Thursday 15 December 2011

RPG isn't working

As unemployment edges toward 3 million and we all face significant cuts in our standard of living over the next few years at least, I thought I’d escape to fantasy. But it is difficult to earn a living there, too. Over the next few posts I’ll consider the ways in which a few RPGs deal with living expenses, and ways of earning a living that aren’t glorified murder and robbery. Some of the economies implied by the equipment and price lists and suggested wages simply do not work.

Of course, unemployment rocketed after the Tories won this election. The Saatchi's should be shot in front of their families (Top Gear defence invoked).

I’ll start with Mongoose’s ‘new’ bargain ruleset, Legend. Legend uses silver and copper pieces as the standard units of currency, with 10cp=1sp.

On page 111 we have a list of food and lodging for those on the road, i.e. short term lodgings, whether a flop house or a private room, and food bought in inns and taverns, or from street vendors. These range from 3cp a day for poor standard, through 1sp 5cp for average, to 7sp a day for superior food and lodging.

According to the table on page 85 of Legend, jobs such as Temple Assistant, Librarian, or working in the Militia, for example, can all be expected to earn you about 2sp a day (some of these come with free food and / or lodging), making it perfectly possible to maintain a decent standard of living even if you rely on more expensive short-term rented lodging and buy food in inns and taverns. It would be impossible to maintain a ‘superior’ standard of living through the kinds of employment listed here (except by being a lucky gambler or a good burglar). Some of the jobs, of course, pay far less – a manual labourer can only expect 3cp per day. Nevertheless, it is possible to see how people maintain some kind of standard of living according to the implied economy.

However, page 85 of Legend also has a table suggesting that PCs should spend a proportion of their ‘personal wealth’ to maintain a certain standard of living, ranging from 10% for ‘subsistence’ to 100% or more for ‘ostentatious’. The preceding page notes that ‘the terms used are relative to the amount of money the Adventurer has available: ‘luxury’ to someone with only a few silvers in their purse might be taking a bath once a week. To someone with several thousand, it might be taking a bath in asses milk every day.’ While I get that wealth is relative, I don’t get how an Adventurer, whose personal wealth will fluctuate much more than a regular person, can maintain what they might call ‘luxury’ simply by spending 80% of their personal wealth. After a successful raid they might have hundreds of silver pieces, AND after a spell of lean pickings, when they are grubbing in their purse to find a handful of copper pieces. Even if it did make sense to say that a person who only knew a nearly empty purse would see their 80% living a luxury, to suggest that an Adventurer would makes little sense.

And that is before we ask whether personal wealth includes loot, or just the income from employment in spells of ‘down time’. Because, if it includes loot, 1000sp stolen from the Sherriff’s strongbox will maintain a ‘luxurious’ standard of living for an indefinite period of downtime for the price of 800sp. This is true whether the downtime is a month of so of carousing between raids, or a year long spell of semi-retirement until the heat has died down.

I expect that some of this will be expanded in the forthcoming equipment guide, Arms of Legend. But until then, Legend has a system that allows PCs to spend months in downtime between perilous adventures, taking part in an abstract, but still sensible economy.