[RPG] Fantasy econothe: how to design a deep, sophisticated crafting system?


I want to construct an immersive, complex and functional fantasy economy in order to inform my world-building process. I'm interested in finding a working economic model and applying that into low-tech, low-magic environments, similar to the authentic late medieval/early modern eras.

  1. What sorts of commodities and raw materials are out there and where to get them? A list of commodities would be great.
  2. How does trade and transportation (land and water) work, and what are the possible pitfalls of trading (taxes, bans on certain goods, robberies, etc.)?
  3. Crafting! How would you proceed in creating this sort of a complex, multilayered system, where raw materials are being converted into more polished materials using various vocations and techniques (which ones?)? How would you design a crafting system, where these commodities and materials are used to assemble finished products? How to fit in the price of labor, and the skill of rare artisans?

I'm looking for something of a complexity along the lines of the economic system of EVE Online. However, EVE Online is a computer game, and science fiction besides. I'm looking for something more varied, middle age-ish, with a personal touch, and that can account for differences based on the cultures participating in the whole trading system.

Best Answer

Someone did write a book about this! It's called Grain Into Gold: A Fantasy World Economy, and it answers all your questions to various degrees. If you're interested in learning more, this review archived by the Wayback Machine is very informative.

It most answers your first question, by detailing a fantasy world economic model based on raw materials and working upward to the more complex goods, including land and labour values. It does have a chapter on trade and transport, and its effects on prices. It deals a bit with some of the possible factors in a mercantile expedition: taxes, risk, etc. It deals less with crafting, but it gives you a very solid foundation on which to layer a crafting system. It also deals briefly with the impacts on magic on economics. That's less important if you're making a magic-low world, but it's still worth thinking about if you're going to have any magic at all.

If you love world building and think economies are interesting enough to detail in your world, you will love this book.

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