Coinage in d20 Games

Not×10

In my D&D campaigns, I got sick of everything being a multiple of 10, when historically coins were multiples of 12, 4, 6 etc. Just consider the British penny; half-penny; farthing (four to the penny); threepence; groat (four pence); sixpence; shilling (equal to twelve pennies); florin (two shillings); half-crown (2 shillings and sixpence); crown; pound (20 shillings) and guinea (21 shillings).

There is also the oft remarked upon fact that in the D&D world, everyday items are greatly inflated in price, with everything being held to the d20 'gold' standard.

To that end, I created a more varied system. The campaign that uses this is set in Middle-Earth, and for the currency of the North (the ancient realm of Arnor), I created a system with more reasonable values (a standard working wage of a penny a day) and a wide variety of coins, from different races (Human, Elf and Dwarf) and regions.

Alongside this are superstitions, customs and cultural 'baggage'. So there are things you don't so—such as give someone two pennies in change.

The ratios of the coins are most emphatically not decimal, as befits a system that involves multiple races and cultures and which is supposed to have developed over many years. The elves, for instance, favour multiples of six, and arithmetic is easier with sixes and twelves as there are more factors. Likewise, it doesn't matter that complicated arithmetic is needed for large sums. Poor folk don't need to know much more than how much a pint of beer costs. For them, barter is more common anyway, and the difficulty of accounting for large sums of money only increases their suspicion of ‘high finance.’

Feel free to use the ideas in your own campaign. Better yet, use the ideas as a basis for some creative currency of your own.

Off the gold standard

The d20 gold piece (gp) maps 1-to-1 to the Arnor Cresent or Silver Penny. All other conversions follow accordingly.

Arnor to d20 Conversion
Arnord20
36twelths1sp
3pennies1sp
1crescents1gp
1seasons2gp
1pounds12gp
15cartwheels7gp
1weeks2sp
1quarters5sp
1moons2gp
1stars20gp
15groats2gp
5marks2gp
1anvils4gp
1gold marks32gp

The relative values of the coins of Arnor are shown in the Exchange Rate Table.

Currency of the North

The common people use copper (or bronze) coins. The coins most in use are pebbles and pennies, with larger purchases in groats. The silver crescent represents a month’s wages, and even then a worker would more likely be paid in groats and pennies, and possibly marks. Merchants deal in silver coins: crescents and seasons, and golden anvils for convenience.

The coins have common names—sometimes several—and customs and superstitions associated with them.

Counting

For any transaction involving more than a handful of gold or silver coins, the normal practice is “pound and count”. That is, the coins are counted out according to the agreed value of the transaction (“count”), separated into gold and silver, and weighed (“pound“). Any shortfall of more than half a coin weight must then be made up. This guards against coin clipping.

This is not generally done with the low value coins (Penny, Pebble, Groat) or with the ”coins of record”—Season and Cartwheel.

The coins of the realm of Arnor

Copper Penny Sun
Coin: Arnor "penny"
Nominally a day’s wages. Also known as a Sun. Has the Elf-runes for “Ar” on one side (for “Arnor”) and a sun on the other.
Some of the eastern people bury their dead with a penny on each eye. Although this has never been common in the North, nevertheless two pennies are associated with death and are considered unlucky. Nothing ever costs two pennies. Rather than give two pennies change a merchant would give two pennies and a twelfth. Intentionally handing two pennies to someone is a deadly challenge, usually resulting in a fight from which at most one person walks away alive.
Copper/Bronze Twelfth Pebble
Coin: Arnor "twelfth"
A small, hard, shiny coin. Also known as a pebble. 12 Twelfths to a penny. Nominally an hour’s work. One pebble will buy a small glass of cheap beer in a country inn.
The normal price of a common prostitute is 5 twelfths, hence the phrase “five hours for a quarter (hour)” meaning to visit a whore. It is thus considered impolite to hand five twelfths to a woman, even as part of a different sum. This may also be the reason prices are rarely multiples of 5 twelfths. Although prostitution is a phenomenon of the cities, the avoidance of 5 twelfths is universal throughout the North.
Silver Crescent Silver Penny
Coin: Arnor "crescent"
Nominally a month’s wages. Worth 30 pennies. Has the Arnor “Ar” on the reverse and a crescent moon on the obverse. Someone hired for a ‘penny a day’ would typically be paid a crescent (30p) every four weeks (or 28 days), for an effective bonus of two day’s pay.
Electrum Season Silver, Tuppence
Coin: Arnor "season"
A large silver/gold (electrum) coin with scalloped edges. Also known simply as a silver or tuppence (from archaic silver penny now rarely used). Worth 2 crescents or 60 pennies.
The name derives from the Elven division of the loa (year) into 6 seasons: spring [54 days], summer [72 days], autumn [54 days], fading [54 days], winter [72 days] and stirring [54 days].
The Season is the base coin of commerce. All commercial contracts are normally calculated in silvers. Note that the crescent is a more common coin, being a more manageable value, and it would normally be Crescents that would change hands, rather than actual Seasons.
Owing to the varying lengths of the traditional Elven seasons, it is normal to hire by the “Human” month (30 days), year, or half-year, rather than by the Season per se.
NOTE: Electrum is a naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver. The season is actually a silver coin with a small amount of gold added to keep it bright.
Gold Pound Year, Tree, Pear, King
Coin: Arnor "pound"
A gold coin worth 6 Crescents. Named for its equivalence to a pound (by weight) of copper pennies (360). Nominally a year’s wages, whence it is also (rarely) called a year. Has a tree on one side and a fruit on the other. Also known as a tree, pear or king.
Copper Cartwheel Thorn, Fortnight
Coin: Arnor "cartwheel"
The cartwheel is a large copper coin alloyed with silver to make it harder. The coin was never popular and has largely fallen out of use. It was minted by the dwarves for the lakemen (it was never a dwarven coin). It looks like electrum, or silver, but is mainly copper. It is large and heavy (hence inconvenient) and very hard. It has a wheel on one side and a rose on the other. The nominal value is 14 pennies or two weeks work, except that normal practice pays 15p for two weeks work, at least one factor in its unpopularity.
It is known as the cartwheel, thorn (from the rose) or fortnight.
Owing to its size and weight it is sometimes used as a throwing weapon, or as weight for a cosh. Its hardness means it will take an edge. Hence the phrases “hit with a cartwheel” or “hit with a sharpened cartwheel”.
Some traders will not accept cartwheels at all, others will only give 12p value for them, leading to the common phrase “to pay in cartwheels” meaning a 12/14 discount (or more generally any discount). “To pay in cartwheels” is also thieves’ cant meaning to knock someone out.
“I’ll give you two cartwheels for a crescent” is a good natured insult meaning “what kind of a fool do you take me for?” i.e. “I wouldn’t expect you to give me a coin worth 30p in exchange for two worth 12p, so don't treat me as a fool”.
Cartwheels are usually only found circulating at their face value around the Long Lake.

Elven and Dwarven currency in common use

Coins of both the elf and dwarf realms also circulate interchangeably in the North. The common point of reference for both these alternate currencies is the silver/electrum Season.

Elven coins

Silver Week
Coin: Elven "week"
A small silver coin known in the common tongue as a week. 10 weeks to a season, 6 Arnor pennies to a week.
Some hard masters might pay four weeks per month rather than a crescent, i.e. 24 pennies rather than 30. Hence the phrase “Elven wages” to describe poor pay or sharp dealing.
Silver Quarter
Coin: Elven "quarter"
A medium silver coin worth ¼ Season (15 Arnor pennies). The coin shows two moons, one on each side half a synodic month apart.
Silver Moon
Coin: Elven "moon"
A large silver coin exactly equivalent to the Arnor season. Shows two moons at the same phase on both obverse and reverse, against a field of stars on the obverse and against a starburst on the reverse.
Mithril Star Elven Penny
Coin: Elven "star"
A small mithril silver coin worth 10 seasons (600 Arnor pennies). About the same size as an Arnor twelfth and known as an elven penny. Rare.

Dwarf coins

Bronze Groat
Coin: dwarven "groat"
The dwarven penny. 15 groats to the season, 4 Arnor pennies to a groat. A common and useful coin.
Source of a number of descriptive phrases.
A dwarf day’s work
Four times as much
Paid like a dwarf / paid in groats
Hugely overpaid. Insulting unless said of a dwarf!
Paid like a dwarf…and worth every groat
Expensive but worth it. Also used as a simple compliment on a difficult job well done
Eight groats a month
On to a good thing. 8 groats (32p) rather than 1 crescent (30p) is a common enough contract
Silver Mark Silver Mark
Coin: dwarven "mark"
3 groats to the mark. Worth 1/5 of a season or 12 Arnor pennies.
The phrase “two silver dwarves for an elf” describes a very bad bargain indeed (with overtones of being ‘taken for a ride’) since the original phrase was “two silver dwarves for an elven penny”, i.e. 2/5 of a season for 10 seasons, the elven penny being a very large denomination coin indeed.
A plain Mark means a Silver Mark rather than a Gold Mark, however legal contracts will always refer explicitly to Silver Marks.
Gold Anvil Trey
Coin: dwarven "anvil"
Has a hammer on one side and the name of a forge on the other.
10 marks to the anvil. Worth two seasons. Also known as a trey.
Gold Gold Mark Palace
Coin: dwarven "gold mark"
A large gold coin. Has a “D” rune on one side and the name of the forge on the other. Usually called a gold mark to distinguish it from the silver mark.
8 anvils to the gold mark. Worth 16 seasons. Also known as a palace.

Relative values

bronze twelfth copper penny silver crescent silver season gold pound copper cartwheel silver week silver quarter silver moon mithril star copper groat silver mark gold anvil gold mark
Name Realm Metal 1/12 1 30 60 360 14 6 15 60 600 4 12 120 960
twelfth Arnor bronze 1/12 1 1/12
penny Arnor copper 1 12 1
crescent Arnor silver 30 360 30 1 5 2
season Arnor silver 60 720 60 2 1 10 4 1 15 5
pound Arnor gold 360 4,320 360 12 6 1 60 24 6 90 30 3
cartwheel Arnor copper 14 168 14 1
week Elf silver 6 72 6 1
quarter Elf silver 15 180 15 1
moon Elf silver 60 720 60 2 1 10 4 1 15 5
star Elf mithril 600 7,200 600 20 10 100 40 10 1 150 50 5
groat Dwarf copper 4 48 4 1
mark Dwarf silver 12 144 12 2 3 1
anvil Dwarf gold 120 1,440 120 4 2 20 8 2 30 10 1
gold mark Dwarf gold 960 11,520 960 32 16 160 64 16 240 80 8 1