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Barter System/Alternate Economies

by Andrew Theisen

One common theme keeps popping up in my various HW related projects, and that is the subject of exchange systems in pre-monetary cultures. It seems to me to be a pretty big element that would need to be taken into consideration when trying to actually establish a campaign set in one of these cultures, or even cross-cultural campaigns, and yet there hasn't been anything done in any of the OD&D products (or elsewhere, that I can find) to cover it.

Near as I can tell, in the Hollow World the cultures we're talking about would include at least the following:

Brute-Men (insofar as they have any sort of economy)
Krugel Orcs (probably a blend of barter and coinage)
Malpheggi Lizardmen

These would have some kind of alternative economy (which is easier to work around):

Azcans (or at least we should come up with a cacao bean type of alternate economy for them; surprised it wasn't done in the Gaz)
Jennites (There is evidence the Scythians had proto-monetary systems, such as arrowhead money)

Some of the others- such as the Oltecs, are questionable, largely due to the vagueness of their RW parallels.

I've been trying to think of some systems that could be used to simulate barter and have come up with a couple of ideas that I'm tossing around.

Barter System: Basically, I just came up with some rough "barter" equivalents and made a system like the coin exchange. These are generically "undefined" labels, and ranked in terms of simplest (domesticated animals) to complex (goods that require greater degrees of manufacture, multiple ingredients, and more specialised skill sets to create)

Li: Livestock - this would be any domesticated form of livestock; specifics not defined. It could be a cow, several chickens, a couple of dogs, etc.
Co: Consumable - Beer, ale, corn, grain. Things that are made with a combination of natural resources and/or skills and livestock.
Cr: Trade goods/crafts - Getting more complex now; rugs, clothing, pottery. Higher degree of skill and specialisation involved.
As: Weapons/assembled goods - Objects requiring more skill, greater technology, and multiple parts that are put together. Weapons would fit here, as would lanterns, barrels, etc.
Pr: Precious goods - Assembled goods of high craftsmanship and materials would go here; books, armour, silk, perfumes.
Gems: As standard
Jewellery: As standard

The rough exchange rate I'm considering at the moment is thus:

1 Pr = 2 As = 4 Cr = 8 Co = 16 Li

The benefits to a system like this (however it turns out) is among other things, that the Treasure Tables in the Cyclopedia can be easily modified to reflect a barter system campaign (swapping out the coinage for barter equivalents, though the amounts would need tweaking).

Another idea I had was to maybe just somehow use the Alphabetic Treasure Type ranking system to create a "quick and easy" system of barter equivalents that you could then combine with the Skill System and Haggling rules (from Gaz11) to make bartering easier. You'd move up or down the Alphabetic ranking, depending on the results of your check, and get correspondingly better or worse goods.

In any case, if anyone has some thoughts/suggestions/comments/criticisms, and/or knows of any other barter type systems (either D&D or even from other RPGs) that might be good to take a look at, I'd love to hear.

Thinking about this earlier tonight, it occurs to me that the units of barter can't really be intangibles, but would need to have some kind of baseline established, if only to differentiate between exchanges of like sorts; ie, you'd have to establish something like 1 Livestock unit is equivalent to a chicken (or similar small livestock), 4 Li is equivalent to a larger entity, such as a cow, etc.

So, for purposes of delineating currency, here are my proposed units of exchange equivalents:

1 Li = 1 chicken (or similar small animal)
1 Co = Pint of beverage or pound of grain
1 Cr = 1 woven rug, or pot/bowl
1 As = Dagger/knife, barrel/keg
1 Pr = Scale mail armor, silk rug

Something like that, anyway.

Very interesting but I think barter is very difficult to be put under strict rules.

That's true, which is why I figure it needs to be at least somewhat abstract. I'd also (ideally) love to have something like the Trade Charts from Gaz11/Gaz9, which would show where/whether certain trade items were worth more or less in barter.

Been looking at Havard's suggestion, and it seems to work on a basic level, but it gets more complicated in certain regards. These are the main points sticking points that I can see with a non-coinage based campaign, that I'd like to ultimately try and find solutions for in order to make for a more sustainable Hollow World campaign(s).

1) Like-for-like Exchange (IE, Havard's suggestion)
This works for relatively inexpensive items, but becomes more difficult to sustain when purchasing larger items. (Ex. A short sword/dagger exchange for a normal sword- gp value of 10- works. What do you do when the PCs need to purchase a boat? They can't hock all their gear just to get to the next port of call; they'd need some kind of non-equipment commodity to exchange, such as several loads of cargo and livestock, or something.)
Possible/Partial Solution: Gems, Jewelry, and the like become a lot more valuable in a barter-based system, as they are worth a lot and easily portable.

2) Treasure for Encounters
In a barter-based campaign, how do you handle rewards for players in creature encounters? The Treasure Tables invariably and predominantly have coinage. While I think some amount of coinage would be possible (stolen from other cultures), mostly it would be non-existent. Instead, monsters and creatures are likely to have other forms of rewards- livestock, consumables, etc., in addition to the standard gems, jewelry, magic.
Possible/Partial Solution: Not sure. Treasure in encounters is a major motivating factor in PC adventuring- no reward, no risk. If a suitable alternative barter system can be worked out, then treasure tables can be reworked so that you can switch back and forth easily (ie, a monster with TT A would have the same TT, just with different rewards). Gaz10 has rules for humanoid raiding, and Gaz11 has rules on Haggling/Money transactions; plumb the depths of those products for suggestions.

3) XP for Treasure
This goes along with #2, and it really only applies to games using OD&D or 1E rules (IIRC, xp for treasure was removed in 2E, and it is nonexistent in 3E and 4E). If you remove the coinage, you have to find some kind of substitute for it to make similar xp awards to the characters or else non-coinage campaigns will have a markedly slower xp progression.
Possible/Partial Solution: Remove XP for treasure entirely for HW campaigns. This keeps all cultures at the same rate of progression. It likely makes HW characters less powerful overall than OW characters (slower progression), but that actually seems to fit the HW model somewhat. Alternatively, you could give rewards for something other than coinage; my suggestion would be to eliminate the XP Penalty for Cultural Bias Violation rule and instead add an XP Bonus for Cultural Bias Adherence model (I prefer positive reinforcement to negative reinforcement).

Those are the big issues, as I see them, regarding rewards and "big" purchases, that I'd like to find some means of addressing.

I suppose it might be possible to just eliminate "levels" of barter altogether and just have a generic Ba (Barter) unit that would replace all coinage, and you'd just create new tables with an item's Ba equivalent. It would be up to the PCs and/or DM to decide if they want to be more specific about what the Ba points represent ("Joe, you get 10 Ba for that encounter, which amounts to two cows and one goat"), or if they just wanted to keep it generic ("Joe, you've accumulated 50 Ba; you've got enough to go to town and buy that canoe now").