Fear and Loathing in Athas
Ceramic coins marked in various denominations are the most common form of money in civilized areas of Athas. Each city state strikes its own coins, sculpting, glazing, firing, and treating them in specific ways to discourage forgery. The typical ceramic coin—or bit, as it’s sometimes called—weighs approximately one-sixth of an ounce and is equivalent in value to a metal coin type: copper bit, silver bit, or gold bit.
Ceramic coins equivalent to platinum pieces are simply gold bits marked with a higher value, and no one issues ceramic coins equivalent to astral diamonds. Talented criminals can make good profits counterfeiting ceramic coins, but if they are caught, the penalties are severe and usually affect the counterfeiter’s entire family.
Sorcerer-kings back their cities’ ceramic coins with royal wealth and carefully regulate the currency as a means of controlling the population. In merchant empo riums, travelers can exchange the coins of one city-state for those of another for a fee of 5 percent. In practice, few people bother swapping their currency, since most merchants accept coins of any city (though the templars might start cracking down on that custom).
Metal coins exist on Athas, having been found in ancient treasure troves and circulated now and then. Very old coins attract unwanted attention unless the owner pays “taxes” to the right templars and nobles. In addition, merchant houses and minters who serve the sorcerer- kings strike small amounts of metal coins, which have the normal value. Real coinage is a necessary guarantee against the possibility of a monarch abruptly devaluing the ceramic currency or banning the coins of an enemy city. Real coins are also useful for dune traders who deal with villagers or tribes in the wastes, where ceramic coins are just pretty clay chips Merchant houses prize metal coinage and exchange local ceramic currency for it at full value, but city officials watch these transactions closely. Only merchant houses, nobles, or travelers who deal with such individuals can trade large amounts of ceramic coins for metal equivalents (or vice versa) without arousing suspicion.