Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Modernisms in Fantasy Gaming III: Banking

Here is another "modernism" that can trip people up in fantasy games.


Banking is a technology; a social technology, but a technology nonetheless. It depends on some concepts of money that grow as technology grows, and rely on a lot of social constructs that developed relatively recently in human history.

Essentially, what I see is players having trouble with banks that don't do all of these three things:

- guarantee deposits;

- pay interest;

- hold items in safety deposit boxes.

Coming from a place of safety deposit boxes, FDIC insured deposits, and banks paying interest to get you to keep moneyt with them (so they can loan it out at a proft) it's tough going to a world where:

- banks could lose all of your money and it's just gone;

- banks pay nothing to keep your money, and may in fact charge you to do so;

- don't hold items in safety deposit boxes for you.

I've cheerfully put in modern banks in games, but it's actually not something you could rely on existing in most time periods. Expecting banks to act in the interests of their customers and be reliable, safe, and money-making for the depositors and getting something quite the opposite can really throw off players trying to manage their money.

Similarly, lack of investment structures and ways to guarantee a lack of loss to your money can confound players . . . but that's a realistic problem for cash-wealthy folks in any era, and PCs often qualify.

Next time: Freely exchanged currency!


  1. You know I don't think I've ever had a bank in a game I ran. I think I just assumed people left their spare money in the inn like a hotel safe or something? Actually I don't ever think I thought if it period

  2. I've thought an awful lot about it in some games (enough that I learned about old timey exchange rates, how letters of credit worked, venture underwriting worked, promissory notes, etc)... but for DF? Don't care. Whether they tuck their money under their straw mattress or deposit it in a bank, it's safe.

  3. This is more a problem for traditional campaign play and less for megadungeon play. One of the core precepts of most megadungeon setups which Felltower accepts is that town is a nebulous safe space. Your money won't be stolen; you don't have to figure out how to store it safely and protect it while you are gone. On the other hand most campaigns seek a fairly high level of detail in all areas so players my interact with the environment whether it be the dungeon, the wilderness, or the town. In those games, where thieves abound and lust for your hard-liberated wealth if you flaunt it or fail to take steps to protect it, the GM is often asked or expected to provide modern banking luxuries. Personally I've seen lots of these in games but never have I seen fantasy banks provide interest and players didn't throw fits. In fact typically I see fantasy banks charge a fee to keep goods absolutely safe and players gripe about how high it is but like the security. As an aside I tried both with and without this style of banking and running the game with no secure banking was a nightmare scenario for me as the players spent 99% of their time devising complex plans to protect whatever they recover in the dungeon and 1% of the time in the dungeon looking for wealth.

  4. I recently had a group of PC's sell off a hoard, including a strongbox with a trapped 5 lock combination closure that they had the keys to. You can bet they will be robbed.

  5. Enjoying the modernism posts.

    These modernisms provide a nice way to give demi-humans a unique niche in the fantasy world: Orcs fight in more total war way with front lines (forcing others to adapt when fighting them); Dwarves have absolute monarchs (Elves are near anarchist by the way); Humans don't have banks but Gnomes (or Goblins) bankers are around if you can find them. Opens up a lot of possibilities to explain away the modernism, and clarifies things for a more strictly medieval game.

  6. I have never had players look for a bank. They don't tend to trust NPCs - not because NPCs are inherently untrustworthy but because NPCs have no protection from being arbitrarily screwed over by the GM.

    Additionally, I don't play a lot of games these days where the PC wealth level is more loot than can be easily carried after money-changing. This is in part due to playing lower fantasy, and in part due to playing fewer games where coins are huge and gold undervalued.


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