The Arcana of Political Economy: A Follow-Up

Nob Akimoto

Nob Akimoto is a policy analyst and part-time dungeon master. When not talking endlessly about matters of public policy, he is a dungeon master on the NWN World of Avlis

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25 Responses

  1. david says:

    What would the presence of (relatively cheap and easy) mind-control powers do to politics? Teleportation and trivial dimensional travel to geopolitics?

    DnD has the unfortunate characteristic of being tweaked for the small organized party to do interesting things, which unfortunately means that small organized groups can do a lot of damage before they go down, including slaughtering many of any state’s would-be leadership. And there is now no limit that there is only one party of PCs in the world. Your advanced civilization might form a possible equilibrium if only barbarians did not rampage through repeatedly, for a tiny chance to declare themselves Emperor of Rome.

    Furthermore, magic tends to accumulate quadratically per level, which means that the handful of top-tier spellcasters are going to find themselves holding quite a bit of influence by merely existing. At least nuclear stockpiles don’t have opinions.

    That being the broad nature of DnD. The not-so-board nature of DnD is opening reality up to pathological munchkinry like Pun Pun, or more finely-tuned possibilities like the anti-osmium bomb, or utter against-the-spirit-of-any-sense-whatsoeverexploits.

    That last link actually has some astute observations regarding the metal market.Report

    • Fnord in reply to david says:

      I mentioned Wall of Iron and Fabricate specifically in the previous thread as economy breaking spells. But it doesn’t work QUITE the way described; per the fabricate spell, the original material “costs the same amount as the raw materials required to craft the item to be created”. The rules for the Craft skill specify that the raw materials required to craft an object cost 1/3 the final value of the object. 1 pound of iron costs 1 sp, rather less than 1/3 the cost of a dagger. Therefore, one pound of iron is insufficient to create a dagger using fabricate (what else you do need is less clear, but presumably charcoal, etc, just like a smith would).

      The peasant rail gun is clearly a case of trying to have it both ways with strict adherence to the rules and fantasy physics. If you’re going to imagine a world where you blindly follow the rules, a world where a ten-foot pool can be passed down 2 miles in a 6 second period, clearly the physics of kinetic energy and momentum are different already. Once the final peasant throws the pole, it’s exactly as destructive as the rules say it is (1d6+Strength modifier, probably, as an improvised thrown spear).Report

      • Nob Akimoto in reply to Fnord says:

        Wall of Iron really isn’t as economy breaking as one might think. It might reduce the price of iron ore, but even with fabricate it doesn’t really do much more than free up miners to go mine something else.

        And of course, it being a 6th level spell, one wonders if it’s really worthwhile investment of time for something as precious as a 11th level caster. I mean even a 20th level caster can only make about two tons of iron per casting. With the material cost being 50gp per casting, that works out to about 8lbs of iron per 1lbs of SP invested.

        Which granted is probably more efficient than mining, but probably better ways of using that spell slot. (like say, raising the dead)Report

    • Remo in reply to david says:

      Peasant Railguns almost work because the whole turn based system has its flaws in emulating reality.

      Pun Pun is a case of abusing rules.

      Both are cases of abusing the broken parts of a system. The Peasant Railgun doesnt even work – The last peasant throws the stair with his own Strenght, doesnt matter if that stair travaled at Mach 3 before reaching it.

      But i believe your point is this: The D&D System is broken. If we try to get a good simulation out of it, we will end up with broken results because the base of the system is broken.

      This is exactly true in how powerful wizards become as they gain levels. The system works in such a way that you might not need a bunch of high level wizards to be the most powerful nation – only the highest level one.Report

  2. Patrick Cahalan says:

    Part of my trouble here is that I’m an ancient old gaming fart and I’m still looking at the world in first edition eyes. Well, and Palladium eyes and GURPS eyes, but not really AD&D 3rd edition eyes.

    I really like this series, though.Report

  3. Fnord says:

    The 1 lb of gold = 50 gp price point seems to suggest that gold is rather more common in D&D world than in reality, or else you get somewhat odd results. Poor quality meals for one day costs a silver piece, or 1/500 of the price of a pound of gold. Current spot prices for gold make that about $50 dollars; one could spend $50/day on meals, certainly, but you probably wouldn’t call the quality you get poor. Just about everything is too expensive if you peg it to current gold prices and 50 gp = 1 lb. So the magical item situation is somewhat less dire than you might imagine (though the cost of your +1 sword could feed a dozen families for a year, so they’re still pretty expensive).Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Fnord says:

      Keep in mind: Going up a level costs 1000 gp/current level. Wanna become a level 2 unix admin? That’ll be 20 pounds of gold, please.Report

      • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Jaybird says:

        There’s an old Dragon magazine article about 1st edition that showed that if you followed the rules directly, your players languished at low levels for a *very* long time until they could afford training.Report

    • Nob Akimoto in reply to Fnord says:

      In fairness, the gold:silver ratio in D&D actually makes no sense, unless a silver piece is substantially heavier than a gold piece. (Since it’s only 10:1 when the RL price differential is anywhere from 50:1 onward)Report

      • Alan Scott in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

        Per the rules, all coins weigh about a third of an ounce, regardless of what metal they’re coined from. Given the difference in weight, that suggests larger silver and copper pieces.

        Still, those price lists were set with the assumption that PCs operate on the gold standard. Honestly, any vaguely realistic set of rules will just divide all costs by 10, so that poor quality meal is $5/day, and PCs (at least at low level) operate on the silver standard.Report

      • James K in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

        All it means is that D&D worlds have a different relative abundance of gold and silver than Earth does. Of all the differences between real life and D&D, that is easily one of the most plausible.

        When comparing prices in decoupled economies you shouldn’t use specie as a benchmark, but rather some tangible good – the best is labour. Compare labour hours and you’ll have a better shot at generating purchasing power equivalent costs.Report

        • Fnord in reply to James K says:

          The rules for Profession specify that you make 1/2 your skill role in gp each week. For a first level character with maximum ranks but no bonus from attributes, feats, etc, their modifier is +4, so if they Take 10 they earn 7.5 gp = 75 sp per week.Report

          • Nob Akimoto in reply to Fnord says:

            Which is interesting because that’s substantially more than the 7 sp per week that a peasant is assumed to earn. (There’s a line in the DMG about how commoners earn 1 sp/day)Report

            • Jaybird in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

              If you only have 1d2 hit points, you’re not going to exert yourself too much or put yourself in harm’s way.

              That’s what heroes are for.Report

            • Fnord in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

              First my math was clearly a bit confused, so my number is slightly off. A +4 Profession skill modifier means a result of 14 with Take 10, or an average result of 14.5 if you roll, so 7 gp or 7.25 gp per week, not 7.5.

              The Profession skill states that totally untrained laborers make 1 sp/day, as you suggest. So we’re seeing quite a divergence in skilled versus unskilled labor. Profession is not usable untrained, so a single rank in Profession takes your daily earnings from 7 sp/week to 5 gp/week.Report

      • Kim in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

        Carry Trade? 😉Report

  4. Ryan Noonan says:

    I have no more than layman’s knowledge of D&D, but this series is absolutely enthralling. More please.Report

  5. Remo says:

    If we take the D&D cost for magic then we can quickly come to one conclusion: Magic is too expensive to be permanent.

    Like you pointed out, even the simplest magical items would cost an excess of a million dollars. That would mean that the group who can afford them is very limited.

    But then, that is a problem with the D&D economic design. Thats a whole other can of worms.
    The whole design is flawed – someone that exists in the world and is not a adventurer is not able to pay for his own food with the wages the system atributes for himself.

    I will enter another problem in your model: How are levels spread out? Powerful mages might be exceedingly rare, mages powerful enough to actually make some of the higher tier magic might be so rare that they are invaluable.

    One thing must be pointed out – is magical talent ‘natural’, or is it just intelligence and study? D&D assumes the latter, but what if not everyone can become a mage to start with?

    All in all, i think that the D&D template is the wrong way to try to discuss something like this,
    because the system itself is too far away from reality.

    Let me try to show it by example: Look at the US Senate.
    – Would you agree that those are some of the highest level Politicians on the US?
    – How much more eloquent are they than, lets say, State Governors?
    – How much are those more eloquent than City Prefects?
    The answer is usually – a bit, but not really much. How far are these guys apart in levels? Now, the problem with D&D – how far are these guys apart in the rest of their life’s, on things that aren’t related to politics? The guys that are higher level, because of rules constraints, can be as more effective on out of politics things as they are on politics things. Because everything in D&D is limited by someone’s level.

    So, what i am saying is: If you want a broader discussion on how magic would impact a society, use a system that allows for such broader discussion. A higher level wizard in D&D will be better than a lower level wizard in *everything* simply because he is higher level. A much more realistic approach is for someone to be better at something, and someone else be better at something else. Or ignore the system itself – make base assumptions like how powerful are mages in general, what they can and cannot do, and how many people are mages and start from there.

    To hammer the point, one more time: A 5th level generalist wizard is a better fire wizard than a 3rd level fire specialist wizard in D&D.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Remo says:

      3rd Edition introduced “Sorcerers” in addition to Wizards to distinguish “natural talent” spellcasters from really, really intelligent craftsmen.

      1st level Sorcerers could cast one, maybe two, spells a good number of times per day but learning a new spell was not up to them. You go up levels, you get assigned a new spell. Maybe it’s Melf’s Acid Arrow, maybe it’s Featherfall. Maybe it’s Summon Monster II. That’s what you get. At least you can cast it 5 times before bedtime. So it’s a lot more fun than a wizard who casts sleep and then says “I’m done until tomorrow. I’ll try to use my sling.”

      Wizards, on the other hand, get 1 spell at 1st level… but that spell could be *ANY* first level spell on any given day (provided it’s in the spellbook). Today it’s Color Spray. Tomorrow it’s Power Word: Belch. The day after that, who knows. At 3rd level they can make wands, I think it is. At 5th, rods. At 7th, potions. And so on. Unlimited power, limited counterspace. The ultimate NPC class.Report

  6. Remo says:

    The system doesnt break down at higher levels – Even at somewhat low levels things will get weird:

    Mending make a lot of professions unnecessary. And virtually every mage can cast it. Avaliable at level 1.

    Unseen Servant instead of manofactories. A level 3 wizard could conjure enough servants to do repetitive work as well as a full timed employee. At level 4, he is doing the work of 3 people. At level 5, 7 people.

    Charm Person. Politiks.

    Disguise Self. Infiltration.

    All of those are spells that are avaliable for a level 1 wizard.

    At Spell level 2 ( character level 3), you get:
    Detect Thoughs – Superficial thoughs only, but well… diplamacy when you know what the other is thinking?

    Alter Self for a complete infiltration tool.

    Suggestion is also really nice – Person follows a suggested course of action. Again, diplomacy?

    Also, Zone of Truth would make interrogations much different.

    Fly, Invisibility, Protection from Projectiles, Fireball.
    A few 6th level wizards would change the way wars were fought the same way artillery did.

    D&D has a lot of reality breaking spells that are avaliable to virtually every mage/bard/cleric. They may not be so useful for a group of adventurers that are going up against hostile monsters, but for day-to-day usage? Of course, on the high end there will be a mage on each side trying to figure out if the other side is casting something against your government representant, but what is there to avoid me casting charm person on the owner of the bar down the road? Or suggestion on some pretty lady i meet? If magic use is not prevalent through the world, few people will have defenses or be prepared to deal with it. If it IS prevalent, then the whole premisse changes again, doesnt it?Report

  7. Damon says:

    I don’t recall, but isn’t there a “transmute” spell or a potion that allows for turning iron into gold? If so, this could also have an economic impact.

    As to the rarity of spell casters, common sense would dictate that the more powerful casters be in service to powerful lords, or be lords themselves. If in service, they would be likely supervising a staff of underlings working on a variety of efforts: crafting magic weapons/armor, creating spell scrolls for lower level casters serving in the armed forces, construction of assault/defensive weapons such as siege engines, surveying the astral/ethereal planes and keeping track of the coming and goings of demonic servants, etc. and advising the Lord on magical matters. I’d also expect that there would be similar type of work to be performed as part of your “guild tax/obligations”

    Keep up the good work. This is quite interesting.Report