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Thoughts On A Barbarian Economy

For a Conan RPG Campaign

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#1 Boot

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Posted 14 April 2012 - 07:45 PM

Some of you know that I'm running a Conan RPG game, focussing on a clan of Cimmerian Barbarians.

I've been wondering how the economic system works. First off, a few notes about the clan:

1. They're a trading clan. They're known for their steel weapons, and the clan trades with other clans for what it needs. This trade isn't making anybody rich--these are still Cimmerians living in little round hovels, most with rock walls and thatched roofs. But, the clan has made enough over the last couple of decades that they haven't needed to raid their neighbors for the things they need.

2. The clan is remote, located in the northern Cimmerian, centrally located in the foothills of the Eiglophian Mountains, on the south side of the Vanir-Aesir border. So, trade is usually limited to that with other Cimmerian clans, although the clan does have an agreement with an Aesir clan, which provides their main source of iron-ore.

3. Therefore, trade is usually done through barter. The Cimmerians use and understand the value of coins, and they accept them sometimes--especially if the Cimmerians do a lot of trade. But, your average Cimmerian who usually only trades with his clansmen will not accept coin as payment.

4. Cimmerians value practical items. They want things that they can eat--things that will keep them warm. Weapons are prized. Armor is typically not valued high, but helms, shields, and light armor holds the most value. Things like jewelry and non-practical clothing holds little value for a Cimmerian. He's interesting in things that will help him stay alive in the harsh enviornment of his homeland.





What I've been doing is allowing the PCs to roll weekly wealth, when they're in the village and not on an adventure, using the 3.5 Craft rules. You basically make a skill check, and the total of your roll is how many silver pieces the character earned that week.

Instead of silver pieces, I call the wealth "trade units". It's not coin the character it gaining, it's a good pair of winter boots, three rabbit pelts, an iron helm, and a freshly strung hunting bow. Barter system.

So, for example, one of my PCs is a Trapper. So, once a week, when the character is in the village the entire week, the player will roll a Craft Trapping skill check, the result giving the PC some wealth in trade units.

These trade units the character uses to buy supplies and equipment he needs from his kinsmen.





OK, so here's my question....

Given all I've said above, how do you think the economic system works within the single-village clan?

I'm thinking that there is a semi-socialistic set-up. The trapper, for example, goes out and gathers the animals from the traps. Some of these he keeps for himself. Half, he gives to the clan (to feed the non-hunters, like the old lady who makes clothes for people, or the tanner who works with the animals the PC brings him).

This means that, when a weekly wealth check is made, the amount to the PC is reduced by 50% to account for what he has given away to the clan.



What do you guys think of this? Do you have a better idea on how to run wealth in this game? Do you think a Cimmerian clan would operate a different way?

I'm open to ideas as I haven't yet locked this idea down in my game.



EDIT: Population. There are 336 people in the entire clan. 140 live in the village. The rest live in outlying homesteads.

In the village, there are 63 children, 49 warriors, 25 elders, and 2 clansmen in their twilight years.

In the entire clan, there are 151 children, 118 warriors, 60 elders, and 7 clansmen in their twilight years.

Since most of the clansmen trade among themselves, this will give you an idea of the size of the market.

Edited by Boot, 14 April 2012 - 08:22 PM.


#2 Boot

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Posted 14 April 2012 - 08:38 PM

A related question I'm considering in my game:

Since the PCs are barbarians, living away from civilazation, I've taken the advice given in the equipment sections of several of the Conan RPG books and inflated the prices. The recommendation (as in the Aquilonia sourcebook) is up to 20 times the price listed in the book.

I decided to go with a x5 and x10 modifier. If the PCs sold something to a trader (something they obtained on an adventure), he'd give them the book listed price (in trade units, of course, not silver). When the PCs bought something, I'd use the x5 modifier for common items and the x10 modifier for rare or prized items.

Of course, your players always hit you with a curveball, and one of my PCs is the apprentice smith in the village. So, when he wanted to sell a heavy mace he'd taken from an enemy, and the trader would only give him 3 trade units for it, the player asked what the trader would sell it for. I used my standard x10 modifier for the weapon, telling him 30 trade units.

The player said, "Well, I'll just put it up at the forge and sell it there."




Now, I've got a problem on my hands. I've got to reconcile items the player tries to sell specifically, like the mace, vs. the abstract method of obtaining wealth by rolling once per week on the character's skill.

So, how would you make that call in your game?

What I did, just off the cuff during our game, was tell the player that, due to the population and market, there's a low chance that it will sell quickly. People tend to get weapons that they like and keep them. I figured I'd get some use out of the often neglected 30 sided dice, so I told him the chance, per week, that the mace would sell is 1-in-30.

The player then--this is no lie--it happened last Saturday--picked up the 30 sider, tossed it across the table, and I was stunned when I saw the die land on the "1".

So, I gave the player his 30 trade units and made a note to myself to review how the trade system is going to work.




The question here is: How do you resolve selling loot the PCs capture on the battlefield against the abstract weekly wealth roll, given the conditions I've outlined about my game?

Is there a better way to handle this?

#3 Boot

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Posted 14 April 2012 - 11:37 PM

Here's another related question....

If a character with the weaponsmith craft skill spends the week making a weapon, does he also get to roll for income that week?

Or, are those mutually exclusive rolls?

#4 Boot

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Posted 15 April 2012 - 02:29 AM

Another thought along these lines....

First, no more selling specific items like I did with the Mace during our last game. The weekly throw represents what's sold and what's not.

If that's the case, then, I think the smith should be able to make his weekly check even if he's making a weapon that will take a long time to make--the difference being we'll never sell that weapon other than to say it's part of his weekly take.

Of course, that brings up the question of what to do with battlefield gains that the players want to sell. I think things that will bring big money, even if its over time, will just get the PC a bonus modifier on the throw--say a +2 for every major item.

And, we could say that the modifier can be no higher than the character's Profession skill.



So...

You've got your young Cimmerian that goes out, adventures, and fights, bringing back some tradeables: a shield, a short sword, a dagger, and a waterskin.

The shield and shortsword are major items. Those are worth +2 on the throw each. The dagger and waterskin are not major items, together, they're worth +1 on the throw.

The character has never improved his Profession (Weaponsmith) skill, so he's limited to one item modifer per week (because it's a minimum of one). If he had a 3 ranks in Profession, then he could take the full +5 modifier because he could benefit from 3 items per week).

Since this smith has no ranks in his Profession skill, he'll get +2 on this Wealth check this week, +2 on his Wealth check next week, and +1 on his Wealth check the week after that.

This makes the Profession skill something the player may want to look into getting.

Crafting is about making stuff and that stuff's quality.

Profession is about running a business.

What do you think of that?

#5 Lunatic

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Posted 15 April 2012 - 05:08 AM

I do not own this game, but I always imagined that a barbarian economy would typically be a nomadic/herding one combined with a good healthy dose of raiding/warfare.

"Cimmerians make savage raids to the north, east and south. But they live in hillcountry and fight mostly on foot." (from notes on various peoples of the Hyborian age".)

I have problems with the thought of a 50% taxation for the clan. Socialism is based on the thought that the land and materials are owned by the state. But barbarians don´t really have a state. They have clans and I think they will not deny a clansman food or shelter as long as he will help out working. Perhaps anarchy is a better word to describe this form of society?

Unless those swords and steelworks are really high in demand with the aesir but not so valuable that the same or neighbouring fellow cimmerians would be tempted to raid that village. Then, would they really be making much profit at all? Except just plain survival. Suppose they sit on a goldmine. What is to stop the Vanir to gather some 1000 reavers and take it?

The base of economy is manpower and population seem to be to scarce for making much riches from trade. Sure they trade a little like all men, but if they make really exceptional steel, why give it to the warlike neighbours.

Cimmerians do not make human sacrifice and they do not have much agriculture. So do they need slaves? more mouths to feed. Probably not. Actually Crom might dislike it. Slaves doing your chores make you lazy. While you dont have many men to spare for guarding these slaves from running away.

So if they want to become rich cimmerians, I propose you let them prepare for raiding.

#6 Ironhand

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Posted 15 April 2012 - 06:03 AM

Here's a couple of suggestions that may help you avoid socialism, and may answer some of your questions.

Instead of socialism (which, BTW, may not be that different from a philosophy of "This land and all its resources belongs to the tribe, and every member of the tribe.") I would suggest that a single village clan, where everybody knows everybody else, and is probably related to half the people they know, employs a credit system based on personal trust and "promissary notes". Say, for instance, your PC is a young hunter/trapper whose grandfather is a blacksmith. "Hey Gramps, if you fix this broken spearhead, i'll bring you a fresh mountain goat next week." "Hey Gramps, if you make me a helmet, I'll bring you a fresh mountain goat every week until the next Equinox." Will Gramps accede to these requests? Depends on how much he trusts his grandson. A freeloader may get away with it for a while, but sooner or later he will get an unwelcome visit in the middle of the night from a bunch of unhappy people.

Conversely, the blacksmith may have a lot of work to do, and may go to his grandson "Hey, Whippersnapper, I'll give you a nifty sword if you promise to bring me a fresh mountain goat every week through Crommasstide."

I would also suggest that if the above-mentioned young hunter/trapper acquires a lot of weapons/armor on a raid, his grandfather is a ready-made market for such items. Gramps will take a dozen or so such items all at once, knowing that he can sell/trade them all over the next year, while refurbishing them as necessary. So he'll take the whole load, and give his grandson credit for a year's worth of equipment.

If your PC has to fill his needs by asking for favors, he may modify his success roll depending on how related he is to the person of whom he is asking the favor. So when you are rolling up a PC, one of the things you need to determine is: whom is he related to? In fact, this can be very important in a small tribe.

Edited by Ironhand, 16 April 2012 - 02:51 AM.

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#7 Boot

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Posted 15 April 2012 - 06:49 AM

I do not own this game, but I always imagined that a barbarian economy would typically be a nomadic/herding one combined with a good healthy dose of raiding/warfare.


I've established, in the game, that raiding hasn't been necessary because of the brisk trade the clan does for its weapons. The forge, and the family that operates it, is a central component of my story.

But, that's doesn't mean I can't change things. Doing a raid would be a fun encounter.



I have problems with the thought of a 50% taxation for the clan. Socialism is based on the thought that the land and materials are owned by the state. But barbarians don´t really have a state.


The thought was that the clan is tight-nit, and many clan members are family. So the "socialism" aspect came from the idea that a father might not sell to a son, or the son to his cousin, cousin to his grandfather. There's 140 people in the village, but if you remove the children and 2 elders, you've got only 74 adults left that are inter-related on a lot of levels.

Plus, I don't think the clan would let anybody starve if it could help it. And, I've established that this particular clan does have a type of "policing force" called the Watchmen. These are 11 warriors who have no other profession other than patroling the clan's territory and protecting the clan. Every adult male is a warrior, but most have some other occupation (tanner, butcher, hunter, trapper, smith, trader, etc.) These of the Watchmen don't learn another trade. So, they have no way to feed themselves. Thus, I figured the clan would feed them and provide them with things they need.

Further, going by one of the game books, Cimmerians don't typically own a lot of possessions. They've got their personal gear and that's about it. They may have possession of a hut, but it might not be necessarily theirs--if they left the clan, they couldn't "sell" it to another family.

But...I really don't like the 50% reduction from an ease-of-play persepective. I think the inflated x5, x10, and higher prices will keep the PCs in the game looking like your normal dirt poor Cimmerian.





The base of economy is manpower and population seem to be to scarce for making much riches from trade. Sure they trade a little like all men, but if they make really exceptional steel, why give it to the warlike neighbours.


That's a story element in my game. The Cimmerians aren't miners, but the make a fine sword. They need the iron-ore, and the Aesir is where they've gotten it for generations.





Here's a couple of suggestions that may help you avoid socialism, and may answer some of your questions.

Instead of socialism (which, BTW, may not be that different from a philosophy of "This land and all its resources belongs to the tribe, and every member of the tribe.") I would suggest that a single village clan, where everybody knows everybody else, and is probably related to half the people they know, employs a credit system based on personal trust and "promissary notes". Say, for instance, your PC is a young hunter/trapper whose grandfather is a blacksmith. "Hey Gramps, if you fix this broken spearhead, i'll bring you a fresh mountain goat next week." "Hey Gramps, if you make me a helmet, I'll bring you a fresh mountain goat every week until the next Equinox." Will Gramps accede to these requests? Depends on how much he trusts his grandson. A freeloader may get away with it for a while, but sooner or later he will get an unwelcome visit in the middle of the night from a bunch of unhappy people.


That's how I picture it working. Maybe Socialism was the wrong term.


So when you are rolling up a PC, one of the things you need to determine is: whom is he related to? In fact, this can be very important in a small tribe.


The campaign has been going on for over a year, and the entire families of the PCs were completely created from the beginning.

The PC I speak of above is Caelis Redbirth. They call him "Redbirth" because, unknown to them at the time, his mother had triplets. Caelis is a younger twin, but the third child was stillborn. The villagers believe that he killed his brother in his dying mother's womb (she died at child birth) in a fight for survival in order to be birthed. Caelis always has been a little "different" (Low CHA), and he gets the evileye from his superstitious clanmates quite often.

Caelis' surviving twin is Branoc. If Branoc were born in the US in the 1950's, he'd be the All-American high school quarterback that does everything right and everybody loves. Caelis has grown up in his older brother's shadow.

Branoc is now about to marry Girdra, the trader's daughter. The trader is actually a Hyrkanian nomad who lost his family and entire people in a territorial war. He fled west, finding his way into Cimmeria and to this clan. He married again, and Girdra is the result.

Caelis' father is Finn Elder, the chief of the clan. Finn is also the forge master of the Duncohr forge--a respectible trade that has been in the Duncohr family for longer than anyone can remmber. Finn shares the forge with his younger brother, Dael. Dael's wife is dead, also, but Dael has a daughther that is a few years older than Caelis. Brenna acted as Caelis mother when he was growing up, but now she has a daughter of her own. And, she's married to Hrathgar, an Aesir who was sent to the clan at age 15 to continue to seal the trade relations with the Aesir miners.

Finn is actually the eldest of five brothers: Finn, Eanbotha, Dael, Cael, and Eregerth.

Ean lost his entire family (in a long story about the past) and today serves as the Clan's warchief. Finn shares power with him, kinda like a President and Vice President.

Cael suffers from the rex, which is a Cimmerian way of saying that he did something so horrible, so treasonous, so unthinkable, so dishonorable, that he's been outcase from the clan--and his name is never to be spoken, nor is his earlier existence ever to be even acknowledged. Cael is the younger twin to Dael. Nothing is known about Cael at this time.

Eregerth left clan 15 years ago, struck with wanderlust. He's recently returned and revealed that, of late, he's been a scout for the Aquilonian army on the Pictish frontier.

I could go on about grandparents, friends, and other NPCs--I probably have 20-30 NPCs with full, realistic backgrounds that the players have been interacting with over the last year we've been playing this campaign.

#8 amster

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Posted 15 April 2012 - 01:14 PM

Wow! I can't believe that RPG players are even concerned with this! It gives me a headache just reading! I've never played the Conan RPG, but back when I played D&D, our characters earned money by going out on adventures and stealing it from monsters. :blink:
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#9 Boot

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Posted 15 April 2012 - 06:32 PM

Wow! I can't believe that RPG players are even concerned with this! It gives me a headache just reading! I've never played the Conan RPG, but back when I played D&D, our characters earned money by going out on adventures and stealing it from monsters. :blink:


Welcome to the big leagues!

You'd be amazed at the detail some people put into their games.

I've made a 2000 square mile map around the PC's clan village with all sorts of stuff on it. I've got a detailed history of how the clan came into existence (it's a new clan--founded about 20 years ago). And, even though it's Cimmeria, different clans have different cultures in my game. The Blue Fox are different from the Grath, and both are different from the Ox clan, etc.

Roleplaying can me much, much more than, "Hey, let's go explore that cave, fight a bunch of monsters, and find a bunch of loot!"

My games are in-depth stories. We've been playing this campaign for about a year now, and we just finished our first story arc. The story focussed on how the PCs, who started the game at age 12, became men--adults, warriors in the eyes of the clan.

I'll start a thread that reports the story that's happened in my game, for those that are interested.