Economics is a glossed-over topic for most RPGs, especially D&D – but I think it’s an important piece that’s missing. Since the level of wealth accumulated by adventurers tends to dwarf the costs of a standard equipment list pretty early on, the actual economy of D&D is really based almost entirely on the magic item list, . For Lost Worlds, I want to make magic rare and interesting, so the economy is going to have to be based on something else.
As a player, I think I’d have a much firmer grasp of the world if I knew how much coin a beggar expected in his cup, how much a tankard of ale should cost, how much a masterwork broadsword is worth, and how much it would take to build a fort on that hill. My guess is that most players have no idea in their game. I would also guess that the rules don’t much answer those questions, or if they do, they’re not clearly presented.
Without knowing the answers though, how do you value those coins you’ve found in that forgotten tomb? In my games, there have been plenty of weird moments where players decide to spend their money on things other than magic items, and there’s no reference point. Players drop 20 gold coins into the cups of beggars, try to bribe a guard with 100 gold coins, spend several gold coins on rounds of drinks – and I generally just gloss it over and move on with the game. It would be nice to have a true understanding of what all of this was worth. How else can the players really value the wealth they find?
Since I want to start the characters early, and give them room to grow – I think we need to either start somewhere lower on the ladder of wealth than gold coins, or we need to add additional levels of wealth beyond gold coins. Since we’re going gritty, I think we need either a copper, or silver-based economy.
I’m leaning toward a silver-based economy, where most prices are quoted in silver, not in gold. Players can start by acquiring a mix of copper and silver, and those coppers they scrape together can actually be put to use. I want copper to feel like more than pennies not worth the time and effort to even pick up. Once a character has progressed through the to high levels, earning gold would put them on the level of nobility. Keeps and warships would be the kinds of things denominated in gold coins, and would be in reach at higher levels of the game.
Even with a silver-based economy, I think starting wealth would be based in coppers (a far cry from the gold 100’s of gold coins heroes get to start with in D&D). I’ll have item qualities, and starting characters are going to have to make do with some poor quality equipment before they make a name for themselves. I’ll need to do some research on how much various occupations earned in the middle ages, but I think I’m going to work with the assumption that a peasant would earn about 500 silver pieces a year, before church tithes and taxes. That would give them about one silver piece a day to live on, so I’d need to base the cost of things on that minimum level of barely living wage. In addition, I’d want my campaign setting to tell me how much would represent a significant sum to a: beggar, peasant, artisan, shop keeper, nobleman, etc. I need to find the sweet spot on this for time and effort and effective valuation and some verisimilitude in the economy. A detailed model for even a middle ages economy can get pretty complex.
Also, ancient coins are awesome. I wish there was a good way to capture how interesting these old coins are in the actual play of the game.