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A treatise on fantasy gaming economics
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/17/2013 16:16:14

A Treatise on Fantasy Gaming Economics is pretty straightforward, not only in its title but also in its presentation. At four pages long, with two pages set aside for the OGL, it’s a quick, simple examination of how economics should work in a d20/3.5/Pathfinder game system.

The text makes a quick comparison to historical wages in terms of practicalities; e.g. how much grain can be farmed in a given period of time, times its worth, for the amount of money the average family will earn, minus certain taxes and expenses. This is then compared to the “basics” that can be earned over time via Profession, and compared to a few other wages for standard jobs.

This product’s aim is a noble one – I’ve seen many people try to figure out how the “real” economics of a Pathfinder game world (using only and all of the standard rules) would work, and even attempted a few calculations myself. The problem is that this book suffers on multiple fronts from not showing its work.

For example, the basic costs of things aren’t linked or otherwise referenced. If writing a treatise on something, you always want to cite your sources, no matter how common or obvious you think they are. In this case that’s probably a link to an SRD or perhaps the d20PFSRD – who remembers that Pathfinder lists a pound of flour as costing 2 copper pieces? (There’s also an issue of measurement conversion; the treatise keeps using kilograms and liters, whereas Pathfinder uses pounds.)

Likewise, the book doesn’t show its math. When it tells us that an average person (a human commoner 1) who is trained at his job but isn’t otherwise exceptional will earn 28 gold pieces in a month if he takes 10, it’s presuming that we know this means that the commoner will have 1 rank in Profession, with a +3 bonus for that being a class skill, and no other bonuses (meaning his Wisdom is 10 or 11). This, then, gives an adjusted result of 14, which means that 7 gold pieces are earned in a week, for 28 gold pieces in a typical month. It helps to walk through things like this instead of simply skipping to the end without saying how you got there – true, it can be figured out with some simple reverse-engineering, but it shouldn’t have to be.

The book also looks at what the price of a suit of plate mail, based on the costs of the goods, and the monthly wages of the people making it. I’m not sure where the monthly wages come from, but he extracts a price that is very much lower than what is in the official rules, and then closes by suggesting that the official prices of most things be slashed.

This is another example of the book not even scratching the surface. There’s no analysis of the (admittedly flawed) crafting rules for their prices and times to create. There’s certainly no wider analysis of the impact of how this would shape the game world. Ultimately, what’s here is a plausible but very thin explanation for saying that the official prices are skewed, and lack internal consistency when viewed with scrutiny across a holistic scope.

The things that make this problematic are two-fold. First, the book doesn’t take into account all the various ways that skill checks can be inflated, even by very low-level NPCs; for that matter, there’s no real analysis of how much your average NPC will level over time, which is directly tied to how well their skill checks can be pumped up. Combined with a near-complete lack of the analysis of how much money various skill check results earn in the course of a year, and the lack of any but the most casual examples of taxation, and what’s here is little more than summarized guesswork.

To be fair, a lot of this isn’t the product’s fault. There is no standard mechanism for saying how much NPCs will level over their lifetime, what taxes usually cost, etc. There’s a lot of data that’s simply not available that is needed to calculate these things on a wider level – simply importing real-world data and then trying to make the game rules fit that model is likewise a flawed attempt to make the rules more simulationist than they were ever meant to be.

Ultimately, there needs to be a lot more than what’s here. If this treatise really wanted to cover the impact of economics in the game world, it’d need to construct some fairly baseline, though necessarily arbitrary, models for the basics of how skilled/powerful NPCs can become, overview similarly basic models for how widespread magic is and how its regulated by the law, come up with something approximating basic community sizes, and then calculate these into skill checks at various levels. None of these will be necessarily by-the-book, since most of them will be invented to help construct the economic model, but I can’t see any other way to do make a fully fleshed-out treatise.

That’s not what’s here, though. What’s here attempts only to take some basic calculations and show that they don’t pass internal consistency. It’s not wrong, but it’s so quick and so offhanded as to be of little value. This product has a long way to go before it can honestly be called a treatise.

[1 of 5 Stars!]
A treatise on fantasy gaming economics
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A treatise on fantasy gaming economics
by Mark L. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 12/07/2012 18:06:30

Extremely superficial treatment of a rich topic, amounting to 2 and a half pages, excluding the sidebars which appear to be in Arabic. It would be better titled a "Simple note on Pathfinder peasant wages," as it addresses a very simple North Europe plow tillage model, provides no support for assumptions, and illogically ignores non-working adults when computing subsistence and wage equivalents for householders.

There are spelling errors an English language spell check would catch. It is presented in a cursive font, which is readable but quite distracting. The mathematics are unclear in places, and often unexplained. The conclusions could be worth $.50 and a read if there were any citations or meaningful authorities given.

[1 of 5 Stars!]
Publisher Reply:
It is true that it is a relatively superficial treatment of a highly complex topic. It is also true that this is not a scientific work and thus doesn't even begin to follow a scientific writing method with citations and given authorities. You can however rest assured that I did my research. I also promise to revise the files shortly for both spelling errors that have been overlooked and to include an alternative version for improved readability. The thing about non-working adults may be a simple misunderstanding as I assume both genders to meaningfully contribute to the workload a peasant family has to handle.
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