Wednesday 19 April 2023

Trade Without Money

Mythic Bastionland doesn't really use money, or at least it isn't really a game about earning wealth and spending it on better gear.

Only the rich deal in coins. Most trade relies on more practical matters:

  • Finding somebody who can supply
  • Securing raw materials if needed
  • Giving something in return, or owing

The value of any given item depends on the bargaining positions of the person holding it, and the person desiring it. Long-standing trade agreements often form into pledges of ongoing service or protection.

Let's look at how the Oddpocrypha section handles this.


Moss: So we heard there’s some brilliant blacksmith in this castle, right? How about before we go and meet the Lady of the Castle we try to get some better gear?

Ref: Sure, down in the maze of passageways beneath the castle you follow the metallic clangs and radiating heat of the forge. Sure enough you find a blacksmith hard at work, the walls lined with all manner of arms.

Tal: We said about getting bows, is there a bow on the wall?

Ref: So arms are generally split into Common, Specialist, and Rare.

Ref opens the book for the players and gestures over the list.

Ref: Since this guy is a proper weaponsmith I reckon they’ve got plenty of Common stockpiled, and some Specialist and Rare tucked away in storage or made to order.

Tal: Wait how much money do we have?

Ref: You have a bit, but big bags of money are for rich merchants. You’re knights! You need three things to make a trade: somebody who can supply the thing, raw materials if needed, and something to give in return.

Moss: Okay, let’s see what this Blacksmith’s deal is first.

The group play out a conversation with the Blacksmith, who seems fiercely loyal to the Lady of the Castle.

Tal: Okay, well we’re here to help the Lady, so could we take a couple of bows?

Moss: Wait, I also want a proper sword.

Ref: The Smith happily pulls some bows off the wall and hands them to you, a quiver of  arrows each.

Tal: Actually why would a blacksmith have bows? Are they metal bows?

Ref: I guess this is also just a general weapon store. When you ask about the swords he seems less open. “I’ll have to speak to the Lady about that, I’m sure you understand”

Moss: Okay, all the more important we make a good impression.


Playing a game without tracking of currency or abstract wealth ratings is an adjustment for most players. The intent was to get players into more of a feudal mindset, where longstanding exchanges of service, labour, protection, and goods make up the majority of trade. Aside from any sense of immersion, this approach encourages players to consider the place of the characters in the world and the network of relationships between non-player characters.

Here we see that in a well-worn scene of RPGs, shopping for weapons.

What does the Blacksmith want? Ref thinks they’re quite content. Working for the Lady  gives them a relatively secure life in the castle. When Knights arrive to help the Lady it seems fitting that the Blacksmith would help up to a certain point, but still ultimately need the Lady’s approval to give out Rare items like swords. The players could have tried to bribe them, but does this Smith really need money? I suspect they wouldn’t be so easily tempted. Instead, as the players learn more about this character, their place in the Castle’s society, and their relationship with the Lady, they might be able to pull their strings a bit more effectively.

Later, Tal points out that maybe the bows should be located elsewhere, as they’re made from wood, not metal. It’s pretty common for players to question apparent errors like this, and shouldn’t be considered malicious.

Instead of immediately hitting undo, consider why the seemingly inconsistent element could be true. Here it’s obvious, but you can create some interesting situations by throwing such queries back at the players.

“Yeah, that is weird, right? Why do you think that could be? Do you want to ask somebody about it or investigate?”

Sometimes they’ll shrug it off, sometimes it’ll set them on a tangent, but wherever possible I like to keep to my word as a Referee, which means we’re sometimes discovering and justifying the details of the world together.


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  1. Perhaps the Blacksmith is helping the local Bowyer sell his wares.

  2. and the blacksmith would be making arrowheads, so perhaps needs bows for testing

  3. I loved reading the book called Debt: the First 5000 Years by David Graeber. It helped me contextualize a ton of this stuff. One thing that surprised me was how often a culture would mostly trade goods but still track the values in coins. Also how much credit would be tracked even in cultures using almost no coinage.

    1. That's really interesting, I now realise that you only need coinage when you are dealing with someone that you can't reliably give credit to, because they might be travellers and never pass through here again, or the enemy.

    2. Exactly!

      Credit is quite personal but coins are not.