Monday, January 13, 2014

[Gray Box Project] Cyclopedia of the Realms: Currency in the Realms

Barter and coinage of all sorts are common in the Realms.
When was the last time you featured barter in one of your D&D games? It's an interesting idea, and one I'd handle purely through role-playing with an older, skill-less system. I'll have to remember to inject some opportunities for haggling at appropriate times.

This section, though, is primarily about the bread and butter of D&D: glittering coinage! Here, again, we have a generalized system presented, although regional differences are more emphasized than they were with time-keeping or languages. In fact, we're only given the monetary system of the kingdom of Cormyr, although we're assured that it "is typical of the other organized nations."

The exchange rate presented is one of 200 cp=20 sp=1 gp. Was this standard with AD&D 1e? I came of age with the 2e system of 100=10=1, and might have thought that the former rate was unique to the Realms had I not noticed the same rate presented in my Adventures Dark & Deep rulebook, which is what I'm using to run my Realms campaign. It should be interesting to see what my players (who also grew up on the 2e system) will make of the devaluing of the copper and silver piece.

At any rate, we have a nice little bit of world-building next. Honestly, this is one of the simplest tricks you can do to give your fantasy world a bit more flavor: reskin your currency by region, as is done here. Sure, it might all be "gold pieces" in terms of absolute value, but if it's called a florin in one country and a guilder in another, and they're minted differently with different stamps and iconography on the coins, your players will definitely notice and appreciate the attention to detail.

The Cyclopedia informs us that in Cormyr copper pieces are called thumbs, silver pieces are called falcons, electrum pieces are blue eyes, gold pieces golden lions, and platinums are tricrowns, and that coins bear the mark of a dragon on one side, and the treasury minting stamp and date on the other. In keeping with the more open nature of the Gray Box, we're not given any other examples, but I'm already wanting to come up with some further names from neighboring areas like Sembia and Westgate, maybe some of the Dales. (The book notes that even in Cormyr there are local mints in addition to the Royal Mint churning out coins.) However, only major cities and royal mints tend to stamp electrum or platinum pieces. This, I imagine, means that one is more likely to find foreign coins of those types in circulation. It would be pretty cool to have a mysterious NPC paying for something in electrum pieces minted, say, in far-off Calimshan. There's tons of adventure hooks contained within the world of coins both new and old.

There's also a great bit about how the only type of paper money is an I.O.U. called a "blood note", which earns its name from the fact that both parties must sign their names in blood on the note before taking it to get a royal seal.

Dio approves of this form of currency.
So, not going to find a whole lot of paper money floating around. There is one other type of currency, though, in the form of ingots called "trade-bars," minted in either silver or electrum in denominations of 10, 25, or 50 gold pieces. Trade-bars have obvious utility in treasure hordes, especially those of bandits, orcs, and other "looty" types. I like the idea of giving players a form of treasure that's easy to transport but not so easy to spend.

"Umm...can you break a 50 gp trade-bar?"

This was a decidedly short section, particularly in light of the next one: "Religion in the Realms". I'll probably end up splitting that section into parts.
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