The Burnt World of Athas

The official Dark Sun website

Athasian Coins COINS

Athasian Gambling

IMC, each city's gladiators, soldiers, and low-lifes have each bit on a CP named, and have designed as many games of chance with the bits as we have with cards. "Bit Games" contain aspects of cards, dominos, and marbles, since captured bits are generally their own reward--as in marbles, the game pieces are the stakes.

Here is an easy universal "Bit Game" that would be played in any or all of the city-states:


While this is one of the most common games of chance in the tablelands, it is generally banned in inns and taverns because of its waste of space and time, and the fact that no tavern has ever figured out a way for the house to profit by it. Games of TableBits have been known to last for weeks, although those who finish the game seldom those who started it.

Each player in his turn must place one bit on the table. If the bit placed belongs adjacent to one of the bits on the table, then that is where it must be placed. If the bit would join separate bits (or groups of bits) already placed on the table, then he may choose whether or not to join the groups, as long as neither group needs to be broken up. In other words, the two groups plus the placed "linking" bit cannot add up to more than one full ceramic piece. The player that completes assembling a ceramic coin, "captures" it from the table (and keeps it).

New players can join or quit a game whenever a coin is captured. Many regard this game as one without winners or losers--the object being to capture as many coins as possible. Indeed, out of hundreds of possible players, only a few ever "win"--ie. capture the last bits on the table--or "lose"--run out of bits in mid-turn. "Losing" is considered very bad luck--if you are running out of bits, it is generally wise to sacrifice your last bits to help an opponent capture--just so that you can quit legally, with out "losing". "Losers" are often treated as harshly as cheaters, since a person going out mid-turn interrupts the pattern of the game.
Conversely, to capture the last bits on the table--regardless of how many you have lost--is considered very good luck--the longer the game, the better the luck. Luck is very desirable, and as a longer game nears final completion, the more cutthroat and desperate it becomes. (And of course, woe to the inkeeper that tries to send the players home mid-game!!!!) Fugitives have been known to be caught by the templars, unwilling to run out of a game at the first sign of danger.

While players can bring as many bits to the game as they like, each player must keep all playable bits in the same bag. You can "go out" after a capture, beg, borrow, or steal more money, and come back in (after another capture occurs) but as long as you are playing, you cannot add bits to your bag, except those that you "capture."

As you might imagine, long games tend to attract crowds--some just watching, jeering, or giving "helpful" suggestions; others silently waiting for a capture so that they can "come in". Non-players caught sneaking bits to a player, are treated as playing cheaters.

Steve Positivak points out that "no one would want to put down the ninth bit in a coin", just as some people are reluctant to put down a strategic card in King's Corner: you might withold a card because it would allow your opponent to win. But since you _have_ to put down a bit somewhere, (remember you can only quit the game immediately after someone has captured a coin), the game ends up with many, many piles of partially-complete coins sitting around, and sooner or later, piles will get linked. You get to the point where any bit you place will serve as the unlucky "ninth" to one of the coins . . . Add to this the fact that few people have really a lot of ceramics, so eventually you start to run low on some of the bit-types . . .

Like Poker, the game is ripe for variations: Do players choose which bit to use or do they randomly pull bits from their pouch and have to place them? Do you have to break all your bits apart before playing, or can you have "multiple bits" still stuck together, and place them as a single bit?

If you have any more questions, please ask away. I made up "Tablebits" on the fly, so the explanation may not be as clear as I would like; I was trying to understand it myself as I wrote the first time.

Surely there are real gamblers who could come up with more viable BitGames than Tablebits. I proposed "Tablebits" as one of the many zillion things that Tablelanders would do with CPs. Here's another: Ever hear of drawing straws? How about drawing bits? Break up a Urikite ceramic and see who gets the King's eye. CPs could replace cards (both playing and Tarot) and dice. Gambling could have heavy superstitious overtones in some areas, especially if the name symbols on the bits were stars or other supernatural-friendly items. Fortunes could be told from the ceramics--perhaps templars or even priests need a CP to cast the Augury spell; hence Augury at best reveals the best of 10 standard answers (Death, Fortune, Imprisonment, Luck . . . etc. Hey, who needs a deck of many things in a paper-scarce culture. Why not a large coin of many pieces . . .

Other Bitgames and gambling: Chess-like games could be played with the bits, and capturing is its own reward, but checkmate wins the remaining bits on the board. Bits could replace dice: break a CP into pieces, shake them in a bag, and pick one. After all, that is how we used to play D&D before polyhedra, eh, Greybeard? Though I admit I only played one game with those darn chits--they lacked drama. But picture this: placing a CP into a black silk bag, then, smack! on the table, shake the bag, and remove a bit face down . . . dramatic enough for a compulsive gambler?

Surely there are real gamblers in this list who could come up with more viable BitGames than Tablebits. I proposed "Tablebits" as one of the many zillion things that Tablelanders would do with CPs.

Anyone want to take this as a net project?

TableBits Questions:

Q: How do you tell which bit goes with which, if they are all the same shape and size? A: The markings pressed into the coin. This is what I am soliciting artists to do. Think Dominos--same shape and size, but you link them by the markings. Or perhaps like a torn up picture. Here. Take a coin out of your pocket. Imagine it was cut into equal-sized pieces--but you could still make out the parts of the original picture, and use that picture to put the bits together.

Like most coins, Tablelands ceramic coins have pressed illustrations. Even if they are broken into identical-size and -shape bits, the markings still distinguish them--together you can piece together the picture that resided on the original ceramic. (This is while I am begging for the assistance of an aspiring artist before I release my CP pictures--I only have the shapes, colors, cuts, & textures down). For instance, let's pretend (_only_ for the sake of illustration; I don't think that Kalak would have used this) that one of the sides of the Tyrian ceramic had an engraving of the city of Tyr on it. Each bit would be referred to by the most notable part of the picture that remained on that bit. Hence one bit might be called the [Golden] Tower; others might be the Caravan Gate, the Arena, the Pits, Artisan way, the Warrens, etc.

Example 2--Say a coin has a picture of Hamanu standing in front of the throne, holding a sword in front of his face. Going counter-clockwise from the top bit, these bits might be called the Eye, the Teeth, the Blade, the Claws, the Void (since nothing is engraved in this bit), the Foot, the Scabbard, the Throne, the Mane, and the Crown. Now I find it unlikely that an SK would want his/her likeness cut into bits on a regular basis by the common rabble, so again, this is a design that I would not use--I can't think of any that seem realistic. Again--I need an artist!

Metal Coins

Remember that minting coins is one of many ways that Templars stroke the supreme egos of the kings! Andropinis and Ablach-Re (Balic and Raam being the sites of silver mines) make it a point of pride to keep their face flattered in fresh silver coins. A humorous anecdote (True or not, I do not really care--it's a funny story) : One European king economized by putting a copper filling into his silver coins. Unfortunately, the artist that designed the King's likeness on the coin was too true to life, giving his magesty's image a large nose that protruded slightly from the coin. As the silver wore down, the king acquired a new name: "Old Coppernose".

I agree with Steve Positivak that "Since the amount of precious metal in the market is fairly static (few silver mines and even fewer still active gold mines), the value of precious metals is fairly immune from price fluctuations" --but in one DS Module, an SK had ammassed 100 000 gp. IMC, the SK's purchase of so much gold did indeed shoot up the price of gold. IMC, gold coins are as small as they can make them and keep track of them, about the size of a US dime. Silver coins are significantly wider, enough to make the silver coins weigh as much as the gold. Ceramics are quite a bit bigger, heavier, and more bulky; bits are the most commonly used currency and are standard coin size & weight. Ceramics are exquisitely minted and glazed to discourage the inevitable counterfeiting.

(LoL: A while ago, someone made the joke that ceramic must be a precious commodity on Athas since they mint currency of it :) )

Counterfeiting Ceramic Coins

Counterfieting is very heavily punished--the offender and his/her entire family of the offender is baked alive in the kiln. To make the threat stick, Templars randomly pick CPs and use Object Reading to detect the "first owner". If that is not the SK, then a mindbender is hired to track the maker for punishment. In addition, all kilns in the city are liscenced and monitored. Some cities may have have a city owned kiln monopoly to prevent forgery. SK law requires local CPs to be accepted as currency.

Merchant houses charge a hefty rate for exchanging CPs from other states: 50-75 % at least. Remember that the merchant houses have to transport the things! Traders take a heavy markup on all inter-city goods, and CPs are goods that are only valuable in their home city.

Merchant Bills as Currency

I loved Steve P.'s idea of merchants giving a bill for money redeemable in another city-state (great way to conceal wealth from the templars!) These would likely be minted in ceramic, except in Kurn where they would be printed on Wasp paper. IMC this is how the whole economy of Kurn worked for ages--before the trade with Eldaarich and the Southern Tablelands, Kurn had no precious metals. Oronis' hands-off government left the matter of currency up to the nobility, and in a literate culture, an economy of written deeds and contracts flourished. The rarest and most valuable coin in Kurn is a deed redeemable for construction of a tower (like the one in the Krun description of the WC). The "tower-coin", as it is called, is quicksilver encased in crystal. (The guild that minted it reasoned that they would save labor if the coin was accidentally destroyed). The Kurnish currency system is really no system at all--and makes it easy for foreigners to bargain poorly.
I find Merchant Bills believable and delightfully playable, but here are some implications I have come up with.

1. Would the merchant houses necessarily have all that money on hand? It seems to me that the Tablelands Express system would have to have many, many users to justify tying up capital that could be used for trade. I would restrict the bills to a specific city-state and a time-window of 1 month to redeem them. What do you think?

2. Alternately, powerful and respected merchant houses such as Shom might issue bills with a greater time window, but at a very steep commission, since the local chapter of a merchant house might have to borrow from local noble houses if the bill comes in when that chapter is not liquid.

3. Of course, think of the profit of selling a bill, and then just tracking down the carrier and killing him in the desert . . .

4. Other than merchants and the occasional adventurer, mercenary, spy, or villichi, who really travels from city-state to city-state? I agree that IF nobles travelled that they would certainly make use of this merchant bill system. But since I still am unconvinced that nobles travel (see below), who else would make use of this system? There has to be a consistent need in order for such economic systems to develop, and I don't like the idea of creating economic systems solely for the sake of wandering adventurers and treasure gatherers (in other words, conventional AD&D PC-types).

5. All I can come up with is that larger merchant houses typically issue these things to other merchant houses who are smaller and have fewer resources.


Software Developer living in northern Virginia