Monday, 17 August 2015

Coins Part Two:, Currencies and Culture

In Part One, I wrote about How Coins should affect your pickpocketing, Less common for many campaigns is the travel aspect of currency, crossing borders, finding that the shop keepers will look suspiciously at your coins, bite them, probably refuse them even, or in some cases, recognizing that you are a foreigner, take advantage of the fact and give you far less worth for them.

$18.50 for a cup of coffee, seems a bit steep? 
Yes but sir, this is New York, Starbucks New York 
Welcome to America!

Currencies & Culture

The second part of my post/blog is about different cultures & currencies. Quite frankly, I don't think the average GM is going to go to the lengths needed to get something realistic. So I'll chop this into two parts, Casual gaming, and Hard Gore GMing.

Standard RPG start location: Corner Tavern
Art by Duran3d
The Idea here is to give players a bit more understanding that they're not in Kansas anymore, having players go to a shop, buy gear, stay in a tavern/Inn, hear about the latest quest by the fire, after buying an old man a drink is ok for your starting shtick, but if you cross the border into another country, teleport into other continents, or different worlds, then it should only be used as a joke that the players walk into a bazaar, buy some gear, stay in a motel and hear about the latest quest by the cooler, after buying the old lizardwoman a drink.

To get the players to feel like they are in strange lands, its the little things that really get under their skin, and make it seem like they have traveled.

Currency is the first thing they should notice when trying to do anything. Different currencies, different rates of exchange, different ways of buying, selling, stacking.

In China, I went to the museum of Currency, the reason why the Chinese coin looks the way it does, is because its not the whole coin, its the handle of a small blade of metal.

The Little Ring on the end? Became the Coin you know.
So whats to say this practice isn't more widespread? Why does a coin need to be the standard? In a fantasy world, where a knife is probably something everyone has, and possibly two or three of, maybe the common dagger becomes the 'standard' by which all wealth is measured?

For my own players, I tried out the idea of metal rings, players noticed the locals wore a large number of rings, smaller bronze looking metals on their pinkies, and larger flatter engraved rings on their indexes, soon enough when they went to buy something, the shop keeper wouldn't sell them anything, kept treating them like lower class citizens, why? because they obviously had no money to spend, their hands were bare. Sure they may be dressed in some nice gear, but if they don't have coin to spend, their just there to waste time.

Exchange rates, and I don't mean between the players own currency, and the new country, but the rate of coinage in the new country. Sure its a little easier to just 10:1 exchange all coins, but its also very stale. Historically, most counties had far different rates, 12:1, 15:1 or 24:1 were common enough, Look at our own coins, 10p, American 25c, Australian 50c, Dollars and Pounds? Names are different, coinage is different, that's just the generic English speaking ones, Why are fantasy coins always 1 gold, 1 silver, 1 copper? And if your in some kind of place where the race is different enough, lizardmen don't necessarily have 4 fingers and a thumb, so why would they even count in sets of 5 and 10? surely their entire culture would count in 4 and 8, make them much better programmers.

Historically, The English Traded with Florence, who manufactured the gold coin then known as the British florin, but prior to that, they still used all the Egyptian, Greek and Roman coins that were still floating around. So Shouldn't the coins from your worlds be a mixture of previous cultures, other cities who manufacture coins, and the like?

Have a look at this: Medieval Money document for a better understanding.

Also, Crypts and Dungeons that are hundreds of years old, shouldn't have a currency that matches modern currency. In some of the better 'published dungeons' I've read, have larger than normal coins (1.5 times size, but lower grade, so possibly worth less to the average person, but maybe more to collectors (mages who might perform magics on old coins for information). Old coins might have wording on who they belonged to, leading to the discovery of an ancient king, and hopefully his tomb.

Ok, so I did point out that I'd dabble in some Hard Core WorldBuilding, This isn't for the feint of heart, but this is what I did for my own game world:  
An Early Gamesmaster Screenshot, depicts the territory of 6 players

Firstly, I designed and ran an 80+ player game of fantasy/civ that I wrote, to get an idea of what kinds of places would exist, what metals they mined and how much trade existed between players to get a proper set of stats to work with. I Asked players to nominate their coins from the metals that they mined, and as the game progressed they added a second and third coinage.

If a player was trading with another, they were given the choice to 'exchange at the border' or 'allow the use of other currency', the former had a more strict control over internal wealth, but also travel and spies.

The Image shows the 'route' of spies from the Necromancers Caravan to the town just south of the capital.

So, with several different metals, useful as coinage, several different countries, some trading and some not, I ended up with over 300 different coins, names and exchange rates. The Games setting duration was over 120 years, so this also left me with some awesome interest pieces.

The Above map, gave me 2 major Crypts, 4 adventure hooks, 6 races, 36 cultural issues amongst 4 races, encounter maps for each hex, and basic stats of 13 large towns/cities.

Apparently, these guys at Fantasy Coin can make your worlds
coins for you, might consider an investment.
As time went on, The Mining Races obviously became the producers of coinage, if not the raw materials, So their coin ratios become more common for the bulk of the kingdoms to whom they dealt with. My Main 'homebase' for my current roleplay team, deal with the rare Hearth Elven Platinum Brindir, High Dwarven Gold BeardClips (rings that can be worn on the pinky by humans), North Human Golden Crowns, Forest Elven Zircon Rounds, North Human Pewter Guilders, Deep Dwarven Silver Curls, Coastal Lizardmens Silver Claws (thimbles, that stack), The High Kings Silver Coin and His Brothers, High Lords Silver coin, (Interchangeable to other races, but illegal to own in opposite countries) Copper and Bronze coins, seem to be interchangeable at this point between most cultures, as long as they weigh the right amount, peasants and locals will trade in weight of copper coins, because its too easy to re-mint your own, and each local lord re-mints them with his own face on one side, and the kings face on the other side.

For Simplicity, Beards and Crowns, Rounds and Guilders, Kings Silver or Lords Silver, and Copper Coins are the currencies most players dealt with in this region. Yet, only 100km to the south east, They deal in Crowns, Guilders, Florins, Pennies and Bitz.

So whiles the Dwarven Crowns and Curls can be used interchangeably between the two major cultures, none of the other coins are legit currencies, requiring traders to visit 'merchant banks' or jewelers to make exchanges, often losing a percentage of the real worth, or resorting to barter, if they don't intend on staying and value their own currency.
Real gold you say? Hmm, lemme just bite it

My players have attempted to thwart the system, finding the right exchanger and making a small profit on the exchange, using their high charisma character for the deal, but after getting their high intelligence guy to do the maths first. With the lack of real travelers, the real worth wont be found out, and likely the exchanger will pass on the cost to 'collectors' at a later point.

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