On Researching the Economy of Operation LAPIS

As noted in the previous entry on gear, the Recentius-teams in Operation LAPIS earn an in-game currency, dēnāriī, to spend on items for their character. For those unfamiliar with the intricacies of economics in ancient Rome, the dēnārius was one type of silver coin minted throughout most of the Republic and well into the Empire. As we continued to flesh out the gear mechanic and the per-mission rewards of dēnāriī, we wanted to ensure that the relative values of rewards and items would be accurate for the 1st century CE while at the same time creating a compelling game mechanic. Here's how we arrived at the suggested rewards and the cost of items in-game:

From historical records, the average salary for a Roman soldier at the time of Augustus was approximately 225 dēnāriī.

Beginning with mission 4 (when the Recentius-teams begin earning end-of mission rewards), the teams have 66 episodes remaining in the year. Based on how well they role-play their character, the teams earn anywhere from 1-5 dēnāriī per episode. If you reward an 'average' response with 3 dēnāriī, and then take into account the 20 dēnāriī they receive as a start at the end of Episode 3.3, then the Recentius-teams will earn approximately 220 dēnāriī over the year. That's pretty close to the average salary at that time and, just like in the Roman army, there are still plenty of ways by which to earn bonuses.

Now here is the tricky part -- figuring out how to value the items which the Recentius-teams can purchase. We had to compromise on the items from the fabrī (the metal-smiths) and skirt historical accuracy in order to have a viable game mechanic. Ordinarily, items like the gladius (Roman short sword), the lorica (armour), or even the scutum (shield) would be unavailable to purchase in the forum. This standardized equipment was produced exclusively in the military camps, beginning with Marius' military reforms. While the Roman government provided access to the standardized gear, they didn't pay for the gear. Each Roman soldier had to deduct approximately 50-60 dēnāriī from their yearly salary for their equipment. This provided a rough guide for setting the prices of, say, the lorica, at approximate 20 dēnāriī.

Other items, however, provided to be even more difficult to figure out. Using the only reliable guide for prices, the Diocletian Price Edict of 301 CE, the salary for a Roman soldier had risen (on account of severe inflation) to a base of 1800 dēnāriī. If we assume (although problematic for a variety of reasons) that the standard of living for a soldier based on that pay was the same, then we're looking at an approximate inflation rate of 9:1 from the 1st Century CE, the time in which our adventure takes place.

Using 9:1 as the guide, we find a variety of items listed on the edict. For example, the maximum cost for a soldier's winter tunic was 75 dēnāriī, or approximately 8 dēnāriī in 81 CE. Soldier's boots, on the other hand, were 100 dēnāriī and fancier patrician shoes were 150 dēnāriī (or approximately 11 and 17 dēnāriī respectively.) This allowed us to set relative prices for the remaining items in order to create a viable and authentic economy for goods that would continue to map learning objectives on to the play objectives for the students while still maintaining a traditional RPG feel for the gear progression.

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