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Default General News - On Fantasy Economies

January 1st, 2008, 02:12
The economy in RPGs isn't a topic that typically attracts a lot of column-inches but it's an interesting topic that can potentially make or break a game. Jay Barnson - the Rampant Coyote - wrote an interesting couple of pieces a few days ago about the availability of magic items in fantasy RPGs, which then lead on to discussion of items and the economy:
In a world where magic plate mail routinely drops from a swarm of bugs (*cough*Diablo*cough*), anything short of a certain level of enchantment is going to be disdained by players - or at least kept only for its trade-in value.

A quest for an awesome new sword had better complete with the player in possession of a weapon that is significantly better than the one he used to complete the quest!

Expendable items are routinely undervalued by players and overvalued by designers. The designers tend to value the items based upon their best-use potential… a couple dozen +5 arrows of shocking can really make short work of a particular boss, and at a safe distance! And that potion of invisibility could completely trivialize a key challenge. So he (or she!) will price them appropriately to how much they can influence major encounters, to keep them out of the hands of lower-level characters.

But the player sees the cost of those arrows compared to the price of an "infinite use" bow or sword, and find them very unfavorable. They also know that the non-expended weapon will have some resale value when they are done with it, and the expended items will not.
Scorpia picked up this subject and commented on a shift towards munchkinism over at her site:
D&D is no longer aimed at the patient player, willing to put in the time to advance. I felt, after my first look at the 3rd ed. rules, that it was designed for munchkins. For people who wanted power and wanted it fast.
So it isnít exactly amazing that magic items and whatnot are becoming more important in the game. D&D is simply building on the impatience and greed of the new generation of players.
After all, if youíre moving up fast, that means bigger challenges sooner, and so, of course, you need better gear. So letís just put some Monty Haul in the mix and keep players happy.
As Coyote notes, this cheapens magic items. Instead of being something wonderful, a +1 shield or wand of magic missiles becomes an everyday object. More, the players now expect to find such things all the time. What was once magical has actually become rather mundane.
Jay also points out blog post from Shrapnel Games' Scott Krol, who wrote on this subject - Scott relates how he tried to create a highly detailed system for a PnP campaign and ended up tossing it out:
So basically this is how it would work. A player would be shopping for fifty feet of rope. I would then check to see which nation they were currently located in. Then find out the quality of the rope they were looking for. Then compute the going rate of said rope due to trade status (affected by resources, trading partner distance, season, etc). And oh, finally letís not forget the exchange rate if they were using foreign currency.

After about ten minutes consisting of lots of page flipping, dice rolls, and chart lookups I would have the price. And let me tell you something, the bastards better still be interested in purchasing whatever item they were looking at after all that trouble!

Now, if youíre thinking to yourself that was a hell of a lot of work just to figure out the cost of fifty feet of rope, well, yeah. Now imagine doing that for a standard laundry list of items that a party needs to replace in between adventures. A trip to the general store would take five real time hours to accomplish. But hey, it was the most detailed fantasy economy system I had ever done, or have ever encountered! Thatís gotta count for something, right?

It didnít take long for me to grow extremely sick of my own system. I tossed out the system; in fact, I tossed out the entire campaign world. It just didnít end up clicking for me for a number of reasons, none of which are important to talk about now.
Great topic. Do you love Monty Haul looting or does scarcity build better gameplay? One of my Eschalon characters (pure ranger) really struggled with cashflow, which was both frustrating and exciting at the same time - what do you think?
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January 1st, 2008, 02:12
Running my NWN server economy was a central issue. We had limited weapons to +3 or their equivalent up to Level 20 so bringing in Epic levels was a serious issue.

My builders constantly griped that I would nerf their goods because they were giving away too much to make their builds more popular. You also had to watch out for sneaky builders who dropped in stores that bought at too high a price

DM awards was another issue. The person I handed the mod too started giving out a RPotM and the DMs began topping one another in whatever award they were giving out to the point where they were worth 100's of 1000's.

When I got the mod back I jacked up the price of high end goods and put a stop to the RPotM which tended to go to his buddies anyway.

I also fixed the item duping exploit which Bio still hasn't fixed and that stabalized things greatly. It punished players with a 1000xp hit if they tried it and that got to be entertaining when they would try and complain.

Bioware created other problems too. With their convoluted treasure system they generate goods that were way too high for our economy. A future builder with the new guy also put a system in that gave out even more dole. Level 2 characters could get +4 equipment for example.

Worse still, some of Bio's characters, like the shifter, would have things like +7 Scythes at the 20th level lich and there was very little you could do about it without resorting to hacks. Complaints from other mod owners got retorts back from Bio that "it is balanced!".

I think Bio created the biggest headache by moddling NWN after Diablo or gearing it for that crowd. If you wanted to create a low treasure game you could find a lot of headaches fighting with them. Let's not forget the uber feats and spells they gave out without much thought. Because NWN is an action game, peopel were able to obtain these quite quickly.

What I did notice when the economy was under control is how much the players appreciated it. Because goods weren't so easily obtainable getting a good item could mean a lot, whereas on other servers gold simply became worthless.

When gold is still worth something then you have an economy in some control.
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January 1st, 2008, 03:04
There's a certain charm to a Monty Haul game like Dungeon Siege 2. It introduced an additional degree of difficulty to the character maximization, as well as adding the addictive hunt for set items.

Most games seem to work out that money/goodies are pretty easy in the early game, overly scarce in the mid-game, and utterly meaningless in the end game. I think I'm OK with that.
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January 1st, 2008, 03:30
I suppose it depends why and how you're playing. With our online NWN group, money is meaningless; I think last time I looked I had nearly 8 million gold and I never buy anything anymore. In the Witcher, I've never had enough gold to buy any decent armor. Tight money means meaningful choices have to be made about what to spend it on. That is a good thing IMO. Similarly, if everyone has a +8 sword of infinite doom, then it becomes meaningless as well. Reminds me of why I dislike level scaling!!
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January 1st, 2008, 03:37
I think one of the reasons the Gothic games were so good (the first two at least) was the scarcity of money and resources. There were workarounds though, such as looting the storage area in the castle in Gothic one or endlessly crafting basic swords in NoTR, that really took most of the fun out of working to make ends meet in rough world. Without those though you had to plan ahead and strategize how to spend your money, which is not something that is necessary in most rpgs, where money is either endless, not important, or the world is not dangerous enough for your decisions about money to matter. I have rarely played games with a truly satisfying economy, but those two games were examples of it.
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January 1st, 2008, 03:41
If you haven't played The Witcher yet, then do so; money is scarce there too!!
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January 1st, 2008, 03:44
I'm torn on the issue, so I've decided that what I want is a little bit of variety in the game design.

Sometimes, I want loot, and lots of it. Games like Diablo are built around that concept, and they do it well. The story doesn't mean diddly so long as you know where you're going to kill the next wave of monsters, there is no world to keep consistent (that lovely concept of verisimilitude that can make or break a story-driven or even adventure/sandbox -style of game, where you're exploring cultures and learning about enemies and histories)… there's just the game of equipping your character, and using that equipment to overcome the next challenge, no matter what form it takes. Games that do this well are fun.

Other times, though, I want to talk to the characters, learn the languages, figure out who likes who and which groups are working against each other, actually crack open a book or two to discover that Monster X is disoriented by the light of a full moon, and thus easier to kill… games like this shouldn't focus on the loot aspects so much. The loot in games like this is better off being unique, hand-placed, and having some sort of story attached to it that enchances all of the other story-related elements that the game offers. In games like this, I see absolutely no reason why I should expect to find a more powerful magic weapon after 3 hours of game play. If it fits with the campaign setting, I see no reason why I should expect a magic weapon, period.

BG1 was a game that did this pretty well, if you ask me. The Flame Tongue Long Sword found in Durlag's Tower, for instance: always found there, never varied in its stats, didn't even mention Durlag or his Tower in its description, but whenever I looked at my character, wielding that sword, I thought "damn, what a cool adventure I had finding that sword[/i]". That's where the real value of items lies in story-based games, IMO. Not in their power, but in how "interesting" they are, and that's something that depends on not only the item itself, but in how I managed to acquire that item.

It's a real shame that games tend to focus on the item's equivalent of the level-up treadmill, because it does cheapen everything that I find, and can even impact some other-wise cool features that might be available to me; I always know there's something better just around the corner, so why should I waste my one-time ability to inscribe my name on this wand when I know there's a better wand just around the corner. The result? I never end up inscribing my name on any item.

Anyway, loot is good, but the item treadmill is something that doesn't work in every type of game. For action RPGs, that's cool; that's what the game is about. For the more story-driven kind of game, though, it can actually become detrimental to a story or setting (thinking BG2: ToB here… everything and their dog was outfitted with +3 or greater weaponry, and all I could think about while facing that next wave of mercenaries was "How the HELL did they manage to make all that shit?").

What we need are story-driven games that don't also subscribe to the Monty Haul theory of item placement.

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January 1st, 2008, 04:01
Oh, and when it comes to raw coinage, I'd prefer there never come a time when I can buy everything I might want. If you're going to go to the trouble of building in a monetary system, there's no real point in only making it relevant for half the game, is there?

I suppose it gets back to game difficulty, though. Games have characters that rely on items for about 60% of their efficiency because it's easier to deal with the consequences if you get it wrong. You can't redistribute skill points or classes, but you can swap out one suit of plate armour for another if a fight ends up being too hard. Having limited funds would cut into that strategy in a fairly substantial way, which would mean a longer game balancing period, more QA… longer development time.

The current way of doing it isn't bad, though. I find that it just gets old relatively quickly when every game under the sun does it exactly the same way.

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January 1st, 2008, 04:40
The Witcher's economy is great. I hate using cheats or exploits to boost up my income. I want to work for it and The Witcher balances the economy perfectly. Example: Do I buy more alcohol to make potions or save up for the armor?
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January 1st, 2008, 10:22
And don't forget about buying some alcohol to drink too!!
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January 1st, 2008, 12:20
Nice post IamaGuest. My biggest complaints about many modern RPGs tend to focus on the lack of story depth, the dearth of meaningful choices, and overly simplistic combat. But, the so-called item treadmill is another major factor that shouldn't be overlooked.
The first RPG I ever played was a Nintendo game called Dragon Warrior. I was only 11 years old and didn't even know what an RPG was, but after seeing Dragon Warrior, (which unlike most JRPGs was a free-roaming sandbox game), I never wanted to play Mario Brothers again. DW was hard right from the start. You could barely earn enough money to heal yourself, let alone afford anything better than a wooden club. But, when you finally had enough gold to buy the copper sword, you instantly felt the difference.
In many modern rpgs, the sheer quantity of items, the ease with which they are obtained, and the fact that they are scaled in such a way as to afford only minor improvements from one item to the next, takes much of the fun out of finding and buying items (for me anyway).
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January 1st, 2008, 12:58
I'm not sure if the issue is about scarcity or Monty Haul rather than about balance. The main problem with Monty Haul economies is that they're not really credible -- you end up with a MotB:ish situation where someone operating a shabby little market stall carries about a million gold pieces' worth of loot -- enough to build and staff several fortresses. That just doesn't make sense.

Similarly, it's hard to strike a balance between crafting, random loot, and placed loot. If there is one "the" best weapon or armor, it tends to render everything else worthless and direct players to do whatever they need to do to get it, ignoring the other options; if there isn't, it tends to render everything mundane.

I've played both types of campaigns, with varying amounts of success.

I had a low-magic campaign set in imperial Rome, partly done through sleight of hand -- an iron gladius would be a short sword +0, whereas a steel sword crafted by a master swordsmith in faraway Cathay would be a +5. The former could be had for a few sestertii, while the latter would cost about as much as a small mansion outside Alexandria, with some slaves thrown in (and would also be very, very hard to come by). Genuinely magical items were even rarer and very powerful, and there was no way for players to craft them.

At the other end of the scale is my Planescape campaign. Here, the flotsam and jetsam from all over the Planes accumulates in Sigil; a jaunt to the Lower Planes may end up on an old battlefield of the Blood War with demonically-enchanted adamantine weapons and armor strewn about, or a starving, maimed, and half-crazed planewalker might barter away an artifact for a loaf of bread and a drink. But then the opposition would be equipped the same way, naturally.
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January 1st, 2008, 15:10
For a motivation for taking a life, you can't sink much lower than "Because I wanted his stuff." The only reason to kill another sapient individual that could be stupider and less defensible would be something like "Just to practice my swordplay." Say what you like about "evil" antagonists, but at least it's a recognisably human idea. A crocodile could give you better excuses for his behaviour than I had for wiping the Sword Coast clean of life.
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January 1st, 2008, 15:42
The thread is Fantasy Economies. Not the destruction of millions of virtual lives but if you insist ok. You want motivation. How about they will kill you. That seems like pretty good motivation to me or they want to take your way of life and change it to theirs. That seems like pretty good motivation also.

Lets see if I remember correctly the Sword coast was infested with bandits and demi-human gangs that were burning and killing anything in their path. Isn't it a good idea to stop that? Besides how boring would it be if you just walked around saying "Can't we all just get along?" I think that would be more a sims game than RPG.
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January 1st, 2008, 18:12
That's one of the things I highly disliked about NWN2. First time you get to an inn…. the inn owner was better equipped in weapons than any weaponsmith has ever been in the real world. A mundame and magical version of about every weapons found in the DnD universe. It was done this way so that every possible builds could find whatever they needed… but imo, it was just plain ridiculous.

NWN2(and dnd 3rd edition) got up to a point where it's in my opinion not a good ruleset for a crpg anymore. And I understand Bioware perfectly for not using it in their upcoming rpg, Dragon Age. Now, if you make a DnD rpg, you have to include basically every races/classes/prestige classes/sub-races else the DnD fans get disapointed. That make a poor rpg. No wonder all the best mods for NWN are much more focused.

A good role-playing game(and I'm not talking about the action diablo-ish ones, here) got an economy you can at least more or less believe.
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January 1st, 2008, 19:21
Originally Posted by skavenhorde View Post
The Witcher's economy is great. I hate using cheats or exploits to boost up my income. I want to work for it and The Witcher balances the economy perfectly. Example: Do I buy more alcohol to make potions or save up for the armor?
Is that so? I earned money by playing dice poker game. The mini game has a practical value. I wonder how I should react to this.

As for the economy in fantasy settings, Rune Quest had a detailed economy including exchange rates but, at the same time, it didn't overdo that. It gave more general guidelines for items and game masters simply used their common sense. Also, magic items in Glorantha was, for example, a bronze sword sealing friendly spirit of air god, instead of +1-+5 items. Some abilities of the spirit is allowed to use only when the spirit agreed that the purpose would please the god. Such magic items are of course, work for immersion and role-playing.

Some magic in Glorantha seems to exist only to show how is the life and the view of the people in there. In the Witcher, Triss jokes about conjuring up orgasm but in Glorantha, such spell exists in the spell list of a goddess of love and fertility. When I read it, I thought it was a joke, too, but, later, I learned there are some cultures where ancient priestess serves for goddess of fertility had sexual relationship with many and unspecified men.

Originally Posted by skavenhorde View Post
Lets see if I remember correctly the Sword coast was infested with bandits and demi-human gangs that were burning and killing anything in their path. Isn't it a good idea to stop that? Besides how boring would it be if you just walked around saying "Can't we all just get along?" I think that would be more a sims game than RPG.
The boundary is vague at times. In fact, why should combat be always in in role-playing games.
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January 1st, 2008, 19:44
It's funny - right after posting about it this week, I ran into the same situation in a CRPG. I'd exceeded my "intended" reach in a game (Aveyond 2), hitting a town and monsters that were intended for a slightly later stage of the game. I had to resurrect two party members, but I made it to town, and had enough cash to buy some of the massively upgraded equipment.

Twenty minutes of grinding close to the town, and I was fully outfitted with shiny new gear, and then wandered back out, found that my next quest was actually supposed to be in a lower-level area, and went there.

The battles were trivial with my higher-level characters and much higher-level gear. And what were some of the awesome rewards for the quest? Some equipment that was clearly inferior to my store-bought gear.

Understandable, yes. But not necessary, IMO. Sure, there should be store-purchasable items that help you "keep up" with where you should be, but quest rewards for adventuring (which is what you are supposed to be doing in an RPG, whether it's questing to the far ends of the earth or resolving court intrigue close to home) should be at least unique and different.
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January 1st, 2008, 23:57
I believe its EQ that has gear degrade over time. This was the answer to problem seen on other MMOGs like UO but its kind of artificial. I would think its also a way to slow eBay sales. My recollection of this could be wrong.

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I had a concept of gameplay where players would login only with the clothes on their back and they would have to make all their gear from scratch. The players would have to learn to craft as all they would be able to start with are sticks and rocks.
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January 2nd, 2008, 02:58
Originally Posted by Dusk View Post
Is that so? I earned money by playing dice poker game. The mini game has a practical value. I wonder how I should react to this.
The dice game wasn't a cheat or an exploit. It actually had value in the game and if you didn't save and load you could end up with nothing or a hundred coins ahead. This is the first mini-game that was blended in nicely with the game(except for System Shock 2 pod games, I spent hours just playing that little Ultima game ). You couldn't win tons of money but you sure could lose everything if you didn't play your dice right.

Although the dice AI was the dumbest in the world, you could still lose like I did many times.

Originally Posted by Dusk View Post
The boundary is vague at times. In fact, why should combat be always in in role-playing games.
Well, try to imagine Chess without combat. What do you have then? Also if you take out the combat what you have is an adventure game. Which you could argue is still a RPG. You are playing the role of a character still. I prefer to know my traditional CRPG has combat, puzzles and a good story. While my adventure games have puzzles and a good story.

The perfect balance between the two, imo, is still Quest for Glory.
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January 2nd, 2008, 04:47
Originally Posted by skavenhorde View Post
Although the dice AI was the dumbest in the world, you could still lose like I did many times.
Then, I think I "cheated" since I saved/reloaded when I was beaten so that I can save my imaginary money and more importantly time in my real life. Constant saves become a second nature and I didn't feel I was "cheating." In any case, I don't think it would stop me from doing this as long as I don't have plenty of time.

Originally Posted by skavenhorde View Post
Well, try to imagine Chess without combat. What do you have then? Also if you take out the combat what you have is an adventure game. Which you could argue is still a RPG. You are playing the role of a character still. I prefer to know my traditional CRPG has combat, puzzles and a good story. While my adventure games have puzzles and a good story.
I wonder why you brought up chess since it is one of the most ancient "strategy combat games." And yet you seem to recognize that role-playing factor is separable from combats in CRPGs and puzzles in adventure games, respectively. I cannot follow your logic here but, anyway, I point out the balance of the each gameplay is a matter of personal preference.
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