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I actually asked a friend recently what she would like to see next here in the blog, and she, with barely a moment’s hesitation, said “Money.”  No kidding, I would like to see some money in the blog too…

All jokes aside, she elaborated that she would like to see a post about monetary systems, exchange rates, and the like, and how you don’t have to follow the D&D standard, or any game standard.  So, I got down to business, researching some history of coinage in the past.

I understand the D&D system uses a nice, neat, perfect decimal system for coinage.  10 copper pieces to a silver piece.  10 silver pieces to a gold piece.  100 gold pieces to a platinum piece.  100 platinum pieces to an astral diamond.  It’s nice, it’s neat, and it’s compact and easily translated.  But it’s also kind of boring.  One of the first things you should really consider is naming the denominations.

How fun is it to get paid 100 gold pieces as a reward for saving the Baron’s caravan from marauding orcs?  Wouldn’t it be more fun to, say, get a reward of 100 gold Solars, or even 100 gold Orbs?  Exactly, so think of renaming the coins.  They’re not just silver pieces, they’re Nobles, or Moons, or how about Signets?  A copper piece?  Bah!   It’s so much more fun to call them Foxes or Gideons.  This is, after all, a game about creativity.

Now, to something I have always despised: the standard of wealth.  D&D, the progenitor game of them all, set the standard of wealth as the gold piece.  It is what we have all sought in the game, that almighty golden coin which will buy for us that new armor, spiffy sword, or even the meals at the tavern, and maybe a wench to help warm our bed at night.  Here’s my problem: if gold is so valuable… WHY THE HELL ARE WE RUNNING AROUND WITH IT ALL THE GODDAMN TIME?!  Seriously, gang!  It makes no logical sense what so ever.

Upon research (yes, surprisingly, I do research for this column!), I found that the standard I had used for years in my games was the one used and codified by Charlemagne: the silver standard.  While silver was a valuable, but more common metal, it actually had been the standard since King Cyges of Lydia coined the first silver stater during his reign from 680-652 BC.  Gold was considered so valuable, that the average citizen never saw a gold coin in their life.  The gold coinage was either hoarded, or used to pay soldiers.  In fact the word soldier comes from the fact they were paid with gold solidi.

Charlemagne standardized an exchange rate that is referred to as the LSD exchange.  LSD stands for libra, solidus, denarius, or the Latin terms for the coin denominations.  The denarius was the base measurement, a small silver coin.  In other lands it took on other names like the French denier, the German Pfennig, and the English penny. The next denomination of coin was the solidus (French sol German Groschen, English shilling), a gold coin worth 12 denarii.  It was of the same weight as the denarius, setting the weight ratio of silver to gold at 12:1, meaning 12 ounces of silver were worth 1 ounce of gold.  There was one higher denomination of coin, called the libra (French livre, German Pfund, English Pound).  Each libra was worth 20 solidi, or 240 denarii.

So, what you can see is that before decimalization (which the Crusades and those wild and crazy heathens the Muslims gave us, along with medicine that worked and the number zero), exchange rates on the standard weren’t a nice neat system of multiples of ten.  It was messy.  It was fun.  And if you had a gold coin, even if it wasn’t worth more than 12 of the silver ones you had in your coin purse, you had prestige… after all, it was damn likely that no one had ever held one, possibly even seen one.  There’s something else… realize that this is the system Charlemagne set, during the Holy Roman Empire.  Before this, coin values were all over the damned place.

So, let’s instead mix things up a bit.  With just a little bit of work, it’s not hard to convert prices.  And since you are the GM doing this, it’s rather incumbent on you to do this for your players.  What you have to decide first is what system you are going to use.  For sake of explanation, we’ll design a quick one here.

First of all, you have to come up with some idea of the theme behind the names of your coins.  I am going to call up some bits from the campaign setting I am working on, and make a new coinage system for it.  All of the coins will be based on the general symbols of some of the main gods of the pantheon.  First of all, let’s name the highest denomination.  We’ll use the symbol of the god of civilization, and call the platinum coins Gauntlets.  Moving down the scale, we get to a gold coin.  We’ll call them Librams, after the god of knowledge and magic.  We’ll revive a classic here, the electrum coin, which is an alloy of gold and silver, and name them Ravens, after the god of death, the dead and wealth.  Next should be the baseline coin, the silver one.  We will name it after the symbol of the god of bravery and smithcraft, a Hammer.  For the hell of it, let’s make two more denominations.  We’ll do a copper coin and model it after the goddess of the wilds’ symbol, the Crescent.  And finally, let’s make a bronze coin, and name it after the symbol of the god of mischief and freedom, Masks.

So what we have is this:

Gauntlets > Librams > Ravens > Hammers> Crescents > Masks

Next we have to decide on how the denominations exchange within the system.  Remember, Hammers are the standard, and we have to move in both directions.  So, going completely off the cuff, I came up with this:

1 Gauntlet = 500 Librams = 1,000 Ravens = 10,000 Hammers = 400,000 Crescents = 2,000,000 Masks

We have to compare this now to the Fourth Edition standard, as we have to really come up with the correlation between the two.

1 Astral Diamond = 100 Platinum Pieces = 10,000 Gold Pieces = 100,000 Silver Pieces = 1.000.000 Copper Pieces

Putting these two together, we get the following correlations:

1 Gold Piece = 1 Hammer.  1 Platinum Piece = 10 Ravens.  1 Silver Piece = 4 Crescents = 20 Masks.

1 Copper Piece = 2 Masks.  1 Astral Diamond = 1 Gauntlet.

And there you have the correlations.  Now, take the time to make up a list of some of the basic stuff your characters are going to want in the new standard.  Voila!

One other thing I want to talk about is this: ancient coins can be worth more or less when found as treasure.  Think about it.  If I brought a 300 year old silver coin from Germany to spend in a market place… it wouldn’t be worth a damned thing.  But if I took it to a University or collector, then you have a different story entirely.  You may actually get a hell of a lot more money for it.  The same should go in games.

If you would bring an ancient gold coin from a lost kingdom back, the blacksmith is going to look at you oddly when you try to pay with it.  He may even decline it.  Or worse, he may just take it, weight for the gold, and then give the equivalent amount of credit.  But if you bring it back and head on in to say, the local Mage Guild chapterhouse, you could find out that it is a coin of Ancient Dumarast, and they may offer to pay you rather handsomely for it, making it worth far more than just 1 gold coin.

This is pointed at both GMs and Players.  This is a chance for plot development, roleplaying and general mischief.  What if the coins of Lost Mischalmere are all thought to carry a curse on them?  Any citizen seeing the mark they have been told to fear since childhood will probably shun the PCs, run them out of town, or even execute them!  Just because it is made of gold doesn’t mean it is as valuable as the gold coins of the rest of civilization.

There is one other thing to consider: not all wealth is coinage.  Bars of precious metals, gems, trade goods like furs or wine, ancient books and scrolls, art pieces… you see where this is going?  Stop thinking of it as just piles and piles of coins; start thinking of it as ways to really get creative.  For instance… how the flying Hell are the PCs going to get a marble statue of the ancient King Haribald the Magnificent out of the dragon’s cave?  The thing is 10 feet tall, and on a 5 foot by 5 foot pedestal, and solid marble!

Let’s hear some ways you have used money in your game that defies the conventions.

Oh, and while we are here, I wanted to mention one other thing.  The guys over at Gnome Stew recently put up a GREAT article on characters entitled “That Cool Thing Your Character Does” Good stuff that dovetails nicely with my previous articles on character creation.  Enjoy it!

What do you think?

I actually asked a friend recently what she would like to see next here in the blog, and she, with barely a moment’s hesitation, said “Money.”  No kidding, I would like to see some money in the blog too…

All jokes aside, she elaborated that she would like to see a post about monetary systems, exchange rates, and the like, and how you don’t have to follow the D&D standard, or any game standard.  So, I got down to business, researching some history of coinage in the past.

I understand the D&D system uses a nice, neat, perfect decimal system for coinage.  10 copper pieces to a silver piece.  10 silver pieces to a gold piece.  100 gold pieces to a platinum piece.  100 platinum pieces to an astral diamond.  It’s nice, it’s neat, and it’s compact and easily translated.  But it’s also kind of boring.  One of the first things you should really consider is naming the denominations.

How fun is it to get paid 100 gold pieces as a reward for saving the Baron’s caravan from marauding orcs?  Wouldn’t it be more fun to, say, get a reward of 100 gold Solars, or even 100 gold Orbs?  Exactly, so think of renaming the coins.  They’re not just silver pieces, they’re Nobles, or Moons, or how about Signets?  A copper piece?  Bah!   It’s so much more fun to call them Foxes or Gideons.  This is, after all, a game about creativity.

Now, to something I have always despised: the standard of wealth.  D&D, the progenitor game of them all, set the standard of wealth as the gold piece.  It is what we have all sought in the game, that almighty golden coin which will buy for us that new armor, spiffy sword, or even the meals at the tavern, and maybe a wench to help warm our bed at night.  Here’s my problem: if gold is so valuable… WHY THE HELL ARE WE RUNNING AROUND WITH IT ALL THE GODDAMN TIME?!  Seriously, gang!  It makes no logical sense what so ever.

Upon research (yes, surprisingly, I do research for this column!), I found that the standard I had used for years in my games was the one used and codified by Charlemagne: the silver standard.  While silver was a valuable, but more common metal, it actually had been the standard since King Cyges of Lydia coined the first silver stater during his reign from 680-652 BC.  Gold was considered so valuable, that the average citizen never saw a gold coin in their life.  The gold coinage was either hoarded, or used to pay soldiers.  In fact the word soldier comes from the fact they were paid with gold solidi.

Charlemagne standardized an exchange rate that is referred to as the LSD exchange.  LSD stands for libra, solidus, denarius, or the Latin terms for the coin denominations.  The denarius was the base measurement, a small silver coin.  In other lands it took on other names like the French denier, the German Pfennig, and the English penny. The next denomination of coin was the solidus (French sol German Groschen, English shilling), a gold coin worth 12 denarii.  It was of the same weight as the denarius, setting the weight ratio of silver to gold at 12:1, meaning 12 ounces of silver were worth 1 ounce of gold.  There was one higher denomination of coin, called the libra (French livre, German Pfund, English Pound).  Each libra was worth 20 solidi, or 240 denarii.

So, what you can see is that before decimalization (which the Crusades and those crazy heathens the Muslims gave us), exchange rates on the standard weren’t a nice neat system of multiples of ten.  It was messy.  It was fun.  And if you had a gold coin, even if it wasn’t worth more than 12 of the silver ones you had in your coin purse, you had prestige… after all, it was damn likely that no one had ever held one, possibly even seen one.  There’s something else… realize that this is the system Charlemagne set, during the Holy Roman Empire.  Before this, coin values were all over the damned place.

So, let’s instead mix things up a bit.  With just a little bit of work, it’s not hard to convert prices.  And since you are the GM doing this, it’s rather incumbent on you to do this for your players.  What you have to decide first is what system you are going to use.  For sake of explanation, we’ll design a quick one here.

First of all, you have to come up with some idea of the theme behind the names of your coins.  I am going to call up some bits from the campaign setting I am working on, and make a new coinage system for it.  All of the coins will be based on the general symbols of some of the main gods of the pantheon.  First of all, let’s name the highest denomination.  We’ll use the symbol of the god of civilization, and call the platinum coins Gauntlets.  Moving down the scale, we get to a gold coin.  We’ll call them Librams, after the god of knowledge and magic.  We’ll revive a classic here, the electrum coin, which is an alloy of gold and silver, and name them Ravens, after the god of death, the dead and wealth.  Next should be the baseline coin, the silver one.  We will name it after the symbol of the god of bravery and smithcraft, a Hammer.  For the hell of it, let’s make two more denominations.  We’ll do a copper coin and model it after the goddess of the wilds’ symbol, the Crescent.  And finally, let’s make a bronze coin, and name it after the symbol of the god of mischief and freedom, Masks.

So what we have is this:

Gauntlets > Librams > Ravens > Hammers> Crescents > Masks

Next we have to decide on how the denominations exchange within the system.  Remember, Hammers are the standard, and we have to move in both directions.  So, going completely off the cuff, I came up with this:

1 Gauntlet = 500 Librams = 1,000 Ravens = 10,000 Hammers = 400,000 Crescents = 2,000,000 Masks

We have to compare this now to the Fourth Edition standard, as we have to really come up with the correlation between the two.

1 Astral Diamond = 100 Platinum Pieces = 10,000 Gold Pieces = 100,000 Silver Pieces = 1.000.000 Copper Pieces

Putting these two together, we get the following correlations:

1 Gold Piece = 1 Hammer.  1 Platinum Piece = 10 Ravens.  1 Silver Piece = 4 Crescents = 20 Masks.

1 Copper Piece = 2 Masks.  1 Astral Diamond = 1 Gauntlet.

And there you have the correlations.  Now, take the time to make up a list of some of the basic stuff your characters are going to want in the new standard.  Voila!

One other thing I want to talk about is this: ancient coins can be worth more or less when found as treasure.  Think about it.  If I brought a 300 year old silver coin from Germany to spend in a market place… it wouldn’t be worth a damned thing.  But if I took it to a University or collector, then you have a different story entirely.  You may actually get a hell of a lot more money for it.  The same should go in games.

If you would bring an ancient gold coin from a lost kingdom back, the blacksmith is going to look at you oddly when you try to pay with it.  He may even decline it.  Or worse, he may just take it, weight for the gold, and then give the equivalent amount of credit.  But if you bring it back and head on in to say, the local Mage Guild chapterhouse, you could find out that it is a coin of Ancient Dumarast, and they may offer to pay you rather handsomely for it, making it worth far more than just 1 gold coin.

This is pointed at both GMs and Players.  This is a chance for plot development, roleplaying and general mischief.  What if the coins of Lost Mischalmere are all thought to carry a curse on them?  Any citizen seeing the mark they have been told to fear since childhood will probably be shunned, ran out of town, or even executed!  Just because it is made of gold doesn’t mean it is as valuable as the gold coins of the rest of civilization.

There is one other thing to consider: not all wealth is coinage.  Bars of precious metals, gems, trade goods like furs or wine, ancient books and scrolls, art pieces… you see where this is going?  Stop thinking of it as just piles and piles of coins; start thinking of it as ways to really get creative.  For instance… how the flying Hell are the PCs going to get a marble statue of the ancient King Haribald the Magnificent out of the dragon’s cave?  The thing is 10 feet tall, and on a 5 foot by 5 foot pedestal, and solid marble!

Let’s hear some ways you have used money in your game that defies the conventions.

Oh, and while we are here, I wanted to say that the guys over at Gnome Stew have a great article up right now entitled: “That Cool Thing Your Character Does” which dovetails nicely with the post I made on memorable characters: “Making Interesting Characters, or What Was Your Name Again?”  Good stuff!

What do you think?

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3 Comments

  1. We’re all about dovetailing. I mean, we can dovetail like nobody’s business. Mmmmmm, dovetailing. 😉

    I’ve always enjoyed tinkering with money in my D&D games, even though the payoff is mainly for me — my players rarely care.

  2. it’s fun, as a DM, to build these sorts of schemes, but the players still write “100 gp” on their character sheet. because fiddling with coins isn’t creation or immersion to them, its more like homework or taxes. blessed art thou, if thy players actually get into it, though.

    so, brokenhearted, i use the standard D&D coin system as a useful abstraction, just like hit points. not all 8hp wounds are the same, just as not all gold coins are the same, but GET ON WITH IT. i only break out exotic names when its actually relevant to the plot. “you search through the assassin’s purse, and find several gold guilders, the coinage of the country across the sea, the sworn enemy of florin.”

  3. I’ve always felt a similar draw to monetary systems, and my friends still talk admiringly about the system I devised for a game back in the 80s (playing 1st Edition AD&D) was largely based on the what-seemed-to-me-then Byzantine complexity of the English money system. So there were seven coins, divided into two separate “tracks,” one base 3 and the other base 2. Each coin had an official name and a common “street” name. Silver was the standard material for the coins, but there were different denominations and sizes of silver coins. So the players (and I!) had to learn the names of the coins and their rough relative value, rather than relying on identifying the metal from which the coin was stamped. We don’t recognize our coins today based on the metals used to make them; we identify them by their shape, their size, and the images stamped upon their faces.

    I also eschewed using the standard price guides for equipment, thinking that if I revised the money and didn’t change the way the market works, then all I’d have been doing was forcing the players to do arithmetic for no good reason. Exchange rates – and prices – will vary depending on the place and person you approach. Interest for the players can be developed by their interviewing NPCs and trying to get the person to settle on a given price, and THEN the players have to go off and produce that much money (if they don’t have it saved up already). Commodities like furs, cloth, jewelry, books should nearly always be necessary, because mountainous piles of coins should be preposterously difficult to move. How many pennies can a person carry? Get to a thousand and that’s already quite burdensome, both for volume and weight. Commodities are much easier to move and harder to have stolen from the players, even if that doesn’t make all commodities easy to move (such as the statue you mentioned).


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