Thursday, October 4, 2012

Coinage, are we cheating ourselves?

Folks want realism or immersion or a fantasy epic that deeply involves the players or escapism and yet over and over again folks want to keep the coinage simple. The bog standard is the familiar breakdown of  10 cp to 1 sp, 10 sp to 1 gp. pretty boring and non-evocative stuff.

If old school rpg is about discovery and escapism where are the Lemurian Shekels and the Goblin Empire's Lead Lupins? Why did the men of an ancient age mint coins in the same metals and denominations as commonly minted in a campaign's modern age?

I'm a victim and perpetrator of this myself while I've got foreign coins those of the campaign homeland are the plain old 10 cp to 1 so, 10 sp to 1 gp and 5gp to 1 pp coins. I do it for convenience but i feel i'm cheating the players a little as they have had no trouble keeping track of Trade Mission gold Tokens (gtk)or Hesparan Royales (GR) worth a base rate of 2/3 a gp or 2 gp. The coins are worth their relative value some of the time or are changed by a trip to the local money changer.

Now a trip to a money changer can be a trying experience. the money changer charges a small cut for his services and always downgrades the coinage to a lower denomination/metal. All foreign gold is returned as silver; if one wants gold coins there is another charge for buying all that gold. It is a mechanism to remove some cash from the players but it also pumps coin into the coffers of the local authorities... something for thieves to seek if they are daring enough.

One reason for the decimal accounting of our fantasy coins is encumbrance sometimes counted in overly large coins weights. Ive seldom seen folks really bother with counting all the coin weights and encumbrance gets hand-waved until everyone is caught walking about with 200-300 pounds of gold in their coin purses. I myself keep a simple 50 coins to a pound of encumbrance regardless of coin size themselves as encumbrance is also how bothersome keeping track of something is and 50 nickles really isn't much more or less troublesome than is 50 pennies so I live with it.

I'm starting up a new campaign soon and there isn't going to be simple decimal accounting of coins but I'll keep the coin metals in the names of the coins. I want escapism and immersion I want the players to feel like they aren't just shuffling about pennies, dimes and dollars. when one finds a stash of 40 Golden Lions they may realize those coins have been hidden away for a century and wonder what value there is in a clay pot full of Brass Minarum. beyond the treasure instantly disappearing into a nebulous cloud of coins that float on the character sheet lost among all the other faceless boring coins.



12 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Old editions of Stormbringer had this kind of interesting coinage, with Melnibonean gold dragons and octogonal chaos coins, but emphasized that money and items didn't matter. There wasn't even an encumbrance system. Bit of a lost opportunity there...

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  3. I really enjoy different and exotic money systems and depending on what type of campaign your running, like if it was primarily a dungeon crawl then it wouldn't come into play all that much, but if it was an urban crawl or at least has a lot of time in a city it would be an interesting aspect.

    For the most recent campaign the players were finding silver pieces from another civilization that was wiped out two centuries ago. I determined the silver pieces were value, just in weight alone 5x more valuable. And if the players found one is good condition they could possible sell it to a collector. To determine the condition of the coins I would roll a d10. If a 9 or 10 was rolled it was in good enough condition.

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  4. I'm going to have to take this into consideration with the campaign setting I've been developing. And it gives me one more way to make the ruins of the long-fallen empire that would serve as the locations for most adventures in that setting more exotic and strange. Already got ideas swirling around in the ol' brainbucket.

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  5. Not worth it. BTDT. Eventually devolves into "So that's worth 32.67 gp?" extra bookkeeping for gain that can be accomplished as easily with old school flavor text.

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    1. ketjak, don't use "gp" and the problem is solved? Just don't restrain "flavor text" to some bits of description most of the players always ignore, put it on the sheets and thus enshrine it on the character records and it will mean far more than any exposition.

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  6. I hate how you do this to us Dad...

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    1. I do like how I can carry 100's of coins and still be able to walk though.

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  7. I've personally chosen to handwave this in my own campaign for all but the most superficial purposes, using instead the 10/10/1 ratio you mention, simply because I know my own players would consider it burdensome, but...

    If one plans to use varying coinage in one's world, one of the most important factors to bear in mind from a historical perspective is debasement -- The main reason rulers coined their own precious metals, and insisted on "coin of the realm" in transactions, was to give them the opportunity to adulterate the coins with less valuable metal, and thus create more wealth for themselves by paying their bills with, say, Imperial ducats whose melt value was closer to 1/2 ducat. Groups without a dwarf or alchemist or some other means of determining the "real" value of the treasure they just found may be disappointed when they try to change it into something spendable, or may simply be ripped off. On the other hand, there may be types of coins that are known to be worth something closer to face value, and these may actually earn more favorable prices in black market transactions.

    Another interesting element to introduce in this vein might be the historical function of moneychangers as banks. Moneychangers could accept large volumes of coin in exchange for paper currency or "checks" (for a fee, of course), thus improving portability while also increasing the risk of theft. In a magic-using world, of course, something more counterfeit resistant than paper scrip would likely be used.

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  8. Carousing ready
    "why is there this massive sack of copper pieces in this bathr--- oh. Never mind."

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  9. Richard, you don't keep a few thousand pennies in a jar hidden in your toilet tank?

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    1. those are strictly for medical purposes!

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