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We've all played fantasy RTS (real-time strategy) games, like WarCraft or DOTA, where you're in a battle and you need to spend gold to upgrade. Maybe you're buying troops or gear or whatever. But if the orcs are smashing down the walls of your castle, why do you need to pay 600 gold to train a footman? It's not like you're conscripting him to go off and die in some pointless war for magic crystals - you're conscripting him to go stop the orcs trying to ransack his home.

The driver behind this is I'm making a game and the mechanics work quite well. But in flavor, the bad guys are beating down at the last bastion of hope for the good guys. Luckily, you'll come in and save the day. But it uses gold as a resource, and that just seems tacky to me. It works well enough, but I just can't see why gold matters so much!

So, why should gold matter so much? And is there a drag and drop replacement I can use instead of gold?

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    $\begingroup$ I've never played Ready To Send, but the basic economics is as follows. If the orcs are smashing down walls it's a bit late to start training your soldiers; in such an emergency the only cost of the soldier is the lost economic output of his work for the duration of the siege plus, if he's killed, the net present value of his lost future work. On the other hand, you normally train your soldiers before the orcs come smashing down walls; and in this case the cost is the lost economic output, plus his wages, plus the trainers' wages, plus his equipment and weapons, plus his food and lodging. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jan 4 '18 at 22:10
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    $\begingroup$ From a game mechanics standpoint you can replace "gold" with any 4 letter string without issue. It might be a good idea to change icons and sound effects as well. There is nothing preventing it's replacement with gems, spoons, bones, pebbles, favors, secrets, nouns, verbs, etc... Normally you pick something thematic for the world and call it good. For most fantasy themed games gold is good enough. $\endgroup$ – sphennings Jan 4 '18 at 22:21
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    $\begingroup$ @sphennings OP’s not asking about a design aspect of the game – the design sounds complete. OP’s asking whether gold makes the most sense to represent the cost of training a soldier in a scenario where other incentives (fighting for one’s life) come into play. $\endgroup$ – Avernium Jan 4 '18 at 22:55
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    $\begingroup$ @jamesqf No, it's me, the OP, using a colloquialism. So like I said, relax. I'm not sure what else you really want me to put in there, when I listed two examples of popular RTS games that use gold as a resource. But even without that, the question still says you buy gold to upgrade or buy troops. Bummer if you didn't understand my post, but I don't think it needs to change - lots of people ask questions that require familiarity for the subject matter, I don't expect them to explicitly say so. $\endgroup$ – corsiKa Jan 5 '18 at 20:08
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    $\begingroup$ Some RTS (at least the Total War series) do allow you to go negative in the treasury. There are various effects on the longer-term stability of your empire but it doesn't auto-disband troops just because they weren't paid. If you want a more complex relationship between commander and unit than "pay for service", you need at least a second gameplay mechanic such as morale. $\endgroup$ – Leushenko Jan 7 '18 at 14:34

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From a world building perspective, consider what, in fiction, limits the size of your army and what it can do.

Maybe your city, being under siege, is starving. Then 'Food' might be your resource - to keep warriors strong and fighting fit, you need to feed them. Otherwise their muscles will waste away and they'll be useless in a fight.

But you're just fine for swords - your people will exceed their capacity to feed their soldiers before they run out of swords.

Similarly you can use something more abstract - your people are on the ropes, so maybe 'Hope' is in short supply. You need to give your soldiers the hope that they can still win, so they have the strength to get up in the morning and face death rather than curl up and go quietly.

To answer the posed question, gold is important to most armies because it's what limits the strength of the army: with gold, you can buy weapons, you can hire soldiers, you can pay for supplies.

But when you're fighting for your very existence, then it's other things that limit you: it doesn't matter how many swords you have if you can't feed the arms to swing them, or give those arms the hope to inspire them.

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    $\begingroup$ Various wargame or sim systems have "morale" or "culture" in them. Some even have "sanity". I'd love to see the use of Hope as a mechanic. $\endgroup$ – pjc50 Jan 8 '18 at 13:55
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    $\begingroup$ "Hope" could even be heavily influenced by public opinion, religion, success/failure of the army, propaganda control, etc. and could even be buffered by, say, giving an inspiring speech or handing out extra rations/bonuses at the right times, recognizing a champion, or a million other things. Man, now I want to see that in action... $\endgroup$ – thanby Jan 8 '18 at 17:43
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There is always a cost involved with each individual person (or unit) in an army regardless of the situation.

Most RTS games dramatically speed up and simplify certain aspects of army raising and management. No real life soldier is trained on a time scale of seconds. Equipment doesn’t craft itself. Ammo and food needs replenishment over time. All of these things combine into a total cost for that soldier over the time that he serves, and most games choose to consolidate it into one or two resources. Gold (or your equivalent currency) often makes the most sense since every component of the total cost described above can be bought or paid for.

When the castle is surrounded and it’s life or death, those costs don’t disappear. Gold may seem to be less compelling, but that’s not necessarily the case. If a real society is placed in this circumstance, you don’t have everyone just throw down for the greater good. Some people might attempt to flee, no matter how unlikely success is. Some would want to be with their families in the end or die on their own terms. Some might still push for peace. When your army needs reinforcement to defend the walls, how are you going to incentivize the blacksmith to keep crafting gear? Who’s going to pay for the bread the new soldiers will need to eat? How will you convince the poor peasants to actually take this dangerous job? Gold is not worthless in this situation -- after all, everyone wants to live, in which case they can spend it.

However, if gold still seems too far fetched to you, consider the alternative. Instead of incentivizing you must use the only other options you have available: fear and force. Your blacksmiths produce at spear point and the peasants either join the ranks or hang in the town square. Food for the army is simply requisitioned, leaving others less to eat. This behavior has consequences though, and might lead to serious unrest or revolt. So, in a sense, you can think of that as an alternative currency. If you’re not paying for a soldier with gold, you’re paying for them with the stability of whatever societal order you have left.

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    $\begingroup$ Your last paragraph makes it sound like the necromancers have already won... by killing our spirits first... $\endgroup$ – corsiKa Jan 5 '18 at 0:28
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    $\begingroup$ Even if you recruit by force, changing someone’s job from producing goods (food & weapons, if you only care for defense) to soldier still have economic consequences. Modelling these consequence by having you to pay for that (in gold) still is reasonable, even then. This even applies if that guy voluntarily changes the job. $\endgroup$ – Holger Jan 5 '18 at 8:55
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    $\begingroup$ Pretty much what I was going to write (+1). In a siege situation, it is generally always possible for individuals or small groups to break the siege carrying food, weapons, information in & out. Gold is what generally makes this possible. Ask on history.stackexchange.com for real world examples $\endgroup$ – Mawg Jan 5 '18 at 11:17
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    $\begingroup$ +1 In addition, many games like Age of Empires have resource gathering units that can be repurposed for combat at no cost in a pinch, but without the gold spent on gear and training they are of little effectiveness and cannot continue to gather the resources required to train combat ready units. $\endgroup$ – Lord Jebus VII Jan 5 '18 at 14:29
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    $\begingroup$ I find it exceedingly unlikely that a peasant will just allow themselves and their family to be slaughtered by an orc because you couldn't come up with enough gold to convince him to fight back. $\endgroup$ – pluckedkiwi Jan 5 '18 at 16:19
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The short answer is that you're right; gold doesn't really matter in situations of life and death, but what the gold represents does.

The study of economics is the study of production. Money (in this case as represented by gold) is really just a measuring stick; a way to consistently quantify the relative value of (say) a platter of sandwiches (20 gold) and a new car (20k gold).

The last thing you want with orcs beating down your door is untrained, undisciplined 'soldiers' standing there on the other side of the door with a pike thrust in their hand and a photo of an orc waved in their face being told 'kill anything that comes through that looks like that'. Such a force can never hold.

What you want is a 'trained and disciplined force', that knows how to follow orders, knows which end of the pike to use on the orc, what the enemy looks like and which doesn't lose its collective head in the face of danger.

That takes time, training, materials (food for your army, smiths and armourers turning out weapons, etc. The army has to be fed; the armourers need to be fed; the metal for the pikes and armour has to be mined by people who need to be fed. That means that the farmers have to work their hearts out to feed all these people before the orcs get here. All that production is going to the common good of the city state but each person's relative contribution is measured through them being paid.

Without money, there's no justification for a farmer producing more food than he or his family needs, beyond trading for other items he may need like ploughs. Smiths won't produce ploughs unless he can trade them for food, coal and the other things he needs. Who would bother with being a professional soldier if there's no living in it? Gold (or more generally money) gives any economy a way of determining the relative value of each person's contribution in a way that can be tweaked by the government.

Got an orc invasion imminent? Recruit more soldiers by paying more. Smiths and metal ore go up in value and taxes have to rise. In times of relative peace, you disband the army so that the prosperity of the nation is poured back into civil asset production. Your soldier at the gate isn't being paid 600 Gold to stand there, it's costing your city state 600 Gold to train and support him in standing there, pretty much as AlexP states in his comment.

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    $\begingroup$ Until the New Model Army (1645), a peasant with a pointy stick and instructions to kill the other guy was exactly what most armies were. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Jan 5 '18 at 8:44
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    $\begingroup$ True, but they didn't cost 600 Gold to train, either. $\endgroup$ – Tim B II Jan 5 '18 at 10:32
  • $\begingroup$ No, you'd send the bailiffs out with instructions to round up some conscripts and they'd come back with 600gold from all the people who could afford to pay them off. But this is a mechanic of convenience that even then they weren't free, you still had to equip your new troops. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Jan 5 '18 at 10:43
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    $\begingroup$ @TimB They certainly did cost money. Armies travelled with a literal chest full of money, and running out of money would generally cause your army to wander off. Where soldiers stayed, it would be so that they could profit from looting. For most peasants though, there was never an existential threat from invasion - your own army was as likely to loot you as the enemy was. So getting peasants to fight for you did need some kind of incentive for them. $\endgroup$ – Graham Jan 5 '18 at 14:04
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    $\begingroup$ @corsiKa it is much better described as the study of incentives. $\endgroup$ – pluckedkiwi Jan 5 '18 at 16:22
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Indeed, it seems a bit stupid to have your castle being attacked and you, the all-mighty King, not being able to pick some commoners, train them and throw them into battle just because you don't have some coins with you atm.

The training, weapons and food for those commoners do have some cost, though. It is not like you could make new swords out of thin air, and bread out of dirt (unless you actually could, but that is not the point).

However, nobody said that you have to pay that cost upfront. I mean... You're under attack, ffs. Just fight and solve the damn situation, and we'll talk about costs and settle payments later.

So what I'm saying is: implement banks and a loan system.
Have your Kings be able to declare a State of Siege when under attack, which enables them to postpone payment of all war-related costs until after the battle is finished. Add some interest in there to make players think twice.
You could even make the rates higher or lower depending on the player's victory/defeat ratio (a stronger, battle-winning King is more likely to get loans from banks than a King who is prone to have many losses), or some other kind of "trust factor".
Don't overdo it, though, since that is not the point of your game, but it could be a nice feature.

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    $\begingroup$ Trust factor results in a "rich get richer" situation. I guess you would go in that direction if you want realism! ;P $\endgroup$ – Muuski Jan 5 '18 at 14:15
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    $\begingroup$ So you're saying commanders (i.e. players) have to earn credit with the bank by killing bad guys to justify getting lent more money to continue? That is a wicked cool concept!! And it also seems to provide a viable reason why a single player campaign would start with weaker stuff and have a natural progression. Woah, here and I was just about to eliminate gold entirely... $\endgroup$ – corsiKa Jan 5 '18 at 15:38
  • $\begingroup$ Offworld Trading Company has a very well done banking system (loans, etc) even though its not a traditional RTS (its an economic game; you literally buy out your opponents in the end). Still might be worth the look to see if an idea can be gleaned. Having a high debt wrecks you in the long run. $\endgroup$ – Draco18s Jan 5 '18 at 20:41
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    $\begingroup$ @Muuski historically it was more complicated as kings (and everyone else) had spotty track record with repaying loans. I think Spain would be example of rich country (after getting Inca and Aztec gold and silver) which get relativly poorer due to misguded economic policies. $\endgroup$ – Maciej Piechotka Jan 6 '18 at 18:03
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    $\begingroup$ @corsiKa Bank shouldn't/doesn't care how much you loose as long as you pay on time. However for pre-modern period war loans would be defaulted due to lack of funds if war hasn't been won. So it isn't so much that they need you to kill guys to be source of trust but repeatidly taking bad guys money (with killing being incidental) and repaying bank. You may want to look at EU4 for some similar systems (though there turst is included in inflation). Think about this the same way as with bank loaning for car for you to get to job. $\endgroup$ – Maciej Piechotka Jan 6 '18 at 18:08
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My favorite example of something like this is from one of the best (IMO) turn-based strategy games of antiquity, Lords of the Realm (specifically the second one, which had the smoothest mechanics). Some more modern games have implemented something similar, but I've never seen it totally duplicated for whatever reason.

The game is a medieval kingdom-building game with economics, politics, trade, and of course, war. When you raise an army you have two options: Draw from the local population, or hire mercenaries (assuming any are nearby). Raising the army from the locals decreases your population by an equivalent amount, which impacts your ability to staff resource-gathering or production roles.

It also, depending on how many troops you raise versus the total population (and some other factors), affects morale. Got 10k citizens and you want to raise a 1k-strong army? Not a big deal, as long as your population is already reasonably happy. Got 5k citizens and want to raise 1k troops? Get ready for some serious unrest, not to mention a huge hit to your economy.

What's great about this system is how it adds a realistic complexity to your planning and response. You can have all the gold you want but it doesn't matter if your citizens hate you for conscripting half of their family. On the other hand, during a siege, they'll be much more willing to fight for their survival. You also have to consider equipment. You can't just force-manufacture 1k swords, you have to have them already when you raise an army or else everyone will just be fighting with farming implements. Also a freshly-raised army is going to be inexperienced no matter what, so unless you attach them to a veteran unit or experienced mercenaries, they're going to fight like the n00bs they are.

The bottom line:

Raising troops doesn't need to require gold. It needs available manpower, and any equipment you want them to use, and it can impact happiness and productivity.

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    $\begingroup$ Oh, the days of filling in moats with peasants while they got mowed down by archers in the castle... that game was an amazing game, switching between TBS and RTS so smoothly! $\endgroup$ – corsiKa Jan 5 '18 at 15:28
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    $\begingroup$ Reduce your taxes and coax immigration :-) Though since ancient times nations have grown to the extent of cheap energy sources. Prospect for coal/oil if you want to have a bigger community = bigger army. $\endgroup$ – KalleMP Jan 6 '18 at 16:41
  • $\begingroup$ @corsiKa Sheesh now I've got to go back and play it for the millionth time... OMG IT'S ON STEAM $\endgroup$ – thanby Jan 8 '18 at 17:44
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    $\begingroup$ @thanby I'm not 100% convinced you don't work for the developer and are just trying to boost sales... and I don't really care because they're only charging THREE DOLLARS for it in Steam. Consider it in my library when I get home tonight. $\endgroup$ – corsiKa Jan 8 '18 at 22:00
  • $\begingroup$ @corsiKa ;) Unfortunately I don't, maybe they should be paying me for advertising though... I just picked up the whole package of 1, 2, 3, and the Magic one that I've actually never heard of, for like $9 or whatever the bundle costs. I haven't been able to get 2 running yet thanks to video driver issues but their support team has been very responsive in trying to figure it out. $\endgroup$ – thanby Jan 10 '18 at 16:00
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The answer to your question is that "gold" is just a game-mechanics that serves to limit a players recruiting, upgrading and other options. It is named "gold" because we are accustomed to a system where money is the center of economics, so it appeals to the familiar.

You can use other restrictions, if you want. Many games use time as a restriction - there is no "gold" cost, but it simply takes time to train a soldier or build a house.

There is also nothing wrong with thinking that in a desperate situation, other game mechanics can apply, for example to give both players the thrill of a desperate last-ditch defense attempt. I included such a game-mechanic into my old browser game BattleMaster, where a city under pressure can recruit citizen militia. Something you would not normally do (bad combat values, reduction of population, etc.) but in an emergency it might save the day.

So if you as a game designer think that under specific circumstances, the normal rules should be replaced with other rules, go ahead, design it, test it and use it.

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The combatants might need to import weapons, skilled labor or other resources from foreigners who demand payment in gold. This often happened historically. Another justification would be if gold is itself a raw material for magic or alchemy.

If someone isn’t invested in winning at all costs, and the underdog is probably going to get defeated and wiped out, then asking them for cash payment in advance is just common sense: when they lose, they won’t be able to pay you back.

You’re right that short-term profiteering off a life-or-death struggle doesn’t make a lot of sense. Compare the way the US traded with the Allies before 1917 to how it traded with them before December 7, 1941. It switched from Cash-and-Carry to Lend-Lease precisely because it wasn’t going to let Britain run out of supplies even if it had run out of gold to pay for them.

The lore of these games does, you’re right, often ask us to believe that this battle is an all-important matter of life and death or that absolutely everyone has chosen a side and gone all-in. But if people aren’t willing to build stuff for the Good King’s army on credit, or just do whatever they can to save their own skins and let that be their reward, they don’t act as if they see it that way.

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    $\begingroup$ Gold for alchemy I suppose is a thing. And involving wizards in the payments made me think that perhaps someone seigeing your castle in a magical world doesn't necessarily trade block you. A ground army can't stop an airlift, so perhaps a martial army can't stop magical trade routes. So maybe this notion of trade can still continue. Although that would mean there are other friendly places, it could be reasonable for trade but not for evacuating. Very pleased with where this answer takes me. $\endgroup$ – corsiKa Jan 5 '18 at 15:36
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    $\begingroup$ Or a portal? That said, the limiting factor is going to be real resources, not any form of money. So if you don’t want to allow trade because of the lore, your limiting resources should be things like steel, leather and food. If you do want to allow magical trade, perhaps the beings you trade with demand some currency other than gold. $\endgroup$ – Davislor Jan 5 '18 at 16:31
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The other posts cover why gold is so important so I'm going to list some stuff about resources in RTS games.

Firstly there is always more than 1 resource in a game. Your standard gold resource is just a much better representation of all the different components you would actually need, but there are usually support resources like wood/stone/metal which are used to help created Tiered units. E.g. you might be able to make a catapult with wood, but a Tank with metal.

You will want to limit your self to about 3-4 resources for a RTS. Having too many resources usually results in a more complicated learning curve and is much harder to balance out the effectiveness of each resource. Less resources makes balancing the early and late unit/building tiers hard as there are very few resources to stop you from rushing to an overpowered tier.

The one resource all RTS games have appears to be population. Basically a Unit cap and not really a resource. So this leaves you with 2-3 Resources you can have. This is when you can focus on replacing gold or making it more realistic.

Realism

Gold and support resources like wood/stone/metal. The gold has different meanings depending on what you build. For structures, it represents the labor cost, with wood/stone/metal representing the buildings materials. For Units, it represents the overall cost, with wood/stone cost for weapon/armor building, training equipment and so on. You don't need to use wood/stone/metal, you could replace it with magical powder, crystals, gas, the hearts of demons if you feel like it.

Fantasy

Replace your gold with a magical materials which can be gathered. For example Crystals. These could be used to magically create your units, or build their equipment/weapons which might work better with the feel you want. Of course you will want to throw in a 2nd or 3rd support resource for building advanced units. Maybe something like a Grimoire? or Gold as a support resource and not the main one.

The Biggest issue is the resources need to be tied into the world you are building and have some importance or significance. You wouldn't use gold if your world uses gems as currency and they would use Crystals as a main resource if it was extremely rare and difficult to obtain.

There is nothing wrong with being Tacky, many RTS games use a similar set of resources and this lends a sense of familiarity and allows you to focus on the more interesting and differentiating aspects like the Game play, Units and map design.

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    $\begingroup$ Ironically, crystals is something you can possibly get in the game already. You need a special card that produces crystals, and some high end cards that let you spend it. I hadn't considered making these alternative resources the rule instead of the exception... $\endgroup$ – corsiKa Jan 5 '18 at 15:32
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You are right, it is one of the areas which requires a suspension of disbelief.

Civilization actually had a really nice alternative, the ability to draft units from cities.

This was a unit which appeared and could be used immediately. It was a weaker unit, due to the lack of training. There was also a negative impact to the city, it varied between versions but essentially the loss of a population point and a period of unhappiness.

I could see a similar mechanism working for an RTS, sacrifice a farm to get ten stick wielding peasants. The sacrifice would be great enough to make it a manoeuvre of last resort, mostly delaying the inevitable but may be useful against a zerg rush like situation.

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  • $\begingroup$ I like the idea of just handwaving it. People seem to accept that all the other games do it, and if I was 1/1000th as successful as Warcraft I'd be coming out of my cage. $\endgroup$ – corsiKa Jan 5 '18 at 15:33
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What if your currency is instead a power source for a device that speeds up time to train them? Maybe the wizard performing this service can just teleport cross country and so he cares little about your town and is just there to make a fast buck. Then the only resources involved is whatever is actually needed to train someone such as food or metal for armor. Gold is merely the wizards charge. Naturally he has orc customers so he wont let you cheat. Plus it explains why metal and food dont matter. Part of the charge is for increased food production so really all you need is gold for the wizard and any people in the town who are especially greedy.

Honestly though I agree that in a life or death situation charging like that for a service is a bad idea and if anything the blacksmith should be payed later after the battle ends. Especially if there isnt enough gold to pay them.

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    $\begingroup$ This is similar to how Magic the Gathering summons creatures using mana. And the game itself is actually a CCG so that makes sense in another aspect to it. $\endgroup$ – corsiKa Jan 5 '18 at 15:34
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It's simply an abstraction.

600 gold to train a footman is meaningless. In reality you'll need food, equipment, and time to train a footman (plus people to turn from peasants into troops). Now you can abstract some of those away in the form of "gold buys food" and "gold buys equipment" so you only need gold and time - you've replaced all the complexity of a real world economy with something a lot simpler.

Now it might be that time is also ignored for games like these, where players want instant gratification, but usually there is a time cost to training troops before they pop out the barracks.

In cases like you describe, where you think you should be able to conscript all available force to the battle as partially-trained troops, its simply that the game doesn't cater for it. Troops here will not necessarily be individuals but units, if instead of "footman" the game had "light infantry" you'd get the idea, but they call the battle units by arbitrary names. As a result, you could assume that all available peasants were already involved in the battle and already catered for as part of the defending castle defences.

So really that's all it is, making something complex into something simple as the focus of the game is not economic management but simple troop deployment and battle. If you want a more complex economic game, there are plenty out there that require you to build supply and production chains (and TBH they're a lot more fun than mine-train-bash games).

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Money is crystallized sweat. Money is a way to represent previous hard work. But the conversion of money to goods can be fairly fast, but the conversion to skills or services takes time.

This is a fundamental flaw in the game mechanics. I ran into this in an online game, Elvenar. To explore a province cost gold. But to go there didn't. To my thinking, the costs of mounting a defence or an expedition occur before the event.

So your beseiged castle:

  • When you think that the enemy is coming for you you spend gold to recruit fit locals to come and fight for you.
  • You spend gold to pay the blacksmiths to beat plough shares back into swords (or billhook blades.
  • You spend gold to buy food to feed your new army.
  • You spend gold to clean out the water cisterns and get them topped up.
  • you spend gold to stock firewood to heat the oil caldrons.
  • Once they are at your gates, gold diminishes in value except for bribing the enemy to go away, or buying the secret entrance to the tunnel to the crypt.

This is one thing that games don't do well: Things take time. E.g. If I send an expedition to explore a province, it would make more sense, as king, if I send out a given size force with instructions as to how to act in terms of fighting or negotiating. Presumably I've learned how the local Black Hats act by being an expedition force commander previously. Sometimes I never hear from them again. Sometimes they come back with a new treaty. Sometimes only one comes back, wounded. I may send them out with gold or with trade goods. They may come back with different goods, no gold, no horses....Anyway, I send the force out, but nothing happens days of game time, minutes of clock time. Meanwhile those soldiers are not available to mount my ramparts.

The costs for mounting such a force should happen at the outset. You should already have a surplus of 50 horses for the trip. Of course to have 50 horses you've been buying or growing food for them. And for every 8 horses you have a stable lad that shovels manure, etc. He has to be paid, or at least clothed, housed and fed.

If you don't have horses on hand, you have to buy them from a horse trader. If you have a habit of not buying from traders as they pass thorugh then traders don't come by very often.

Anyway, your objection to gold in this context is well founded, but reveals a fundamental flaw in the game play: The lack of long term consequences of actions; the need to plan ahead.

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Gold is money. Money is fungible. Resources other than gold can be exchanged for gold (or vice versa).

So you don't actually need gold. You need:

  1. Iron ore.
  2. Other ore to mix with the iron to make alloys.
  3. Coal to burn and smelt the ore into metal or to shape the metal.
  4. Water/oil/whatever to quench the metal.
  5. Stone to sharpen the weapons or round off the armor.
  6. Leather and cloth to put under the armor, as metal chafes.
  7. Labor to do the smelting, shaping, quenching, and sharpening or rounding.

In addition to all that, the soldier previously supported a family. Now you have to do that.

Now in your game, you are playing the lord (or mayor or whatever leader). The lord does not make each of these decisions directly. The lord delegates. When the lord delegates, the lord transfers resources to the delegee to handle things. For simplicity's sake, this is tracked as gold.

Using gold as the single resource means that you don't have to spend all your time making decisions about things like building weapons or gathering food. You delegated those tasks. Too many weapons and not enough food? Your delegees trade resources until that works.

Note that no matter how complex you make the system, with multiple resources, etc., it still won't match reality. In a real world, you would immediately have all the conscripts. There would be no way that you could add more (short of waiting for children to grow up).

In reality, the time to collect and spend resources is long before the actual conflict. In reality, your decision is going to be more like the Civilization 5 game. You can have an individual working on food or participating in the military or doing scientific research or collecting scrap metal to make into weapons or armor. Except that it's worse. Some people are going to be useless at one or more of those tasks.

Sending Ben the Blacksmith, who has a limp, out to collect scrap metal is not going to be nearly as effective as having him work in the smithy. It just takes too long for him to get around. And he has difficulty picking up things on the ground, as he can't squat down with his bad leg.

For game purposes, we ignore such details. Not just money, but labor and materials are fungible. This has some basis in reality. One economist described the process of buying cars via international trade as planting car seeds in Iowa. In reality, these were corn seeds, which grew, were harvested, and shipped overseas for money. The money was then used to buy cars from Japan or South Korea.

Similarly, you could have Ben making trade goods at his forge. You trade those to merchants for food and trade the food to local children who pick up scrap metal for you. This is very much like having Ben pick up scrap metal but more efficient. And again, we can measure this simply in the gold value of Ben's trade goods.

In game terms, do you want to make each and every decision like that manually? Realize that most of the decisions are the same. Yes child, I'll give you food for scrap metal. Yes child, I'll give you food for scrap metal. Yes... And there are many decisions. Where'd you get the food? Also, what is food? Is it an apple? A pear? A loaf of bread? A wheel of cheese? So the decisions can be many, quite similar, and yet subtly different.

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Because gold is the original form of currency, which is essential to trading.

Gold was a valuable metal in pre-industrial times, because it is impervious to natural corrosion, and it is one of the first metals that a human could work with.

It is also fairly easy to determine the purity of gold, with what was available to pre-industrial civilizations. The trader carries a flat black stone, called a touchstone, that they have made a mark on with gold of known good purity. When someone offers them something that looks like gold (might be fool's gold), they scratch it on the rock next to the known good gold mark, and look at the color. If the color matches, the gold is good. If it doesn't match, the gold being offered isn't actually gold. Early civilizations could quickly ascertain that what was said to be gold, actually was gold, without needing a modern laboratory.

Gold marked the first move away from a pure barter society, where you traded what you had, for what you wanted... assuming you could find someone who wanted what you had, and had what you wanted, which could be fairly rare. With gold, you traded your goods for gold, and then you could use that gold to buy just about anything... without having to search for someone who wanted what you had to trade. The invention of currency and general acceptance of gold as currency marked a huge increase in early civilization's commerce.

That is why gold is considered valuable in general, because most people think it's worth a lot. I would assume that in fantasy games, that same basic principle applies. If you're in need of chain mail, but the armorer isn't interested in that fancy potion you have, but the potion dealer down the street is, and is willing to pay you gold for it... you can take that gold to the armorer and get your chain mail.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure I follow your reasoning. Gold is the most common, but I suppose upon consideration that it could be shekels or dollars or whatever other currency. The armorer isn't interested in the fancy potion, but he should be interested in making sure the people protecting the castle from the invaders literally ramming down the gate right now are well armed. Sure if he wants to write down the transaction so he can be compensated later, that makes sense. But to say "you better have the gold right now" seems peculiar. $\endgroup$ – corsiKa May 14 '18 at 13:45

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