Revaluing the text economy


What does "naturally occurring economic system" even mean, beyond "it's natural if I say it is?"



I love this kind of stuff, but I don't understand why magi would bother writing all these tractati to fill that market. Writers are going to spend one season of their lives writing a tractatus that they are going to solve for what, their Com stat minus 1 fp?

Or could selling prices, for once, be higher, with Mercere or some hermetic librarian buying that at loss to then make a bunch of copies and get their profit?

It seems that in order for all the business to work then writers should be encouraged somehow, but I can't think the prize for that.

a naturally occurring economic system is one which occurs without direction as a result of people engaging in trade, usually beginning with barter until a common system of value is worked out with a medium of exchange.
It is the boundary between a government minting gold coins to indicate the weight of gold within them to facilitate trade and printing money on paper with "this note is legal tender for all debts public and private" and using the force of law to establish that it will be used as a medium of exchange and to prohibit others from copying said currency.

Like P-gems or Stones of Jordan.


I agree we should look at this closer. Suppose we have a reasonably good writer, who can write a tractatus q10. He spends one season to write a tractatus. Now, every copy will net him 3fp. If at least ten copies of his book sell - and why shouldn't they since, as you point out, this seems like a really good deal - that's at least 30fp. Using Marko's numbers, 4fp = 1 pawn, that's at least 7.5 pawns. That's not shabby at all. Of course, someone who writes really good books will spend 1 season writing a q14 tractatus, sell 10 copies or more, and get 17.5 pawns for it. That's kind of awesome.

So I think the prices work out.

In addition to this, we also have to consider tractati that cost the magus nothing! If I have an apprentice who writes well, I can set him to writing tractati every bit as well as an archmagus, although he can write fewer of these. I then keep the tractati and sell these. Any grad student should understand how this works! :slight_smile:/2

Finally, someone who writes excellent books will get a reputation for that. As a valuable member of the Order, he will be well-regarded, protected, treasured and deferred to. Antagonize this guy and you antagonize the archmagi who subscribe to his YouTube channel. "I hear you're going to be 35 soon. I happen to know that Elizabeth - yes, that Elizabeth - is happy to book you next spring. She really liked your last book about Corpus and looks forward to the next."



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Well, great. In other words, it is natural because you say it is.



no, it is natural because it arises organically, as opposed to being forced by government action. It is a pretty simple distinction to follow. Natural currencies follow from commodities that generally, but not always, follow certain properties- 1 being a relatively inflexible supply (gold cannot be grown or consumed, for example), being valued, and having little to no utilitarian value. There have been exceptions to this- Babylon used barley as currency next to silver, but this also required a government bureaucracy for managing grain warehouses. Egypt began with a barter system where rings became thicker over time to hold more value in metal and became coins. There is an island culture where the base currency are massive carved stones which obviously can be reproduced, but not easily (this one also violates the typical property of being easily portable). If you are going to create an economy whole cloth it might be a good idea to have some background in how actual economies work, instead of simply being snarky to anyone who tries to offer constructive criticism.

The American economy is artificial or unnatural because without the government to enforce the value of our currency it would have none, or have such high volatility as to be worthless as a currency- similar to bitcoin.


'Natural' is a buzzword. It means what the speaker wants it to mean, except when some evil government unnaturally forces an unnatural definition of 'natural'. Here, in the USA, I get to read 'convervatives' 'prove' that some things are natural and that other things are unnatural, and then get to read 'liberals' 'prove' rather different categories of natural and unnatural that naturally conflict with the 'conservative' categories. (In America, our liberals are not liberal and our conservatives are not conservative, so scare quotes are warranted.)

Governments are every bit as natural as economies. Is an economy based on dollars not natural because some government enforces it? Then a vis economy is also not natural because one party can kill the other party and take their vis, unless some government or 'artificial' society enforce some unnatural laws against killing people and taking their stuff. (I will completely leave aside the discussion regarding the extent to which a government can fully enforce an economy that isn't viable as an economy, and simply mumble Venezuela a few times.)

What, a rule that you have to pay your taxes in dollars is somehow unnatural but a rule that says you cannot use your superior capabilities to take my vis is natural?

What about all the rules involved with a medieval economy, that dictate where you can trade, what you can trade, with whom you can trade, when you can trade, whose markings need to be on the silver you use for trade, what weights and measures you get to use for trade, what you may use to pay for various things and what you may not?

You imply that I understand nothing about economics because I assume that government has a role in certain economic systems, which is to say, any economic system more complex than bartering because my guys with weapons and your guys with weapons don't feel confident enough to just take the other person's stuff.

You also imply that 'natural' economies involve irreplaceable commodities, ignoring economies based on things like beads. And, of course, you speak of 'utilitiarian value' as though some expert (like you!) gets to decide. Since I don't claim to be an expert, I can say that gold has a value because people value it, and "ooh, shiny" is as valid a measure of utility as any.

An economy involving gold only works to the extent that people value gold and are willing to exchange things for it, and exchange gold for things. An economy involving dollars works similarly. As does an economy involving bolivars. As does an economy involving vis. As does an economy involving tractati.

I say 'involved' rather than 'based on' because real economies, insofar as I can tell, are based on more than one commodity. Sure, most people in the modern world tend not to recognize much economic activity beyond exchanges involving their local, official currency, but much, maybe most economic activity even in our world do not involve the local currency. Modern economics, insofar as I can tell, stakes out an expansive purview of what economic activity is, and suggests that all of it is natural.

The OoH, unnatural as it may be, already has a Cow&Calf rule that is generally acknowledged. That is a barrier to counterfeiting tractati, as are the hoplites who will kill you dead for messing with the economy, thereby depriving lots of magi of magic power. Writing a new tractatus takes a season, a real cost, which might be better spent doing other things if you don't write well enough.

By the way, 'those islanders' are Yap Islanders, whose economy was featured in my third grade social studies textbook. And using a non-portable commodity as the basis for currency is not that uncommon. There was a period in the US, for example, where gold was not minted but we were on the gold standard, using paper money backed by a bunch of non-portable gold. Yap Islanders similarly can exchange their stone money without moving it.

'Organic' is also a meaningless buzzword, btw, except when it comes to Organic Chemistry. Oh, and except when some government unnaturally and inorganically defines it.

As for your original objections:

Perishable: Dollar bills are perishable. Cows are perishable. Perishable items have been used as a common medium of economic exchange. Texts are not that perishable if treated well.

Too easily reproduced: Dollars and cows are easily reproduced. The OoH has means to easily detect illicitly reproduced texts.

Too easily faked: Ok, not cows this time. :slight_smile: I'm not sure what you mean by this. Plagiarism? The Order can detect this. A text that doesn't really provide Q xp? Rather noticeable.

But no, it's probably still 'a poor way of doing so.' Because, you know, you don't like it. And that's fine.



Gold maintains its value without the presence of government
Dollars have no value outside of government promotion of them.

Really simply concept.

Cows are barter, not currency.

Now personally I think a vis based economy is weak for several reasons, primary being that vis can be produced and consumed, but then again with vis anything can be produced, so that concept is pretty much set on its ear anyways. However vis is then a fundamental material for the operation and manipulation of the universe and something that can make gold (which the mundane economy still runs on) from nothing.

Books are something that can be produced by mundanes. Books lose value- your ability levels are too high to learn from some and tractatus that have been read have no value to you. A tractatus which has been widely read will have less value than a new tractatus.

Books are also not identicle- a dollar is like a dollar is like a dollar. A gold coin of the same minting is the same as a gold coin of the same minting. Every book will have a different value, aside from the standardizing rules in the rulebooks.

And, again aside from the game rules, valuation of books is not straightforward. With a new author you can't look at a book and tell its SQ. It could be vain, it could be sound.

It is, for many many reasons, a lousy choice for a currency.

If the rules were more realistic on the topic, book value would be based not on the SQ, but on the reputation of the author, where reputation builds similarly to an artist, but with teh potential to climb more rapidly for more exceptional work...

… which realistically is a flaw in the artistic reputation rules as well...

Really? Why? Aside from tradition I mean.
You can't eat it or burn it. There are very few things that it would be reasonable to construct from gold.
Really, the main value of gold - a side from its resistance to tarnishing and thus stays shiny - is that it looks a bit like the sun, so the egyptians considered it a holy material.

And yes, it also have a few applications in electronics, as well as X-ray mirrors, but hardly enough to justify its price.

Tim actually has a fairly interesting episode on how the god economy in medieval Europe works.

This conversation got really far afield. I don't think I really agree with anything written here.

Gold maintains its value because people want it. Part of it is scarcity- you can't manufacture more gold. Part of it is simply the way we are. But when the communists took Russia, or the Nazis took Germany and announced they were creating a new currency which they were exchanging for the old, all the people who fled the country carrying the old currency were suddenly left with worthless paper, while anyone who left with gold kept their value. that is the difference between natural and artificial when it comes to currency.
I don't have to know in detail why people value gold, because it is a documented fact that they do. The same holds for silver. The same has historically not held for books. In AM vis has an intrinsic value of being the most powerful reliable material in that universe (divine miracles not being reliable). Infaltion for silver or gold can be an issue when a significant new source is found, which is the place where Ars Magica magic clearly breaks the setting, because it would drastically alter the economy of medieval Europe, but the "just add magic" mindset prevails to maintain a historical setting... sorry, this is diverting towards a standard rant.

Hi Ken, what makes Independent Study so suckful? It appeared in the Mystery Cults book where it is handy for those playing in games where teachers of mystical, house-specific knowledge (Mystery Cult Lore + heartbeast/enigmatic wisdom/ faerie magic/ wilderness lore) are rare or for characters who would rather learn the mysteries through experience than sitting at master Yoda's feet.

While I appreciate the effort to come up with a scheme to value books, in practice "realism" usually takes a back seat to "how many books does the SG want to make available to players, and how much does the SG want to pay characters writing books".

As for all the arguments about economics, surely vis most closely resembles the economist's ideal of a currency? It's scarce, once used up it's gone, there is a limited supply which can only be supplemented by the expenditure of much highly skilled (well, Gifted) labour, and it's highly durable. It's also hard to fake (very low-level InVi spells show if it's there or not, and can count its value). Now if anyone has an excellent scheme to flood the market with fake vis I'd like to hear it, as that would make for an entertaining story.

Silveroak, I think you are caring too much about economy, and that while doing so you left your eye miss the second word on the game's name.

Permanent creation of gold doesn't break the setting. Would you drastically alter the economy of Mythic Economy? Well, same than permanent creation of a stream would drastically alter the ecology of Mythic Europe. I would say that these kind of things you can do with magic don't break the setting, but actually define it.

But besides drastically breaking down the world magic can assist in some of the problems you mentioned above. For example one of the reasons you pointed against tractati turnt into money was that paper is fragile. But hermetic magic can help with that! Countless libraries have enchantments and items just to keep their papers in perfect shape. Also that they can be made up. Well, money is as well. And from some perspective I'm a money making machine: I sit on my office's chair countless hours per day and then I get money in exchange of my time. Also that they are non-reusable. Well, but they are useful to someone else, so you can still sell or trade tractati you already read. Also you mentioned a lack of authority keeping an eye over that economy. But we have House Tremere, whose business is, mostly, covering that part. There you would have an enforcing authority (who dares defying a Tremere?), someone to evaluate the quality (you submit your tractatus to House Mercere, and surely they have a guy in there devoted to reading them all).

The more I think of it, the more I like the idea. Now my problem is that I'm wondering how many tractati are out there in the world. So I'm looking around for Order's population models, but now of course I don't really like what I found sooo I should get distracted soon with anything else before starting to build that colossus all by myself.

The problem isn't simply a question of labor value of wealth, but of the properties of a medium of exchange. I can write a tractatus then hire a dozen scribes with magic theory:1 (even if I have to teach it to them) to copy it for two seasons a year for life, and if tractatus were money they would continue to have the same value, where I would be exchanging 12 gold per year in wages for 12-24 vis equivalent per year in "cash" tractatus. Because Tremere can't prevent people from writing or copying their own tractatus. As a commodity it is easy to say that a text will lose value as it becomes more widespread, and books have value individually that can vary, but these are traits which undermine the ability to use something as currency.

As for overthinking, yeah, I do that. However I do think that any time you try to have a medieval society and just add magic you are doomed, because adding magic will affect everything, and trying to pretend it won't simply results in a world that is easily broken. I get that this is a contrivance that dates back to first edition, and that people like it, but to me it is setting up a world to be broken by players.

At least with the ecology adjustments can be made by getting rid of the conservation of matter and energy in terms of the background physics. When it comes to economic influences this only works if something consumes gold at a similar rate to which magicians create it (in which case you still will funamentally alter the economy since mages will be the source of wealth, which makes it very hard to live secretly in the wilderness- or anywhere else.)


Oops, my bad. I was thinking Secondary Insight, which is so suckful. IS isn't so bad. But it's not great either. Good Parens and Gild Trained provide instant benefits, and those other virtues take a long time to catch up. In many sagas, they never will.

Very true!

But there are many sagas in which the SG wants some guidance about what works. And in many sagas, the covenant is designed using some official rules, and these might be used instead, or to complement that.

I think focusing on the term 'currency' instead of various common media of exchange has drawn us into a less interesting discussion among people who have only shallow expertise or credentials in economics, myself included.

But vis isn't all that: It can only be used once, unlike something like gold, wool and tractati. It's more like pepper than like silver. It can be faked too! There's a whole lot of infernal vis out there free for the taking; most magi don't cast "detect realm of vis" on vis, and infernal stuff has a way of self-obscuring. And then there is the possibility of someone creating a CrVi spell that makes something seem like vis, similar to creating a fake Gift.



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Arguably a core point of most RPG's

You aren't allowed to directly inject large amounts of gold. But there is such a gold consuming body. It is called China. We send them gold (that at the time they used for ornamentation) they send us silk and spices, both of which get consumed with time (a lot more time in the case of the silk).

By the Mythic paradigm they basically consume a near infinite amount of gold and that is good enough for the typical Saga. Your saga might have china doing something with the gold like turning it into elixr of life with their local magic.

All ideas on the gold economy paraphrased from Timothy Ferguson's podcast and blog.


You got it! The institutions able to support this are already in place, canonically.

As for House Mercere, when I wrote the stuff about "if you sell 10 copies, you get..." I imagined the possibility of House Mercere paying you 10 seasons worth of fp up front for the right to all future sales which shall be at that set price, allowing you to retain one copy for yourself. House Mercere breaks even upon selling 10, and looks forward to centuries of profit, as well as cementing their critical importance to the Order: Sure, if you have decent ReCo or CrIm or various other magics, you don't need Redcaps for snail mail, but they're also Amazon, and you always need books.

The beauty of this is that once you buy into the idea, you don't need to worry about any of that unless you want economic fluctuations to be the major theme of your saga. Just set fp to be what you want it to be (I do think Marko nailed it with qp, and this works for any Tribunal), and assume that the Order is large enough to buy any books your players want to write on Arts, MT, Finesse, Penetration, Parma (in sagas that allow such books) and Mastery for common spells, and that the Order is large and old enough to supply any books you want at the standard price.

No population models needed.

If need be, handwaving that the extra vis comes from the rich lands of the far off Novgorod and Theban Tribunal (or Hibernia, if you're on the other side of the map) works fine too, and might even inspire a story involving a long journey to those fabled lands.

You might want to create rules for Reputation of writers though. Good writers get a Reputation for that, but if you publish many books, everyone has a pretty good idea of what you know. And if you think your players are reading too much more than writing, it's easy enough to have some NPCs slight the covenant at Tribunal because they aren't really participating in the Order.



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To be fair on this point, the economy is already broken by the rules under house Mercere in TL, where vis is both borrowed by Mercere from anyone willing to lend it and lent out at a 20% interest rate. For deposits it shouldn't be over 6%...

Which is why I would imagine the Redcaps would try to pay off such a loan as often and quickly as possible. I know your forum campaign is drowning in owed wealth (as I'm involved in that!) and I was assuming that was because you wanted your players to have access to lots and lots of vis. As far as actually in play, the Mercere probably pay off their loans after 1-2 years at most, and wouldn't let it build up over time to extreme amounts. I actually didn't attach your campaign's vis of account rules to be directly tied to the redcaps loaning money until just now. but that's a different subject that I digress from.