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How do you handle prices?


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Prices. One of my weak points. One of my weakest points. I get analysis paralysis.

 

Lemme demonstrate: Me, in the same situation, with two different rulebooks:

 

D&D 3.5:

 

Player: "I want to buy some flint and steel."

 

Me: *Flips open rulebook to the exact page. "Here. It costs 1 gold piece."

 

HERO System:

 

Player: "I want to buy some flint and steel."

 

Me: Ok, is flint common here? Is there an iron mine nearby? What's the local economy like? And how much does a loaf of bread cost, so I can backfigure the pri*Explodes*

 

Player: "...Hello?"

 

------

 

Obviously, what is needed is more analysis. Namely, what do you do in a situation like this? And how silly am I being, on a scale of 1-10?

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You're not silly.  A consistent economy and understanding of the coin system and money makes a big difference behind the scenes toward making a game seem more plausible and immersive.  The way I tend to do it is think of three concepts

 

1) If you're doing a quasi medieval/feudal campaign (Japanese, European, whatever) then there's going to be two levels of economy, the commoners and the nobles.  Commoners are poor as dirt and the nobles are very wealthy.  So basic services and goods like a meal or a night in the inn will be dirt cheap, but weapons, horses, land, etc will be very expensive.  A huge divergence in cost that might be baffling to modern players.

2) I took one coin type and made it my "dollar," the basic coin of exchange. For my campaign, its a copper piece - I wanted gold to be special and astoundingly valuable instead of something players have piles of like sand on the sea shore.  One iron piece = 10 cents.  10 iron pieces = 1 copper ($1).  10 copper = 1 silver ($10).  Then there's a jump, 1 gold = 100 silver or 1000 copper; $1000.

3) I worked out prices of the items in terms of dollars, then converted that to coins in my campaign, using the two concepts above.  A meal at an inn costs 10 cents (1 iron).  A horse costs $10,000 or more (10 gold)

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When it comes to RPG economies and their "realistic" treatment, one often makes one of the most common fantasy errors, namely confusing your historic points of comparison. Don't start with swords and horses costing plenty of "solidi" and other stuff drawn from the era of the Domesday book when you're actually living in a world that's in most respects quite post-medieval. I mean, more ofthen than no we got articulated plate armor, rapiers, coaches, heeled riding boots, caravels, maybe even the printing press. That puts us more into the 1500s or even later -- roving bands of adventureres always reminds of the mercenaries of the 30s year war.

 

So the merchant class is clearly established (after all, it's not the duke who's hiring all those caravan guards), and the monetary situation is greatly changed. First of all, there is a monetary situation, i.e. even the lower classes get to see actual money changing hands. Armor isn't worth half a king's ransom, neither are weapons. Such a situation is much more in tune with most fantasy worlds, never mind our very own. So it's probably better to look at late pre-industrial societies than manor books from the 1200s, unless you're playing something much more historic (like e.g. HârnMaster). Strangely enough most resources I've seen that are aimed at RPGs tend to go for the older sources, even if the target system is D&D. Maybe that was just a more popular period to study 10-20 years ago and gosh-darnit, that degree has to end up somewhere!

 

And the exchange values and relative worth of gold and silver fluctuated wildy, usual supply and demand stuff. So there's no real problem with a 1:10 exchange rate, 1:100 or whatever you desire. I'd strongly recommend a decimal system, though, as 240:12:1 or something similar really gets tiring. (Then again, if you're in one of the three countries where they still measure lengths by some dead potentates limb length, mileages might differ.)

 

Generally I try to keep in mind how much your average laborer, tradesman or artisan makes in a day of good work. That's a solid baseline, and quite useful for determining tips, bribes, how much a beer or a night in an inn should cost. Other commonly used prices like arms & armor or horses depend on availability. My gut instincts tend to go for cheap weaponry (so that loot isn't a cause for early retirement) and more expensive horses. But if you want mounted travel and combat to be more important, you could e.g. look at price lists from the Old West.

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Are you looking for a way to determine pricing levels, or actual prices?  When I set up my fantasy campaign, I was using a 100:1 exchange rate from one coin to the next, with silver being the base metal. (There are also 10x bars around.)  My summary on pricing was like this: 

 

An unskilled day's wages are 1 silver.   Ten copper will buy a meal, while a private room is a silver.  Weapons cost in the tens of silvers, while a good suit of armor or a horse is paid in gold.

 

So, for the aforementioned Flint and Steel?  It's a durable, reusable item, but not terribly expensive or difficult to produce.  So I make it cost one silver.  (Barring exceptions like no flint or no steelmaking smithys or some clown buying up every tinderbox in town.)

 

Chris.

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Unless you want barter to be a significant role-playing element in your games, perhaps you could take a price list from one of those other games (unless you never bought a game book which included one, or sold them all), and just use that. Even if you do want to run bartering, or factor in local conditions, such a list would give you a point of departure from which to adjust prices upward or downward.

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For everyday expenses such as flint and steel, I think the appropriate answer is, "Okay, you buy flint and steel." Given that the typical Fantasy game seems to assume that PCs acquire significant treasure, the everyday expenses that might trouble a peasant or day-laborer really don't matter much.

 

Look at it this way: Is there any *story value* in knowing exactly how much flint and steel cost, or a mug of ale at the inn? You might want to consider something more like the Resources system that White Wolf used in its games: Prices rated by dots, from one dot (commonplace, easily affordable even by people of modest income) to five dots (the sort of thing only kings, merchant princes and other super-rich people can afford, and even they might not buy such things very often.) Then just keep track of the corresponding wealth level of the PCs. At (say) 3 dots of wealth, they can buy any 3 dot commodity if they must, 2 dot goods and services easily, and 1 dot purchases aren't even worth noting.

 

Maybe my friends and I are strange, but we don't find much thrilling adventure in tracking every copper piece of our characters' expenses. Unless our PCs' purchases are extraordinary, or they are for some reason destitute, we just don't worry about setting exact prices.

 

Dean Shomshak

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For everyday expenses such as flint and steel, I think the appropriate answer is, "Okay, you buy flint and steel." Given that the typical Fantasy game seems to assume that PCs acquire significant treasure, the everyday expenses that might trouble a peasant or day-laborer really don't matter much.

 

Look at it this way: Is there any *story value* in knowing exactly how much flint and steel cost, or a mug of ale at the inn? You might want to consider something more like the Resources system that White Wolf used in its games: Prices rated by dots, from one dot (commonplace, easily affordable even by people of modest income) to five dots (the sort of thing only kings, merchant princes and other super-rich people can afford, and even they might not buy such things very often.) Then just keep track of the corresponding wealth level of the PCs. At (say) 3 dots of wealth, they can buy any 3 dot commodity if they must, 2 dot goods and services easily, and 1 dot purchases aren't even worth noting.

 

Maybe my friends and I are strange, but we don't find much thrilling adventure in tracking every copper piece of our characters' expenses. Unless our PCs' purchases are extraordinary, or they are for some reason destitute, we just don't worry about setting exact prices.

 

Dean Shomshak

Here we're getting into "theory of play", which is a bit off-topic, but it's useful to note where people are coming from. It sounds like you and your friends rate strongly on the "story + theme" scale. However, that is merely one style of play, and some people enjoy other styles, or multiple styles. For more information, consult Google, but be aware most gamers are biased towards their own style of play.

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I know about different play styles, thank you. But the question still stands: In actual play, why does it matter to know exactly how much things cost?

 

Giving thought to the economic basis of your setting and cultures is effort well spent. Ambitious GMs might even build cultures where money, as such, doesn't exist or at least doesn't follow tidy systems such as D&D's copper, silver and gold pieces. But before you tie yourself in knots working out how much everything costs (whether the standard is copper pieces, cowries or cattle), ask yourself whether this is work you actually need to do. As GM, you have plenty else to do! So there are issues of time management as well as play style. (And head explosions. Avoiding head explosions is good. Unless it's your players' heads exploding at the latest freaking awesome thing you just sprang on them, of course.)

 

In Patrick Rothfuss' Kingkiller series, the protagonist spends a long time near-destitute. He actually needs to worry how much small things cost. His efforts to obtain money. in quantities most of the people around him consider negligible, drives part of the story. In Lord of the Rings, OTOH, money is mentioned little if at all. It's just not relevant to the story. If your campaign resembles Rothfuss' story, yes, you'll want to work out prices for commonplace goods. If Tolkien is your inspiration, not so much.

 

Dean Shomshak

 

PS: I have some brief materials about premodern economic systems that might be inspirational in moving beyond gold pieces. I'll post them in a separate thread.

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In answer to the original poster, it's literally impossible to make a price list covering everything. For a start, in premodern societies, prices were extremely fluid: it's a case of what you could get for something. Secondly, prices varied enormously by location - you could literally see the usual price differ by 300-400% in two different towns in the same region, because transport was difficult and wealth unequally distributed. And secondly, you can never predict what players are going to want. I've had players ask how much to buy an anvil, for example, or a basket of live eels.

 

Sooooo .... what does that mean? It means that GM's don't need a detailed price list in their head (or on their computer). It means they need a simple appreciation of what goods cost in the very general sense, and what people earn (again, in a general sense). That way, when players ask for something, you can make a good guess. For example, in a typical medieval European economy most ordinary workers earned enough in coin (even if they actually got paid in kind) to cover ordinary daily costs. So if (for example) an ordinary, unskilled worker gets (say) thruppence a day, then it should be possible to get 3 meals and a cheap hostel for the night for thruppence or a bit less (the actual unit is irrelevant - whatever you could call your coins, shells or units of commerce, the point is that basic daily expenses used to define very roughly what the working class earned: there was very little excess, which is why people fell into poverty as soon as they were unable to work).  That means that a (very simple) meal and drink would cost less than a penny - you could buy half a loaf of bread and some cheese for a ha'penny  aaaaaand - to get back to the original question, items like a firestarter kit (flint, steel and tinder) fall into the category of "barely-significant expense" in other words, not something that people buy every day or on impulse, but also not something that is out of reach of ordinary people.

 

As the very roughest of rules of thumb, this means the cost is likely to be equivalent to a few days' wages for the worker class. As long as you have some idea of the cost, you can work from there. As a GM, I tend to group manufactured goods into "Cheap" (a day's wage or less), "barely significant" (a week's wage or less) moderate (a month's wage or less) or expensive (several months wages to the-sky-is-the-limit). Generally, I just make up a number based on my best guess (I'm never wrong, because there is no single right answer :)) but if you want a rule, you could make up die rolls - for example, if you guess the price is "barely significant", d6+1 will give an  an average of 4 (for a week's basic wage or less) and you can assume flint, steel and tinder will cost 2-7 days' wage - subject to further negotiation, of course. :) If we stick with a basic daily wage of thruppence, then it'd typically cost about a shilling (a silver piece, if you like).

 

You can do this for anything - a basket of live eels? Between cheap and barely significant - say 2 days basic cost or about a sixpence. An anvil? Between moderate and expensive - let's say 3 months basic wage or about 260 pennies - call it 23 shillings .... etc Now these are just rank guesses, showing how I typically handle prices, but out of interest, I just looked up some actual prices and according to Standards of Living in the Later Middle Ages, by Christopher Dyer, an anvil in 1390 cost about 20 shilllings, so not too far off my guess.

 

The advantage of this approach is that you can adapt it for whatever the basic wage is, and you can apply it to any request to generate a number that is likely to be in the right ballpark. I do have a list of the sorts of things that adventurers like - horses, weapons and armour, hostel costs, etc, to save myself time, but those costs are also intended to be approximate.

 

cheers, Mark

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I agree, the approach should be based on the target buyer and the economic conditions.  In a typical rough medieval-based fantasy setting, the bulk of the people are poor and have nothing left after expenses but what they can make from their surroundings.  The rich are fabulously wealthy compared to the poor.  So things targeting the poor will be very cheap, and basing it on a day's wages is a good rule of thumb.

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I know about different play styles, thank you. But the question still stands: In actual play, why does it matter to know exactly how much things cost?

No offense intended; it's just that "Why play it X way?" is a question I see most often from people who only know one style of play.

 

As for the question you were actually asking, not the one I thought you were asking, that is an answer that varies on setting, as you said. Which is one reason to collect many different game economy styles.

 

Or if you are asking if any game actually needs exact prices, any game played clearly on the gamist axis, because prices are then a function of game balance, not market forces.

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The posts so far are focused on in-game costs. However, on the character sheet, shouldn't ordinary items be accessible through Wealth perks, and magic items be paid for in character points?

 

In heroic games typically much of your equipment is purchased through money or picked up from adventures, not points.

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I normally just use the price list found in Fantasy Hero.

Sometimes I will apply modifiers based on how close the players are to were things are made.

For example the characters can expect to get quality weapons for normal prices or even less than normal weapon prices if near a dwarf mine. While malls would cost more.

 

Normally the modifiers I use of or when I use them are.

X0.7 = town were resources come from.

X1.0 = default or big city prices.

X2.0 = rural area not related to resource.

X3.0 = rural area very distant from resource.

 

Off course this helps the players sometimes. For example some adventurers have decide trading is more profitable than killing and have gone in that direction.

I have had two full campaigns turn into trader style games, one in a fantasy game and one in a Rifts game.

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In heroic games typically much of your equipment is purchased through money or picked up from adventures, not points.

 

That depends on how a GM rewards their players... that's more a reflection of game style and GM decision. I've run FH/SH games where certain rewards were points, not money.

 

All tools in a GM's kitbag...

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Original Question was How do you handle prices?

 

It depends...

 

  • In one of my campaigns the players were very interested in how much things cost.  They went to extraordinary lengths to stretch out their coin ... Probably because I was so careful with how much coin I gave them.  Also there were living in probably the biggest city on the continent, which created plenty of opportunities for buying and selling.  I was forced to come up with an extensive pricing list (see previous post) which I originally loaded up into a spreadsheet.  Later I 'translated' the spreadsheet into something I could use InspirationPadPro to help generate 'random' pricing, availability, and quantity for the items,  I have included factors such as quality and level of wealth in an area to help with the pricing.  One character was a noble and so she did have wealthy as a perk.  Basically she could buy just about anything and not have to track the prices.  Plus she is a noble so 'haggling' would have been beneath her.  In this case the players and I created a situation where detailed pricing was needed.
  • In the current campaign I am running, I still have the same tables, they just aren't as useful because they campaign takes place on the edge of civilization and they are traveling between villages.  There is very little for them to buy and/or sell.  They are working for a merchant who trades in rare spices - which the area they are in is well known for.  The merchant (a PC) also has wealthy as a perk.  Everyone else was hired as a guard but that relationship has changed over time.  She pays their daily expenses.  They split loot when they have an 'adventure'.  In this case, only have 1/2 the players from the previous group, the players really aren't all that interested in loot.  The one change has been when they get to a village they want to know about taverns and/or inns to find out about lodging and food.  This has lead me to create more extensive random food and drink options....
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That's another aspect: if the price of something a character is buying is significantly beneath their typical income (a burger for a businessman) I don't even bother tracking costs. Its only when its going to make an actual dent I worry about that kind of thing.

Strangely enough that's rarely an issue for me: Even when I've got campaigns where the players actually have a regular income, that is usually "solved" by the end of the second adventure...

 

And it only got worse over time. I think daring to lose your job with impunity is even more escapist to 30somethings than risking your life without any actual danger. ;)

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The posts so far are focused on in-game costs. However, on the character sheet, shouldn't ordinary items be accessible through Wealth perks, and magic items be paid for in character points?

 

Wealth gives you money, but not everyone has wealth, and for those who don't (and to some extent, even for those who do), costs are still relevant. Magic items may or may not be paid for in character points. In many (perhaps most) fantasy games they are are often treated as equipment and can be found or bought for money.

 

cheers, Mark

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That's another aspect: if the price of something a character is buying is significantly beneath their typical income (a burger for a businessman) I don't even bother tracking costs. Its only when its going to make an actual dent I worry about that kind of thing.

 

 I do this too - in games where we are tracking funds, I typically say "Deduct X coins to cover your general expenses for the last 3 weeks" and it's assumed that it covers food, a place to stay, drinks, getting minor equipment repairs, etc. Personally, I'm very much over the days where we tracked every GP, but we still do that in the Pathfinder game we play currently, because the GM likes it.

 

In one campaign I ran, that lasted about 5 years of regular play, we pretty much dispensed with money entirely: it was assumed since the players were all in the employ of a lord that petty expenses were covered by saying "Send the bill to the castle", and when they needed larger expenses or travelling money, they simply asked the lord to cover it.

 

cheers, Mark

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I've generally cribbed my item lists when needed from FH (especially the version for Hero 4e), or from other FRPGs (with a little modification, if warranted). I have ...And a Ten Foot Pole somewhere around here, but it's never made it to the gaming table. Pricing usually gets normalized (at least behind the scenes) into dollar equivalents, and then converted back in whatever coinage the characters will be using.

 

Of course, that's when we're actually keeping track of money. The current game doesn't really, as one PC tends to donate any excess wealth over living expenses to the Dwarfanage (Dwarf orphanage), and the other regular PC is slowly accumulating Wealth to be able to boost up his magic resources. For big ticket items, it's a matter of comparing his Wealth level to how rare/expensive the item is for figuring out if he can buy it. Magic items are rarely sold; getting rid of "loot" is an adventure in itself.

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I wish I had a go-to price list. Sadly the few ones that I think are pretty great are a bit too tied to (quasi-)historic settings and time periods, so no good match for a more "generic" fantasy approach. As I've said, some people seem to have an unhealthy obsession with early feudal economics...

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