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I've been looking at TSR's old Birthright setting lately, searching for an easy way to quantify trade between political entities. I'm thinking about ways for a city or region or planet to develop resources, create industries, and trade with other regions. Birthright's guild system is a little clunky so I'm looking for other systems or techniques, especially ones that can work universally since I'd like to use a similar system for Traveller's deep space setting as well.

Here's a fantasy example: a dwarven clanhold decides to develop its iron mining industry. It starts generating surplus iron which can be traded for more food to grow the community. When the community grows, it attracts more smiths to generate surplus armor and weapons to sell at a higher profit for more food and luxury goods. Right now I have no system to quantify any part of this situation, and I fear the day my players focus on unraveling my handwaved economic system.

What game systems, settings, supplements, or online resources contain rules for regional resource management and trading between regions? How do you track and manage your game world's regional economies?

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possible duplicate of Realm Management Rules That Work –  gomad Apr 27 '11 at 17:19
I looked at that question before I posted this one, and I don't want the political baggage of a full realm management system. I just want a way to track imports/exports and have a way to express what happens if something disrupts the economic balance. I think there will be political implications to economic change, but I'm not interested in a random table of significant events or rules of succession or anything like that. I need a way to think about economics. I'll leave the intrigue and backstabbing to the PCs. –  T.W.Wombat Apr 27 '11 at 17:33
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6 Answers

Being something of an economics wonk, I've found it easiest to back out of RPG-space by doing some rough conversions of the currencies moving around and the value of goods, and then build a coherent economic system without a lot of detail - basically writing an economy at the narrative scale.

When it's time to move back into the game world, at whatever level, you simply render the narrative, iteratively until you hit the desired depth of detail. It takes some time to do it from the top down, but since most fantasy games operate under feudal economics, the context that matters is always one of "where do I fit in the superior level's picture?"

It sounds like you're doing something like this already, but you're worried that your economics credentials aren't up to the task. Two factors work in your favor, though:

1) Odds are, your players' economics credentials aren't any better than yours. It doesn't actually matter if your economic system matches up with a real-world understanding of the discipline. All you need for a good game is sufficient detail that you get players to suspend their disbelief. If they don't know any better, your work here is done. :) 1a) If you do have an economics wonk among your players, odds are they'll derive a great amount of pleasure in geeking out your setting. You can harness that expertise to tighten your setting since it's highly unlikely that economic data about your world needs to be behind the DM-Screen.

2) When players start to try and push big, self-balancing forces like economics around, there's a tremendous amount of pushback from billions of different sources. Some are subtle (market forces), some are less so (Baron John Q. VonCrankypants is annoyed that you're throwing money around like that and decides on some 'special' taxes, hoping you'll resist so he can just arrest you.). Do NOT hesitate to drop some deus ex when people are playing with world-spanning forces like economics. Even in our modern age we really don't understand why things happen the way they do. Backwoods feudal hicks don't stand a chance, no matter how many skillpoints they sink into 'profession: derivative finance peddler'. :P

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+many for "derivative finance peddler"! –  MadHatter May 6 '11 at 15:41
Glad I got a laugh out of it! :) –  qoonpooka May 6 '11 at 16:19
For a nice text on fantasy economics of this top-down variety, Grain Into Gold is well-written and a pleasure to read. I don't have the economics background to vet the work, but it's certainly convincingly done, deriving the cost of things like a house in the city from the relationship to the basic cost of bread, via the cost of farm labour, skilled labour, and so on. Here's a good review of it. –  SevenSidedDie May 6 '11 at 18:43
+1 for narrative economics. I cannot agree more that we do not know enough about economics now so that a medieval society has no chance. One source of advise is to look at how England and France financed their respective wars. Another is to look at the 30 years war and how the war was financed -- looting mainly. Lastly, look at financial policies of Spain during the conquista to see the effect the character's new found 100k gold coins can do to the local economy -- nothing good (massive inflation) in case you were wondering. –  Sardathrion Aug 16 '11 at 7:26
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You could take a look at Reign.

[Give] the PCs the fun and interesting parts of governance — tough decisions, leadership, real ‘buck stops here’ stuff — while hand waving all the plodding and dull everyday routine of tax levels and administrivia.

Reign Q&A.

It's designed to plug into existing RPGs.

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Interesting. And I've got a soft spot for the ORE. Thanks for the pointer! –  T.W.Wombat Apr 27 '11 at 16:58
It is fairly abstract still. It's good, but it doesn't model the level you describe where you're handling specific goods, surpluses, and influxes of tradespeople. –  SevenSidedDie Apr 27 '11 at 18:55
+1 for the quoted advice. –  GMJoe Jul 17 '12 at 6:11
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The Tao of D&D has actually created a complete economic framework for AD&D. And he describes how to calculate the production of goods in each twenty mile hex on a world map and how to roughly appreciate them over distances.

This certainly isn't easy but it is quite complete.

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Nice detail over there. Thanks for the reference! –  T.W.Wombat May 9 '11 at 11:06
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The original Dominion rules* contain subsystems dealing with such commercial activity. It is a framework only -- for example, simplifying the categories into Resource Income of Animal/Vegetable/Mineral types -- and should be customized by the GM. The metrics can be scaled (formulae suitable for villages, regions, or nations), and thus provide a usable method of objective codification.

Good: Extremely few details are specific to any game system. The style of the system is crunchy and abstract, with generic formulae and examples.

Bad: In being constructed for high-level play the Dominion rules introduce a major revenue boost, which can be disruptive to an ongoing campaign.

-* See D&D Companion set (1984) and Rules Cyclopedia (1991)

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And of course I don't have my Companion set any more. The revenue boost might be a drawback since there's so much opportunity for good story conflict in scarcity, but I bet that can be hacked to work. Thanks! –  T.W.Wombat Apr 27 '11 at 17:00
Dark Dungeons RPG is a retroclone of the BECMI set. I haven't confirmed that its dominion rules are the same, but it's free to download so you can check it out! –  SevenSidedDie Apr 27 '11 at 18:13
@SevenSidedDie Will do. Thanks! –  T.W.Wombat Apr 27 '11 at 18:52
The dominion rules are at least very similar between DD & Cyclopedia D&D. They replicated most of Frank's (ExTSR's) ideas in new text very closely. –  aramis Aug 16 '11 at 15:20
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Focus is on feudal manors. Works quite well on a local or even small baronies; the greater barons (Viscounts, Counts, Dukes) and Kings don't work so well. 3 different large scale landhold rulesets: Noble's Book (1e), Lordly Domains (3e/4e), Book of the Manor (5E, and only smaller landholds - Manors and Estates). Abstraction level varies. Primarily designed to part PC's and their loot.


Extensive landholding rules. Slightly abstracted. Don't have it, so can't comment in detail, but well respected by ORE fans, and designed to be focused upon it.

D&D Companion Set Dominion Rules

Comparable level of detail to Pendragon, but slightly crunchier. Easily adapted to AD&D. Makes use of the traditional 2-mile hex maps, and is somewhat abstract.

Essentially, this is an event system with economics, and ties nicely to followers and such. Mostly about the cashflow, and requires extensive GM interaction.

For those who lack the older rules, Dark Dungeons includes a clone of this.

D&D 3E Strongholds Book

Not really that good for running things. Less economic detail even than Birthright... but more on building strongholds (in weird detail...) Not a good choice, IMO.

Houses of the Blooded

Like reign, focuses on using the system as a metagame. Unlike Reign, not so much crunch. Very narrativist. Very playable, and drives the campaign, but tries to NOT be the focal point of the campaign.

highly abstracted. Seasonal economic turns.

Blood and Honor

Japanese setting, rules essentially "Houses of the Blooded Lite"... Simple, and stylized. Works pretty well, very abstracted. Again, seasonal econ turns.

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Nice! Thanks for the breadth in your answer. –  T.W.Wombat Apr 29 '11 at 3:45
@T.W. You're welcome. –  aramis Aug 16 '11 at 15:16
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I was poking through my bookmarks and unearthed this link to an economic system for D&D 3E from about 10 years ago. http://gez117.free.fr/dnd/economics.html

This is a straightforward pricing/profit system, applicable at a variety of scales from Kingdom down to the PCs owning a craft business. It doesn't cover all the details I want out of an economic system, but it seems like a good tradeoff between detail and ease of use. And maybe qoonpooka is right about needing to be only one step ahead of the players.

I should probably bite the bullet and pick up a decent macroeconomics book to see if there's anything I can easily adapt into RPGs.

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