Fantasy Economy Boondoggles


Is that a chastity belt on the counter?

One of the curiousities of RPGs (computer or, my favorite, playing RPGs with people) is that I often seem to end up playing one of those characters who is always picking shit up all of the time and taking it with me, hoping that it will either prove useful, or, more often, selling it for money so I can buy goods and/or services that my in-game character wants or needs (usually healing and more weapons/armor). This is strange, because in real life I don’t ever kill someone, take their stuff and sell it. But I also wonder where all that stuff that I loot and sell goes.  Does the merchant at the corner store have an absurdly large inventory? Do other adventurers walk into the store, decide what I just dropped off looks like something they need and then buy it? Or is there some ‘off the map’ market for all of these used goods? I imagine some gigantic underground cavern economy, far from the sight and knowledge of most, where goblins, kobolds, feral gnomes and mutants buy and sell used underpants, old shoes and rusty daggers by the cartload and do gods-know-what with it. I guess in real life I have bought a used firearm in a gunshop and I have been in the ‘Salvation Army’ thrift shop more than once; that (and bottle rocket fights or urban exploration) is probably about as close as living “La vida adventura” that I have come.

Just a few of the 2,700 pairs of shoes of Imelda Marcos

I fear my deep-seated natural greed becomes more assertive when I am playing computer games than in real life (or in ‘pencil and paper’ rpg games).  Perhaps that is because in computer games, I can ‘take’ something by just clicking on it, whereas in the real world I have to pick it up and carry it with me and in pencil-and-paper games I have to (sigh) write it down.  In some of my favorite computer games (Oblivion and Fallout 3), I have a penchant for playing real packrat characters. While playing ‘Oblivion’ I noticed that the designers had included an unusually large number of different kinds of shoes in the game (most of which had, as far as I could tell, no effect on game play— wearing ‘padded leather shoes’ did not make you walk faster/slower/noisier/more quietly than wearing any other kinds of shoes, which was curious because what kinds of boots you wore did make a difference). I made it my goal to collect at least one sample of each kind of shoe which I stored in a chest in my character’s house just so my character could have a “hobby.” ‘Collecting shoes’ was actually not strategic for gathering the most coins with the least trouble; in Oblivion, shoes have a much less favorable weight-to-value factor than many other things (like expensive wine or rare books).

Donkey thinks, “Well, this sucks more than usual.”

I don’t have a lot of experience with CRPGs, but the few I have played always make me want to find/buy a house for my character because that is usually the way you can get around the carrying capacity limitation. Your character can only carry ‘X’ amount, and each item is given a weight — once the total of that weight surpasses your carrying capacity you start to move at a snail’s pace (or, if you are playing Oblivion, you suddenly can’t move at all).  I discovered the hard way that if you just found a cabinet or box in the game and stuffed your extra belongings into it, they might not be there when you came back to collect them, but if you owned the house, your stuff wouldn’t dissapear.  My Fallout 3 character has/had piles of spare weapons, armor, food, liquor, clothing, etc., squirreled away in his house’s storage lockers. How does he fit 14 Assault rifles in various states of disrepair in a desk drawer?  I have no idea.  How does he carry over 800 shotgun shells in his pockets? Curiously, in Fallout 3, ammunition has no weight but empty whiskey bottles, tin cans and mole rat meat do, so I can carry enough ammo to supply an army, no problem, but pick up one too many bits of road kill or trash and suddenly I can barely move.

You can eat the mole rat, but would you want to?

The realities of spoilage are similarly usually ignored in rpgs, whether computer-based or played in the real world with books and pencils.  If I remember right, my Fallout 3 guy had mole rat steaks and other disgusting meats stuffed into a filing cabinet where it stayed, without rotting, for weeks.  My Oblivion character similarly kept mutton, beef, venison, etc., in his pockets or his cupboard without ever suffering food poisoning. In real life, I’m constantly sniffing and tasting things because I’d rather be hungry than have food poisoning.  In Dungeons & Dragons, I think my characters always ate ‘iron rations.’ I’m not sure what ‘iron rations’ were supposed to be but I always assumed they were the medieval equivalent of c-rations/MREs.  Aside from pretzels and ‘Panneforte,’ I can’t think of any medieval foods made specifically for travel — any ideas?


5 Comments on “Fantasy Economy Boondoggles”

  1. mikemonaco says:

    Hardtack dates back to Ancient times, I believe. I know the Crusaders had a similar biscuit made from grains. I am guessing though that “iron rations” are just a wargamer term — I think the term is from WWI or WWII — need to check Wikipedia.

    Salted meats and fish, dried fruit, and so on would last a long time too, but I think dried fruit would be more of a luxury.

  2. Malcadon says:

    Yeah, nearly all characters in video games have magic pockets. In Final Fantasy, it not unusual for a single character to carry 100,000+ gold coins, 99 of each type of potion and shelters (tents, cabins, WHOLE HOUSES!!), scores of weapons and armor, a canoe, and three fully-equipped bodies (the other characters, who had fallen in battle and waiting to be revived). Maybe they are great packers?

    With “iron rations,” they might be actual canned food (a process that dates back to 1806 AD) or jars of “pickled” or “jugged” food. Although, there is still dried/dehydrated food, smoked meat, or “cured” food (preserved in salt or sugar), but I dont know if that would be covered under iron or standard rations.

  3. mikemonaco says:

    The more I think about, I'm guessing that you'd only really find rations among sailors in the medieval period. No standing armies and all that. (Canning was developed in Napoleonic times because Napoleon funded it)

    So I think travelers — which would mainly be merchants and pilgrims — probably foraged along the way as much as they could, maybe bringing some salted fish or some flour etc.

    You could also see if there are some details on logistics for Roman and Greek times — since they did have armies and supplied them partially.

  4. Limpey says:

    I always imagined 'iron rations' being like that preserved meat called 'cram' mentioned in 'The Hobbit,' and I always imagined 'cram' being like 'Spam.' I always thought Spam was pretty gross. I read 'The Hobbit' right before I started playing D&D.

  5. porphyre77 says:

    In the french versions of the game, translators usually go for “rations séchées” : dried rations.


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