Posted in worldbuilding

Worldbuilding: Currency and Wage

Part of creating an entire fictional world often comes across the question of economics. At its core, economics is the way in which resources and goods are affected by value. There’s a lot to unpack in economics, so it may help to start with your currency and their units.

Start by figuring out what your lowest value unit is. The common, day-to-day grocery shopper may not have a lot of power as an individual, but your lowest unit determines the lowest possible cost a merchant can charge. From there you can scale it up into the higher currencies. This is usually where math starts getting involved.

It might help to think of currency as a sort of rarity mark. You have extremely common, common, uncommon, rare and extremely rare. Each level of your currency has more purchasing power than the previous unit, building off each level below it.

For example, we’ll use the American quarter. It’s worth twenty-five cents. Four quarters (extremely common) to make one dollar (common). That means to get to a five dollar bill, you need twenty quarters.  To get to a ten-dollar bill, you need ten ones, or forty quarters. To get up into the rarer fifty-dollar bill, you need two hundred quarters, fifty ones or five tens. Building up to that fifty would take a little saving.  

Once you’ve determined the units and the scaling of your currency, it’s time to start assigning value to things. You don’t need to get super specific here. Instead you can use the rarity level of that particular resource or good to help you figure out how much it might be worth.

Common, everyday items such as food probably won’t be worth very much unless there’s a scarcity of it. Items that require either specialized skill or equipment become harder to produce and as a result become rarer. This is where the innerworkings of the economy begin to branch out and get messier.

For example, your common citizen. They can likely buy their common items such as food quite easily. This is something they need to either buy or produce themselves every single day. A new winter coat however, is something they’ll only need for part of the year. A fancy coat with lots of decoration and add-ons requires more skill to produce, which drives the price higher. This means the cost of that fancy coat could jeopardize your citizen’s ability to purchase the common resource they absolutely have to have. Ergo, they buy a simple coat, and the rich merchant buys the fancy coat because it won’t impact his ability to buy food.

This presents another consideration for your economy: wage and wealth. Wealth is how much access a person has to any given resource. Currency is largely a form of wealth granting access to any purchasable resource. Often, we gain wealth as a wage, either by performing a task for someone else or selling something we’ve produced.  

For the most part, this holds true across your common population. Either they’re performing a task in exchange for a wage, or they’re producing something to sell. In essence, they’re exchanging their time and labor for currency. This is the basic idea of a wage: the value of a person’s time and/or labor.

The more valuable a person’s labor or time is, the likelier they’ll earn more. There’s a number of factors in this including skill, experience and job hazards. A highly skilled craftsman can produce four items in an hour. His apprentice can only produce one. That means when the crafts go to sale, the skilled craftsman earns more than his apprentice. Over time, the apprentice can catch up and begin selling as many wares as his mentor, but to start he’s going to make less.

In theory, a hazardous job should also earn more. Though this often applies when dealing with adventurers going off to slay monsters and the like, depending on the rest of your worldbuilding and other outside factors, this might not be the case. Mining is a stressful and dangerous job. With modern technology and safety advancements, thousands of miners still lose their lives every year. In the 1900’s, a day’s wage for a miner was often only six or seven dollars—often for ten and fourteen hour days.

Another place where your wealth and wage might get a little funky is in restricted resources such as land.   

If you own land, you can sell it, but it becomes a one-time sale for that particular piece of land. Alternately, you might be able to rent it out in some cases, such as allowing a farmer to work the land in exchange for a small amount each month. This applies to buildings as well: you can sell them, or you can charge rent for someone to live or conduct their business inside. Although making money that way would take a little knowledge and thought, the effort is relatively low—yet because access to land ownership is often barred, it’s possible for landlords to make a tidy sum.

Although this is only scratching the surface of economics, these are two of the basic questions to ask when working with your fictional economy: how much do things cost and how do people earn enough to purchase those things?

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Worldbuilding: Folklore

Part of building a world completely from scratch includes figuring out what the myths and legends of the world will be. Folklore is such a big component of how we view the world and conduct ourselves that it can be impossible to get away from it completely. Every culture on earth—our very real world—has folklore in all its glorious forms.

Don’t be fooled by the name. Folklore isn’t just the stories and myths. It also crosses into the songs, proverbs, dance and traditions of a culture. The largest difference between folklore and culture in worldbuilding is that folklore exists to help teach and preserve a culture.

Although folklore is intended to teach and preserve, many of its forms are also meant to entertain or celebrate. Folklore is often used to pass on wisdom and advice to children. Many fairy tales carry a moral message and even superstition relies on doing right or wrong as evidenced by things like ‘step on a crack, break your mother’s back.’

For that reason, folklore actually becomes very easy to create. You might already have a few pieces of it already, to explain things like seasons or why night and day exist. You can expand on these by creating stories or rhymes about what happens when a person or animal obeys or doesn’t follow the advice or morality of the tale.  Take a look at any of Aesop’s Fables for examples of how this goes.

When creating a proverb or even an old wives’ tale, you can be more direct about the message or lesson. The key with these is that they should be short and memorable. If it helps, try creating an analogy between natural actions and your proverb. For example, wild birds will often fly away when startled or threatened. A tame one however, remains in hand and has no need to be recaptured. Forsaking what you have at home for the unknown of the wilds isn’t always a good idea. You may end up with nothing, even when there’s supposedly so much out there—after all, a bird in hand is worth two in the bush.  

I’d love to know! What’s some of the folklore in your world?

Posted in worldbuilding

Worldbuilding: Law and Enforcement

No matter what sort of genre you write, if you’re doing any sort of worldbuilding it’s a good idea to take a look at your laws and how they’re enforced. Anarchy isn’t generally a great backdrop—dystopian settings and Armageddon excluded.

There’s two ways you can start this. One is to figure out who polices the population and where their power is derived from. This is especially key to finding out where the flaws in your enforcement system are. It’s unlikely you’ll have a perfect enforcement system. Power after all corrupts, and when you’re dealing with people who are there solely to maintain order, they have a fair amount of power.

The other place you could start is figuring out which laws need the most enforcement. This gives you a bigger look at your society, but also opens up a lot of other questions such as why those laws in particular need enforcement. If thievery is your biggest problem, ask yourself why your civilians find it necessary to steal. Is it possible that the general public lacks resources, making theft a survival tactic? If it’s a lack of resources and power driving their crimes, why hasn’t your enforcement agency stepped in to correct this?

Regardless of where you start, it’s a good idea to have an answer for both. Knowing who does the enforcing and where they need to enforce the most is crucial in building a justice system. This gives you a base for expanding from simple enforcement officers such as police or guards into the larger judicial system of judges, juries and executioners. Ask yourself how trials are conducted. Do your enforcement officers carry the task of both catching and condemning criminals? How is the system balanced between stopping a crime and protecting the innocent?

Lastly, now that you know how your system works and what drives it, ask yourself who would join the ranks of your law enforcement. Are these willing volunteers with good intentions? Are they chosen because they meet certain criteria, and if so, who does the choosing? Are these desperate people hoping for a chance to protect their loved ones from the brutality the system inflicts on the populace? Are these men and women serving because they’re required to do so by some legal stipulation?

What does your world’s law and enforcement system look like? If you feel like sharing, drop a comment below!

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Worldbuilding: Handling Multiple Countries

It’s a little unlikely that you’ll have only one country for worldbuilding. Although your story or even your game campaign may only take place in one particular country, as a general rule humans don’t do great in massive cohesive groups. Add in a couple of different races and you’re almost certain to have at least a couple of different countries in your world.

Where you have multiple countries, you also have multiple chances for conflict. Politics is often the basis of how a group of people govern themselves. When you have different groups, you often have different ideas of how they should be governed. In itself that can be the basis for conflict between countries. Resources are yet another place where varied opinions might clash—that includes not only food or minerals, but also land.

A good way to manage multiple countries might be to figure out where their conflicts potentially lie. Start with cultural differences. Do they have differing religions? What about language? Are there certain actions which might be considered respectful in one culture, but odd or even insulting in another?

Now consider the resources your countries have. Animals, plants and building materials are major resources for civilization at any stage. Following that, decorative items such jewels or dyes are often traded back and forth.

With your resources and cultures figured out, look at how well they can be meshed together. If one country is drowning in a particular resource the other one considers holy, it’s possible trade agreements will be reached. This is where imports and exports come in. Countries doing a lot of trade are likelier to set aside their differences and may form alliances in times of war. Keep in mind this isn’t always the case—owing another country a lot of money doesn’t breed much goodwill on either side.

A final thing to consider is how easily people can immigrate from one country to another. How easy is it for citizens of one nationality to becomes citizens of another? What steps do they have to take, and how does this changed based on which country they’re coming from and going to?

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Worldbuilding: Social Stratification and Class

Stratification is a word geologists use to describe the way rocks build up in layers. It’s also a word that can be applied to sociology. In worldbuilding when we discuss social classes, we’re discussing exactly that: social stratification.

Unlike layers of rock however, social stratification isn’t so clearly defined. Part of that is because of the nature of intersectionality. People belong to different social groups, and often we belong to multiple social groups. Often those groups are determined by things outside of our control, with some exceptions of course.

While I could write (and have plans for) an entire post on intersectionality and how it works, today we’re sticking to the basics of social classes, starting with how to define a social class.

One of the first things to determine is whether you have a class system or a caste system. Although moving up in a class system is difficult, it can be done. Caste systems however are locked, barring entry from one class to the next—both up and down.

At a bare minimum you’ll likely have three social classes. That is the upper, the middle and the lower class. However, in reality you can have far more. Typically the additional layers in social hierarchy are built around the middle class, forming into ‘upper middle’ and ‘lower middle’ classes. You can further differentiate the other classes—upper or lower elite, or even adding a difference between lower-working and working-middle classes.

Regardless of how many classes you have, you’ll need to understand what the difference between each one is. To understand that, take a look at where your power is held. This includes political power, monetary power and physical power.

Depending on your governmental system, the people holding political power could very well be based on either heritage like a monarchy, or elitism such as wealth. Those who hold more power will fall higher in the social ranking than those who lack it. With power comes better access to resources.

Other defining factors for social class include things like education and occupation. Jobs deemed to be somehow unclean or low-skilled won’t net much in the terms of resources (such as wealth or political sway) and as a result, aren’t likely to provide better opportunities either for themselves or their families.  Opportunities to better oneself and as a result, better your social class, can be barred because of something like gender, disability and nationality among a dozen other factors.

The tricky part of this is that there’s rarely a clear cut off between one class and the next. When working with measurable things such as acreage of land owned or money it may help to define a range for each class and keep in mind that there will be bleed between each layer and the next. Also keep in mind that even if two characters have the same access to resources such as wealth or education, other factors such as health, ability, gender and family reputation will affect where they fall.

How do your social classes break down? What does social stratification look like in your worldbuilding?