Monday, October 27, 2014

Chronica Feudalis: Economics

The least-sexy of the equipment expansions, but a bugbear to battle no less, particularly after the Weapons and Armor posts.

There's a weird tendency in fantasy to eschew cost when working things out in the world. No, I'm not talking about the protagonist having things beyond his means - he's the protagonist. I mean as a whole, throughout the world. I can't count how many battle scenes I've read or watched where every last combatant had maille and plate and a sword or two at their side. This isn't objectively bad, but if you are going to sell me on a world of Lords and Dukes and Feudal structure, you should probably take some time to consider what that means.

Good equipment has always been prohibitively expensive. In the viking age, having a sword or maille was the sign of a veteran - even a chief - as only the most wealthy and powerful could afford that much iron and steel. In the crusader era, we see a similar pattern: having a sword forged would cost more than a car today, and a well-made maille hauberk would be worth more than your house. A true war-horse? Ferrari, sir. Ferrari. Eventually, the west discovers better ways to heat and make steel bringing the cost of metal arms down, but like apple products today the prices never really go down; the toys just get more advanced and the rest of us just hope the outdated things entered our price range.

The down-side of the one-die system to rate all of the equipment is the same as my essential qualms with D&D's gear listing: the cost of things is dependent on how 'powerful' they are, not how much they actually cost to make. This is definitely one way to do it, but we already have some weirdness. In vanilla CF, spears and swords are both rated at d8. This is fine for combat, and even for defense, but do they cost the same? Though any soldier worth his rations would have been familiar with spear-work, spears were the standard weapon of peasant militia specifically because they were so cheap to make by comparison. Part of the mystique of the sword has been that it was a hero's weapon. A chieftain. A knight. Someone who wasn't a dirty peasant. In most eras throughout history, swords were relatively rare on the battlefield compared to the number of men with spears, daggers, axes and modified farm tools. It isn't until right before the era of plate that steel production became cheap enough to allow such blades to be regularly acquired by the ignoble.

We can find similar issues elsewhere in our weapons list: the club or staff is generally just a bit of carved (or uncarved) wood. Halberds were weapons issued en masse to guards and infantry.

Labor Costs
Due to cost of labor and materials with the technology of the day, certain items cost more or less than their die would suggest. They may have one of the following tags applied to them. If an item is not tagged, you can assume that it costs the normal amount.

Worthless items are those that can be just as easily made by yourself and may be purchased at up to 2 steps lower than their list cost, to a minimum of d4. However, in most cases, given the opportunity and resources a character could fashion such an item themselves. These items generally do not have a barter or resell value.

Simple items are those that are readily available and fairly inexpensive. They may be purchased for one die step lower than their listed die.

Complex items are those that are extremely expensive to make or purchase and represent a significant investment in the character's personal wealth. These items are generally made specifically for the person. Rare items generally don't sell below a d12 or d20, regardless of what their die listing is.

A little knowledge of history will go a long way with this one. In a viking setting, maille will be a d12 easily and a finely made sword is a king's ransom at d20 - a thing of chiefs, kings, and heroes. By the crusader era, an arming sword could drop to d12, and you might even let the hauberk slip to d10 if you were feeling generous. Spears and (when available) halberds are generally Common items. Clubs and Staves are worthless. Use common sense when applicable. I may create a full price list for my campaign later, but for now I think this serves well enough.

An Alternate Take
After discussing this with a friend of mine, he came up with a simpler way to handle the whole thing. Use either method.

Use the dice as listed normally, but keep all item purchases in-character (thus the GM can price appropriately). Use the following guidelines:
  • Nobody trades worthless items, such as clubs
  • Large die, but small workload items sell for one die less (spear, dane axe, halberd)
  • Small die, larger workload items sell for two dice higher (coif, helm, fine jewelry)
  • Extremely rare and massive workload items sell for d20 (sword, maille hauberk)
Trading with items works the same as trading with the Purse, except for the item put forth into the trade should be at least equal die value than the item that one hopes to gain. Also, as items are kind of generic in value, the GM should agree that the trade is reasonable. If the protagonist's roll succeeds, he will lose his item of course, as the change of goods occurs. If the roll fails however, the other party will not agree to the trade for whatever reason. Retries are possible, but the protagonist must make a better offer, which means that he should either offer another item for trade with a higher die type, or combine his current offer with other items to make the die value go up as per purse rules.

If the initial trade item value is d20 (it can't go up), then at least a d8 value item must be added to the retry, then an additional d10 item for the next retry (can't be combined up from d8) and so on.

Characters with applicable aspects (Shrewd Trader) can invoke them here.

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