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The gold standard

Harlequin Jones

The idea of using gold and silver for money was not a sudden breakthrough - it, like most traditions, was the result of centuries of trial and error. It was eventually settled upon because it was found by most people to be the most useful substance for the task.

A citation from the essay "Gold and Economic Freedom" by none other than Alan Greenspan, chairman of the US Federal Reserve (the most powerful economist in the world *smirk*):

What medium of exchange will be acceptable to all participants in an economy is not determined arbitrarily. First, the medium of exchange should be durable. In a primitive society of meager wealth, wheat might be sufficiently durable to serve as a medium, since all exchanges would occur only during and immediately after the harvest, leaving no value-surplus to store. But where store-of-value considerations are important, as they are in richer, more civilized societies, the medium of exchange must be a durable commodity, usually a metal. A metal is generally chosen because it is homogeneous and divisible: every unit is the same as every other and it can be blended or formed in any quantity. Precious jewels, for example, are neither homogeneous nor divisible. More important, the commodity chosen as a medium must be a luxury. Human desires for luxuries are unlimited and, therefore, luxury goods are always in demand and will always be acceptable. Wheat is a luxury in underfed civilizations, but not in a prosperous society. Cigarettes ordinarily would not serve as money, but they did in post-World War II Europe where they were considered a luxury. The term "luxury good" implies scarcity and high unit value. Having a high unit value, such a good is easily portable; for instance, an ounce of gold is worth a half-ton of pig iron.

In the early stages of a developing money economy, several media of exchange might be used, since a wide variety of commodities would fulfill the foregoing conditions. However, one of the commodities will gradually displace all others, by being more widely acceptable. Preferences on what to hold as a store of value, will shift to the most widely acceptable commodity, which, in turn, will make it still more acceptable. The shift is progressive until that commodity becomes the sole medium of exchange. The use of a single medium is highly advantageous for the same reasons that a money economy is superior to a barter economy: it makes exchanges possible on an incalculably wider scale.

(For those who want to read the whole thing, go hither: http://www.usagold.com/gildedopinion/Greenspan.html )

It sounds like Kuma's Ironclay might fit the bill well, except perhaps for the process of making it into money being difficult. I'll accept the defense of dramatic license, since it is a cool concept.

Spices would probably work well, too, as long as they are not the kind that will spoil over time.



aka Mike Sullivan
Validated User
Just for the record, Dark Sun did <i>not</i> use steel pieces. It used the standard coinage, which was shifted up something like one (or two?) order(s) of magnitude in worth, plus ceramic pieces, which were below copper pieces in value.

"Normal" (ie, non-metallic) weapons costed their price value-shifted to the new economics. Metallic weapons cost their old price -- ie, an order of magnitude more than they did in normal D&D.


GAMMA Clearance
RPGnet Member
Validated User
This could also go in the "RPG mistakes" thread.

I start a new D&D campaign. In my new campaign world, silver pieces are the new "common" currency, and most transactions are done in silver and bronze. 144 bronzes to the silver, 144 silvers to the gold piece. I explain this to the players in detail.

Ten minutes later, one of the characters is sent to buy a horse. He looks at the D&D rulebook, and sees the average price for a horse. He forgets to convert from "normal" D&D prices into local, and makes an opening bit 144 times greater than the worth of the horse...


Cooler than Carrottop
Jon F. Zeigler said:
Well, silver is much more historical and makes a lot more sense anyway.
I agree. I'm often tempted to tell my players to "bump" the currency over to silver and use bronze pieces for copper. Never catches on though.


Registered User
Validated User
My current campaign, Changed Earth, has a mix of several different types of economic systems.

There are xenophobic, walled communities called sietches which are entirely communist- no personal wealth, the community shares everything. Most of the communities are small (<500 people).

Larger, open towns use a combination of barter system and bank-notes. Bank notes are usually only good in the town they are issued in.

In the wilderness, you have small tribal groups who trade amongst each other and large warbands who live by raiding.

Those people who trade with the dwarves have started using dwarven currency, which is the dwarven gold piece. (I threw this last system in after my players started complaining they couldn't figure out how the economy works.)

[Also, it's amazing how much of D&D3e breaks when you throw out a standard, objective currency.]

The Incredible Hatboy

Superhero at large
Standard vs. Physical Type

I think it's important to distinguish between using something *as* currency and using it as the *standard* for currency. Having, say, a silver coin whose value is defined as equal to one-hundredth of a talent of steel, would work fine. The physical coins *themselves* aren't exhausted as they're used to make transactions. When you pay a blacksmith to make you a sword with those coins, he uses them to buy steel and turns a profit, and there are still just as many coins as there ever were in circulation.

It should be noted that the salt-based economies that happened often in the real-world never (to my knowledge) really used salt as *currency* - that is, people didn't walk around with huge bags of salt over their shoulders, dishing out small amounts for their purchases. Those economies didn't really *have* a currency; they were generally barter-based with salt forming a universally-desired basis.


Retired User
Blood Pieces And Orpé

You want a new standard for your money. Mechanical Dream, industrial fantasy game, introduces a new word, Blood Piece or Bp and Orpee.

The economical situation on The Core's Domain, in Mechanical Dream, the core himself ( Droliath-Esthola ) create a new piece with the kioux blood. With a special process, the kioux blood is crystallized and craft pieces with it. This matter is very flexible, green with red sparkle.

For the Orpee, lots can be speaking. Get a look on sample of Mechanical Dream.

Max S.

I hate it here.
I ran a game (actually, it's still going) in a post-apocalyptic setting where an old prison was converted into a fortress keep. The place was built on a deep aquifer, and in this world, water is very hard to come by. But it's impractical to trade in quarts or liters, so the "warden" cut disks from the unused prison bars, each representing about 1/4 of a day's water needs (a pint, thereabouts). Most of the water was stored for caravan trade, which were regular, about every week (give or take a day). There were as many chits as the average weeks' draw on the well. When the water was traded away and real goods brought in, the currency became a real barter chit. Light, neigh impossible to forge, controlled in supply -- they were dollars.


New member
Judas said:
Maybe spices. I have read of things like salt used as currency in ancient China, and far-east spices in some parts of Europe during the Age of Discovery.

Many spices in early times were literally worth more than their weight in gold.

Hey, melange would be good currency in the Dune universe.

Salary comes from the fact that the Roman Legions were paid in salt.

The idea of spice as currency has a glitch (one ignored by all those mithril and gemstone coins in RPGs). Currency cannot be too valuable, or it loses its capacity to circulate. That is why, in much of Dark Ages Europe, gold coins went out of circulation prior to high feudal times.
That is also why, when iron was rare enough to constitute a portable means of exchange, it was also too valuable to be one.

Salt and cows can be used as currency because they are Necessary. This is usually done in a restricted-exchange situation (such as a highly fragmented tribal or freeholder society, or a legion post on the Limes.) Land-deeds, another medium of exchange that relies on the necessity for the economy of an otherwise-useful medium of currency, have been used in far more complex societies.

Cowry shells were the medium of currency for a fairly extensive trading area in the Pacific Northwest. These were the shells of mollusks living at depths of 15 meters, and had to be harvested by a difficult proccess that could be (economically) equated to mining.

Essentially, everything can be broken down to:

Direct commodity trading. (NOT the same as pure barter.)
Semiprecious materials in standardized sizes (or by weighting at deals).
Nonprecious materials (ceramic, paper) representing a set amount of commodities. (Usually a single symbolically important* commodity, such as cows, land or grain.)
Nonprecious materials epresenting a set amount of precious material held by a powerful group.
Abstract units of value with consensual value dependent on a guesstimate of a powerful group's economic power. (Say hi to U$, ¥, €, £, and the rest. That is why I liked Mage's syndicate. It was the most realistic of all the splats.)

What you choose for cool variations is meaningless within that scheme. I find blood pieces corny, but Kuma's Ironclay cool. (Especially the lodestone verification.)
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