Your Coin is No Good Here

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on August 28, 2009

“That’ll be two gold for the drinks and the meal,” says the waitress as she clears your plates and refills your mugs.
“Here you go, darling” says Braddoc the Fighter as he slides a few coins across the table. “This should take care of the bill along with a few extra for you.”
“Um, thanks,” she says as she eyes the coins awkwardly.
“What’s the problem?” ask Braddoc.
“You have to pay in real money. I can’t take these strange coins.”

Many aspects of D&D are simplified in order to make the game run smoothly. Currency squarely falls into this category. Currency in D&D is typically the same regardless of where you are in the campaign world and what you’re trying to buy. What 1 gp buys in your home town is generally what 1 gp buys in the next town. But if you’re looking to add a little bit of flavour to your next campaign why not treat money in D&D a little bit more like it’s handled in real life?

Different countries mint their own coins. The size, shape, weight and symbol stamped on each side will be different from country to country. As your PCs travel the world it is likely that they’ll have coins from many exotic locales in their change purse. Some towns and cities will accept the foreign coins with little objection or notice, but smaller towns are more likely to make a fuss.

New coins are likely minted whenever a new force or power takes controller of a country. This may be the result of war or democratic elections, the details are up to the DM. With a new leader comes the opportunity for their portrait and coat of arms to grace the local currency. Coins bearing the portrait of the previous king may quickly fall out of circulations and become worthless.

This becomes especially relevant if the PCs find buried treasure of defeat a 200 year old dragon. Many or possibly all of the coins are likely decades or even centuries old. From a role-playing perspective this presents opportunity to a creative PC. Perhaps the old coins are now worth more, to the right buyer, because they are so rare. Or perhaps the coins are only worth the weight of the gold and silver contained within them.

As a DM it’s up to you to determine how different currencies are handled in your campaign world. Are the coins from one country worth more or less when converted into a foreign currency? Does the rate of exchange change based on political and economic factors?

This is not something to add to your campaign on a whim. Some PCs may decide that they’re just not interested in dealing with foreign exchange. It’s up to the DM to gauge the extent to which this should affect the game. It may make sense to go down this path, especially if you apply real world rationale to the situation, but never forget that this is a game and it’s supposed to be fun. As soon as the PCs spend more time converting coin than battling monster you know that you’ve gone too far. My recommendation is to find a compromise and use foreign currency as a game tool sparingly.

Keep in mind that foreign currency can have other in-game implications even if all gold pieces are valued equally. PC trying to pass as locals may find their cover blown as soon as they try to use foreign coins to pay or goods.

The next time you award your PCs with gold pieces give some thought to the type of coins in the treasure horde and how this may affect the game moving forward. As a once and a while thing, introducing foreign or rare coins is something the PCs may enjoy, but bogging down the simplicity of D&D with currency exchange may be too much reality for some.

1 Craig Willcutt August 28, 2009 at 9:31 am

I originally got this idea when I read read through the 2nd edition Arms & Equipment guide many years ago. It really is an excellent idea.

A few years ago I used the idea of varying currency in an Eberron game when the PCs found themselves in Stormreach buying goods for equipment. Essentially, I used it for plot development. Similarly, this can be used to drive a story as well.

Initially the players were a bit shocked (a couple angry) but when they realized that they were not getting low balled and cheated they warmed to the idea. I find players are more agreeable when they see that the DM is screwing them over in the short term for the long term benefit of the game.

2 Dyson Logos August 28, 2009 at 10:43 am

I generally play games with extended downtime between adventures – in the order of months to a year. So we have detailed coinage for the world, but it doesn’t matter to the players, just the characters. Money exchange is one of those things that are done behind the scenes between games.

A lot like the other things that would drive me nuts in a game – like cleaning your horse’s shoes so it doesn’t go lame, cleaning tack, checking ropes for wear, sharpening and oiling weapons, and getting your shoes repaired. All things that are actually important and “real”, but that just become minutia that don’t seriously impact the game.
.-= Dyson Logos´s last blog ..[Friday Map] Fort Tenras =-.

3 Zzarchov August 28, 2009 at 7:05 pm

Personally I’ve always loved strange and foreign coins. A standard rate I have most towns folk use is a 10% reduction in price (for coins of completely unknown origin), with the occassional test of purity. The rationale there is that gold is still gold and easy to melt into jewellry (a simple ring or an ingot)

Now the other factor is that metals are different values. In the far east a gold coin is 5 silver(silver shortage), in the south american (equiv) mountains silver is 20 to a gold (many silver mines). This is a case where the PC’s start their own adventure of buying a ship, sailing to south america, trading all their gold to silver, then heading to China to trade it in for an 8x profit (minus the risk of pirates, monsters, storms and high adventure in hawaii along the way).

It can be a grande source of enjoyment. To the right type of player.

4 Ameron August 31, 2009 at 3:39 pm

@Craig Willcutt
It sounds like you’ve taken the best approach. Use money exchange as a role-playing tool and not as a way to screw over the PCs.

@Dyson Logos
I think it is just assumed that money exchange happens in D&D but it’s done behind the scenes as you’ve mentioned. I agree that if the mundane activates start to bog down a game then you’re focusing your energies in the wrong area (I have never role-played having a horse re-shoed). One of the guys I used to play D&D with always said “I get enough reality in real life. I play D&D to focus on the fantasy.” My current group, on the other hand, would relish the opportunity to role-play the money exchange. It’s really up to the DM and players to find the right balance.

This is a brilliant idea. I’m going to “borrow” it for my upcoming game. My PCs will love it. Thanks.

5 Josh Stevens January 13, 2012 at 5:16 am

This is a load of hockey. In a world where you carry around literal coins made of gold… their worth stays the same.
The reason that exchange rates happen is because the ammount of gold that is backing that paper up is different. No barmaid is going to look at gold coinage and then turn her face up at it because a different king’s face is printed on it. It’s. Still. Gold!

6 Ameron (Derek Myers) January 13, 2012 at 10:25 am

@Josh Stevens
I agree that a gold coin will still have value because it contains gold, but coins of different sizes, shapes and even colour would likely be questioned by local merchants, especially the local serving wench. It’s not unreasonable to assume the initial reaction to seeing foreign currency would be to say “your coin is no good here.” If nothing else it creates an interesting role-playing opportunity as the characters have to explain where the coin is from and its relative value. If they play their cards right they may be able to get more than the gold value because it’s an exotic and rare treasure.

7 derek September 25, 2012 at 10:36 pm

Remember, this is still a medieval based society. Just because Kingdom A’s lowest value gold coin weighs one ounce doesn’t mean that kingdom B might not be using a .9 ounce coin. Most big town merchants are likely to buy and sell based on the weight of foreign coins, not their size, or “list value”. This is why most games include scales in the list of equipment that can be bought. This also allows common old traveler tactics like forging your cash into a necklace, where each link is about the same weight. it can stay hidden under your armor, and a couple of links can be twisted off to pay for things.

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