Television is rather a frightening business. But I get all the relaxation I want from my collection of model soldiers.
Peter Cushing

Sunday 23 November 2014

Money makes the world go 'round

In which we continue our worldbuilding for D&D. If this has no interest to you, feel free to skip and move on to the next post which will have some undead action. 

Sticking with the philosophy that we build our world from the ground up it make sense to start by thinking about the thing which is closest to the hearts of all adventurers: cash.

Looking to history, Dark Ages money is a weird thing. There's a fairly strong historical consensus that for around a century money stopped being used for day to day activities as the roman coinage slipped into disuse. This is very interesting but probably not useful for gaming purposes - our heroes want portable cash and it's only in fairly static societies that barter can work.

In the later Anglo Saxon period, we know that Offa in Mercia started minting gold shillings - so there's my Gold Pieces. There were silver pennies, but that leaves me a bit short for coppers. So if I call the silvers farthings (which comes from fourths so doesn't really make sense but I'm going to bet my players don't know that) and I'm left with copper pennies.

This leaves me with platinum and electrum pieces to deal with; I'm going to ignore electrum as they're frankly a bit silly. But what to do with the top of the tree, the platinum piece...? Remember those roman coins that are still floating round up until the 700s? We're going to have some Siliquae floating around in our world.

But where do they come from? I'm glad you asked. The Heptarchy has a lot of little twiddly bits around the edges that only make sense when you remember that a lot of the administrative bits and pieces were left over from the Roman occupation. So do we have any advantages from having a fallen empire in our world? In a world, yes. Why? In a word, dungeons.

Ruins scattered around the landscape gives us some ruins for the adventurers to go and rob; lost treasures, ancient technology, forgotten - and forbidden - lore... Yes, a fallen empire gives us a lot of bang for our buck.

In traditional fantasy settings, Elves and Dwarves tend to be portrayed as elder races. So they were here first - our ersatz Romans. I like the idea of having the Elves being the fallen, imperialist state as it gives them a slightly different flavour to usual. This then casts the dwarves as the Greeks, scholars, philosophers and seekers after knowledge. I like that.

So where does that leave us?

The humans are the original inhabitant of our landmass, conquered several centuries ago by the Elvish empire (which will be a militaristic, slave-based society). They brought with them a few tribes of dwarves as administrators and technicians. The Empire fell, and the forces withdrew. Why did it fall? Dunno yet - I can flesh that out later. Outside invasion is the obvious analogue with actual history, but internal decay and decadence fits quite well with modern elvish tropes so I can play with that later.

We have some remnants of their forces left; the ones who 'went native' - our bardic, Celtic welsh-analogues, based in the kingdoms of the West (which tells me the direction the nearest landmass must be). So culturally, my markers for them are set Romans with Druidic overlays and welsh language. My cultural markers for the Dwarves are now set as Greek but skinned with Norse trappings. That's enough for me as GM to wing anything I need to or to start planning if I get the sense that my players want to engage with broader political stories.

More importantly, I now have a reason and a style for ruins, tombs and even deserted towns to dot the land. The remnants of a once bustling Imperial Colony which has contracted in the last few centuries as the human kingdoms have fought to establish themselves in the power vacuum.

The next update will be based around the human cultures - and weaving in some horror elements. You don't run Call of Cthulhu every week for a decade without it leaving a mark.


  1. Interesting. Your elves may be more akin to the traditional elves of faerie )or Pratchett or other more recent fantasy authors) rather than the noble elves of Tolkien (although Tolkien also approached the other sort, with his wood elves and King Thranduil in The Hobbit). They might have some disdain for humans, considering them barbarians at best (even while going into some sort of decline themselves). It could be benign or not.
    Of course, there are historical patterns for this sort of thing, as well as fictional.

  2. Loving yours, and Fitz-Badger's ideas.