Ave Imperator – Design Journal – 04 – Money Matters

I’ve been focusing quite a bit on the mechanical nuts and bolts around the nitty gritty of gladiatorial combat. Which is clearly an important part of the game. However another important part of the game is running the ludus, i.e. playing as the lanista. This play is split into three main sections, the first is managing your gladiators, training them, keeping them sweet, buying new ones and so on. The second major part is the political or social end of things, making contacts, settings up bouts, trying to earn a bit more here and undercut a competing lanistae there (actually, as I’ll mention again, undercutting is more or less what you dont want to do). The third part is the day to day running of the ludus, insuring you have enough supplies and money to pay wages, make meals etc. Its this last part I’m going to talk about for a bit.

Finding out the correct price of things is a pain in the arse. There are lots of books on ancient rome, but ancient rome was around for quite a long while, which makes finding details on exact periods a little awkward at times (unfortunately the most complete data for goods and salarys I came across is from ~300AD). Even when you do find the price for common goods its hard to find accurate listings of wages for various types of workers. And even when you do have all that you have to wonder about accounting for inflation (as the core games takes place across a century of time when Rome suffered from fairly continuous and rapid inflation). Well I can answer that last question at least, by and large I’m going to ignore inflation. At least initially, so a bag of grain will cost more or less the same at the start of the game in 80 AD as it will at the end of the game in 180 AD. Now I could of course indulge in further research. But to be honest absolute historical accuracy isnt going to improve the game a noticeable amount. Whether a slave costs 8 denari a week to feed or 5 isnt going to have much impact in the long run.

This part of the game is giving me some trouble, and I’ve a feeling its a part of the game I’m going to have to revisit and re-jig quite a bit. I think its an important element to include but its also sort of a boring one. Well not so much boring as one which is hard to think up any kind of novel gameplay for. After all, it really just consists of fairly basic accountancy – look at how much the ludi costs to run, look at how much money it makes, try and make sure the latter is higher than the former. One of the most basic costs is keeping your gladiators and staff fed. Which led me to digging up average household costs (which seemed to have been expressed in terms of food, wine and oil) and trying to extrapolate out food costs per gladiator per month/week. Then doing the same for say, the trainers wages and so on and so forth. As I mentioned above I’ve reached a point where I’ve done sufficient research to assign rough figures to most stuff, figures which may not be absolutely historically accurate. Though the rough ratio between the various costs and such should be at least semi-accurate. I think its more important to have a fun and gameable economic model than a perfectly historically accurate one.

I actually had a preliminary “price list” done out for all major expenditures. I based it on a really excellent series of forum posts about how much slaves and such cost in the early empire. A forum post which I a) failed to save, b) the forum it was on has shut down and c) Google doesnt have it cached nor does the Internet Archive. Which makes expanding the list rather tough. This lead to a lot of really tedious reading trying to find price lists and such for the early empire (seems a gold miner got paid ~0.5 denarius a day while a farming family of four could expect to take in ~250 denarius a year, unsurprising really as mining was predominantly made up of slave labourers or used as a penal sentence).

Well I was writing this up in advance, because I was using working out the economic system as a break from doing core mechanics stuff (oh the exciting life I lead). I was continuing my research into the price of things in the early empire and then I recalled that several price lists had been salvaged from the ruins of Pompeii. Now Pompeii was destroyed in 79AD, a year before the game begins. But it would serve as an excellent starting point (far better than trying to reverse engineering and account for inflation and debasement of currency from prices from 300AD). While looking into those lists I came across mention of two books, Coinage and the Roman Economy 300 BC to AD 700 by Kenneth W. Harl and The Economy of the Roman Empire: Quantitative Studies By R. Duncan-jones. Both of which I have picked up and which are really excellent (if very dry at times).

So now I have a fairly solid base to set historically accurate prices. Which, while nice, doesn’t alleviate all of my concerns surrounding the economics/accountancy gameplay sections. While I was fiddling around with prices I was also looking into maps of the empire during this time (which I’ll talk about again and which will be another cause of some historical inaccuracy). I actually hadnt fully appreciated both how many different provinces there were and how prices varied across the provinces. Using a flat price list for each province seemed a little lazy, so I decided I needed to include a price modifier for each province. If I was going to do that then I also needed to look at why certain goods were cheaper in different provinces and the main reason for that was availability. Which is fairly obvious. So to account for this each item, whether its a slave, elephant or loaf of bread has a different rarity rating for each province. There are seven rarity ratings, an average middle value and then three ratings stretching in either direction. Each of which offers a discount or increases the expense as appropriate.

The actual multiplier for each rarity rating isnt set in stone yet but I’m thinking something along the lines of:

Bountiful x.25
Plenteous x .5
Commonplace x .75
Standard – x 1
Scarce x 1.5
Rare x 3
Exotic x 10

So a modius of wheat would cost ~2d in Roma, ~1d in provincial Italy, ~0.8-1d in Palestine, ~0.5-1d in Africa, ~ 0.6-1d in Asia minor and ~0.5-0.8 in Egypt. This rarity system will do to set the price for the majority of basic items. But some items, specifically slaves, will be using a more complex system. Their price will be based primarily on their skills and attributes. But it will also account for their “rarity” in the region of purchase, their age, sex, etc. Something similar will be in place for signing up freemen. At the moment I’m not sure what to do with criminals. It’s not entirely clear whether criminals sentenced to the arena were sold as slaves to lanista, if they were bought/given to the games editor, etc. Obviously when law was enacted and the schools owned by the Empire it was fairly straightforward but I havent decided exactly how its going to work in the “competitive ludi” setup of Ave Imperator. At the moment I’m thinking of having them randomly assigned to the ludi involved in a particular set of games. If the lanista has or can create some kind of agreement with the local authorities then they have a better chance of getting decent i.e. useful criminals. If the lanista doesnt want the criminals he’s assigned then he can dispose of them during the mid-day break, either by having them executed, sending them against beasts, etc. This decision could sway the crowd either way in terms of their support for his gladiators.

As I said at the beginning, I’ve a feeling the economic/monetary side of things is going to take some work. It feels a bit too simplistic at the moment, though the addition of stuff like the patron and client system, which I’ll talk about more when I talk about the social mechanics, should hopefully add an interesting layer to it.

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