Sunday, 18 December 2011

We Built This City On Nickels and Dimes

The Babbling Bane took Talysman's system of city "quarters" literally and used a handful of random coins to improvise a village layout.

I think there is huge potential in this idea and have expanded it to this One Page supplement. Taking a different tack, I have gone on the highest "zoom-out" level to 1/5 mile hexes holding 2000 people each, based on my sources regarding population density. It's likely that a future supplement will cover what exactly can be found in each of those hexes using a similar method. What's more, I also see a need for a more fine-grained table covering exactly what each industry and trade might be. So keep an eye on this space...

Bearing in mind the international audience, I've made the coin specification as generic as possible. If you are in the euro-zone (touch wood) with 8 different denominations of coins, for example, you could put 1 cent and 5 cent in the lowest class, 10 and 20 in the next lowest, then 50 cent, then 1/2EUR.

An example using British coinage, leaving out the big coins and going 1/2p, 5p, 10p, 20/50p...

I have a 10,000 soul small city that needs to be populated. Gathering up small change, I find:

Two pennies, one from 2007 and one from 1979.
Two 5p coins, one from 2006 and one from 1990.
A 10p coin from 2002.

In the first three coins there were two heads, so this could be at the confluence of two rivers. Results, of course, should depend on the geography of your world - but they can also help to shape that geography if you are running on the fly. In this case, the two rivers idea makes most sense because the adventure is well inland.

In this arbitrary layout of coins and rivers, the pennies whose years end in 7 (left) and 9 (right) represent respectively working districts based on the timber industry and vice. As an additional detail, we can say that the vice district is the oldest part of the city, because its coin is by far the oldest. Now we see how the industry of the town can shape unknown geography, because surely there must be a great woodland nearby.

The 5p coins with a zero (left) and 6 (right) are craft districts that reflect the city's industries of armaments and stonework, respectively. This suggests a nearby source of stone, and trade bringing metal.

Between stone, timber and weapons we can guess that if there is any military threat, the city is well defended and walled. As a good architectural touch, there is competition between the builders in timber who dominate the northeast hex and the builders in stone who dominate the southwest, with buildings in the middle being mixed wood and stone.

The 10p coin is the district of local traders, who are assumed to run the city because they are the highest value coin; any feudal lord probably lives off the map. Thus, the urban government will be elective and dominated by the traders. Based on the products of the area, these traders are not rich; their trade routes are short and deal in common materials.


  1. This is a really cool way to generate towns. You could even use foreign coins to represent a foreign quarter or different ethnicity, although that probably wouldn't work for everyone everywhere, I just live near Canada, so we get the occasional Canadian coinage mixed in with our change.

  2. Roger, thanks for the 'shout out', it is appreciated and I sent a link back here from my latest coin based post.

    I really like what you have done using more of the elements of the coins; ie. year, heads/tails, value, etc. Very cool! I hadn't thought of that. This mental experiment is rather 'outside-the-box' for me. But it is fun.

    I hope you don't mind, but I want to riff of this as I continue on. As I mentioned, I like what you have done, and what Talysman suggested on my blog, but I need it to suggest how to map the city and how it falls out, with logical results. I am just afraid, using the population scale per settlement that I am going with, it just wouldn't look right at 1:5 mile hex to 2000. I intend to try it though!

    I also want to go from small to large, rather than large to big, using the physical size of the coin to represent the communal size of the group. So, in your 'One Page Coin Settlements', I would have Laborers (Peasants) be the largest coin, Crafters (Commodity Workers) the next largest, Traders next smallest, and the Rulers the smallest.

    I am hoping the small to large transition will also scale up through the hex map scales, as well, when I am mapping so as not to break a 5 mile hex border until somewhere around the small to large town range. Time will tell if I can figure this out.

    I never thought 'thinking-ouside-the-box' would be so hard for me.

    Again, awesome stuff!

  3. @William: Actually, I did suggest the foreign coins thing in the lower left. Obviously it depends on how much traveling you do and things like proximity to another country, but yes, I was thinking about things like Canadian nickels.

    @ Bane: Thanks and please feel free to develop your own version. I think you may be happier with the next installment, which is a way to detail individual districts, that will also work for towns of population 1000-2000. Stay tuned...

  4. Cool. I have been mulling it over and I just can't come up with anything. Still trying to foster my free-thinking spirit. Look forward to what you are working on, it sounds like what I might need.


  5. Serves me right for not embiggenning the picture to where everything was easy for me to read.