Weird Currency

Published June 29, 2014 by in For Gamemasters, Mechanics

If you skipped through some sections of the core book on the way to all those fun foci, you may be forgiven for missing the section on the Ninth World’s coinage. Let’s refresh:

Most civilized societies use generic coins commonly referred to as shins. Shins are usually metal but can be made of glass, plastic, or substances that have no name. Some are jagged bits of interesting material or small, coinlike objects (such as highly decorative buttons from a machine), and others are properly minted and stamped, with writing and images. No minted coin in existence today comes from a prior worldNumenera p.77

In other words, the Ninth World is winding back the traditional RPG clock from gold, silver and copper right back into the mists of time. This can be something of a problem for a GM who wants to evoke that sense of avarice a hoard of precious metal can spark.  But it also gives GMs an opportunity to inject the weird at the smallest level. So, what could GMs use to tick that ‘I want it’ box in strange new ways? Read on.

A little bit of history for you, some of the earliest money was ‘commodity money.’ This form of currency could have utility value as well as a perceived value (utility value being something emphasized in numenera). So Tool Material like obsidian could be used to cut, carve and butcher, Seed Grain could be cultivated or turned into meal and Salt was one of the only means of preserving perishable goods. An example of the transition to more abstract coinage is when weight measures for such commodities started being used as standardized promissory notes, allowing traders to quantify exactly how much was owed. How does all this apply to the Ninth World? Well to work as a shin, something should be:

  1. Valuable/Useful in and of itself
  2. Clearly identifiable
  3. Portable in quantity
  4. Reasonably durable
  5. Easily divisible

If it meets these 5 criteria you have a believable currency. Here are examples of what GMs could use for shins:

  • Mechanical parts – areas like Matheunis and Dessanedi that are rich in prior world machinery could use cogs, bearings, springs or even spools of wire as various denominations of currency. As useful as these items are as money, they are equally handy for those who create or repair machinery.
  • Solid light fragments – for lands such as the Errid Kaloum or other places littered with Datasphere detritus, the remains of solid light holograms or glowing nano-spirits form a durable flameless light source as well as a tradable currency (likely kept in ‘lanterns’ and denominated by brightness).
  • Synth flowers – verdant regions such as the Caecilian Jungle or Ba-Adenu Forest are home to numerous bio-mechanical or gene-melded plants, the scented synth flowers of one or the other provide a unique currency or raw material for dyes (divisible into ‘petals’ for smaller denominations).
  • Coral nodules – polished or carved beads from the unique pearlescent growths on the Coral Palace in the City of Bridges could form a distinct currency for the Sea Kingdom of Ghan and be found up and down the western coastline of the Steadfast (often strung in long necklaces or bracelets).
  • Skycrystal shards – Although Navarene is an established mercantile power (no doubt with minted coins), the Cloudcrystal Skyfield on its northern border could present a ready source of materials to be cut into colourful, lightweight currency with purported ‘holy’ or ‘magical’ properties.
  • Floatstone discs – the floatstone quarries in Milave provide a suitable material for currency and an interesting reverse weighting system for this aerial themed land. If milled in the manner of ancient Chinese coins (square holed disk) they could be kept on inverted sticks or floating strings.
  • Rumours – A little bizarre maybe, but trading in information, secrets and tall tales could also form a basis for a currency. Such information has its value, and how durable, portable and divisible is a thought? Places steeped in intrigue such as Iscobal might well have a secondary currency in rumours bartered and sold (denominated by reliability of its source).

These are only some of the forms of shin that can be used to inject a sense of the strange into the economy of the Ninth World, try them out.

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