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The Economy of a Virtual World - Thoughts From Behind the DM Screen

Greg Christopher

Before I start down the road, I want to first make a few statements of clarification. There is another editorial on NWVault, by Mandos (AKA Major Bill Marcellino, USMC) titled NWN Economies. This is a great editorial, but it deals with persistent world economies and not static world economies, which is the focus of my editorial. The following analysis is almost exclusively relevant to static module design, not persistent worlds. While there has certainly been a boom in the Persistent World "market" (so to speak), I am not a fan of the MMORPG and I have never been. I leave such discussions to people with expertise in that area, like Mandos. On with the show...

One of the most striking aspects of the vast majority of fantasy worlds out there is the nearly complete neglect of the economic system. One of the most appealing functions of the Dungeons and Dragons system is the attention to detail in this area. The Dungeon Master Guide for D&D 3rd Edition discusses economic functions in considerable detail; describing everything from local currency liquidity to potential explanations for all the money just sitting out there in dungeons. The Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting follows in those footsteps. Video games, on the other hand, lag way, way, way behind in this regard.

Consider the following scenario; a merchant in a backwater town. Using logic and reason, you would suspect that, even with the considerable differences between our world and the world of fantasy, that this merchant is not going to really be that rich of a fellow. A merchant in a backwater town is unlikely to have access to the higher-end goods available in cities. Most of his equipment will be of decent durability, perhaps, but this merchant will not be able to sell you a high-end magical weapon. This would be the equivilant of a mom-and-pop grocery store in Algeria carrying M-1 Abrahams Tanks.

However, in the vast majority of fantasy games on the market, merchants in small towns and villages can carry tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of gold pieces worth of equipment. All of it is top-of-the-line and available in profuse quantities. What insanity is this? Perhaps a merchant in Waterdeep, Athkatla, Thay, or similar metropolis would carry such a magnificent outlay of goods; but not ho-hum merchant #234 in the middle of nowhere.

The reason why magical items are expensive in the first place is because they are rare. Exceedingly rare. And those who are in possession of magical items are very reluctant to give them up, even for substantial sums of gold. To use Neverwinter as an example; Neverwinter is a city of approximately 23,000 people; a large city. According to the DMG, a large city has a GP limit of 40,000 gold pieces (meaning no single purchase can exceed this amount). According to DMG math; the amount of cash-on-hand in Neverwinter should be 46,000,000 gold pieces. This is certainly a place where you can really purchase a lot of things.

Let us use Beoruna's Well as a counter-example; Beorunna's Well is a large town of about 2000 people. It has a GP limit of 3000 gold pieces. That means that level 8 spell scroll or even a +2 magical weapon! Additionally, the town only has 30,000 gold pieces in liquidity. Meaning you cannot sell more than 30,000 gold pieces worth of goods in town before the local money supply is totally exhausted. Yet in the NWN original campaign, Beorunna's Well has the market place of a Neverwinter and Neverwinter has the marketplace of a Beorunna's Well.

We havent even gotten into the inflationary effects of dumping huge quantities of gold into the currency market of a small town yet! Imagine if you have an economy with a total currency liquidity of thirty thousand gold coins and an adventuring party shows up. These adventurers purchase fifteen thousand gold pieces worth of goods and sell nothing. They have essentially just multiplied the local currency by 150 percent and removed half of the available goods. The result of such an act would be hyper-deflation as you have a huge amount of money chasing a tiny amount of goods. If the adventurers purchase nothing and instead sell a huge amount of goods (more likely scenario), then they will be creating the opposite effect; hyper-inflation.

What irony! By clearing out the local monster den and selling the contents in town, you have destroyed the local economy. Maybe they were better off with the monsters than you! This problem can be easily solved by imposing purchasing/selling limits or actually modelling inflationary effects; though such measures will likely be unappealing to the players. Instead, I suggest you simply logically limit the treasure load. Hand out treasure in the form of items, not gold, and make the items rare enough to discourage their sale. If I happen across some boots of speed in the belly of a dungeon and cant purchase the item in any store in the game, you can bet your last copper piece that I will not sell it.

But alas, these game mechanics are done for reasons of efficiency and coddling to the lowest common denominator. I understand Bioware and numerous other company's reasoning, I just wish they would think outside the box. Versimmilitude is still possible without stretching the boundaries of reasonable fantasy. The module I am currently working on is designed to prove that (Daggerdale v2.0).

Dagger Falls (the largest settlement in Daggerdale) is large town of about 2,800 residents according the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting for 3rd Edition. Therefore, it should be a place where mundane weapons and minor magical items are readily available. Purchasing a Potion of Cure Light Wounds, a Scroll of Magic Missile, a basic longsword, or even a suit of full plate armor should be available to anyone with the coin to purchase it. A +1 weapon or suit of armor, however, should be something to covet and a Daggerdale citizen should be loathe to part with it. They should demand slightly more than it's market value because of its rarity and perhaps demand special favors; particularly to earn the trust of the townsfolk (who dont want just anyone to carry such a powerful piece of equipment).

The Citadel of the Raven, the Mines of Tethyamar, and various other adventuring sights around Daggerdale should house a modicum of magical equipment. Rare enough to be coveted, but available for anyone willing to brave the dangers that protect the item. The Citadel of the Raven is a large base for an organization that is particularly fond of magical equipment (The Zhentarim). There will be substantial amounts of magic to be claimed there. But there will also be a stiff defense to protect such a valuable hoard.

Therefore, the treasure layout of Daggerdale adds a lot of versimmilitude to the NWN community. I believe it is reasonable and fair. It has certainly been a challenge to carefully balance the treasure rewards, I admit, but ultimately worth it, in my opinion. In the end, when a player finds a magical weapon, they should feel elated! Rarity is truly a prime factor in the determination of value. A rogue who happens upon a trapped, locked chest protecting a powerful item will be a happy player indeed. In fact, when he returns to his party, he just might forget to even tell them what he found.........

If only I can design the module all day and forget my normal life........then it might be done sometime soon.

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