The gold coin. Since the introduction of basic D&D, the gold coin has been the foundation of fantasy gaming. Experience is awarded based upon gp’s collected; superior equipment is bought and encumbrance rules are built around the ability to carry loot and coinage. There is broad consensus that under the gold coin is silver, then bronze, copper, tin (steel) and above are platinum and perhaps some setting specific coins (mithril or laen).
But all coins are not created equal. Mercantile economies tend to use widely accepted and valued metals for their base, while more insular societies can use lesser metals or unique materials and price controls to establish value. In general however, the value of coinage is driven the type and content of its metal base. Given this, the intrinsic value of a Gold Crown from Rhakhaan could differ greatly from the Gold Note issued is Sel-kai. With all the varied cultures in Shadow World it became quite a project to map all the various currencies, establish a baseline value and create a currency exchange chart. An easier approach is to heavily discount foreign currency when used is another culture.
However, if you are running a geo-political or commerce style campaign, then currency values may play a greater role and require some additional guidelines. For our SW setting, I decided to focus on the three major currency/economies as a baseline and then apply exchange rates as needed for other local currencies. Despite the presence of Essence Flows, Kulthea has 3 major economic forces: governments or institutions with a world reach, engage in commerce or practice sophisticated monetary policy. These three groups are: Eidolon/Sel-kai government, the Navigators and the Alliance.
Due to its central location the reach of its mercantile and banking businesses and the trade routes established by its Sky Ships, Eidolon is probably the most powerful economic force in the hemisphere. Sel-kai also has benefited from the Minister of State Enik Foor, who helped introduce representative currency (Diamond, Platinum and Gold notes) and added milled edges to the coinage to reduce coin “clipping”. Eidolon coinage can be found in most any tradeport throughout the hemisphere and is considered a stable and trusted currency. For our campaign, we use Sel-kai currency as the baseline exchange.
Diamond Note dn = 100 gp
Platinum Note pn = 10 gp
Gold Note gn = 1 gp
1 gold piece (orlin) gp = 10 sp
1 jade piece jp = 2 silver pieces
1 silver piece (sellin) sp = 10 bronze
1 bronze = 10 cp
1 cp = 10 tin
The Alliance aggressively expands its empire through trade and colonialism and not militarily. Once they’ve replaced or subdued leadership they institute a number of administrative and cultural innovations: legal contracts, taxation, trade and monetary policy. The Alliance uses a unique currency that mixes representative, fiat and fractional value currency which it aggressively promotes for major trade and commerce but allows local currency to continue for daily life. The Alliance currency are “trade bars”, (mini ingots 6” x 1” x 1” serial stamped made from a variety of bullion but whose value is set and backed by the Alliance) and credit notes (Letters of Credit backed by the Alliance). The small size of these trade bars and the disconnect between their commodity value and trade value facilitates ease of use for merchants and eliminates debasement (clipping or sweating).
Gold Bar = 20 Silver Bars
Silver Bar = 20 Copper Bars
Copper Bar = 50 Gold Notes (Sel-Kai)
Credit Notes: Amounts as required.
The Navigators have introduced a true fiat currency that was initially used for Navigator services but is now accepted as legal tender by merchants in larger cities. These Navigator tokens are 5 sided “coins” approximately 2.5” across and made of a goldish metal holding a flat crystal disk in the middle. (These are actually memory storage disks from the Taranian civilization and are virtually indestructible. The Navigators uncovered a huge cache of them late in the Second Era). The Navigators will use these tokens whenever possible to promote their use and as a profit center to fund their activities.
1 “Guilders” = 10 Gold Notes
For a great book series that combines emerging economics, monetary policy and high adventure in the 17th and 18th centuries I highly recommend The Baroque Cycle.
3 thoughts on ““All that glitters is not gold”: Currency in Shadow World”
Great article! I think it’s fun to see how the value of metals compare in different systems and countries. Thanks for sharing.
The Alliance and Guild currencies confuse me. How many people are walking around with a Guilder (=10 Orlin = 100 Sellin = 1000 USD) let alone an alliance Copper Bar (=50 Orlin = 500 Sellin = 5000 USD) in their pocket? WHat merchant can make change for one?
Those currencies are less about small individual transactions and more as a economic strategy. The Alliance is basically a trade/commerce empire so becoming the standard currency for large transactions (ship cargo, real estate, weapons) requires a “coin” that is feasible these trade deals and is trustworthy as a repository of value. (ie US Dollar is the worlds reserve currency). The value of the bars is not directly related to the commodity value of the metal, but the backing of the Alliance.
For the Navigators, the benefit of converting various coins of the realms to their own token allows them generate cash and promotes the use of their service. (which is expensive, thus the value of the token).