I’m a big fan of using props in role playing games. I know that the Theatre of the Mind has an infinite special effects budget, but we humans are an avaricious lot and there is something special about getting treasure, real hold-it-in-your-hand treasure, that really excites my players.
I like to litter my games with little treasures that my players can squirrel away and then lay awake at night, muttering to. Major magic items are, of course, best left on the page, unless you have your own props department handy but one of the easiest ways to link you players to the world and increase verisimilitude is to use actual coinage.
There are plenty of very good companies out there manufacturing coins for RPG games, but most of these operate out of the US and either doesn’t ship to the UK or the postage makes it a really bad deal. So today I’ll be reviewing products from a lifeline for us European DM’s, Drawlab Entertainment.
Based in the EU, Drawlab produces 21 different sets of coins ranging from Fantasy though to Sci-fi and also Historical style coins such as Greek and Roman. Each set contains 24 coins divided into 10 Copper, 8 Silver and 6 Gold. I picked up the Dwarf, Capitol and Orc sets which I intermingled in order to give the impression that the town my players were based in, Bryn Shander, was a trading hub and there were a number of different factions making deals here.
The coins themselves feel great, they are solid, heavy and thick. The engraving on the obverse and reverse is crisp and the differently shaped coins make each set very distinctive. As you can see the angular Dwarven sets reflect the geometry so often associated with their race, while the Orcish set is far cruder and its imagery more aggressive than the other two. I picked up my sets from Chaos Cards for about £24 (about $31 or 29 Euros) and each comes with its own coloured velvet bag to keep them in.
Overall I was really impressed with the quality of these coins and my players loved them. I managed to lay my hands on some cheap wooden treasure chests and after a bit of painting and upgrading, I was able to present my players with a proper physical reward after the defeated their first boss. They even all gathered round to open it, it was like a scene from Indiana Jones…..it was great.
Fitting Them Into Your Game
Now you might be thinking “hey £24 for 24 coins is not cheap, and how do I go about giving them the 25000 they’ll need at level 10?”. That’s a good question and one that feeds into one of my very few major issues with Dungeons and Dragons….the monetary system.
Gold is rare, it’s one of the reasons it’s so valuable. All the gold on our planet would fit into 3.5 Olympic swimming pools. It’s also heavy, a standard bullion bar these days weighs 12.4kg. The idea that anyone would be lugging around, or even conceivably have thousands upon thousands of gold coins is ridiculously impractical.
One of the first things I give any of my new players is a re-written price list for in-game items. To solve the issue of carting around a large amount of coin I use historically accurate alternatives, jewellery, gemstones or promissory notes from recognized authorities. Good quality acrylic jewels are readily available on eBay, as are semi-precious stones, and most clothing stores have an array of costume jewellery you can use.
This fantasy revaluation has a number of effects. Firstly it allows me to bust out my bad ass Drawlab coins. Secondly, it makes the players more connected to their spending, they seem to think much further ahead when handing over actual coins and are less likely to spend that night’s food and bedding money on ale. Thirdly it means that the players celebrate finding 20 gold pieces and an amethyst at 4th level prompts them to dance around the table chattering excitedly about how wealthy they are now (or arguing viciously about who gets the gem). That moment is them really connecting with the game, it’s the solid metal silver piece they can click down on the bar’s wooden top while asking the barman for info, it’s the golden gleam of the dragons treasure horde and its totally worth £24.
To sum up I feel a few well-placed props really add depth to any RPG. As a rule, they aren’t particularly difficult to make or buy and your players will really appreciate it. If you feel like your players aren’t engaging with the world try throwing down a couple of actual gold coins and watch as the players vigorously try to justify why their character should have the lion’s share of what is essentially worthless bits of tin. My experience of Drawlab’s coins is that they are very well made and most satisfying to handle, but they aren’t the only company out there. Campaign Coins, Rare Elements and Fantasycoin all do lovely stuff and there is sure to be a design that fits your world. It takes a little bit of bookkeeping and some re-writing of the rules to fit them in effectively but, to my mind, it’s totally worth it.