Gold Coinage In Fantasy

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

A while back I wondered why gold was used as a currency in real life, as well as in modern fantasy. In fantasy Role Playing Games (RPGs), gold is practically synonymous as money. I often thought gold was just useful because it was something people easily understood, and that’s fine. However, I think it pays to know a little bit more about the element (pun not originally intended)*.

Gold is mostly inert.
This means it doesn’t easily react to things around it. It won’t oxidize, meaning it won’t form different compounds in water or the air. Also, it occurs naturally, which means it can be pulled straight up out of the ground.

Compare this to copper. Take a look at any old penny, and people can see why gold might be preferred. Copper oxidizes, which means it will turn blue over time. This degrades the amount of copper in the penny, which technically could change its value.

This is important in older economies, since money is often tied specifically to the weight or amount of a precious metal. Imagine selling a farm for a hundred pounds of copper. It gets wet on the wagon, and the seller is now losing money to stuff that falls out of the sky. A transaction in gold means the seller doesn’t have to worry about the weather.

Gold is also easily molded.
Pure gold might be too easy to work with, as a human can exert enough pressure to change its form. However, keeping impure forms of it makes it retain its shape for jewelry and coins. If a purer form is needed, it can always be heated.

Thus, gold can be a good source of personal wealth for characters and societies. Easy use means things can get made with less effort, which makes them cheaper. Or at the least, goldsmiths can make more beautiful things with gold than iron.

These considerations should be kept in mind for other metals.
Platinum also can be a good choice. It’s mostly inert, but it occurs rarely on Earth. Different fantasy realms could have more access to platinum instead of gold, which would make platinum a coin of the realm. One could even use scarcity as a way of showing the difference between currencies of different countries. Economies could spring up over people transporting gold to platinum-rich societies and vice versa.

At the very least, the practical considerations of why gold is a good currency can make a fantasy currency more realistic. Maybe your magicite coins are great because it takes magic users to mint them. Or maybe there’s a rare currency that nobody knows how to make anymore, which could render a currency priceless. Regardless, people will look at a currency as a practical thing, which helps sell a world as a very real place.

*I linked to Periodic Videos, because they’re awesome.

Stuff I’ve Been Working On – Fantasy

I was back at my fantasy novel again, writing a new beginning to it. I’ve lost count as to how many times it has changed. Here is the first little bit of the latest rough draft.

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

Ellie Novington frowned at the failure of her magical experiment. It was a small pile of dry straw she collected earlier that morning. Hidden behind the stables on the southern edge of her family’s estate, she had spent several hours in the winter cold trying to set it alight. So far no magical technique she tried had worked.
She slowed her breathing and clearing her mind. Her eyes closed. In her head, she pictured the straw with all of its bits and pieces pointing every which way. Everything was as dry as she could keep it in the cold and the melting snow. All it needed was a fire. Ellie pictured that fire consuming the pile, and then she opened her eyes. Nothing happened.

“What am I doing wrong?” she asked the icy wind. As if nature granted her a reply, a powerful gust swept around the edge of the stables and knocked half the straw loose. Ellie lied to herself that the tears now blurring her vision were from the cold. They couldn’t be from failure of almost a year’s worth of trying to learn magic. They most certainly weren’t from the denial of her innermost secret wish: to go with her father on his long voyages, so that she would not miss him so much.

Ellie readjusted the heavy wool shawl around her shoulders and headed home. Alone with her thoughts, she walked across an open lawn of dead, yellow grass. Her mind turned over the problems of her morning’s efforts. All of her books said she should have made progress by now. There had to something she missed.

Off to the west, Ellie heard the gate bell clanging. She halted her walk and looked in the direction of the noise. Findlee, the estate’s butler, had appeared from the house’s front entrance tend to the gate. The bell kept ringing, and Findlee shouted loud enough, “Ahoy, you impatient bastard! I’m coming as fast as these old legs’ll allow!”
The ringing stopped. Ellie couldn’t see much of the visitor from where she stood, so she changed her destination to a side entry. By the time she arrived, she saw a man in a dirty cocked hat almost jogging to the main entrance, Findlee in tow. The butler waved his good right arm over his head and yelled at the maid, “Mistress Wensell! Bring Doctor Markint to the foyer at once!” The doctor was originally hired to tutor Ellie and her adopted brother Wil, but he was also in charge of the estate while father was overseas. Something important had to be going on.

Ellie ran inside the house and threw off her shawl. If she hurried, she should be able to reach the foyer. She turned down a short hall to go through her father’s office. Past that, she made another turn near the library which exited directly into the foyer.

She made about half a dozen steps into the library when an arm reached around her chest and a hand went over her mouth. Ellie let out a muffled scream. A familiar voice whispered, “Shh! They’re in the foyer. They’re talking about father.”

It was Wil. Ellie wrestled free and whispered, “What are you doing?”

Wil put a finger over his lips and pointed to the foyer.

Ellie rolled her eyes and folded her arms across her chest. She heard Mistress Wensell say, “Gentlemen, here is Doctor Harald Markint.”

“Thank you, Mistress Wensell,” said Harald. “Our guest could use some tea to fight the chill. See if Nann has a pot, will you?”

“Right away,” said Mistress Wensell, who exited into the library. Wil heard her coming and dragged Ellie with him behind a high-backed chair.

“This is silly,” Ellie whispered.

“Trust me,” said Wil. He heard Mistress Wensell leave, and then peeked out from behind the chair. Ellie did the same.

“Pleased to meet you,” said Harald, who had probably finished introductions. “You say you’ve come with a message from Lord Novington?”

Ellie leaned out too at the mention of her father. The messenger said, “Beg your pardon, misters, I’ve come straight from port. The man from the boat were clear on them, and handed me this.” There was a rustle of paper, probably the doctor opening a letter to read it.

After a minute, Harald said, “You have done well in getting this to us quickly. Findlee,” said Harald, pronouncing the “d” as most foreigners would, “please pay this man a golden eagle for his troubles.” He whispered something else which Ellie couldn’t make out. She heard Findlee stomping about the foyer, and then the door opened and shut.
The messenger audibly sputtered. He said, “That is very kind, mister, but I can’t accept. My wife wouldn’t know who stepped through the door if I came home rich.”

“Consider it as payment for another service,” said Harald. “You must forget you delivered it. If anyone asks, you never were given a letter. Whoever sent you out here gave you the wrong address. Do you understand my meaning?”

Perspective Makes A Difference – Bud’s Diner

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

Author’s Note: This is a rewrite of a writing exercise done in my writer’s group. The exercise was on perspective and how it changes a story. We wrote the same story from two different perspectives. Each story was written in about fifteen minutes (IIRC). Below are both stories listed by character perspective, included without edits.

Business was slow tonight. None of the regulars came in, and the highway used to have more people come by. Nowadays, they’d only get customers who thought diners were “quaint.”

Bud mopped the counter with a clean rag, though it didn’t have any dirt on it. The bell rang when someone opened the door, and Bud almost jumped out of his shoes. “Howdy,” he said.

The potential customer looked like he came out of Hollywood in the 1950’s. He wore black leather pants and a matching jacket, with a red silk shirt and a thin silver chain that got lost in his chest hair. The stranger pushed his black Stetson back on his head, revealing a shock of dark hair. “You got a pisser around here I can use?”

Bud frowned. “Restroom’s for customers only,” he said.

“Yeah,” said the stranger. “I want some coffee and pie. But I really gotta take a leak.”

“It’s that way,” Bud said, pointing with his chin. The guy’s boots clacked on the linoleum, and Bud poured some coffee.

He turned on the TV to the local news. The anchor was talking about some kind of manhunt. Bud turned up the volume and listened while he cut up a piece of apple pie his wife Janice made that day. On the TV, Bud heard some damn fool had been going around the state shooting people at random. Police thought he was in the area. The anchor said the suspect wore a big black hat and cowboy boots.

Bud’s jaw dropped. His hand rattled the fork on the plate. He turned around, but not fast enough to hear the gunshot. Bud dropped the plate, and he died thinking it was a waste of damn good pie.

The thing about road trips that never makes it into the movies is having to pee. It doesn’t matter where anyone goes. At some point, the guy has to get out and shake a leg. Slick really needed to go somewhere, and after a half hour of searching he found a little podunk diner.

Slick stopped his maroon Caddy in front of the “Customer Parking Only” sign and got out. His boots scraped the gravel, and one look at the faded paint told him he’d probably have to make a courtesy buy. Sighing, Slick pushed open the door and caught the owner doing stupid busy work. His nametag read, “Bud.” What a stupid name.

“You got a pisser round here I can use?” asked Slick.

The pissant frowned. “Restroom’s for customers only.”

“Yeah,” said Slick. “I want some coffee and pie. but I really gotta take a leak.” “Gotta be nice,” Slick thought. “I don’t want him to spit in the coffee.” He walked back to the restroom where he found a dirty john that hadn’t been cleaned in months.

If nature wasn’t so insistent, Slick might have felt inclined to go out back. Holding his breath, he did what he had to do. Afterwards, Slick noticed the sink looked like washing his hands would be pointless.

After smoothing out his clothes, Slick touche dthe door knob and heard the sound of a loud shot. Slick cussed and hit the slimy floor. He didn’t think about it much. He thought, “How’d that sumbitch find me?”

Slick never got an answer to his question. Heavy cowboy boots clacked up to the restroom, and the door opened with a squeak. A figure in a black hat pointed a big gun at Slick’s face. “You took something that didn’t belong to you,” he said.

Slick blinked stupidly. “I don’t care,” he sneered.

The man pulled the trigger and then reached down to take slick’s silver chain and the locket on it.

Thoughts On “The Godfather”

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Image is in the Public Domain.

I finally got around to reading Mario Puzo’s famous work, The Godfather. Probably more famous as a series of Academy Award-winning movies (excluding the third one), the book itself is a story about a Mob family based out of New York City. The main story spans about a decade, with plenty of side stories that never fully made it into the movies.

Without spoiling the plot, I’d give the book three out of five stars. It’s a book that shows its age, relying on more stylized passages of sex and murder which gets in the way – I think – of two compelling characters in Vito and Michael Corleone. They start the novel as two people who could not be more separate individuals. By the end, they are effectively the same person. Those characters and how they are portrayed are why I think the story is still a good read today.

My qualms with it lie on how dated and flat the other characters appear to be in comparison. Some of them get entire asides, with plot arcs that end up going nowhere in particular. They appear to be part of the story for no other reason than to spice it up with sex and blood. However, the story already had plenty of that.

As a result, I feel like I read two different books. One was about the Corleone family’s leadership and personalities. This book explored people who did terrible things out of necessity. The book does not glorify the actions of these criminals. Instead, I think it does a good job of showing how people in these positions can trap themselves further into moral bankruptcy. It is this book which I’d highly recommend to anyone.

The second book could contain most of the side-plots of the Corleone retinue. While it does show some of the darker images of what the Corleones do for a living, it doesn’t fully develop plot or character or even theme. And, in the interests of full disclosure, there are darker themes of misogyny and violence towards women that shows what time the book is a product of. Regardless, these people are in orbit around the Corleone world. Like satellites, they can only obey gravity and watch events without taking part in them. This second book is something which I’d have passed on.

All in all, I’d say that the first book is something good enough to warrant giving The Godfather a read. It is the opposite of a hero’s journey, where the protagonist struggles and changes for the better. If anything, it’s a villain’s journey, one that shows a dark heart can hide from itself long enough to only let people get a glimpse of what’s truly there.

Anarki – Chapter 4

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

Chapter 4
Grady Sprague woke up again in a dark hospital room, one of many in the oncology wing. He’d fallen asleep near his sister’s bed. Her respirator hissed through a cycle, letting him know she was still alive. The pain medication had kept her asleep. If she wasn’t, she’d probably be in agony. Her cancer made sure of that.

He got up from the uncomfortable chair he stole from a nearby waiting room and brushed her hair. She smelled like their grandmother just before she died, like disinfectant and baby powder. Hospitals didn’t just rob people of their privacy or money. His sister deserved better. She was just fifteen, he was eighteen, and he couldn’t do anything to stop this place from making her disappear one piece at a time.

There was a soft knock at the door. A nurse came in, flanked by two orderlies. Grady frowned in recognition. He’d been there long enough to know the staff and some of the layout of the wing. “Moving her again, Casper?” he asked.

“It’s Mister Tyler to you,” said Casper. “We’re running out of space here, so we’re moving your sister down to D wing.”

“So fucking move someone else down to D wing,” Grady snapped.

“Watch your mouth,” said one of the orderlies, Samantha. She looked like she was born pumping iron.

“It’s a free fucking country,” said Grady.

“Someone’s gotta pay for it,” said Casper. “You charity cases get to go wherever there’s room.”

Grady’s face burned. Casper took a step behind Samantha. He asked, “Of all the slimy things to do, you’re moving her because she can’t pay?”

Samantha folded her arms across her chest and said, “Exactly. And we don’t want any trouble from you.”

Grady considered railing against all three people trying to steal his sister from her room. His small size meant he wasn’t much of a fighter, though. At best, he might scratch one or two of them. Then, they’d hold him down and sedate him. Hell, they’d probably use it as an excuse to ban him from the hospital.

And then his sister would be alone.

“What room are you taking her to?” Grady asked, stepping meekly to the side. Samantha sneered in triumph. Casper came out of hiding.

“Room 518,” said Casper. “Though you can’t be visiting with her right now anyways,” he added.

The other orderly grabbed his sister’s bed and unplugged some of the equipment, making sure the battery backups kicked in. Grady watched his sister get packed up, kissed his hand and brushed it against her forehead. He couldn’t see from the tears in his eyes. What if she woke up while he was gone?

“Go back to the shelter and use some soap,” Samantha said on her way out.

By then, Grady wasn’t listening. He pulled his sweater’s hood over his head and made his way out of the wing. Like most hospitals, it was made by adding new structures onto old ones in the most confusing way possible. Ceilings randomly got higher and smaller, floors changed tiles, and the corridors were too crooked to get a true sense of direction. Even knowing his way, Grady took about ten minutes getting outside.

He shuffled past the bus taking people downtown and took the sidewalk north to the low-income projects. Something in his mind snapped, and he stopped on the sidewalk. He turned around and saw the hospital lit by the setting winter sun. There were people coming in and out of any and all entrances. Their faces were in separate stages of blank moroseness, each and every one. Some people cried quietly. Only some of those fortunate enough to leave alive were happy. Somewhere in the middle of all of that, Grady’s sister was suffering.

She deserved better, and Grady decided that he’d do anything to make that happen.

A couple of paramedics walked by on their way to the emergency room. Grady leaned to his side and bumped into one on the right. “Excuse me,” he mumbled, swaying a bit.

“Watch where you’re going,” said the paramedic.

“C’mon,” said the other. “Our shift’s starting in a few minutes.” Both of them trotted off.

Grady waited for them to get out of sight, and then he took out the phone he lifted. It could be anything from a few minutes to a few hours when the owner would spot it missing. Tapping the screen, the phone came to life and booted up. There was no request for a password. “Disgusting,” Grady said. Within a couple minutes, he was a few auto-filled password pages away from getting exactly what he needed.

When he was done with the phone, Grady turned it off and dropped it into the grass next to the sidewalk. A guy that lax about electronic security would probably go looking for his phone first. Finding it meant that he wouldn’t ask any questions. Grady took a final look at the hospital and then turned for home. He had a faint smile, and the beginnings of real hope.

Links to other chapters:
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3