Standard Value Units

In Flat Black’s native RPG system, ForeSight, the prices in the equipment lists &c. are expressed in “Standard Value Units”. The name is a reference to Jack Vance’s “Oikumene” setting, and in ForeSight’s standard setting ForeScene there was a currency denominated in SVU¹. For reasons of convenience I gave the Imperial crown in Flat Black a purchasing power of 1 SVU in Imperial Direct Jurisdiction and the Suite, but because I know a bit about economics I supposed that the various colonies would each have their own currencies (Human Space is not an optimal single-currency area) and that an Imperial crown would have a significantly higher purchasing power in less-developed economies.

Now I’m writing some colony descriptions in a standard format, and I want to include entries in a table that will indicate the colony’s mean income in real and nominal terms and the value of its currency unit in exchange and in purchasing power. The Imperial crown will do perfectly well as the numeraire of nominal income and exchange value. As for real income and purchasing power, I plan to use a standard value unit with purchasing power equal to the purchasing power that ₢1 has in IDJ.

For the moment I am using the default currency unit symbol ¤ to indicate values in SVU, but I’m worried that that might be confusing. What do you think of my using ㏜ as a symbol for “standard value”? It’s not likely to be confused for sieverts in a financial context.

¹ I railled against the SVU in ForeScene while the manuscript was in preparation. For my troubles I got written off as “an economics-minded playtester” rather than as, you know, an economist.

I have to say it would make things less confusing; I hardly ever encounter the default currency unit symbol and wouldn’t count on recognizing it, and I’m not sure I could find it under the Insert command in Word. I don’t find your proposed symbol optimal—the dollar, the pound, the euro, and the yen all have single distinctive symbols—but I don’t suppose you can make up a distinctive symbol and have it inserted into a typeface as a single character.

Looking at the matter linguistically, I don’t think a unit that’s in actual use will be called by a three-word phrase with six syllables. Conceivably it might be called either “units” or “svu” (pronounced “svoo”). The former might be abbreviated to “U”. “I paid U1500 for that” would then be pronounced “I paid fifteen hundred units for that!” Or with your abbreviation, “I paid fifteen hundred svoo . . .” Or are you anticipating that players will habitually say “standard value units” every time they have to quote a price? I think the inexorable linguistic force of human laziness may come into play.

1 Like

Given its intended use, I would expect ¤ to mean “the particular local currency we’re talking about, which the indigenes might call $ or ¥ or Citizen Goodwill Units or whatever” rather than “an absolute reference currency”.

Do you really need to have both Standard Values and Imperial Crowns? Where will the distinction become important?

1 Like

Yeah, that’s pretty much what I feared about the ¤

The distinction between SVU and crowns will become important whenever a character is buying a local product in an economy less developed than IDJ. Tradable goods have constant prices in crowns, non-tradable goods and services have constant prices in SVU.

Aircars are a TL 8 product, so they must be manufactured on DL 8+ planets; in practice that will mean DL8 planets make them cheapest. The cost of a stock unmodified aircar is ㏜ 25k, which because of real exchange rate effects ₢ 21,022. Aircars are tradable, so a stock unmodified aircar is ₢ 21k plus shipping and tax on any planet.

A meal in an inexpensive restaurant, on the other hand, is a non-tradable good. They cost ㏜ 1 everywhere. Which is ₢1 in IDJ. ₢0.84 on a DL 8 world. ₢0.42 on a DL6 world. ₢0.21 on a DL4 world. ₢0.10 on a DL2 world.

We ForeSight players got into the habit of saying “svoo”, but I seem to recall something in Vance that implies that he expected “esveeyoo”.

SVU were a Watsonian thing in Vance and in Tonio Loewald’s setting ForeScene, but they are purely Doylist in Flat Black.

Well, I am interested in what SVWAG might call “fun accounting” – exchange rates and arbitrage and all that good stuff. But, alas, many players aren’t; last time I ran a space trading game, I ended up doing the ship’s books myself. I think it would be a good idea to have an escape hatch for players/GMs who just want to be able to buy beer for the house.

It simplifies to each non-tradable item having one price, which you pay in SVU where you are if the DL is high enough, and each tradable item having two prices, one in crowns and one in SVU: you multiply the price in the SVU column by the real exchange rate and pay the lower price.

That’s really been my experience, too. I had a detailed set of rules for ship’s costs and capacities in Tapestry, and during the shakedown voyage, a circuit of nearby ports, we kept track of tonnages, kinds of cargo, purchase prices, cash flow, and so on. But when we were going to run the first Voyage into the Unknown™, the players asked if they could stop keeping track of all those complications. Instead I assumed that each player character hand funds available to purchase cargo equal to 80% of the starting wealth for their wealth level; that their basic return was 20 for 1; and that they got ±10% for each point of success or failure on a Merchant roll by whichever of them was responsible for a particular category of cargo. That made them a lot richer. For the second voyage, I’m going to assume a basic return of 10 for 1 (because their cargo isn’t so novel, and because other ships are starting to make similar voyages) and a Merchant roll at -5 (because the local economy is depressed due to persistent bad weather). It’s quick and dirty but I think it will produce the narrative I want.

And it’s just a shopping list, not a trading game.

I think what I’d want to ask is, without loss of generality, if a good is available for a local price or a lower imperial price, why would anyone ever pay the local price? It seems like intentionally not picking up a fifty dollar banknote from the sidewalk. I don’t see why this setup doesn’t simply wipe out local industries that compete with imperial goods. Or conversely, make it not worth anyone’s trouble to import imperial goods that can’t compete locally, if such goods exist.

When I read

I assume that this is something that happens in GM-space rather than player-space; i.e. you do this process in order to find out the actual local price of a tradable thing, and incidentally it tells you whether it’s imported or made locally.

They wouldn’t. People buy local when the good or services is non-tradable or when local is cheaper, and they buy imported when the good or service is tradable and imported is cheaper.

Then why would you ever need to record both prices? Is this something that you do in advance, to decide whether the imperial price is the one to quote, rather than something that the player characters encounter?

Because it varies from planet to planet which is cheaper, according to the real exchange rate. With two columns of prices on the equipment lists and a real exchange rate for each planet I get to be a lot more compact than with thirteen columns of prices on the price lists.

How much trading, economics, and generalized money-grubbing do you want in FB games? In my experience PCs motivated by money can be fun, but games motivated by money seldom are, and I’m a fan of old school dungeon bashing. So maybe you just want the high level discussion about tradable vs non-tradable goods and a table, with an appendix for folks who really care about that sort of thing.

Most PC equipment will be tradable anyway.

None, really. But I do want to replicate the experience of visiting a developing country and finding that the modest sums you have brought with you are enviable wealth to the locals, and the experience of living in a developing country and finding that locally-made expedients are much more cost-effective than fully-imported high-tech. I think its an important feature of the texture of foreign travel.

Equipment is mostly tradable, but services, living expenses, and bribes mostly aren’t.

Furthermore, even though the price system belongs in a hypothetical future equipment book the real exchange rate has to be tabulated planet by planet.

If not ㏜, how about ℣ as a symbol for standard purchasing power? It doesn’t look as though I am likely to use it for “'Verse”.

㏜ seems like a better choice to me.

Generally I don’t favour repurposing symbols that already have a meaning elsewhere unless the meaning is analogous. Even though ₲ exists and is the obvious symbol for the GURPS dollar.

If the standard value unit is genuinely a “unit,” it really seems as if it ought to have a one-word name, like meter, kilogram, second, or ampere, and a standard abbreviation. In this context, “value” seems to be used in the sense of classical economics, as a unit of purchasing power, rather than in the sense of marginalist economics, as a unit of utility. Perhaps it could be named for some eminent classical economist? “A widget is worth 7.5 ricardos,” for example (abbreviated R)?