So, like many other of the world building topics I like to talk about, there are books, blogs, videos, and forums that have discussed economics in relation to creating a fictional world. Apparently Grain Into Gold is really good, and Farm, Forge, and Steam is free. Then Clarkesworld Magazine did interviews with some authors about the economics of their worlds, and Fantasy Faction has a post about it too.
Further, I’m not an econ-nerd, nut, or expert. I like to play with numbers, but I never even took an economics class in university. So… my approach to this particular world building problem is going to be very non-technical. Depending on what you need, that may or may not be a good thing.
So before I dive in, I want to quickly define what “economics” are. Dictionary definition says it is “the branch of knowledge concerned with the production, consumption, and transfer of wealth.” I, personally, like the definition given in the Clarkesworld article by a Dr. Philip Swicegood that “Economics is about exchange and incentives.” That makes the concept of it a little more accessible (and a little less scary).
So today I’m just going to talk about what types of currency you might want to use.
Everybody’s heard of gold coins. And if you’re a gamer, you’re probably also familiar with platinum, silver, and copper coins. (Old school gamer’s might remember electrum coins) A lot of books, movies, and TV shows use metal based currencies as well. They may have more creative names for them, and they may not necessarily take the form of a coin, but it seems like the standard go-to for a currency is metal.
Well, metals are generally precious (i.e., rare), and difficult to fake. Carved or painted sticks could be replicated by an artist with enough skill, paper and cloth can be made (or destroyed) fairly easily, and plants are perishable. It seems like metal just makes the most sense… But I want you to really take a closer look at that assumption.
Metal is heavy, it can be hard to come by, in most cases it will rust, and its value is entirely based on the purity of the metal -which isn’t something that can be easily determined simply by looking at the coin/item.
The other problem you have with (any) currency is that society as a whole has to agree that yes, this particular item is a representation of an effective value of X. Then, even if a society agrees, other groups/countries may not. Which can make trade difficult, if not outright impossible. Which may be another reason why metal currency trumped other forms in our real world history. (But, again, I’m not an economics person)
So… what item can symbolize a value/worth, isn’t easily forged/faked, is long lasting, intuitive (for readers), and could be accepted across cultures within your fictional world?
While this is going to depend upon your particular story, I’ll give you some suggestions. Maybe it will spark some ideas 🙂
- Plastic chips
- Magical marks/tattoos
- Paper/wood dyed with a rare plant and/or colour
- Bones (carved or painted)
- Non-perishable food item
- Powdered plants/drugs/medicines
- Fabrics (e.g., specific patterns of lace, or embroidered silk)
- Liquid magic
- Star sparks
- Carved rocks
- Water and/or ice
- Braided ribbons
- Etched glass
- Coloured liquids
- Small animals (e.g., chickens, mice, rabbits)
- Captured/crystallized smoke
Can you think of any others?
Part 2 for my Fictional Economics series will be posted at the
end of the month June 1st; Goods In My Market.