- Rentier Economies
- Sparta's Economy
- Medieval Islamic Economics
- Cuba's Economy
- Other Neat Stuff
As I see it, mostly in the kinds of quest hooks that arise with PCs who are recruited to either support or attack mercantile policies. For example, if all the great powers forbid the export of gold or silver, even as payments for their imports, but they all also want to accumulate as much of it as they can... how does anyone ever come into ownership of more gold or silver? The answer: plundering.
This was an era of lots and lots of stupid, destructive warfare. Not to mention the Golden Age of Piracy being nestled in there, too. PCs who can help support mercantile policies would probably be handsomely rewarded by their government. If their quests can bring lots of gold, silver, and raw materials into the economy that wasn't there before (either from other countries or from old ruins and the Underdark and such) then maybe there could be a bounty reward for it. Most quests would take place in someone else's territory, implying an added danger: getting home back across the border without the other side's authorities stopping you.
This could actually simplify a lot of the hiccups in trying to incorporate trade goods into D&D economics. Lots of folks think it would be a cool and atmospheric thing to include more, but then you run into problems. When the players find casks of palm oil instead of gold pieces in the dungeon, then they have to add the extra step of selling it to the right buyer. That's how boring shopping sessions happen. But what if there's just a royal treasury that will directly buy trade goods off the PCs for slightly more than their market value, no questions asked?
Conversely, maybe the royal treasury is the only buyer the PCs are legally able to sell their goods to, but there are lots of foreign buyers who would pay more for it. Then, whenever the PCs finish a quest and haul their treasure home, they have to make one last decision: do we get its normal value nice and simple or do we try getting a much higher value but risk getting caught and punished by our government? Sounds like a decent time for a die roll.
Of course, all this trade restriction also means that there's inevitably a huge black market. I highly encourage introducing a secondary equipment list of "black market goods" into your game, just in general. This can work especially well if your campaign takes place on a borderland region, as is so classic a setting for D&D fantasy. Let's imagine your Keep on the Borderlands or West Marches hometown has a market, and its government is quite mercantilist. There are foreign merchants in the city who you buy your goods from, but the government has a daily or weekly cap on the amount of items that the PCs are allowed to buy at market. They don't want those foreign merchants draining away too much gold from the economy, you see. But the Dungeon Master will let them buy more items beyond that... for double the price. That's the black market, baby.
Oh, and if it wasn't yet clear: mercantilism is a terrible economic philosophy. Turns out trade is not a zero-sum game, and that it's kind of ridiculous to think so. It's also just incredibly difficult to pull off. Mercantilist colonies rarely ever managed to break even on the costs of investment. So even if all you care about is getting rich and lording over everyone else, it's not even an effective strategy for doing so.
Rent-seeking is the effort to increase one's share of existing wealth without creating new wealth. Rent-seeking results in reduced economic efficiency through misallocation of resources, reduced wealth-creation, lost government revenue, heightened income inequality, and potential national decline.
- Rent situations are predominate among the economy. That means that, somehow, more wealth is circulated by rent than by actual production of goods and/or services. Which is insane.
- The economy relies mostly on external rent. So it's not citizens paying rent to other citizens like we're normally used to. The whole country is the landlord for another country as the tenant.
- The generation of rent is confined to a small proportion of the state, so it's not like everyone in the country is in on this... even though it comprises most of the economy.
- It is the state’s government that receives the rent.
Because the state receives substantial wealth from its rent industry, it can use that to provide for the population without having to levy taxes. This provides a model for wealth distribution much sought-after in the socialist aspirations of Arab states looking to reject Western capitalism. But because of this, the populace becomes dependent on their government and live at their mercy, being asked of no taxations but also not being able to ask for any political representation. Thus, no pressure exists for democracy or governance derived from the consent of the governed. This is even easier for citizens to buy into if the state is encouraging nationalist sentiments. The main source of pressure from the population would instead come from a market failure where the rent industry begins failing. This is practically a self-fulfilling prophecy anyway, as monolithic economies are intrinsically unstable.
- PCs as merchants. This definitely has the most potential here and I feel kind of out of my depth attempting to cover it in this article. One of the most celebrated instances of a game fleshing this out is Luka Rejec's Ultraviolet Grasslands, in which the players are part of a traveling caravan in a great Dying Earth-plus-Oregon Trail style pointcrawl. One of the first choices they make is "why are we doing this?" which sets the XP scheme for the campaign, and one of the common options is "to make money."Provide the party with a financier that loans them €1d10 x 1,000 for their first caravan (creating a debt). Gain 1d6 x 100 xp for every new profitable trade route discovered, and again for every new profitable trade completed.He expands on this mechanically from there. Look at this page:
- PCs as tax collectors. You're a private contractor working for the state. You need some wealth to get started, because you put up a minimum amount as collateral in case the collection goes poorly. Then, you go out and travel the lands collecting taxes from all the citizens. Once you've collected enough to equal your collateral, start taking a cut as personal profit and deliver the rest to the state. It's a good excuse for a party of adventurers to be on the road all the time, and merely traveling the kingdom tends to present opportunities for adventure. But maybe the collection part itself can be made an adventure. Maybe a community is refusing to pay, or maybe another community had all of its gold stolen by a dragon. Whatever the complication, it's the PCs' job to get that gold in the hands of the king by whatever means necessary. And best of all, the longer the campaign goes, the more wealth the party accumulates and is hauling around with them, and therefore, the bigger a target they are for bandits and villains.
- Concessions on their communism, allowing for worker cooperatives, self-employment, foreign direct investment, and other characteristics of market economies and even a small degree of privatisation.
- Absolutely batshit policies that no other economists would ever consider.
- Genuinely reconfiguring their economy towards its strengths and being persistent.
|Everything is 50s pastel-colored. I like all the pink.|
Other characteristics of the modern Cuban economy:
- Remittances: most Cubans rely heavily on remittances from family members abroad. Lots of old Cuban folks in Florida send money to their relatives back in Cuba even though they cannot themselves return. When you receive remittances, you get it in the form of CUC, which vastly inflates your wealth. While it's necessary for attracting foreign capital into Cuba, it's contributing to a growing inequality between those Cubans with relatives abroad and those without. It especially benefits white Cubans, whose family abroad often thrives whereas those Cubans who are, y'know, descended from enslaved peoples don't have the same support system. That said, the majority of the population is receiving remittances and are living on them.
- Services over Goods: services now make up about 81% of the economy's exports, focusing on tourism/travel-related services, education, telecommunication, construction, sports, tech shit, and most of all, healthcare. Cuba has 8.4 physicians per 1000 people, the highest in the world. For reference, the UK has 5.8, Germany has 4.3, and the US has 2.6.
- Segregated Economy: for a long time, many businesses and even physical areas of the country were designated as tourist-only or native-only. Regular Cubans legally couldn't use tourist-designated hotels because they'd be taking a spot away from a foreigner who would be injecting fresh money into the economy. Nice restaurants, beaches, and other luxury spots weren't just expensive: they are literally segregated from the native population's lives no matter how wealthy they get. The only exception is if you're going to those places as an employee, in which case you're obviously not getting to take advantage of them as a consumer. This was helpful to making dollarization work: the easiest way to have two separate currencies in circulation is to just have them be used in two entirely separate markets. This was often called "tourist apartheid," a pretty dramatic and inaccurate name, but it was kinda shitty. They got rid of it, thankfully. That said, all the nice tourist shit is still prohibitively expensive.
Multi-generation Houses: so after the revolution, the government guaranteed that everyone would have housing. Did they then embark on a massive construction project of new houses? No, that shit's hard and expensive. Instead, they seized the houses of all the rich people and said, "we're turning these into apartments" (still offering the rich people to stay if they'd like, which they of course all rejected). I'm sure some new construction happened, but for the most part they achieved universal housing by using what was already there. But what do you do when the population grows? Isn't land development for residential areas inevitable? Not if Castro has anything to say about it! Every family has a house, so when you have kids then they never move out. When they get married and have kids, you suddenly have three generations under one roof. It goes on and on like this. What do you do when things get cramped? Why, just build more floors, obviously. Many, possibly most, of the houses you'll find in Cuba have either new additional shoddy levels built on top of what was once the roof, or possibly they took existing levels of the building and installed a floor halfway up, thus splitting it into two levels. Or both.
Here's an example
- Social Programs: Despite all the difficulty and occasional authoritarian oppression, one massive thing in Cuba's favor is that their citizenry enjoys nearly universal housing, employment, education, and healthcare. For those of us who consider those things to be a right, this is something I really don't want to downplay.
So that's a lot, right? I hope it was interesting on its own, but I know that you want your D&D gameables. So what do you take from this?
Well, you could try to recreate the entire system as a package deal, but more likely you could take bits and pieces here and there that seem interesting. Let's tackle each of these one by one and think about how you'd translate them into a gameplay situation:
- Embargo: easy. Take your exploration-age Renaissance country and put it right next to a country operating at the level of technology of Ancient Greece. Introduce a much harsher equipment list and only allow nice things like health potions and navigation gear to be bought at massive markups, if at all. Replace all the weapons and armor in this country with bronze (weapons lose 1 Quality when maximum damage is rolled while armor loses 1 Quality when hit by a die of max damage). Possibly give the PCs the chance to be the smugglers themselves. Repurpose that merchant caravan ruleset from Ultraviolet Grasslands but make it only for goods banned by the embargo.
- Cash-Only: this is already how D&D usually works. It's only really weird to us.
- Two Currencies: later in this post I've actually covered the idea of using separate currencies in your game, but this is specifically using two separate currencies alongside each other. My recommendation? Don't. It didn't work for Cuba and it won't work for your game. Yes, it's fascinating, especially as a bad idea rather than a good idea... but sometimes an idea can be so bad that it won't make for a good or interesting challenge to introduce to your game. At best you might flavor things with this detail as part of the country's worldbuilding, simply saying that the PCs are always using Currency A while the NPCs are always using Currency B but never burdening the players with having to navigate it.
- Black Market: well, I've already talked about this a fair amount. I don't know what the fantasy equivalent of "the Package" would be. Maybe illegal spell scroll distributors?
- Remittances: diasporas are just a generally under-utilized worldbuilding trope. The PCs could be on either side of the equation and it would be interesting. Maybe they receive a bit of free money every month from some family members abroad or maybe they have to drain a bit of their treasure income every month to be sent to their family members back home. A small bonus treasure source for your PCs or a small treasure expense for your PCs, to be used as best fits your game.
- Services over Goods: have less artisan NPCs and a lot more NPCs who provide a service. In fact, add more services to your equipment list! My own game Brave added a ton of services to the item list in Knave because players spend money on stuff other than stuff.
- Segregated Economy: you should have adventurer-only businesses. Each settlement has a district that is just for adventurers. The inns accommodate their specific needs, the stores around there deal in adventurer-specialty goods, and the cultural traditions all center around the adventurer experience. PCs only interface with the natives who are specifically employed in the "adventurer-service industry" unless they sneak into the other parts of town. Everything outside the adventurer district is way cheaper and the people are more authentic (either positively or negatively, depending on their opinion of outsiders), but once again: carries the risk of getting caught by authorities. Pretty common recurring theme in this post.
- Multi-generation Houses: For one thing, more RPGs should have multi-generation mechanics. I'm tired of always using Pendragon as my example. It would be awesome to play an RPG with a legacy system where each player controls multiple successive generations of PCs who each inherit the glory and rewards of their ancestors. Domain play can be stretched across decades or centuries as the family works to construct bigger and bigger castles and cathedrals and build on their base. And just as each PC controls a family and owns their own ancestral castle, each floor is associated with a PC/generation who built it up in their image. Eventually every player has a huge, janked-up tower that's ugly and eclectic and oozing with history. Someone make this game or find a way to put it into D&D.
- Social Programs: once again, removing challenges rather than introducing them is more of a non-choice addition to your game. This is not always a bad thing. Sometimes you need to streamline tedious areas so that you can put more focus on other areas that are important. Not every RPG should have survival gameplay, y'know? So giving the PCs universal housing, employment, education, and healthcare would be a huge simplication of things. That said, I feel like the way a lot of modern gamers run their campaigns still ends up handwaving all the lodging, literacy rates, and between-adventure healing anyway...
One last thing to mention before moving on: I'm sure you're noticing at this point that taxes are not as inevitable as Ben Franklin told us they are. And being that a lack of taxation is a distinguishing trait of several economic schemes (both in this article and in Part 1), maybe the way to properly stress that is to include some light taxation in your "default" economic models. Income tax, sales tax, property tax, and poll taxes are the most familiar to us. I think a simple sales tax is the easiest one to use, saying that, "a small proportion of the price of every item you buy is actually going to taxes" and then giving the PCs a 10% discount on purchases whenever they manage to shop in a tax-free market. If they have a lot of shopping to do, it might be an incentive to travel further just to seek out that kingdom where they can avoid the taxman.
- First, you do an apprenticeship under an older guild master. You live with them and their family and they show you the craft. You do a lot of the busywork and in exchange they give you room and board. They probably treat you like family, even though your relationship is a professional one and you signed a 7-year contract with them and probably paid to be accepted. Apprenticeships usually start when you're between 10 and 15 years old.
- Once your contract is done, you can't become a master yet until you have more experience working as a professional. Some will continue working with a master, now for pay. But eventually, becoming a journeyman is the norm. For a period of 3 years and a day you journey around from town to town and spend a few months working at different workshops. So for example, when you arrive in town you meet up with a guild representative and they hand you a list of workshops in town for your craft. You go to one, ask to work there for a few months, form a contract, and go out to celebrate that night with a bunch of the local guild members. Then you work until your contract is over, your name gets added to the local guild chapter's records, and you get a certificate verifying your good work and good conduct during this leg of your journey. Lastly, the guild gives you a bit of money to live on during the time that you spend traveling to the next town where you'll be working. You'll almost certainly be unmarried, childless, and debt-free during this time.
- Finally, once you have enough experience, if you pay a sum of money and produce a "masterpiece" of your craft, then you can finally become a guild master and an official member. Other guild masters judge your masterpiece, and if they deem it worthy then it passes into guild ownership and is put on display in a special room of the guild hall in your town. Otherwise, you might be stuck as a journeyman forever. Guild masters start their own workshop that they live in and operate out of. You can take on apprentices but you also have to pay dues ("gild") to the guild to continue being a member. Most masters who are doing well for themselves will have multiple apprentices at a time.
|Here's a fun game: try to find a group portrait of a guild|
where they don't look like they clearly just got caught red-handed
In Florence, Italy, there were seven to twelve "greater guilds" and fourteen "lesser guilds" the most important of the greater guilds was that for judges and notaries, who handled the legal business of all the other guilds and often served as an arbitrator of disputes. Other greater guilds include the wool, silk, and the money changers' guilds ... doctors, druggists, and furriers.
Florence was governed by a council called the signoria, which consisted of nine men. The head of the signoria was the gonfaloniere, who was chosen every two months in a lottery, as was his signoria. To be eligible, one had to have sound finances, no arrears or bankruptcies, he had to be older than thirty, had to be a member of Florence's seven main guilds (merchant traders, bankers, two clothe guilds, and judges). The lottery was often pre-determined, and the results were usually favourable to influential families. The roster of names in the lottery were replaced every five years.
|Typical merchant flexing his luxuries|
Other Neat Stuff
|Although honestly I imagine any group of players who're told they're now a "panel of judges" will take it a different direction...|