One of my players, wanting to save his loot but keep it somewhere safe asked about banks.
Banking, as far as I'm aware, existed in medieval culture (and earlier) and I've never doubted that it exists in the Flanaess.
Churches of Zilchus and Money-lender guilds seems obvious examples.
Where my knowledge of financial matters fails me (which it regularly does on a day to day basis!) is in this kind of early bank - would the investor get interest and if so how much? Would they have to pay a fee to the bank to keep their money? Would the player be given a key to a safe deposit box or personal vault or does the bank keep that in trust (although without a passport or ID system how would the player even prove it was really them unless the banker recognised them?)
Also do you have any other banking institutions in your games? Dwarven clan-hoards perhaps?
In our recent Greyhawk game, our DM allowed players to deposit funds at a recognized Merchant establishment, with a view of holding it in "Safe Deposit". There was no interest accrued, as such, but it helped us from having to lug the coin around.
I'd have to ask him if there was a mechanic he planned on using behind the scenes, as our game ended prematurely.
The church of Zilchus or some other Flanaess-wide order is the way to go. That way, the players have access to their funds in many well-settled lands (assuming you want them to, of course). Probably the best way to do it and maintain the medieval flavor of things is to follow the example of the Templars. Players deposit funds at a church/monastary/whatever, and are issued a letter of credit. This letter can then be presented at any other church/monastary/whatever of the order in another land, to be drawn upon as the players see fit. Of course, some sort of scroll case is in order, 'cause if they lose the letter, they lose access to the cash... _________________ The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd; indeed, in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a wide-spread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible. - Bertrand Russell
And as I think more about this, you're right: the "bank" must have an incentive to act as such. That means your bank must be designed to turn a profit, or be somehow forbidden to do so:
1. A fee is charged to hold the wealth. Or
2. The bank is free to use the held wealth to its own advantage (like a modern bank): give loans, invest, etc. until a withdrawal is made. Or
3. This institution, whatever it will be, has some holy vow, forbidding usury. Or in the secular case, perhaps it is written into a royal charter that usury is forbidden.
Case 3 would make banking free for players, but I find it hard to imagine anyone taking on such an endeavor without any expectation of at least a little upcharge of some sort. Every organization has overhead it has to cover.
In the case of the Templars, look to case 2. Many nobles took loans from them, interest charged. Heck the King of France was so indebted to them that he orchestrated their downfall.
EDIT: Of course, life is cheap in the Flanaess. Perhaps unclaimed funds (i.e. player/NPC death) is where they make their profit.
This is an interesting topic. Thanks for bringing it up! _________________ The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd; indeed, in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a wide-spread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible. - Bertrand Russell
Jemminab, from the little research I managed to do and understand I got the impression that like nowadays (I think) these early banks operate similarly to your Option 2. It makes sense too. The private investor must have some incentive other than the safe keeing of their money though which is why I suppose you get interest from the bank. What percentage that should be I have no idea!
I like the idea of the letters of credit - or even some kind of token. This would work well with the Church of Zilchus as it is likely to have branches all about the Flanaess as well as with the Knightly Orders. Perhaps also amongst Moneylender guilds across the same country.
In the case of the Church of Zilchus I figured they would have a vault in each temple that a safe box could be kept in for a monthly fee. That way players can leave more precious items under lock and key.
Greyhawk City, at least, does have a Union of Moneychangers and Pawnbrokers. The entries in the CoG boxed set (FFF, 35-36; GoF, 78) mentions that high interest is charged on loans, & issues credit notes, but is silent on whether interest can be earned on deposits. Ditto for the entry in tAB.
In my campaigns, there were three official places in Greyhawk to bank. First there was the ubiquitous Temples of Zilchus, which payed a better rate of interest to members (of course). The High Priest set the Holy Rate Of Interest at a special weekly ceremony. For the most part, this rate was followed by all. The Blessed Vaults were considered untouchable to the Thieves Guild, since the Zilchusians were so integral to everyones' well-being.
Second was the Moneychangers Union, which made loans and allowed certain types of commodity speculation. This enabled certain players to gamble on (what they believed to be) inside knowledge to make coin. A fee was charged for the safe storage of coins or items.
Third was the City of Greyhawk, which provided certain banking functions to certain persons/organizations under certain circumstances. Be assured, however, that Glodreddi Bakunin got his greedy little paws into every transaction!
I also allowed each Guild (including the Adventurers') to provide certain banking functions for its members. The fees, as well as the safety of the funds in their vaults, differed wildly.
Personally, I had an accountant as one of my regular players, or I probably wouldn't have evolved such a system!
In addition to the suggestions by other posters, in my campaign, various merchants guilds offer banking services to their members. Much like the real Medieval world, these merchants guilds provide leters of credit (precursors to checks) so that member merchants don't have to travel with large amounts of coin. Usually, the letters of credit are only usable by recognized individuals who can provide a secret message along with the letter (to foil magical changelings, etc.).
A few more canon/semi-canon references that haven't been mentioned yet...
According to FtA, barter is on the rise and "paper money in the form of promissory notes has virtually no value outside of[...] Greyhawk, Celene, Urnst, Perrenland, and the far northwestern lands" (Atlas 17).
B2 Keep on the Borderlands has a "loan bank" that takes deposits with a 10% fee or no charge if the money is left for at least 1 month. Loans up to 5gp are at 10% interest. Loans over 5gp require a deposit at least twice the value of the loan.
The Mercantile Bank of Yggsburg offers saving accounts with 5% annual interest (87).
I can see Greyhawk and Dyvers leading in the field of merchant banking with the practise maybe arising from the Aerdy Empire and thus things like letters of credit only really being valued within the former provinces of that Empire. Are there any other obvious cities similar to Greyhawk and Dyvers that have that Genoa / Venice mercantile feel to them?
In real history the connection between temples and banking seemed to gradually wane but with regards to the Zilchans perhaps their reliable reputation means that many people still prefer to do business with them. Maybe the Zilchans frown on usury or are regularly called in to mediate disputes and 'police' banking practice for the state. The security of their temples still makes them preferrential for depositing wealth in too. Perhaps they charge an administrative fee to receive a deposit (like Jemminab says they still have overheads) but offer no interest on deposits?
I have a feeling that there was a Dragon issue that suggests some investment options for players. I'll try and hunt it down.
From what I've read it looks like short term deposits did not earn interest, but long term deposits did. As far as what the rates are and what constituted "long term" varies a great deal in historical documentation. For the latter I'd go with the modern sense, which is a deposit of longer than a year. Interest rates were pretty high by modern standards (unless we get into the realm of payday loans). I've only ever used them once in-game, offering a character the low rate of 10% from the Church of Zilchus, and only at that rate because he was a retainer of a powerful noble who it might in the future be convenient to be associated with. Don't forget the influence of risk also. Given that the depositors are engaged in a profession that often results in death, banks might be willing to give them a higher return on deposits than others.
In my campaign, banking as we know it owuld be highly limited. Part of that is to avoid the too-rapid accumulation of player wealth. I have also considered the rules on wealth from Conan the RPG to also keep it in check (characters blow 1/2 of their wealth each week between adventures by carousing). While thrifty savers end up as the head of the Merchant's guild, they are seldom attacking dragon lairs.
So how could my characters store and transport their cash?
Changing coins into gems or melting them into ingots is one way to cut bulk. Kobold Press had two great articles on the latter earlier this year.
Promissory notes, issued by the church of Zilchus or the Merchant's guild (for a percentage) would help them as well.
Caching their wealth somewhere is another option. Smart characters will set up multiple chaches.
Buying permanent good: in city real estate is always a good idea, as it also is a proto base and a possible cache.
Buying favors: even more valuable, and possibl portable.
I am not into giving the characters interest on their deposits if they do have that option. They should be grateful that someone is keeping it safe for them for a (im)modest fee. In the end, in a medieval game, wealth is land, and smart characters are going to be aiming at real estate. Once the green eyeshades come out, the danger is the game turning into Banks and Auditors.
I've had players who would definitely have problems with the Conan rules, specifically the guy who turned down the loan from the Zilchans. My last group could usually deal with these kind of bookkeeping issues outside of game, but your point is made about no letting it take over. I think it depends much on the kind of players in the group.
P.S. Tarleton, I PM'd you on an unrelated issue I thought you might have some knowledge of. Check your messages, please.
A few more canon/semi-canon references that haven't been mentioned yet...
In the first Gord book, the Count of Knurl pays off Evaleigh's ransom to Boss Dhaely of Stoink through bank transfers. Evryone had been looking for the treasure caravan. Gord (who grew up in Greyhawk and isn't a dope) is stunned that such a thing is possible (CY 578?).
That would imply that it is done (as of CY 578), but that it's not common knowledge, even to the otherwise well informed.
As for fees and interest, if the banker wants the money bad enough, he'll come up with a way to attract lenders (savers). Supply and Demand. So why not?
Documented evidence of "Banking" goes all the way back to 2000 b.C.E. with the Assyrians and Babylonians. These consisted mostly of grain loans to farmers and traders carrying the merchandise between cities. Grain and cattle were the earliest forms of barter, going back as far as 9000 b.C.E.
Banking in the modern sense can be directly traced to early Renaissance Italy, most especially to the wealthy cities of Florence, Genoa and Venice. The most famous example being the Medici Bank established in 1397.
So banking would undoubtedly exist in Greyhawk.
As to how it "worked?" In ancient Babylonia, people were required to pay 1/6th of the value of the deposit in fees. Bankers -- what we think of as "money lenders" -- charged a fee to keep your money "safe" for you. Unlike modern times, they did not pay you for the "privilege" of protecting your money -- you paid them to do it.
However, most transactions involving the lending of money was done by the Palace or the Temple and not by what we think of as "money lenders." Interest was charged by the Palace, or Temple, and did accrue.
Ancient Temples performed most banking transactions. The temples of Hera, Artemis and Apollo were famous for it. This would imply that the Temple of Zilchus would be a perfect candidate for Greyhawk, as would the Temples of Al'Akbar, Jascar, Carl Glittergold and a couple of Dwarven deities as well. (In fact, it would not surprise me to find a "friendly" rivalry between the temples of Zilchus and Carl Glittergold in seeking "your" patronage in this regard).
In Greece, the persons responsible for keeping track of all of this were known by various names: Neokoros, Zakoros and/or Hierophylakes. A depository for such monies was contained within the Parthenon.
The Knights Templar were paid for their services. They were known to have charged as much as 60% a year. It was in this way that they acquired their vast holdings -- especially as they were often paid with land, rather than funds. Their paper "notes" are the foundation for modern day "paper" money.
As I said before, the practice of paying interest on deposited monies is a "modern" idea.
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