Types of Coins
The terms "gold piece" (gp), "silver piece" (sp), and "copper piece" (cp) are
clear and they are used throughout these game rules. But you can spice them up
a bit. People give coins names, whether as plain as "dime" or lively as "gold
double-eagle." The imaginary population of a fantasy world should be no
different. Medieval history is filled with different types of coinage, all of which can
add local color to your campaign.
Take, for example, the situation of a mercenary captain in Aquitaine. Through
wages, booty, and trading he has assembled quite a few coins. Foremost of his
horde are the gold and silver coins of Byzantium--the besant, hyperpyron, or
nomisma as they were known at different times. An Italian general paid him in
coins almost equally valuable, the gold florin and ducat. Mixed in with these were
other coins of the Italian states--silver grossi and ecu. From the French he
collected gros tournois, Rouen pennies, and louis. A Moorish hostage bought his
freedom with silver drachmas and a German merchant of the Hanse paid the heavy
toll of a gold mark. Part of the spoils of war include solidus aureus and
denarii of Ancient Rome, though these coins are so badly worn their value has dropped
One of his men even came across a horde of hacksilver bracelets! Finally, from
his English employers he received pounds, shillings, and pence. Clearly the
captain is faced with a problem when he tries to figure out just how much money
he has. What do these coins add up to?
The besant, hyperpyron, and nomisma were the standard coins of the Byzantine
Empire. They were of a regular size and the precious metal was not debased with
lead or copper. Backed by the power of the Emperor, each coin had a steady
value. In your game, you could establish their value at one or two gold pieces each.
The florin and the ducat were the coins of different Italian states. These
lands, rising in trading power, needed a steady economy. Thus their coins were
almost the equal of the besant and were used for trade throughout Europe. Each
florin might be equal to a gold piece. The gross was a silver penny and, normally,
12 equalled one florin.
The coins of France were much like those of Italy and could be valued the same
way. The louis and the sous were the equal of the florin while the gros
tournis and the denarius were silver pennies. However, the Rouen penny was specially
minted and not considered as valuable by most traders.
The Middle Eastern drachma was modeled on the besant. Normally 12 to 20 were
equal to a single besant (6-10 would equal one gp) but in Aquitaine they were
often valued just like other silver pennies. The gold mark wasn't so much a coin
as a measure. It was normally figured to be worth six English pounds. There
were also silver marks worth about 13 shillings, and Scandinavian ora worth 16
pence. But the true value of these coins was what you could get for them.
The English coins included the rarely seen pound, equal perhaps to one gp.
More common were silver shillings, officially figured at 20 to a pound (or half a
sp). Below the shilling was the pence, 12 to a shilling, and below the pence
was the farthing, four to a pence. Meanwhile, the lowly Rouen penny was figured
to be equal to half a pence.
Of the ancient coins, the Roman solidus aureus was the model for the besant
and thus nearly all other coins. It in turn was divided into silver denarii with
12 to 40 equaling a single solidus. However, age and counterfeiters reduced the
value of these coins so much that their only true worth could be found in what
they weighed. During the same time, Scandinavians used hacksilver--silver
jewelry. When they needed to pay, they could cut off a chunk from an armband or
bracelet and weigh it, thus the name hacksilver. They literally wore their money!
Clearly, money is no simple, universal thing. Each nation and each time has
its own coins with its own values. Your player characters may travel through many
different lands and find long-lost treasures. It will be much more exciting
for your characters to find 600 ancient tremissa from the rule of Emperor Otto
400 years before than to find yet another 600 silver pieces. With a little
imagination and research at your local library, you can find many different examples
to add to your campaign.
(See also Starting Money, Player’s Handbook)
Table of Contents