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Discussing the D&D economy


There's been multinational banks since the middle ages: The Fuggers, later the Medicis. Others whose names I can't recall. It could be done. and huge fortunes could be made. But the bankers always ran the risk of having Kings and Emperors refuse to pay their debts. There's not much a humble ( ;) )banker can do about that. It was this that ruined the Fuggers IIRC.

I'd like to suggest that in an RPG there's the virtual economy and there's the metagame point keeping system. Although both can be called economy they are distinct systems. (Hmm. I say that, but I feel someone will show me how they overlap somewhere, at least sometimes.) The meta game one is mostly a method of keeping score. The virtual one is a narrative tool.

I'd like to put forward an example of how having a virtual economic system can be beneficial to actual play:

In my current campaign I am basing a major plot point on the banking system. In short: Banks are based on dwarven clans, each clan having their own bank. The banks use letters of credit backed up by precious metal. One bank has lent out much more in credit than it has gold to back its promisary notes. (This behaviour works in a modern economy, NOT in a medieval one as in my game.) To make matters worse my BBEG then robbed this bank's vault. Cleaned it out. The bank didn't say a thing as they were scared of a run, total collapse and scandal coming to light. So they went along as if nothing had happened. When the BBEG was caught (alive, unfortunately for all) the bankers were forced to make a deal with the BBEG to get their money back and to keep her silent.

This has left us with a situation where the BBEG is theoretically serving a life sentence doing hard labour but is really now working to subvert the bank and the clan. This BBEG is a cleric of Abbathor and is working from inside to destroy the Dwarven kingdom. She's using her high charisma and cunning argument to convert the leader of the clan to worshipping Abbathor. She is encouraging the continued use of loaning more money than the bank has. ("Don't worry, once you're far enough ahead you can stop and it will all catch up." "Just this one more time." "Abbathor sees nothing wrong here.") And to make things even more fun this is the clan of the PC who just happens to be the one who captured said BBEG and is her particular enemy.

Ah good times!! And all thanks to having a virtual economy.

All this assumes certain controls on money. I haven't spelt them out but I assume: assayers to value coinage, laws to define the amount of metal in coinage and regulate exchange of letters of credit, courts to enforce said laws. I haven't mapped any of this out in detail. I have a rough idea and keep notes of what I do use in play so that I can refer to it later if needed.

I would like to point out that where there's a a spell to determine the actual purity of metal, there'll be spells developed to fake it. There'll always be forgers and coin shavers. It's part of the fun.

On the metagame economy:
I don't keep exact track of how much cash the PCs have, I leave that to the players. A rough guestimate is OK. Nor do I have magic wal-marts. It's a low magic item game. So strict accounting by players and DMs is not necessary. They are rich enough to have virtually any non-magic gear they want. I have tried to use more realistic names, such as saying "silver" instead of "gold" but I, and the players, just fall out of the habit and back into DnD slang. In the end it's just names.

cheers all,

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Jürgen Hubert

First Post
Woas said:
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?"

That actually wasn't my intention - the reach of the largest banks is larger than that of any two nations you'd care to name, and their reputation and trustworthiness is rock-solid. If anything, using bank notes should make things more convenient for the PCs than having to reply on massive amounts of gold.

Sure, if they go "off the beaten track" - into distant regions and small, remote villages - they would have to make sure they have enough locally acceptable currency for their needs. But that's no different than shopping for trail rations in my mind, and since the setting is largely urbanized, it should only rarely be an issue.


First Post
I agree with the idea that the Silver Standard is a good one... until you see how well it worked out for Spain ;). Of course, the layers of paper currency and other monetary means suggested would probably be a bit iffy. What I would suggest? Compacts of Credit.

A Compact of Credit is a document (usually a scroll or similar) that allows investiture of liquid capital (or non-liquid assets which have been liened) into a bank, similar to a standard account. In return, the bank places a notation of the amount of the issuance and two separate Arcane Marks. These marks, acting as steganographic signatures, are the personal marks of two 'bank trustee' mages. These marks are placed over the amount, 'protecting' the underlying amount for erasure (yes, the caster could always cast erase, destroying the two personal marks and causing the note to be void...).

The cost of withdrawal in a location would be the cost of the placement of two Marks plus 1% of the withdrawal. By allowing these 'transaction fees', the banks slowly winnow their actual required returns to a person, making a tidy profit.

Of course, a CoC would be expensive to maintain (a little more than an Everburning Torch for a couple of uses). However, it would give a sense of security that paper money lacks. On larger accounts, the bank may even offer a safeguard Instant Summons with an alerting charm, just in case someone attempts to get frisky and leaves you behind. The protection afforded to each level of need would change, but it nevertheless provides an interesting piece of the puzzle for currency.

Of course, then foreign banks would have to accept your notes . . . just like any other currency. Large noble houses, privatized banking, and government lenders would be your best bet. Perhaps there should also be a way to allow such a document to change hands freely (merchants have an item which is similar to a chop mark block which allows them to arcane mark a document for transfer in a similar way).

Ahh... better living through cantrips.




First Post
A larger quandary than why all countries use the same currency, at least in weight, is why the ratio of worth between the coins is the same. I doubt there is fiat currency in D&D and the money is worth the actual value of the metal in the coins. Why are all metals valued the same from country to country? Why does this worth apparently remain the same throughout the centuries?

Eosin the Red

First Post
"X piece" (gold, silver) is a misnomer in my game. I give the break down of wealth, how the players wish to assign that is entirely within their domain. FREX: I say "the troll lair contains 5,000 gold worth of assorted items and coins." One player may chose to note a 1,000 gold value gem while another may have a fancy looking sword as his 1,000 gp share. The relative value is all that matters to me unless otherwise specified. The last point is worth noting. I'll often throw in unique items or mention non-portable items to see how the party wants to deal with something like a 4 ton bronze statue worth 20,000 gold.

A gp in my game might mean 20 clipped silver pieces or 200 coins from a distant land. The only thing that NEEDS to be tracked is the relative wealth.


I leave the currency alone because I feel that its just another part of the fun that is D&D, and my sense of disbelief can support the universal gold-silver-copper system.

The only thing I'd want to change at some point is actual costs because thats the aspect of economy and cash in D&D that really doesn't work out for my mind.


As DrunkOnDuty pointed out, there were international banking houses in the middle ages. And they issued Letters of Credit, paper money. (In fact, the pound/livre Gold Piece only existed as banking notations until the middle of the 14th century!) I most strongly suggest that anyone interested in this, and many other details of Middle Ages life, read 'A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century' by Barbara Tuchman. Joseph and Francis Gies' 'Life in a Medieval... (Castle, City, etc.)' series is also very good.

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