Thursday 3 December 2009

Auctions, or "What you want for it?" "What you got?"

I've been watching “Deadwood” and reading up on the South African diamond rush recently. People in boomtowns were often cash rich, but they blew through this windfall wealth at an accelerated rate, living the high life and paying wildly inflated prices for the simplest of necessities. The applicability of these violent boomtown settings to traditional D&D is so obvious as to need no further context.

I'm not suggesting adding a sliding scale price system to LL (although a simple one would show why all those poor, put upon merchants on the RETs actually bother carting stuff hither and yon...), or even - Gygax forbid! - exhaustive price-adjusted trade tables (pace Alexius of Tao of D&D), I'm mainly interested in this for the purposes of varying the value of objects looted from the dungeon.

It's a bit of a pet peeve of mine that one-of-a-kind dungeon goods are given a flat value of "blah many gp". Sure, it KISSes things, but it hardly reflects the chaotic "easy come, easy go" life of an adventurer. So, stealing a little from GW’s “Mordheim” (a game I love for being grimy, mercenary, and oh-so-D&D) I propose Random Value objets d'art.

Instead of listing a golden chalice as being worth 500gp, said item might have a random value of 2d8x50gp, with the specific price only being determined when the chalice is actually sold on. (note: using a 2dX bell curve keeps the probable resale value near the centre of the range, but allows for occasional wacky variation to reflect the vagaries of the market)

In the Dungeon
Just pop the description, weight and random value on a card and toss it to the players. How can they be expected to know the random value? Well, the Dwarf or *cough* Scout character does a thumbnail appraisal on the spot, of course. Yon guesstimate will do until it comes time to sell the gaudy trinket on.

At the Auction House
The kind of ancient and exotic curios recovered from dungeons have a specialised and limited market. Although many people desire them, only a select few have the ready cash on hand to purchase adventurers' loot. And a small, specialist market is glutted fast. At auction (what, did you think these things were hocked to the local blacksmith or something?) you'll get full price for the initial lot offered, then -20% for each successive lot sold. When a multiplier of x0gp (-100%) is reached the local antiquities market is saturated and no further goods can be sold for a worthwhile price.

E.g.: each lot of goods on offer has 2d6x50gp resale value. Lot 1 sells for full price. Lot 2 for 2d6x40, lot 3 for 2d6x30, etc…

Note: the DM only rolls for the item’s ~actual~ value when the lot is finally auctioned. Up until then only a rough idea of the resale value (the possible range of values) is possible.

Going back to the dungeon and gathering more loot resets the local auction price. While the PCs are off exploring, killing and stealing local buyers are busy replenishing their purses by selling on their new acquisitions, extending lines of credit, writing excitable letters to their business partners, and squabbling with the new sharks entering the bidding pool. All sales are final (barring the old standby of stealing goods back from the buyer).

Bright Lights, Big City
Market value of objet d’art is more stable in larger settlements. More money is chasing the same goods (less bid depreciation), but some of this larger pool of potential buyers will have their eyes only on specific lots (offsetting potential bid inflation). My KISS rule of thumb is that these factors cancel one another out.

Towns & Cities, and their impermanent counterparts Caravans and Trade Fairs, lose resale value more slowly than do boomtown adventureburgs. They lose only -15% and -10% value for each successive lot. This gives adventurers a reason to travel to the big city (you can't offload that big score in Hicksville), and to treat merchant caravans as something other than wandering piggy banks.

Town or
Merchant Caravan
City or
Trade Fair

2nd x80%x85%x90%
7th - x10%x40%
8th - x0%x30%
etc... - - etc...

(Optional Rules)
  • Paying for an appraiser (price?) allows a re-roll of the lowest die when determining auction value. The re-roll stands in all cases.
  • Pawnbrokers, fences, kopje wallopers and other shady bottom feeders will buy up excess objet d'art in a glutted market, but will offer only 1d6x5% of the rolled value (rolled per lot). It’s better than nothing, but not by much...
Value by Weight
Sometimes, particularly when the market is already glutted by an embarrassment of riches, it'll be worth breaking objet d'art down for their bullion value. As seen in that masterful study of historically accurate high medieval chivalry "Knight's Tale", you simply knock a chunk off the item and sell it on as gold, silver or whatever, losing the value added of the workmanship. The DM will probably be able to pull a price out of his butt for this, but don’t expect to get more than 10+1d10% of the objet d’arts full auction value as a bullion price.

The Wider World
Normal farming and fishing villages, or logging or mining camps, have no interest in dungeon-derived objet d'arts. Quite apart from the fact that the entire village is probably worth about the same as the goods on offer, what good will these fancy toys do a bunch of turnip farmers over a hard winter? If anything they're just going to attract the cupidity of bandits, monsters or other adventurers.

Adventureburgs are atypical of settlements of their size in that they are single industry boomtowns, that industry being the re-supply, entertainment and general mulcting of the walking goldmine that is a party of successful dungeon crawlers.

edit: little bit of editing and tidying
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