Friday Favourite: Your Coin is No Good Here

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on November 15, 2013

On Friday we comb through our extensive archives to find an older article that we feel deserves another look. From August 28, 2009, Dungeon’s Master once again presents: Your Coin is No Good Here.

“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.

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1 cirsova November 15, 2013 at 10:50 am

This problem would mostly occur in instances where places used fiat currency or some sort of debased currency. In a typical D&D world, the vast majority of liquid wealth in the economy seems to be derived from bullion grade coins minted by long-lost empires that have been dredged up by various heroes. The primary questions would be “What is the coin’s composition?” and “Based on the markings of the coin, can we tell if this is from a period in which the currency was being debased by mixing in inferior metals?” These are questions which often don’t get asked or don’t need to be asked because for D&D to ‘work’ as a system, coinage needs to be treated as standard. Just imagine how awful it would be if the heroes discovered that their coinage was only around 67% gold with 33% base metals mixed in? They’d have to recalculate their XP down by up to 33% (even worse, they’d have to do some sort of awful algebra to figure out how much it was worth if it were mixed with silver!). Just think of the levels lost! “Guess what? You thought you were level 9? You’re really level 7, because the king thought he could release a batch of debased coins for a short run to earn a nice seigniorage ages ago because no one in Greyhawk was familiar with Gresham’s Law!”

Great post.

2 cirsova November 15, 2013 at 10:57 am

Addendum: The price tables in most guides suggest either an absurdly debased system of coinage or an economy where bullion metals are only worth an infinitesimal fraction of their real world value.

Note that political mandates and decrees of new tyrants outlawing use of earlier, supperior coinage while introducing their own new debased coinage could make for some interesting hooks.

3 Vobekhan November 15, 2013 at 11:14 am

I seem to recall in older editions of the Forgotten Realms setting that places like Waterdeep had their own terms for currency and I think it was Sembian coins or some such were worth lower amounts in certain areas.

I remember confusing my players with some Kara-Tur Shaol within a treasure horde which sparked a side quest to discover what the strange coins were.

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