Dungeons and Dragons has this wonderful abstraction of currency that helps to simplify the game and move things along. There are ten copper pieces in a silver piece, ten silver pieces in a gold piece, and 10 gold in a platinum. There is electrum as well, but lets not talk about that. No one speaks about electrum.
Gold pieces are kind of the base. Everything else is measured off of that. Think of it like the dollar. Coins are percentages of the dollar, while other bills are multiples of it. A ten dollar bill is ten single dollars. It is also 1,000 cents, but no one thinks of it that way. While most townsfolk are likely dealing in silver as a standard of living, adventurers with their treasure hunting ways will almost certainly be measuring their wealth in GP.
This system of currency in D&D serves to take the hassle out of wealth. If you are buying a dagger, it costs the same currency wherever you may be. It is also likely going to cost the same amount. If you have 2 GP, you can have a dagger. Nice, fast, and simple.
My own campaign world, The Isles of Samsarras, is based largely on exploration and the interplay between different cultures and regions. If the players go to another kingdom, there are new customs and new gods. The language is different as well as the values. Not every place has a shared sense of history, as the Dwarves from the frozen north have had different struggles than the independent city states of Qua’Lorn in the hot south.
In short, I want places to feel different. I want the players to feel like travelers, exploring a land far from home. Currency is just another way to achieve that feeling.
In The Isles of Samsarras, I’ve made currency a geographical/cultural thing. Elves use different money than gnomes, who use different money than the tribal humans of The Glimmering Isles. Each currency has a different base. Not everyone is going to want this in their game, as it does add a bit of work, but I find it makes things more interesting when the PCs open a chest. What currency they find in that forgotten tomb tells a bit of its history.
First, lets begin with the Dwarves, as their currency is the most translatable. The idea came from Viking Hacksilver, The short version of Hacksilver is that of a currency done by weight. After pillaging a bunch of silver from other lands, the Vikings would just chop it up and bend it instead of minting coin. They would then use scales to determine its value. Seemed pretty cool and rustic.
As the Dwarves of my world do fall into the stereotypical trope of being the miners, they have access to these precious stones quite often. Instead of minting them into coin, they prefer to keep them closer to their natural form, as these stones are also raw material. They take their gold, silver, and copper and just forge it into simple jewelry, like long curing bracelets. When they need to pay for something, they just hand over a ring or chop a section off the bracelet.
Need that dagger? Hack off two gold pieces worth of gold from that necklace. This makes their currency harder to steal while giving it some really fun flavor. The players are excited when they open a chest full of gold and copper bracelets. They just found a horde of Dwarven treasure.
Elves, on the other hand, have minted coins. Their base is the Elnar, which is equal to one gold. There are 4 Dinar in an Elnar and 4 Pharinar in a Dinar. Below is a handy chart for conversions.
To read the chart, look at the currency on the left. Find a coin at the top you wish to exchange. The number at the intersection represents how many of the top coin make up the left hand coin. For instance, 2.5 Isnar make up a Pharinar. If you want to buy that dagger, 16 Pharinar will do it.
The elves, being an old civilization, have one of the more complicated currencies. There are a lot of delineations. The Glimmering Isles are much more tribal in nature. If you listen to “Crumbling Keep Presents: The Isles of Samsarras” podcast, you’ve likely met Heskin. He hails from that area of the world. Instead of giving him coins, we decided to give him the equivalent in trade goods. His “currency” looks like this:
|Driftwood carving of a Dragon||15 GP|
|Irus (A super savory spice. You can trade it in increments.)||5 GP|
|Lothal (Coffee) Beans 5 lbs||50 GP (only in outside world)|
|3 Turquoise Stones (worth 10 gp each)||30 GP|
|Ornate Carved Stone Necklace, 19 Stones long (can sell single Stone)||30 GP|
|Elaborately Carved Ivory Snuff Box (traded to you from a sailor once)||15 GP|
|2 Ounces Cured Burk (smoking weed like tobacco)||8 GP|
|Ornate Silver Ring||20 GP|
|Painted Tribal mask, in the style of a demon||10 GP|
Where ever Heskin goes, he has some trade goods. Need that dagger? Cough up a quarter of an ounce of Cured Burk. It takes a little bit of mental math, but it adds to the role play for us. He has some actual coinage now that he has been out in the larger world, but those trade goods will forever be an essential part of his character.
Again, not everyone is going to want to go through the hassle. If you have a group that really likes to be immersed in your world, however, think about taking a day and making up some fun currencies. What would tieflings trade? What about aaracockra? Have fun with it. Let your imagination grasp onto the possibilities.
If you are running an Isles of Samsarras game, want more inspiration for your own currency, or just feel like stealing mine, you can see all of them at our Patreon.