Friday, September 28, 2012

Meditating on Electrum

Beedo of Dreams in the Lich House is musing out loud today about how the various versions of D&D interact with each other within the nebulous confines of old school play. He starts with the observation that ACKS borrows many concepts from 3e+ and/or has a 3e+ design feel to it. I myself have on more than one occasion admitted that the idea of 3e+ D&D is quite a gorgeous thing. Putting into practice is the problem.

Personally, I find it very interesting what has bled into my own gaming play from the 3e+ era. They often surprise me, because rather than being big design ideas they are minutia that actually makes interacting with my world a little easier for my players. Languages were one of the first that I noticed.

Another is the non-use of electrum. Despite the fact that it is a naturally occurring metal (with a mixture of silver, gold and a variety of other ores) that was used in coinage in several parts of the ancient world, it messes up the wonderfully easy to understand decimal system of 3e+ coinage. So, despite the fact it exists in both older versions of D&D and its clones, and despite the fact that Gygax had it exactly correct that electrum is half-way between silver and gold, my players have rejected it out of hand as part of their game play.

My problem is that I have always had a soft spot for the metal. It is possibly more historically accurate as a type of coin than either gold or platinum. It conducts electricity. Its name sounds really cool. Yet, my players are absolutely correct that it is just a pain to include it in the game as half a gold piece.

I mention all of this because I ran across this hymn today while chasing down something I was researching:
Beholding the orders of the Angels in manifold form, Ezekiel proclaimed them in his history long ago; among them stood the six-winged Seraphim, and the many-eyed Cherubim compassing round about; and with them he saw the Archangels shining like electrum and glorifying Christ unto all the ages. [my emphasis]
This got me thinking that I could re-introduce the metal into my game as a magical metal. Whereas adamantium and mithral are arcane metals, electrum could be a metal used to create/channel divine magic.

Unlike adamantium and mithral (which are ostensibly forged by a class that cannot use them in most applications), electrum could be fully taken advantage of by the spell casters who forge them — clerics.

Herein is another way that 3e+ design can sneak in to my game at a more fundamental level: rather than tying metamagic feats to players, I could tie them to various applications of electrum.


  1. Or you say the coin of the realm is in electrum, and you have an Electrum Big'un which is a double-weight coin worth 1 GP, and an Electrum Li'l which is a 1/5 weight coin worth 1 SP. 5 Big'uns to the pound (12 in 3E) or 50 Li'ls to the pound (125 in 3E). Since most transactions are in Li'ls, and the only difference is weight, it technically doesn't matter which you have in your pocket. The players can RP laying down a Big'un for a bar tab or a bunch of Li'ls for a bribe, same with the DM RPing treasure hoards. Simply, it's 5 GP to the pound (12/lb in 3E) and you don't have to change the prices in the books.

  2. Electrum as tithe coin - riffing on the fact that the Papacy was the only medieval arms allowed to abut or (gold) and argent (silver) in heraldry. If you're caught with a stash of electrum, you'd best be going to the cathedral to pay your respects with it ... That would keep it mostly out of players' sight but introduce the occasional social-moral dilemma.

    1. I am definitely using this in my version of Averoigne — and I love the fact that this is inspired by heraldry.

  3. Which liturgical service is that hymn from?

    I, too, feel a certain magic about electrum coins, much more so than any other coin. Electrum says to me "Clark Ashton Smith, Jack Vance, and D&D".

    1. It is from the Eighth Ode of the Canon sung on November 8 — The Synaxis of the Archangels.

  4. As you mentioned it, electrum coins were used in ancient world rather than the "standard m├ędieval" world that D&D emulates.
    After several years not using electrum (I imagined it being a D&D invention, my bad!) I tried to re-intruduce it in my campain as a sort of "lost world" coinage, usually found in millenia old hidden stashes of treasure. The adventurers can find it but cannot use it in every day transactions, the electrum pieces being too old to still be in use. They must first find a changer, and the rate of change varies randomly from 1ep=1sp ("That's just weird silver, guv'nor"!) to 1 ep=5sp.