February 2013



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A Fistful of Silver Dollars

Currency in the Far West

by T.S. Luikart

“All things become possible with money” is one of the Empire’s oldest sayings and generally a truism in the Far West as well. Strange truth though, wealth is a fairly loose concept out West. Lots of folks go their whole lives and will see no more than a handful of silver dollars, much less a gold talon, but they may be considered well off all the same. Many subsistence farmers will never hold any coin bigger than a bit and quite a few rich ranchers never bother to deal in anything as “base” as metal wealth.

This post takes a look at what passes for currency in the Far West.

The farms and ranches of the West tend to use a barter system for their interactions with one another, but wages are almost always paid in coin. Goods that must be bought, say, from a general store, are bought on credit which is made good when the next harvest comes in, after a livestock sale, etc. There are always a few “facilitators” that make decent money acting as go-betweens for groups of farmers and ranchers in the West and interested buyers “back East”.

The core of the (generally) accepted currency system in the Far West is the dollar, which is invariably made of silver. Some silver dollars have fancy engravings, especially those from the Periphery, but the majority have fairly simple designs, as they are intended to be quartered into sections known as bits. While four bits to the dollar is the standard, some small villages have so little currency that they will deal in eight sectioned dollars, called half-bits or slivers.

The majority of standard goods and services in the West are bought or paid for with dollars and bits, though not always of the metal variety. Quite a few folks don’t like the notion of hauling too much wealth about with them (for many good reasons) so they use paper money called “scrip” which draws on funds they’ve stored at their local bank. Working with a banker, they convert some of their funds to scrip from the bank, which they then use as their currency. Some scrip is very specific, allowing only the listed sum to be drawn with it (like a check) others are more generalized, e.g. up to, but not more than, five dollars for services rendered.

Scrip is as good as the bank it draws upon and the reputation of the person issuing it, meaning that most scrip will only see local use; however, there are employers, among them several Chartered Houses, that issue their own scrip. This “wage scrip” can only be redeemed in a few specific locations, such as company run stores and the like. Whether the prices are fair or marked up varies by the employer. The Steam Barons are also nearly the only ones in the West with the means to issue “general scrip” which is (theoretically) redeemable in hard currency at any business or bank associated with their House. Their ability to redeem such scrip puts their honor on the line, so the Chartered Houses are famed for doing so as promptly as they can manage… and they are even more infamous for what they do to those who try to bilk them with counterfeit scrip.

The largest coins in general use after dollars are talons, which are always made of gold. The present accepted exchange rate is ten silver dollars to the talon, though some places will push this ratio either direction. Unlike dollars, talons tend to be beautifully engraved, frequently with tiger or dragon motifs. Many bear the Empire’s marks, but a few have been issued by various cities in the West, including Sedoa, Eldaire, Kalsi, and Sevenfork. A rare handful are in circulation that still hold the Cog-and-Blade of Orinost, opinion varies on whether such coins are lucky or cursed. Many folks with rare or valuable skills insist on being paid in talons, as they are exceedingly difficult to counterfeit and not as subject to shaving as dollars.

Major transactions are seldom paid for with talons, as gold bars serve better and are generally easier to transport in bulk. Anyone having to move a large sum of money a great distance in the West will generally hire a chartered guard ring that specializes in couriering for banks. If a body can’t afford the heavy fees a guard ring will cost them (especially the most expensive, who travel by airship), most folk will split their funds between talons, gemstones, and a chartered hired gun.

Gemstones are easy to transport and relatively easy to conceal. Many folks of means keep one or two secreted for “emergencies” and the like. The most numerous stones in the Far West are opals, diamonds, and jade, all three of which come in a wide variety of types. The Ice Opals of Drywater are widely famed for their crystalline blue sheen, which scintillates purple, magenta, and crimson when turned in light. The most famous stones of the West are Laspur Diamonds, steely silver-grey stones by day, they shine only by starlight, but then they’re a wonder to behold. Rivers of blood have been spilt over the (lost) location of Laspur.

Jade is favored by those that walk the Dust Road due to its ability to “resonate” with spirit energy, making it a useful conduit that is frequently worked into weapons. Along with the more readily found stones, there are emeralds in the Eagles’ Claws, but they’re dangerous to acquire as the Mountain Folk don’t approve of most types of mining, believing they disrespect the spirits of the mountains. Turquoise is highly valued and can be found scattered throughout the Thousand Mesas, but you could search for years before finding a worthwhile vein.

The last form of currency regularly used in the Far West is intangible, but perhaps all the more important for being so: Favors. Personal honor means, well, everything in the West. If an individual swears that they will do something, their reputation is bound to the task. If a warrior vows to repay a blacksmith within a month for a blade she wishes to acquire, effectively asking for the favor of the blacksmith giving her the blade up front without any money, the blacksmith would consider the warrior’s reputation, probably turning it over in his mind against her chances of surviving whatever she wanted the blade for and then choose to either deny or grant her request. The blacksmith could decide the answer was “no” causing the warrior to sweeten the deal by declaring that not only would she repay the blacksmith within the month, but she would owe him a favor to be named later, which may or may not cause him to change his mind.
Some folks eschew money, but accumulate favors, especially wanderers on the Dust Road. There are many tales in the Far West of great warriors calling in their “final favor” from friends or even honorable enemies before succumbing to Final Song’s call.



  1. Whassinger says:

    So, how does that translate in-game? The basic currency, the silver dollars, bits, slivers, and talons all make fine sense and are easily balanced, and barter and favors are good for role-playing. But that scrip, I’m not sure how that’s supposed to translate. Are there going to be hard and fast rules, or are they going to be more fluid?

    • admin says:

      Scrip uses the same economy as the basic currency — it will be written in amounts of silvers, talons, etc. Think of it as checks, except that they can only be cashed in at certain locations (at the issuing bank, or properties owned by the Chartered House, etc.).

  2. Ben says:

    Good Lord, this game just gets better and better!

  3. Shawn says:

    Any word on when the book is going to print?

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