Why do most games have universal currency?
Originally it was all completely based on weight, so scales had to be used for every transaction and coins where often cut or broken into pieces to make certain payment amounts match up. Sure, different areas stamped things with seals and imagery for their area, but what appeared on the coins didn't matter, as it was only the gold weight that mattered. Then minting standardized money came into play, although merchants often shaved early coins to get a little extra gold off their sides for "free" before spending them elsewhere. This was just the start of all the trouble and counterfeiting that has been going on even through today.
If you look at the real world of the past (or even today), as long as there has been money minted there has never been a single form of currency. Even within one large area it has been rare to have a single form of currency solely used. With the old kingdoms it even changed each time a new ruler was put in charge, as the new coinage would be re-minted with the seal or face of the new leader. It would be common to see several equal but very different coins within the same system over time. Then expand that out to other kingdoms and lands and each one will have their own currency.
Between all these lands with their own currencies, and at trade ports, you have areas where the currencies are exchanged and traded. There is usually some exchange rate used, back then mostly based on gold weight, but it meant that these areas often had good amounts of both (or more) currencies in active use. You do any travel between lands and you are going to have to deal with some kind of exchange or at least some alternate trade method (be it gems, goods, work, or something else).
Games, however, have a distinct lack of this in most of them. Gold Pieces are used all over the world (and even between multiple dimensions in some of them). There is occasionally mention of certain lands having their own minted coins, but they are still Gold Pieces and worth the exact same thing (completely interchangeable in the game). This something that always bugged me, and is something I worked hard to correct when I made my own game.
It may take a little work, but it's not that hard to actually have multiple currencies in your game. Large controlled areas, like kingdoms, should have their own minted coinage at the very least. Some of them should have different sizes, types, shapes, and of course values of currency. Within each one there may also be several types of coinage or other minted notes with exchange rates between them (like 30 Silver = 1 Gold, 10 gold = 1 Platinum, etc.), which are important to note but you should consider one of them as the baseline value for that currency (usually the Gold Piece in most fantasy games).
To make things easy on the design of things you should choose a certain one to be your base currency for design. Mathematically this would be your 1=1 value. You then work out from there and give exchange rates from your base currency to all the others. Once this is done it may take a little work and math to figure out any other exchange rates, but you can always go through the base one if you need to.
This allows your game to have a more realistic feel to it and adds a new element you can use for your stories. Currency from certain areas may not be accepted everywhere, or even might give away outsiders when you attempt to use it. Finding people to exchange it with could be a whole small hook for a plotline. Being scammed during an exchange might be something to watch out for. It is a great way to just have another level of fun and reality in your game.
Think about how many movies and TV shows have used the finding of foreign currency on someone as proof of their deceit, or at least planted evidence to try and make them suspected of it. How many times have you seen (or even been) someone stuck in a foreign country without legal tender to spend there, even though they have currency from their homeland? The possibilities are endless, so use them.
Another thing that multiple currencies can do is help flesh out and reflect the land they are from. Think about how the money of a land tells you things about that place. How many different kinds of currency have some kind of motto or something on them? The old kingdom coinage that always has the face of the king and some slogan about loyalty to them. Even the language they are written in and way they are worded can give clues to these lands.
Think about a controlling kingdom that uses very precisely minted round coins in three different metals. They are carefully crafted to be easily distinguished from each other, while maintaining a certain uniform shape and feel. Add in some specific words and pictures minted on them and you have some very telling things about them and even their level of technology.
Now, how about a land of more active woodland folk that use coinage that comes in several oblong shapes that all have holes in them, usually off-center a bit. This is done so they can be worn on necklaces and tied to things, which is safer for them than bags that can be punctured or flipped over while running, jumping, swimming, climbing, and all their other active stuff.
You could also have ones that come of various shapes and sizes, including stars, circles, squares, and more. They are very easily distinguished from each other, even by touch alone, so perhaps they are common among a group that lives underground and often deals in low light or darkness situations. Or perhaps they are a far more artistic society. It would depend more about what is minted on them to help determine which one of these is true.
How about ones made of carved bone or abalone shells? There is no end to what you can do with different kinds of currency, especially in a fantasy world, so don't always make it just about the Gold Piece. Think about the societies they are being made for and make them fit.
This is a relatively short post this week, but it's simple one to cover. Money should be more than just a number on your sheet in most games. Sure, in the future games where credits are universal it may actually just be a number, but that's not the case in most situations. Use currency and exchange rates to create a deeper and more exciting game.
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