Thursday, 13 August 2015

Coins Part One: Currency, Weight and Stealth.

While travelling across Europe, as it changed from local currency to the Euro, I was constantly thinking about how currencies would work if players crossed from one culture to another. Forget language, we've got that covered with "comprehend languages" but Coinage? Exchange rates? that doesn't convert with a spell.

How do you work your coins & currency in your game?

In France, I managed to pick up a few of their tourist coins, large heavy things, matched the size I thought of as my 'gold coin' until I checked how much gold would be needed for such a coin. 
34mm diameter & approx 21grams for these ones. (not gold)

Such a coin would be 34grams of gold, priced around $2,100 vs the 2 Euro I paid for my French coins. so at 21 grams each, I just 'counted' the weight as 30% less for my quick calculations.

much smaller 16mm & 8 grams
I bought around 20 of them myself, put them in a leather bag I got from a medieval fair, and threw in some Estonian Crowns (Kroon) because they looked cool (and I figured matched the more common copper or silver coins of my world) and noticed now that I had a fair weight hanging from my belt. almost 2 kilos. ok sure, I had over 100 Kroons (there were so cheap when I bought them) and the leather bag itself is 300grams. 


So how in the world, would I not notice this being stolen from me?

Stealth & Weight

I have been pick pocketed thrice in my life, the first time was so fast, and unnoticed, I wouldn't have known had the man not realised that he'd stolen a tourists hand book (the same size as the wallet) and returned to give it back. I was in Mongolia and went to the bank with a fellow traveller, we exchanged cash for local currency, put away our wallets, took out the guide, took a look at where to go, and as we left, the guide went away into the front pocket of my jacket. A local, bumped into my friend, raised his hands in apology, patted my shoulder as a re-assuring, I'm sorry, please don't have me arrested, and walked away.. within seconds he returned, handed back the travel guide he'd taken, and walked away again.. we looked at it, first thought was.. did we drop it? checked the pocket, and viola, .. empty.. impressive skills..

The second time was so skillfully done, I practically applauded the man, before I gave chase in a taxi. I had (stupidly) taken out my wallet in the evening, as I exited a Moscow supermarket, took out the cash I was about to use to pay for a taxi, and put the wallet back in my front pocket, tucked my jumper down over it, adjusted my bag on my shoulder and walked to the main street. The spotter had obviously seen me, somehow tipped off his friend, who approached me as a 'out of towner' looking for a bar. My helpful Australian attitude was to point out where it was, he asked (in poor Russian, but hey, mine was worse) where was my accent from.. I replied, and he started talking about his favourite boxer.. Kosta Zu (Russian emigrated to Australia).. even offered to show me how Kosta would win.. I declined, he shook my hand, and walked away.. then it struck me.. my pocket was empty.. my wallet had ended up in the hands of this man, in such a way that I could not, even now, fathom. Somehow, he'd knocked the wallet up from my pocket, down my jumper and into his hand, without me knowing til seconds (or even more) later.. I think he might have even managed to hand it off to a guy behind him, so I could not accuse him (because his hands were empty when we backed away and walked off)

The Third Time, I had a thicker wallet (I learnt to keep more receipts for other reasons, and this helped in this third instance) The man and his girlfriend approached me on the street, asked about cigarettes or something, I refused, it was cold, I wanted to get home quickly. she asked about my accent, and when told, they were amazed that an Australian would be here in -31.c Moscow.
He patted my shoulder, like a friendly person does, then my wallet, and my wallet moved in my pocket, 20/20 hindsight, seemed he could see the outline in the pocket, somehow grabbed the shoulder and lifted it with a tug (as he patted the same shoulder?) and my wallet would rise up with it.. No longer being oblivious as to what was about to happen, I pushed him away and yelled, and some other very choice words I had learnt since. He understood quickly that he had the wrong kind of foreigner, the look of a scared man entered his eyes, and he backed away, I gave enough of a chase to ensure they would not follow me, and went home via a different path..

But for years afterwards, I always thought about this.. A heavier wallet is always on your mind, bumps your leg, its annoying.. but also, harder to pick pocket. (but also more noticeable to thugs).

So, lets say you have a coin purse, larger gold coins are going to jingle a certain tone, while smaller less valuable coins have higher pitch. So a half decent theif will know if you're carrying a purse of 10-20 gold coins vs 10-20 copper. Also the difference between 5-10 coins and 50-100 coins based on weight & noise.

So my first conclusion is, When characters are traveling through a city, if they are carrying anything above 10 coins and the currency is gold or platinum, I make stealth checks for local thieves to attempt a pick pocket.. above 50 coins, the pickpockets will notice, but the likely hood of their success in stealing drops considerably, the mark is likely to notice. While a Thief might abandon a low chance of success, they might alert some thugs (and get a coin for the info).. typically a thug is going to ask.. whats the risk vs reward.. How dangerous does the mark look, vs how many coins they're carrying. In some of my larger cities, My Thugs might be 4th level, I'll set the chance at 25% +/- 10% @ 5 platinum / per level of the heroes, i.e. if you're a 4th level hero and look it, and you're carrying 9-12 platinum worth of coins, I'll put a 45% chance of encounter, same circumstances with 7th level heroes, drops down to 15%, but triple the cash, and 55% those thugs might try anyway, and makes for a quick little city encounter.
A lot harder to cut this kind of purse, send in the thugs, he's obviously got some wealth in there!

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