In a previous blog, I discussed converting prices from “…and a 10-Foot Pole” from I.C.E. and mentioned a number of campaign-related issues and background elements from “Fumanor: The Last Deity” that complicated the discussion, which I promised to tell everyone about at another time. Since it’s a good example of how to take a rules element (the currency in use in the game) and turn it into a roleplaying ingredient, I thought that it would be a worthwhile subject.
By developing the coinage of the realm beyond the simple “copper piece”/”gold piece”/etc, I was able to connect the campaign background to practical implications surrounding the PCs, impart additional depth to that background, introduce plot threads that they could take up or not (as it suited them), and give some additional colour to the campaign setting.
As it happened, the players chose not to persue these plot threads at the time, with the result that in the sequel campaign “Fumanor: One Faith”, one of the plotlines that have confronted the PCs is a tax revolt, which is making it harder for the Crown to prepare for an imminant invasion, and which has forced unpalatable choices on the Government – such as revoking the tax-exempt status of the Church.
The approach that I’ve decided to use is to quote (with occasional paraphrasing) from the background notes/house rules that I gave the players before character generation commenced, and then add regular side comments, explanations, etc, in a form of pseudo-sidebars, to talk about the objectives, the choices, what worked, and what didn’t. So let’s get started….
Annotated excerpts from The Fumanor Campaign breifing material
Old Kingdom Currency
As stated in the previous blog where this subject was mentioned, Coinage is only now being ressurrected as an art in the Fumanor campaign. For most of the last century, the coins in use were all legacies of the old Kingdom. These coins are:
- Cirunum (Pl. Cirunai): Copper coin, commonly nicknamed “Tibbs”.
- Saudrum (Pl. Saudria): Bronze coin, commonly nicknamed “Slugs”.
- Ardrium (Pl. Ardria): Silver coin, commonly nicknamed “Crowns”.
- Haylernym (Pl. Haylia): Gold coin, commonly ncknamed “Nobles”.
- Daethorum (Pl. Daethia):Platinum coin, nicknamed “Marks”.
Cirunai and Saudria are common coins. The largest coin most people ever see is an Ardrium. It is common practice to exchange letters of ownership, known as Trusts, where larger sums are involved, rather than physically moving the coinage.
The section on ‘Old Kingdom Currency’ sets a romanesque tone to formal language from the old Kingdom while not being directly latin, while showing that informal speech is founded on simpler English, evoking an association between the old Kingdom and the Roman Empire. So strong was this association that over time, it even changed its title from “Kingdom” to “Empire”!
It also gives a glimmer of personality to the ordinary citizen – a slightly wry sense of humour (‘Slugs’) which leavens a pronounced respect for the Old Kingdom. It informs the players not to expect to see hoards of gold coins when they find treasure, states explicitly that the basic unit of currency is the silver piece, and establishes ‘paper money’ in the form of “Trusts” – suggesting that any stray scrap of paper might be worth a fortune. This last implication was lost on the players, who at one point, completely missed a Trust worth 75,000 silver peices.
The New Currency
The newly minted coins are theoretically an attempt to create a unifying social force, something to give the citizens a point of referance to identify with the Modern-day government of the Barony Of Fumanor and not with the Old Kingdom. The mint pays 150% of face value for old coins that they can melt down and remint. Since there is roughly a 30% chance of the shipment being lost to thieves, bandits, or raiders, unless trustworthy guards are hired, the population in general have been reluctant to take up the offer.
This further suggests that the actual number of coins they can expect to find will be about 2/3 of what the DMG/Monster Manual suggest, and tells the players that to get full value for their discoveries, they will have to make regular pilgrimages to the Mint; they didn’t bother, reasoning that there was ‘plenty more where that came from’.
It tells them that they can find employment at low levels as Guards for such trips (which they eventually used as a cover for more important activities), and establishes a level of dissatisfaction with the current social situation in comparison to the Golden Age of ‘the good old days’. The campaign was intended to have a slightly post-apocalyptic feel to it, and this is one way in which that flavour was communicated to the players.
There are also hints as to how the various alignments view the current world, and how the players can reflect their alignment in roleplay within the campaign.
The new mintings are not up to the same standards as the older currency. As a result, they are generally less popular. These facts have led moneylenders to discount the new coinage by 10% or more.
Offers the players a more direct route to currency conversion – at a price, establishes that moneylenders are commonplace and organised, and further adds to the post-apocalyptic atmosphere.
In an effort to encourage the circulation of the new currency, the Baron has decreed that all taxes must be paid in old currency, at face value, while all other payments recognised by the government must be made in new currency, as must any fees, commissions, rewards, or purchases by officials. In effect, this means that the Barony has mandated a 10% surcharge on all public payments, a 10% discount on all public purchasing, and an 11% tax hike – plus forcing ordinary citizens to deal with moneylenders, and pay moneylenders fees, on a regular basis.
There’s a lot of meat in this paragraph – the more you think about it, the more significant it becomes and the more ramifications come to light. The Baron is clearly more interested in practical solutions than being popular, and he clearly has some sophisticated and subtle advisors – there is a multipronged policy which simultaniously encourages the removal of old currency from circulation and the usage of new.
In order to pay taxes, the ordinary citizen has to buy old currency from adventurers (unofficially) or from moneylenders (officially) – that shows that society has integrated the concept of adventurers into its fabric, and has come to expect adventurers to find caches of old coins.
It also gives the first hints that the moneylenders have a very strong lobby within the Government – in fact, the Moneylenders & Minter’s Guild was subsequently revealed to be in the pocket of the Chancellor Of The Exchequer, who was gearing up for an attempt at seizing the Throne. The Baron, an honest but intellectually average man, was not as clever as the Chancellor, and did not appreciate the finer implications of the proposal (which were spelt out explicitly for the players); the extra currency was being diverted into his private accounts to build up his army: ten percent of all government spending, eleven percent of taxes collected, and kickbacks from the moneylenders who were making 20% extra profit on top of the 10% they officially claimed, by taking advantage of the mint’s new-for-old policy. With that 20% split 3:1 between the moneylender and the guild, and half the guild’s earnings being disbursed as kickbacks to the Chancellor, he was effectively soaking up about 18 percent of the gross national product for his own use – while limiting the funds disbursed to the regular army to 9% of disbursements, or about half what he was spending on his private army.
If the PCs had really gotten into the coinage situation, they would have uncovered this threat far sooner than they did – instead of a pitched battle at the conclusion of the campaign, with a PC-recruited army of Orcs and Kingdom soldiers and Commoners confronting a better-equipped revolutionary army with more than twice their numbers.
As a result, there has been growing resentment directed toward the Barony and its public representatives, especially the tax collectors. After a number of nasty incidents, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has recieved permission to recruit guards to protect the taxmen.
The irony that just oozes from this statement once you know the real situation went undetected by the players for years! When play started, it was taken at face value, suggesting another occupation the characters could take up if they got down on their luck. Five years later, when the truth began to come out, someone noticed it and was quite chagrined – and impressed at how deeply the clues to campaign events had been planted. As I recall, he called me some unfriendly names while I sat there with an evil grin…
To date, four coins have been minted:
- Shawler (Pl. Shawlers): Copper coin, commonly nicknamed “Shorts”. Face Value 1 CP.
- Pinnie (Pl. Pinnies): Copper coin, commonly nicknamed “Pinkies”. Face Value 2 CP.
- Kroner (Pl. Kroner): Bronze coin, commonly nicknamed “Groaners”. Face Value 1 BP.
- Royal (Pl. Royals): Silver coin, commonly ncknamed “Boils”. Face Value: 1 SP.
A more deprecating set of nicknames further adds to the character of ‘the common man’, places a relative social value on the new coinage vs the old, and reinforces the statement that paper ‘money’ has replaced gold and platinum coins. Think of these as 1¢, 2¢, 5¢, and 20¢ coins.
Moneylenders have discounted these face values, in addition to charging 10% of the face value for the service:
7 PP = 35 GP = 70 SP = 350 BP = 3500 CP will get you 5250 Shawlers, 3500 Pinnies, 875 Kroner, or 49 Royals.
Greedy moneylenders! What a revelation! And more kickbacks for the Chancellor…
Street values are even further discounted. The same 7 PP will get you 7350 Shorts, 4900 Pinkies, 1225 Groaners, or 70 Boils.
Not as greedy as the out-and-out criminal class, though.
This established, for the first time anywhere, that there was a seedy underside to the Barony; another source of potential scenarios, and one that was flirted with by the campaign. One of the players wanted to be a Wizard, which meant being taught by a Wizard-in-hiding since Magic was outlawed by the Church. Their patron was a High Priest in the second-largest city within the Barony, and was extremely… let’s just say, ‘well-connected’. In fact, the Players still suspect him of being “The Patriarch”, a Godfather equivalent!
Elements Of Coinage
Common Features applied to all coins for convenience:
- Specific Gravity (Weight by volume, water = 1): 15.8 g/cm³.
- Weight: 25 coins weighs 2 lb.
- Actual Volume: 0.14255 cubic inches each = 2.33 cm³
- Effective Stacking Volume: When neatly stacked, you get 9 coins to the cubic inch.
- Effective Unstacked Volume: When loosely contained, you get 8 coins to the cubic inch.
These numbers came about as the result of an article I read (in The Dragon, if I remember correctly, but it was more than 15 years ago now) which showed how to calculate the weight and volume of a stack of coins. From memory, the author assigned the different weights to the different coins, but gave them all the same physical dimensions based on the density of the refined metal of their construction, and went on to show how to calculate how much space they occupied when stacked or thrown in loose. (Side-note: It’s great to be able to acknowledge an article that had so much impact that it’s still remembered, however vaguelly! And a little terrifying – that’s the standard that we’re all trying to live up to…)
This was a fairly realistic view; we’re all used to different coinage denomenations being different sizes and different weights. I made the deliberate choice to make all the coins occupy the same volume and have the same weight, purely to simplify matters, when I realised that the calculations would hold true even if the coins were different sizes so long as they occupied the same volume of space.
It was a deliberate oversimplification, but since coins in AD&D were considered to have zero weight, it was a major step toward realism – and a blunt warning to the characters; coins were heavy, and just because they found a fortune it didn’t mean that they could carry it. This also explained why Trusts – the equivalent of early bank notes – were used for large currency exchanges.
I then went on to give specific numbers for them to digest:
- A chest 18″ x 12″ x 15″ will hold 25,920 coins just tossed in, or 29,160 coins if they are neatly stacked, weighing aprox 2074# and 2333#, respectively. (Plus the weight of the chest!). 34 and 35 STR to lift, respectively – at maximum encumberance. Or two strong men, similarly encumbered.
- A Backpack is assumed to be 16″ x 12″ x 6″, a volume of 1152 cubic inches. This volume could theoretically hold roughly 92# of coins, or 2-3 times the weight that the backpack could reasonably hold without ripping (30-50 lb = 375-625 coins).
- A large sack will hold 20#-30# (250-375 coins).
- A small sack will hold 5#-10# (62-125 coins).
- A Large Saddlebag will hold 10#-15# (125-187 coins) and are usually used in pairs.
- A Small Saddlebag will hold the same amount as a small sack.
- A belt pouch will hold 2#-3# (25-37 coins).
- A pocket will hold 0.5#-1.5# (6-18 coins).
In some cases, these were decided by volume, in others I decided that there was a maximum weight that could be contained before the object tore, based on the usual construction material.
Individual Descriptions of the coins: Old Kingdom:
0.27″ (6.48 mm) thick and 0.81″ (1.944 cm) in diameter (roughly the size of 2 Australian 20¢ pieces stuck together). Supposedly “copper” coins, these are a 50% mixture of brass and bronze, producing a heavy coin that tarnishes quickly. The derivation of the nickname (“Tibbs”) is uncertain. On one side is the “Personal Rune” of the first King of the former kingdom, Audacious I, who through diplomacy and conquest unified the peoples of many scattered regions into a cohesive nation. (NB: during the Calamities, the landscape was so rearranged that no-one knows where Audacious’ original kingdom was, nor the site of his legendary capital, Althanfair).
And it still hasn’t been found. (Do any of my Fumanor Players read these blogs? I guess I’ll find out)…
Note the use of impurities to change the density to the “uniform value” that I had specified.
The image on this Wikipedia page at the time of writing will give non-australian readers a visual idea of the coin sizes.
0.225″ (5.4mm) thick and 0.9″ (2.16cm) in diameter (roughly the same size as an A$1 coin and the thickness of an A$2 coin). These are adulterated with lead and palladium, two notoriously soft metals, to bring the weight up to standard. Silver itself being relatively soft, the faces of these coins are normally worn to such an extent that they are close to being unadorned disks; only the vaguest of markings can usually be made out. Physically closest to average in size of all the coins.
Rare Coins: Coins whose faces are as clear as when they were new-minted are extremely uncommon. For coins in general circulation, 3 in 1000 will be worth d10+1 times the face value to a collector. For coins from old caches, reduce the number of coins to be examined by 25 for every 25 full years of time undisturbed, to a minimum of 3 in 200. These are worth d10 x (d10+1 per 25 year period) times the face value to a collector. Beyond this 800-year span, the incidence climes at +2 coins per year to be tested, ie 801 years undisturbed is 3 in 202 coins, 802 is 3 in 204, and so on. These are worth d10 x (d10+32+1 per 20 years over 800) times face value to a collector.
I wanted to offer characters a roleplaying opportunity – spending time examining and polishing old coins – while making them more than just numbers on the page. They didn’t take up the offer – so someone got rich when the PCs went shopping.
Coins that are legible have the faces of famous (or notorious) individuals on them, with a sygil to indicate official approval or dissapproval of the individual. One side is generally used for a warrior or a person recieving recognition for deeds of valour or heroism; the other side is either a culturally-significant person (musician, priest, mage, businessman, etc) or the cultural equivalent of a “wanted” poster (with the dissaproval sygil and a nominated reward). The former faces were changed roughly every 6 months to a year, the former could change on a month-to-month basis.
A lot of nice campaign touches here, and roleplaying opportunities that went begging. These were going to be a means of adding to the campaign background – let the PCs find a coin with a notorious criminal and research what he did that was so heinous, for example – and also clues to other potential scenarios. But all those potentials are still there, waiting for the right circumstance to enter the light of day.
I especially like the notion of using coinage to replace ‘wanted’ posters and the recognition of noteworthy people on postage stamps!
Although it somehow got left out of the writeup, the nickname “slugs” was supposed to have derived from the fact that most of them are now featureless disks of metal. Raw coin disks that have not yet been milled and stamped are known as ‘slugs’, something I remembered from a tour of the Australian Mint.
0.18″ (4.32mm) thick and 1″ (2.4cm) in diameter. Nicknamed for the crown which adorns one side of the coin, the other side being reserved for the face of the Queen at the time of minting. The coins are closest to what people generally consider “ideal” proportions and are (unofficially) the monetary standard of the Barony.
Rare Coins: Particularly rare are coins featuring Queen Lilliath II, wife of King Ewan III, who choked on a cherry pit only 3 weeks after Ewan’s ascension to the throne. Two weeks later, Ewan wed his wife’s chief chambourmaid. Thus, these coins were only being minted for a couple of months. Their value to a collector is up to 100 times the face value, depending on the quality of the coin (and the bargaining skills of the seller!). Only 1 in 10,000 such coins will be found.
More colour for the campaign – a lively source of royal gossip, and a juicy story that is likely to have survived. This was a practical example of the sort of detail and colour that I was prepared to provide to the players on request; the intention was to replace a lot of ‘rumours overheard in the tavern’ with these.
The unrealised concept was for Old Kingdom coins to form a trail of ‘breadcrumbs’, each hoard or cache giving clues to another – back when the campaign was going to be low-fantasy and not the high-fantasy spectacular that it became.
0.36″ (8.64mm) thick, 0.71″ (1.704cm) diameter, which makes them the second thickest of the coins (the Shawler is thicker). Instead of a raised moulding, the surfaces of the coin are relief-sculpted. On one side is the face of the King at the time of issue, surmounted and backed by the Eagle that symbolised the Old Kingdom; on the other is an image commemorating the greatest achievement to date during that king’s reign.
Of particular note is King Elanthor VII, whose image is that of the donkey he made an advisor to the throne. And yes, he was serious.
Rare Coins (1): Nobles are inherantly variable in purity, some coins are actually more valuable if melted down to form ingots (refer p16-17 of the Black Book for details). The value of the Noble is defined based on an average purity. On average, every 22,500 Nobles will include 300 such Rare Coins, which can form a single 10# bar of 24-carat gold, valued at 1169 Haylernym.
The “Black Book” was a 200-page exercise book with black cloth cover, in which I had jotted down ten years worth of accumulated ideas for a new AD&D campaign; many of those ideas formed the foundations of the Fumanor Campaign series, while others (that were incompatable with the Fumanor concepts) were used to create the “Rings Of Time” campaign.
This is a practice that I strongly reccomend to every GM out there – you never know how long your current campaign is going to last, so the time to start recording idle brainstorms toward your next campaign is now.
Rare Coins (2): Aprox 50% of nobles can be smelted into bars of 14 carat gold. 338 Coins would include 167 such “pure” coins, which would weigh 13.36#. When smelted and the impurities drawn off, this would yield a 10# bar of 14-carat gold worth 187GP. And of course, there are still the other 171 Nobles worth a face value of 1 GP each. This 14-carat bar cannot be further refined.
I forget exactly where I had found the figures, but from somewhere I had recorded information on the purity and rarity of gold. Again, this was both an offer to the PCs of a money-making scheme that my treasure payouts were going to assume that they would take advantage of, and something for a Dwarven character to get his roleplaying teeth into.
0.15″ (3.6mm) thick, 1.1″ (2.64cm) diameter. Adulterated with tin to reduce weight and with a hole in the centre for the same reason. One side is stamped with a finely detailed filligree, the other has a crown surmounted by a ring of stars, one for each of the 11 great Kings of history.
Rare Coins: All Daethorum are considered rare coins, and the actual appraisal value can vary by ±20%. When more than 20 such coins are used, assume that the average is 100% of value; only roll individually when coins are treated individually.
You can’t really be more blunt than that, can you? “All [Platinum Coins] are considered Rare Coins”….”roll individually when coins are treated individually”…
Individual Descriptions of the coins: New Baronial Mintings:
0.45″ (1.08cm) thick and 0.635″ (1.524cm) across. The copper mines of the Barony were always of poor grade, but with the best raw material (Old Kingdom copper pieces) reserved for the Pinnie, the local ore was all that was available for these coins, which seem designed for inconvenience. Universally loathed, the thickness was necessary to compensate for the poor ores.
One side of the coin depicts a waterwheel, supposedly symbolic of common industry, while the other shows a fictitous and idealised chapel. Unfortunately, the faces were carved before the need to adjust the proportions became known and as a result, the first batches cut off the tops of the designs. New designs are currently in final preperation, but the nickname “short” will probably stick.
It did, and does. The information in these paragraphs reinforces the post-apocalyptic theme and warns the players that some goods are no longer up to the standards of manufacture or material from 100 years ago – and that they might expect. Which is another way of saying that I was going to hit them with the occasional example of equipment failure. Probably at the most inconvenient possible time.
0.24″ (5.76mm) thick and with a diameter of 0.87″ (2.088 cm). Features the faces of the Baron’s two most senior advisors, the Councillor For War (Count Madras) and the Chancellor of the Exchequor, (Count Rundgren) on one side, and the face of the Princess Pinafora on the other. Unfortunately, she is even less attractive than the gentlemen, and the sculptor was forced to work from a portrait commissioned when the Princess was 8. The coins are octagonal in shape.
The existance of a Princess was inconveniently forgotten – my mistake as well as that of the players – later in the first campaign. The question of what became of her, and whether or not she ever really existed, still hangs over the campaign. But if she didn’t, why is there an ugly girl’s face plastered on all those coins?
0.165″ (3.96mm) thick and with a diameter of 1.05″ (2.52cm). Nicknamed by the same ‘wit’ whose derisive names for the modern coins have largely permeated the entire Barony. This is the most recently introduced denomenation and the experience of the minters shows in a far superior finished product, approaching the standards of the old coins. 15-sided, it is only thicker than the Daethorum and the Royal.
It is believed by some (as a result of its size) that the Kroner is actually far more valuable than its face value, and it has become not uncommon for those who expect it to rise in value to hoard the currency. Hence, there are relatively few in circulation, much to the annoyance of the Baron. One side of the coin depicts the Baron’s castle, Birchwood, in exquisite detail; the other face is of a rose, the favorite flower of the deceased Baroness.
‘Hope in the face of post-apocalyptic despair’ was one of the central themes of the campaign, reflected in the description of this coin. The current population may have fumbled the ball at first, but they are getting the hang of it, and even starting to plan for the future; things are, slowly but surely, getting better.
Plus more trivial gossip that adds immediatly to the sense of realism of the campaign.
0.12″ (2.88mm) thick and 1.23″ (2.952 cm) in diameter. Most valuable of the modern coins, it is (compared with the Old Kingdom mintings) ugly and crude. Shaped as a 9-sided regular solid, it bears the likeness of the Baron on one side and the Baron’s Crest on the other. Although derived from melting down Crowns, the process removes some impurities and adds others, resulting in a coin that is a champaigne yellow colour. Because the more pure Nobles are mixed in with the less-pure during smelting, the likelyhood of any given coin being of exceptional value is virtually nil, well beyond the few thousand which have actually been minted to date.
The coin is physically the thinnest of the denominations in use, testament to the overall increase in purity of the metals. It is also the broadest. It thus has the same volume as the ordinary coins, stacks just as many in a container, and so on.
The prices quoted in various sourcebooks for goods are Purchase Prices for new equipment. Second-hand gear can cost as little as 1/3 the price. Certainly, when characters go to sell equipment, they will get no more than 1/3 to 1/2 of the price listed.
Another ‘fair warning’ to the players, who knew to expect to get exactly what they paid for – at best.
Equipment prices (esp. Magical items) listed in the DMG are 10 x the usual manufacturing cost (including labour). The purchase price for a “new” item will have a 70% profit margin tacked on to the top of the price listed – if any are available at all. Where charges have been used, the loss of value is a straight percentage of the loss of charges. EG a wand usually holds 50 charges; if a wand is purchased with 12 charges, the actual price is 1.7 x 12/50 x the price listed. The sale price will generally be 1/2 to 2/3 of this amount if the item can be demonstrated (reduced for any charges used in the process), and 1/4 the listed amount if it can’t be EG a potion or scroll or something that’s not working, or that conveys a purely numeric advantage – a +1 sword without a visible special effect.
Notice that this drops the redeemable value of the most common magic items while boosting enormously the cost of manufacturing replacements. I’d had one campaign virtually destroyed by the ‘magic item economy’ many years earlier, and was taking steps to prevent it happening again.
Where a price is quoted in the PHB or DMG in GP, it refers to the price in ARDRIA (Silver coins). Where a price is quoted in SP, it refers to the number of SAUDRIA (Bronze coins). Where a price is quoted in CP, it refers to the number of CIRUNAI (Copper coins). Treasures from monsters also convert using these adjustments, EG if a monster’s treasure is “1,000 GP” according to the books, it means they have Old coins worth an average of 1,000 New silver coins.
Explicitly stating things that had been implied in earlier sections.
The exception to the above is magic items, which remain in Gold Pieces. This is because these are unusually rare and precious. Following the Magewars, Wizardry became an illegal practice. Those wizards who escaped public execution have gone underground, and while a few support forbidden research by supplying the black market with new magic items, the laws of supply and demand have driven prices skywards.
[Post “The Last Deity” campaign update: While the ban on Wizards has been lifted by the new King, and the construction of a new Arcane Academy has been permitted by the Throne, only a few Wizards have come forth to teach there, and no students have yet graduated. Consequently, those remaining have been far too busy to construct anything beyond the occasional potion or scroll; while magic items are no longer black-market commodities, rarity and the high taxes currently demanded of all businesses mean that the price has not measurably dropped and availability remains rare. In general, if you want a magic sword in this campaign, you will still have to go out and find an old one for yourself.]
The Value Of The Mundane
The most trivial objects can be a source of information to the PCs. Even though few of the plot threads dangled before them in this section of the house rules were actively persued, the detail provided helped establish the themes and flavour of the campaign, and gave some practical examples of how those themes would manifest in the course of play. Most of the specific information provided was made up out of whole cloth as I wrote; all I had were the general themes that I wanted to express.
Anyone can do the same. This is another valuable tool to have in your kit when next you work on a campaign’s background.
Oh, and for players, here’s a hot tip: read everything the GM provides, a couple of times, and re-read it every now and then after that – you never know what he’s hidden in it!