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(#54, Version 5.0)
The Gorean economy is not depicted in great detail in the novels. The monetary system can be confusing and there are scant references on the prices of many items. Norman had little need for an extensive pricing list. But, we are able to make some useful generalizations and deductions based on what references do exist. Hopefully this scroll will guide people to a more realistic understanding of the economic world of Gor.
The basic Gorean coin is about 1 ½" in diameter and 3/8" thick. There is either the image of a tarsk or tarn on one side of the coin and a letter on the other side. The letter signifies the city of origin of the coin. The coin is surprisingly heavy for its size though no actual weight is given. The books mention several different types of coins including the tarsk bit, the copper tarn, the copper tarsk, the silver tarn, the silver tarsk, the gold tarn, and the double gold tarn. But, there is some confusion over whether all of these coins should actually exist within the currency system. The primary problem is that though the copper and silver tarns are mentioned in the early novels, they seem to vanish in the latter books. The latter novels are also the primary place to find detailed currency conversion references and these passages fail to mention the copper and silver tarns.
By analyzing the references to these coins, it appears that Norman may have phased them out during the first ten books. It seems that Norman tried to make a more coherent currency system in the latter books and chose to jettison the copper and silver tarns. It appears he chose to make those coins to be copper and silver tarsks instead. This is supported by the more detailed currency conversion information provided in the latter fifteen books. The latter books in a series are often the more authoritative on issues as they benefit from more careful consideration. Thus, in this scroll I will be substituting the tarsk coin for any reference to a copper or silver tarn in any pricing reference. The currency system is thus, from lowest denomination to highest: tarsk bit, copper tarsk, silver tarsk, gold tarn, double tarn. This makes a logical and coherent system.
There is little standardization in currency exchange rates on Gor. At each Sardar Fair, the bankers try to pass a motion standardizing coinage rates but it never passes. Bankers are a subcaste of the Merchant Caste and are literally known as "coin merchants." The particular currency ratios vary from city to city and region to region. From four to twenty tarsk bits equal one copper tarsk. From ten to one hundred copper tarsks equal one silver tarsk. It does seem standard though that ten silver tarsks equal one gold tarn. A double gold tarn is worth two gold tarns. The most detailed description of a currency equivalency system is in Magicians of Gor (p.469). Though this may hold only for some cities, it is of benefit none the less. Eight tarsk bits equal a copper tarsk, one hundred copper tarsks equals a silver tarsk, and ten silver tarsks equal one gold tarn. In Port Kar and the Vosk basin region, there are ten tarsk bits to a copper tarsk, and 100 coppers to a silver tarsk. Certain coins though are respected and accepted in most cities. These include the golden tarn disks of Ar, Ko-ro-ba, and Port Kar, the silver tarsk of Tharna and the golden stater of Brundisium. A stater is simply another term for a gold coin and it derives from ancient Greece.
Paper currency does not exist on Gor. This places a burden on someone wishing to carry a large amount of money as so many coins would be extremely heavy. Luckily, there are alternatives. Banks also deal in notes, letters of credit, drafts and checks. This vastly reduces the burden in large purchases, especially for Merchants who might be making large purchases of stock. Most cities have a Street of Coins, either a street or district, where all sorts of financials services are available. Money lending, loans, is one of these available services. Little else is said though concerning the services offered by Gorean banks.
We need to place the currency system into a perspective that can be understood. This will give us a better framework to understand prices and wages. An excellent starting point is this quote: "A gold tarn disk is more than many common laborers earn in a year." (Tribesman of Gor, p.158) This helps show the value of a gold tarn and it is supported by other quotes. "Five pieces of gold, in its way, incidentally, is also a fortune on Gor. One could live, for example, in many cities, though not in contemporary Ar, with its press on housing and shortages of food, for years on such resources." (Magicians of Gor, p.468-9). "A golden tarn disk was a small fortune." (Tarnsman of Gor, p.191). The value of silver tarsks is also generalized in the novels. "A silver tarsk is, to most Goreans, a coin of considerable value." (Rogue of Gor, p.155) "My financial resources, the ten silver tarsks,ůsuch a sum would last a man months on Gor." (Rogue of Gor, p.59)
Let's try to translate this into U.S. dollars then. If we assume a common laborer made minimum wage or a bit above that, then a gold tarn would be at least between $15,000 to $25,000. For simplicity's sake, we can average this to $20,000. Now that we have a starting point, we can use it to translate the other Gorean coins into U.S. currency. If we assume ten silver tarsks equal one gold tarn, then a silver tarsk is worth about $2000. If we then assume 100 copper tarsks equal one silver tarsk, then a copper tarsk is worth about $20. If we then assume eight tarsk bits equal a copper tarsk, then a tarsk bit is worth about $2.50. Please remember that these are only rough approximations. They give you a relative comparison between Gorean and Earth prices.
The wages of a common laborer would then be about 1-2 copper tarns a day. More skilled laborers would earn more money. For example, a sail-maker in Port Kar earns 4 copper tarns a day. A High Caste Builder, such as a fine shipwright in Port Kar, could earn as much as 1 gold tarn a day. Based on my above Earth comparisons, this shipwright would be earning over seven million dollars a year. To hire an average mercenary, a price of a silver tarsk a month would be a good wage and many would not even get that much. If this is a Gorean month, he would average 4 copper tarsks a day.
Obviously, a person's wage is determined by several different factors. The type of Caste, the skills of the person, the knowledge level required for the job, the city, rarity of one's skills, wealth of one's employer and more will help determine the wage. Most wages for Low Castes will be in copper tarsks per day. There will be few who receive silvers tarsks per day and even fewer that receive gold tarns per day. Try to think about the matter realistically. If an average mercenary's wage is less than a silver tarsk a month, would anyone pay a mercenary 10 gold tarns a week unless that mercenary happened to be Dietrich? Make comparisons in your wage calculations. If you pay a mercenary 1 gold tarn a month, is he really worth ten other mercenaries? Gold tarns should generally not be the common currency of your role-play.
In online RP, everyone can be as rich as they desire. Cyber-money is infinite. If you wish to have one million gold tarns, there is nothing stopping you from claiming to have that much. Thus, we have seen some outrageous prices paid for wages or other items such as slaves. Gold tarns are tossed around as if they were pennies. If this were a table-top RP game, we would have a monetary system to help limit such outrageous spending. Though a monetary system for online RP would be helpful, logistically it is a difficult system to enact and enforce. The best we can ask for is for players to be more realistic in their spending, more appropriate to their Caste and likely income.
There are few fixed prices on Gor. Haggling is the norm when you wish to purchase an item. In haggling, the buyer and seller negotiate a price that is acceptable to both parties. Sometimes they are not successful in reaching an agreement on the price and no transaction occurs. Most Goreans enjoy haggling and see it as an entertaining game. A buyer who is able to negotiate an extremely low price for an item may give the seller extra money anyways. A seller who is able to negotiate an extremely high price for an item may give the buyer part of the purchase price back. These are simple rewards for excellent haggling. Part of the game sometimes involves insults to the other party. A buyer may accuse the seller of being a thief who is selling shoddy material. A seller may accuse a buyer of being a miser who wishes to cheat the seller out of a fair price. This is taken in good stride as people understand that it is only part of the game.
When haggling, each side begins at an extreme position. A seller asks for far much more than the item is worth and the buyer offers an amount much less than the item is worth. From those points, a series of offers and counteroffers work toward some middle ground. Most items have a standard range of values and the buyer and seller are usually aware of that range. Each then tries to get the best value within that range. A number of factors will affect that standard value range though.
Each city has different pricing. For example, Ar is one of the most expensive cities to live in. Venna is another expensive city. The rarity of an item will also help to determine its price. In general, it will be more expensive in areas where it is rare. This leads to another related area, demand. No matter how rare an item, it is worthless unless there is a demand for it. A tarn would be rare in the polar region but there would be little demand for one as the red hunters do not know how to control tarns and tarns would not do well in the cold temperatures. Pricing will also vary based on the individual's desire either to buy or sell an item. A buyer who truly desires an item may pay more than it is worth to possess it. A seller who is selling a treasured item may be unwilling to part with it except for a far greater amount that it may be worth. Being aware of all the relevant factors when you are haggling will aid you in obtaining the best possible price.
Some mercantile transactions, especially outside of the cities, do not use currency. Bartering is the alternative method used to buy and sell items. Bartering is essentially the trading of items of equivalent value. Generally, you trade an item you have many of to obtain an item you need. For example, hunters may trade the pelts they have obtained for weapons or manufactured goods. Bartering also occurs in the cities, though most often when a person from the barbaric lands comes to the city to trade. That person will bring common, but valuable, items from their homeland to try to exchange them for items that are rare to them. The red hunters trade often for Bazi tea and sugar. Panther girls trade for candy and arrow heads.
There is some pricing information on certain Gorean items, at least allowing us to consider general pricing guidelines. Though for some items, we have very little to go on. For example, we have no real information on the price of weapons. As Norman was not creating a world for role-play, he had little need for such details.
Food and drink prices: Most of the price information we have for food and beverages is based on prices in taverns. It is standard in most paga taverns that a copper tarsk will get you a cup of paga, some basic food and the services of a paga kajira. A dancer is extra, costing about two copper tarsks. In one tavern in Port Kar, they have huge paga bottles, kept in a pouring sling, from which the serving slaves pour cups of paga. One of those bottles sold for a silver tarsk. Kal-da, a Low Caste beverage, is said to be cheap and likely costs less than paga. Thus, it likely sells for only a few tarsk bits. A cup of water from a street vendor in Tor sold for a copper tarsk. Wines come in many varieties and qualities, just like Earth wines. Examples include Ka-la-na, Ta wine, Palm wine and more. Prices for them will vary from cheap copper tarsk wines to superb gold tarn wines. The most expensive wine on Gor is Falarian wine. It is so rare that some believe it is only a legend though references show that Marlenus possessed some. Though no actual price was given, it is said that a bottle would cost as much as a small city. This would place it out of the reach of most Goreans. Another expensive drink is blackwine, Gorean coffee. Blackwine comes from beans grown only in Thentis and they zealously guard this product. Even in Thentis, it is generally only the High Castes who can afford it. A cup of blackwine was sold in Ar for a silver tarsk and eighty coppers. This is not an item that most taverns would be able to keep in stock and it is not an item most Goreans, especially Low Castes, could afford.
Inn prices: An inn differs from a tavern in that an inn has rooms for one to stay the night. In Renegades of Gor (p.51), a price list is given for an inn's available services. But, due to the Cos/Ar war, many of the prices were inflated by the inn's owner by about a factor of five. The price list was thus:
"Bread and paga 2 C.T. (copper tarsk) Other food 3-5 C.T. Lodging 10 C.T. Blankets (2) 2 C.T. Bath 1 C.T. Bath girl 2 C.T. Sponge, oil and strigil 1 C.T. Girl for the night 5 C.T. T. (Tharlarion), Greens and Stable 2 C.T. T. (Tarn), Meat and Cot 5 C.T."
In an average inn, you might be able to negotiate the prices. The average price for lodging, food and paga is only two to three copper tarsks a night. A bath, bath girl, oils, strigil, and sponge all normally cost one price. The prices may vary seasonally though, which would thus depend on supply and demand. In Tarnsman of Gor (p.165), a tarn keeper is asked to house, groom, and feed a tarn. He is also asked to have it ready immediately when it was needed. He was initially given a silver but he grumbled a bit and then was given a second silver. This seems like an exorbitant amount though it may be excused as it is from the first book when the monetary system was a rough and incomplete idea.
Slave prices: There are dozens of references in the novels to the prices of slaves. The prices range from a copper tarsk to many gold tarns. A mere list of these references is not that useful due to the great variation involved in such pricing. Luckily, an analysis of the references does indicate some general guidelines. "In a sense a woman is worth as much or as little as someone is willing to pay for her." (Magicians of Gor, p.338) One man might feel a girl is worth only a silver tarsk while someone else might see her as a gold tarn girl. Slave preferences vary greatly. Like all other Gorean prices, there are also a multitude of variables involved.
The general class of slave will affect one's price. Fighting Slave of Gor (p.163-165) gives some useful guidelines in this area. The most inexpensive slaves are female work slaves purchased for public kitchens, laundries, mills, etc. These are the kettle-and-mat girls, the pot girls and other such lowly slaves. The next level of slaves are the male work slaves who commonly work on cargo galleys, wharves, fields, and quarries. They are often criminals or war captives. The next general level, the most common type of slave, are the ones who can be used as a pleasure slave. These slaves are not all trained pleasure slaves per se but only slaves for whom part of their duty is to sexually please their owner. The next level are the male silk slaves, a rare breed on Gor. The most expensive slaves though are generally special pleasure slaves, dancers, exotics and passion slaves. These slaves are generally all highly trained.
Slaves who were once High Caste generally are worth more than Low Caste ones. Pierced ears, once a mark of degradation, now also increase a girl's value. Individual slaves also often appreciate in value over time. "Slavery, for example, marvelously, subtly, tends to bring out the beauty in a woman. Many women, after a year or two in bondage, become so beautiful that they can double or triple their price." (Players of Gor, p.23) If a slave is young when she is initially sold, her value may increase once her body matures into a more womanly figure. As a girl's training level and knowledge increases, her value also appreciates. Pleasure slave training and dance training are key elements in raising a girl's price.
The place where you purchase a girl may also affect the price. The most expensive girls are sold at the Curulean, the most prestigious auction house in Ar. Slaves desire greatly to be sold here because they are often guaranteed to be sold to a wealthy owner. A slave girl is seldom sold here for less than two gold tarns. A beautiful, High Caste woman commonly sells for thirty to fifty gold tarns while a Low Caste woman will sell for half that amount. Based on the above mentioned Earth conversion rates, a High Caste woman might be sold for up to $1,000,000. In other auction houses, the slaves would sell for much less. A gold tarn in such other places might purchase a girl worthy enough for a Ubar's Pleasure Gardens.
The most expensive slave would likely be the daughter of a Ubar or even a Ubara herself. In a private sale, she might bring up to 10,000 gold tarns. In a public sale, where her status was unknown, such a woman might only be worth a few copper tarsks, dependent on their beauty. Exotics also get top prices due to their rarity, special abilities or talents. Passions slaves are one of the more common exotics and they garner high prices. Exotics such as poison girls or women who are raised never knowing the existence of men would be very expensive commodities.
Auctions generally bring the highest prices for girls due to the number of bidders. An auction brings out the competitive nature of man and can cause girls to be sold for amounts higher than they are worth. Other girls may be sold for set prices at a slaver's house. Purple booths are also used to girls in private sales though generally only to important or wealthy buyers. These booths are commonly set within the courtyard of a slaver's house or at a fair. In each booth there will be a special slave, one of a slaver's best. A potential buyer can examine and try out the girl in the booth and then negotiate a price with the slaver.
Certain physical types also garner higher prices in areas where those physical types are a rarity. For instance, blue-eyed, blond women are rare in the Tahari region so they are more valuable there. Other physical types are not so much as rarer but more desired in certain regions. For example, in Torvaldsland they prefer large breasted women so pay more for them. In general, auburn hair increases the value of a slave in many areas.
Most male slaves are inexpensive and usually will not garner more than a silver tarsk. The exception is male silk slaves whom commonly sell for four to six silver tarsks. A silk slave is a pleasure slave for a free woman. They usually bring higher prices than basic female pleasure slaves only due to their rarity. Most Gorean men make poor silk slaves.
The most inexpensive of slaves are infants. It is not unusual in the cities for free women to sell their infant daughters into slavery. Some women even do it on a regular basis, as an added form of income. Two tarsk bits is a standard price for an infant. The price could be higher depending on the qualifications of the mother. The women doing actually make a pittance when you consider all of their time and labor. Based on the above mentioned Earth conversion rates, they average $5 for their infant.
Most men cannot afford to own more than one slave at a time. But, a slave is often a good investment. As many slaves appreciate in value over time, a man can eventually sell his slave for a profit and either buy a more expensive slave or multiple slaves. Once you can afford a single slave, you will likely then always be able to own a slave. A buyer must realize that his costs are not contained to the original price of the slave. Upkeep costs are constant such as food, clothing, equipment or whatever other items a slave might require. Upkeep costs can be closely monitored by the owner though, spending only what he desires. He could obviously keep a slave naked and feed her only the cheapest foods. He could on the other hand keep her in fine silks with a jeweled collar. It is all a matter of personal preference.
Miscellaneous Prices: The novels contain a scattering of price information on a number of other items. They also ignore the prices of many others. I will list the items with price information here but please note that these are general prices only, subject to many other factors. Use these as a guide and not as an absolute.
Tarn: The price for a tarn will depend on the type of tarn, be it a draft tarn, saddle tarn or war tarn. A tarn might cost as little as a gold tarn or up to four gold tarns. A tarn is worth five to ten slave girls. (Tarnsman of Gor, p.191)(Tribesman of Gor, p.43, 106)
Sleen: Trained sleen are expensive. They might cost one hundred times the cost of a slave. (Savages of Gor, p.29)(Dancer of Gor, p.161) Even the rental of a sleen would be more expensive than the rental of a slave. Sleens are often rented by the Ahn while a slave would be rented by the day or hand. (Kajira of Gor, p.250-1)
Tarsk: A prize tarsk is often worth more than a slave girl. (Savages of Gor, p.29)
Snow Lart: The snowy white pelt, in good condition, of this arctic animal could sell in Ar for half a silver tarsk. (Beasts of Gor, p.74)
Kailiauk: A robe of yellow kailiauk, even in average condition, can sell for up to five silver tarsks. (Savages of Gor, p.141)
Perfume: A vial of perfume will depend muchly on its quality. It might be very cheap, such as five two-hort vials for a copper tarsk or as much as a gold tarn or "eight stone of gold" for an exceptional perfume. The books do not explain though what a "stone" of gold constitutes. (Marauders of Gor, p.114)(Fighting Slave of Gor, p.218)
Slave rental: To rent a slave for a quarter Ah in Ar costs one copper. (Assassin of Gor, p.156)
Slave manuals: These books on the feeding, care and training of slaves are relatively inexpensive. (Maurauders of Gor, p.144)
Slave boarding: To board a slave costs a copper tarsk a day and training would cost extra. (Tribesman of Gor, p.53)
Branding: It costs a copper tarsk to brand a slave. (Explorers of Gor, p.74) A Metal Worker was given a silver tarsk for two brands and to saw off a metal collar. He was very pleased with the payment. (Beasts of Gor, p.137)
Slave collars: In general, slave collars were not made of precious metals and did not have expensive gems on them. First, few could afford to do that. Second, such items are much more valuable than the slave and would leave her even more tempting to a thief. Some would feel no compunction with killing a slave to steal her bejeweled collar. The few girls that possessed such items were the personal slaves of the wealthy and those girls did not wander around a city unaccompanied.
Slave locker: It costs a tarsk bit to use a slave locker. You put your coin into a machine and receive a key to the locker. You can then leave your slave girl here and lock it. (Magicians of Gor, p.67)
Bath girl: The cost for a bath girl with vary depending on the quality of the bath and the quality of the bath girl. The cost generally ranges from a copper to silver tarsk for their use. (Assassin of Gor, p.160-1)
Camp slaves: These are girls owned by merchants who hold contracts to supply girls to soldiers. They rent the girls to the soldiers for a fixed fee, usually a very nominal amount. (Kajira of Gor, p.193)(Mercenaries of Gor, p.216) This would likely be a copper tarsk or less.
Brothel: The prices of brothels depends on the quality of the place. There are cheap tarsk bit places but also very expensive brothels. A common price would be a copper tarsk, the same amount you would pay at a paga tavern. (Mercenaries of Gor, p.312)(Magicians of Gor, p.154)
Coin girl: These slaves go out into the streets at neck seeking to earn money for their use, generally only a tarsk bit. The money is placed into a small locked box. Satisfaction is guaranteed or you can get your money back from the girl's owner. (Rogue of Gor, p.89-90, 234-5)(Guardsman of Gor, p.143-50, 157-8)
Whip: The basic five-bladed whip will cost one to two copper tarsks. (Magicians of Gor, p.468)
Body chain: A simple body chain will cost a tarsk bit. (Rogue of Gor, p.71-2)
Slave goad: This is similar to a tarn goad but designed for humans. Almost only professional Slavers own these because they are very expensive. It is probably safe to assume their cost is in gold tarns. (Assassin of Gor, p.84-5)
Physician: Little is said about the cost of a Physician's services. There was only reference where a Physician earned a tarsk bit for cleaning, sterilizing and dressing a wound. (Beasts of Gor, p.104)
Sardar Fair: At the Sardar Fairs, the prices of many things are much higher than normal. For example, rental sleeping space at a public tent costs five copper tarsks. Normal cost would likely have been one tarsk. (Beasts of Gor, p.50) The cost for a reserved seat during the Kaissa match of Scormus and Centius cost two gold tarns. (Beasts of Gor, p.82)
Sea Passage: To book passage from Port Kar to Schendi, it cost one silver tarsk and it cost a copper tarsk extra for the keeping and feeding of livestock such as a slave. (Explorers of Gor, p.73, 76)
Barge Passage: To book passage on a barge crossing the Laurius River, it costs one silver tarsk for a free person and a copper for an animal or slave. (Captive of Gor, #7 p.80)
Musicians: A group of musicians each earned a silver tarsks for their performance. (Raiders of Gor, p.117)
Repair: It cost a tarsk bit to repair a door (Beasts of Gor, p.136)
Bride price: A girls' bride price will vary with her family's wealth, their Caste and position. The cost might be in gold, tarns or other valuable items. T he daughter of an Administrator might get 100 tarns while the daughter of a Ubar would get 1000. (Tarnsman of Gor, p.71)
Clothing: Like most things, the price will vary dependent on the quality of the item. Rep-cloth is a very cheap fabric, popular with the Low Castes. (Raiders of Gor, p.11) Silks and fine wools would be much more costly materials.
Energy bulb: These are similar to the light bulbs of Earth but better. They will last for years but they are expensive items so few Goreans can afford them. (Nomads of Gor, p.203-4)
Insula: To rent a room in these tenements commonly costs one tarsk bit a night (Mercenaries of Gor, p.274)
Advertising: In Tor, young boys were paid a copper tarsk for every customer they could convince to come to a café. (Tribesman of Gor, p.45)
Gems: A variety of gems exist on Gor including sereem diamonds (red, sparkling and white flecked), opals (including common opals and flame opals), amethysts, sapphires and rubies. Sereem diamonds appear to be unique to Gor. Opals are rare on Gor than they are on Earth but still are not as valuable as diamonds. No price comparisons are given for these gems. The only matter even close is when Tarl was in the Tahari trading some gems for pressed date bricks.
Items Without Prices: Here are a few common items that have little, if any, price information in the books. At best, we can only try to estimate the potential costs of these items.
Arms and Armor: Despite the prevalence of weapons, shields and helmets in the books, there are no prices for them. Basic items likely cost a few copper tarsks or so, an amount that would be within the reach of the average warrior. A fancier or better made item would obviously cost more maybe up to a few silver.
Ships: These are large items that would be quite valuable. They would obviously cost gold tarns but exactly how many is questionable. Most ships would probably sell for a few hundred gold tarns, depending on the size, quality and type of ship.
Houses: House prices again would vary considerably depending upon if it was a small shack or a tall, fortified cylinder. It would vary from a couple coppers to hundreds of gold tarns.