this case is Marshall Roen. So in terms of ownership, the abandoned buildings would revert in ownership back to the King, if they had ever left the King's ownership in the first place.

Part of the town guard's duty is to prevent squatters and to note who is living where. I've been making weekly rolls based on an even 10% chance that the players will be noticed/rousted - so far, they've gotten very lucky - no hits. At some point, they're going to be noticed. So their first stop will be to inquire to the Town Council clerk(s) as to the availability of the building they're squatting in.

The lands outside the Kingdom, in the now abandoned wildlands? A person is on their own. No taxes, but no protection. The Settlers who wanted to settle a new farm hamlet in Valenia were hoping to stake a claim - but there be monsters out there...


Alan said...

Here's something that may be of use:

Stephen Simpson said...

Not sure if this feedback will be helpful or not...

But your meat yields are off.

An average chicken is about 4lbs, with about 2.5 - 3.0 lbs of usable meat per.

An average cow will give you about a 65% yield of meat ... maybe as high as 75% if you take a liberal view of "edible".

I know this is extremely retentive, but I figured since you were going to all that trouble anyway...

Erin Palette said...

Maybe they're Dire Chickens?

Okay, I originally meant that as a joke, but why not? If there are dire versions of other animals around, including herbivores (I know I've seen a Dire Caribou in one of the books) then why *not* a Dire Chicken?

On the upside, it would feed more people, do better in harsh environments, produce larger eggs and could actually defend itself against thieves and/or predators.

On the downside, you'd need a much sturdier coop; getting eggs would be a potentially life-threatening experience (which is why you have level 2+ peasants running around); they'd eat more than regular chickens; and beware the randiness of the Dire Rooster...

Stephen Simpson said...

Dire chicken?


In the grand tradition of the owlbear ...

... all must fear the chickenboar!!!

Erin Palette said...

No, no. A Chickenboar is inefficient and inelegant.

A Turkeyboar, *that's* where it's at!

Norman J. Harman Jr. said...

First, don't need to apologize for maybe making people wince. If people don't like something it's there problem not yours.

I've vaguely thought about this subject but didn't even know were to start. Even if your numbers/analysis is all wrong (which I don't think it is) it's helped me see how I could even get started. Working up from what someone needs to eat per day.

One thing I noticed (which I hope is constructive input) is that you don't consider the "costs of production" for chickens and cows. You have to feed, shelter, and take care of them before you partake of their juicy deliciousness. This makes them even more expensive.

Which brings me to my main point. I believe esp in medieval times animals were used for their utility (eggs, milk, wool, pulling carts) far more than being slaughtered. It's just too expensive. Only rich people get to eat meat with any regularity.

Agriculture, esp grain is my suggested "daily eatable" unit of measure.

But ya know what, screw it. If you like having chicken in every pot and decide in your world meat cost X so avg worker earns Y then so be it. It's not a scientific simulation. Napkin math and being just good enough is all you need.

Alexis Smolensk said...

You're right, I'm weeping. I'm grinning too.

Michael S/Chgowiz said...

I appreciate all the comments and suggestions.

With regards to yields, I went with what I googled - the yields for cows in medieval times were lower.

Norman - you're exactly right, and I'm not sure that's a road I want to travel. To be really brutally honest, I don't enjoy this so much. While it's fascinating from a process standpoint and a knowledge standpoint, I don't enjoy crunching the numbers and trying to set up strings of rationales to build the equations to fit my world. I'm definitely going with napkin math and move on. That's why I was initially hesitant about posting this, for fear I would get hammered on my assumptions.

However, if I'm going to put the effort into it, I did want at least some rationale, even if tenuous and full of holes. My struggle right now is determining how a chicken/cow cost relates to property values. My assumption is going to be that the property value is related to how the property could be used for food production and go from there, including cost of buildings on the land, etc. Rental will be a subset of that. In the end, it's a guess unless I invest the time and energy that someone like Alexis has invested into the calculations - and I'm just not interested in that. It's a nod to some semblance of reality, but not much.

Stephen Simpson said...

>>My assumption is going to be that the property value is related to how the property could be used for food production and go from there, including cost of buildings on the land, etc.<<

That's precisely how it's always been done. The only difference is that typically the value is based upon the grain-growing ability of the land in question, and not the animal-raising ability of the land.

Meat wasn't a very common part of the diet anywhere in the world until the last century or so. So, villagers would keep a chicken coop (for eggs) and maybe a few cattle (oxen/buffalo for fieldwork and milk) and hogs. But animal-raising was never the primary use of the land unless it was unfit for crops.

You might want to consider a system that was actually used in Japan until the 1800's. In essence, land was categorized and valued by the amount of rice it could grow.

The relevant unit of measure was called the koku -- it was the amount of rice that could feed one person for one year (about 150kg in modern terms or a cubic meter). So, people's land holdings were measured in koku, taxes and tithes were assessed in koku, and so on.

I guess it really doesn't matter if you use a meat-based system or a grain-based system ... and I hope I don't seem pedantic about it.

In any case, the food-growing potential of a piece of land is precisely how land was valued up until the age of urbanization.

Anonymous said...

The economics of D&D aren't actually that far off. A peasant with 40 acres and a mule can make about 6,000 lbs of grain a year. It takes about 4,000 lbs to feed his family. A lb of wheat costs 1 cp according the DMG, which yields 60 gp a year. Knock off 1/3 for taxes, you get 40 gp a year... or about 1 sp a day.

Which is the price of unskilled labor. :D

I went through all this for my game, and wrote it down (Ye Olde Shoppe, available from DriveThruRPG). I'd love to know if its something you find useful.