When is a Coin not a Coin?


I just bought Luke Gearing’s Wolves Upon The Coast campaign which includes a draft of his forthcoming supplement &&&&& Treasure. This is a series of tables for generating treasure hordes, and alongside the expected entries for potions, wands, artefacts, etc, there is a “coins” table. I’ve written before about my dissatisfaction with the way money is conceived of in RPGs. So Luke’s table brought a smile to my face, as it presents coinage as something much more than just some ubiquitous anonymous token used for earning experience, resurrecting old buddies, and building mansions.

Included in the table are aspirational coins, foldable coins, dogs full of coins, coins that can be worn as armour, and several forms of currency that are not quite coins.

The “special coins” listed in the table are intended to supplement, rather than replace, “modern” types of currency – your common or garden pieces of gold, silver, copper, electrum, platinum, whatever – although it’s acknowledged that even modern coins will not be of a standard type:

Coins taken from pockets with grubby fingers will be of mixed modern types, and usable as tender unless a
polity is actively enforcing its own coinage. Coins discovered in hoards will tie to the time of their origin …  accumulative hoards as gathered by certain types of inhuman monsters (ogres, bankers etc) will mostly be of local, modern types (as dictated by geography)  but may (20% chance) have one of the below Special Coins. Special Coins can be used as normal coinage or sold to historians, scholars and collectors. 

So “special” coins may be used as a stand-in for modern coins. But most have other uses too, and will be far more valuable if sold to a collector rather than used as a “modern” coin (see noisms post about finding suitable collectors who buy rare artefacts).

Another interesting aspect of the coins table is that it lists the type of things you’re likely to find on the obverse & reverse (“heads & tails”) of each coin type, whether these be heads in profile, animals, trees, lighthouses, internal organs or, in one case, parts of a larger picture which can only be made out when 500 unique coins are arranged into a specific pattern. The pictures which appear on coins are one of the most prominent things about them, and yet I can remember very few examples of these pictures described in RPGs (here’s a nice table, again from noisms, for generating coin descriptions).
A few currency ideas:
  1. Monster parts as coinage (e.g. dragon scales: one dragon = HP x 500 coins equivalent)
  2. Coins tainted with magic
  3. Rubber coins that squeak when you’re hit in combat, fall down a trap, etc
  4. Coins made from radioactive substances which decay and damage the carrier if not spent rapidly
  5. Coins which change their design according to, e.g., the weather, or the mood of the region’s ruler 
  6. Propaganda coins (for inspiration, see the  early 20th Century German medals designed by Karl Goetz – this one being the most notorious – content warning: explicit racism; naked woman; unfeasibly large penis; doubled-up exclamation marks!!)
  7. Coinlings
  8. Interlocking coins. What do they make? And where can you find the missing piece of the jigsaw? Don’t say that bloody dragon’s got it!
  9. Translucent coins which show looped footage of glories from long ago
  10. Coins which weigh so much as to be effectively worthless
  11. Coins which weigh so little as to float away if uncontained
  12. Cowrie shells et al
  13. Ectoplasmic currency



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3 responses to “When is a Coin not a Coin?”

  1. Dick McGee Avatar

    14. Enchanted coins that loudly and continuously shout "Thief! Thief! I've been stolen!" unless they've changed hands in a legitimate transaction rather than being (say) found in loot in a dungeon. The Moneychangers' Guild are the only folks who know how to shut them up – officially. Every successful Thieves' Guild knows the trick too. Memberships frequently overlap.

    11A. Lighter than air "coins" (probably spheroid bubbles) whose value is based largely on their use in airship construction. Made from something annoying like fairy tears or dew harvested from some specific rare flower under a full moon.

    15. Strangely marked or defaced coins that serve to indicate membership in various secret societies, occult conspiracies, sinister cults, criminal organizations, etc. Have fun passing those safely. And what happens when two or more groups just happen to decide to use the same "code" on their coins?

    16. Coins made of very, very delicate blown glass in complex shapes. Value based on how elaborate and intact they are, with all of them worth far more than gold. Used mostly for payments rendered between the ultra-wealthy who can afford to hire lackeys just to carry the things around in carefully-packed padded containers – but giving them to lesser mortals (beggars, tradesmen, adventurers) instead of regular coinage is considered a fine joke.

    17. Intensely magi-netic copper coins that stick to any enchanted item that comes within arm's reach. Takes a strength test and one minute to pry 1d6 of these coins loose from whatever they're stuck to. Often found in inconveniently large numbers attached to magical gear (particularly armor), sometimes with the former owner's corpse underneath.

  2. dansumption Avatar

    These are brilliant! I love all of them, definitely going to be using them.

  3. Dick McGee Avatar

    Thanks. Always better at riffing off other folks' ideas than being wholly original, my creative pump needs priming.

    Further thought:

    Take 11A (the floating bubble-coins) and have them found only in the Underdark/Mythic Underworld/whatever you care to call the dungeons network adventurers spend a lot of their time in. They spontaneously generate over time through some supernatural process everywhere but ones that form on the surface world are usually lost since they float away to the moon or something. Underground they get trapped and can be found drifting around the ceilings of many caverns, just waiting to be collected. An isolated underground area with no denizens might slowly fill up with the things, becoming an inverted subterranean money bin of sorts. Have the bubbles break if handled too roughly so they're a resource that constantly needs replacing.

    Build a whole campaign world around airships that use these things to fly, with the surface world desperate to get as many as possible for their airborne armadas but struggling to collect them above ground, while the Underdark races have ready access to them but little use for them underground airship flotillas not really being a thing). Lots of surface world stuff might be in demand though – foodstuffs, seasonings, potions and magical ingredients not found below ground, maybe mercenaries or skilled craftsmen (assuming a much higher surface population than below), etc.

    Loads of opportunities for trading, raiding, and playing at power politics both above and below ground, and neither Above nor Below can ignore what goes on in either. Maybe Below is subdivided the way the Underdark is, with the folks in the Shallows being easier trading partners with the Above but the weirdos in the Deeps having more access to rich bubble-generating regions. Vertical trading, literally.

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