A Pfennig for Your Thoughts
Economy and commerce in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay
Social graces, clever planning, skill at arms, arcane spellcraft, or pious devotion to the gods can help see characters through a lot of the encounters they may face. But there is another factor that can have a powerful influence on interactions and encounters – money.
From purchasing gear in the local marketstrasse to bribing a watchman to look the other way when you bring a wagon full of black market goods into town, money, commerce, and social economic tiers can have a significant impact on a roleplaying setting. This designer diary takes a closer look at the Empire’s economy, the three distinct social tiers found there, and briefly discusses tools of the adventuring trade.
The Exchange Rate
Getting the proper gear often means having money in some form – or wits enough to know what is worth stealing. The economy in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay is based on gold, silver, and brass coins. With so many people from different races and from different parts of the Old World trading and working together, there are numerous regional differences in coinage and exchange rates.
The basic exchange rate for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay provides an easy way to conduct commerce across the setting. GMs may adjust the exchange rate in certain areas, to reflect provincial distinctions or the state of the local economy. Here is a look at the basic exchange rate:
1 gold coin (g) is worth 100 silver coins (s) is worth 2500 brass coins (b)1 silver coin (s) is worth 25 brass coins (b)
Gold is pressed into heavy coins, lustrous and well-formed, at home in the vaults of kings, the purses of wealthy merchants, and rumoured monster hoards. Most commoners live their entire lives without seeing a gold coin and even hinting that a gold coin hides in your purse at one of the rougher dockside taverns may be enough to start a scrap.
Silver is more common, and to many people, it is considered the life-blood of commerce. Stamped silver shillings bearing the Imperial laurel wreath flow freely through the streets of Altdorf, Nuln, and the other cities of the Empire amongst the artisans and city tradesmen.
Brass pennies tend to be crude affairs, little more than small pieces of beaten metal, often bearing no mark at all. Rattling in beggar’s bowls and traded for watered-down beer along docks, brass is the coin of the common clay.
Currency Across the Old World
In the Old World, trade is everywhere. On the streets of Altdorf, the sound of haggling and commerce is inescapable as pedlars boisterously push their wares along the marketstrasse and fishmongers cry out the catch of the day down at the docks. In Nuln, the forges are never quiet – smiths’ hammers ringing out their call of craftsmanship. In Bögenhafen, the local farmers count the days until the next festival when they can once more trade the sweat of their toil.
Under the guidance of Emperor Karl Franz, the Empire has its own well-established currency. The large gold coins are called crowns and bear his profile. The further from Altdorf one travels, the more likely he is to encounter coins of varying sizes and weights, with values based on local custom or tradition.
The dwarfs’ fondness for gold is well known, so dwarfs tend to prefer coins minted in gold, even for smaller denominations. In fact, gold is so important to dwarf culture that Khazalid, the dwarf tongue, has several dozen terms to describe specific types of gold, based on its lustre, weight, and colour.
Wood elves from the forests of Athel Loren often find no use for coins, since nature provides for most of their needs – they are more likely to barter or trade services than pay a fellow wood elf in actual currency.
Far from their native Ulthuan, high elves operating in the Empire see the Empire’s currency as crude and simplistic, but have adopted its use – a necessary inconvenience to fulfil their obligations and perform their duties in a foreign land.
The Three Economies
The Old World is home to jarring social inequality. In many ways, there exists not one economy but three. These three tiers exist side by side in nearly every city and township throughout the Empire. First, there are the nobles and wealthy merchants trading their gold for power and pleasure. Second, the tradesmen and the burghers haggle with silver, eager to turn a profit and work their way into the upper tier. Third, the peasants and the labourers scrape by with brass when they can and barter when they must.
The Tier of Gold – The Wealthy and the NobleOnce, long ago, the Empire was commanded by chieftains and warlords – the savage battle lords that eventually became the refined and cultured noble houses of today. Those days of unfettered power are long past – though the nobility still retain their titles and privileges, the halls of power are now shared with the rich. The nobility have no one to blame but themselves. They invited the merchant-princes into their midst, trading gold and property for the exotic pleasures they offered.
Today, rich merchants and noble houses share this upper tier. The tier of gold is concerned far more with status and appearance than function. A merchant catering to the noble class might not even talk to someone ill-dressed or low-born for fear that wagging tongues in the Elector Count’s court would gossip about him associating with commoners.
Reputation appears to be everything, and this can be frustrating to practical men. The merchant-prince has fine swords for sale, yes, crafted from strong Estalian steel by the hand of Master Rudolpho. In a fight, there is simply no deadlier weapon, but the merchant-prince does not want to sell these prized and distinctive blades to any wandering rapscallion who happens to have scraped together enough gold to afford it. The merchant wants that blade in the hands of a gentleman of high breeding so that reputations are protected and future business is assured. To trade within the tier of gold, you must look and act as if you belong.
The Tier of Silver – The Tradesmen and the BurgherIf the gold tier is about access and prestige, the silver tier is about practicality and profit. The tradesman cares not who you are or where you came from. All he wants to see is your silver. Where the noble simply pays for his luxuries with an upturned nose and a regal sneer, haggling and hard bargaining are the norm amongst the newly emergent middle class. Only a fool with more money than sense takes the first offer.
In the Empire today, the silver tier is on the march. As towns and cities grow and prosper, trade is ever expanding. The middle class, no longer so concerned with merely keeping stew in their bellies, has gained ambition. Agitators and would-be revolutionaries have long known what the upper class has begun to fear and suspect – silver is the coin of social change. While the nobility argue over whether buttons on doublets are a fashion misstep, the middle class uses silver to innovate and strive ever onward.
The Tier of Brass – The Labourer and the SerfThe lowest tier is one of sustenance and survival. Peasants, labourers, and bone pickers have little time for noble pleasantries or incessant haggling. The coins they see are few and dear. Still, their life is not entirely bleak hardship. The upper crust must constantly prove they belong. The merchant must guard against thieves and confidence men eager to pilfer his profits. But when a man owns nothing, nothing is at risk, and these hard-working people are often thankful for what little they do have.
The lower working classes are often tight-knit communities, an almost extended family where everyone knows everyone’s name. Starvation is less common than it would seem, as it is a good practice to help out a neighbour in tough times. After all, doubtless someday someone scraping along the bottom tier will need that favour returned. A few brass coins may afford little but cheap beer and hard bread at a local tavern that is little more than a barn – but it is coin well spent and spent in good company.
The Adventuring Life
Some people simply do not fit into one specific tier, in particular the men and women of fortune – mercenaries, adventurers, thieves, and heroes. In a day, they can rise from desperate poverty where even the next meal is uncertain, to rich grandeur plundered from some ancient tomb. But this freedom comes at a cost. The nobles and the wealthy often see them as troublemakers, disruptive to the natural order and of questionable reputation. The tradesmen see them as ne’er-do-wells too lazy to do an honest day’s work. The peasants can only envy their social mobility and freedom from toil.
Despite other people’s perceptions or concerns, ultimately, an adventurer’s money spends the same. They may not fit into a specific social tier, but it is a rare merchant who turns down an adventurer’s coin. The deal may be done discretely at off-hours, but the deal will get done. An adventurer can potentially go anywhere, accomplish anything and perhaps even gain riches enough to buy all he ever desired – but he will forever remain an outsider to the social orders firmly rooted in the Empire. Most consider this a fair trade.
Equipment and Gear
A hunter deep in the Reikwald Forest stalks greenskin raiders and takes careful aim with her bow from a well chosen blind. An apprentice wizard at last deciphers an ancient riddle and hastily scribbles a letter of direst need. A Troll Slayer hefts his axe and bellows at a monster twice his size. What do these scenes have in common? They each rely on having the proper gear. At their heart, adventures are about solving problems – and that often means having the right tool for the right job, whether it’s a dagger tucked in your boot, a set of reliable lockpicks, or a handful of forged documents. The Old World is far too dangerous to be caught ill-prepared and ill-equipped.
The Right Tool for the Job
If a character can demonstrate he has access to the proper tools and resources for his current task, the GM should award him with a fortune die or two for related skill checks. If a character has poor tools or lacks any reliable resources for the situation (such as trying to pick a complex lock bare-handed) the GM can modify the difficulty by adding misfortune dice to the pool, or adding another challenge die if the lack of suitable tools is a significant disadvantage. In either situation, common sense and storytelling should direct the decisions more than a long list of equipment options.
Some items, particularly certain weapons, have special qualities that distinguish them from an otherwise mundane items. A few of these qualities are explained below.
Attuned: An attuned item has a special connection to one of the eight Winds of Magic. When an arcane spellcaster is holding an item attuned to his proficient Wind of Magic, he adds one fortune die to Channelling checks for each level of attunement.
Pierce: Weapons with this quality are designed to punch through the target’s protection. When struck by a piercing weapon, the target’s soak value is reduced by the weapon’s pierce rating, to a minimum soak value of zero.
Unreliable: These weapons are often experimental or otherwise not to be trusted. If the weapon is a blackpowder weapon, it backfires or explodes if at least as many Chaos Star symbols are rolled equal to the item’s Unreliable rating. When this is triggered, the item inflicts wounds equal to its Unreliable rating to the wielder, bypassing the wielder’s soak value and Toughness. The weapon is unusable until repaired. If the weapon is not a blackpowder weapon, when a number of Chaos Stars equal to its Unreliable rating are generated, it breaks or jams and is rendered unusable until it can be repaired. This is in addition to any other effects.
Vicious: These weapons leave particularly grisly wounds. For each critical wound this weapon inflicts, draw two critical wound cards and select the one with the higher severity rating. If both cards have the same severity rating, the attacker chooses which critical wound to apply.
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay is a roleplaying game that sets unlikely heroes on the road to perilous adventure, in the grim setting of Games Workshop's Warhammer Fantasy world. Players will venture into the dark corners of the Empire, guided by luck and Fate, and challenge the threats that others cannot or will not face.
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