[Worldbuilding] Modelling places which are built on completely different assumptions?

My game is historical, set in Massalia (modern Marseille) in 300BC. I'm trying to model the place using the usual rules, but I seem to keep butting up against hard-coded assumptions.

Massalia is a city-state. It doesn't actually control much territory beyond the city and it's chora which never really extended beyond a five-mile radius of the walls (it was completely encircled by a stone wall, the interior about fifty hectares). It had a massive presence in the coastal trade in the western Mediterranean (having wrested pre-eminence in trade flows into and out of Gallia (France) from the Etruscans) and deep into Gallia via the Rhodanos (Rhone) river. It was rich, but not because of land, but trade.


That map actually over-estimates the area of control Massalia really had.

It set up trading posts all along the southern coast of Gallia and northwestern coast of Iberia (Spain), places for ships bound for, and heading out from Massalia to stop, take on food and water, shelter from bad weather. None is bigger than a village in domain terms (they include Monoikos, Nikaia, Antipolis, Olbia, Tauroeis, Agathe). They were allied with other settlements set up by their parent city, including Emporion (Empuries) in Iberia, Alalia on Kyros (Corsica) and Elea in Italia. But all of those are technically beyond the sea-trade range of a Market class IV which it's size merits.

It might be a Duchy, from the largest settlement size (Massalia is 1200 families at this time), except it controls virtually no territory besides the city itself. It has trade links with two important settlements inland, Rhodanosia and Thelina/Arelate, but it ceased to have any effective political control over them a century earlier. It does, however, have economic control over them.

It's a major market nexus, for trade going into Gallia, and trade coming out of Gallia, but isn't really much of a destination in and of itself.  They exported their own products; local wine, salted pork and fish, aromatic and medicinal plants, coral and cork, salt, olive oil, cups, mixing bowls, to inland markets in Gallia. They were a destination for re-export primarily of grain, amber, tin and slaves.

That control over a huge portion of trade should really merit a bigger market than class IV, even though it's a large town at best in population terms. Because it can't support itself from the land it controls (barely more than a few 6-mile hexes immediately adjoining the city), it supports itself from trade.

It also has no "prince" nor "ruling family"; it's an aristocratic republic ruled by an assembly of 600 citizens, with an executive body of fifteen elected from that number. And again, without trade, few of those citizens would have much wealth at all.

So how do I model this?

Kiero, this is a great question to bring up. I think this sort of thing causes people no end to grief.

The first thing to note is that the domain and settlement rules and guidelines in ACKS shouldn’t bind you, as Judge, any more than the dungeon creation rules or wilderness encounter rules bind you. In all cases, we are offering clear and straightforward mechanics for standard situations, but when your setting requires it, you should simply do what is required! The real-world is filled with thousands of examples of settlements and realms that would be a bad idea to “hard code” into the game mechanics, even though we all know they existed. (It’s similar to how you can’t design a good wargame by modeling the fastest-bestest marching times/rates of fire/kill rates, you have to base it on the averages).

To handle Massalia, here’s what I’d do:

  1. Review the Range of Trade on page 233 of ACKS. Find the length of Massalia’s trade routes and then set Massalia as a Market Class of that size.

  2. Turn to page 133, and build the city’s Revenues as if it was of the appropriate Market Class. (For example, 8gp instead of 7.5gp if it’s Class II instead of Class IV). Since Massalia is independent, it does not have to pay taxes. Assuming it is Class II, its revenue should be 9,600gp/month while its expenses are (960gp tithes + 2400gp garrison + 1800gp upkeep) 5160gp/month. This might be divided between the 15 executives, giving them 344gp each per month.

  3. If you want to increase Massalia’s revenue, you can assign it some Vassal Settlements from your list above, each providing a 20% tax income to Massalia.

That would represent the income that Massalia’s ruling families earn from ruling. That’s distinct from the wealth they’d earn from controlling trade.

  1. A simple way to assign wealth to trade would be to use the Starting City Criminal Guilds table on p.237 as a baseline. Find the city’s market class and then allocate the monthly syndicate revenue to the ruling families.

For example, if Massalia is Class II, monthly guild revenue is 75,000gp. Dividing that by 600 yields 125gp per month. That would place each citizen squarely within the “landed patrician” Standard of Living (p.39 of ACKS). You could of course allocate the trade revenues less equally. Perhaps the richest citizen earns 10,000gp from trade (marquis/count), the next richest 5,000gp, the third 2,500gp, the fourth 1,250gp, the fifth 600gp, and the remaining 595 each earn 110gp.

In this context, the wealth earned from controlling the city (344gp/month) is much less than the private wealth of the richest citizenry, but more than the wealth of the average citizenry. Executive positions are thus looked on with nobless oblige by the rich, but with ambition by the poor.

  1. Another way to assign wealth from trade would be to build Massalia’s revenues as if it were a much larger settlement in terms of population. For example, you could say it has 10,000 families for revenue purposes (Class II). That would mean 80,000gp in revenue per month instead of 9,600, or about 70,000gp. (Note that his yields similar results to #4, it’s just a different way of thinking about.

  2. Finally, you could model out the great houses’ trading wealth using the Arbitrage Trading rules or the Merchant Ships and Caravans tables on p145.

The rules provided in ACKS are focused on the experiences of adventurers conducting arbitrage trading, and didn’t get into the guidelines on the maximum economic activity occurring in a realm. The total economic activity in a town attributable to its population* is roughly 10 times the maximum amounts listed on the Markets & Merchandise table. So, for example, a Class II town has a maximum of 90 merchants** (2d4+1 max x 10) each dealing in (4d6 max) 24 loads per month. The average load is worth about 300gp and the average margin is 10%. That suggests (90 x 24 x 300 x .1) 64,800gp in trading profits per month are available to the citizens. We might want to increase that if we think the citizens are exploiting monopolies, adding 10% to the margin to yield 129,600gp per month. Of course some of that is probably foreign traders, and the citizens might have trade activities going on in far-flung towns, but you are at least within the ballpark.

In any event, from three different approaches, I consistently see a range of income per month from trade of about 60k - 120k for your republic.

*This number was derived from Say’s Law, which argues that consumption must equal production and vice versa. However, there is no theoretical maximum to how much trade can occur in a town between foreign merchants transacting with other foreign merchants. They are simply “using the platform”. If you have to hazard a guess, I would multiple the number of merchants by the number of trade routes to settlements within 1 market class of the same size.

**For simplicity, ACKS “bundles” merchants into a smaller number of bigger buyers. In reality, most merchants are relatively small traders. The actual number is in the thousands but that’s a bit too painful to run.

Awesome, that's given me a lot to think about Alex.

I was thinking taxes would be out, I'm also wondering about tithes as well. As you're aware is no "state religion" as such (there are two temples in Massalia, the cult of Apollo of Delphi and the cult of Atermis of Ephesos - at opposite ends of the polis) and no one is obliged to contribute to them. On the other hand, wealthy citizens engage in liturgies (public expenditure, basically) as part of the usual jockeying for prestige and position, and lavishing temples with your private largesse is a good way to demonstrate your piety. Indeed it's in fulfilling a liturgy to revamp the city troops that the PCs are being brought in by their employer, one of the timoukoi. So the absense of tithes would leave the prominent citizens with even more money of their own, free to devote to those sorts of things.

Another thought, citizen-soldiery. I don't think Massalia had a garrison as such (or at least not a large one if it did), but relied on being able to call out most of those 600 (or their sons) in times of crisis (along with alliances with local tribes and mercenaries). Hell, when things were really bad, they went running to the Romans to bail them out rather than do much of their own fighting. So would this be an example of spending the absolute minimum on the garrison?

Good thought on the split of incomes. In loose terms what I have in mind are something equivalent to the Athenian structure. A small number of the 600 are the wealthiest, controlling most of the income - perhaps 60 who are on the rolls as cavalry (and have maybe 50% of the total income collectively). This being a wealthy place, there's actually quite a large body of the hoplite class, 240 (who have about 35% of the total). Lastly, there's the other 300 who can manage some equipment and would serve as the psiloi (controlling about 15% of the total).

"Using the platform" is an apt analogy for Massalia's position as a trade gateway. It would have an outsize market for it's population because as you say lots of foreign merchants conducting their business there. Emporion is going to be the next class down, Rome is probably within trading range by sea, so that's at least two. I'm wondering about whether Syracuse is close enough, though that's probably the very limit of their feasible trade routes.

Hmm, lots to think about.

Alex, that’s exactly what I’m talking about when I said I would love to have an equipment book or more specifically economic guid.
You simply don’t get things like that in other systems and the great thing about ACKS economic model is that it’s system natural so it’s super usefull no matter what.

You should definitely make a book abut that.


Blackwarder said: You should definitely make a book abut that.

I wholeheartedly agree, although I’d like to see a lot of Alex’s nuggets rolled in to some kind of general Judge’s Book for ACKS, as opposed to just an economics tome. I have been running RPG games for a looooong time, but I am consistently amazed at how many useful tidbits he’s come up with in these forums. His specific suggestions around creating names (in another thread in the General forum) is another such example. Most of his suggestions have the all-important virtues of being easy, quick, and quite useful for actual play.

Let's start working this out.

I think I'll go with Market Class II, it's a major centre outsized in comparison to its population with regional reach. That's enough to cover most settlements in that corner of the Mediterranean by sea, though not quite enough to reach Roma, Syrakousai or Kart-Hadast (all of which are Class I markets). Nor will it reach the southern coast of Iberia or Sikelia, leaving those places firmly in the grip of Carthage. So that leaves a base income of 9,600gp/month.

Next stop is garrison. Massalia doesn't have one; there are no troops permanently under arms patrolling the borders, watching the city and so on. The city relies upon it's stone walls and its citizens whom it can call up in times of strife. They don't receive pay, it's a duty that comes with voting rights. Indeed they are expected to provide their own arms and equipment, and see to their own training, with only the occasional gathering of the forces to train together.

Massalia's "garrison" comprises citizens of the following types:

300 light infantry (1800gp/month)

240 heavy infantry (2880gp/month)

60 medium cavalry (2700gp/month)

Total: 7380gp/month = 6.15gp/family

That's the nominal value of the citizens who can fight, which would make up a pretty significant garrison if they were all under arms. However, they rarely are, and Massalia if seriously threatened is more likely to see aid from the Romans. Furthermore, the cost of maintaining the collective aspects are voted as a liturgy, so one citizen will pay to gather and train the citizens. So let's say the real value of that garrison is equal to a quarter; 7380/4=1845.


Upkeep is 1200gp/month (EDIT: Updated maths as per Alex's errata note). No taxes, because it's independent. No tithes, because there is no state-sanctioned religion and the wealthy are expected to maintain the two temples as liturgies, which might be voted to an individual to perform. Festivals are again liturgies which fall upon one member of the council voted the duty. I don't think I can really justify taking taxes from other settlements, given they don't really have any military power to compel them to. They profit from the trade that reaches Massalia as a result of using those colony-settlements as stop-off points.

That leaves us with 6555gp/month. As above, this is not divided equally between the 600 property-holders. Let's say half (3278gp/month) goes to the 60 wealthiest, netting them on average 55gp/month (the split within that class is likely to be skewed so the richest quartile receive a disproportionate share). A further third (2185gp/month) goes to the 240 next wealthiest, who net around 9gp/month. The last portion (1092gp/month) goes to the remaining 300, who net around 3gp/month.

I like the rationale used under method 6 for generating trade income, and let's assume there are monopolies (because all trade in this era involved them; one of the rights of Hellenistic monarchs was in granting them), but they only add 5% in what is a pretty competitive arena. That gives us 90 x 24 x 300 x .15=97200gp/month from trade. This is more evenly distributed than the revenues, though still dominated by the richer classes. This time the split is 40%/33%/27%.

The wealthiest earn 38880gp/month from trade (averaging 648gp/month), the next tier 32400gp/month (averaging 135gp/month), and the last 25920gp/month (averaging 86gp/month).

That means the total income for Massalia is 103755gp/month, with the wealthiest taking 42158gp/month (averaging 703gp/month), the middle taking 34585gp/month (averaging 144gp/month) and the least wealthy taking 27012gp/month (averaging 90gp/month). That quite usefully gives me a range of what various citizens are worth, by their class. So the wealthy are at the bottom-mid end of Affluent; the hoplite class the bottom of Prosperous and the psiloi class in the middle of Comfortable. Which seems to fit for a rich trading polis.

The PCs employer is in the wealthiest class, he's probably in the 1000+gp/month range, doing better than some of his peers. So his contract with the PCs (forming a liturgy to improve the city's citizen-forces), which I priced at 3000gp for six months work is a significant, but not crippling outlay for him. Especially given the other ramifications (political especially) of being the guy who drilled and trained the militia.

As far as other settlements go, Emporion is class III, everything else nearby is is basically Class V or VI.

That leaves Demand Modifiers and NPC levels to work out. As noted elsewhere, I won't be using the demographic assumption about rules having certain levels; instead there could be any spread amongst the timoukoi from Normal Men up to about 7th level. I'm thinking their employer is 5th or 6th level.

This is good, good stuff - it’s starting to finally crystallize some things for me. Please, air out as much as you’re able here, this is a great example.

Within the classes, I'm thinking of breaking down the spoils by quartiles. The top quartile gets 50% of the income; the next 25%; the next 15% and the bottom the remaining 10%.

So taking the cavalry class 42158gp/month (averaging 703gp/month), that actually breaks down as the richest 15 (likely the timoukoi) take 21079gp/month (averaging 1405gp/month); the next richest 15 take 10540gp/month (averaging 703gp/month); the next richest 15 take 6324gp/month (averaging 421gp/month) and the poorest 15 take 4215gp/month (averaging 281gp/month).

For the hoplite class 34585gp/month (averaging 144gp/month); the top 60 take 17293gp/month (averaging 288gp/month); the next 60 take 8646gp/month (averaging 144gp/month); the next 60 take 5188gp/month (averaging 86gp/month) and the bottom 60 take 3458gp/month (averaging 58gp/month).

For the artisan class taking 27012gp/month (averaging 90gp/month); the top 75 take 13506gp/month (averaging 180gp/month); the next 75 take 6753gp/month (averaging 90gp/month); the next 75 take 4052gp/month (averaging 54gp/month); and the poorest take 2701gp/month (averaging 36gp/month).

Interestingly, the poorest of the cavalry class earn less than the richest of the hoplite class, and there's an even broader overlap between the poorest three quartiles of the hoplite class and the richest two of the artisan class, which sounds about right to me.


Festivals - of which there are potentially many in the Greek calendar cost 6000gp, and as mentioned are voted to a citizen to fund as a liturgy, or public service to the city. Obviously there's a great deal of political potential around them - some are prestigious and can make a man's name for the year, but equally they could be used to ruin someone in precarious financial circumstances.


Looking at Demand Modifiers, the factors on that table are relatively straightforward:

Age: 101-1000 years (Massalia is 300 years old at this point)

Water Source: Sea coast (obvious one!)

Climate: Scrub (after some research, apparently most Mediterranean climes are classified as Maquis shrubland)

Elevation: Hills (lots of hilly ground from the tail of the Alps and situated on promontories)


I don't think I want to start with random modifiers for goods-types, but I am confused as to how I apply the reality. The complication is the Massalia was an exchange-point rather than destination for much of it's trade. Its population wasn't that big, things going there weren't for local consumption, but often shipping off again - either to the Gallic interior or out into the wider Mediterranean.

As mentioned before, they exported their own products; local wine, salted pork and fish, aromatic and medicinal plants, coral and cork, salt, olive oil, cups, mixing bowls, to inland markets in Gallia. They were a destination for re-export primarily of grain, amber, tin and slaves.

So perhaps I should read that as negative demand for the first list (since they are produced locally or imported for shipping into Gallia), but positive for the second (since they are things in demand at Massalia to be shipped off elsewhere)? Point then is that if you have the former you need to take them inland yourself, but if you have the latter there'll be someone glad to take it off your hands.

Maybe what I should do is determine the obvious ones, but do the others randomly?

Given the number of settlements Massalia connects to, is this going to get messy when I look at trade routes? The major place it links to is Emporion, which is smaller, and a source of metals.

Your mention of the voting of liturgies on council members makes me think there might be another way to model the income of a trade city with little associated land governed by a council of merchants like the one you are describing. You could build it as a 1-hex domain with an urban settlement of whatever size fits historical estimates of its population. Then, you can determine how many total merchant ships are owned by members of the council, and the total number of people in the councilors’ families. Multiply the number of ships by the average monthly profits for a merchant ship (there’s a table with this info on ACKS pg 145), and the population of the councilors’ families by the monthly cost of the minimum acceptable standard of living for councilors. Subtract the second number from the first to determine the city’s available monthly liturgy pool. Calculate the domain revenue and expenses using the normal ACKS domain rules. Any excess expenses are taken from the liturgy pool. If it becomes important in the campaign, you can calculate the liturgy pool by family instead of as a total, or maybe do that for a handful of important families and then lump everyone else into a “minor councilors” pool.

The only big downside I see is that galleys aren’t included on the Merchant Ships and Caravans table, so you would have to figure out how to calculate average monthly income for trade galleys.

Still, this does give me a good model for a domain ruled by a Venturer and his guild.

That's very kind of you.

All this forum praise is going to my head. My next Kickstarter I'm just going to sell huge Mao Zedong-style posters of myself with GM notes in little red books!


James, one thing I was very surprised to discover is that even during Antiquity, the heyday of the galley, most merchant ships used in Rome were not galleys. Instead they were sailing ships,the cladivata and the corbita.

I'm not sure if the same holds true of Carthage and Greece, but I suspect it does. When plying known trade routes outside of a military capacity, the cargo capacity of sailing vessels makes them better than galleys.



Climate: Scrub (after some research, apparently most Mediterranean climes are classified as Maquis shrubland)

APM: Scrub is in fact the predominant biome of the Mediterranean area. I didn’t even know what Scrub climate was before I started writing the Auran Empire campaign setting.

For those of you who are presumable as ignorant as I was at the start of the process, imagine a ranked list as follows:
grassland → shrubland → woodland → forest

Shrubbland is land with woody shrubs. Shrubland is divided vertically into tall shrubland and low shurbland, and horizontally into open and closed shrubland.

Tall shrubland has 6’6" to 26’ tall shrubs and is generally known as “scrub”.
Low shrubland has 6" to 6’6" tall shrubs and is generally known as “heath”.

If the land is 70%-100% covered by shrubs, it is called “closed”. If it is 70% to 30% covered by shrubs, it is called “open”. If less than 30%, it’s probably not shrubland.

Each region has its own unique name for these territories:

Closed Scrub: Chapparal, fynbos, maquis, macchia

Open Scrub: Garrigue, phrygana, matorral, mallee, batha
(note how much more scattered the shrubs are, with gaps filled with grass)

Closed Heath: Heathland, Kwongan
(note how low, yet densely packed, the shrubs are)

Open Heath: Moorland
(low, widely spaced shrubs with moss and grass in between)

The Mediterranean region is primarily Closed Scrub and Open Scrub.

they exported their own products; local wine, salted pork and fish, aromatic and medicinal plants, coral and cork, salt, olive oil, cups, mixing bowls, to inland markets in Gallia. They were a destination for re-export primarily of grain, amber, tin and slaves.

So perhaps I should read that as negative demand for the first list (since they are produced locally or imported for shipping into Gallia), but positive for the second (since they are things in demand at Massalia to be shipped off elsewhere)?

APM: That's exactly correct. In ACKS terms, you would want to assign a negative DM to Wine, Spirits; Preserved Fish; Salt; Lamp Oil; and Pottery. You would assign a positive DM to Grain, Semiprecious Stones, and Slaves.

Excellent, I'll have a look at those tomorrow, I might even get Massalia complete before tomorrow's session at this rate!

Can I be fairly loose with the existing definitions - for example can lamp oil stand in for olive oil? Presumably, I need to assume different values for ingots of silver, compared to those of tin, copper or iron? There's silver coming out of Iberia in large quantites, after all (via Emporion). Half-stone ingots of silver (going by the table on p145 for measures) are worth 100gp each.

Cool. While I assumed, based on crew requirements alone, that galleys would be ditched as soon as sailing ships became viable, I had no idea that happened as early as Rome.

I didn’t realize it either until I researched it for ACKS.

This website has a nice summary: http://eglewis.blogspot.com/2012/05/roman-merchant-ships-warhorses-of.html

“…The Roman fleet also had higher tonnage vessels. The hull of the Madrague de Giens, that floundered off Gaul (France) in the First Century BC, was 130 feet long with an estimated capacity of 440 tons. In the early years of the Roman Empire, themuriophorio, 10,000-amphora carriers carrying 550 tons were the largest ships afloat. The grain trade also utilized some 50,000 modii vessels which hauled 365 tons. The size and capacity of these ships was not exceeded in the Mediterranean until the Sixteenth Century…”

That’s considerably larger than the 13th century cog (which tops out at 200 tons) and approaches the size of the 16th century carracks.

No, galleys and sailing ships existed in parallel for a very long time. The ancient Athenian grain fleet (necessary to prevent the polis from starving from about 5th century BC) was comprised of huge sailing ships, but no one would ever think to use a sailing ship for war.

Besides which, rowers offer a potential automatic source of marines/raiders for the enterprising captain, if you train and treat them well. One trireme is a mobile base for a small army (around two hundred men all told) which is ideal for raiding coastal settlements and getting away with your loot before anyone can respond.

I’d back that! :smiley:

To be clear, I meant that merchants would switch to sailing vessels as soon as it became technically feasible to do so in order to reduce labor costs and reduce the amount of cargo capacity devoted to provisions for the crew. Obviously, these aren’t concerns for a military vessel. No point having soldiers sitting around idle for the duration of the voyage. Make 'em row.