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Revisiting Labour Issues

by Bruce Heard

In many cases, especially outside the larger towns and cities, feudal builders rely upon local manpower and materials to complete projects. Rural areas generally don't pay taxes in the form of cash since the local economy often does not support cash incomes. As a result, a local lord would instead collect taxes in the form of services (corvee tax) and materials. Only the richer landowners and village middle class (if the setting allows them) end up paying cash taxes rather than services, since the latter would be unmanageable.

As a statistical rule of thumb, assume that each corveable peasant provides about 1 month per year in services, such as construction projects and maintenance. Theoretically, corveable peasants include all able-bodied males in general (ages 12+) and, depending on the setting, females as well, which is about a tenth of the rural population. The construction season is summer (between crops), and winter if the weather is mild enough to allow construction (usually it is in Mystara's southern states - anything south of a line stretching from the Broken Lands to northern Ylaruam. Other taxes are collected in the form of materials, essentially food and locally-available building materials. Everything else needs to be bought with cash at the listed prices and shipped in. Assume the latter cost is part of the price, for the sake of simplicity.

So, how does this all work?

Assuming everything is locally available - rural population provides building materials at the monthly rate of an average 2sp per villager, and 1sp per rural peasant (whatever the taxes are in the setting). So, with a dominion of 1,000 inhabitants, 200 could be villagers and 800 rural peasants. Provided half of that income is used for the construction project itself, the total value of available materials and services comes to 600sp per month (200sp in cash and 400sp in services and materials), or a maximum of 720gp per year. All numbers given here are statistical averages so there is no need to get into the actual number of rural or middle class males, females, children, and elderly as far as taxes are concerned. Apply these 720gp directly against the listed cost of the construction.

The twist is that a working peasant's productivity is limited to 30cp/day compared to the value of the construction. This is an abstract value used to estimate manpower productivity and the rate at which construction can be completed. This abstract value is not a part of construction costs. In this example, provided all corveable peasants are used this could amount to 80 months/year at the rate of 30cp per day, or a total of 576gp/year which allows a day off once a week for worship. In this case, the ability of the rural population to build the project is less than the yearly rate of 720gp at which materials and cash can be made available, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. This otherwise tells the builder that roughly 600gp of tax revenues should be budgeted for the construction project that year, unless additional hands or outside manpower can be brought in to accelerate the project (convicted prisoners, volunteers, women, professionals, etc).

When only urban population is used, all costs are considered cash, especially in the case of a town guild. The ruler of an entire nation can get around this by using the materials available from the rural lands, and then employing local manpower. There should be plenty of poor but willing people to satisfy manpower needs, not to mention peasants sent to the site of a major construction project when available. In this case, they are provided basic room and board while they are working. This is all assumed to be part of the construction costs for the sake of simplicity. In the case of the town guild, it would be fair to pay a surcharge for manual labour, probably in the vicinity of 5cp per day (or 12sp per month), per person employed. This rate needs to be compared to the cost of common consumer goods - I'll take a break here and have a look at what Jeff came up with in that area! :o)