A photo of a collection of gold coins.

D&D Currencies – Five approaches

Perhaps one of the greatest bane’s of the mid-level Dungeons & Dragon party is trying to sort out and determine all the money they have so they can determine how much they need to spend on provisions for the next adventure, whether they can afford that hot pink magical backpack and how much they will have for amnesia inducing carousing afterwards.

Without a doubt, the problems magnify exponentially if you limit yourself to the traditional currencies and then use encumbrance rules – creating scenarios where parties are actively spending all their coins before going out on adventure again so that they can have capacity to carry loot out of the next dungeon that they visit.

The default system has many drawbacks, one being that it makes actual estimations of value and pricing a nightmare to track – which has invariably led to bizarre economic situations where parties crash local economies due to insisting on carrying only the most valuable coins in the vast hoards they keep in interdimensional pockets, or spend staggering fortunes before going out on another adventure purely so they can have capacity to carry out treasure after their next victory but are never sure how much anything costs without looking up a book out of character.


It might surprise you that historically, electrum coins are the oldest kind and some of the most common among historical currencies.1 Wikipedia, Electrum https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electrum This is because substances with an clearly determined value such as gold, silver, grain, etc could be bartered by themselves – electrum, being an alloy, had no easy was to determine it’s value without careful scrutiny to determine the exactly gold-silver ratio (which could vary within a single sample of naturally occurring electrum) – so an endorsement from an authority was required to assure value. (In this case, the Kingdom of Lydia).

Electrum coins are not just a sample of a substance, they are a promise of value. Someone, usually a monarch, has minted them specifically – and being very shiny but also more durable than gold – they had obvious visual appeal. And so, came minted currency. This was not without its own problems that were in part expressed through the designs of coins.

The elaborate faces, and even stampings on the outer edge existed to mitigate the impact of coin clipping – to make it easier to determine if a coin that was supposedly promised to be worth an exact weight of an exact mix was actually a representation of that – particularly in an era where slivers of precious metal could be sold to a goldsmith or counterfeiter.


The DM can easily evaluate treasure and even hoards in a single metric that makes it an easy estimation of value without weird pricing curves. There is no particular need to work out coinages, or which coinage most accurately captures the value. An purchase order for provisions for the party and their menagerie of adopted NPCs can be 1,155 Okrans rather than 2 platinum, 1 gold, 5 silver, 5 copper.

You can also obfuscate the exact value, preventing tedious bookkeeping at dramatic moments – there’s a pile of antique coins, gold and silver jewellery and gems there – described in as much or as little detail as you like – the party will have to wait until they leave and take the time to evaluate and appraise.

It also makes adjusting treasure an option – since there’s only one currency that the party are familiar with and there’s always things going on in the background. Party suffered some bad rolls during their battle with dragon and now need to resurrect two members? Well those dwarven coins are not just gold, they’re rare artefacts that people will pay extra for with the right connections. Only occurred to you afterwards that you might have gone overboard? Looks like a lot of those ancient “gold” coins were actually poor quality and worth only a third of their value – particularly since there’s no authority to enforce their value.

It also still allows for many story options – players who want to be high rollers can opt only to keep 100 Orkan pieces even in areas where the best room in an inn, meals included, costs only 25 Orkans a night. The party can puzzle over how they can split a vase worth 25,000 Orkans when no dealer has the liquidity to buy it without trading for a similar big ticket etc, hoards of various treasures can be lumped together to reach the figure required to purchase a ship at the shipyard.

And of course, if you’re a DM who likes world building this allows you to fit in all kinds of flavour text about what kind of treasure they found, why its worth so much money and why it might be worth a different amount next time.

How to do it

Establish a currency – Orkans, Dragmas, Taleins, Charkmas, whatever. Establish value of coins that are in common circulation – you can even make them fractional values (like the half penny) and whatever base you like – ten, twenty, a hundred (or just completely random like pre-decimal the currency of English).2 Royal Mint Museum; Pounds, Shillings and Pence https://www.royalmintmuseum.org.uk/journal/history/pounds-shillings-and-pence/ Preferably up to five blocks (you can just stick with one) – use those for your platinum, gold, electrum, silver, etc if you’re using an online system like D&D Beyond.

Now give your coins some personality – the coins have to be elaborately stamped and designed to mitigate the local thieves guild from clipping them, so you best believe that it’s going to be atmospheric and a display of the values and culture of whoever controls the mint. In classic campaigns, you’ll probably want something heroic – in more subversive campaigns something that hints to the dystopian nature of the minter’s ideologies.

Why not?

The drawback to this is it can make place a little less fantastical, and you can end up catching players referring to the currency as their own (dollars, euros, etc) to the general feeling. If that’s a problem, and you don’t mind spending significantly more time on the economy, consider the following option.


Even once currencies became a standard item, historically it took a long time for them to become the exclusive means of transacting – after all the supply of coins was limited and there were no banks available to the common folk (and no ATMs) so there wasn’t always any guarantee of having enough cash on hand. Even a major business like an inn is unlikely to keep Dragmas in the thousands on hand just in case some adventurers come and trash the joint.

Common exchanges for value included food items (particularly grain as it was easily measured into weights), accommodation, prepared meals, stories, trade skills, etc. Of course, there were also precious materials carried in portable means, and agreements of credit – formal and informal. Historical figure Johnny Appleseed often used to trade apples, apple tree seedlings and news with settlor families for cooked meals as recently as the late 1800s.3 Was Johnny Appleseed Really a Real Person?, Today I Found Out, YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jXOtcdJaZ5c

What this means is taking the semi-historical currencies, but also favouring a system of barter. The old witch who can brew potions and divine the future, living in a shack, probably doesn’t want thousands of Dragmas – spending them would require difficult travel and social interactions. What she does want is nice furnishing, brass cookware, and bolts of cloth so she can weave more creepy robes and fancy hats.

An olde cabin with a mouldy roof, a bull skull with horns hanging above the doorway, the timber looking weathered but the garden looking fresh and tended to.
Witch might also be interested in having her house painted too.4 Wooden Hut Witch House Front Yard by Darkmoon_Art, Pixabay, https://pixabay.com/illustrations/wooden-hut-witch-s-house-front-yard-6924073/

The local weaver is interested in Dragmas, the tinker has brass pots and pans for sale for coin or scrap, the carpenter wants Dragmas but wants them paid directly to trade post (which has a stone vault) – he has too many problems with burglars lately – he wants notes of credit from that one trade post where he buys his lumber, and the tavern where he goes drinking.


This also allows the DM to get more creative with the treasure, and let the player’s imagination create scenarios around what will and won’t be valuable for the kinds of purchases they plan to have, taking a relative value approach and spotting opportunities.

Sure these bandit’s weapons aren’t really fancy, but these short swords and crossbow bolts will be really valuable to the goblin trappers who can get them rabbit pelts that the seamstress they’re renting a formerly haunted house to can make into a cloak they can enchant. You can continue to tie everything the party has done into each other and also create a feeling of a world full of characters who have relatable needs.

This method allows your party to get added value from their adventures, and help remember what they’ve done but using the stories of their exploits as a kind of trade good to interested party. It’ll help keep the story to date fresh, keep players who just joined or missed sessions and can create interesting decisions in how they retell that story.

If you are running a long campaign, there is also the opportunity for a feeling of real progression as the party shifts from bartering hides and trinkets to trading in cattle, use of a mine or right to cut lumber in a forest. That kind of thing can carry a lot more weight than just seeing another zero in a number.

How to do it

There are essentially two ways to do this.

The first, intense version is to keep a system for tracking what NPCs wanted – either in a database or spreadsheet with your list of side quests relating to NPCs. If you do this, I suggest you intentionally keep things pretty vague – like just specify witch wants “brass pots, nice fabric, furniture” and don’t go into too much detail – make your players do that in their notes.

The second, casual version is to just wing it and treat things as an ongoing dynamic – yeah the witch wanted fabrics last year, but since then the weaver’s daughter made a trip over with a lot of it in exchange for a lovebreast enhancement potion. She did want pots, but after the weaver’s daughter married the tinker’s daughter – they traded some for charms to ensure good health in their home. Basically if the party doesn’t act on it right away, there’s a good chance someone else will.

Ultimately you’re going to kind of blend the two anyway, because you don’t want a completely static world but you also don’t want players to feel every mission is time pressure – but how much you veer towards which end will depend on things like how focused your party is, how consequence focused you want your campaign, etc.

Why not?

But… maybe that’s a lot of side questing and a lot more complication than your group wants – also you could be tying yourself up with a lot of paperwork – also you may have a party that just doesn’t want to tell stories, barter or engage in that level of storytelling.


Many fantasy realms include vast empires – huge areas with laws, official enforcement bodies, royal wizards who can put any murder-hobos in their place and regulations – sweet, sweet regulations (okay it only me that feels that way about bureaucracy?). For some reason (ie orientalism) they are often based on Imperial China – but other sources of inspiration can be Rome, the Ottoman Empire, the Persian Empire, the Majapahit Empire, the British Empire, French Empire, Spanish Empire, etc.

The premise is simple – in an area a collection of nations all agree to use a common set of currencies, laws, etc and defer to a central authority (which may have a singular central location or may move about as rules or political pressures change) and hence have centralized agreements and are likely happy to keep accounts.

While a common currency was not strictly necessary as a criteria of an empire (neither is vast size), since this is about currency we’ll assume its a matter they share. Alternatively you can give them their own currencies but make them all conveniently interchangeable with or easily converted into one.


Essentially it brings a lot of the convenience of modern day currency… funny that.

This system allows for not just a singular currency, but a vastly expanded with opportunities for paper currency, banks with centralized accounts (rather than simply renting out secure storage space), official means of currency of massive value, property deeds, etc. Prices and loans can go up to astronomical values, because while a group might not have 100,000,000 Taleins at the local office, they can definitely confirm they own sufficient wealth for it.

This also makes for potential targets for heists given both that a simple document can have staggering value, and also there will be places that stockpile massive amounts of valuables for collateral as loans. On the flip side, these also become high stakes as such an empire will have a centralized authority that will investigate and prosecute criminals who become a risk to the credibility or stability of the nation. Investigators, police, armies, assassins… hired adventurers.

It also means you can generally simplify money and start operating on an assumption that change is always on hand, and if the party wants to carry around 10,000 Taleins of spending power they can have notes of credit (or bank notes) etc that will be means to change it without much fuss, and generally the party can expect everyone will be happy to take money. This also adds novelty flavour to missions where suddenly an NPC does not want money.

Why not?

As mentioned, this does bring a lot of the convenience and feel of most modern day currencies to the game, diminishing the fantasy element. It also requires that you have the section where adventurers are held to be quite orderly and civilized, not a land of wilds and opportunities.

It can also reduce wealth down to a single number, with all the benefits that come with that. So you might want something a little wilder and chaotic.

City States

Suppose you want a world in a little bit of chaos, where there are regular skirmishes, groups facing off with each other and it’s less great empire and more different nations with different philosophies and uneasy relationships between each other – somewhere in the spectrum between “agree to disagree” to cold warfare.

A great way to capture this both from a lore and social mechanics perspective is to have each of these nations establish their own currencies – and have a general understanding that their currency is the best currency, even if they all are essentially equal value.

My favourite example of this in mainstream games was in Ultima VII Part Two: Serpent Isle where you have three cities with fundamentally different philosophies who all use different currencies, largely because their differences mean they don’t want to acknowledge the validity of each other’s ideas.


You can dole out more treasure without party become unworkably wealthy, specifically to the times of how many currencies you have.

A character with 1,000 Orkans, 1,000 Dragmas, 1,000 Taleins and 1,000 Charkmas doesn’t have 4,000 coins of purchasing power they can use to buy a fancy house house – they have the potential to buy four shitty houses. In order to buy a 4,000 coin house they would need to find a way to convert the currencies (which would almost certainly result in losses and/or heavy fees).

It also means as the party advances, they can have to make decisions about who they take jobs from based on who they want to help, and how it will actually benefit them. If they already have 10,000 Orkans and are offered another 10,000 Orkans – they could potentially buy a really nice house… but 10,000 Taleins is going to have a different value. But then again, maybe you get along better with the beauty and aesthetic loving Orka citizens, rather than the militaristic people of Talein.

Oddly this almost exists in the Forgotten Realms where there is a history of there being coinage from very specific sources such as Waterdeep or Cormyr – but somehow these coins, despite have interesting names and even branding information – were always exactly 1 to 1 compatible and never became political.

Furthermore, you can create great challenges with hoards. Now you have a pile of gold that is not the currency of any, and they’re going to to have to convert it which means they’ve going to have to make decisions about what kind of currency they want, do they want it all in one currency, or do they want to spread them. Or… you could just keep it as gold and try to barter.

How to do it

Well, there’s two steps to this really. First your world has to support it by having independent city states types, preferably (for the purposes of avoiding biological essentialism) divided by culture rather than racial traits. For advanced points, you can also consider having different cultures within your dominant cultures.. we’re getting off track.

At the heart you’ll need to establish reasons why they tolerate each other, but also why they won’t integrate – this can be as simple as spite caused by competing for resources, or as complex as deep philosophical differences going back centuries. Fantasy works are full of works that engage in these themes, so you can always

The second is you have to settle on exchange rates and vendors, I would certainly recommend that if you don’t opt for a simple 1:1 to avoid getting any more complicated than Serpent Isle did:

The table of currency exchanges , which has four currencies and nine currency/valuables they can be traded for - with some valuables requiring one of two locations to trade at.  Each as a different rate of exchange.
Also, if you use this names and exchange rates – Nerd Law requires that you include a character who is a fantasy version of yourself as an alternative money lender, and one of Warren Spector as homage.

Why not?

As you can probably guess from the table above, this can be a lot of work – so if you’re not already doing a campaign where this kind of thing would enhance it – trying to crowbar it in is signing yourself up for a lot of work and detailing that the players are unlikely to notice or enjoy.

Depending your group, it may also be something that simply becomes a source of frustration for them when they just want to buy something and instead get weighed down with currency conversion administration and calculations. Not everyone is excited by that.


The libertarian approach is to use the standard Dungeons & Dragons coins (platinum, gold, electrum, silver and copper) rules as written – do not question anything, just trust that everyone agrees that particular metals have an inherent, constant value and that money is so sacred everyone just mints to that one standard to ensure the power of the free market.

If you don’t like the deal you get, you can just sort them out with violence.

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