Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Electrum in 5th Edition

Welcome back electrum! I'm sure a lot of you older gamers who have the new edition of D&D have noticed that electrum coins are in the Player's Handbook again. For those who are newer to the game I'll explain why this is interesting.

In the first edition of AD&D, the coinage breakdown was like this:

1 gp = 20 sp = 200 cp = 2 ep = 1/5 pp

This was slightly unwieldy so in second edition they moved to a system more like Basic D&D's:

1 gp = 10 sp = 100 cp = 2 ep = 1/5 pp

Electrum still existed in the rules, but soon the decimalization of D&D's coins continued with third and fourth edition:

1 gp = 10 sp = 100 cp = 1/10 pp

Despite not being in the rule books for over a decade, electrum was still present in certain settings, like Greyhawk (like in the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer) at it's standard exchange rate. Now in the 5th edition PHB we find this:

1 gp = 10 sp = 100 cp = 2 ep = 1/10 pp

Electrum is back in the pages of D&D for no real functional reason, but it is yet another reminder that the game has gone back to its roots. This direction is great news for old-school Greyhawk fans, so dungeonmaster's, break out those electrum coins!

Electrum Names in Greyhawk
anvil: Principality of Ulek
axeman: Shield Lands
bright: County and Duchy of Urnst
bright ship: Sea Princes
bright skull: Iuz
dolphin: Lordship of the Isles
eagles: Bissel, Geoff, Gran March, Keoland, Sterich
fez: Tusmit
galley: Dyvers, Ekbir
great lunar: Highfolk
halfgold: Rel Astra, Yeomanry
haf-kronar: Frost, Ice and Snow Barbarians
hafmark: Perrenland
knight: Furyondy, Verbobonc
lucky: Greyhawk
marcher: Tenh
marid: Zeif
mirrorpool: County of Ulek
noble: Ahlissa, Bone March, North Kingdom, Sea Barons, Sunndi
scepter: Ratik
shinepiece: Nyrond
shootingstar: Duchy of Ulek
silver sun: The Pale
staff: Veluna
starcloak: Celene
wader: Onnwal
wagon: Ket


Stelios V. Perdios said...

I remember, years ago, running a 3.5e game with a 1e module that had electrum pieces for treasure.

The players were all like: "Electrum pieces? What are those?"

Made me feel a little old even though one or two if the players were close to my age. Glad to e.p. make a return.

Stelios V. Perdios said...

*to "see" ep make a return.

Joseph Bloch said...

Where did you get those coin names? Doesn't ring a bell.

Also, I liked the quirky way that electrum worked in Gygax's novels. 1 pp = 1 gp + 1 ep. So if you paid a pp for a 1 gp item, you'd get an electrum lucky in change.

Mike Bridges said...

Joseph: They're all from the Living Greyhawk Gaz. One of my favorite obscure things about that book is the names for all currencies.

tom said...

I don't know. Even as an old-school gamer, I find it hard to get excited over Electrum.

Mostly because if you wanted it (or any other odd form of currency) nothing was stopping you from restoring it as a "house rule".

But also because in the real world, electrum was somewhat problematic as a monetary metal: it was a naturally occurring alloy of gold & silver, and as such its gold/silver content varied wildly between sources, and sometimes even when produced from the same mine.

it was used mainly by primitive cultures who had not yet learned how to refine & separate the two metals. But in D&D, we tend to play mainly in high-medieval or renaissance cultures that had mastered the art of refining metals by mundane means, and we also have magic available.

In Greyhawk, only Geoff, Iuz, the Duchy of Ulek, the Duchy of Urnst, the Pomarj and the North Province of the Great Kingdom produce Electrum.

The rest are unlikely to use it. Sure they could artificially alloy gold & silver, but what would be the point?

If they wanted a coin half as valuable as a GP, they could just make a gold coin half as big instead of a 25% gold + 75% silver electrum coin.

Mike Bridges said...

Yeah I can't say I ever used Electrum in my games. I knew about it and that it was integral to D&D for some reason, but my games never hinged on finding electrum.
With this post I guess I'm trying to psych myself up into using it more.

tom said...

I don't think I'd characterize it as integral to D&D. As I said, Electrum was something of a historical oddity as a monetary metal. It was really only used in ereas much earlier than we typically set our campaigns in.

I kind of wonder if EGG knew that in the early days when he first decided to include it. He certainly did later when publishing via Troll Lord, and when he revised the currency system for the Gord novels.

The Wikipedia entry has some decent info, but you can probably get more inspiration on making money interesting from the 2E DMG pp 32-34.