Dragon Economics

Author: DHBoggs / Labels: ,

I’m very interested by the French and Indian war period in North American history.  I’ve made it a point to visit, repeatedly if possible, any sites from the period I can.  One that’s on my list of yet to do’s is Fort Frederick in Maryland.
Not much happened there during the war, but the place itself is of unique interest because of the fort.  Unlike most of the British and colonial log forts, fort Frederick is made of stone.  Otherwise, it is much the same in design and situation.  It was a wilderness fort, built to guard the frontier, but built with permanence in mind.  It has four large corner bastions, three large interior building and four 180’l x 17h curtain walls.

Recent discussions on the Adventurer, Conqueror, King system, got me thinking about fort Frederick.  The parallels to building a D&D “borderlands” stronghold really struck me.   True, its not medieval, but for all intents and construction purposes, fort Frederick might as well be, but unlike your typical medieval scenario, we have an actual record of what it cost to build.  Further, we know the general range of wages being paid to craftsmen, so it provides one opportunity to convert real money into gaming gold. 
The actual historic cost to build Fort Frederick was 6000 pounds
Carpenter’s wages around 1760 when the fort was completed were circa 45 - 50 pounds a year (about  1/125th the cost of the fort) , and wages for other types of craftsmen are in the same ballpark. 
If we turn to the 3LBB’s and the equivalents in the FFC we can look at how much it would cost for an OD&D gaming character to build a stronghold identical to Ft Frederick; they would need to pay for the following:
Four  180’ curtain walls (7000 gp each)    28,000 GP
Four bastions (3000 + 20% for added height)  14400 GP
Three stone buildings  (2500 each)  7500 GP
Total  GP 49,900
Now, since we know that a mid 18th century carpenters yearly wage was about 125th the cost of building Ft Frederick and that it would cost 49,900 GP to build in D&D land, we can calculate the carpenters wage for D&D.   The Carpenters yearly wage should be 400 GP (33 GP per month).
Now here is where it gets interesting.  It is no secret that original D&D’s economics come almost straight from Dave Arneson’s Blackmoor campaign.  Indeed the original drawing showing castle construction and prices in the first through 3rd print of the 3LBB’s is one of Daves little sketches.  I’ve always wondered at the costs and wages given in OD&D, whether there really was any logic behind them or if they were just pulled out of the proverbial arse.  It turns out that a wage of 33 gp a month is entirely consistent with the wages for OD&D craftsmen.  A smith for example makes 20 gp a month (25 in the D&D draft), an armorer 100 GP (75 FFC, 80 per the draft).  So, as far as non military wages go, the wage to expense ratios seem about right in OD&D.  The equipment lists may have some issues, (armor for one) but most things are reasonably priced in regards to the wages being earned.
Oddly, this changes dramatically in AD&D.  AD&D is much more nuanced and varies a bit between 1e and 2e; the yearly income of the average craftsperson varies between about 20 - 40 GP a year.  A tailor earns 30GP a year, a carpenter 40 calculated as 300 work days at 3sp a day and 20 sp = 1 gp.  That’s only 3.3 GP a month – one tenth.  The construction costs are indeed much less too, but not nearly enough to balance out.  Building fort Frederick using the AD&D structure cost yields a fortress cost of around 11,000 GP.  Instead of a ratio of 1 to 125, wages to expense – that’s a ratio of 1 to 275.  In other words, using the AD&D carpenters wage and the fort Frederick historic rates for wage to cost, the AD&D fortress should cost 5000 GP,  instead of more than twice that.  What is further odd about AD&D is that some of the wages given for specialists do not change from OD&D, creating a wildly swinging economic picture – Armorers are still 100 gp/month, smiths, 30.
Interestingly, 2e restores construction cost to something more in line with OD&D, but the poor carpenter gets only a slight bumpt to 5 gps a month, making his lot in life even worse!
The upshot of all of this is that Arnesons rates – particularly if you use the adjusted ranges given in the FFC, seem to work well together in terms of historic norms.  I wouldn’t be too surprised if he was using Napoleonic era data as a base of some sort, but whatever it may be, the numbers weren’t just pulled out of a hat or an arse.
Except, for mercenaries.  Here the OD&D prices are screwy.  Soldiers are dead cheap (20 GP a year for Heavy Horse!)  It may be that concessions were being made for wargaming purposes, but the root of the trouble with troop costs is that the started off as nothing more than the CHAINMAIL “point” costs.  Observe:




Light Foot

Heavy Foot

Armored foot
2 ½





Light Horseman

Medium Horseman

Heavy Horseman

I didn’t give the FFC prices here because there are two different lists and it’s not straightforward  how they work.   Some calculation is required.  Perhaps this is exactly why Gygax used his own Chainmail figures for the mercenaries lists, while using figures derived from Arneson for the other Hirelings.  The Horse rates in the 3 lBBS are just the Chainmail rates times 4 (rounded), the others look as if the wrong column was being read, just a point off.  Clearly, the mercenary GP costs were only a slight variation on the CHAINMAIL point costs rules, with little relation to the rest of the economy.    
Looking closer at the FFC, one list is prices for the 2nd Coot Invasion (1973).  The income was calculated by season, but what’s not clear is if the expenses were by season also, meaning multiply cost times 4, maybe.  The earl of Vestfold and the King of the Great Kingdom must pay 550 gp for a heavy horse, but if that’s per season then the yearly cost is a pricey 2200.   
A couple page later Arneson gives another list that seems to be the basis of the Hirelings list found in OD&D, which it basically matches, thus revising the earlier Coot Invasion figures.  Here the rate for an unequipped Horseman is a mere 10 GP a year, but add Horse armor (320), chainmail, (24), a horse (l25,m100,h400), helmet (2), saddle (6) spear (5), etc., and we are already looking at close to 800 GP a year for a heavy horseman.
So, in both cases Arneson had a much more economically consistent wages to expenses economic mileau in place, which became somewhat muddied in OD&D and utterly trounced in AD&D.


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Game Archaeologist/Anthropologist, Scholar, Historic Preservation Analyst, and a rural American father of three.
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