Let’s pretend our band of murder hobos exist in a world with real money instead of the nice, clean, decimal-based and universally exchangeable currency of gold pieces, silver pieces, electrum pieces, etc. etc. Rational, decimal-based currency with a coherent, internal logic is a mid-19th construction at best – the pound sterling wasn’t decimalized until 1971. A universal one-world currency still isn’t a thing; the Euro is the world’s only real cross-state medium of exchange. Don’t believe me? Go to Windsor and get some Canadian quarters and try to put them into an American coke machine.
Money is a shared hallucination and takes many forms – from debt to coin to paper to electronic to giant stone disks. So let’s do a little thought experiment and think about coinage as was for most of history: an imaginary debt construct between two people, localized statehood expressed, in fun circumstances a physical representation of class, and a moderately inconvenient lump of metal. Got it? Great!
Just before we can ask two questions – hey wait! – the murder hobos go under the mountain and kill the dragon.
Question #1: What is worth more: a gold coin hoard or a silver coin hoard?
Given two dragons – a red dragon on a hoard of gold coins and a blue dragon on a hoard of silver coins – and real historical coinage, without melting the hoard down into ingots, which hoard is worth more? Throw out the gold coins are worth 10 silver coins construct and go for the history books.
Answer? It depends.
1. They are roughly equal with the current exchange rates
What is worth more in a medium of 15th century international exchange, the gold Florence florin or the silver English pound sterling? Answer – it depends on the season and where one is geographically in Europe and what the gatekeepers to exchange rates believe that day. Money is an illusion and a mental abstraction; the silver hoard and the gold hoard are equivalent if the coins can be roughly exchanged for each other in an international monetary exchange market or goods of equivalent value. So theoretically they’re equivalent.
How about an extreme edge case. What if the hoard entirely contains the heavily debased kind-of sort-of gold late Byzantine hyperpyron (the dragon took out a city on the Greek coast) and circulating through the murder hobo fantasy Kingdom are Sicilian silver ducats? No shopkeeper in Sicily will accept a hyperpyron but he will greedily take all those ducats. The gold hoard is essentially worthless but the silver ducats are money. The silver hoard is worth spectacularly more than the gold. Sure our murder hobos can melt down the hyperpyron hoard, extract the gold from the lead or nickel, convert it to ingots, and then convert the ingots to silver ducats through a gold seller – or they can have the immediately spendable silver hoard.
Which is worth more? Answer is: it depends on what the coinage is, who is accepting it, and what is the going exchange rate between silver and gold coins.
2. Neither: They are Both Worthless
The dragon slept on the hoard of coins for a thousand years and, in that time, the coins reverted to their base state as lumps of metal. Not physically – the coins are still physically round and roughly coin shaped. However, the coins are no longer in circulation and cannot be exchanged for goods and services. They are not money. To be money, someone else has to price objects for sale in ancient dragon hoard coins.
Imagine this for a moment: you (the reader) unearth in your backyard across a giant chest full of gold doubloons. Two hundred years ago Templar Pirates stumbled into your not-yet neighborhood while being pursued by the Church for their heresies and decided to bury their chest of doubloons (why doubloons? because they are Templar pirates). Now you have a chest full of doubloons. Congratulations! They are round. They are gold. They have portraits of Ferdinand and Isabella. Now, go to Five Guys and exchange a doubloon for a bacon double cheeseburger with the works and a side of cheesy fries.
You are the proud owner of a big chest full of inert metal. You have some fascinating options: call in the archeologists to dig up your backyard, melt it down into gold bars (where without questions?), sell it to some dubious goldbug with a commercial on late night TV, find a wealthy and discerning buyer for the doubloons to mystically convert useless metal into money, or rebury the chest. To exchange doubloons to money means finding a buyer. Finding a buyer means a donation, heavy government taxes or sleazy characters and very possibly a high speed car chase.
You know what? Here’s a shovel.
Back to the dragon’s hoard: spending ancient non-circulating coins in gold or silver is like buying a burger with a doubloon – not an acceptable currency for that time or place. Without a forge, a mint, and a way to convert those ancient coins into passable currency or a hoard of dwarven archeologists to take it for a small reward (wait the dwarves have archeologists?), the murder hobos are the proud owners of a large pile of very heavy metal.
3. Neither++: They are Worth Much Worse than Nothing
The murder hobos hire a minor army to pack the coins into cases and cart them out of the cave. And let’s say for the sake of argument that ancient gold coins of dubious denomination still circulate. Great! The murder-hobos are now fabulously wealthy! They spend their coins. They affix coins to hats and walk around with real, physical money sombreros. They hand the local shopkeepers sacks of coins for onions.
Soon, so does everyone else. And by soon, “really quite soon indeed.”
Our murder hobos are engaging in what we will generously call a little quantitative easing. They dump immense sacks of hard cash on to an economy with little coinage in circulation. Now everyone has money! Sacks and sacks of money! So shopkeepers can charge sacks of cash for their goods to make bigger sacks of cash which they now give to others for their rapidly increasing prices!
And soon it’s all worthless.
Too much unexpected money washes around in the monetary supply. Prices hike. People buy bread with wheelbarrows full of gold dragon coins. Hyper-inflation soars. Economies crash. Poverty prevails. The kingdom collapses. Nearby kingdoms invade. Vicious barbarians behead Good and Wise Kings. Empires disappear to never reappear again. The Age ends and turns to darkness!
Society reverts to a crushing dystopian Mad Max-like existence full of roving bands of murders. Good news for the murder hobos: XP! XP!
Later another dragon collects all the forgotten coins together, stuffs it into the cave, and sits on it.
As a historical reference: after a 1100 year period of hardly any good minting metals except what societies imported from overseas (fall of Rome – 1550AD), Spain enslaved the Native Indians of Peru and forced them to mine vast supplies of gold and silver. The Conquistadors sent it home on giant ships heavy with ingots. The Spanish mint promptly minted this stuff into doubloons, dumped it into the economy and caused Europe-wide 300% inflation. Western Europe went into a depression. Templar Pirates buried cases of it in your backyard.
And so it goes.
Now that we’ve established that perhaps taking cases of gold out of a dragon’s hoard out of a cave and dumping it whole scale on an economy might not be wise…
Question #2: How do the murder hobos liquidate all this filthy lucre?
We’re not going to stop the murder hobos from killing dragons. It’s already happened. It’s the past. There was a quest! And honor! And evil to vanquish!
So how do the murder hobos get rid of this huge pile of likely worthless, possibly dangerous, and certainly gold-colored coinage? After all, the dragon is dead. The money is all theirs if they can do something with it. Some ideas…
1. Go colonize the locals like the Conquistadors and establish a kingdom
If the band of friendly murder hobos can get the coins out of the cave, avoid spending the money like wild monkeys on a bender (no the wizard cannot buy that tower just because), cart it thousands of miles until they find the last reclaimed area of their world – assuming such a thing exists – fight off endless bandits and attacks, level a bunch of times, find a place on some wind beaten mountainous frontier, murderize the locals, and build a stronghold, they can establish a frontier kingdom with the dragon hoard as their base currency. Of course, this new frontier kingdom – missing all the amenities of home like identify kiosks and fairs to trade magic items and bathrooms – are on the ancient dragon hoard standard. Unless the murder hobos want to contend with a highly restricted monetary supply limited by their hoard, never have enough money to pay for an army to go to war to defend their kingdom from the peaceful ork society they kicked off their ancestral holy land, or be able to expand, they’re going to need gold mines. They are going to need to build a mint.
So the murder-hobos use the old dragon hoard to make a newer hoard by forcing the locals to build their infrastructure. They slowly phase out the old dragon hoard base until their new kingdom is on their own currency. The old dragon hoard reverts back to uselessness. Then they stash the old useless coins in a cave near their kingdom. A dragon comes along and sits on it. A new group in the far off future find it and begin the cycle anew. Thus the infinite cycle of murder hoboing marches onward.
Meanwhile, the murder hobos have a kingdom to build and rule on their dangerous frontier with an unshakable Lawful Evil iron fist. They need trade routes and a standing military and a way to purge the land of the locals while establishing their own farming communities and impressing their own serfs into feudalistic service. They need stability. Each takes a piece to control for themselves. The murder hobos have no time to adventure anymore because now they are busy playing a game of highly morally dubious Age of Empires.
2. Liquidate it through mercenaries
One group of people will take that dragon hoard off the murder hobo hands: mercenaries. Sure they’re evil and scum and villainy. And maybe the Paladin complains a little like she does whenever the party starts waltzing down the neutral evil path. But mercenaries don’t care. They will take any hoard in any denomination from any country and turn that money magically from metal into whole scale killing. Mercenaries practice their own version of alchemy.
Sure the mercenaries will take the money off the murder hobo’s hands for free no questions asked but that is such a waste. The murder hobos worked hard for this hoard. A dragon, a thinking, reasoning, intelligent being with opinions and family and hobbies and quite possibly a voting record, died so murder hobos could hire these mercenaries. And that dragon cave hanging over that peaceful peasant village is central to a big, peaceful fantasy kingdom with a complete functional infrastructure including roads and villages and peasants and farms and gold mines and mints and bathrooms. No one needs to travel anywhere. No orks need to be kicked off their ancestral homeland. Nothing needs building. The Paladin can avoid the bigger moral questions. Property really is the best way to liquidate a dragon’s hoard and turn metal into a thing. Possessing the Kingdom wholesale is the quickest way to turn these remaining dragon hoard coins into money.
At this point we inform the Paladin that Lawful Evil is a perfectly valid Paladin alignment. It’s okay. Hugs?
After the murder-hobos obliterate the Kingdom’s army (they never saw it coming from their trusted heroes), imprison the old King, and ennoble several sleazier Mercenary Captains for their service, they must figure out who is going to rule and over what. Someone has to rule their Peaceful Fantasy Kingdom now they’ve gone and conquered it.
– The Fighter sees this as an opportunity to continue the old traditions and crown himself King.
– The Cleric wants to establish a Theocracy under the Gods of Goodness and Light – what could be better than a Kingdom ruled by the One Good Church?
– The Sorceress suggests a charismatic dictatorship under her as a Dark and Beautiful Queen.
– The Wizard, sensibly, suggests a dark oligarchy Star Chamber where they rule as equals in complete secret.
– The Bard, pleading for sanity, starts writing a Constitution and suggests a Republic – which means breaking feudalism, of course, and dismantling the guilds, and rewiring the political philosophy of the Kingdom and he promises a small, hardly noticeable Revolution. Teeny.
The Paladin climbs out the window as the stabbing begins.
Hey, at least the murder hobos liquidated the dragon hoard into a Kingdom, power, land, and loyal ex-mercenary lords!
3. Find a new dragon
Maybe the murder hobos, playing these scenarios out in their head, realize the hoard is not worth it. There is such a thing as too much money. Instead, they go on a quest to find a new dragon, lure him back to the cave, get him to sit on the gold and, occasionally, very occasionally, terrorize the local peaceful peasant village. Having one village terrorized is a smaller evil than the entire collapse of the Kingdom, right? The Kingdom must persevere in the face of… them. Finding a new dragon is a good choice.
This could have been easy, though. It’s just too bad that, last week, the murder hobos capped Slim Jimmy and put Slim Jimmy’s Obviously Evil Dragon Raising and Breeding Ranch Emporium to the torch. Slim Jimmy was evil! He was evil breeding dragons. He was going to unleash them on the Kingdom! Or maybe he was selling them to murder hobos in sudden need of dragons to sit on hoards. In the fantasy universe, where there’s a business model there’s a business man.
If the murder hobos are lucky, Obviously Evils is a dragon raising chain across the Kingdom with outlets in all the Major Metropolitan Areas. But their price list – wow. High. Raising dragons to sit on hoards for adventuring parties is not cheap. Someone has to cover those feeding and muckraking costs. Even a small dragon costs almost a dragon hoard. The murder hobos will need cash to dispose of their cash. Surely there’s a slaughter-able Arch Lich or a Beholder Lord on their way out there, and that can’t possibly cause any problems…
A Conclusion of Sorts
There’s a fourth option, establish a bank, but that went to a whole dissertation on monetary exchange rants, debt financing for kings, and slowly purchasing the empire. Completely feasible but it ends in party stabbing. Someone has to be in charge. Also it was an entire blog post in itself – maybe next week. So let’s just say that ends with all but one member of the party dead, the last one a neutral evil paranoid, and an extensive crime family. So it’s the Rogue that wins that one. Good going evil!
In old D&D 1st Edition, at 10th level, player characters build their Stronghold as a sink for their filthy lucre. But that was an earlier, more innocent time when the game abstracted less of the real world. Clearly when the game ended the party members were Kings and Queens and Lords and Dukes and such and suchlike. A better time. An easier time. A time when TSR published splatbooks with monetary exchange rates.
The moral of the story: leave the dragon on his coins. Let him sleep. It’s better that way.