- Markets Without "Money"
- Gift Economies
- Interlude: So Where Does Money Come From?
- Money, But Weird
- Pseudo Bartering
- Paper Money/Cheques
- Boulder Money
- Cowrie Shell Money
- Fantasy Money
|Yeah, yeah. This shit again.|
- Commodities are immediately exchanged whereas gifts have delayed exchange
- Commodity goods are alienable whereas gifts are inalienable (i.e. they'll forever be associated with the gift-giver as their one true "source," and, in some sense, their eternal owner)
- Commodity exchange actors are independent but gift exchange actors are dependent
- Commodity economies are all about quantitative exchanges whereas gift economies are about qualitative exchanges
- Commodity exchange is thought of as between the objects whereas the focus of gift exchange is between the people
|"Don't worry homie, the basics are covered|
for you. You just do the rest."
|How it feels returning from the dungeon to|
distribute the spoils of adventure to all your neighbors
Paper Money/Cheques: okay, so by the time paper money became ubiquitous, it became pretty much the same experience as using commodity money from the individual consumer's point of view. Don't get me wrong, from an economics perspective, there are massive differences between trading gold coins directly and trading gold-backed paper bills issued by a bank. But for the PCs, a fully-adopted paper money system isn't going to have a meaningful difference in gameplay. So I would argue that the most interesting characteristics we can find with "paper money" for gameplay inspiration is the form it took on in its earliest days. The situation I'm about to describe was roughly the same both when paper money was first being introduced in China and in England (I've heard Carthage used bank promissory notes too, but I don't know much about them).
So you go to the bank and you drop off some coins. They hold it in their storage and they give you a receipt. This receipt functions as an IOU. When you return to the bank and hand them this, they should give that amount of coins, right?
So what if you paid for goods or services by giving the other person this IOU instead of coins? I mean, the receipt doesn't have a name on it. Anyone could go to the bank with that piece of paper and trade it in for the stated amount.
Bank notes take up less inventory space than coinage because they're just paper, but they're also less liquid. No need to haul something around in a cart and keep it safe, but you probably can't spend the note itself for anything unless you meet a merchant. Although here's my favorite idea:
Before national, centralized banks became a thing, each private bank would issue its own bank notes! Thus, which bank notes you can cash in depends on your relationship to each of the banks. That's faction play right there, baby. Imagine a rising late medieval kingdom with three major banks, each of which is one of the most powerful institutions in the country. Merge these with your existing factions, like having one be a mercenary company, another a wizard's college, and another a thieve's guild. But in addition to all that normal juicy faction gameplay, each one also has a special type of unique treasure in circulation throughout the kingdom in the form of these IOUs. If the players ever come into ownership of one, they either go to cash it in (if it's a friendly faction) or trade it to a merchant NPC for something (if it's an unfriendly faction.)
The way it worked is that everyone in the community just maintained a collective oral memory of who owned which stones. They were almost always too heavy to ever move, so you'd just "pay" for something by saying, "I'll give you the stone up on Clay Hill for it" or "how about you give me the stone under the bridge and the stone on Turtle Island and we'll call it even?" Every stone had a history of owners that you'd memorize when you came into ownership of it so you could recount the full record. Nice little bonus is that they're literally immune to theft because ownership has nothing to do with physical possession.
My brother pointed out to me how interesting it is that they're also called "fei" stones. Imagine if the fey traded in a menhir currency. It sure would reinforce how unfamiliar and weird they are to most players. In a similar fashion, I would map my faerie otherworld with a menhir on every hex, but the current owner also affects the random encounters and weather and stuff of that hex. Fey have a supernatural influence on the world around them, and ownership of menhirs is also a direct force of power you feed into the world.
Substitute fey for dragons if you'd like. They clearly don't collect gold coins with the intention of spending them, so maybe they use something else for money.
Well, like gold it's durable and small and kinda useless but pretty. It's nearly impossible to counterfeit though, and it's hard enough to acquire that you probably won't risk inflation. But from the point of view of a PC? I honestly don't see any ways in which it can be meaningfully distinct from gold coins. The real reason to use shell money in your game is just worldbuilding flavor, keeping in mind that rather than "exotic" it should really be treated as fairly normal and mainstream, as it was in much of the world for most of history.
The only idea I can come up with is if the shells in question were harvested from giant monster snails instead, so that aspiring adventurers might go monster hunting instead of gold mining when they want to get the raw form of the commodity directly.
Cryptocurrency: Yes, we're really going there. Crypto may be a nonsense scam for naïve and pitiful men but, mechanically speaking, it does have some interesting properties. But because most of its unique features can't really be replicated through some mundane analogy, we are faced with the inevitable worldbuilding implications: the D&D equivalent of Cryptocurrency is "Wizard Money." Which I find a hilarious idea. Imagine Gandalf as a Crypto Bro.
The convenient thing is that both the "Proof of Work" and "Proof of Stake" processes are really easily gameable. Let's try to imagine the most straightforward translation of these ideas into a fantasy context.
Oh, and it's also slowly killing the Elemental and destabilizing reality around it. Because of course it is. Proof of Work is a fucking nightmare. Of course, I understand that the idea behind Proof of Work is to be a consensus-building security measure, and that the generation of new Bitcoin after each verification is just a side incentive to get people to participate. Maybe that's how this wizard practice started too? But just as in real life, inevitably it would become entirely about the daily bounty to be won.
As for Proof of Stake, things are a little less outright destructive and a little more gamble-y.
Proof of Stake as an alternative consensus mechanism requires each validator to put up some collateral money, which becomes your percentage chance of being the one awarded the bounty once the next round of transactions are validated. So you can imagine an alternative version where each wizard dumps a pile of gold into the Elemental each day and one of them gets their amount back plus some extra, like a big lottery. That could be a fun minigame for a PC to indulge in.
I promised economic content inspired by real-world history, and indeed that is the bulk of this post. But it was inevitable that we talk about some bizarre, imaginary stuff. I polled the NSR Discord server for what they've come across before in addition to the stuff I've seen and used.
- Drain life, i.e. gain 1d10 temp HP
- Query, i.e. ask the coin's soul a single question, drawing from the knowledge it had in life
That is, if you ask me, quite a potent little magic item. I can hardly imagine every coin in my wallet having those traits. but one or two would be a neat thing to steal.
Meanwhile, in the Old World of Darkness game Wraith: the Oblivion, everything is ghosts. PCs are ghosts, NPCs they're trading with are ghosts, and all items and currency are constructed out of ghosts. Yes, the ghosts being used as building materials and money are suffering. The whole thing is fucked. The main mechanical comsequence I can imagine for this is that, if you're strapped for cash, then you can always tear a bit of yourself off and use that as money. Not sure what I would make the consequence, though.
A user by the name of Xag told me about their post-apocalyptic game where the main currency was monster teeth. This is a much better version of the idea I had for cowrie shells above. The problem with that idea is that 1) cowrie shells are a good equivalent to coinage because they're tiny, but 2) the only way to make it actually an "adventure" to acquire them in the way I described is by fighting giant mollusk monsters, and thus their shells would be huge. Well, Xag solved that problem: giant monsters still typically have coin-sized teeth. I like games with monster harvesting and crafting systems, and it seems a sensible thing to me that, in addition to getting food and crafting materials off of its body, you can also extract a literal money reward.
And above all else, there's just a wealth of evidence here that economics is an opportunity for worldbuilding. Even if you insist on keeping things just like vanilla D&D in function, why not take this chance to reinforce the world's cultures and fantastic properties in small places like money? I'd like to thank "That's Wondeerful!" (boy howdy what a username) for the following brainstormed ideas:
- "strings of beads, starting with common materials like wood and moving up to glass, and perhaps with the most valuable being carved from gems and stone like jadeite"
- "trading wood carvings of animal heads"
- "underground wizard societies is trading talismans, like the mummified fingers and hands of more powerful wizards and saints"
- "spices could be traded" [presumably as a direct currency rather than a trade good, as in the real world. They continue:] In an ideal world for me, people would be bartering with vials of funky and weird smelling and tasting powders and liquids"
- "Perhaps people could trade with pieces of something with meaningful cultural significance, like the roofing off of a cathedral that burned down"
- "currency in the form of fancy knots, like macrame or something adjacent? There's maybe a handful of people who know the actual practice of creating these piece of fiber art that are used to exchange goods"
I hope one or several of those inspired some neats ideas for you. If not, don't worry, I have more to come. Sometimes it's less about money itself and instead how you use money. That said, keep in mind what I've covered in this post, since much of it will come up again in the next two parts of this series.
If anyone has any additions to this post, I'd love to hear about it in the comments. Better yet, can you come up with an alternative to conventional money that would present unique gameplay opportunities? Nothing is off limits, it just takes a little bit of imagination.