02 May 2010

Fantasy Coinage: Long Live the Silver Standard!

For the Secret of Steel, I'd known that I would go by the silver standard as soon as I made the game. It wasn't even a question- it was something that I knew had to be done. Why?

Well, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I'm tired of gold. Gold coins may be nice and shiny, but they're horribly misused. Most games simplify the use of money by calling it "gp", for gold pieces, and then use platinum for the next size up. Silver and Copper are forgettable, mere chunks of metal that eventually lead up to the niceness of gold.

But it seems wrong to me. Gold should be precious, and rare, a prize to be vied for. Gold shouldn't be the standard- gold should be in the realm of kings, merchants, and aristocrats. To pay in gold would mean wide eyes and mumbled apologies to your lordship, we didn't know you were an aristocrat, we humbly beg your forgiveness.

Silver coins are for the commoners, the skilled professionals, the masons and carpenters and soldiers. The proverbial "20 pieces of silver" could be a week's wage, which in the Secret of Steel is enough to buy a decent chunk. You can certainly feed your family for the week off of 20 silver. And that, I think, is how it should be. A small handful of silver is enough to purchase yourself a new battleaxe, or a shield.

Copper coins are for beggars. They're the one-dollar bills in modern parlance. They're what you make change with, the money you give to children so they can afford some sticky sugary rolls. You flip a beggar a copper coin so he can afford a bowl of soup. A small handful of copper coins will buy a brand new candle, or a length of rope.

And that's why I like it that way. Every coin has a purpose, and every coin is useful. It always grated on me how in "some versions" of D&D, there was no real-world reason for silver or copper. At all. They bought next to nothing, nobody carried them, nobody used them. The only place they were important was in randomly-rolled treasure, where you didn't want to give the PCs too much money. And likely, they just ignored the copper and silver and took only the gold.


  1. This a frequently touted vewpoint among various RGP-ers, but that's OK because I happen to agree with it! In my homebrew Swords & Sorcery LL setting, I use silver pieces as the basic currency. Most items in the standard equipment like are downgraded in coin type so prices in gp are sp and sp are cp. Weapons, armor, and a few specialty items are still in gp. Characters start with 3d8x10sp in goods and money + one or two "heirloom" items (i.e. a short sword or mace, maybe a shield or set of leather armor, etc.).

  2. I also prefer the silver standard. Gold should be rare or coins of the noble and rich. With the campaign I play with the GM, Rob (Bat in the Attic blog) uses a two teir gold system with a regular gold penny and then a gold crown. It adds a nice depth to the currency wihtout making it too difficult.