“I’m sick of writing ‘silver pieces;’ what are the names of the currency denominations in this game?”
Questions like this give me that going-up-in-the-rollercoaster feeling. The house lights have been turned on. Someone in the audience is standing, holding the usher’s mic. The cast has stopped mid-sentence. All eyes turn towards a figure standing just off-stage frantically shuffling pages of paper. The second tick past. Someone coughs. I don’t know.
The moment the anxiety of not having an answer already passes, the enthusiasm spikes. Someone asked a question I haven’t already answered! Somebody actually cares about an aspect of the game enough to want an answer!
My train flitters and my wings shift in anticipation. I get to tell a story.
In a story, every detail, however small, has the power to make the world feel more real, to fill in tiny parts of the setting that even I might not have considered before. It gives me another avenue through which I can reveal the world, one that the party has explicitly requested. I do like to give a thorough physical description of spaces, and of people, especially when the party’s actively interacting with them. I try, however, not to drown people with too much scenery to chew, lest they get distracted from the plot.
This, by the way, is where I expect most people to put a concerned paw on my shoulder and say “hey, bird, doesn’t Eberron already solve this problem?” And, in fact, it does. Gold coins are known as galifars, after the first Emperor. However, I can’t seem to find any canonical resources on the names of other coin values, and one of the many decisions I’d made early on was to stick to the silver standard, rather than gold, for my base denomination. No, I wanted to come up with something in-world.
So, when trying to design an in-world element, I try wherever I can to go back to how similar ideas evolved in our world, and then go back to the source material to try to recreate the process using local ingredients. It doesn’t happen the same way every time everywhere, of course, and every so often it does a mind good to just make something up of whole cloth if only to assert that one can and that doing so is healthy and normal. However, I find personally that if I can create something that leans on elements of the world that have already come before, I can make something that feels so much more satisfying to me.
So, what are the names of the currency units in Destiny Crusade?
To answer that, let’s look back at how currency gets its names. Often times units of currency are named for the places they’re made, such as florins or francs. Sometimes they’re named for the power structures backing them, such as ducats or sovereigns. Perhaps they’re named for what’s minted on them, like the loonie, or what they’re made of, like the nickel. All of those would’ve been valid directions, but instead I opted to go for an older connection: the link between currency and weight.
In a lot of places where precious metals became the standard for currency, they did so because such materials were scarce, so some degree of natural overlap existed between “how much of it you have” and “how much what you have is worth.” And because any impurities in the metal would be lighter than the real thing, the best way to tell how much metal you had was how much it weighed. So, using weight names for currency in a metals-based economy seems like a really solid starting point.
So, what weight names do we want? Well, the Romans did a fantastic job of giving a bunch of interesting weights and measures that all all wrap around the libra and its subdivision of twelve uncia, which most folks will recognize both as the relationship between the foot and the inch, but also more interestingly between the pound and the ounce, in the classic apothecary system. Now we’re getting somewhere.
Dungeons and Dragons makes the conversion of currencies pretty easy from one to the next. There are ten copper to a silver, ten silver to a gold, ten gold to a platinum, and electrum isn’t a thing don’t ask I don’t care what the Player’s Handbook says. So, I want some names that have nice regular intervals. And wouldn’t you know it, that one-to-twelve pattern repeats itself right there in the Weight chart on the Roman measurements page: twelve uncia in a libra, twelve semisextula in an uncia, and twelve siliqua in a semisextula. And no, I don’t know if those are declined correctly. What matters is that I know what they mean; more on that in a moment. So, we’ve got our names.
Except we can’t just stop here, and not just because this is bat country. I don’t speak Latin, and even if I did nobody in the party does. One of the other players might, but even if they did, I wouldn’t expect anyone to use those names because they’re totally out of tone with the game. There was no Roman Empire in Eberron. Eberron had its own history, with its own civilizations, each with their own languages. If I’m going to make up a detail for the world, I’m doing everyone a disservice if my tiny details end up pulling people out of scene. Rather, I have a place from which to start building, using a formula that’s familiar, to give the final structure the semblance of having shown up that way.
The semisextula has to go. I know it’s “the word that goes there” in that sequence of ratios; I can do math and read the chart. However, it’s just not a good fit. Compared with the others, it’s cumbersome. Fortunately, when we’re creating lore for our fantasy worlds, we can eschew the historicity. We’re allowed to make shit up. So, going back to the chart of terms, right above and below the term I’m looking to replace, I see we’ve got the sextula and the scrupulum. Either of those would be a good replacement, but sextula just means “sixth,” while scrupulum means “pebble,” which gives me a much better path forward.
Now that we’ve got our seed ideas, let’s plant them and see what grows. I said that the one-twelve relationship stemmed from the apothecary system of weights and measures, which in turn evolved out of Roman weight divisions. In Eberron, there might not have been a Roman Empire, but there certainly were civilizations that predate Galifar. According to the official timeline, the giants were the first to tame magic in any kind of formalized way, and the elves learned magic from them. If there were anyone who would’ve codified an apothecary system of weights and measures, they’re prime candidates.
The word siliqua in Latin means “carob seed,” since they were believed to be more uniform in weight than other grains. The Elvish word for “seed” is erdë. However, the language of the land is Common, not Elvish. The same type of mispronunciation that turns brid into bird and asterisk into Asterix might well turn this into the copper reed, which also provides a clever folk etymology of “older coins were minted so thin they made music when vibrated.” This is the kind of comment you can put in the mouth of an NPC that you want to look erudite.
Passing the same type of transformation over scrupulum produces sardincë and from there a silver shard. Thanks to a bunch of dedicated Tolkien scholars, the libra has a counterpart in lungwë which becomes a platinum lunge. That leaves just the poor uncia, whose direct Elvish equivalent would be the unforgiving yunquëa, meaning “twelfth.” However, here I think I’d like to deviate from the plan and borrow the Elvish talma, which means “weight or measure.” The same ritual as before can get that pretty close to a gold talent, which has the bonus benefit of being a real-world measure of weight and value!
Finally, if we’re being completely thorough, we’re going to want currency symbols. Fortunately, we can even go back to the original source. By using the apothecary weight symbols for pound (£), ounce (℥), and scruple (℈), we can imply a link back to the
Latin Giantic roots that the elves inherited. Carats are usually written “ct” but ȼ serves nicely in its place.
I may not go into this level of detail for every random question I’m asked, but every so often I love these kinds of exercises. Not only do they let me answer the question, but they do so in ways that help me make the world, and the game, a richer experience.