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    The Troublesome Electrum Piece
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    Adept Greytalker

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    From: Aspedri

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    Mon May 11, 2020 4:57 pm  
    The Troublesome Electrum Piece

    I was listening to a couple of histories books that touched on the ancient Near East, particularly the kingdom of Lydia. Lydia was most famous perhaps for its last king, Croesus, who was renowned for his and his kingdom’s wealth and is likely the inspiration for the story of King Midas. What sparks this comment was the discussion of currency. Lydia was famous first for its electrum currency. Electrum is a naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver, most notably found in Anatolia. It was used as a coinage due to the lack of technology to separate the two precious metals. Once that technology was developed around 600 BCE, Lydia stopped minting electrum coins, and shifted to the purer mono-metallic coinage, which stimulated even more economic activity as it allowed greater standardization of measures.

    So what does this have to do with the Flanaess? My comment is that electrum coinage, at least produced by the majority of states in the Flanaess, is an anachronism. In fact, I cannot imagine why a state that had the ability to make high-quality gold and silver coins would extract electrum to make coins, when it could merely separate the materials to make mono-metallic coins of higher intrinsic value. Does anyone know why E.G.G. included electrum as a currency in his vision of AD&D? I have not seen it anywhere besides Lydia historically, unless an Appendix N source mentions it as well.

    So what does this mean? I looked at the resource map in the original folio and noted that electrum comes from six lands: Geoff, the Duchy of Ulek, the Duchy of Urnst, Sterich, Iuz, and the Pomarj. The two Duchy’s are both sophisticated enough that they would be separating electrum into its constituent materials in order to create purer products, unless there was a specific demand for electrum as a material. Geoff and Sterich, being on the edges of the Flanaess, might or might not do this, or might ship the Electrum to Keoland for refinement. Only Iuz and the Pomarj, in my mind, would actually cast electrum coinage, as they are lower technology and fairly crude societies, and a less stable currency is not such a problem to them.
    If characters do come upon electrum pieces while adventuring, I would alter them to the equivalent value of gold or silver coinage. The exceptions to this are coinage from Iuz and the Pomarj, and possibly ancient Flan hordes that may have been cast before or during the great migrations.

    What do you august personages think?
    Apprentice Greytalker

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    Mon May 11, 2020 5:23 pm  

    Another possibility is that electrum coins were all minted before the technology existed to seperate gold and silver but are still in circulation. It might be worth it to look at the treasure tables to see how rare the coins are for each treasure type.
    Journeyman Greytalker

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    Mon May 11, 2020 7:36 pm  

    What if electrum were a necessary component for enchanted weapons or armor and loses this ability if separated into gold & silver? That would give nations an incentive to keep it in pure form; it might even determine its value as currency.
    Apprentice Greytalker

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    Mon May 11, 2020 8:48 pm  

    Electrum coinage is definitely an anachronism, but there are some influences which probably led to its usage lasting longer than expected.
    In the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, it says the monetary exchange system (1 pp =10 gp = 20 ep = 100 sp = 1000 cp) was established by the Great Kingdom at its founding (i.e., when it changed its name from the Kingdom of Aerdy to the Great Kingdom). This system was based on a similar system of coinage developed by the kingdom of Aerdy (I think this means the Great Kingdom revised the system it invented when it changed its name). As the Great Kingdom expanded, its influence caused other peoples to adopt similar currency systems to facilitate trade. The gazetteer goes into further detail about this. However, having a widespread monetary exchange system that used electrum coins probably gave a certain societal inertia towards their continued use. The gazetter relates how magic was used to assess coin purity and weight, which would have made standardization of measures for electrum easier to achieve than it would be in the real world.
    Another factor to consider is some of your trade partners might be centuries old, and unwilling to change the coinage they use or accept just to accommodate the "whims" of short-lived humans.
    GreySage

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    Tue May 12, 2020 5:15 am  

    tarelton wrote:
    Does anyone know why E.G.G. included electrum as a currency in his vision of AD&D?


    For the same reason Unearthed Arcana has so many different types of polearms in it. Gygax was an eccentric completionist.

    crash72ndst wrote:
    In the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, it says the monetary exchange system (1 pp =10 gp = 20 ep = 100 sp = 1000 cp) was established by the Great Kingdom at its founding (i.e., when it changed its name from the Kingdom of Aerdy to the Great Kingdom).


    And in Expedition to the Ruins of Greyhawk (page 30) they say that the bronze zee, brass bit, iron drab, and electrum lucky are all discontinued coins in the City of Greyhawk.

    I think there's precedent for restricting electrum pieces to ancient ruins and antique vaults if you prefer the 'realism' of that.

    Arguably, electrum coins are simply gold coins that have become debased over time. Periodic currency reforms replace them with purer gold coins, and for a while both are in circulation.
    Adept Greytalker

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    Tue May 12, 2020 10:48 am  

    What if we just declare electrum to be a base element along with all the other metals D&D uses for coinage? All of the other coin metals have their own entries on the real periodic table, so why shouldn't electrum have one on a D&D periodic table?

    Keep in mind that such a periodic table would probably have entries for metals like mithril or adamantite, or at least the metals that make up these harder metals anyway, so adding electrum as a base metal in itself would not be a big stretch. Not to mention that characters can carry large amounts of gold and platinum that in real life would require some sort of machinery to move.
    GreySage

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    Tue May 12, 2020 12:02 pm  

    If you accept an alchemical, rather than chemical view, there are only four elements on the periodic table of Oerth's multiverse: earth, air, water, and fire. Gold is a perfect mixture of all four.
    Apprentice Greytalker

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    Tue May 12, 2020 12:49 pm  

    edmundscott wrote:
    What if electrum were a necessary component for enchanted weapons or armor and loses this ability if separated into gold & silver? That would give nations an incentive to keep it in pure form; it might even determine its value as currency.


    Not far fetched. The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant revolve around this very idea, with electrum (white gold) being alien to the Land and the source of "wild magic."
    Adept Greytalker

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    Tue May 12, 2020 3:00 pm  

    edmundscott wrote:
    What if electrum were a necessary component for enchanted weapons or armor and loses this ability if separated into gold & silver? That would give nations an incentive to keep it in pure form; it might even determine its value as currency.


    I would think if their value was more towards enchantment, than they would not be in circulation, but rather hoarded in some wizard's vault. I like the idea of them having some magical potential, but from my economic point of view, I don't see that putting them in circulation.
    Adept Greytalker

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    Tue May 12, 2020 3:04 pm  

    crash72ndst wrote:
    Electrum coinage is definitely an anachronism, but there are some influences which probably led to its usage lasting longer than expected.
    In the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, it says the monetary exchange system (1 pp =10 gp = 20 ep = 100 sp = 1000 cp) was established by the Great Kingdom at its founding (i.e., when it changed its name from the Kingdom of Aerdy to the Great Kingdom). This system was based on a similar system of coinage developed by the kingdom of Aerdy (I think this means the Great Kingdom revised the system it invented when it changed its name). As the Great Kingdom expanded, its influence caused other peoples to adopt similar currency systems to facilitate trade. The gazetteer goes into further detail about this. However, having a widespread monetary exchange system that used electrum coins probably gave a certain societal inertia towards their continued use. The gazetter relates how magic was used to assess coin purity and weight, which would have made standardization of measures for electrum easier to achieve than it would be in the real world.
    Another factor to consider is some of your trade partners might be centuries old, and unwilling to change the coinage they use or accept just to accommodate the "whims" of short-lived humans.


    Crash, I think the primary inertia is that the monetary system developed in 1st edition was never really refined or made more realistic. I think that any state assembling a large collection of electrum coinage would probably go through the effort of separating them, rapidly driving down the stock in circulation. Since the position they occupy in the scale between silver and gold is not overly important, i.e. they don't provide a significant convenience, I would think they would be quite rare, and issuance by a more modern state unlikely.
    Adept Greytalker

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    Tue May 12, 2020 3:06 pm  

    Ragson, my feeling is along with yours that electrum pieces would only be in circulation in the more backward realms, particularly the humanoid dominated realms of Iuz and the Pomarj. I do think they would make an excellent treasure in an ancient horde, complete with issues of disposing of them on the market, as few merchants will want such a coin.
    Adept Greytalker

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    Tue May 12, 2020 3:17 pm  

    Thanks everyone for your contributions so far to this discussion. I took a short break at work today and did learn that the Byzantines later issued an electrum coin, the aspron trachy https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aspron_trachy in part to further debase the coinage.

    So, being curious, I also looked into platinum coins. The history there is even more interesting. Platinum coinage was not made until the 19th century, and then as a counterfeit to gold British Sovereigns. It was considered an impurity in gold mining for a very long time, and could not even be separated until the 18th century if I am reading the material correctly. Russia briefly issued platinum coins in the 19th century, but people preferred gold and silver. Since then, platinum coinage has largely been of the commemorative variety.

    So, if electrum coins are anachronisms from the past, of a cruder time, then platinum coins in my view really are an anachronism of a future that wasn't. What do you all think?

    I am leaning towards removing platinum coinage, and probably platinum anything from my vision, and replacing it with larger gold coins... after all, the nice things about precious metal currency is that a larger gold coin is intrinsically worth more than a smaller one.

    This might become worthy of an Oerth Journal article...
    Adept Greytalker

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    Tue May 12, 2020 3:55 pm  
    Anachros

    I think such anachronisms work fine in the context of a fictional world as they provide ways to differentiate our real history with the made up one. It might make sense to find a justification for how platinum came to be minted since we can't look to our history for such explanations.
    GreySage

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    Tue May 12, 2020 7:44 pm  

    I assume dwarves have introduced superior metallurgy to Oerth, allowing for platinum coins.
    CF Admin

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    Tue May 12, 2020 9:30 pm  

    What an interesting subject tarelton and discussion everyone!

    rasgon wrote:
    I assume dwarves have introduced superior metallurgy to Oerth, allowing for platinum coins.

    Just before reading rasgon's latest post, I was thinking something similar. Dwur (or noniz) peoples invented the refining techniques to create platinum coins. Perhaps this occurred in the Lortmil Mountains prior to the Great Migrations and thus influenced Keoland as well as Furyondy and other parts of the former Great Kingdom?

    (Or perhaps Ulaa inspired this knowledge?)

    Regarding electrum, it seems that ancient Flan peoples near the Hellfurnaces and of the Sheldomar River Basin used it, as well as olven peoples of Celene, the current Duchy of Ulek, and the Celadon Forest. Moreover, along the lines suggested by crash72ndst , perhaps the olven peoples enjoy continuing to use electrum—in addition platinum, gold, and silver—both for tradition and also out of respect for its natural occurrence and distinctive qualities?
    Apprentice Greytalker

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    Tue May 12, 2020 10:52 pm  

    rasgon wrote:


    I think there's precedent for restricting electrum pieces to ancient ruins and antique vaults if you prefer the 'realism' of that.



    Slightly at a tangent but ancient coinage is one of my favourite plot devices. It's great for introducing a party to Greyhawk's ancient history without giving them a huge info-dump. A strange coin found in a hoard, with ancient writing on it, is a good start for some investigation by your PCs.

    So an ancient electrum piece, with a low material value vs gold piece & that none of the local traders or money-changers will accept, might turn out to have a much higher value, due to its historical significance, if taken to a sage or the right wizard.
    Adept Greytalker

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    Wed May 13, 2020 6:51 pm  

    DriveByPoster, I really like the idea of using common-place items as a way to add detail and flavor to the setting. In my mind, more and more, electrum coinage is a relic of the past, and it might be found in an ancient Flan cache or being smelted by humanoids in the Pomarj.

    Platinum coinage, as I am beginning to conceive it, is possibly something that the Suel and Bakluni once values with their advance civilizations. They might have made coins of it, as well as jewelry and art work. The elves, dwarves, and gnomes would maybe still retain a knowledge of it, and would like it for the fact that is is hard and fire resistant... it is not a soft metal like gold or silver, and this doesn't become worn down. Of course, a coinage that humans are not interested in would probably not be very helpful, but possibly some collectors among them know of its value. In this sense, it would serve a lot like that cache of electrum coins.

    I am currently playing with the "what if" of Keoland not adopting the Aerdian coinage system, and having their own system, and how that would add a little spice to the Flanaess...
    Adept Greytalker

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    Thu May 14, 2020 7:53 am  

    I use platinum coinage quite a bit IMC, as it's a lot easier to to imagine PCs shopping for high-end items with a pouch of 100 pp than a sack of 1000 gp. Yeah, gems can be used, too, but then you have to expect each PC and merchant to be skilled enough in gem appraisal to agree on what each gem is worth, and to be able to make change (when someone buys a item with a sapphire, how many opals do they get back?).

    I tell my players to view the platinum piece as the equivalent of the $100 bill--the average bloke rarely has one in his wallet, but it's not uncommon to see one. Along those lines, the gp is the $10, the sp the $1, and the cp the dime. It makes the prices in the PHB this way fairly relatable--ie, paying $20 (2 gp) for a serviceable knife (dagger) seems reasonable, as does $150 (15 gp) for a sword, as does $5000 (500 gp) for a high-end chemistry set (alchemist's lab), $15,000 (1500 gp) for a set of full-body, custom-fit, military grade kevlar (plate armor), etc.
    GreySage

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    Thu May 14, 2020 1:03 pm  

    Robbastard wrote:
    I use platinum coinage quite a bit IMC, as it's a lot easier to to imagine PCs shopping for high-end items with a pouch of 100 pp than a sack of 1000 gp. Yeah, gems can be used, too, but then you have to expect each PC and merchant to be skilled enough in gem appraisal to agree on what each gem is worth, and to be able to make change (when someone buys a item with a sapphire, how many opals do they get back?).

    I tell my players to view the platinum piece as the equivalent of the $100 bill--the average bloke rarely has one in his wallet, but it's not uncommon to see one. Along those lines, the gp is the $10, the sp the $1, and the cp the dime. It makes the prices in the PHB this way fairly relatable--ie, paying $20 (2 gp) for a serviceable knife (dagger) seems reasonable, as does $150 (15 gp) for a sword, as does $5000 (500 gp) for a high-end chemistry set (alchemist's lab), $15,000 (1500 gp) for a set of full-body, custom-fit, military grade kevlar (plate armor), etc.


    This is my method as well, Robbastard.

    As far as the electrum piece is concerned, I equate its frequency to that of the US $2.00 bill. Razz

    Not having bothered to research the history of electrum in my youth, beyond discovering that it was a mix of gold and silver, I developed my own theory regarding its existence.

    To whit, when one mixes a little bit of gold in with a bunch of silver, you get a mostly silver piece that look far more valuable than a plain silver piece. It is actually over-valued. In other words, if one were to separate the gold and silver from electrum, you would have less value in total than the value the coins represent. This is largely because few people are actually able to accurately assess the value of the gold/silver mix and assume (wrongly) that there is more gold in it than there actually is.

    This theory is largely based on modern coinage being made of cheaper elements now than they originally were. Dimes are no longer made of silver, pennies are now made of zinc instead of copper, etc.

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    Fri May 15, 2020 5:40 am  

    I have gone back and forth several times on e.p. After reading these interesting post, I think I will include them in any future campaigns.
    Adept Greytalker

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    Fri May 15, 2020 6:04 pm  

    My emerging way of dealing with the need for currency in various denominations is to have some governments mint coins of different values. Instead of an electrum piece, for instance, a government could mint two different silver coins of different sizes and purity, with one filling the role of the sp and one that of the ep. The same could work for the gold and platinum pieces. A standard gp, and a larger/purer gold coin in the role of platinum pieces. Comments?
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