Thursday, September 21, 2017

Platinum Pieces Are Bullshit

So I'm not going to retread old ground, here; if you're reading this blog you've probably heard of using Silver Standard or perhaps even Copper Standard currency in D&D. In case you haven't, the basic low-down is that using gold as the standard is not only historically inaccurate, but is bad game design; starting level 1 players with 3d6 x 10 GP is way too much, and creates a set of expectations where 40 GP in a chest is a rounding error instead of a reason for people to squabble, draw swords, and go crazed with greed. Fuck that.

In such a Silver/Copper standard, you basically change all instances of 'GP' to the proper coinage, increasing the value of everything else accordingly. A sword worth 10 GP in your player's handbook is now 10 SP in Silver Standard, etc. To facilitate this, atleast one adventure module I've seen (Isle of the Unknown for the Lamentations of the Flame Princess gameline) uses Tin Pieces as a lower-than-Copper coinage.

Now, this is interesting, as metallurgically, tin is less common and thus more valuable than copper, but alchemically, this makes sense. The idea of coins having alchemical significance is an appealing one, because gold pieces and gems are implied by the rules to have inherent magical significance. What else could it mean to have spells cost arbitrary amounts of money in material components possibly mean? Gems might have mystical symbolism, like a Rose Quartz being an emotional healing stone, but gold seems to act as a natural conductor of magic for all general purposes.

 So, what do we do about Platinum Pieces? Most would tell you that there's not really any need for a better-than-gold piece, but we can justify it, because gold is not actually the final product of alchemy. Turning lead to gold is merely a process, not the end goal. Alchemy is about spiritual purification and elevation of the soul. The Magnum Opus is the process of purifying the soul by way of learning to manipulate the world; transmutation is essentially metaphor.

In this model, Tin Pieces are the unworked lead, and Copper Pieces are the first step; Nigredo, the blackening which represents putrefaction and spiritual death. It represents the soul meeting itself, and forced to face the worst of its inner nature. Obviously, Copper isn't a black material, but it does have associations. Copper decompose and oxidizes in time, becoming green and eventually blackish. Additionally, of all the major metals discussed here, it's the most biologically oriented, involved in dietary management, and often being created from traces of petrified organic matter. It even has associations with degradation of the soul; elevated copper levels have been linked to the onset of alzheimer's.

Silver is Albedo, the whitening or purification, and is quite an intuitive match, here. Silver is a metal of purity and sacred, anti-evil power in most mythologies; it has associations with the moon, and with harming or repelling evil or unnatural creatures. In many real-world magical traditions, it's also associated with witchcraft. The Alchemical Magnum Opus discussed Albedo as the separating of opposites for later reunification; remember this point.

Gold is usually associated with Rubedo, but it's also been associated with Citrinas, the yellowing or transmutation. It is here that silver is turned to gold, and the power of solar symbolism is utilized. This is also fairly obvious; gold has sun associations in D&D and various religions, and has a more celestial presence. It's associated typically with mainstream religions in power symbolism, and also has mystical governance over the material world. Money can buy everything, and all that.

Rubedo, the Reddening, is the finale of the process. The end of the Great Work. This is the wholeness. Silver and Gold and all other opposites come together to create spiritual and material perfection. It's the production of the Philosopher's Stone, and rather than the stone being a magical chemical that turns lead into gold or create immortality potions, it's in fact the ability to create them that lets the alchemist perform these tasks.

So, we'll call these Philosopher's Stone Pieces, or PP for consistency. What sort of society would produce these Rubedo Coins and be able to trade in them? This would be a society wherein anyone capable of minting coins is necessarily spiritually perfect and immortal. An entire society of eternal people in a D&D-verse? That's your high-magic ancient empire. Those are always decadent, and they either destroy themselves or become forces of villainy.

And if we're going to act on pop cultural interpretations of the Philosopher's Stone, like in the Fullmetal Alchemist anime? These red shits are made out of goddamn human souls.

Under a Silver Standard, a Philosopher's Stone Piece is worth 1,000 SP, or 100 GP, continuing the pattern. This would make their worth consistent with the material costs of most resurrection spells in D&D. This also implies unfortunate production methods.

Philosopher's Stone Pieces can only be produced through the sacrifice of sapient souls, equal to one coin per HD/Level of the soul. A 0-level humanoid would be worth 1/10th of a coin.

So there's a society of powerful immortals that are, if not extinct, are secretive, non-interventionist, and thus probably extraplanar. Why are children spirited away? It's not by the fey; it's this society, needing to print some more coinage. This could be the fate of their slaves and prisoners. The worth of this currency might not seem to be worth the sacrifices, save their high, high value. Non-human immortals like elves and fairies all respect this currency even if they don't recognize gold and silver, and when dealing with demons, devils, and other soul-merchants of the planes, these coins are worth six times their normal value.

To that end? An immortal who doesn't want to sell their soul could coax their heart's desire out of the Devil's mitts, if they can sacrifice a sufficient number of high-level adventurers, in a form convenient for innocuously passing around, laundering, and spending.

Carrying trade goods around isn't very practical after all. Whether they're bundles of crops, bars of gold, or the wailing damned...

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