Electrum is a unit of currency in DnD between a silver piece and gold piece and everyone seems to hate it. This article will likely incite angry emails from electrum’s staunch defenders, but we’re not passing judgement. We’re simply here to explain where electrum comes from, why it’s used at all, and why it’s generally reviled.
What is Electrum?
Electrum is a real metal. Really, it’s not just a fantasy creation! Electrum is an alloy created by mixing silver and gold along with other trace elements like copper. This is why in DnD it’s used as a currency between silver pieces and gold pieces. It’s a little bit of both, so this is really why electrum coins are worth half a gold piece.
What’s more interesting about electrum in real life is that it is one of the alloys that occurs naturally as a usable metal. It can even be found as “wires” growing between clumps of crystal or in cavern walls. Because of its natural occurrence and relative ease to mold and shape, it was used in currency as early as 600 BC. It is also harder than gold, so it made for more durable and longer lasting coins.
Why Are Electrum Pieces in DnD?
Dungeons and Dragons actually started out including electrum pieces right out the gate. In 1st edition, electrum pieces were just a normal coin in usage. Electrum was used all the way up until the introduction of 3rd edition, where it was just done away with all together. This may have been a streamlining of the currency, but to better understand what changed we need to look at it’s value through the editions.
In the 1st edition, electrum pieces (ep) were worth 10 silver pieces (sp), and gold pieces (gp) were worth 20 silver pieces. If you’re a 5th edition player or started playing DnD after 3rd edition, you might notice that the value of gold to silver was different. In 5th edition 10 sp is worth 2 ep, 1gp, or 1/10th of a platinum piece (pp).
Even weirder, in old DnD editions 1 gold used to be worth 1/5th of a platinum. This made conversion a bit of a chore, so when 3rd edition came around coinage moved to metric, being separated by powers of 10 exclusively. This streamlined the currency calculations immensely.
Coin Conversions of Past DnD Editions:
- AD&D 1e: 100cp = 10sp = 1ep = 1/2gp = 1/10pp
- AD&D 2e: 100cp = 10sp = 2ep = 1gp = 1/5pp
- 3e & 3.5e: 100cp = 10sp = 1gp = 1/10pp (No electrum currency)
- 4e: 100cp = 10sp = 1gp = 1/10pp (No electrum currency in the core rules)
- 5e: 100cp = 10sp = 2ep = 1gp = 1/10pp
So electrum was always in DnD, but it got moved around and currency in general got cleaned up to make the game easier for players. Even though electrum didn’t make it into the core rules in 3rd and 4th edition, it survived its removal by hanging around in splat books, additional campaign settings, and various notes and passages. Through these splat books and in the hearts of veteran players, electrum survived the rework of DnD to be brought back today to live in the official 5e core rules.
Why People Hate Using Electrum In Their Game
Electrum is a fine currency to use. It has value, its value makes sense, and it’s a good midpoint when a gold piece is too high a value in rural towns players might frequent. All that being said, it’s awkward in the scale of player wealth.
Using electrum in DnD is similar to using a $2 bill in real life. Sure they exist, sure they’re real currency, but they don’t serve much purpose compared to the next highest bill. As coinage they’re even more annoying because they add an additional coin type to sort through in your wallet.
From a practical sense, electrum might seem like a good idea. However, they really mess things up being the only currency in the 5th edition that isn’t metric. 5sp to 1 ep is an outlier and converting it, while not difficult, is a small hassle.
Furthermore, depending on the character sheets you’re using for your game, there might not even be a space for it. It’s so divisive that some sheet creators refuse to put it in. At the end of the day it just doesn’t add anything fun to a game where most of the shopping interactions are abstracted anyway.
One Good Use For Electrum
While many people don’t like using electrum, there is a good use for it that we’d be remiss to not cover. When your players are delving into ancient tombs or long abandoned vaults, electrum is a perfect defunct currency to stash in an aging chest or forgotten lockbox. In most circumstances it’s something your players will convert to gold or silver the first chance they get, so why not use it thematically? After all, that old tomb was probably built by characters from AD&D, and as we all know, electrum was much more valuable back then.
Do you still use electrum or is this your first time hearing about it? Let us know on Twitter how your games use currency.