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Discussing the D&D economy

Jürgen Hubert

First Post
Just a few thoughts about the underlying economy about the D&D monetary system which you might think interesting.

For Urbis, I wanted to tackle something that has bugged me about the standard D&D coins: Why does seemingly every nation in D&D settings have interchangeable gold, silver, and copper coins?

Sure, there are sometimes mentions that certain nations issue coins that deviate from these standards. But in practice, most games just ignore those distinctions and use the standard coins for convenience. So I wanted to come up with a reason that could justify that bit of metagaming.

What I came up with was this spell - a 0-level spell which can detect if gold, silver, and copper coins within the area of effect meet certain minimum standards for purity and weight. This spell was used extensively in an old empire that conquered much of the continent, and even today the spell is in widespread use. This means that if any government wants to mint coins that find acceptance among merchants in the larger trade networks, it has to adhere to these standards as well. And suddenly, the coins really are interchangeable!

However, having a currency that's limited by the available metal the coins are made of can hinder economic growth, and I wanted Urbis to have a booming economy. Thus, I came up with the following solution for additional supplies of currency:

"In much of the Known Lands, currency has been standardized ever since the times of the Atalan Empire - thanks to the Knowing The Coin spell. This spell specifies minimum weight and purity standards for gold, silver, and copper coins, and ensured that even governments separated by large distances minted coins which are basically interchangeable in economic transactions. The amount of money in circulation basically depended on the availability of the metals used for minting the coins, and thus determined the relative wealth of individuals or governments possessing them.

However, with the recent rise of large-scale trade and commerce, and more importantly the establishment of large regional and interregional banking systems, a new form of money has established itself: Bank notes.

Bank notes are issues by large banks and come in a variety of denominations depending on the bank issuing them. These notes can be redeemed at the bank issuing them for a number of gold coins depending on the type of note. Typical denominations are 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 gp, and larger banks offer notes worth 200, 500, or even 1000 gp. Larger denominations are known, but are only printed for special occasions and are practically unique. As far as it is known, bank note with the highest denomination was printed by the Gemeinschaftsbank and was worth 1,000,000 gp - though rumors of even higher denominations persist.

Bank notes are printed showing their denominations, the symbols of the bank issuing them, a signature of the chairman of the bank, and all sorts of artistic details which make the note harder to forge. Each bank uses its own special paper for its notes whose precise production is a closely guarded secret. For the higher denominations, certain enchantments which make the note even harder to copy are woven into the paper as well.

All this combines to make bank notes as well-established as money as regular coins, and in most cases notes are accepted as money in places where the bank issuing them has established itself without any question. Nevertheless, attempts to forge notes are made by enterprising criminals from time to time. The banks alway spend considerable resources to bring these forgers to justice, as it undermines the trust their customers have in the bank.

While the general public is unaware of this, it is no secret in financial circles that most banks tend to issue significantly more notes than they have gold reserves. In the case of the largest and most well-established banks, such as the Gemeinschaftsbank, this can be as much as several times the amount of gold they have in their vaults. Needless to say, this has increased the fortune of the banks by enormous amounts.

This system works as long as most owners of bank notes accept the notes as money instead demanding that they should be exchanged for gold. And indeed, the largest banks have cultivated an image as being utterly trustworthy and dependable that the odds of this happening are very low. Smaller banks must be more careful - if there are too many rumors of fraud, embezzlement, low gold reserves or just a too speedy issuing of new notes, a rush of nervous customers might demand that their notes are exchanged for gold, and if the bank finds itself unable to honor those claims, it will find itself bankrupt and its leaders pursued by the law.

Most banks care careful not to issue too many notes too fast - they know that these notes are only worth something as long as they can cultivate an image for trustworthiness. The oldest banks have become very good at this, and have used their printed money to give credits to many people and organizations, which has been one of the foundations of the current economic growth in many regions.

Some governments have also attempted to issue their own notes, but this has only been met with mixed success. These notes are only worth much in places where the government issuing them holds sway, which in most cases is a far smaller region than those of the larger banks. Furthermore, since governments (unlike banks) can force their citizens to accept these notes as legal tender, they are often tempted to print far more notes than their economy can support, resulting in inflated prices and a black economy where these notes are traded at values vastly below their printed denominations (while "legit" businesses find all sorts of excuses not to use these notes at all).

The largest-scale attempts at government-issued paper currency can be found in the Alliance of the Pantheon and the League of Armach. The trust in these notes are fairly brittle. While most patriotic citizens of the Alliance accept the notes, many observers feel that this won't last long if the Alliance should suffer any military setbacks. The League of Armach, on the other hand, suffers from inflation as the government is eager to print new notes to pay for its military expeditures. It doesn't help that both governments secretly print forged notes of the other nation in order to damage the other one's economy.

Both Narevoreen and the Hobgoblin Dominions also have region-wide systems of paper currency, though such notes are not yet in widespread circulation. The Tsan Empire, on the other hand, has an old and established system of paper currency (in fact, it might be the oldest in the world) - though it is based on units of jade instead of gold."

So, what are your own thoughts on "the gold standard"? How do you justify it in your own settings? And what do you think of the ideas presented above?

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First Post
To flesh out your setting with a monetary subject, you could get a look at Edward Griffin's book: « The creature from Jekyll Island ». Warning: Edward Griffin is a political author, and discussion about politics are forbidden on these forums. However, reading Edward Griffin's theories (whether you believe him or not) would give you, IMO, really great ideas to develop a D&D economy behind which would hide a dark truth... (Some URLs, so you don't need to spend time and money reading a whole book just for some D&D campaign world suggestions : Link #1 / Link #2 ) In fact, to make it short, what he says would fit well with your idea above.


First Post
I got rid of all the currency/numbers/standard, and use abstract systems (aka wealth levels). My reasoning was that

a) it's too much of a bother to manage exact wealth when, after a few levels, the characters can afford all non-magical items anyway, and when I don't have magic shops in my campaign, requiring adventures, or other investments to get a magic item "On order", so I don't gain anything from it anyway


b) it avoids all the pitfalls of the RAW prices for goods and services (which are numerous) and the implications for the economy of the campaign.

It also neatly takes care of the different currencies. I can safely handle those as minor annoyances not worth the trouble to describe in more than one sentence if I feel like it, since no matter if the PCs lose a percentage in changing currencies, it's not a real loss of ressources. And I still can handle it as a roleplay scene or even challenge, if needed for a plot.


serves Gnome Master
For me, currency problems are in the realm of having to tell the Dm that your character goes to sleep during the night, using the lavatory, ordering breakfast, buying shoes (and finding out that no cobbler in town has your size! Shock and horror!) and a slew of other wholeheartedly uninteresting avenues of roleplaying. The extra verisimilitude of currency problems in the setting adds less to the game than the hassle takes out of it.

IMO. :)


Jürgen Hubert said:
So, what are your own thoughts on "the gold standard"?
D&D money is a point-buy system for magic powers. WotC has explicitly stated that it's not meant to simulate real economics. I would hesitate to invest any time in making it do so, as this tends to mess up its primary game function.

EDIT: Jürgen, not trying to be a wanker here. I know from past threads that these sorts of details and verisimilitude are important to you. I'd just opine that they make more sense in a game like GURPS (where money is a setting detail) than they do D&D (where it's a mechanic).

If you need realism in D&D, I'd maybe just think of "gold piece" as an abstract unit of measurement. E.g., 1,000gp is however many coins of gold that equal that market value and weight (for encumbrance purposes). It could be 5, it could be 30,000.
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First Post
So, what are your own thoughts on "the gold standard"?

I'm in the general camp as those that posted before me. It's Dungeons & Dragons after all, not Ducats & Denars. ;)

How do you justify it in your own settings?

I guess I don't. In my own settings I usually just go to an abstract wealth system, since I also give a lot of "non-standard" treasure out like titles, land, animal herds, trade/tax charters and more. This give the characters a base gold wealth. So if Flexor the Mighty received for example the right to some land (which lets assume had peasants and a basic manorial system going on it) it might be worth 400 "gold" wealth to Flexor that he can draw on that depletes as he uses. But resets itself after a certain time period like 6 game months or whatever is appropriate.
However if Flexor comes out of a dungeon with a chest of gold its just treated as a non-regenerating pool of wealth... no questions asked really. It is assumed the wealth is turned into whatever it needs to be as appropriate. ex: gifts of state, rounds of beer at the tavern, new/nicer clothes and accessories, etc.

And what do you think of the ideas presented above?

Well to be honest, and I guess its just different strokes for different folks, but having a system set up like you describe seems like its just "Screw You!" ammunition for a DM. If I told my players, "oh by the way your 1000 gold is worth nothing in this land. You'd need to convert it and do all this other leg work before its good." all I would get is rolled eyes and questions like, "Do I need to tell you when my character poops too?"
But on the other hand, if all your doing is saying your world uses paper money instead of sacks of coin and thats all, well I guess thats cool. A little too modern in my medieval but I can deal with it.
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First Post
An easy solution is to throw in a few coin names and a few additional metals but keep things in sane land.

copper pennies, copper farthings and copper minums
silver pennies, silver shillings, silver nobles and silver guilders
gold guilders, gold royals, gold imperials
bronze pennies, bronze minums, bronze guilders
electrum guilder, electrum royals, electrum nobles, electrum imperials.
platinum dragons, platinum imperials

Keep prices the same (a cp is a cp)
In some places any copper coin has the same value, in others any coin of the same name has the same value regardless of metal. If you are in a place that doesn't use the same type of coin you take it to the money changers who skim off 10% in fees and taxes. to convert to the local coinage or just browbeat locals into using foreign coins.


buzz said:
D&D money is a point-buy system for magic powers.
Right. The fact that the D&D currency is pegged to supernatural ass-kicking ability makes any nuanced discussion of economics a little knotty.


Mod Squad
Staff member
Jürgen Hubert said:
So, what are your own thoughts on "the gold standard"? How do you justify it in your own settings? And what do you think of the ideas presented above?

I justify it as something simple that functions well enough for my game's needs. My players are not generally interested in banking details, or taking time out of our few hours of gaming session doing accounting.

For that very reason, I use the "upkeep" method, rather than track most individual purposes. In this way, I don't usually have to care about the details. If your lifestyle calls for you to spend 100 GP this month, just deduct 100 GP. Sure, in the real world there'd be an explicit currency exchange step, but that isn't terribly fun to play through. In the long run the coinage isn't nearly so important as the value.

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