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Magic proof currency

Discussion in 'World Building' started by A Pineapple, Feb 23, 2021.

  1. A Pineapple

    A Pineapple Scribe

    The "classic" currency of olden times is coins of precious metals. But when a mage has the power to turn any substance into another (alchemy), or just create a huge heap of coins, the economist in me just screams about inflation.

    What solutions have you come up with for currency in a world where mages can create new substances with just their powers? My thoughts are some precious/magical stones which are too difficult to practically form with magic or maybe some magic imprinted coins.
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  2. Chasejxyz

    Chasejxyz Sage

    As part of my world building I got Way Too Into diamonds, so I know too much about natural vs lab grown diamonds (and crystals in general). To the average person they look the same, but by doing some tests or looking at it under the microscope there are differences. A big one is that lab diamonds tend to be [specific type], while [specific type] is extremely rare in the wild. Also the vast majority of lab diamonds are used for industrial things, like saws and tools, and not for jewelry (making them big/clear/shiny enough for jewelry is a lot harder, so small ugly diamonds get stuck onto saws). There's also a lot of "well a lab grown diamond isn't AS ROMANTIC as a REAL diamond because no child soldiers had to die for it!" Also what gives diamonds (and crystals in general) their different colors are from impurities in them. Diamonds can be green from N, H or Ni in them, or the crystalline structure is "bent" from naughty electrons emitted by radiation. Lab diamonds (or regular not-green diamonds) can be greenified by blasting them with radiation.

    How perfect is the alchemy in any given world? If it's totally perfect, then a diamond (or any other crystalline thing, which would be all metals and gemstones) would have no flaws, which would be obvious upon close inspection or testing. A gem with no flaws would only be one color: quartz and diamonds would ONLY be clear, as would be corundum, which would mean that ruby, sapphire, ametyhst, onyx, jasper, etc would simply not be possible to make. Or....is there some sort of energy that is given off in the process of alchemy that would force a physical transformation of the gems? If the alchemical process creates ionizing radiation, then you're only getting green diamonds out of it (or blue topaz instead of clear). Amethyst turns into citrine when it's heated etc etc.

    The beauty of the natural world is that its imperfect, which is how we end up with things like opalized fossils and yellow penguins. Naturally-made crystals will have "mutations" that are not replicable in a lab. There's "blue amber," which looks like normal amber under most situations, but it flouresces blue under UV light. This is because there's perylene in it, a hydrocarbon naturally produced by some fungi and lichen that also flouresces blue. It's only ever been found in the Dominican Republic as that's the only place where these variables overlapped to create this.

    So, there could be a currency made out of blue amber, which looks like normal amber until its "tested" (like the light you use to check if a $20 bill is real). the complexities of putting a specific hydrocarbon into a crystal could be too much for most alchemists to do. There's a lot of minerals that only come out of one or two mines in the entire world because the unique conditions to make it are so rare. Making coins out of copper, silver, gold, platinum would be really easy to replicate with alchemy, but if they're made out of a rare mineral or crystal that requires too many variables, then it would be too difficult to do. But this would also limit the amount of [moneys] can be in circulation. Your minters would have to weigh the pros and cons of making an easy money vs the risk that it can be counterfeit-ed. It would probably be really easy to make a counterfeit (US) penny that would fool the cashier at McDonalds, but that also probably won't cause much harm to the economic system of the country. Lots of tech is put into big denomination bills because there's more people who want to make fake ones of those. Maybe really big purchases require them to be "notarized" by a government official or are backed in something that aclhemeny can't make, like bread or goats.

    Or....maybe no one thinks about it. Like think about DnD, some adventurers go into a dungeon and get a couple thousand gold pieces that have been there for centuries. I'm sure the mint has presumed them lost and not in circulation, but now they are all of a sudden. How is that going to screw up the local economy? Are they going to cause hyperinflation in the local village when they buy a bunch of stuff? Or are they going to clear them out when they sell off all their crap and now no shopkeeper has any coins? You'll see a webcomic or tweet about this every so often but it doesn't derail the book from people thinking "hey wait a minute this isn't REALISTIC." Most people don't know about this stuff and most don't care. So unless the story has a big plot point about counterfeiting money or precious materials, I don't think it's going to ever come up.
    S.T. Ockenner and A Pineapple like this.
  3. Snowpoint

    Snowpoint Sage

    I ran into this issue. The magic can conjure anything, but one Character is a Gold Dragon... I decided that conjured items last for seven hours. So, when being paid in gold, you need to wait seven hours to finalize the deal. (But there are like 5 of these people in the world and their location would be know, so it's not that big a deal unless you know they are present.)
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  4. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

    I’ve been on a Xianxia kick lately. =0

    Ahem, so two things.

    First off, in my Xianxia setting there’s certainly Earth or Metal Arts that would allow someone to create money, and things like Alchemy or Illusion Arts could do such (or at least create the illusion of gold) as a matter of course. If you want to be able to do that there’s ways that you can, but not everybody does. After all, time spent learning those techniques is time not spent learning other techniques.

    Secondly, being concerned over mortal money is considered pathetic for a Cultivator.

    Qi can be used to replace the need for food, sleep and more rarely the need to breathe. Their bodies are strengthened to resist the elements. A decent Cultivator can meditate naked in a blizzard. Food, sleep, shelter and clothing are nice, but they’re not the necessities they are for mortals.

    The sects that cultivators are organized in often provide protection (or in some cases “protection”) to villages, towns and businesses. They provide services and tribute to the sects that serve as a form of passive income.

    Cultivation increases one’s lifespan. A mediocre member of a decent sect can expect to live around 300 years while the most powerful ones can live for thousands of years. Most sects have been around for at least a couple generations of Cultivators. Combined with the above that’s a decent chunk of time to build up a nest egg of wealth.

    Travelling Cultivators can often expect a village chief to invite them to stay in the chief’s house and eat dinner with them. No one wants to anger the kung fu wizards. Furthermore, if a Cultivator worth the name decides that they just don’t want to pay then there’s not a lot a merchant can do to stop them unless they have the backing of some cultivators or a sect of their own. Similarly, if one wants just to be a bandit from the start then there’s not a lot non-Cultivators can do.

    What’s common for Cultivators is rare for non-Cultivators. Magical ingredients can often be exchanged for mortal cash at sect compounds or most larger cities at a decent rate. If a new sect disciple sells off their stipend of spirit stones the cash from that wouldn’t be enough to bump their family up to middle class, but it would be able to bump them up to the top of low class. That can be seen as wasteful though. If you sell those spirit stones you can’t use them for your own cultivation, and if the sect decides that you’re abusing the sects generosity then things will end badly for you.

    In limited amounts such exchanges help further ensure that a sect disciple never has to worry about mortal money.

    Ahem, as an aside... if you try to pay with a spirit stone or magic herb in some village… well, they’d probably accept your “generosity” out of fear of angering you, but you’ve also put a target on their head. Either the villager has to travel to someplace where they can exchange it for cash and risk getting robbed by bandits or they have to worry about the next Cultivator to pass through deciding to punish them for the arrogance of possessing a magic item when they’re just a mortal.

    Amongst Cultivators trade is based off of the exchange of magical ingredients, items, training manuals and favors. Spirit stones are the most commonly exchanged ones.

    So, as said all of this together means that a Cultivator who puts too much effort into amassing mortal wealth is seen as pathetic.

    It’s not unknown for a sect to strike at an enemy sect by disrupting their mortal populations through plague, causing natural disasters or in this case crashing their economy. Sects draw their members from mortals after all, and a patient enough sect can weaken their enemy enough to make a difference. Naturally a tactic like that is considered cowardly though.
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  5. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Sage

    That not quite true. What makes a thing valuable or precious to humans is usually a combination of rarity and beauty. Its the rarity which is the issue here. A mage who can create things risks making rare items commonplace and so devaluing them.

    I would suggest that creating things from nothing is, even for a mage, very difficult, time consuming and exhausting. I would argue for this on the basis of physics - you can't get something for nothing, so the energy etc required to create something almost out of thin air must come from somewhere, which is what makes the process so difficult and exhausting. as an example, the mage concerned might take several weeks to recover from making afew grams of gold, during which time they're too tired to do any other form of magic. In that way, creating even small amounts of anything becomes so hard that it isn't worth it for everyday purposes. Its only justified in times of real crisis, and then only for very small amopunts of something absolutely essential.
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  6. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Maester

    You could simply ignore it, as economics often is in stories. Readers are fine with that.

    How common are mages and how easy is it to make stuff? If they are not common and it's hard then you have no issue. If mages are common and it's easy, then perhaps you have an issue.

    What can the mages create? Can they only change one element in another, as in change carbon into gold, or can they change a lump of iron into a fully functioning x-box?

    I'll assume they are common and that they can only change one element into another, but no specifics in terms of structure. As in, you can change a lump of element A into a lump of element B, but you can't turn a lump of wood into a fully formed golden statue.

    In that case, you would simply see a different currency be used which can't just be recreated. In the end, currency is not about the stuff it's made of, but about the trust people have in it. Simple example is bank-notes. Paper is cheap and easy to come by in our world. However, creating a bank-note is not something anyone can simply do. Same with money in your bank account. It's simply 1's and 0's. Any programmer can create virtual money (and, looking at crypto-currencies, they actually do). But you trust the money in your bank account because your bank and your country support them and make sure they don't just appear out of thin air (though, technically they do at the moment, with all measures central banks are taking...).

    So you wouldn't be able to pay with a lump of gold in your world. But maybe you would be able to pay with a finely minted coin or a bank-note. Or maybe you get a basic system of IOU's. Where to buy a bread you agree to offer an hour of labour, but the baker can pass that hour on to the butcher when he uses it to buy meat and so on.

    Just another thought I had regarding this, which may help you figure it out. But mining companies in our world can be seen as alchemists. When you have a silver mine you effectively transform stuff into silver. Yes, instead of handwaving, you're using oil, people and a bunch of chemicals. But looking at it from a distance, as the owner of a silver mine, you start with some stuff and you transform it into silver. That doesn't actually create rampant inflation, that's just a company going about its business.
    S.T. Ockenner and A Pineapple like this.
  7. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    So, why do we have money? So we can buy stuff. If I can just make things, why bother making money when I can just buy the thing? Or are you talking about restricted to alchemy.

    In which case, yes alchemy can transmute things into gold, there are still considerations. One, the traditional goal for alchemy is gold, and the vast bulk of coins are made of lesser metals. Hey look, I can change er, copper into, er, nickel! <g> So there might be some countervailing forces at work.

    Two, the process changes base metals (very often requiring a range of chemicals and processes, but perhaps your mages can jump the line there) into gold (or silver, let us say), but that does not mean they can change it directly into a coin. The alchemical process merely yields the raw material.

    That still has great value, of course, but minting coins is tricksy and counterfeiting is a capital crime. Like any counterfeiter, your mage might be willing to cadge up enough dough to buy that rare elixer, but would not be so foolish as to produce a roomful of gold florins.

    Finally, you could always posit that alchemical gold has attributes about it that could be sniffed out by another mage. And that created gold is inferior somehow (less stable, per earlier post?) to "true" gold. Anyway, there could be factors and considerations that would mitigate against overproduction.
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  8. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

    With my setting: the government was forced into becoming an anti-magic totalitarian police state in order to stop magic counterfeiting.

    Then they got some master mages to develop a magic-negating sigil for their currency. A magician couldn’t create currency with the sigil on it because that would negate the spell and destroy the counterfeit. And currency without that sigil was an obvious counterfeit that could be caught. They realized that was an easier fix so then they transitioned to a magic-apathetic totalitarian police state.

    And they transitioned out of precious metal-backed currency in favor of fiat currency so creating new gold or whatever would ultimately devalue gold rather than, y’know, make more money. It’s also highly illegal so there’s that too.
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  9. Insolent Lad

    Insolent Lad Maester

    I did get around this question in my own stories by having gold (or whatever) 'revert' after a time, in true fairy gold fashion. Although I don't use the idea of a substance that had been transmuted (that doesn't work with my magic system—sorcerers actually pull it from another realm to which it returns in time) the end result would be the same.
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  10. A Pineapple

    A Pineapple Scribe

    My concept right now has three types of magicn elemental, common, and higher. Anyone can learn elemental and common, but only a few are able to use higher magic. Someone reasonable adept at common magic could learn spells for construct magic, replicating a real world item from memory, but only for a limited amount of time, based on energy put into the spell. This magic would be able to replicate a bag of gold coins somewhat easily, but a roomfull of gold would be a bit difficult to use before it disappeared.

    Higher magic users would be able to create gold or convert it much more easilyn but an adept user would be quite rare.

    I am going to have a culture have special magic imbued coins that cant easily be mass produced unless excessive time is taken (more effort than it is worth to counterfit), and impossible to replicate with common magic (only the item could be produced, not the magic. Other cultures farther removed from higher magic trained mages wont have that safegaurd.
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  11. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

    I've not considered this in my stories, but I think I would make it a costly endeavor to make something into gold. Such that the effort would seem un-worthwhile to the wizard. I also asked, why care about money, if you can just make your own products.

    One solution I just kicked around in my brain, is that items cannot be transformed from non-magical conductive substances to a magical ones. Since crystals, and silver and gold tend to make up a lot of magic devices, the transformation can only go from them to something else, Not something else to them.
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  12. berkeleyjake

    berkeleyjake Dreamer

    It depends on how your system of magic works.

    I've always liked the idea that anything that can be made with magic can also be unmade with magic. So for creating gold, or any type of currency, there should be a way to test to see if it can be unmade. Natural elements from the earth that are crafted by hand would not be able to be unmade.

    Another option is for the government to employ people with the power of Psychometry (whether innate or learned), who could see the history of things they interact with. So when using their power, they could tell if the currency was created, and the more skilled users of that art may even be able to tell who created the currency.
  13. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

    In a futuristic fantasy world I toyed with, I used a sort of virtual money based on a person's palmprint. Basically, the magical accounting "system" was created to be adaptive and self-sustaining. Anytime someone is born, an account is created for their lifetime, and anything they earn or spend is added or subtracted from their account. The spells to correct/change/interact with this system is kept secret from 99% of mages, and those that do interact with it are magically bound to never share these spells, or to take advantage of the system in any way. Not a perfect system, but it worked within the visual I had for the novel, of someone resting their hand on an enchanted counter to pay for their hotel room, or on the dashboard of a taxi "pod" to pay the fare.

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