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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: 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: Politics Intro

Anywhere civilization starts to crop up people tend to group together. The exact definitions of a group of people can be a little vague. You might have people who are grouped together in a town, or in an occupational group. And how a group is managed and how they make decisions together is where politics comes into play.

Politics sound somewhat complicated, but they don’t have to be. In essence politics is how a group makes decisions. This ties partially into how they’ve organized any governing system. Are they held by a single leader, or do they follow more democratic or oligarchical structures? It also ties into cultural beliefs. Places where politics and religion aren’t separated may have some of those choices heavily influenced by a religious group or influence. And where there is a separation, any clash between differing beliefs can cause smaller political problems, even within the same group.

To start figuring out politics, it may help to start with the large picture such as your kingdom or country. The group decisions there are often about how to keep the kingdom and country running. This covers everything from who can become a part of the governing body, to how laws are agreed upon and who can trade with who.

From there take another look at how your group can be divided up. Consider things like religion, social and economic standing, educational level, age, gender and race. Smaller groups within a larger may have different views, and some of the political issues that crop up are the result of conflicting views. How do these smaller groups make themselves heard to the larger group they’re contained within? How do they influence the choices made by their governing body?

Once you have an understanding of how the large group works, consider how it interacts with other groups of the same size. This is where your different countries and varying types of government come into play. Even between groups with the same type of government system, their politics may change; one place may allow certain things where the other bars them.

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Worldbuilding: Holidays

People love celebrating. True, some people like celebrating more than others, but if there’s a reason to celebrate, people will. That’s essentially what the holidays are about–celebrating something. Depending on what your holiday is about will depend on how it’s celebrated and when. When creating a holiday however, there’s a few things to consider.

When

Some holidays have movable days, like Thanksgiving, Easter and the Chinese New Year. The reasons behind that can be varied, which gives you a couple of things to consider when forming your holidays: are specific days of the week considered holy or sacred, as in the case of Easter? Are the holidays tied to a seasonal or lunar calendar as with the Chinese New Year?

Other holidays are firmly locked into a date. These might commemorate a specific historical event such as Guy Fawkes Day for the UK or the Fourth of July for the US. It might also be the reason to celebrate an event such as a death–which is namely why Valentine’s Day is always February 14th.

When also covers how long. Festivals such as Diwali can be celebrate for days. Yule, which coincides with Christmas, lasts for twelve days. Although New Year’s Day is the official holiday, celebrations begin on New Year’s Eve, with people staying awake until midnight to greet the new year.

Why

As I said, if there’s a reason to celebrate, people will. This doesn’t just apply to big holidays either: think of the last time you went out for a nice dinner with a friend or family because someone had good news. A job promotion, new baby, buying a house or even just to celebrate someone’s birthday. The reasons for a celebration are varied, and that means so are the reasons for a holiday.

Some holidays mark the change of seasons such as the Solstices or even the change of the calendar such as the many varied new year holidays. Holidays are also used to mark and celebrate important figures, though often these are country or region specific.

Other holidays might have a specific function such as remembering the dead as in Día de los Muertos or in celebrating love such as in Valentine’s day.

How

If you’re creating a holiday, also consider how it would be celebrated. You can probably think of a few things connected to each holiday you know and celebrate with ease.  Red decorations for Chinese New Year, presents for Christmas, turkey for Thanksgiving, sugar skulls for Day of the Dead, and so on and so forth.

While some holidays include giving gifts, others might call for things like fireworks and parades. Specific dishes might be prepared around that time such as mooncakes or stuffing. Color patterns could be associated with various holidays such as red, white and blue or orange and black. Staying up until midnight and egg hunts are two very specific traditions associated with New Year’s and Easter respectively.

The how is often tied directly into the why, but keep in mind that holidays have a varied history of their own. Some of them have been completely taken over, becoming defunct even though parts of their celebrations remain in the holidays that have absorbed them.