Saturday, March 19, 2011
The Copper Standard
I understand the reasoning behind the gold piece standard as presented in various forms of D&D but I don’t think it fits with the Lowlands setting as I imagine it. The low-value and easily attainable gold pieces in Gygaxian D&D exist primarily to allow the existence of non-game-breaking dragon-hoards of a scale similar to that of Smaug’s. This convention has a few effects which I don’t really like.
- The first unfortunate side-effect is the immediate redundancy of the lower denomination coins. Conventionally, a copper piece is worth, on average, one-ten-thousandth of a PCs starting cash and not worth the bother of bending down to pick up. Consequently no amount is going to be sufficient recompense to tempt dungeon-delvers into dangerous depths.
- The second, related effect is that of quickly making items of mundane equipment comparatively cheap and easily attainable such that a PC can be equipped with whatever they want by the time they reach second level.
- The third effect is the consequent inability to spend the riches. Assuming the acquisition of piles of bloodstained gold is necessary to gain levels, PCs are going to have significant quantities of the stuff by the time they advance a few levels. This effect leads to the delightful silliness of carousing tables which are fine for emulation of picaresque pulp-fantasy wastrels but not so emulative of the Crapsack World approach.
- Five different types of coin is too many.
The solution I am proposing for the Middenmurk setting is a single unit of currency – the copper groat. My investigations into Mediaeval coinage indicates historical groats to have generally been a silver or billon (silver/bronze alloy) coin, but I am content to say the Imperial Groat is made of bronze or brass or copper (or possible pewter, tin or lead) with just a little silver in it sometimes – it’s a grubby little tarnished coin with little gleam about it. It is significant in that it is the only commonly encountered unit of currency, it’s what starting PCs get 3d6 x 10 of when they start out and it’s what you get experience for when you bring it out of the hole. Real silver and gold is very special and extremely valuable. Coins of lower value (half-groats are of little consequence, sub-groat transactions are usually resolved with barter and hand waving)
- Starting PCs get 3d6 x 10 groats
- 1 groat = 1 XP
Beyond the groat, there are the Guilder (80 groats), Stiver or Bawbee (2 groats), Obolus (6 groats) Ducat (64 groats), Florin (20 groats), Half-Crown (12 groats), Shekel (24 groats), Noble (80 groats), Sovereign (100 groats) Solidus (120 groats) et cetera, as well as ingots of gold and silver and Quartermaster’s Tokens and Commissary Writs and various other trinkets and baubles of precious materials which can stand in for coin in most situations. It should be noted in a mediaeval paradigm all values and all prices are approximations and players can keep track of the specifics of what they are trading or not as the case may be.
The effect I’d like to achieve when this is done is;
-To have PCs forced to make do with cheap and shoddy equipment and shifty hirelings initially. Finely crafted swords and armour should perhaps arrive a little further down the line. The effect of making a fine hauberk of mail 500 groats rather than 70 gp is to challenge the players to find different ways of conducting themselves, perhaps to rely more upon hirelings and missile fire than to wade into carnage unmindful of the danger.
-No longer to require 200 lbs of gold to reach 2nd level.
-To have cheap and shoddy equipment on the equipment list; ungainly agricultural tools, rusty old keepsakes, patched gambesons and rotten rope that fail regularly (on a roll of one) is potentially more evocative of the setting.
-To make crappy treasure like well-trained mules, pewter votive figurines, sacks of grain and captured weapons significant. Historical epics have been written about cattle raids – D&D characters never stoop so low as this, perhaps they should.