The economics of D&D worlds are weird, and silly, and silly-weird. Normally conversations that start like this start out with talking about the way that adventurers’ economic presence in a town or city’s space is much like a small moon springing into existence with roughly the same kind of public safety impact. That is a perfectly fun conversation to have! Go ahead, make fun of the way that D&D writers don’t have any sense of scale.
I don’t wanna do that though.
What I want to talk about is the way that the D&D world’s economies present an economy, that it is reasonably translatable across not only across multiple countries with competing economic interests and production centres, but also into other dimensions where the potential value of a gold coin of no specific manufacture is still a thin that Mercanes drifting the Astral Sea may still want to use them to do exchanges with Githzerai perched on the corpse of a dead god. That’s some fundamental bounds of reality style pricing, and what’s more, as far as player characters know, when they go to any given location, the prices are all the same.
Because they need to be for game mechanical reasons.
What the hell is a gold piece? I’m big on the idea of a metallic representative currency, in that I like coins over notes. They’re more durable, for one, and they don’t tend to be connected to the economic engine of banks in our history. To have features I like and yes I like features of coins okay shut up, they’d want the technology of millinery and fine detailed mass engraving. Of course, when you have access to the spell minor creation, state actors can easily mass produce model sheets of things like coin templates! The technology, in Cobrin’Seil, for modern coinage is there, very easily.
The material technology, at least.
The question is rather: Hang on, who is making these gold coins. Or who is in charge of the standard? And why is the whole world a coin-based economy that works on neoliberal capitalism, especially places and cultures that don’t have any reason to want to buy things like +1 longswords? I even used to have a god of currency, a single god who was responsible for an enormous cache of money and whose magic oversaw the economy of the whole world. I like part of that idea – the idea that currency and an economic structure is a belief system! – but when encoding ‘normal adventurer economy’ as world wide, it kind of dissolves the idea of any alternate economy.
And there are a lot of different economies in Cobrin’Seil! For a start, there’s elven communities which are largely luxury-based, because the means to supply basic needs are pretty easy. Most elven communities have some druids, and those druids do rituals regularly to ensure regular food supply, and most people who live in those societies are content to just eat that food and live in the available housing. Sure, there are luxuries, but they’re things like food variety and confectionary rather than ‘do you get to eat at all.’ Similarly, orc communities operate on the idea of ‘debt of arrival’ – that by being born, you are owed some of the world, which means most orcish communites have stockpiles of common resources that people dump things in, and take from as they need it. Because, as always, orc communities are spread out, non-orcs passing through sometimes raid these caches thinking they’re just abandoned or spoils of war.
There have definitely been time when thoughtless explorers found a stockpile of orcish weapons kilometers away from every orc house, and used that as casus belli for a war. Hey, these orcs are setting up a weapon cache far from their property, they’re clearly starting a raiding party! Right?
Anyway, there are other kinds of economies. There are gift economies, for example. It’s very common, especially in the older communities in Willowsebb and Glotharen, for the entire economies of towns to be gift-based. People give each other things and assume that everyone else will take care of their needs. This does make some kinds of forward planning hard, and it does make caching resources harder too – these towns often treat things like the national tax to the crown as a project for the community.
The most common form of coined currency and economic structure in Cobrin’Seil is the economy of the Eresh Protectorate. They have the King’s Highway, they trade across the entire breadth of the continent of Bidestra, they’re absolutely the source of the standardised coin. Since they provide the coin, it means for most other cultures that trade with them use that coin to track debt with the traders on the highway, which means by default, that coinage gets to have value in communities around it. It’s not like that’s a one-layer system though. It’s entirely possible in a town that mostly does trade in sheep and barley with the Highway, that the majority of what goes on inside the town is done with barter and gifts and debt, but stores exist that primarily serve the highway and work with highway currency. People might even trade highway currency with one another as part of barter services, but it’s not for fixed values. A giant pile of highway currency isn’t actually super useful for most of these people! You can only spend a lot of it with the highway, after all!
What though, about adventurers?
What the hell is a Gold Piece?
In Cobrin’Seil, Gold Pieces are Adventurer’s Guild currency. The piece is used as a minimal fungible value for adventurer’s guild eqiupment or equipment that the Adventurer’s Guild can price and distribute. These GP are largely never actually incarnated in the form of pure coinage; trade and art goods are valued, magical items and the like transported.
Thing is, if you’re an adventurer and you’re in town, there’s actually a stipend that the adventurer’s guild will bill for most of your activity. If there’s a guild in the town, then you can show up to an inn, get a room and a meal and a bit of beer, and that gets handled by the Guild, not by somehow paying one ten thousandth of a +1 longsword. This exchange also handles magic ‘store’ effects – you can go to a Guildhall and ask for equipment and then hand over unused equipment and they handle exchange and transport for it. High priority jobs and highly valued (read: rare) equipment gets exchanged at full rate, stuff that’s more available (read: common) gets exchanged at a reduced rate.