Thursday, October 14, 2010

Building a Sim-economy

last night i went a little nuts and did a little work on scraping together a slightly more realistic economy for D&D-esque campaigns. It's all based on reworking food to be affordable in a still cash heavy society where workers are grossly under paid. I'm nowhere near "done" with the idea yet but I felt like sharing.

It's all based around the cost and production of a large loaf of bread (2 lb, 2200 calories, a man could live on this many calories).

I set a low but noticeable price for a baker to charge for a large loaf of bread of 4cp.

the 4cp price assumes the costs of making bread roughly based on real world home baking costs.
1 lb of flour = 1 cp
1 tsp salt = 1/100 cp
yeast = 7/100 cp
fuel = 1/2 cp
costs to make a large loaf of bread= (2 + 0.02 + 0.14 + 0.5) = 2.66 cp

the darned baker makes a darned profit of 1.34 c.p. per loaf of bread! But of course he also has to pay for his own bread, drink and shelter out of profits.

I also worked out a 1 lb loaf of bread to have a purchase price of 2.5 c.p.

The baker likely saves a lot on fuel because he has a good oven that fits lot's of bread but I don't want to go too crazy figuring out prices of things.

Someone baking at home can likely produce their bread cheaper then buying it at the bakery if allowed to do so legally (and might be factored in sometime somehow, eventually).

So where does that flour come from to make that bread? Well it's milled from grain harvested on a farm of course.
A bushel of grain will produce enough flour to make 30 large loaves of bread.

An acre of land can produce 30-50 bushels of grain (the yield of modern non irrigated wheat, in the 19th century some folks were managing far more but the 30-50 bushels and acre figure feels safe and I'm going with it)

Using an average of 40 bushels an acre of land produces enough grain to be ground into flour so folks can bake 1200 large loaves of bread from the produce of one acre. That will keep a no-farmer alive for 39 months (assuming the grain and bread doesn't spoil before it can be eaten). A farmer is likely going to need twice as much food so really we're feeding a farmer for about 19 months from that yield (if he got to keep an eat all of it). Of course if the farmer eats all of it it never goes to market or feeds a lord or his men-at-arms.

What's the grain worth from an acre of land? It produces enough flour to bake 1200 large loaves so that's , 2400 c.p. worth of flour. But it isn't flour until it's milled so by totally arbitrary fiat I set the price of grain to 1/2 that of flour so that's 1200 c.p. worth of grain. But that's at market square prices, in mass quantities and wholesale rates that grain is going to go for as low as half that so 600 c.p. worth of grain harvested in an acre of land. That's 6 g.p., farmers would be loaded...but of course they have to eat themselves and pay/trade for help not to mention the taxes and fees of the local lord.

What are folks drinking anyway? In pre-modern times water wasn't the safest thing to drink, the common drink was beer (or ale whatever the locals call it and the local recipe produced).

One gallon of beer takes about 4 lbs of "sugars" (we'll use grain here as a raw and sane measure). So with an acre producing 2400 lbs of grain (40 bushels x 60 lbs a bushel) we've got enough grain to make ourselves 600 gallons of beer.

A pint of beer has about 200 calories in it and it can get you drunk too. A pint of beer with a market not too far from production would cost about 1 c.p.
An acre of land would be producing the ingredients (other then water) for 4800 pints of beer. That's 4800 c.p. for the village local (too bad he doesn't get his beer for free).
A large loaf of bread and 2 quarts of beer will supply a man with his calories for a day (just barely). So it costs this unspecified meager diet worker 8 c.p. a day to eat and drink. That's 56 c.p. a week or 2912 c.p. a year. Assuming one get's their bread and beer at market prices. Baking at home (if legal) will save 487 c.p. a year (if paying market prices for ingredients) so the homebody laborer needs 2425 c.p. a year to eat and drink in minimal form.

Folks back on the farm, and that's about 90% of everyone there is, is getting grain at 1/4 the price of the not too far off market place. Of Course they have to pay to get that grain milled to make flour (but not necessarily to make beer) so let's say they lose 10% of their grain in milling fees. Folks back on the farm can manage to bake their own bread with flour that costs them (assuming they had to "pay" for their own grain) much less so they can produce a large loaf of bread for 1.215 c.p. (assuming fuel costs are as much as in the market place). The farming family baking at home and brewing beer (which I'm pricing at 2/3 market rates because I'm lazy) is going to be able to keep a man in a meager poor diet for 3.88 cp a day, it costs a farming family 1412 c.p. a year to feed a man for a year.

So in a rural village one can hire a man for 1 s.p. a day for short term work as this is providing enough coin for 2.5 days worth of food (this feeds a man, his wife and a child for a day). Long term labour costs more if one is hiring a man away from a great deal of work and upkeep of his home.

In a market town that man is going to cost more to hire then his purely rural counter part as he has to pay much more for his food (and his shelter, be getting there sometime). Paying a man for 2.5 days worth of food and drink as a guide to cut rate short term employment is going to cost at least 20 cp (or 2 s.p) a day. This will likely only be buying the labor of unskilled youths,bachelors or old men with no families or residence of note to maintain.

In a market town 1 g.p buys one a low skill labourer for 5 days. This laborer will be able to scrimp together 34 c.p. a week if he doesn't have to pay for his housing and clothing. If he has to pay 1/2 his post diet income he'll be shelling out 17 c.p. a week for housing, that's a lot for a market village (it's paying to feed the owner of the residence, his wife and a child for 44 days, assuming they are paying market prices for a meager diet). If clothing costs half of what's left the poor labourer is going to spend 442 cp a year on clothes and shoes. Assuming he's frugal and can keep 1/2 his money safe after taxes,fees and upkeep the unskilled bachelor will be able to save up 2 g.p. a year. But he's not, he's human, he wants to drink and eat better so that fellows saving at best 5 s.p. a year.

That puts the 105 g.p. average adventurers start out with in perspective. That's enough to support a young bachelor day labourer for 4 years, it'd take that poor sod 210 years to save up those funds.

How much does it take to hire a skilled labourer in a market town who has a wife and a child?

The fellow would need food for 2.5 people. He'd need to clothe them and provide shelter. shelter wouldn't cost 2.5 times as much it might only cost twice a much (and that is high) as it did the unskilled bachelor. That's 1768 c.p. a year for housing.
1/2 that for clothing and other material household goods so another 884 c.p. a year there.

Next is food. He'll want to eat and drink better then the young bachelor or widower codger so that's 10 c.p. a day for him. 8 c.p. a day for the wife and 4 c.p. a day for the child, requiring 6864 c.p. a year for the family food.

Let's not forget taxes and fees which we'll access to be at least as much as cost of clothing and other goods. so another 884 c.p. a year. Townsmen that don't make a lot get off easy on taxes.

So the Skilled labourer has to make 10,400 c.p. a year or 33.1/3 cp a day to make ends meet. Since the wife can cook at home the price for food is actually less but since there is a desire to eat better then barely at all the cost of food is still 3/4 the calculated level but this frees up 1716 c.p. a year. If 1/4 of that can be saved (4g.p., 3 s.p and 9 c.p.) the skilled labourer is saving up the average adventurers starting funds in a little over 24 years.

Hiring the skilled labourer for but a day would actually cost one about 8 s.p. as they'd need to compensate for other trade they may lose.

Now we come to a skilled artisan. They are more expensive. A skilled artisan is going to need to earn more then a skilled labourer to pay for upkeep of household, apprentices and household. Making twice again as much as a skilled laborer will mean a household income of 20,800 c.p. a year. Taxes and guild fees are taking 20% of that in a year so the artisan is still going to have 16,640 c.p. a year on hand to house and feed family and apprentices. 14742 a year to feed 4.5 people (Artisan, wife, 2 apprentices, child) ... how does an artisan make ends meet? From the benefit of the apprentices labour which rakes in an extra 2912 c.p. a year (taxed at same rate as master) so the true income with a master and 2 apprentices is 4659 c.p. a year for a grand total after tax income of 22,129 c.p. a year. Giving a savings of 923 c.p. a year. Providing a young adventurer with his starting funds in 11.5 years.

Such an artisan could be hired away for short term work at 10 g.p. a week.

Unusual crafts and trades can earn 3 to 5 times as much.

What about the very small rural free farmer? He owes 1/4 his produce to his local lord.
To feed 2.5 people a very small rural free farmer would have to maintain a farm of 4 acres. Those 4 acres will supply 160 bushels of grain. The farmer gets to keep 3/4 x .9 of that for a remainder of 108 bushels. The farmer will need to keep 90 of those bushels for seed and to feed the 2.5 people. Leaving 28 bushels for sale out of the 4 acres of land giving the rural free farmer 420 c.p. a harvest in cash to provide for clothing, tools and sundries. if 1/4 of 1/4 can be saved that's 26 cp a year in savings.

Peasants get to keep 1/2 the grain they produce in a year. Peasants would have to work 6 acres of land to feed 2.5 people.

To feed 1 lord, 1 lady, 3 children, 1 lady in waiting at twice the common standard and 4 household servants and 10 soldiers and half again the common standard would require 96096 c.p. a year (let's not worry about horses for now).
To collect that much from produce of sales of grain raised on the land would require over 320 acres worked by serfs.

Now let's add on horses. 2 quality Riding horses for the lord, 1 quality horse for the lady, 4 ponies for lady in waiting and the children, 1 war horse for the lord and 5 hackneys for the men at arms means 9 bushels worth of grain a day. An acre of land produces 40 bushels so it takes the production from an additional 162 acres to feed the horses for a year. Let's not forget grooms now that's 4 more mouths to feed for the estate. A smith would also need to be employed that's another 4.5 mouths for the estate. That's another 19 acres of land so a total of 500 acres for the estate to feed the lord, his family, dedicated servants and a retinue of 10 soldiers. 3/4 of the land is farmed by serfs the other 1/4 by freemen means the total population of the estate will be about 124. With no cash surplus. oh dear the lord need more land to earn enough to maintain his retinue ... (to be continued)


All of that from setting a price of a large loaf of bread at 4 c.p.


  1. This is extremely interesting, and reminds me of the methodical approach many Harn players and Refs take to manorial economy and the pricing of goods and labor. Not the approach I take, but something I read with great interest.

  2. What makes it all the more difficult, especially when going bottom up, is the notion of barter and the idea that values are changing constantly. Guilds set prices for goods in towns and cities, so there might have been more stability in prices for manufactured goods. I would note, though, that it is unlikely that people could have baked bread more cheaply at home than a baker could have done - economies of scale, you know and the very reason few people bake bread at home in the modern day. I've read that very few people in medieval London ever cooked at home, and that most people purchased prepared food in restaurants or from street vendors. This wasn't just because of cost, of course - I think it had more to do with lacking a way to cook at home. I'm no expert on the subject, though, so take my comments with a grain of salt (worth about 1/4,000,000 cp).

  3. @scott, i love some of that harn stuff but by my standards they are a little loopy sometimes.

    @matt. in many places it was illegal to have a large bake oven in a home for safety reasons. Some places even taxed a persons home based on how many ovens, fireplaces/hearths they had so it wasn't wise for the very poor to bake in such places.

    A baker could certainly make a lot of bread cheaper then a normal person could (it takes more fuel to fire a larger oven but not as much as it does per loaf for a smaller oven).

    cooking bread at home isn't cost prohibitive today, it's time prohibitive. If you can get your flour for less then $1.00 a pound you can bake bread cheaper then buying it. It just requires 3 hours or so of work and waiting.
    simple bread recipe: 1 lb flour $0.70, 1 tsp salt ... $0.01, 1/4 ounce of yeast $0.06, cost of cooking fuel $0.12 to $0.52 depending on fuel costs. so we are talking $0.89 to $1.29 to make some bread. Sure you can find a loaf in a store cheaper but you can also find them to be a lot more expensive.

  4. The baker would keep his oven burning all day whether or not he was using it at any particular time,like a pizza oven.

    Like JDJarvis says a typical home would do their cooking over the fireplace with a spit. The cook could steam something in a pot over the fire, or broil it in a metal box in the coals, but for actual baking, the m hanging ost practical thing would be to send an assistant or child with the item down to the nearest baker and pay a cp for access to his oven. So that way the baker has an additional revenue stream using his oven's unused capacity. (this would also help defray the fuel cost)

  5. I love this stuff. I've done the same crazy grain-up economy as well.

    I love how you got the miller and baker in there. There's a good reason the Lord often had a monopoly on the mills.

    I love what you've done with beer. I think the poor, and children, drank small beer, basicaly 1/3 strength, just enough to kill the bad stuff.

    I'd be interested to see you include animals, goats, sheep, wool, ox, horse, plow teams. Or I'm happy to chime in as I ran up some numbers on this once myself.

    I think, however, you may be off on the yield per acre if you are talking wheat. It's more like 6-10 bu/acre after you reserve seed. If you are talking barley, emmer, rye, oats, etc. the yields about 2-4x higher, maybe closer to the 30-50.

    White bread is for the rich, but good thing about white flour is you can store it for a long time.

    I could well be wrong, my numbers are more from the Buster Farm project, Roman tracts, and of course internet searching. :)

  6. @mike, I'm sure my numbers could be off with reality, I am just shooting for vaguely plausible. I got a average un-irrigated wheat yield of 42 bushels from a couple internet searches and a book on 19th century farming(I read on google books which I stupidly didn't bookmark). Record yields for wheat in with pre mechanized farming can go really darned high. But I'm really working with generic grain getting too specific would be a little silly (for me) in a world with talking lizards that spit fire.
    It's also all very subject to change when and as I work out more figures.

  7. For rough numbers what you have looks great. Especially if your setting alkso has druids and gods of argiculture that actually talk to their preists. ;)

    I think your yield numbers are pretty close to what the mesoamericans got for maize.

    I saw keep the numbers you got. Why not? YOu may find that less than 90% of the populace needs to farm. Which is good since someone need to populate those Lankmars.

    The 19th century yields do include some mechanization, it's just all horse powered. Most notably the seed drill (thank you Jethro Tull) which allowed for the easy dense row planting we see today and horse drawn tools to easily weed them. That and windmill based irrigation in the US west and nice silo cheap silo storage.

    All brought to you by industrial production of iron and the railroads. The latter and the free market also providing an outlet for that excess grain production. It's not that medieval peasants couldn't have done much the same (since the plant breeds were pretty similar) it's just they didn't have the time.

    The medieval peasant also didn't necessarily have the motive. From what I've read the effective tax rate on the lower classes was 50-60%. I'd say the medieval tax strucutre is the poster child for regressive taxation. So why bother working yourself to the bone (which your doing already) when the lord can tax your surplus and you may not even be able to sell it given the lords had a monopoly on the markets, i.e., there was no free market for your goods.

    Anyway, I think it's cool where your going with this.

  8. I don't know if you are still monitoring this...

    Based on manor rolls from the 1300's we have the following yields:

    Barley: sow 4 bushels yield 16 bushels per acre
    wheat: sow 2 bushels yield 10 bushels per acre
    oats: sow 4 bushels yield 16 bushels per acre
    peas sow 2 bushels yield 12 bushels per acre.

    The baker did not have to pay to feed himself. He took a part of each person's dough as it was brought in to be baked. The baker was also often the miller. The miller kept about 5% of each person's flour after it was milled.

    1. Were those manor rolls based on full production or what was collected after production expenses and the peasant share?