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Seattle, Washington, United States
I'm an old time roleplayer who became a soldier who became a veteran who became a developer who became a dba who became a manager who never gave up his dream of a better world. Even if I have to create it myself.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Silver Standard

I like the silver standard, and Phoenix uses it.  Many games - including D&D - use the gold standard.  So what's the difference?

Well, in the silver standard, silver is the standard upon which all values are built. In the gold standard, it's gold.

Helpful?  Good.  Now let's delve into the details of currency and exchange rates in Phoenix.  If you really want to learn more about the silver standard, then follow the yellow brick road instead.

Table 11-1:  Exchange Rates

As you can see, I am not a big fan of this equals that x10 over and over and over.  I used to like it, but now it feels too precise for me in a medieval-inspired world.  I haven't found a single historic instance of x10 currency in my research (which consisted of a quick google search).

Also, I'm an American, and the metric system is too hard for us to understand.

The silver piece (sp) is the standard piece of the working class – many laborers can expect to make one of these per day of work.  Many cultures refer to this coin with a lunar reference, like "give me 4 moons" or "I'll bet you 10,000 lunatics that you're wrong".  In the Phoenix RPG, prices of common items like swords, shields, and small servings of fine dwarven ale are expressed in silver pieces.

A copper piece (cp) is sometimes called an egg, and is used for small transactions - like buying a dozen eggs.  It takes ten of these coins to equal a silver piece.  It is usually minted with the intention of being broken in half for smaller values, called bit pieces (bp) or just bits - one of which is about the price of a loaf of bread.

The gold piece (gp) is used predominately by the wealthy 1% for large transactions – many small merchants will have a hard time changing it out.  It is worth 100 silver pieces.  A gold piece can buy about 2,000 loaves of bread!  Common names for gold pieces include suns, solars, and phoenixes.

The mithril piece (mp) is usually seen only in certain dwarvish and elvish communities.  In truth, it is mostly made of silver with a trace amount of mithril – but even that small amount gives this coin a vibrant shine and a value of about 50 silver pieces.  Dwarves refer to these as god pieces, elves refer to them as astrals, and most other cultures have no name for them at all.

Other metals or substances might be used by individual cultures, but these are the standards.


  1. As a proud member of the British Commonwealth, I do much prefer the x10 multipliers for simplicity. Imagine playing WoW with this style of currency. I would go mad!

    Your statement that it's too precise for a "medieval-inspired world" reeks of realism. Did you forgot the #1 Rule of Game Design? :-)

    1. Huzzah! Good comment and one I expected at some point. I have prepared a generic letter of response.

      Dear Mr. or Mrs. Pounds-Shillings-Pence,

      Not being compatible with online video game play is not a problem for me. At almost no time should a player in Phoenix be worried about converting from bits to god-pieces, whereas in a video game all units are constantly being converted to each other. The gameplay is fundamentally different.

      If realism was my concern, I would have used the Commonwealth's ridiculously insane system as established in the late 8th century (and lasting for roughly a millenium) of 4 farthings = 1 penny, 12 pence = 1 shilling, 20 shillings = 1 pound. Imagine the fun of making players divide farthings by 48 to get shillings!

      (Incidentally, they stole that system from the French livre and only changed the names)

      The Phoenix system uses 2, 10, and 100 which is still calculable by caffeinated brains. (WoW uses x100 x100 so I know these numbers aren't too big for players.) The primary adventuring currencies are still silver and gold - depending on the characters' levels, of course - which is x100. The third most common, copper, is still x10.

      Bits and god-pieces are primarily for flavor, likely to be used only intermittently. Adding a splash of flavor like this is important, and was one of the things that made D&D fun for me back before it was ultra-homogenized.

      Mr. Blue

      TL/DR: The coins are meant to invoke a flavor echoing ancient currencies, but without the awkward complexities of real ancient currencies.

    2. Well reasoned, I stand convinced good sir.

      That said, if you ever insult the Commonwealth again, I will call for some severe fisticuffs.

    3. Presumably by pointing out they copied something from the French? :)

  2. I really really like the names you gave the coins. They feel like they belong in the game and flow nicely. I look forward to using them.

    Well Done!

  3. I think the public tendency to think in decimal terms only really dates back to the 18th century "Age of Reason" and ascendance of science. Previously there was a tendency to think of fractions in terms of successive halves, or as portions of a 360 degree circle or 12 hour day. Another logical approach for monetary "change" can be seen in the "pieces of eight" of pirate fame -- Spanish coins typically had a cross on one face, providing an easy guide for chopping the coin into quarters or eighths. The "eighths" practice persisted in the prices of stocks on the NYSE until 2001.

    A silver-to-gold ratio of 100:1 might be justified in terms of common coin sizes or the idiosyncratic geology of your world, but I use 10:1 by weight in my world as being closer to the earthly medieval situation (actually more like 12 or 14:1). The silver mines of the New World depressed silver prices to closer to 20:1 in the renaissance era, where they remained until demand driven by paper currency and associated inflationary monetary policies in the 20th century pushed gold values up to the neighborhood of the 50:1 ratios we see today.

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