Fantasy Currency and Measurement Systems

Aaron Stone

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This is what I spend hours on, though those hours result in but a few lines of text in my notes. Most fantasy worlds have their own currency in each of the kingdoms, and measurement systems, as in weight and length.

THIS IS NOT EASY.

Coming up with the perfect names for the coins or paper (but mostly coins) money used is a pain. Finding the name that fits, that sounds everyday, that you wouldn't have to read twice, yet maybe connotes peasantry or royalty respectively, is a hard task. Also choosing the metals the coins are made of, ranking them lowest to highest in value. This also effects the economy of the kingdom in other ways - how are the metals acquired? Is there a large deposit of silver in the mountain range close by, of which the kingdom has sole control? This could mean silver is not as valuable as it would be elsewhere, and a silver coin may be a low denomination of the common currency.

Weight is a different story - you can pretty much name it whatever you want, but remember - long ago, they were unable to measure in such exact terms as we are able to use today. That is where the English stone comes from, if I am not mistaken. So someone might weigh 10 -blanks-.

Length I'm not so sure about, but the names are fun to come up with. I have corresponded the measurements of length with sounds, from loud to quiet. Knocks - the equivalent of miles. I'm thinking thumps for feet, but it's not as catchy. And taps for the smallest measurement of length.

I am NOT going to mess with time. NO way, NO chance. Too confusing and time-consuming, if you'll excuse the pun.

Any thoughts?
 

Anne Lyle

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I think you may be too hung up on world-building and should get on with writing the story :)

Seriously - does any of this add to the story, or are you just doing it for the fun of world-building? Will it enrich your book for the characters to discuss how many "thumps" tall someone is, or will readers be left scratching their heads?

I only do as much world-building as is needed to tell the story...
 

Aaron Stone

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I create a world utterly and completely, down to it's muscles and sinews, leaving no gaps that may slow me in the midst of my writing, before I even put pen to paper regarding the actual story. In truth, though, I started writing yesterday, and this is just a topic of interest and fascination to me, that I enjoy discussing. I thank you for your concern nonetheless.
 

MemoryTale

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Naming a currency is a good idea if you need it, but personally I'd be put off if you nmed units of length as well. Does it add anything to the story if someone says:

"We must journey five thumps North.'

Rather than:

"We must journey five miles North.'

To name a mile a thump, you'd need a bit of text explaining that a thump is a mile somewhere, and personally I don't want to be leafing back through the book if I happen to forget what a thump is equivelent to.
 

Boneman

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Money - easy: 100 copper equals 1 silver, 100 silver equals one gold. Have coins of different weight, hence a five copper piece, fifty silver piece and so on. And your characters get to carry satisfyingly heavy coins...

Distance - not so easy: even experts can't agree how long a league is these days... your idea is derived from a foot, anyway, and nothing wrong with 500 paces for 500 yards. The ancient egyptians used a measure of distance tied up with time - three day's march from here...

If you're sweating the details, settle on one, finish the story and come back to it. I'm sure a character will be really fed up with marching 3,000 knocks a day, and want to do 3 leagues. They'll tell you, honest...:eek:
 

Anne Lyle

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Also, google 'smeerp'. If your units are basically miles, why give them a made-up name? It's just "different to be different" rather than real world building.

Now, if your civilisation values cocoa beans above gold and uses them for currency (as the Incas did), that is interesting world-building :)
 

Phoenixthewriter

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Currency, I find to be very easy actually. I use simple metals like copper silver and gold to denote value, but then I follow it up with what is on the face of the coin. Golden Bolts, in one of my stories, is a gold coin with a hammer and thunderbolt on its face. Whereas Golden Crowns, are those with a crown. Each face comes from a different kingdom so the reader gets an idea where our mysterious traveler may have come from. Also, plain coins could simply be called a Set, perhaps minted by outside towns rather than the capital cities, and are valued slightly less than a Crown or Bolt.

So I could lay down three copper sets, a silver star, and two golden crowns, and the reader still understands exactly what the value is, while still maintaining a uniqueness to the world you've built.

Barring that, take a look at Brandon Sanderson's novel The Way of Kings. They use clear spheres with gems in the center. Totally strange, but you still understand their value in his writing, (they also play an integral part of the storyline though as well).
 

Ursa major

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The ancient egyptians used a measure of distance tied up with time - three day's march from here...
This is a good way to go, because if a town is described as being three days away, you won't get pedants arguing that you couldn't travel on foot/on a horse/with a cart/with livestock/whatever over that sort of terrain in only three days if there's no alternative measurement of distance being used. (And just to make sure you're pedant-proof in this area, quote the time based on the means of locomotion your characters are going to use, i.e. someone saying, "It's three days on horseback!" when they're going to travel on horseback.
 

AMB

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Just don't ask the fastest person around.
 

Venusian Broon

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Hey Aaron, Depends on how modern you are making your fantasy. So if it's quite modern then ignore the rest of the this!

This is about the more ancient roots of money and value and may hopefully give you ideas...

Gold for example has been highly desired as valuable partly because of its inert chemical nature and other properties as a metal (extremely ductile and malleable) but also because of their scarcity. The total amount of gold that has been ever mined, since the dawn of time till today - if all melted together - would fit in a cube with side approximately 20 metres long - and note most of this is still in human hands somewhere, it does not get lost (e.g. sits in museum displays and bank vaults). If this sounds ridicuously small, then remember that most golden objects are gilded or barely sprayed with a layer of gold to get the necessary sheen.

When gold/silver became prevalent in exchanges, particuarly in the near and middle east, coinage was developed essentially to pay armies and soldiers. I would assume that although gold/silver was always highly prized from the start - as precious commodities - you need a reasonable amount 'floating' about to function as a sort of international currency and this probably took some time to mine out.

So this meant that if you were a kingdom that found a gold mine you were mining money (and power) out of the ground - because you could then go and pay for troops. (But finding huge deposits of gold tended to give the thoroughly modern disease of inflation and debt that would eventually cripple that nation. Who got rich when the Spanish discovered the new world and took all the gold and silver they could find? Tell you who - the French and Italian artists, craftsmen and merchants that were selling luxury goods and services. The Spanish economy nosedived for centuries and hamstrung that empire.)

Another example: Athens did this in the 5th Century BC when they discovered silver on their lands and this funded their naval expansion.

Notably they also used their temples almost as the worlds first deposit banks, putting in artefacts and 'offerings' of silver and other valuables, that tended to be "cashed out" i.e. melted down and turned into coin, when they needed to pay for more men or ships. I believe that for example coating the statue of the god or goddess was a good way of depositing metals - as it would be difficult for thieves to walk off with a 20 foot gold or silver covered Athena or Zeus.

They cashed out of course in the Pelaponise war against Sparta - who hold a different view to money, despising bling and sparkly objects as being unmanly and instead having an no-nonsense iron only currency. So in this case the metal that makes the currency is of no consequence for the society (in the end the Spartans were just as addicted to bling as everyone else, so this novelty was forgotten till the 20th Century.)


Anyway this may not be quite on your timeline. So apologies!


To get back to the original question, I wouldn't worry at all about it unless it is vitally important for a character to make a pertinent remark about some currency/weight/length issue. And even then it could be dealt with, with a natural 'He threw her a few coins and left the tavern.' etc...
 

Aaron Stone

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Boneman - I prefer giving names to the coins. In my current story, I have tin bits, bronze pawns, silver poolings, and malumite (made-up metal) castles. As for length, you're right, I really shouldn't change things as simple as feet and inches. But for mile-type lengths, I like knocks.

Anne - So I should just call my coins pennies, nickles, dimes, quarters, and dollars? And the times period is far beyond the Incas. No cocoa beans, or any other beans, would make sense as currency. We are not trading fish for bread here, this is a kingdom with nobles and artisans and merchants and coins as currency.

Phoenix - I like the names you came up with. I was really having a hard time with the most expensive coin. I was considering royals, crowns, nobles...but those seemed kind of common, and I'd seen them all used before. The Way of Kings is one of my favorite books. I loves the currency system there - skymarks, clearmarks, etc. Very interesting. And of course how they held stormlight, proving them to be real, as opposed to dun spheres, which were questionable and could only be examined by an expert to prove it.

Venusian - That is one of the most interesting pieces on anything I have read here. Sadly, no, I am not working in ancient times, but thank you ever for your time and effort regarding the information.
 

mosaix

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Aaron, I'm with Anne on this one. You can go into too much detail. On the other hand, if that's what you enjoy, why not? :)

Just don't expect to finish the thing in the foreseeable future. :D

BTW to save time you could always look up the currency /weights system of some very small country / island on Earth and just adapt it very slightly.
 

Mouse

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I just used silver and gold coins in mine. Simple, and people should know that a gold coin is worth more than a silver coin.

Personally, I've no idea what a nickle, dime or quarter is.
 

AMB

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A nickle is a niggle that tickles, a dime is a chocolate coated caramel bar and a quarter is half of half of something. Not to be confused with a quart, although if you're offering I'll have whatever ale happens to be on tap.
 

Boneman

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Currency, I find to be very easy actually. I use simple metals like copper silver and gold to denote value, but then I follow it up with what is on the face of the coin. Golden Bolts, in one of my stories, is a gold coin with a hammer and thunderbolt on its face. Whereas Golden Crowns, are those with a crown. Each face comes from a different kingdom so the reader gets an idea where our mysterious traveler may have come from. Also, plain coins could simply be called a Set, perhaps minted by outside towns rather than the capital cities, and are valued slightly less than a Crown or Bolt.

So I could lay down three copper sets, a silver star, and two golden crowns, and the reader still understands exactly what the value is, while still maintaining a uniqueness to the world you've built.

I'll see your three copper sets, a silver star and two golden crowns and raise you two halos and a krore...

This is a good idea, and has set me thinking about my own currency. Thanks!!
 

Aaron Stone

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mosaix - All of the really great fantasies I've read recently have their own currency. It is a far cry from going into to much detail. And I've already FINISHED with all that, I just enjoy discussing it.

Mouse - That's one way of doing it, and that definitely works.

A nickle, dime, and quarter are the sub-denomination of the dollar, the American currency. I was going to to say agurot and shekalim, but nobody would know what those were either, as they are the Israeli coins, which is where I live. I forgot for a moment that this was a UK website, and that pounds or euro would have been more appropriate.

AMB -Haha, very clever, give yourself a round of applause. I especially like the nickle one.
 

Mouse

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Mouse - That's one way of doing it, and that definitely works.

A nickle, dime, and quarter are the sub-denomination of the dollar, the American currency. I was going to to say agurot and shekalim, but nobody would know what those were either, as they are the Israeli coins, which is where I live. I forgot for a moment that this was a UK website, and that pounds or euro would have been more appropriate.
Ah, I knew they were to do with American currency. It's just that I've no idea how much they're worth. I guess in the same way that some Americans (and others) don't know what a quid, pony or monkey is. :)
 

Aaron Stone

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Exactly. I include myself in your "(and others)".
A book I read recently, The Name of the Wind (incredible book, highly recommended), has several different forms of currency, as the protagonist travels to different kingdoms and introduces us to the reality that money is not the same all over the world. They use both traditional and extremely original names for the coins - copper pennies, iron pennies, other types of pennies, and the very original silver talent. I love that name, I cannot get over it. A talent. It fits like a glove. A custom made glove. Worth a silver talent, at least.
 
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