Monday, April 12, 2010

The Forgotten, The Neglected...The Copper Piece

As a DM, I always felt bad for the poor copper piece. Always the one to be tossed aside for something better. Always scoffed at when offered as payment. Most likely to be thrown down a hallway to check for trapped floors. 

As adventurers become more and more powerful their standards of treasure become higher and only a certain caliber of monetary gain is suitable. Only gold and above will suffice for the well-dressed, high level adventurer. So where does that leave the poor copper piece? The bottom of a beggar's cup or stuck to the sole of an adventurer's boot that's where.

I believe the disdain that most players have for the copper piece, and to a lesser extent the silver piece, is the fact that gold is the standard unit of money in most games. Meaning that everything is priced based on a gold piece value and therefore, why carry copper pieces as they are next to worthless in the greater scheme of things.

What I have done in the past is taken a page from the sage, Gary Gygax to you and me, and adopted a different money system based loosely on that presented in Greyhawk Adventures - Saga of Old City. In which, he expanded the money system to include several other types of metal coins. I have taken that basic premise, changed some names to protect the innocent, simplified the exchange rate and changed the basic unit of coinage from the Gold Piece to the Bronze Piece. 

The new money system looks like this:

Name                                  Equivalent
Iron Blight (ip)                Lowest value coin
Brass Cutter (bp)              10 Iron Pieces
Bronze Filch (bz)             10 Brass Pieces
Copper Swift (cp)            10 Bronze Pieces
Silver Talon (sp)             10 Copper Pieces
Electrum Galleon (ep)   10 Silver Pieces
Gold Spire (gp)                 10 Electrum Pieces
Platinum Raven (pp)     10 Gold Pieces
Mithril Corsair (mp)      10 Platinum Pieces
Adamant Drake (ap)     10 Mithril Pieces

So as you can see, now when they find a copper piece, they won't be so quick to toss it aside. Sure, it might just replace the lowly valued Copper and Silver pieces with differently named Iron and Brass pieces, but at least Iron and Brass don't seem as valuable as Copper and Silver. If you left a round piece of iron laying on the ground, you wouldn't think twice about it.


  1. You could always change the prices and exchange rates to something closer to realistic for the Middle Ages--elevating the poor copper and putting gold out of reach.

  2. I forgot about that book. Didn't it have brass bits in it? Anyway, for my game I use a silver standard. Gold is mainly used by nobility or well of merchants. Copper is use often in my campaign. But of course as the levels go up so does the characters number of gold pieces.

  3. Bronze/brass cheaper than copper? I can only presume tin is more abundant in fantasyland than it was in our own pre-modern era. Likewise iron (cold iron... master of all), should that really be cheaper than abundant and easily smelted copper?

    Snark aside, this is good stuff. I especially liked your integration of the magical metals into use as currency. Was that inspired by the Judge's Guild Ready Ref Sheets, or was it just an obvious progression for you?

    Magic metals aside I came to similar conclusions as you have a while ago. My variation was to shrink copper into farthing-sized chump change (250/lb), add bronze as the silver analogue, and appreciate metal value from there.

    I've long been of the (minority, anti-heroic) belief that silver should be the currency base (as silver pennies, cash, pesos and dollars were in the pre-modern era), and that gold should be a precious metal, rather than the default. Platinum? Fuggetaboutit.

  4. I've run campaigns in the past where I've set silver as the standard. I recently went back to the gold standard when I had a thought: with a bunch of alchemists running around transmuting lead to gold and such, it only stands to reason that gold would be far less valuable in a magical world than our own.

    Having said that, I wholeheartedly approve of a system like this if one wants to evoke a more "fantasy historical" vibe.

    (And perhaps appropos of nothing, my favorite monetary system remains Dark Sun, especially the ceramic pieces that could literally be broken up into "bits" to make change.)


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