Shifting From Economics to Logistics

Imagine your basic D&D. Your character starts with about 100 gp, so you buy a basic weapon (10 gp), maybe a shield (10 gp), maybe some light armor (20 gp), a backpack (5 gp), some resources for crawling (10 gp). I'm high-balling most of this, and you still end up with 45 gp leftover. Maybe you spend all that on some additional tools. But then you go to a dungeon and you end up with maybe like 200 gp. All you spent at character creation is pocket change. After a while, money stops meaning anything. You want it, you got it.

A couple months ago, I tackled a different issue which was the persistence of coin-based economy even into slot-based games. Abstract it all! I said. Turn it all into slots! Unit quantities! Abstraction! I think that the approach was right, but that there was also a deeper problem left unanswered. What is money good for anyway? We take for granted a certain question that, once you advance in D&D, what do you do with all the gold you acquire? The standard answers have been going carousing, establishing institutions, or burying it in holes—all ways of blowing money that you need to get rid of, while also tying it into (more advanced) ways of acquiring experience (via wasting, spending, or hoarding money).

That's all fine but notice how, no matter which way you go, money is no longer an object for typical adventuring expenses. There are basically two functions of money: to purchase starting equipment with what little you start off with, or to progress by accumulating obscene amounts of it. In between those two things, there isn't really a middle ground where it feels sensible to count pennies. Like, yeah, let me just subtract 10 gp from 1000 (?!). That's 1%. You want to do math that has a 1% impact?


Here's my pitch: I think slot-based treasure from before makes sense and should be used in those three ways we typically use it (waste it, spend it, hoard it). You still need to accumulate a lot of treasure. But as far as typical expenses go, buying supplies for yourself as an individual, what you can afford to buy is a less interesting question than what others can afford to sell (or give).

We're already used to characters starting off with stuff, so that's out of the way. If you want new stuff, you need to be selective. Imagine that most settlements are villages or, less common, small towns. They're not going to have a lot to give, and they're probably not going to want to give you everything. Just say that each village can offer d6 common items per session, or each town 2d6 items (or double all that?). Need a bundle of torches, a week's rations, or a simple tool? Take your pick wisely, because they can only afford to give you so much. Maybe you can barter with items you already have to get something new, too. Maybe it even costs 1 supply point to host y'all in a room for one night.

I think of this as also being one form of abstract supply, except that it's basically based on where you are. You can get new stuff so long as you haven't bought much from town yet, or you have something to trade. Maybe you can even declare you bought something from that town while you're in the same hex. I don't know; I think the potential for restrained flexibility is interesting.


Meanwhile, villages won't take treasure. They can't afford to give you enough in return, and it's not much use to them anyway. You probably have to go to a city to trade treasure for nice items like armor or a horse or a night of balling or whatever. Or you can save up treasure, hiding it in a cave or putting it in a bank or something, so you can spend it on establishing something and building a name for yourself (like maybe it costs 10 treasure to train for downtime, or 50 treasure to build a temple). But I think that is all less interesting to me personally (it's just standard old D&D) than the logistical game above.

One final bit I have is that each treasure item should give everyone the same reward. Like, if a treasure has a value of 3, everyone gets 3 treasure points rather than trying to split that between a group of people. There is not much of a difference between 20 or 25 gp when trying to split 100 gp between 5 or 4 people, and that's a bit much. Since we balance things so often by saying, "This is an adventure for 3-5 people!", why not just cut the conversion part? "This adventure can get everyone to level 2!" That's easier and more flexible.


I think differentiating between these two 'economic spheres' of the game will go a long way in simplifying both, especially since they are in such different game contexts from one another. It's also even less of an accounting headache than counting bags of coins, which are themselves hard to justify in a fiction context than just saying "You can afford this" or "They can't afford this." Also too, if it's something you're still interested in, you can still have the treasure accumulation thing.


  1. Hi Marcia. Nice, thoughtful post. I agree with the thrust of your main point at 'Supplies': the game is more interesting if low tech economies are more naturalistic and markets imperfect. As I'm sure you're aware, older games and their imitators often handle this with tables of percentage chances for the availability and dice rolls for the number of available items of ordinary equipment, and their local prices, according to market/ settlement size. Sometimes those can be a bit overwrought (do we really need to told that the chances of finding a complete suit of gothic plate in mint condition for sale in an isolated hamlet is low - see Dragon Warriors for an example). But a similar effect can easily be achieved on the fly by applying a bit of common sense: assign a 1-6 in 6 chance and roll a die, if you miss by one, then there's less/ fewer than you want, or they want something tricky in exchange, or its broken or incomplete, or not really what you asked for.

    The idea of exhausting a small settlement's supply of exchange goods is also interesting, and might have a seasonal aspect. You can have as many turnips as you want anytime, but don't ask for a green bean outside summer. At certain times of year, the PC's brute labour might be valued above their fancy imported textiles.

    Another interesting dimension is how the personal drives, interests and agendas of local NPCs in a 'small town' environment might make for quirky and idiosyncratic trades and expectations, in a way that a highly competitive market for commodity goods wouldn't. This has a lot of potential to create interesting choices (or quests?) for the PCs.

    It might also be worth thinking about what kinds of goods can be made, improvised or substituted from local resources and skills. The farm doesn't have materials for torches, but has pig fat to make rushlights, for example. Rushlights are a slightly different proposition for adventurers, compared with the 'standard' torch. Or the farmer is happy to send her daughter into the woods for a few days to gather resin for torch making, if its important, or the reward is big enough.

    The angle that isolated peasant farmers don't have much use for gold and silver would make sense in some situations - especially if food is running low - but I imagine that in many rural economies, silver would be welcome, at least at first.

    All depending on many, many factors about your imaginary world, of course.

    1. hi kenco! :) thank you for your thoughts, and sorry for the late response---my web browser has been really finicky lately with comments sections here. using chance is another really interesting route, and i think one that might be more lenient. it reminds me of what a friend said when comparing the mage and the thief, that one works via resource management of sparse things, and the other works via unreliable execution. different experiences for otherwise similar outcomes! also love the idea of local areas supplying different things based on what they have to work with :D


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