Sooner or later, fantasy role-players have to address the issue of economics. Some games have as their central feature the accumulation of great wealth; my campaigns are less mercenary but it still helps if players have a feel for the local system of money and prices. Please note that this is one area in which my version of Hârn differs slightly from the published material; the differences are minor, but intentional.
The only coin in common use on Hârn is the silver penny. There are no copper coins; gold coins are rare. The penny is literally broken into halves or fourths for purchases requiring less than a full penny. Purchases requiring large sums of money are paid for either with heaps of silver pence or with promissory notes.
The size and weight of the silver penny are based on the coinage system introduced over 300 years ago by the Corani Empire. The weight of the penny was set by the Emperor's decree as equal to the weight of twenty-four grains of wheat. By way of comparison, the silver penny is about the same diameter as the modern American dime but much thinner, weighing only one dram. It certainly has more buying power. A single silver penny will buy:
There are two conventions in common use on Hârn for denoting certain quantities of silver pennies; these are the pound and the shilling.
The Pound: The Coroni Imperial coinage system established the weight of the ounce as equal to the weight of twenty pennies, and the weight of the pound as equal to the weight of twelve ounces. The Coroni ounce is no longer used except as a measure of weight for precious metals, but the pound survives as both a measure of weight for precious metals and a monetary unit equal to 240 pence.
The Shilling: In its original form, the shilling was a measure of weight used by Lythian raiders to divide jewelry and other precious loot. It was later set by Erebir Pendragon as a standard measure equal to one-twentieth of a pound. Centuries later, as the new Lythian "goods of weight" system became the accepted standard on Hârn, the shilling fell out of usage as a measure of weight but survived as a monetary unit equal to one-twentieth of a silver pound, or twelve pence.
The Hârnic penny generally contains only about 70% of the silver its monetary value represents. As much as 10% of the missing silver is replaced by tin to harden the coin while the remainder provides a slight "profit margin" that pays for the cost of minting. As a result, a Coroni pound of pure silver costs about one-third more than a monetary pound, or about 320 pence.
Except for Chybisa, each kingdom mints its own coins and each has laws regulating the purity of the silver used in the process. Because the laws are not uniform or uniformly enforced throughout Hârn's kingdoms, coins are generally discounted (under valued) when used outside the kingdom where they were minted. The rate at which they are exchanged for local coins depends on the relative purity of the coins as well as considerations of local politics and trade. Some kingdoms outlaw the use of coins minted elsewhere; other kingdoms have policies that discourage their use without actually making them illegal. In these circumstances, the exchanging merchant will have to move the coins back to the kingdom in which they were minted to recover their full value; her estimate of the expense and hardship involved will affect the offered exchange rate. In some cases, the coins are simply melted down and re-minted.
Because of their purity and high quality, coins minted in Azadmere have universal acceptance at full value. Since Burzyn mints no coins of its own, those minted in Thay also are generally accepted at full face value within the Kingdom of Chybisa, a matter of growing concern to Verlid VII. The average rate of exchange of coins minted elsewhere is 80%.
In 720 TR, the only gold coin in circulation is the Khuzan crown. Like the silver used in the penny, the gold used in the crown is not pure but is an alloy that makes the coin more durable. The value in 720 TR of the Khuzan crown, which weighs one Coroni ounce, is 320 silver pence - or roughly the value of one Coroni pound of pure silver. Because of the Khuzan crown's great value and remote source (it is minted only in Azadmere), most people will never see one.
In ancient times, the Sindarin and Khuzdul both minted a number of other gold coins. Those produced by the Sindarin were generally used as tokens or medallions and were not part of a fixed or standard system of coinage. The Khuzdul, however, had a complex system of coinage that included both silver and gold coins of various sizes and values. The Khuzan system eventually gave way to the simpler system introduced by the Coroni Empire. Today, the Sindarin mint no coins, and the Khuzdul produce only the silver penny and the Khuzan gold crown. While very rare, the ancient coins are still sometimes encountered in out of the way places.
Merchants often deal in goods so valuable or in such quantities that conducting their transactions in silver pence would prove burdensome. Instead of dealing in huge quantities of silver pence or pounds of precious metals, they have instead developed a system of credit or promissory notes that creates, in effect, a system of "paper money."
These notes are only issued by Mercantylers, and generally only by those that specialize in usury. Those desiring to obtain a promissory note exchange a quantity of coins or goods equal in value to the face value of the note plus a small amount charged as a fee for the service. The note can then be exchanged with other merchants for goods or redeemed for coins, though never at full value unless presented back to the mercantyler who originally issued the note. As in the exchange of foreign coins, the value obtained for the exchange of a promissory note depends on several factors, including the reputation and solvency of the mercantyler who issued the note.