Monday, November 1, 2010

World Building Resources: Grain Into Gold

I just finished reading Board Enterprise's Grain into Gold: A Fantasy World Economy. It is a well thought out explanation of agricultural industry for a pseudo-realistic Middle Ages setting. The author, John Josten, uses a sound methodology; he bases his calculations on the "gold standard" of wheat. Seeing as how wheat is a fundamental food for survival and nearly all rural industry (of the time) goes towards its production, this makes for a very realistic and logical economic construction. From there, an entire rural economy is crafted with considerations for transportation to market towns and beyond.

Overall, this pdf provides insight into how each product is created and what would influence its price. The author presents a fast and simple methodology for incorporating a wealth of variables into a working economic model. For example, take growing wheat. A farmer starts off with a certain acreage of crop, then accounts for a certain % yield and then a required % that has to be set as seed for the next year. Then, the wheat has to be milled with a certain efficiency, minus the cut a miller takes. Then consider taxes and fees, and you have a logical yield and price for wheat that a farmer would see.

Yet, the wheat doesn't stop there. The miller has a portion of flour and, hopefully, the farmer has some excess. So how does that move through a pseudo-historical economy? Well, the miller prices his flour in order to secure a certain profit or daily wage. From there, the flour can be made into a wide array of food products, with each craftsman boosting the price according to the profit or wage they want to make and the complexity of their trade. So there are price points for wheat and its derivatives at nearly every point of production, whether you would want to buy wheat from a farmer, flour from a miller, bread from a baker, pastry from a chef, or a meal at a tavern. Of course, taxes and transportation sit over all of these price points, simulating common sense demands for moving goods to markets and beyond.

So iterate on that basic idea for other products and you get the cost of meat, cloth, beer, and even metals and precious gems. The finished product of this system creates an enormously helpful baseline of prices all relative to grain. With a spreadsheet, all of these prices can be instantly flexible according to how a harvest runs in a year, or based off of different products, or tweaked according to varying effects of each factor or refining step.

At the end of the book, a table of prices is presented along with standard yields of different crops and food animals. This supplement is valuable for introducing a methodology to establish a credible economy, rather than just using the fiat and arbitrary numbers that most games incorporate into their item lists. This will be a great resource when I get to the economic sections of this Early Modern Campaign.


  1. Does this suppliment focus on agriculture only or does it go into manufactured goods too? I'm trying to get a handle on medieval urban economic activities.


  2. Thanks for stopping by!

    It covers manufactured goods as well. It mainly focuses on a what can be produced starting from a rural economy and "cottage industries." From there, moving to a city or craftsman is a manner of paying for each step of transportation, refining, wages, and taxes.

    The author does extend his methodology into the realm of craftsman and merchants. In this case, they either set a daily wage (based on the degree of specialization or risk of transportation) and build that into their prices, or else apply a scaling factor (2 to 4) to the original goods to be transported or ingredients required in their finished products. So in that respect, it does have room for the emerging urban middle class or merchants and craftsman.

    While it might not be a perfect fit, it does cover a great deal of products and how they would get into cities. Plus, there are charts of common wages for different crafts and professions. And the item list does cover a lot of ground.

    If you are concerned with JUST what happens within cities, and consider any inputs as just a "black box," then I would stay away from the pdf. But it is a good resource for the origin of goods that will make their way into cities to be refined and marketed.