Monday, April 23, 2012

T is for Treasure

[This is the 20th of my April A-Z Challenge series of posts on Symbols, Glyphs, and Sigils. Each day I'll try to include some material that old-school role-playing gamers will find useful, but I can't guarantee that there won't also just be a few posts filled with weirdness for the sake of weirdness....]

Money is a major "symbol" for all kinds of real things.  I was surprised to learn (from its obligatory Wikipedia page) that money can actually "symbolize" at least 4 distinct things: a medium of exchange, a unit of account, a store of value, and a standard of deferred payment.  Before your eyes glaze over in an econo-haze, I should say that money is also something that RPG players often obsess on as a way for their characters to gain experience and get new super-kewl powerz...

I find it interesting that the word Treasure comes ultimately from the Greek word Thesaurus, for a vault or storehouse in which money is kept.  It speaks to the enthusiasm of early compilers of "word hoards" that they came to call one type of lexicographical compilation by this evocative name.  I could also wax on about Aleister Crowley's use of the Greek word in his poetic (and symbol-filled) work called the Treasure House of Images, but I've probably blathered on about the ol' Beast too much this month.

So money!  In most of history, it was synonymous with coins made of various precious metals...

Game masters who create imagined fantasy worlds often want to make these worlds come alive for their players.  I think that much of a setting's verisimilitude can be conveyed through its coinage!  So here's a d6 list of numismatic events that may serve as fodder to help PCs get a feel for their world...
  1. Watch out for "clipping!" It's the weight of a coin that counts, so all merchants should have scales to watch out for those who may shave off a bit of that precious metal from each coin.
  2. Sometimes, though, it does matter what is printed on the coin.  One kingdom may "overstrike" the coins of their enemies with their own symbols, to show dominance.  Some merchants may not care if an enemy's coin is being used, but some may!
  3. From time to time, the ruler can decide to revalue their money, in comparison to either a foreign currency, or with regard to the things it can pay for locally. Sometimes there's inflation... sometimes there's debasement.  Both often generate controversy.
  4. Counterfeiting was often punishable by death.  Nuff said!
  5. Rulers can put images on coins that are offensive to a ruled people. Romans enraged the Jewish people by putting pictures of their holy liturgical items on coins (see the lituus and jug pictured here), and Muslims didn't like seeing coins with images of animals on them.
  6. A kingdom can choose to mint new commemorative coins for a big occasion.  PCs coming across these coins will learn about important events that they may soon
    become inveigled in!  For example,
    • birth of heir or new ruler
    • coronation of ruler
    • death of ruler
    • deification of dead ruler
    • peace treaty
    • great war victory
    • big-number anniversary of any of the above!

Finally, if you're truly disappointed at my semi-bait-and-switch here ("money is a symbol?" really?) and you want REAL symbols to chew on... I can give you the Type Parlant, a coin with an image on it that pictographically symbolizes the name of its home city or nation.  Usually very obvious with the linguistic play -- e.g.,  roses for Rhodes, a moon for Luneburg -- they've been used since ancient times.  GMs can have punny fun with this, too!  :-)


  1. i really liked that! especially the thesaurus = treasure!

  2. Thanks Tara. I'm loving the WVDs you're posting... I'm considering doing some similar riffing on the "traffic source" search phrases that have brought people to my blog!