Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Somali Pirates vs. Delvers

I couldn't help but think, after reading this article, that delvers and pirates are a lot alike. And towns near dungeons, borderlands, uncleared hexes, etc. in a gaming world are a lot like those Somali coastal towns.

Not to make light of either the lethal pirates or the suffering they cause, or the suffering of the townsfolk, but there are similarities worth considering for gaming.

Boom vs. bust While the ships are there and pickings are good, money flows into town. Creditors extend loans. Prices rise tenfold or more ($0.05 tea going for $0.50). When the ships aren't there, or it's too risky to extend money to the risk-takers, it all dries up.

Delvers are like that, too. Dangerous job, and they go into the teeth of danger because the payoff for the few is great. Sure, the guys who buy the treasures from them and purchase the magic items might make even more of a profit. But for a brave soul who is willing to risk death (and has little skill besides smacking monsters), there is the lure of fortune.

Notice how the townspeople feel about the pirates - nothing good comes of them. It's likely they didn't say that out loud when pirates were dropping $1000 a night on prostitutes and paying 10x the going rate for food, snapping up luxury cars and bidding up housing prices. But as soon as they can't make their payments, it's over.

Delvers probably should get the same treatment. The Ruins of Razelgar are turning up scads of silver coins, handfuls of gold, gemstones by the score, and magical items worth more than the local town? Great, welcome! They can throw parties and celebrate and the inn is packed. All hail the brave adventurers! Welcome back from your dangerous and oh-so-brave descent into danger!

But then . . . the dungeon is empty, and you come back empty handed and can't afford a new round of rations and 10' poles? Take a hike, you economy-wreckers. We never liked you. All you brought was disease, death, and massive inflation. And in a fantasy world, likely strange hangers-on, monstrous intrusions, and blowback from the annoyed goblinoids at the Caves of Chaos. Oh, but you saved the town from a dragon/zombie horde/menace of fungi-men? Think of the reaction of the villagers at the end of The Seven Samurai - okay, thanks, but now you are a hindrance, not a help, and you can go now.

One can only hope that in reality, the days of the Horn of Africa being a pirate haven are over. But keep the lessons of the coastal towns in mind when adventurers show up, cash in hand . . .


  1. So when the town gets all of the treasure and magic items then the king or duke will want his share in taxes and will send a caravan to the town to retrieve the treasure and when the caravan goes back to the kings castle laden with treasure it is attacked by goblinkin and other monsters and cycled back to the dungeons.

    1. It's the cycle of treasure. It's the law of nature that allows for dungeon restocking. Passing monsters plunder the caravans and take that money back into the dungeon and re-settled the cleared rooms. :)

  2. The differences are also interesting - delvers, in the canonical dungeon-bashing campaign, may be looked down on as rowdy troublemakers but they aren't intrinsically breaking any laws, even laws made by the bad guys. (Even the enemies in the Slavers modules didn't have a huge government on their side.)

    1. True. Although there doesn't seem to be an effective Somali government. All that matters locally is money and loose control from a distant and ineffective state. So maybe it's even more like a D&D-ish/DF-ish borderland in that sense, too. The reason you can buy up some land, grab your weapons and go a-looting is that no one can really stop you, and your money grants you the tacit approval of the locals. That and your ability to use force on them if they don't take your money.

      And maybe even in a D&D-is/DF-ish borderland, it is illegal from an outside perspective. The orcs regard you as pillagers and violent thugs. plundering their lairs for money.

      Heck, maybe the borderland isn't the edge of civilization and the wilderness, but the borderland between the PC's civilization and the monster's civilization. The character of the game changes a little if you're raiding from your civilization into theirs. It's at least a little similar to the situation in Planet of Adventure, where sequin hunters raid from a base (complete with ridiculously inflated prices) into the sovereign territory of the Dirdir. Admittedly the Dirdir feed off of that, but it's another way to structure the game that adds some extra complications.

      Maybe they don't tax your loot because you're not recovering the king's lost gold, but raiding those unfriendly orc neighbors and taking what they've got. :)


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