Atlas   Rules   Resources   Adventures   Stories       FAQ   Search   Links

Mystaran State Finances in the 10th and 11th Centuries.

by James Ruhland

I've always been intrigued with the "macroeconomics" of game settings. Perhaps that's one of the (many) things that make me a deviant and misfit. Anyhow, what follows is a discourse and (eventual) question about Mystaran economics, especially in relation to the budgets of Mystaran nations.

There are at least two and a half economic models common to Mystara. The first is the one first published in the Companions level rules on domain revenues, and reprinted in the Rules Cyclopaedia. The second is the one devised by Bruce Heard, first appearing in several Dragon Magazine articles and published subsequently in Champions of Mystara. The "half" economic model is one implied, but not explained, in Dawn of the Emperors.

The first, the rules for domains and taxation, produces vast revenues, and through the "rich resource" rule encourages a level of subinfudation found only in the most horrendous and ramshackle of medieval states, and never found in any Mystaran state with any level of cohesion.

The second system follows the once-popular "Silver Standard", but since nothing is altered but revenues (prices for all items stay the same, unlike the system outlined by, for example, Peter Trueman in his "Just Give me MONEY!" article in TD #167); the CoM economic model is thus more appropriate for backwards, dark-age states reliant on subsistence agriculture and with a limited (at best) monetary economy. But it stands in (somewhat) stark relief against the background of the rest of the game, where gold is relatively plentiful, costs are high, etc. N.B. in the Eastern Roman Empire, circa 18 Nomismata (gold pieces) was considered a rough "minimum wage".

Even internal to itself, however, there are vast problems with this system: foremost, it assumes that the average peasant makes about 10 sp per month, but pays a reasonably 10% tax rate (1 sp per month). This is very endearing, but unfortunately inaccurate. The average peasant was ruthlessly squeezed, and typically exploited for half his productivity (so, more like 5 sp/month). Also, this system still uses feudalism as it's basis: the national government gets the short end of the stick, and the local lords receive the lion share of the income. This does not jive with other materiel, which assumes for example professional standing armies and centralised states (I.E. as depicted in the PWAs). Based on this, for most Mystaran governments the 70:20:10 ratio should balance in favour of the national state, with local administrations making due with less. Most Mystaran nations couldn't come *close* to financing their "standing armies" if they were bound by these revenues, and their kings would be better off devoting all their time to plundering dungeons to locate much needed funds, and not bothering with taxation at all.

The "half" system, which I think is implied in DotE, is one level above even the Domain Taxation rules: Alphatian mages can demand (and expect to receive) high wages, and a simple 5-10% Property Tax on, say, the Emperor's Hill and the Estates in Thyatis the City, and the blocks of Sundsvall would generate revenues in the millions of gold pieces annually. Well, not Sundsvall, not anymore: a Property Tax on Sundsvall now would be adding insult to injury, I guess. But the general point remains: these Empires are depicted as awash in gold.

Fact is, from a revenue generating stand point, I think *all* these models are somewhat deficient: the first because it is primarily devised for feudal states, and less than half of Mystaran nations really fit that description. The second because it is incongruous relative to the rest of the game (one Companions level module would generate "revenue" (booty) equivalent to several years, or even decades, income for a large kingdom), and the "half" because there are no rules for applying it, and it is just "broadly implied" by such things as the cost of estates, the wages Alphatian mages can charge, and the cost of large magic items (like skyships).

In some ways, IMO, the original Champions domain rules may be more accurate (if overstating the "standard" I.E. "in kind" revenues somewhat), and what is "inaccurate" are not the tax rates, but the cost of mercenaries and other soldiers. Anyhow, I'd like to know what systems folks use in their own campaigns, and what modifications, if any, they use.

The below is a rough start on an "alternate" system of taxation:

Land Taxes (probably the most important for most nations):
good irrigated land: 1 gp/10 acres
good unirrigated land: 1 gp/15 acres
average irrigated land: 1 gp/15 acres
average unirrigated land: 1 gp/25 acres
Orchard (includes olive trees, mulberry trees, etc): 1 gp/40 trees
Vineyard or garden: 1 gp/5 acres, (could be up to 1 gp/acre if rich).

Land Taxes only cover the area under cultivation, which should be under two thirds of the total area of the nation, and for some notably "wilderness" realms, might be a third, or even less, of the total area under the jurisdiction of the nation in question.

Hearth or Poll Taxes:
Hearth, without oxen: 4 sp
Hearth, with one ox: 5 sp
Hearth, 2+ oxen: 10 sp (1 gp)
Hearth, urban: 20 sp (2 gp)

"oxen" can be taken to include similar "beasts of burden" (horses, etc), but not livestock (cows, chickens, etc). The "urban" Hearth is added because in most Mystaran nations the urban % of the population is quite significant (and relatively wealthy), and so they shouldn't escape taxation.

Once you calculate (assuming you're bothering) the tax, add a 20% "surtax" to the total. In the Eastern Roman Empire these four surcharges (the Dikeraton, 8.3%, a tax to fund fortifications, the Hexafolllon, 2.1%, a rip off, the Synethea, 8.3%, basically a "per diem" for the tax collectors, and the Elatikon, 4.2%, which paid the tax agents) were inflicted upon everyone. You can decide that they are only inflicted on "the wealthy" whatever you decide that might mean), however.

Additional taxes might include a 10% tariff and/or sales tax (trade seems particularly prominent in the KW, so this should bring in some good revenues), an "Estate Tax" (something like .5% a month on estates like those found in Thyatis the City and Draco), inheritance taxes etc (the latter may be "abstracted out" of an actual national "budget" though and considered "friction")