One of the things that has always bothered me about fantasy game settings is the insane quantity of cash, especially gold. I don’t mind the prices nearly as much (though sometimes those are crazy as well), for reasons I can’t explain. In any event, I have worked to give many alternatives to pure coinage for treasures and merchants, here they are broken down by race.
A great deal of coinage reappeared with the population of Rising Sun, and they have rebuilt the minting facilities in Shadow of the Sun. Thus far only two caravans have brought new ore to the city so the newest print run of coins is smaller than their needs. Thus Native tradebars are in wider circulation than coins everywhere except Rising Sun itself, and even there they are common. Interestingly enough the Ancients are quite taken with the concept of tradebars and especially the lizardmen’s enchanted rune-sticks and there is a good chance that coins will be slowly phased out over time.
In both Rising Sun and Shadow of the Sun it is common for people to be carrying around 2 – 3 silver worth of coinage, rising up to 15 gold for nobles and wealthy merchants. Anyone actually shopping would have a 50% chance to be carrying trade bars rather than large denomination coins.
Coins come minted in the standard copper, bronze, silver, gold, platinum at 10:1 conversions except for platinum which trades at a value of 100 gold. The vast majority of cash interactions are carried out in bronze, with silvers for expensive objects, and gold the province of the wealthiest merchants and nobles. Platinum coins are really just a way to horde personal fortunes and move them safely, they are not normally used for business transactions on a significant basis, though when particularly powerful magic items or services are exchanged, they may make an appearance.
Trade bars are made of nearly any metal and are typically stamped or branded with a maker’s mark and weight. There are no well-known makers among the ancients as the concept is still too new. Even marks that would be widely recognized among the natives are known only to the best of the ancient merchants. Trade bars come in values of as low as 5 bronze and as high as 2,000 gold.
Rune-sticks are still novelty items and don’t have much by way of a standard value. Spending them is more like barter than a cash transaction.
Only a few territories still mint their own coins. Due to forgery issues, and people shaving the coins for the raw metal, trade bars are more common. They are made from a variety of materials including some of the rarer woods like Teak and Ebony. Ivory is also used for trade bars. By far and away, though, copper, silver, brass, bronze, gold, iron, and steel are the most common. Goldenrod, the Imperial Province, Quick, and 59-hands mostly set the standard, and the smaller provinces follow along. Merchants expect to suffer a bit of a loss when dealing in the smaller areas as trade bars have a barter value rather than an official minted value.
What coins do exist are about 60% from the days of the ancients and 40% newer, typically from the largest cities only. Everyone tries to copy ancient coin weights and components, but it is not unheard of for cities to load the coins with lead or tin insides and valuable outsides. Merchants feel safer if there is a deep gouge or two in a coin so they can see it is legitimate.
Pygmies do not mint coins or trade bars. They long ago adopted a standard based around dipping fangs from dangerous animals into valuable metals. The larger the fang, the rarer the metal, the more valuable the resulting “coin”. These are more often used in barter than as an accepted standard value. The cities usually have enough in circulation that something approaching a standard has evolved just by simplicity. When real coins and trade bars are acquired, they are typically traded to an alchemist who melts them down and uses them to create “money”.
In addition to the fangs, Pygmies are best known as headhunters. Indeed, their towns are covered in skull decorations and they wear skulls for hats. Additionally, while fangs work as coinage, they make decorated skulls as “trade bars”. These are often encrusted with gems, and have a removable cap, where more gems and fangs are stored. Human skulls are by far and away the most valuable. Native skulls are large enough to be problematic to transport in any number, so Pygmy skulls are actually spent more often, but Native skulls are the real markers of value.
Those northern tribes who interact with the lizardmen have become extremely fond of their bone runesticks. Due to the Cursed Tribes inability to create any but the most rudimentary (and thus low-value) runesticks due to their lack of magic, these are highly prized. Typically they go for 20% to 50% above what a lizardman would rate them. The southern tribes have not yet been introduced to this form of currency. The coastal tribes who have met with the Sea Devils have introduced their dipped-tooth currency to the Sea Devils. Sea Devils are particularly fond of the technique and are all but unable to reproduce it due to their lack of metallurgy. They have, however, a massive supply of aquatic fangs of particularly exotic nature. This has led to a system of trade where the Sea Devils trade raw fangs for dipped ones and both sides profit. Sea Devils have begun experimenting with decorated sea monster skulls as well, but while considered beautiful, these have lower trade value than human skulls.
Sea Devils don’t have the ability to use most forms of cash. They traditionally use disks of mother of pearl as coins, and gems for barter. However, the pygmy fang-based coinage has caught on rapidly with those who live along the coasts. It remains to be seen if teeth are durable enough to work as coinage for the deep sea.
The lizardmen traditionally used gemstones and barter as the basis of their economy. With the rise of many forms of humanoid and sentient dragon spawn, however, they worked out a system of engraved bone rune-sticks. These are crafted by the various tribes’ shamans and a few warlocks. Each is marked with the crafter’s arcane mark invisibly, and the mark of the maker’s patron in magically-glowing runes. These rune-sticks are valued by the elaborateness of the engravings, and typically come in value increments of 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, and 250g each. Humans will usually buy them at 2/3 the value lizardmen place on them and unlike the lizardmen, the process involves haggling and barter. Special rune-sticks with particularly elaborate or enchanted engravings have unique prices, much like gemstones, and are haggled over even among the lizardmen. Sahas’ralee is known to make rune-sticks herself of exquisite design that have gone for values exceeding 15,000g. In her case, the prices are nearly always inflated because the Blackscales are known to pay an insane premium for her work.