1. WritingInTheDark

    WritingInTheDark Active Member

    Dec 20, 2020
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    How do I work out realistic prices for fictional, secret goods and services?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by WritingInTheDark, Dec 7, 2021.

    This is a problem I'm running into with my setting. There's a secret society in it, and a key location is a bar that secretly doubles as a trade hub for mythical creatures and humans to buy and sell things. Things like humans selling their blood for vampires to drink, buying and selling potion ingredients, buying and selling enchanted artifacts and the materials for forging them, etc. The existence of these creatures is a secret to the broader world, but some humans are in the know about it and have access to these sorts of places, and of course the creatures themselves do business there too.

    While obviously the option exists to not discuss concrete prices at all, part of me feels like that would be a cop-out, and that actually mentioning real prices would make the world feel more alive and solid. But the problem is I don't have the foggiest idea how to get a grasp on the supply and demand for goods and services that either don't exist, or aren't quite like their real-world counterparts.

    Has anyone run into this problem? Has anyone come up with their own solutions for working this out?
    Lawless likes this.
  2. Naomasa298

    Naomasa298 HP: 10/190 Status: Confused Contributor

    Sep 9, 2019
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    The White Rose county, UK
    The price of anything is whatever people are prepared to pay for it.

    Suppose there was a kind of commodity, let's call it... oh, "spice", that would extend people's lives. How many people would pay for that?
  3. QueenOfPlants

    QueenOfPlants Definitely a hominid

    Apr 18, 2017
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    The question is also: What CAN your customers pay for it?

    That "spice", which Naomasa mentions, might be only available to some rich assholes. Not because normal people wouldn't pay a lot, but because they don't HAVE a lot they can pay.

    So, you may want to ask yourself what kind of people usually buy this or that and how well they are doing in general.

    I would probably go about this thing like this:

    I would choose an item and then set the lowest boundary for the price at the money it would take to procure this item. This is the amount you cannot go under. This amount has to cover everything from travel expenses, equipment and raw materials to the costs of living during the time it takes to get or make the item.

    The upper boundary would be what the richest person interested in that item would be willing to pay.

    Then I'd try to figure out whether that item's price is more towards the lower or the upper boundary. That's when the amount of people interested in the item and their general budget come into play. And of course the competition from others selling that item.
    And of course, how often you have that item. Can you sell to more than one person?

    I would probably set the price somewhere in the middle between the lower and upper boundary and then use those questions to "slide" it upwards or downwards.

    If you have a particular item, you could name it here and I can try to find a price for it.
    I just need to know the currency. Dollar, guineas, cowrie shells, goats or Wolpertinger teeth?
  4. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Contributor Contributor

    Jan 9, 2021
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    There are many factors, but I think some to consider are the raw cost of production of the good or service, as well as the availability of substitutes. I usually start with the labor cost of something. If it takes say an hour to produce one unit, then you're talking about $10-50 minimum cost (depending on the skill involved). But, that means nothing if there is a cheaper alternative.

    You could look at the legal and/or black market (assuming it is real) of consensual selling of organs as a comparison.

    I would go out on a limb (no pun intended) and say that in the black market for blood for vampires, the price per pint would be no less than what you can get selling it for research, unless the requirements are less (no concern for viruses, blood type doesn't matter etc.)

    Illegal drugs is probably the best comparison: lots of risk involved for both suppliers and consumers, and not everyone knows where to go to buy it. But they are out there and there are ballpark estimated wholesale and street values of each drug.

    I would think a market for vampire blood would allow vampires to stay under the radar and live semi-normal lives, and this would be a factor in how valuable it is. But if the supply of willing human donors is large enough, it might not affect cost too much.

    How did True Blood deal with it?
  5. Travalgar

    Travalgar Active Member

    Sep 1, 2021
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    Currently Reading::
    The Left Hand of Darkness
    Another way to approach this is to start with its average consumers' earning power. Take their monthly income, setting aside around 10% to 60% (depending on their economic strength or class, and your setting) for their living cost—the money they're going to need to stay alive regardless of the existence of said rare goods. Consider how often they may need t0 "consume" this particular item. Crunch these numbers together, and you'll get the ballpark estimate of how much an item should reasonably be priced.

    But what about rare rare goods? Something you didn't need to consume on a regular basis? Well, go wild! Maybe a year's worth of salaries? Or seven? How much would you like a character save up to be able to afford them? I can totally see someone taking odd jobs and all-nighters for a couple years to amass enough fund for a slab of ancient rune. Or simply show a richer character buy them on-the-spot for emphasis on their affluency.

    Getting "realistic" in any degree about anything in stories takes a bit of a worldbuilding. Once you established those fundamentals of calculation, though, the rest of your price-setting should be a breeze.
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2021
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  6. evild4ve

    evild4ve Active Member

    Oct 17, 2021
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    Somebody somewhere in the last 50 years has already solved this problem. I would try and find an old edition rulebook for AD&D or some other game that's in the public domain and on archive.org. One I remember that used to go into odd levels of detail on stuff like this was Dungeoneer by Steve Jackson.

    Fantasy economics can often distract from the storytelling - and the effort to create a fantasy stock market would always be better spent on a real one. Blood is bought and sold irl - but if there were vampires probably they would trade it as a commodity. Blood futures. Hedged blood. It would be complicated. Vampires would have a huge economic disadvantage compared to ordinary humans - if they were buying each meal on the black market irl at today's prices, that would be about £3k.

    The market for the commodity depends on the rate they have to consume food: assuming blood was complete nutrition for them they'd get through a lot of it. Vampire bats have to feed every 2 days - and they take a teaspoonful (=half their body weight, because blood is mostly water). They're sustainable because they weigh 33 grams and a cow weighs up to 1200 kgs. If everything was in proportion (which is doubtful as animals usually get less efficient the larger they become), a human-scale vampire bat would need cows weighing 3 million kilograms - about the size of an Olympic swimming pool. A meal would be about 20 litres. A cow only has about 60 litres of blood. So each vampire might need a herd of 10 cows. I'm not a farmer but a couple of sites said about $500-$1k/year to keep a cow and 10 cows is small-scale, so that's a hefty cost-of-living compared with frozen pizza. And if it has to be human blood, the herd size might be 10 times as many individuals and many times as expensive: with each vampire having to effectively pay 100 people to sit in hospital drinking tea and eating biscuits (like the famous Tony Hancock comedy sketch). It's not impossible: Louis XIV of France had around 500 kitchen staff he could have put on blood donor duty. But they beheaded him for his extravagance - so that perhaps indicates that the entire economy of 17th-Century France couldn't have supported 5 vampires. How would vampires evolve alongside humans if for most of human history there weren't 100 people in a small area to support a vampire's herd? And if the people in the herd turn into vampires as well it might become unsustainable within a week.

    These are only fag-packet sums, but my question would be why make vampires' economics more realistic than their biology?
  7. Flamenco1

    Flamenco1 Member

    Sep 2, 2020
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    I wouldn't get too hung up on this myself. My instant thought was that these non-human creatures would bartar and use gold for example. And how they see value might be very different from humans. So only the go-betweens would be interested in the exchange.

    Obviously only part of the story above but does having prices impact the story?
  8. Robert Musil

    Robert Musil Comparativist Contributor

    Sep 23, 2015
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    I was going to say something similar...would they really have prices clearly denominated in currency? Do they even have a currency that they all use? This seems like it would be a much more informal economy than that. Or at most legal tender might be one medium of exchange among many, not nearly as universal as it is when eg you or I go around doing our Christmas shopping. So instead of someone saying "This 2-liter of blood is $10", a vampire might sidle up to the seller, mumble "I'll give you a ten-spot* for that 2-liter", and then they haggle a bit. Or the vampire offers to trade a cool bottle opener they picked up as a souvenir last time they were in Transylvania, see it's shaped like an impaled Turk, pretty neat huh, not gonna find one of these over here. Or they plead, and say "I can't pay now but I'll do you a big favor if you ever need it."

    *Please don't make fun of my antiquated faux-slang, I grew up in a very sheltered environment.
  9. Lazaares

    Lazaares Contributor Contributor

    Apr 16, 2020
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    Eh, I wouldn't really base much on D&D / AD&D, specifically because a lot of their stuff is there for game balance reasons, and not for realism / immersion / story. D&D in general is a heavily combat-geared game compared to other tabletops; no surprise that VtM doesn't have a list of prices - not even an actual list of weapons or armour.

    Make comparisons to IRL goods and work based off of RL data. I do remember a nifty sheet of medieval prices & wages collected from London, there's plenty of Victorian and industrial/post-industrial data available.

    If you really wanna dive into it, you can also use actual economic valuation methods. They aren't all that scary as they sound and work simply on principle:

    • Option one is to consider supply and demand. How hard is it to procure 1 unit of the good you want to valuate? How many people need it? Is is as abundant as a can of beer in the 21st century? Or perhaps complex machinery similarly to an aggregator?

    • Option two is to go down the supply chain and work out a price. How much does it cost for a monster hunter to capture this creature? How much does it cost to transport & feed the creature until it arrives to the market? Since the seller won't really bother unless they can make a stable profit on it, anything below the combination of those will not fly as a price.
      For a magical sword: what's the cost of the material? How much time did it take to create it?
    Even more alternatively, you can choose to prefer story over numbers. To me, prices are largely irrelevant in a setting - what matters more is how an exchange is made. Are artifacts sold in shops, or are they so rare they only ever show up in auctions? Do people haggle over drink prices, or do people take everything set in stone? Does the bartender give free handouts to friends, or is he strict with the counter?

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