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Author Topic: Is meaningless detail really meaningless?  (Read 11188 times)
Jack Spencer Jr
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« on: February 21, 2003, 01:57:40 PM »

I'm going to talk a bit about one aspect of my friend's game that I just don't get but since we really won't be discussing it with him, let's address it in a broader, more theoretical sense.

One of the things my friend has added to his fantasy game is a truly messed-up monetary system with two coins for each: gold, silver, copper.

In practice, the wife & I had found this more confusing and cumbersome than its worth, but my friend continues to say it adds flavor or color to the game.

So, I turn this idea over to the membership here. I'd rather not beat the particulars to death but I suppose some discussion is unavoidable. Is this detail really meaningless?
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Gordon C. Landis
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« Reply #1 on: February 21, 2003, 02:14:47 PM »

I think this can only boil down to personal preference.  For some people, "one coinage the world over" just rubs 'em the wrong way, and every time someone says "gold piece" instead of drachma or centavo or whatever, it's like cold slime dripping on their neck.  And if you have drachmas and centavos, there HAS to be an exchange rate . . .

Other folks just want to buy their supplies so they can get on with the rest of the game.

For ME, it's meaningless detail unless it ties into some fun n' freaky stuff about the PC's, or the game/gameworld.  All the different coins in Talislanta were cool because they were tied to intersting places - skull coins from Khazad, how cool!  I want one.  Wait, that PC has one?  How'd she get it?  Let's talk  . . . hey, I'm going to make my PC a coin collector!  This is gonna be great! (yes, I had great fun with my coin-collecting gnomekin)

But that's just me.  Other people think "because it's a little more realistic" is enough right there.

Gordon
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #2 on: February 21, 2003, 02:20:22 PM »

Quote from: Gordon C. Landis
For ME, it's meaningless detail unless it ties into some fun n' freaky stuff about the PC's, or the game/gameworld.

I like the way you think.
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 10459


« Reply #3 on: February 21, 2003, 02:21:23 PM »

Conflicting play styles? Sounds like Sim detail annoying a Narrativist to me. Any chance that's close?

Mike
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Ian Charvill
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Posts: 377


« Reply #4 on: February 21, 2003, 02:25:03 PM »

Up until decimalisation, here in the UK we had a pretty bizarre monetary systems.  Two farthings makes ha'penny, two ha'penny make a penny, twelve pennies make a shilling, two shillings sixpence make half a crown, two half a crowns make a crown, four crowns make a pound.  One pound one shilling make a guinea.  You then have slang terms for various monetary amounts (sixpence was a 'tanner', a shilling can also be called a 'bob', hence ten bob note, and so on).

So, he's not come up with an overly complex system from a historical point of view.  I guess you have pretty straight forward sim or immersionist arguments about the money - particular the irregularity of the money - providing a feeling of being someplace else.

Further to that general point, I suppose you could raise the issue of how important is it to a game.  Does the money get screen time - for example if merchants feature in the game, or there is a subplot about counterfeiting.  If so the detail could add a great deal to the game.  If it merely adds to bookkeeping, it might end up more trouble than it's worth.
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Ian Charvill
clehrich
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« Reply #5 on: February 21, 2003, 02:27:45 PM »

I agree with Gordon that this is usually pointless, but let me take a counter-example just for the sake of argument.

Suppose I have a fantasy world with lots of countries and cultures and whatnot, and in the game I'm running the political machinations are a very big deal.  Now one of the things about coinage is that a lot of its value has to do with who mints it, unless it's entirely locked to the local price of the metal.  So suppose a Gold Piece from X'tio'mar'akkkh is smaller than a Gold Piece from Brancusiolorus, so it seems that the latter is going to be worth more.  But the thing is, a big plot that's going on right now makes the government of Brancusiolorus hated and untrustworthy, because the PCs (agents from X'tio'mar'akkkh) have been exposing their evils.  So people wonder if the gold in their coinage is actually mixed with something else (cupellation is pretty simple, after all, so it's easy to tell if you really want to), and besides lots of serious traders don't want to support these guys by relying on their mines, which after all get slaves by kidnapping traders from X'tio'mar'akkkh.  So everybody starts using X'tio'mar'akkkh Gold Pieces as much as possible, and while their initial value is lower, this demand will drive it up.  Now you've got a situation where the coinage is dependent on who mints it, rather than on the metal content per se; furthermore, the reason for this is something the PCs have done, not just background color.

I can see this mattering a whole hell of a lot in a certain kind of game, one I think might be lot of fun to play.  But if it really makes no difference, if the coins are worth their metal and that's all, it does seem to me that this sort of color may be unnecessary detail.  Of course, it is nice to know that the X'tio'mar'akkkh Gold Piece is actually called a Biscuit and the Brancusioloran Gold Piece is actually called a Severed Head.
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Chris Lehrich
Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #6 on: February 21, 2003, 02:50:32 PM »

OK, couple of replies as I see may be necessary:
Quote from: Mike Holmes
Conflicting play styles? Sounds like Sim detail annoying a Narrativist to me. Any chance that's close?

Maybe, maybe not. I've given up trying to categorize myself and my friends. It is detail, whether it's Sim or not that I and my wife found to be more trouble than its worth, personally. I have since quit said game but she still goes. There's a whole possible thread that might go in Actual Play about that.
Quote from: Ian Charvill
If it merely adds to bookkeeping, it might end up more trouble than it's worth.

This is what I felt about it. If it matters, it's like this:

1 Copper Phooka (P)   
1 Copper Morank (M) = 2P
1 Silver Gryphon (G) = 50M = 100P
1 Silver Wyvern (W) = 2G = 100M = 200P
1 Gold Roc (R) = 10W = 20G = 1000M = 2000P
1 Gold Dragon (D) = 20R = 200W = 400G = 20,000M = 40,000P

Not the hardest thing in the world. I'm merely left scratching my head wondering why.

But back to the real topic:

I like Gordon and Chris's suggestions for making a monetary system important to what's going on beyond "I need to get five more Moranks to be able to buy that nifty weapon that does more damage." Detail is only meaningless if it's not used to some end, I guess, whatever the end may be.
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contracycle
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Posts: 2807


« Reply #7 on: February 21, 2003, 05:30:01 PM »

Quote from: Jack Spencer Jr

I like Gordon and Chris's suggestions for making a monetary system important to what's going on beyond "I need to get five more Moranks to be able to buy that nifty weapon that does more damage." Detail is only meaningless if it's not used to some end, I guess, whatever the end may be.


Right; frankly it IS unnecessary detail if it comes to the forgraound in a way that distracts you from the movement of the story itself, I would thinl.  If this is the book-keeping in order to play, rather than play itself, its No Fun.  And if it is intended to be actual play, then it should probably be mechanically abstracted like other subjects.

Quote

1 Copper Phooka (P)   
1 Copper Morank (M) = 2P
1 Silver Gryphon (G) = 50M = 100P
1 Silver Wyvern (W) = 2G = 100M = 200P
1 Gold Roc (R) = 10W = 20G = 1000M = 2000P
1 Gold Dragon (D) = 20R = 200W = 400G = 20,000M = 40,000P


Current british currency:
2 coppers: 1p and 2p
4 silvers: 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p
2 golds (one recent): 1 and 2

I don't think the above layout is particularly odd at all.  I agree its a bit laborious though.
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greyorm
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« Reply #8 on: February 21, 2003, 07:00:09 PM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
Conflicting play styles? Sounds like Sim detail annoying a Narrativist to me. Any chance that's close?

That's a bizzare take, Mike. Why would coinage and exchange rates be a bother to a Narrativist?

There seems to be this weird belief floating about that Narrativists are "fudgy," in that the world receives little detail, or that color/flavor is meaningless/unappreciated by/a bother to Narrativists.

Suddenly Narrativists can't have and enjoy coherent, realistic settings (particularly in a Narrative-styled game)?
Bah.
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio
Jack Spencer Jr
Guest
« Reply #9 on: February 21, 2003, 08:01:25 PM »

Quote from: greyorm
There seems to be this weird belief floating about that Narrativists are "fudgy," in that the world receives little detail, or that color/flavor is meaningless/unappreciated by/a bother to Narrativists.

And the other side of that coin is that Simulationist are anal with every minute detail spelled out, no matter how small or inconsequential it may seem.

That's a bloody good point, Raven. Much better discussion has arisen from this than I had expected. My hat goes off.
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Bob McNamee
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Posts: 685


« Reply #10 on: February 21, 2003, 08:36:14 PM »

For a viewpoint of playing in a world with that currency...
As a player, the first thing I would do on my sheet is drop off the words "copper", "silver", and "gold"...this leaves you with just a name and and an exchange rate.
not a Copper Phooka, just a Phooka...and so on

Just 6 types of currency (not that unlike the old D&D
Copper,Silver,Electrum,Gold,Platinum)

To me its the double use of the metal word that confuses things. Note it for Color if you want, but I would leave it off my character sheet.

Edited in: For ease of use, I would decide what the base money type is...like the "dollar" or the "pound". I would pick the Wyvern. This makes the Griffon a half Wyvern, the next lower a 'penny' and the lowest a 'half penny" etc with the Roc being a 'tenner' and the Dragon a "$200 dollar bill"
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Bob McNamee
Indie-netgaming- Out of the ordinary on-line gaming!
Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #11 on: February 21, 2003, 08:49:09 PM »

Hey, Bob. To be fair, in common usage the metals were dropped during play. A room would cost two Moranks, not two copper Moranks, for instance.

To be honest it didn't help. I got that silver was more valuable than copper and gold more valuable than silver. I had to learn what the hell Electrum and Platinum was and where they fit, but I learned this when I was like 12. I have no idea what a Phooka* is or a Morank and thus it's not as intuitive. I suppose it's just a matter of learning it, like anything else.



* Well, I know a phooka is a spirit of some kind. Harvey the rabbit from the Jimmy Stewart movie is a phooka.
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contracycle
Member

Posts: 2807


« Reply #12 on: February 22, 2003, 04:10:09 AM »

Ah yes, Australian isn't it?  And that reminds me - isn't Moranc/k" some sort of water critter?
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Ian Charvill
Member

Posts: 377


« Reply #13 on: February 22, 2003, 05:52:42 AM »

FWIW

There are published roleplaying games with non-decimal currency systems.  Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay used 12 copper pennies = one silver shilling; twenty shillings = one gold crown.  Runequest had a minor bit of funkyness with twenty lunars to the wheel.  So there are precedents.

Too, Seventh Sea has various non-decimal rates of exchange among the various currencies, but in play everything comes down to Guilders.

Ian
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Ian Charvill
b_bankhead
Member

Posts: 259


« Reply #14 on: February 22, 2003, 09:12:22 PM »

What is meaningless detail. Its detail that isn't made to have meaning. Many would consider working out detailed languages complete with script to be a meaningless detail, yet when Tolkien did it he made it so meaningful thousands of people bothered to actually learn and write in his ficitional language.

   Any detail in a character or world is meaningless unless it is made to have meaning in the game.  Middle Earth has been notable for the details about it that are missing , like what was religion really like?  They are missing because they didnt bear ont he themes and ideas he wanted to explore. The wonder of Tolkiens talent is that in spite of the amount of detail in Middle earth,practically all of it is made to have meaning, whole new generations find whole new meaning in those details.

  In the example given on currency , there once was a time when I would have done something like this simply because I thought being creative in world design meant just piling on detail.  Now I would ask what purpose It would serve in making stories.  And there is plenty of potential, after all what has caused more conflict than money? (religion, probably) What more symbolizes human greed than money?
but adding currency beyond a cute local name for 'coin of little value' is meaningless detail if the only purpose is complicate the calculation for buying your 10 foot pole and 50' feet of rope.......
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