I stumbled across the term “hacksilver” on the History Blog the other day and decided to look into it, as I often do when I encounter unfamiliar words.  It refers to silver items cut or bent into convenient sizes for use as currency, and it was apparently a common practice, especially among the Vikings, to use looted items of gold or silver this way.

File:Hack silver.jpg

Image from wikipedia.com

I will absolutely have to remember to implement this in D&D.  For one  it makes more sense that vast piles of valuable metals are not minted coins at all.

I can see a tribe of goblins or kobolds accumulating a pile of coins a few at a time by stealing them from travelers and trading stolen livestock to orcs or whatever, and humanoids and humans would probably be very likely to make hacksilver out of their loot.  Demihumans, who appreciate the aesthetics of crafted items, would not though.

And surely a dragon just carries off all the gold implements in a temple or palace before razing it, and keeps it intact; other monsters might collect shiny stuff from the ruins they haunt, including some coins but not a lot of those get left behind when a civilization falls (looting, hoarding, etc.).

 Convenient coinage might appear in dungeons because the malevolent force that inhabits the underworld knows coins attract explorers to their doom, though, or because the dungeon inhabitants are actively minting coinage for their agents above-ground to use to bribe and buy from the civilized.

But most humanoids, bandits, raiders, and so on will have converted gold and silver items into hacksilver, either for dividing plunder or because they have no ability or interest in minting.  You could just have a percentage die roll determine how much of the loot PCs find is in coinage (& hacksilver), and how much  is in ingots and larger items for most monsters, but assume monsters with really vast hoards are probably collecting large items rather than coins (and certainly not bothering to make hacksilver).

File:Cuerdale hoard viking silver british museum.JPG

And another wikipedia image

I think this probably inverts the normal relationship between portability and treasures in D&D — usually, you think of items as being more ‘portable’ because a single finely-crafted item might be worth more than its weight in metal.  So really the trade off should probably be that if you haul a golden platter, three feet across and worth 1000 gold pieces, back to town, no-one can afford to buy it from you, but if you hack it into gold pieces, you get 2/3 or 1/2 the value in hacksilver (well, hackgold) that can be readily spent.  I kind of like the idea of an adventurer breaking an arm off of a silver candelabra to pay for his room and board, or pulling gold links off a chain necklace to by more oil and rope.  Also, you might allow coins and hacksilver to be more portable (like 100 to a pound of encumbrance rather than 10), but the tradeoff again is that you would take extra time to hack the items up, or else need to make extra trips or be badly overburdened to bring all those plates, candlesticks, and so on out of the dungeon!

Published in: on February 21, 2014 at 9:00 am  Comments (14)  
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  1. The important consideration would be an object’s “coin” weight. One of the difficult aspects of value in D&D is that gold is treated as a unit of both wealth and weight/bulk. I DO like the idea of hacksilver/hackgold. But object prices tend to reflect their workmanship and/or numismatic worth. Even so, a silver necklace worth over 100 gold is absolutely baffling to anyone who knows anything about or trades in precious metals… but that’s neither here nor there. I’d say that to calculate the hack-value of an object, one would need to know its coinweight, which would be it’s actual value. In cases where workmanship was a truly significant value-add to the object, it might be worth it to try to drag something back. Also, this brings up the issue of how much value to assign to junk-treasure. A lot of modules severely overinflate item treasure values to pad for xp, but to have anything be worth more than double melt value (except if sold to very niche collectors, which most adventurers aren’t going to go to a lot of trouble to seek out) would be preposterous.

    • Yeah, I saying 2/3 or 1/2 for simplicity. I am not sure how much “workmanship” increases the value of silver or gold work above its intrinsic value as metal, but you’re right that most people just see the metal value … like selling jewelry to a pawnshop.

      • Yeah, and since hacksilver is JUST metal value, it would mean hack=weight. Which works, one just has to be the sort of DM willing to give treasures more reasonable ball-park values. Hacking up a silver plate that weighs 10 coins and is worth 1-5 gold into 10 silver pieces works. Hacking up a silver pitcher that weighs 20 coins but is worth 100+ gold (an absurd value to begin with, in most cases) into more than 20 silver pieces would be a miracle of loaves & fishes. The easy solution is to not have lots of unreasonably valued treasure. Which is one of the reasons why I’m a sometimes supporter of using a silver, rather than gold, standard in D&D: it just helps make pricing things make sense.

  2. I remember reading something about a crucifix which was made from loot that crusaders brought back from the Middle East. The crusaders had taken some brass plates covered in elaborate designs that they probably assumed were just nice fancy knotwork. In reality, it was Arabic script and it said, “There is no God but Allah” right there on the crucifix.
    So, to piggyback on your musings about hacksliver (or hackgold), what if adventurers chop up some evil artifact and distribute pieces of it’s metal all over town paying for lamp oil, 10 foot poles and blowjobs? Could the lamp oil vendors, 10 foot pole salesmen and prostitutes suddenly find themsleves compelled by overwhelming evil to seek one another out, reassemble the artifact and then use it to summon some evil thing, so the next time the adventurers return to town to restock their lamp oil or buy some iron spikes, the town is overrun with evil cultists?

    • That is a great idea! I think Telecanter mentioned a similar situation (with cursed coins) in his campaign, which caused the party to go on a voyage to retrieve some of their ill-gotten coins from a merchant who’d already set sail.

    • Reminds me of an old Star Trek where this village somehow ended with being given/sold a shiny space rock, which the jewelers and metalsmiths all started to make into tools and trinkets. And then everyone started dying because it was radioactive.

  3. Mike, thanks for bringing up the hacksilver topic. The word is new to me, though the concept is familiar. I have struggled with the concept of money in a fantasy world before, and have gone so far as to introduce small pieces of iron as the basic currency for dwarves. These bits could be hammered together into lumps and then pounded down into rough coins, which is why the basic iron Dwarvish coin is still called a Pound. 😉

    • That’s a really cool concept, especially for a culture that is typically associated with metalsmithing. It would not be surprising if such an economy were to use some common unit, such as an ingot large enough to forge a sword or axe, as basis for exchange. X bits to a Pound, X Pounds to an Ingot. Smithing, smelting and minting would all be tied together in such a society.

  4. Reblogged this on Save VS Weekend and commented:

    There’s always a give and take when incorporating “real world” information about the days of yore into your D&D game. Our colloquial picture of history doesn’t often match up with the actual Facts and as such, our fantasy worlds see a lot of disconnect too.

    But the notion of “Hacksilver”, aside from being a great name for an all-girl heavy metal band, is infinitely applicable to coloring your gameworld.

    • I’d never heard of this term either. Thanks for bringing it to my attention, and I really like your suggestions for using this in D&D.

  5. A video about turning hacksilver into trade jewelry (by reenactors so be warned)

    I’ve abandoned D&D’s typical treasure system and just give out treasure in generic bags (each with a value and weight). Their contents are described as “handful of coins” or “trade jewelry” or “nice goblet”, etc. High value things will have high worth and low weight whereas low value things the opposite. The exact composition, such as how many of the coins are gold vs silver, is kept vague.

    • Hmm, I like that… a “bag of gold” as the unit of treasure…sort of brings to mind the Dark Tower electronic board game. It also sounds like something that would work pretty well with an abstract system like Swordbearer, or an indie game like Dungeon World. Roll to acquire whatever item; miss the roll and one bag is exhausted…

  6. I’ve used this concept for some time. My interest in things Viking started when my brother and I saw the old Kirk Douglas movie, THE VIKINGS. For me, establishing the weight of a gold item is the way to start. Then I determine the shape, artistic quality, utilitarian use, and any decoration. 99 times out of 100 the players in my campaign have treated such gold things as what we call Hackgold. Unless the object is magical…

  7. […] individual silver coins; it’s an abstraction representing a collection of coinage, bits of hacksilver and precious objects worth, in total, 530 sp. (And probably weighing 53 lbs., using standard […]

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