Where Do They Get Their Money, Part One
  • Where Do They Get Their Money, Part One


    Today I want to talk about a subject that is near and dear to adventurers. Yes, we’re talking about money. Money is a medium for exchanges. It is accepted in payment for goods, services and debts. Different cultures handle money and currency differently, however, and what is accepted as currency can change with time, so let’s do a little digging and see what we turn up.

    Photo by Jonathan Brinkhorst on Unsplash

    The typical unit of trade in a D&D game is the GP, or gold piece. 1 gold piece is equal to 10 silver pieces, 1 silver piece is equal to 10 copper pence. This is a nice, regular decimal breakdown of value. Historically systems of coinage are sometimes rather more interesting. For example, the pre-decimal English system was based on a standard that went thus: 4 farthings made up a penny, 12 pennies made up a shilling, and 20 shillings made up a pound. There was also the guinea, a unit of account made up of 21 shillings, and in use even after 1799, when the coin was no longer being struck.

    What does this mean to an enterprising GM? Well, say a party of adventurers finds some ancient platinum coinage in a dungeon, and they bring it back in sacks. Will the cabbage-seller in the market accept coins that he no longer recognizes? Spending your loot can be a bit more difficult if you have to go all the way to a major city to find an assayer and money-changer and get those platinum pieces broken down into spendable coin that tradesmen and burghers will accept.

    What will adventurers say if they find a hoard of shining metal discs in a lost dwarven ruin, and then find out that the coins were minted from zinc, not silver?

    There’s another aspect to coinage that many GMs elide or ignore. Weight. Precious metals are all quite dense. It isn’t so bad if someone’s carrying around a small purse of silver and copper pieces, but an ancient vault of gold pieces might actually require pack animals to transport out of the ruin once the monster-slaying is all said and done. A heist game may have to take that into account as well — how are PCs going to empty out that bank vault full of gold pieces without getting caught? Let’s hope the thieves in question have a bag of holding or portable hole to hand.

    While nitpicking about arrows, rations and coinage can often slow down a game, such a fact may clue PCs in to say, a sophisticated coin forgery operation, or the widespread debasement of currency in the form of clipping and shaving. If the coin’s value is based, after all, on the weight of precious metal it’s made of, then what happens when a coin has been shaved to the point where it’s half its minted weight?

    A campaign could be made out of a group of PCs recruited by the royal treasury to hunt down counterfeiters flooding the market with forged coinage stamped from adulterated alloys or base metals. Or, if the players prefer rather less law-abiding PCs, they could play the forgers instead and risk grisly executions. This installment can’t quite cover the existence of non-metallic money, gift and fiat economies, and paper money, because it’s too much to cover in 600 words. Stay tuned for Part II, where I’ll discuss money that doesn’t come in the form of coinage.

    contributed by M.W. Simmes
    Comments 24 Comments
    1. Morrus's Avatar
      Morrus -
      These seems like a perfect time to mention my Fantasy Coin Genrator:

      http://www.enworld.org/forum/dnd_view_block.php?id=914
    1. AmerginLiath's Avatar
      AmerginLiath -
      A campaign could be made out of a group of PCs recruited by the royal treasury to hunt down counterfeiters flooding the market with forged coinage stamped from adulterated alloys or base metals
      I’m reminded of one of my favorite stories from history, and the one I remain shocked has never been made into a movie or Netflix show. After the establishment of the Bank of England in 1694, the two men put in charge of the recall and recoinage of English coinage were Isaac Newton and John Locke — one a man obsessed with pure metals and alchemy, the other a “hard money” anti-mercantilist, both major intellects of their age. There were rumors of the agents collecting coins for the Bank shaving the money and using official scales that were off-tare when delivering counts. To test this, Newton himself was alleged to go around the countryside in disguise from tavern to tavern, weighing coins and tabulating their weight on a private scale to counter these thieves. Imagine your world’s favorite wizards in Newton’s and Locke’s place and the party having to decide on which side to act with ancient currency pulled up from dragon hoards — do they play fair with the king’s might agents or try to outsmart the smartest in the land if it means getting rich?
    1. Riley37's Avatar
      Riley37 -
      Your thread title says money. Your first post is about coinage. Are you familiar with the distinctions between money and currency, and between currency and coinage?
    1. aramis erak's Avatar
      aramis erak -
      The traditional coinage of late medieval England (Reign of Richard II) was a silver penny,
      22.5 grains mass (~1.458 grams).

      a hundred years later, it was a 12 or 15 grain penny...

      and while in both, the units of account were still £sd, the actual coins in use in the mid 1400's were typically the penny, groat (4d, 48 grain, silver), half-noble (3s 4d, 54 grains, gold) and noble (6s 8d, 108 grains, gold)... the gold was HEAVILY debased. Usually with copper, tin, and zinc. So, the half-noble, at 40s worth was 1.35 grains per pence, while the silver was nominally 12 grains per pence (but 15 grains per pence in the larger minted form, presumably of lower purity)... 8:1 to 12:1 ratio... a gold penny in debased gold is roughly worth a shilling.
      The Mark was two Nobles - 2/3 of a tower pound of silver.

      Many of the coins don't make much sense to modern eyes - but think in fractions. a noble is 80d... 1/3 of a pound. Half-noble 1/6 of a pound, 40d. groats were a 10th of a half-noble, or 1/3 of a shilling. And foreign gold pennies were roughly a shilling, too...

      Decimal gold to silver is within the realm of plausible for medieval. Copper, however... copper was worth about 1/70 of silver. Almost worthless - fiat currencies. Farthings were big coins, and worth 1/4 the much smaller penny. Eventually, debasement lead to silver-bronze pennies... then to copper as fiat took over.

      http://www.moneyandmedals.org.uk/dow...al%20coins.pdf
      http://www.r3.org/on-line-library-te...eenth-century/
      https://www.history.ac.uk/richardII/coinage.html
    1. Cergorach's Avatar
      Cergorach -
      Quote Originally Posted by aramis erak View Post
      The traditional coinage of late medieval England (Reign of Richard II) was a silver penny,
      22.5 grains mass (~1.458 grams).

      a hundred years later, it was a 12 or 15 grain penny...
      If that's the case in other worlds, old coins in fantasy settings might actually be significantly worth more then the current coins the adventurers use...

      Adventurers could be approached by the local coin collector, a merchant or a gold smith when they return with an ancient horde. They might even be hired by one to find that horde...
    1. Koloth's Avatar
      Koloth -
      What most players and GMs forget, is in most medieval economies, basic goods tended to use the lowest forms of coinage. The cabbage dealer mentioned in the article is very unlikely to have enough change to break a Platinum piece, new or old, since having that much on hand would make him a lucrative theft target. Questionable that he could break a Gold piece. A major establishment like an Inn might be able to break a Platinum as they could keep a safe in house that would at least slow down those pesky thieves.

      The typical thing of hauling a wagon full of weapons, armor and other assorted dungeon loot into a town and getting it easily converted to coinage is the real fantasy.
    1. aramis erak's Avatar
      aramis erak -
      Quote Originally Posted by Koloth View Post
      What most players and GMs forget, is in most medieval economies, basic goods tended to use the lowest forms of coinage. The cabbage dealer mentioned in the article is very unlikely to have enough change to break a Platinum piece, new or old, since having that much on hand would make him a lucrative theft target. Questionable that he could break a Gold piece. A major establishment like an Inn might be able to break a Platinum as they could keep a safe in house that would at least slow down those pesky thieves.

      The typical thing of hauling a wagon full of weapons, armor and other assorted dungeon loot into a town and getting it easily converted to coinage is the real fantasy.
      Having a PP would probably get him arrested as a thief.

      Silver-bronze coins would be the next step below silver, either 8ths, 10ths or 12ths, depending upon local math standards.

      Jackson Crawford (PhD, professor of old norse) has mentioned in a video that Old Norse math was not exclusively decimal - a hundred was 12 tens, not 10 tens.

      Many systems alternate 2 then 3, others 4 then 3. Some, like the £sd system, are inconsistent.
    1. jasper's Avatar
      jasper -
      I prefer the decimal system. But if the players buy in on a different system my old copper nose will be okay. Somewhere here maybe one or two of my coining/moneyer articles. If not, sing out and I will try to repost them.
    1. emssmiley2002's Avatar
      emssmiley2002 -
      I use Orbis Mundi 2, Its a really good book on Medieval life. I stole the first paragraph and pasted it below.

      Orbis Mundi 2 is a massive expansion of the information presented in the first edition and is intended to provide Game Masters and Players with a better understanding of key aspects of Medieval life – with more accurate and more up-to-date information based on deeper research than most RPG designers carry out.

      OM2 also has a extensive chapter on the economies of Europe at the time.

      http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/.../Orbis-Mundi-2
    1. Shasarak's Avatar
      Shasarak -
      Quote Originally Posted by M.W. Simmes View Post
      The typical unit of trade in a D&D game is the GP, or gold piece. 1 gold piece is equal to 10 silver pieces, 1 silver piece is equal to 10 copper pence. This is a nice, regular decimal breakdown of value. Historically systems of coinage are sometimes rather more interesting. For example, the pre-decimal English system was based on a standard that went thus: 4 farthings made up a penny, 12 pennies made up a shilling, and 20 shillings made up a pound. There was also the guinea, a unit of account made up of 21 shillings, and in use even after 1799, when the coin was no longer being struck.
      I love money and economics in my DnD and this is taking it a bit too far for my tastes. I find that once you go metric you just can not go back to nonsense measurements.

      Quote Originally Posted by Riley37 View Post
      Your thread title says money. Your first post is about coinage. Are you familiar with the distinctions between money and currency, and between currency and coinage?
      Come on, dont leave us hanging. Do you mean Currency as circulating money supply or is it a term for Fiat (fake) money?
    1. Xavian Starsider's Avatar
      Xavian Starsider -
      Personally, I don't think the cabbage seller would accept platinum coins he DOES recognize either unless you are buying a LOT of cabbage. That's like buying a box of Kraft mac with a $1000 bill
    1. R_Chance's Avatar
      R_Chance -
      Quote Originally Posted by emssmiley2002 View Post
      I use Orbis Mundi 2, Its a really good book on Medieval life. I stole the first paragraph and pasted it below.

      Orbis Mundi 2 is a massive expansion of the information presented in the first edition and is intended to provide Game Masters and Players with a better understanding of key aspects of Medieval life – with more accurate and more up-to-date information based on deeper research than most RPG designers carry out.

      OM2 also has a extensive chapter on the economies of Europe at the time.

      http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/.../Orbis-Mundi-2
      Or you can go with Expeditious Retreat Press "Magical Medieval Society: Western Europe". They also have one on the Silk Road to go further afield. They are available on DTRPG as well. They do a good job of assessing the impact of magic on all aspects of a society in MMS and spend a lot of time on economics. They do a thorough examination of trade and trade routes in "A Magical Society: Silk Road". The original Magical Medieval Society came out during the 3.x days, it's currently on it's 3rd edition iirc. It's good stuff; sitting next to stacks of history books on the period in my house.

      On coins and coinage having a specific range of coins, current and "historical" can help give a setting a bit of verisimilitude. Different coinages and metals can be used by different races and societies as well as long gone empires. Don't forget unusual metals; orichalcum (a gold and copper alloy in my game; uncertain historically), electrum (a gold and silver alloy), come to mind as well as purely fictional metals such as Mithril and Adamantite. Platinum makes a good ancient coinage as well. Who could mint coins (royals, nobles or merchant guilds) was important (and what types they could), merchants made trade coins if there was a monetary shortage (mine are square and have a hole in the middle so they can be strung on a line). There is a lot of flavor in coinage and, as pointed out above, some adventure possibilities as well. If you don't want too much variation make some coinages rare (and possibly more valuable to collectors) and have some ancient historical empire that established the size / weight and general types of coinage. I did. Add in letters of credit and a primitive banking system and it gets interesting. Along with counterfeiting, shaving / clipping, drilling and magical means of protecting / abusing the system. Let the good times roll.

      Besides, you've never seen a players face when he finds out later he spent that rare ancient coin on a tankard of beer. Priceless

      *edit* As an example of world building based on coinage, the Elves refuse to use copper coins (invented by Dwarves because exact change is a thing) and the Elves and Dwarves still argue about it...
    1. R_Chance's Avatar
      R_Chance -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shasarak View Post
      I love money and economics in my DnD and this is taking it a bit too far for my tastes. I find that once you go metric you just can not go back to nonsense measurements.
      Come on, dont leave us hanging. Do you mean Currency as circulating money supply or is it a term for Fiat (fake) money?
      Come on! Decimal money is so... mundane. I went with a 12 -12-12 ratio, 12 copper = 1 silver, 12 silver = one gold. Throw in half pennies (2 = 1 copper) and some odd coin types and it's a glorious, muddled, mess I also made silver (the silver schilling) the standard currency, to make copper useful (for change) and gold useful (as a store of value with a good weight - value ratio).
    1. Shasarak's Avatar
      Shasarak -
      Quote Originally Posted by R_Chance View Post
      I also made silver (the silver schilling) the standard currency, to make copper useful (for change) and gold useful (as a store of value with a good weight - value ratio).
      Yes! The silver standard is much more logical. I also tried this for a time but finally gave up in the end because every source book and adventure was written using GP. I was confusing myself and my players.
    1. R_Chance's Avatar
      R_Chance -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shasarak View Post
      Yes! The silver standard is much more logical. I also tried this for a time but finally gave up in the end because every source book and adventure was written using GP. I was confusing myself and my players.
      I stuck with it; I'm stubborn I got tired of gold being common and copper / silver being viewed as worthless. It had the bonus of pushing gems back to rare objects of value rather than travel money as well. I have my own sand box setting and do my own adventures. That makes it easier to do; no conversions needed.
    1. Jhaelen -
      Quote Originally Posted by R_Chance View Post
      Come on! Decimal money is so... mundane. I went with a 12 -12-12 ratio, 12 copper = 1 silver, 12 silver = one gold.
      Yeah, but how does it improve the game?
      I think, it would quickly get old having to use a calculator when going shopping. Even the Ars Magica RPG which is otherwise very accurate in presenting an authentic medieval setting gets rid of weird exchange rates to improve gameplay.

      Besides, if you want to be _really_ accurate, then there's no fixed exchange rates, anyway. There'll be plenty of barons, dukes, and whatever who have permission to mint their own coins. And theses coins will all be different in weight, purity, etc. Also, the 'cabbage seller' mentioned above will probably not accept any coins. He'll expect to barter cabbages for some other goods or services he currently needs.
    1. R_Chance's Avatar
      R_Chance -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jhaelen View Post
      Yeah, but how does it improve the game?
      I think, it would quickly get old having to use a calculator when going shopping. Even the Ars Magica RPG which is otherwise very accurate in presenting an authentic medieval setting gets rid of weird exchange rates to improve gameplay.

      Besides, if you want to be _really_ accurate, then there's no fixed exchange rates, anyway. There'll be plenty of barons, dukes, and whatever who have permission to mint their own coins. And theses coins will all be different in weight, purity, etc. Also, the 'cabbage seller' mentioned above will probably not accept any coins. He'll expect to barter cabbages for some other goods or services he currently needs.
      Weird as it seems after about 40 years the math is easy It's flavor really. Just another small thing that separates the game setting from mundane life. There are tons of cultural and social variations that are part of the setting too. Feudalism, for one. In a world where people have levels and monsters exist feudalism seems a good bet. Of course you could just set it in a modern society with a modern government. How does feudalism "improve the game"? That's a big detail, but a world is made up of a those noticeable things and a myriad little details.

      As for coin weights, exchange rates, purity and so on, the ancient Elvish Empire (Elvinesse) in my setting established the standards to which lesser peoples living among the ruins merely attempt to meet Ancient coinage, still in use, is the standard against which newer coinage is measured. And yes, depending on the area minting coins may be restricted (to the royal mint), common among the nobility, or done by merchant guilds. Different coins may vary in purity , value etc. Details like that help build the world. In any event, exchange rates, along with many other things, are often traditional and if there is variation that's fine too. Barter is common in the country side but money eases trade (at all levels) in towns and cities. Specialization requires money to function smoothly and those in power want a coinage that allows trade and commerce to flourish. Unless, of course, your trying to sabotage another countries economy (it's been tried in my game).
    1. rmcoen's Avatar
      rmcoen -
      One of my more "gritty details" campaigns definitely did the coinage variation. The current human kingdom used the PHB standards. The dwarves used square coins of differing sizes and metals. The elves did the circles-with-holes style, so their wealth could double as jewlery and music; they used some alternate materials for "money" as well, purely for the musical value when clinking against the metal coins. And then there were the "ancient human" coins found in long-lost dungeons and so on.

      All of these could be spent in Ye Olde Village for their apparent value, despite antiquity or size. Most were worth the trip to a moneychanger in at least a provincial capital, though, to get actual metal-weight value. The truly rare were worth far more in the appropriate racial towns, or the human capital.

      I even added in, from the collectors of such things, the concept of sets. A "full string" of elven money was worth 10% to 50% more than the total of the individual coins, for the musical benefits, for example. A "box" of dwarven coins was worth more, along the same lines, if the maker's mark matched...


      It was a lot of work for me, and some bookkeeping work for the players, but it was well received. They liked "paid to guard caravan = standard coins; loot from yuan-ti temple in southern jungle = don't spend it, find collector!".
    1. Vanveen's Avatar
      Vanveen -
      Money in D and D has always been a problem. Most of it was hand-waved in very early editions of the game and never fixed. Gygax based wealth on Conan and Fafhrd/Grey Mouser, in which fortunes were (improbably) "lost in a twinkling." This makes great pulp fiction (and is the basis for every three-camera sitcom script: well, I guess Uncle Norm is no longer a rock star!) but is terrible for continuity. You just *can't do it* in even a barely realistic Medieval European setting. Gygax also said that there was a lot of treasure dumped into a one-horse town, and that's all she wrote. (The treasure was from Greyhawk Castle and the O-HT was of course Greyhawk.)

      I'm not even going to get into how much gold you'd need to have a pile that a dragon could lounge on. (In the latest Hobbit movie? Literally *billions* of GP. In a non-fiat world...even if that was in *iron* it would still exceed the total historical output of every civilization on the fantasy planet.) Given all this, the literal impossibility of platinum in a fantasy setting is a minor quibble. (The Romans made electrum; platinum comes from the River Plata in South America and was not discovered until the 18th century.)

      The joy and frustration of serious gaming is that RPG systems are like trying to nail a pillow to the wall. You can finally nail one thing for good--but the rest bulges out all over.
    1. rmcoen's Avatar
      rmcoen -
      Excellent point. Dragonlance tried an alternate system as well, with "steel pieces" - steel was rare, and a longsword was literally worth its weight in steel, the very steel that would be smelted to make the blade (plus the smith's time, as a sword is not actually all steel). A dragon's hoard -- and, similarly, the wealth of a mid- to high-level adventurer -- makes all other economies irrelevant. However, I try to liken that to the difference between "real people" and "rich people".... real people spend $2 to $10 on lunch, worry about the $50 it takes to put gas in the tank, and get excited about winning a car on Wheel of Fortune ($38k). Rich people drop $250k on a car, a million on a yacht, and think nothing about $1000-a-plate fundraisers. Two different economies clearly going on there....
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