WorldBuilding: How to Create a Currency

If you made your own currency, what would you call it?

“Money” is one of those words that readers are going to recognize in almost any context, even if you change the word. We steal it, cheat it, fight for it, kill over it—because, call it what you like, money represents power. Money makes the world go ‘round. Because it is so easily identifiable a concept, fantasy writers can take some liberties with what it’s called in-story. The name change can be derived from the name of the bigger picture (like Simoleons in the Sims games or PokePoints in Pokemon) or be more generic, like just “coin.” Try replacing the word “money” in your current WIP and see how it changes the sentence’s overall feel. I bet you like the new word better.

Further currency questions to consider:

  • Who actually makes the money? Is the process broken into separate parts or is one group in the know for the whole process?
  • Who controls how much or how little is made?
  • What kind of money is it? (Commodity, fiat, representative, etc.?)
  • How strong is the currency?
  • What does the supply and demand look like?
  • What does it physically look like? Is the queen’s face printed on each paper piece, or is the royal sigil smelted into each coin?
  • This seems an obvious one, but one often overlooked. Remember that there are different values within the same system—like $1 and $5.
  • What is the currency’s value as a trade item?
  • Does the realm employ tax practices, and if so, who mandates these regulations and who does the actual collections? What groups of people pays the most and the least?

These are pretty factual questions, and not at all things you want to info-dump into your manuscript. But consider the sub-context in each scene that deals with money or an exchange of some kind. Anytime your character wanders into a market or offers/receives payment for services rendered, the strength of the coin is going to play a role. Here’s an example:


“How are you going to pay for all this?”

“I have twenty thousand Republic dataries.”

“Republic credits? Republic credits are no good out here. I need something more real.”


(How many of you guys know which movie that came from? 😉 ) In just those three lines, we’ve established that there are at least two different kinds of currency, and that Republic credits are not considered valuable in this place, but it’s implied they are worth something elsewhere.

Lay out the facts of your created worlds first, and then weave them into the story and dialogue. It should be so subtle that readers wrap their minds around it without having to try, all those little details coming together to create the picture of a fantasy landscape.


14 thoughts on “WorldBuilding: How to Create a Currency

  1. Great information! Often little details like this can be loverlooked when writing a story. I myself had problems with little things like currency, the court system, horse care, guilds, etc. It’s amazing how much research you need to do even if your story’s setting is an imaginary place.

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  3. Funny. I hadn’t thought about this much, but you make a really good point. I borrow from history for this type of thing, mostly. However, I have forgone the whole currency thing in some writing and have used the barter system instead. That’s been interesting. How many sheaves of wheat is a cow worth anyhow? Heh.

    • Lol! I try to use a mix of a barter system and currency just for variety’s sake. Those better off might have coins, but the common folk who are just trying to get by will barter. Designing a currency isn’t an overly important aspect to a story, but it’s one of those details that makes everything better, and helps sustain a writer’s high when you come up with something new.

  4. Interesting stuff. The book, “Writer’s Complete Fantasy Reference” has a chapter devoted to commerce, trade and barter. It’s lacking detail, and I thought your article was more thought provoking. I could have leveraged this a few months ago, when I was writing a believable back-story for how our global economy collapses.
    Keep it up.

    • Thanks for the feedback, Mitch. Now that you mention it, I have that fantasy reference book around here somewhere, and it’s never occurred to me to whip it out for any of these articles I’ve been writing. Might have to do that in the future.

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