The winter is a slow time for blogging. Traffic goes down, posting gets slower, Wyatt freezes in his little forest and can barely muster the energy to flex his brain muscles. I barely read any blogs this week, and the only post I found interesting was Greywulf’s Strongholds and Henchmen for 4e post. So that’s your hymn collection for this week. But that’s not all for this post.
Now, what I want to talk about this post is a nice little PDF I bought with the last of my RPGNow store credit, called Grain Into Gold. I think this is one of the few times where I feel I can just recommend the book up front rather than wait until the end of the review. I think this is a fun, worthwhile, useful book for anyone who likes to tweak their fantasy RPG of choice rather than strictly play by its rules. It is made by Board Enterprises. This is the only product of theirs which I have purchased and I had never heard of them before this, so I can’t speak for their other products. But this little system-neutral PDF is great.
What Grain Into Gold does is, humorously enough, begin on the premise that fantasy economies in games like D&D have everything mostly wrong (which they do) and then they walk you through the steps to make it mostly right, without having to drastically abandon or recalculate any aspect of the actual game. All the economy is still simplified, but it does at least make it so you don’t get people breaking ladders to sell the ten foot poles.
Even if you don’t want to read the book, it comes with a price guide at the back of common fantasy RPG goods that can serve as a nice backbone to a fantasy economy – it is developed by the guidelines the book sets and is ready to use and to expand. It has charts for salaries, agriculture and so on at the back so if you want a developed fantasy economy without doing anything, you can just use those.
But that’d be a waste of the seven fifty you spent on the PDF.
The book begins by explaining the making of bread, the most common and essential food of the lowest rung on the economic ladder, and so, the primordial soup from which your fantasy economy will arise. The book then walks you through other ramifications of this – the price of meat and food overall, the cost of land, the work of craftsmen, and so on.
This book doesn’t just deal with the economy. The nice thing about it is that it also talks about the lifestyles in general that the economy revolves around, and it does so in charming ways – such as depicting Bob the Farmer’s poor opinion of John the Miller, that greedy sack of crap.
It goes all the way to putting magic in the game, and what happens. My favorite part:
“Well, we said it was a fantasy economy right? Well OK, first let’s explain a bias. It is the belief of the writers of this supplement that high fantasy games need more magic than they already have. Most games have magic systems aimed entirely at causing damage to enemy forces, with a couple of magic tricks thrown in to defeat enemies as well.
High fantasy practically demands (in our view) that there be magic available for everyday life. That doesn’t mean that peasants are flying out to the fields on magic carpets, but magic carpets should be available. But it is more than magic carpets. The fabulously wealthy would have all manner of magical items to make their lives easier, more comfortable and blatantly more fun.”
Sounds awesome. Then it talks about how if there was a market for dragon-thingies for Wizards to use in their magic, there would be adventurers just hopping to make money off of hunting dragons for their thingies. I love this book, I really do. I could already envision a whole campaign of martial characters hunting down exotic beasts for their thingies to give to a wizard for their salary. In fact, I think a lot of current hack and slashy campaigns would be a lot more fun for it if they had an easy pretense of this sort – while also having some decent chances for roleplaying. This book fills me with ideas above and beyond just economy.
Overall, I rather liked this product and I’m just itching to a) use that price guide somehow and b) use a lot of the other ideas that this book evoked. The tone was light and the examples were charming and sometimes quite humorous. Economics is a dry subject, but this didn’t feel to me as much about economics as it was about medieval life. The only compliant I would have is that the magic chapter is near the end and comparatively small, and it kind of entirely casts aside low magic play, but that can’t be helped – and I really like the idea of low magic world’s magic being like the lottery is to our economy. It was still useful though.
I feel like I learned something, and had fun doing it. Are there better books out there for fantasy economies? Probably. But I didn’t read those. And I probably won’t. I read this one, and I feel like a better GM for it.
If you don’t care about fantasy world development and don’t care about any hooks that might be inspired by fantasy economy, then yeah, you already knew you wouldn’t like this book.