Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Economics of Ironwolf

Here's an example of the way my brain works. Last week I'm flipping through my shiny new Wilderlands of High Fantasy boxed when my eyes alight on one of the town descriptions. I notice that the town has a 3.x style statblock, listing the gp limit on purchases and total assets of the community. (That's not surprising, considering it's a 3.5 product.) For a sandox setting like the Wilderlands, that sort of information is extremely useful.

But then I got to wondering, how useful are those 3.5 price limits when using the Wilderlands for Castles & Crusades or OD&D or whatever? Or to put it another way, does 1gp have the same buying power across various editions? I vaguely knew that armor gets more expensive across various iterations of D&D, but does other stuff become pricier as well?

Not being an economist by an means nor a master of subtlety, I tried to use a brute force approach to help me answer these questions. The first thing I did was look up the OD&D price list. Then I looked up the costs of comparable items in every other edition of D&D that I own. Here's the raw data, including the starting money ranges for the original three classes.

To better understand the trends of prices across editions, I decided I needed to examine a test case across editions. Enter Morgan Ironwolf. In step 11 of the character creation example in Moldvay Basic (page B13), Morgan Ironwolf's player spends 110 gp as follows:

chainmail armor (40 gp)
shield (10 gp)
sword (10 gp)
shortbow (25 gp)
quiver with 20 arrows (5 gp)
silver-tiped arrow (5 gp)
50' rope (1 gp)
10' pole (1 gp)
12 iron spikes (1 gp)
6 torches (1 gp)
1 week's standard rations (5 gp)
large sack (2 gp)
quart of wine (1 gp)
wine skin (1 gp)

That's 108 out of 110 gp spent, with 2 gold pieces left in petty cash. Morgan started out with an average amount of gold and got a pretty sweet array of equipment. The only glaring omission is a backpack. Which would you rather have if confronted by a wight, a silver arrow or camping equipment?

Anyway, here's a breakdown of how much Morgan would spend under other editions of D&D, with notes on her starting cash situation.

OD&D: Same starting money, but Morgan can afford that backpack now, because her gear costs 105gp.

Holmes Basic: Identical to OD&D

Mentzer Basic: Large sacks are 1 gp cheaper, so Morgan only spends 107gp. Same starting money.

Rules Compendium: Arrows cost 1gp more, so Morgan spends 109gp. Same starting money.

So far not much excitement in this analysis. But let's look at the AD&D line of descent now.

AD&D1: Starting gold for fighters is upped to 50-200, which is good, because Morgan's kit now costs 122.835 gp. Chainmail shoots up from 40 to 75 gp, which is only partially offset by several other items going down in price. Several items that previously cost 1 gp are now priced in silver and copper pieces, the biggest price cut being for ten foot poles, which now costs 1 cp.

AD&D2: Starting gold still 50-200 gp. Silver arrows, 10' poles, and wine seem to have disappeared off the list. The lack of the two former can be taken as another symptom of 2nd edition walking away from hardcore dungeoneering, while the omission of wine strikes me as some sort of joint BADD/MADD plot. Even without these three items, the cost of being Morgan Ironwolf has gone up to 132.85 gp.

3e: Starting gold goes up by a d4, to 60-240gp. Which is good, because a suit of chainmail has doubled in price to 150gp! Morgan's equipment now costs 222.76 gp, requiring a maximum or near-maximum roll to start play with the gear that was easily affordable with average rolls in earlier editions. Quivers and sacks are nowhere to be found.

3.5: Pretty much the same story as 3e, except the total cost is a trifle higher, at 223.06 gp.

I should point out that if go with a chain shirt instead of a whole suit of chain, the 3e and 3.5 versions of Morgan can save some dough. But I think the fair comparison here is a suit of chainmail. Gary makes it explicit in 1st edition that his AC 5 armor is meant to be a whole suit. Until 3e added the chainshirt I think everyone was pretty much on the same page in that regards, except for usual trends in the art to abbreviate the armor.

Now I'll compare a few items that don't count as D&D for some people, but are A-Okay in my book.

Arneson's First Fantasy Campaign: Lack of starting gold and prices for key dungeoneering equipment make a direct comparison impossible, but most of the prices are cheaper than Gary's original list.

Arduin Grimoire: I'll be damned if I can find starting gold for this one. Hargrave gives a dice range for most of his prices. A sword costs 8-20gp, for example. (That's supposed to be 4d4+4, I guess.) I can't find wine, silver arrows, or quivers in volume I of the Grimoire, but everything else would cost between 91.1 and 194.42 gp.

Encounter Critical: Missing some dungeoneering items. The starting gold range for a Warrior of 100 to 800 makes a suit of chain (810 GC) completely out of reach.

HackMaster: Starting gold is all over the map. You can turn in Build Points for 25gp each, but bad die rolls can start you owing money. One time I rolled up this bard with no equipment and over 900 gps in unpaid family debts. Most of the prices for equipment map to the 2nd edition AD&D list, except that armor is very pricey. A suit of chain is 350 gp, way out of reach of the average character. Morgan's stuff would cost 430.27 gp. No ten foot pole!

Castles & Crusades: Generally follows the 2nd edition trend in terms of prices. Starting gold for fighters is 30 to 240gp, getting away from the flatter curve of 5 or 6 dice. My C&C PHB has no silver arrow or iron spikes listed. Buying everything else on Morgan's shopping list would cost 221.96 gp. The C&C Collector's Boxed Set has a slightly different set of prices that also omits quivers and wineskins, with a total cost of 204.96 gp.

Armor seems to be single biggest issue in this test case. How expensive should armor be? Should an average first level fighter be able to begin play in a suit of chain? What does it say about your campaign if nearly every Veteran sports a suit of chain, with some wearing plate? What would it say about your setting if the typical first level fighter wore leather or no armor?

I'm not advocating a right or wrong answer here, but for me personally I think I want starting PCs in chainmail, if that's what they want. I like the idea of handing a newbie a lawful fighter with a sword, a shield, and some chain and saying "Here you go. Basically, you're playing a knight in King Arthur's court. Go do some good deeds or something."


  1. Man, I love these comparisons you run. Do you think that in-game inflation has any correlation to real-world inflation?

  2. I'm all for the starting chain mail approach. Seems like it's hard enough on first level fighters without them worrying about surviving in lesser armor, only to go back and spend their share of loot on chain mail later. Miscellaneous equipment lists though, that's where some fun comes in. Wonder just what belladonna does, and should I buy that or holy water?

  3. I guess I'm pretty harsh on my new characters, as I rule Leather and Shield is all the beginners can get their hands on. This way, though, I can drop Chainmail and Plate into those low level dungeons as mundane treasure. And although I play OD&D or AD&D, I've upped the costs of metal armor, and made it much harder to come by. Am I a jerk, or what?

  4. I'm with Skeleri on misc equipment. I recall Sam's ass being saved from a bite from the werewolves on level 5, because he had a sprig of wolfsbane from the d30 charts.

  5. infamous jum: Do you think that in-game inflation has any correlation to real-world inflation?

    I don't think so. A lot of stuff stays relatively consistent in price over editions, but some things go up in cost and others go down.

    sham: Am I a jerk, or what?

    Nah. As long as chain is hard to for NPCs to get ahold of in the setting. Does every crap town guard wear it, or is it the reserve of the rich and mighty? Again, I don't think there's a correct answer. Pick what best fits your campaign. If I were running a campaign based upon mythic Egypt, for instance, then only the most elite would have armor past a basic shield.

    skeleri: Miscellaneous equipment lists though, that's where some fun comes in.

    Agreed. I'm a little annoyed that later editions delete some classic items. Adding new toys to play with is awesome, but why take away my 10' pole? It has the stench of artsy-fartsy anti-dungeoneerism to me.

  6. Anonymous8:36 AM


    Belladonna is an effective poison, especially when added to standard rations and thrown down to distract unintelligent monsters.

    It's the first stable poison most PCs have access to, which is why the 1e PHB has that list of whether or not a given class may employ poison.

    The Wiki on belladonna isn't bad.

    Also, given its reported use as a spell component during the Middle Ages (and I've seen it referenced in some spell books of the neo-pagan variety when I was into that sort of thing) it serves as a proxy to allow the DM to charge for spell components.

    Holy Water acts as acid on undead, doing 1d6+1 damage on a direct hit and 2hp splash damage. As a DM, I've treated such damage as non-regenerable.

    But evil creatures have recourse to Unholy Water for use against good clerics, paladins, and creatures.

  7. Hrmm... do I want high hard boots, or low soft boots? Has anyone ever been smacked down on for having a wooden holy symbol instead of an iron or silver one? I'm all for weapon lists that include Holy Water Sprinklers, Scorpions, and Bohemian Ear Spoons.

  8. Skeleri, I could see the holy symbol angle going both ways. I guess it would depend on A. specifics of religion, ie Franciscan monks vs. the Pope, and B. do you have a cheap symbol because you gave your money to the poor, or because you bought a solid gold carriage, with hydrolics and fly rims?

    And since you mentioned the Wilderlands set, Jeff, I'd just like to say that any book that includes death ray shooting statues and giant robots hidden in lakes is worth any dollar value in my book.

  9. Hrmm... do I want high hard boots, or low soft boots?

    Soft boots might be better for sneaking. Hard boots might be better protection against caltrops. High boots are better if you have to wade into murky water.

  10. This post is beautiful; I approve -- but then I'm the guy who compares the stats of monsters and spells across editions, so I'm probably a bit weird anyway.

  11. Anonymous1:28 PM

    The OSRIC module, Curse of the Witch Head (or PDF version), has an encounter where the kind of boots you have matters. :)

  12. Always a favorite topic of mine.

    I recently did a massive (15-page spreadsheet) comparison of fantasy-price economics for the 2nd edition of Uresia: Grave of Heaven as well, and I similarly base most of my judgments around starting PC equipment ... though in that case, with a system-agnostic design, I was free to work with other metrics, based around the relative value of emeralds and knightly gear, for example, to establish some of the basic design intentions in terms that translate across not only game systems, but game systems' economic assumptions and quirks. One area you don't touch on here, but which was central to my own examinations, was the relationship between pay rates and prices, something fantasy games have, as a rule, been very dodgy about. Of course, Uresia being Uresia, the final results of my work will be tossed off casually in a breezy saturday-afternoon way, but reflecting some pretty intensely crunched-out choices as to what Uresia is about (and, of course, the assumptions do allow for a fully-chain-suited starting fighter with a nice bit of kit to go with it ... because I _do_ advocate that as a right answer for a world built around trad-fantasy treasure-huntery fun, which Uresia very much is).

    As for E.C. ... Not only is a suit of chain beyond a starting Warrior's reach in E.C., it's just a _hair's breadth_ out of reach of the best die-roll, and of course that's no accident of the truly scientific maths. Many of the numbers in E.C. economics are warped and based on random ranges (resale values, lemon odds, army-stocking odds ... all literally randomized every time I opened the spreadsheet for that chart, albeit randomized within controlled formulaic ranges*), but the core prices were carefully designed to reflect Hank's "Horatio Alger" design sensibilities.

    (For those without access to the Phasic Cyaborg edition, which actually includes the design spreadsheets, this, for example, is the formula for army odds for "commoner garb")


    Where (B10) is a random number seed. Hashing out pointless stuff like this in detail is why everything I do is so late, in case anyone gets curious :)

  13. Anonymous4:53 PM

    One quick note. I recently ran your Xylarthen's tower adventure for a couple OD&D newbies. Based upon their experience with later editions, they thought it very important to buy a horse for every character. Once they got to the dungeon they parked the horses outside and never used them again. Kind of a tangent, but I just thought it was interesting how the campaign style leads to certain equipment purchases, and starting with AD&D2 the game seems to encourage more "overland" campaigns- and thus more horse purchases.

  14. Anonymous9:41 PM

    The problem I keep chewing over isn't the economic one (studying macro IRL for a couple of years cured me of the urge to have any significant verisimilitude in my fantasy economies).

    It's the problem of weight and encumbrance. I've lately been grappling with it as both a player and a DM. I keep running up against the fact that, unless Morgan has a 18 strength, she's not moving more than 3" per round under all that weight (at least, not under 1e encumbrance). *sigh*

    I've yet to see, or devise, an encumbrance system that is rational, effective, and playable.

    And it does seem to boil down, in someway to the value of the coin.

  15. I've yet to see, or devise, an encumbrance system that is rational, effective, and playable.

    In my own homebrew fantasy RPG (originally designed for publication but now in limbo), I've been very satisfied with a simplified encumbrance rule [inspired by systems common in some kinds of tabletop wargame] that only considers major gear (armor and shield, primarily), with special-case exception available if someone's temporarily saddled with a huge sack of loot or an unconscious body.

    The numbers are simple (the lightest shield has an encumbrance of "1"), the effects are strong enough to be felt, varied enough to qualify as a tactical choice, and understated enough not to be cruel.

    Of course, there have been players who recoil at the notion that Curlytoes of Burping Hill can have _three_ daggers and not be any slower than if he has _two,_ but those kinds of people don't last long in my groups, anyway :)

  16. I noticed in more recent editions of D&D that the prices are proportionally more in line with RPGs that try to be realistic like Harnmaster.

    Likely the inflation is due to efforts of the designers inject more realism. Not sure it is warranted in the case of D&D.

  17. It's the problem of weight and encumbrance. I've lately been grappling with it as both a player and a DM. I keep running up against the fact that, unless Morgan has a 18 strength, she's not moving more than 3" per round under all that weight (at least, not under 1e encumbrance). *sigh*

    I had a 2e ranger who carried a LOT of equipment. He only wore studded leather so even weighed down he could keep up with the gronks in platemail. I crammed as much gear as possible in my backpack and gained several inches of movement by dropping it. Admittedly, that was a pain in the ass in surprise situations. And one time some mites tried to steal all my stuff while I was fighting another monster. That was pretty awesome actually. I fired a crossbow bolt down a rathole at the little wanker carrying off my cooking pot.

    Morgan could do something similar. She's lugging all her gear in a big sack thrown over her shoulder. I'd rule that was much faster to drop than a backpack.

    Or you can have someone else carry your stuff. A hireling/henchmen/follower is good for that. As are mules. For the necromantically inclined zombies and skeletons make for pretty decent packbearers. And under versions of D&D where Str doesn't effect encumbrance you can make the MU hold some stuff.

    I've yet to see, or devise, an encumbrance system that is rational, effective, and playable.

    I kinda like Delta's "stone" system.

  18. Very interesting comparison!

    It's kind of ironic. In the earliest editions when the goal was very clearly to acquire wealth, PCs didn't have a whole lot to spend that wealth on. (Although, I'm certainly one to give quite a lengthy counter-opinion on that subject, the perception may be more important here.)

    Then, the prices were adjusted so that you'd use that wealth to travel up the mundane items price chart; but at the same time, the goals became more diverse.

    Personally, these days I tend to prefer that mundane equipment be window-dressing. Let the players have whatever seem fitting for their PC. (Be prepared to be surprised by how few of them abuse this.) This mundane equipment, however, shouldn't have a huge affect on the game.

    But it's still fun to have extraordinary equipment (fantasy magic items, sci-fi military grade weapons). But it's stuff you can't merely buy. (Even if you can buy it, you can't just run down to the S-mart and pick one up.)

  19. Anonymous2:09 PM

    I like your comparison, but there's one thing I think you missed:

    Moldvay's armor costs are equal to OD&D's costs of armor plus helmet (10 gp). He got around the problem of people not buying helmets by just including them. So your OD&D cost would be 10 more, for the helm, for equivalent gear.

    -- Coffee

  20. Anonymous4:58 PM

    Oooh, that is interesting. I think, at least when it comes to pricing for chainmail/swords/other metal equipment, it really is a question of realism level and environment. A medieval Europe setting would have more chainmail and other metal equipment than a Eastern setting (comparatively) just because of the abundance of iron ore. So, it'd depend if you wanted everyone to have easy (relatively) access to metal equipment in my view, and how that'd translate out to general world (e.g. more mines and thus more abandoned dungeons? or a larger than normal number of blacksmiths,higher grain production (better plows, etc.).

    And there's game balance too of course.

  21. Anonymous10:38 AM

    I was very dismayed to see that several games - apparently even including Hackmaster - leave out 10 foot poles on the equipment list. We should have a consumer advocacy website with a list of all RPGs leaving 10' poles off the common price list, so that people who think they're buying a real role playing-game won't feel ripped off. In general publishers should place a note clearly on the cover if their game doesn't have 10' poles - sort of like the tobacco warnings. This is serious stuff.

    - Calithena

  22. The lack of the 10' pole in HackMaster frankly shocked me. Maybe I missed it. The equipment chapter is large and full of ridiculous charts. But I looked twice on two separate days before posting.

  23. Interesting comparison and discussion. Part of the inflation certainly has to do with the trend towards more "realism." This trend has two aspects, the first is more realistic prices, the second is trying to make leveling up more "realistic" and assuming that for example, the army has lots of members above 1st level, and thus a 1st level PC shouldn't be fully equipped.

    One thing that I have seen as a constant struggle is how to make varied armor relevant. OD&D basically figures clerics and fighters will all be in plate (all magic armor is plate in OD&D), so chain as far as PCs go is relegated to starting equipment, with leather for the poor PC who rolled low (and later the thief). Later editions tried to make chain have more staying power through encumbrance rules (though I almost never saw medium armor used in my Arcana Unearthed/Evolved campaigns, players either go light or heavy armor). There also has been a trend away from kitchen sink gear lists, even while increasing the number of items on the price lists. I think gear and price lists should be tuned to be more reflective of the play style. Old school dungeoning should have somewhat extensive lists of items of various uses in dungeon situations. New school gaming should concentrate on weapons and armor for fighting, and have things like "adventurer's pack" on the price list.


  24. I think gear and price lists should be tuned to be more reflective of the play style.

    Amen to that, and reflective of the game as a whole. With GoH2, I treated the equipment list as a full on window into the entire game-world; I wanted to make absolutely certain it would _never_ be mistaken as a price-list suitable for any setting other than the one it's written for, and that it genuinely reflects what play in the world tends to be like, and actual needs from table experience. Plus a fair number of sly jokes, of course, because I can't help it.

  25. Anonymous6:39 AM

    Interestingly, this whole issue has just come up with the Labyrinth Lord campaign I'm starting up.

    On one hand, LL gives characters 3d8x10 gold instead of 3d6x10. On the other hand- chain mail now costs 150gp vs. 40gp in Moldvay basic. To further complicate things, LL offers an expanded selection of armor:

    Type AC/Cost
    Padded 8/5gp
    Leather 7/20gp
    Studded leather 6/30gp
    Scale mail 6/65gp
    Chain mail 5/150gp
    Splint mail 4/200gp
    Banded mail 4/250gp
    Plate mail 3/600gp
    Shield (-1)/10gp

  26. People actually want to PAY for a 10ft pole? Really?

    Hint, if you have a sword or an axe or a dagger, your 10ft pole is as easy to get as a walk to the nearest tree...

  27. Also, in HM each Build Point that you spend Does NOT equal 25gp. It gives you a 2d12 die roll that gives you a modifier for your roll on the "Starting Money" Table 4M of the PHB. That roll is a d100+modifiers that in turn gives you a range of gps that you roll. Anything from a Family Debt to 190+2d20gps plus family heirloom items and/or deeds

  28. Thanks for the correction, greylond. I think I had that mixed up in my memory with the "1BP = one quarter of a stat point" rule.

    People actually want to PAY for a 10ft pole? Really?

    I want newbies to see the 10' pole on the equipment list and ask themselves why it is there. I want codgers to be able to kit out like they did under earlier editions.

  29. There's lots of things that "Old Coot" gamers end up with that isn't on the equipment lists. Some of us know to go out and cut our own 11 or 12 ft poles because a smart GM will have traps that take advantage of the "Standard"...

    Good post though about the "GP Inflation"...

  30. Putting something in the list of available equipment doesn’t mean that it has to cost something. Especially if you’re using the equipment lists to convey information about the world or the style of play, then including things that can be had free (or things that money can’t buy) can be a good idea.

  31. It's also not necessarily so easy to just go cut your own 10' pole. Do you have permission to cut trees in the woods? Can you find a good tree? Do you want to spend the time to carve and sand it smooth?

    It might well be worth paying the 1 gp or whatever a 10' pole costs.


  32. Yea, plus don't forget about Random Encounter rolls...

    I've had plenty of cheapskate groups who would rather risk it than "waste" a measly little gp...

  33. "then including things that can be had free (or things that money can’t buy) can be a good idea."

    I think that is the way to go for some stuff that is specific to your game style... in fact now that i think about it, Swords & Wizardry Core Rules has a weapons list that includes weapons that cost 0 GP (Clubs & Staves).

    And don't forget Iron Rods! handy to delay or stop traps of the architecture crunches adventurers kind, a lever so needed to force doors, and a very decent improvised weapon against skeletons

  34. The pdf you made of comparative prices is EXACTLY what I was looking for today. You even included the prices from the First Fantasy Campaign! Thankyou!