Saturday, November 2, 2019

Modernisms in Fantasy Gaming IV: Universal Money

Here is the last (for now) in my short series on Modernisms in Fantasy Gaming.

These are modern assumptions that players may bring into play, despite the fact that they post-date the rough time period being portrayed or require social organization and technology that is beyond that in the game. As such, they can trip up the players when they hit the different reality of games.

Universal, Freely Exchanged Currency

GURPS DF has copper pieces ($1), silver pieces ($4) and gold pieces ($80). DF Felltower has its own devalued set. AD&D has copper, silver, electrum, gold, platinum, Rolemaster has coins from bronze to gold going by tens, and Dragonlance even has steel pieces (Hah*).

Generally, though, those coins are the same everywhere. It's rare for places to have extra coins. It's exceedingly rare outside of a few old school modules to have places that have their own currency and laws about passing foreign coins.

And yet historically, coinage varied wildly from place to place. Coins were often debased and devalued and nicked and trimmed. Even a handful of the same coins may not really be worth the same amount as each other, never mind another handful of the same type of coins. A gold piece might not be worth 1 gp. Moneychangers would convert foreign coins to local coins, taking a cut in return for engaging in such trade. And for sufficiently odd currency, it's possible that it wouldn't be accepted at all due to the difficulty of exchanging it (such as Yap stones, shell coins, paper currency prior to its local adoption.)

This is one games have largely bowed to - the idea that your coins are good everywhere. But if a GM uses local coins and rules about local usage - and required coins changed at moneychangers - it can cause a lot of difficulty. I've run a few games were the players needed to convert all foreign coins to local coinage. The result has ranged from campaign-ending violent refusal by the PCs to merely committing large-scale fraud by not converting to arguing a lot about getting ripped off.

And to be fair, the modern world has exchangeable currency but no really universal one - I keep yen handy despite the reach of the dollar, and converted to Euros last time I was in Europe. Yet in games, everyone expect a "gold piece" to be worth a uniform amount and be universally accepted.

* Hahahaha.**

** Hahahahahahahahahah. Okay, sorry. They make no sense.


  1. My fantasy has no room for this. Having to remember to take cash out to pay to get rid of trash is bad enough in real life. The fact I need to take a quarter to ransom a cart and my own grocery bags to Aldi mean I mostly don't go to Aldi. I don't even assign weight to coins I assume that the characters cash value is magically tracked by the great debit card in the Sky.

    My next campaign I probably won't even both with physical gear on enemiies, kill 7 orks get 700 bucks etc, no more dealing with totalking values of 7 cheap falchions, 5 axes and a partridge in a pear tree.

    PayPal is almost a universal currency and any backerkit or web store that doesn't support PayPal makes me see red

    1. I feel compelled to pedantically point out that Paypal keeps some of the difference between currency purchase/sale prices when they convert, much like those moneylenders. Even transparent to the user, it's not free to use dollars to buy, say, euros or yen.

  2. An now the Anti-Kalzazz...

    I love localized currency. In DF, it's easy to hand-wave it away as part of the WALF (Wealth Adjusted Loot Fee). But I'm strongly tempted in my next Not-DF game* to go back to localizing currencies... and even bartering. Mmmm, barter societies...

    And in my current and already run DF game I've 'kinda' done this. as in some coins had higher value amounts, so if they bothered to have those "funny looking coins" evaluated (or just had the Connoisseur or Merchant skill themselves) they knew to sell them to 'specific' dealers for greater value (hand waved, but knowing the value means they get more buck for the poundage), rather than just spend them in the tavern on wenching and grog.

    * It's just a fairly heavily houseruled DF game.

  3. This has been a fun little series, Peter (the Modernisms). Be aware of your misplaced assumptions and modern biases or conveniences. Looking forward to when you pick it up again!

    1. Damn, "Misplaced Assumptions" would have been a good name for the series.

      I'm glad you liked it. Your blog was very influential on mine so it means a lot that you're reading mine.

  4. I agree that doing this realistically is a giant PITA that only makes sense if economics is the focus of the game. I have considered going "half in" on realistic coinage by describing complicated coinage issues at a high flavorish level, and then resolving it with a flat (usually merchant) roll, but haven't even gone that far.

    Just like non-pleasurable routine bodily functions are out of focus and unnecessary, so are non-pleasurable economic ones.

  5. I recognize this problem. In my earlier days I developed a campaign setting with half a dozen countries in close proximity, each had its own currencies including names and designs of coins, exchange rates internally and externally, and basically what I thought was normal being a kid growing up in Europe in the 1980s. You might call it a realistic mess :) My players called it much worse things. Anytime I have used anything but the bland book monetary system, gave coinage names, required exchange of currency (even trading 10,000 coppers into gold) my players have revolted ranging from insulting everything about my game to refusing to play by the rules of the world, as you noted. I still have the cool details in a notebook but since then I haven't been willing to play away from the book details on money even the slightest.

  6. I use $1 copper, $20 silver, $80 gold and the Sahudese use strings of 20 $4 copper coins to equal one gold coin. There was
    An issue of trouble being caused by people spending silver coins of a specific vintage in the game, because aKingdom fell when they first went missing.


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