Economics in most games are pretty basic and self-absorbed. Acquire 16,000 gold pressed latinum coins to buy the uber sword which does +14 damage against deathbeasts. No one bothers to ask why there are 16 thousand latinum coins when the largest city in the country seems to have less than 60 people living it, or why an adventurer who drops that much gold in one city does not immediately unbalance the entire nation’s currency and economy, but hey why should logic get in the way of glowing death swords?
For this reason, and many aside, I like to add a hint of real world principles into my campaign settings. Take for instance money. What is money and why does anyone care about it? If everyone died, would money still be valuable?
Picture this, you are rough and ready mercenaries in a zombie infested land and you’ve just saved a a small settlement of survivors. They repay your kindness in trade tokens that represent their settlement’s goods and services to the outside world (Same concept as banknotes). However, you and your group visits the aforementioned settlement a week later only to find that everyone is dead. Now, tears and laments aside, how much are those trade tokens they gave you worth?
If the people backing the money are dead and gone, their paper bills become just that, paper. The bills represent nothing because the people endorse the bills are all dead. So, what does a prudent merc do? He keeps the settlers alive and their settlements in a good state, if for no other reason to than keep his money from being reduced to scratchy toilet paper.
If we followed this economic concept through, we will see that keeping settlements in stable trade relationships with other towns is vital to maintaining the value of their currency with these other towns. Otherwise the settlement will no longer be relevant to other settlements and their money will die out yet again. Canadian pennies are not really in demand in the United States, why? Because no one trades in Canadian currency in the States.
Any good story needs a good hook to capture the player’s attention, and messing with their money is a surefire way to get them involved.
To learn more about economics in a post-apocalypse, click Here to read an article on bottlecaps as an ad-hoc currency.