C is for Coin

Adventures rush to loot the dragon’s bed, after the dragon is dead.  Heroes, they may be, but they all run toward the demon cult’s treasury.  Before they save the princess from her fate, they must, the fee, negotiate.  Why, because money is the grease that lubricates the gears of a civilization and it is part of the Players’ reward for their PCs succeeding. (2015.04.16) (2015.05.28)

In many ways, gold (also called gold pieces, g.p., GP, or gp) is simply a score card for D&D.  The more money the PCs have, the more “magic stuff” (magic armor, enchanted weapons, raise dead spells) they can afford.  David Noonan, in a D&D Insider podcast, once said that there was no real economy in a Dungeons and Dragons Game.  The silver pieces given to the NPC baker for a loaf of journey bread are not then given to the NPC miller, so that the NPC baker can get more flour.  This is true in any Player/GM encounter.  Coin only appears in a game when the PCs have it.  (I do not count treasure listed in monster/NPC write-ups to be “in play,” since their only purpose to tell the GM what to give the PCs, if they “win.”)  It is a counter and nothing more, but it doesn’t have to be... (2015.04.16) (2015.05.28)

Each version of D&D has had a monetary system that consisted of coins of various metals and denominations.  Each version of D&D has used the gold piece (gp) as the standard unit of measure for wealth, but the rates of exchange between coins have changed.  In 1E, there was the copper piece (c.p.) which was valued at 1/10 of a silver piece (s.p.) which was equal to 1/10 of an electrum piece (e.p.), which had a value of ½ of a gold piece (g.p.), which carried a value of 1/5 of a platinum piece (p.p.).  Thus (to lift the example from page 35 of the first edition of the Players Handbook):  “200 c.p. = 20 s.p. = 2 e.p. = 1 g.p. = 1/5 p.p.”  In 2E, the ratios between the coins remained the same, but the abbreviations for the coins changed to CP, SP, EP, GP, and PP.  Money in 3E was simplified.  10 cp was equal to 1 sp, 10 sp equaled 1 gp, and 10 gp was worth 1 pp.  4E numismatistics gave use a new currency: astral diamonds (ad) and changed the conversion ratio between gold and platinum.  1 pp was, then, equal to 100 gp, while an ad was equal to 10,000 gp.  4E, clearly, saw the PCs running around with LOTS spending cash.  5E has also had its hand in fiddling with the value of a gold piece.  Now, 100 cp = 10 sp = ½ ep = 1 gp = 1/10 pp.  Sweet mercy, this is a boring paragraph.

Despite the obvious snooze factor in the previous paragraphs, coinage does not have to be simply a scorecard or boring.  Coins do not appear ex nihilo, they are products of the civilizations and cultures that produce and use them.  They are artifacts that can be used to tell stories of a lost people or give PCs clues to possible dangers in the area where the coins were found.  Differing monetary systems between neighboring nations could offer Players roleplaying opportunities.  I have tried and will try again to put such devices to use in my games.

During my 1E days, Lewis Pulsipher, in Dragon #74, suggested changing from the sometimes arcane D&D gold standard to a decimal-based silver standard that dropped electrum coins and changed the size and weight of coins, so the number of coins went from 10 to pound to about 216+ to a pound.  I changed to a silver standard and decided that there were 100 coins to pound.  Mike Magee (Gareth Eybender’s Player and designer of Elethar) took this idea and created a currency system for the elven kingdom of Elethar.

Base currency: Pyramid (silver piece)

Coinage:  1 argentel Gareth = 10 platinum Castles = 100 gold Crowns = 1000 silver Pyramids = 10000 copper Tenthmids = 100000 steel Centimids (often referred to as “cents”)


Eletharian currency is noted throughout Rilmorn for its purity. Counterfeiting is a capital crime in the Kingdom, and Elethar’s Intelligence Service works diligently at home and abroad pursuing those who would forge or debase the kingdom’s currency

Robert Hegwood provided some images of coins used by the Empire of Xshathrapat.  I’m going use some of those images (slightly altered) in my Pellham campaign.  I don’t know if I will attempt a return to the silver standard, since my present players seem fairly attached the standard system, but I am going to start making coins from different countries unique and attempt to use those differences to improve the feel for each region and give more depth to my setting. (2015.04.16)

I am not the only one who works on making their world’s coinage more than a counter on a scorecard.  D. at Fluer de mal has a post about currency on his world here and here and here.

Do any of you, my good readers, make use of coins to spice up your games?

Game On!

12 thoughts on “C is for Coin

  1. Money can also make a great adventure hook. Coins from an ancient civilization may be worth no more than their metal value in your home town, but a collector in a distant city may be willing to pay five or ten times their worth for examples in excellent condition. Coins from a distant or extra-planar civilization might be made of something that has no value in the player’s homeland, such as seashells, wood, or obsidian; the discovery of a large hoard of these coins might necessitate a quest to exchange them for something the players can use.

    I’m picturing Gareth discovering a wagon load of shell “coins”, then starting a quest to find someone somewhere (sometime?) who will trade them for things he wants, e.g.:

    1. Find exotic currency of unknown value.
    2. Road trip!
    3. ???????
    4. Profit!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I believe Gareth may have been the first of the “take everything, it may be valuable” adventurers in my games. I recall him and Alkin trying to find a way to turn orc rags into something profitable. Maybe he was always meant to be a dragon.

      Did Gareth every encounter the turquoise disks known as drow tokens?


        • Drow Tokens were smooth turquoise disks worth about 5 gp each. They were most often used by shady, if not criminal, organizations in Kardon, but I don’t think any drow were even seen using them or having them in their coin pouches when adventurers looted their corpses. Irony?


  2. I once had (and probably still have the piece of paper someplace) drawings of the various coins of Albion – I swear I think I was virtually the only person who ever saw it or cared. I also really like the racial flaw that I gave High Elves and Wood Elves in that they don’t really “get” money and commerce. The player of the High Elf Sorcereress has taken this and run with it, she’s mostly interested in getting different coins as opposed to “valuable coins” – so a new bronze piece is better than a duplicate of a silver piece that she already has.

    I have to say, I like the idea of Astral Diamonds – sounds like something they’d use in Faerie and/or the Shadowlands… Or, from the old Wraith RPG, use coins forged from the souls of the dead (which sounds much more like the Nine Hells would come up with). I going to ponder this and see what I can come up with… 🙂

    My recent post on Buttons was brought up as I was tweaking my jewelry system (and getting an small app written for it to generate things automatically) and realized that I hadn’t included buttons (which were evidently used as a common form of button at various points in time, rather like beads have been). When you start delving into currencies, and treasure, and loot you really get dive into the underlying structure of your world if you want to. What’s worth what and why?


    Liked by 1 person

      • Specifically the first few paragraphs as way of introduction, directly quoting your fun rhyme and the “score card” part, followed by a short story I was told 3rd hand from an old D&D player, back when there was only gold and no real exp. He was playing a female rogue, and when the party got back from an adventure he was a few gold short of “leveling” so he visited the docks in search of sailors. As he put it; “I was young, and I needed the exp.”

        We also have a workshop forum, and the site will be a collaborative effort. I read your posts pretty much as you blog them and I’d be tickled if you’d consider having a glance at what we’re building.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Joe, that sounds great. I’d be delighted to be added to your site. What is the URL? Thank you for reading and I hope to hear again from you, soon.

          I’ve been editing my blog and, as you may have noticed, when I do that I change the font color and add the date of the change to the end of the paragraph. You are not in any way expected or required to reproduce my corrections and once you post the quoted portion to your site, I will not make any changes ever again. (2015.04.17)

          I do not believe in making changes, once a work has gone public, but my blog is seldom proofread before I post it and when I catch things that I need to change, I always change the font and post the date, so my readers will know that I made changes.

          Thanks again for being a reader and I really am flattered to be quoted on your site.


          • The site we’ll be launching is Statbonus.com, which is currently home to some filler, but will later be a platform for humorous tabletop bloggers. On the top bar is a link to submit stories, which will take you to the workshop forum where I’m helping to edit anyone who wants to contribute. Or, you know, find stuff to reblog and discuss it with the other writers.

            Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: The Color of Money (In D&D) | Stat Bonus

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