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I'm toying with the idea for a world where instead of minting coins out of valuable metals all countries us mana, the 'fuel' of magic, as a currency itself. Since mana always has value, in it's ability to be used to cast valuable spells, and is highly portable and exchangeable it turns out to be a more convenient means of exchanging wealth.

In this world a person can be charged with mana and walk around with their money reserve basically within their body. If they want to buy an item with 100 units of mana they can touch someone (or something?) to transfer mana until they have transferred 100 units worth.

While people usually prefer to carry their personal mana reserve internally a human can only hold a certain quantity of mana, say the rough equivalent to a few hundred US dollars worth of wealth, before it becomes uncomfortable. For carrying larger quantities of mana an individual can store the excess mana in an item designed to hold a certain charge of mana; I haven't yet committed to what type of item's can store mana or how they are made. This also means it's possible to have organizations with large mana reserves locked in a vault or otherwise better secured then trusting one person to carry around all the companies mana personally.

There are a number of questions I have about how such a mana economy would work, including questions of inflation, what should happen to mana when a person who has some dies, how volatile a market it may be to tie currency to the need to cast spells etc. I will ask about those issues in later questions.

For now I want to focus on a more straightforward one, how does one define a 'unit' of mana such that transfers of mana can be standardized. Ie how do I know that the person who bought a 100 mana item from me has transferred exactly 100 units of mana to me, and not 99 or 101 without either side bickering over how much mana they feel was transferred?

I'd prefer a standardization method that is quick enough to make transfers of mana easy and quick when transferring personal mana, ie even if I'm transferring hundreds of units of mana at a time I shouldn't have to painstakingly count every unit. This method should be consistent enough that I'm unlikely to get into an argument about how large a unit of mana is even if I travel to a different country with different rules and economic practices. Similarly I shouldn't have to worry about the possibility that a crooked peddler has rigged a mana counting tool to under count how many units I just payed him.

How can I structure how magic and mana works to ensure that mana will prove more convenient then coins as a basic unit of currency?

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    $\begingroup$ How is mana created/generated? If it is used, is it effectively "lost"? The answers to these questions may indicate whether the economy will be inflationary, unstable etc $\endgroup$ – KerrAvon2055 Aug 10 at 23:15
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    $\begingroup$ You might look at the Darksword series by Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman that does this. $\endgroup$ – James McLellan Aug 10 at 23:17
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    $\begingroup$ Simply substituting the word "gold" in place of mana will answer most of your question. One physical representation of wealth for another. Wow, I managed to make magic and wealth boring. $\endgroup$ – user535733 Aug 11 at 0:30
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    $\begingroup$ Does this answer your question? What can be used as a money in a high-fantasy magic world where noble metals are in practical use? $\endgroup$ – The Square-Cube Law Aug 11 at 0:41
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    $\begingroup$ By the way, as an interesting take on this, you can see the game Path of Exile's economy. In short, the in-game is usable tokens that can reshape items in a variety of ways. It's magic in consumable form. These tokens don't guarantee a result, though, so you need a lot of them to get a desired result. Comparable to fuelling a spell with mana. Usually "poor" characters (that just start up) don't have much use for this currency and trade it for items that they can use. "Richer" players can have much currency stockpiled in order to transform items as they wish. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Aug 11 at 10:31
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Unless you’re going to give people a built-in mana meter, like the life clocks in In Time, you’ll need an external device for exact transfers.

One idea is to have mana storage containers, cheaply purchased empty and which light up or something when fully charged. Merchants will have a few of each size, so if you need to pay 7 mana for something, you just fill a 5 mana container and a 2 mana container, and then the merchant drains the containers into himself to accept the payment.

The general idea of containers also covers needing to store or transport larger amounts than can be comfortably held within the body. These containers may be more complicated to show how much they contain and to hold it for long periods without leaking (or exploding).

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  • $\begingroup$ There would be incentive (and little disincentive) to crafting counterfeit containers that are actually either too big or too small. $\endgroup$ – cowlinator Aug 13 at 23:55
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Coins.

Or more specifically we use small mana-storing crystals. Which we call coins.

If you put some mana in a crystal and give it to me, I can store or draw mana from it. I can guess how much mana is in there by how much effort it takes to drain it. Similar to weighing a handful of coins in your hand. The problem here is different people might have different guesses. So this is an unreliable way to make transactions.

Fortunately it is much more objective to tell whether a crystal is full or not. Since then the crystal simply won't accept more mana. Likewise there is no argument whether a crystal is empty or not.

Instead of coins you carry a wallet full of different denominations of crystals. These are centrally manufactured. If the denominations are 1,2,4,8, . . . units you only need one of each. When you make a transaction you take the required coins from your pocket, charge them fully with mana, and hand them over. The shopkeeper checks if the coins are full by trying to store extra mana. Then they drain the coins and hand them back. Simple

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  • $\begingroup$ Possible addition: the mana crystals glow when they're full so that people can't cheat and almost fill them. $\endgroup$ – Beefster Aug 11 at 16:29
  • $\begingroup$ @Beefster UHG! I hate it when that happens to me -- don't you? $\endgroup$ – Daron Aug 11 at 16:59
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    $\begingroup$ This is pretty similar to Spheres in the Stormlight Archives. Basically, a sphere of glass with a chip of a gemstone at it's centre, they can be imbued with a mana-like Stormlight that casters can draw from to perform magical feats. They're like tiny mana batteries. Infused Spheres are more valuable than dun Spheres. $\endgroup$ – Conor Aug 11 at 20:42
  • $\begingroup$ sounds like magic crystals in, well... literally every cultivation light novel/comic xd $\endgroup$ – somebody Aug 11 at 22:50
  • $\begingroup$ @somebody What is a cultivation comic? Something about farming no doubt. . . . $\endgroup$ – Daron Aug 12 at 13:41
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Life (mana) is magic. And all living things possess Life in some measure.

Among the people are those with a talent for Life : they can transfer it into others with a touch. Catalysts, as these practitioners are called, are usually trained by the Church, and understand the "feel" of the typical units of measure trading Life. Catalysts are usually present to conduct trades. Accumulated wealth is kept on account with the Church, who also serves as the bank.

Other Living people can utilize their own Life to perform tasks according to their strengths. Exhausted people recover their Life over time, and no one can be stronger in Life than their fully-rested strength, unless a Catalyst is transferring additional Life to him or her.

From Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman's "Darksword" series (if I'm remembering correctly).

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  • $\begingroup$ In the DS books, he Church also minted coinage backed by the Church's own mana reserves, though the books didn't go into what kind of reserve ratio they maintained (my guess is that it's rather higher than real-world banks). DS was one of the best efforts out there to try to imagine what an economy would look like in a society where magic was part of everyday life. Very much underrated. $\endgroup$ – Nobody Aug 11 at 12:44
  • $\begingroup$ This inspired me to pickup my copy of Darksword Adventures over lunch. Your right. Coin is used as a medium of exchange. And Catalysts, unlike any other kind of wizard, could draw Life from the rocks, wind, rivers, and plants (these actually being very potent containers). $\endgroup$ – James McLellan Aug 11 at 21:48
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Standardise everything

Find a way to standardise any mana used. Example, the amount of mana to create 1 lumen. This amount is then also transformed to several others for reference, like how much you can push with that amount or heat something with that amount. You can have several incremental standardised points so it'll be easier to calculate and give larger and smaller sums to each other.

After standardising you need to be able to measure the amount transferred. It's a bit like electricity, so you can measure a tiny amount that is relative to the larger whole. This way you can waste an insignificant amount to measure the transferred mana.

You'll get containers with mana that can transfer any flexible amount. Possibly the containers can have ports to transfer fixed amounts, or be more flexible with computers assisting in the transfer for exact amounts.

Finally you can make it easy by digitalising a lot. Just like in our world, you'll not carry all your money cash or all your mana. You've got it digitalised and can access it on demand at mana ATM's. It is otherwise a burden to use many mana wallets.

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  • $\begingroup$ It would need to be the amount of mana to create 1 lumen for X seconds/minutes/hours. $\endgroup$ – cowlinator Aug 14 at 0:24
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Mana could be utilized similar to the idea of a energy economy. Some scientists talk about the idea of having an economy based around hydrogen or bio-diesel as a central energy-dense resource of trade. Maybe in your world, you could have a similar kind of economy. First, you need to have mana be a limited energy that people can generate, but there is always a limited amount in the known universe. Then, have it so mana can be used for magic, but can also be used by anyone as a source of energy for cooking, heating, and other utilities. Then, have mana be stored in powerful people and/or fuel cells that allow the magic to be held on to and used later. There would have to be an exchange rate based around mana based around either the 'weight' if mana contained in a fuel cell has a weight (hydrogen, for example, can cost between 12.85 US Dollars & 16 Dollars per kilogram (kg) or the energy output of mana per a certain amount of volume (i.e. a cubic centimetre of mana might be worth this world's equivalent of 3 pennies). Now, mana could be the main currency, but paper currency and coin might be able to exist - however, it would exist more like an I.O.U. for mana and have little value in of itself (similar to specie system the United States once had where banknotes could be traded for gold and silver pieces). Similar to oil and hydrogen, the market would be based on supply and demand. If mana was hard to get and a lot of people needed to power their homes/ cast spells, the price would go up and those who could generate plenty of mana would be wealthy & seen as more valuable. If less people needed to cast spells and there is a surplus of mana, the worth of it would go down (like how oilprices recently went down 73% since there is reduced demand because of the current pandemic. Thus, many places have more oil than they know what to do with. Similarly, if a situation leads to less people wanting to cast spells or people generating more mana that want society needs, the price will drop with it.)

Supply and Demand Chart

While there could be counterfeit counters for mana, you could have mana be detectable when it reacts to certain chemicals in a container and allow for there to be a simple test to detect if a container has real mana in it or not (ie. There is a simple test you can do with a container and a heat source to see if a gas contains pure/large amount of hydrogen).

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Mana has weight. Not a lot, but enough to be detectable.

Then, you weigh things on a scale, just like people did in the real world.

Your merchant takes a block of iron and puts it on a scale. It weights 100 grams. The buyer touches the block and pours magic into it. Now it weighs 110 grams. Success! The buyer has transferred 10 grams of mana to the seller.

Maybe 10 grams is a lot of mana, maybe it's very little. You can decide, based on whether you want to explore the other implications of mana having weight or not. This could even be the reason for why bodies can only store so much mana, if you need an explanation for that, too -- at some point, you're just 100 kg overweight and can't get around easily. There are a lot of interesting side-effects to this decision, if you decide to go this direction: like physical training being more effective if you're holding more mana while you train; like a hard limit to the amount of "cash" an individual can haul around even with a wheelbarrow; like the ability to sink objects in water that would otherwise float; like the decision to transfer mana in lighter but more easily destroyed wooden coins or the decision to use sturdy but much heavier iron ones (if the storage limitation is depends on volume as well as weight).

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The first thing I think of is the concept of mana being stored inside items called 'cores'. A core stores a certain amount of mana and when you touch it, you transfer some of your own mana into it. You could imagine that each core is like a little wallet with a small amount of mana inside. When you touch the core, you're transferring some of your own mana into it so that the next time you touch it, it'll transfer some more.

You might also consider having a system where you can exchange cores for other things, like spell components. The idea here is that if you don't have any mana left after casting a spell, you can use the mana to power up another spell.

So, with this in mind, you have a few options. You could have the transfer of mana be measured by weight, where each core is a specific weight. You could have it measured by volume, where each core has a specific volume. You could have it measured by time, where each core has a specific time duration in which it can be charged. You could have it measured by distance, where each core has a specific distance in which it can be charged. You could also have a combination of these, where each core has a certain weight, volume, time duration and distance.

Given that you have access to all of these tools for measuring the capacity of a core, which do you think would be most appropriate? Which would be easiest to implement given your current understanding of magic?

The second thing I think of is the concept of 'fueling'. You have a small source of flint, steel and tinder. Using these you can create a small spark that is more than enough to set a piece of paper alight. The paper is dry and there's plenty more paper to feed the fire.

This can be compared to the act of 'casting a spell'. To cast a spell you need to draw on your internal reserve of mental and emotional energy. You need to concentrate, focus your thoughts and feelings on the matter at hand. This process tires you mentally and emotionally. Just like any physical activity tires you physically.

This internal reserve can be refilled in a number of ways:

You can rest and sleep. During sleep your body recovers from physical exertion during the day and your mind and spirit recovers from mental and emotional exertion during the day. Just like eating food helps your body recover from physical exertion during the day, but not nearly as effective.

You can consume food or drink. This is the most common way for people to recover from mental or emotional exertion during the day. The effect is much like sleep, but not as strong.

You can take a 'drug'. This is an artificial means to recover from mental or emotional exertion. It's much more effective than food or drink, but it's not as strong as sleep.

You can perform a minor magical ritual. This is an artificial means to recover from mental or emotional exertion. It's much more effective than drugs, but not as strong as sleep.

You can take comfort in religion. This is an artificial means to recover from mental or emotional exertion. It's much more effective than drugs, but not as strong as sleep.

So, with this in mind, you have a few options. You could have the spellcasting be measured by time, where each unit of time equates to a certain level of fatigue. So, a minute of spellcasting could tire you as much as an hour of walking would. You could have it be measured by energy, where each point of energy is a certain level of fatigue. So, 10 units could be the equivalent of being physically tired. You could have it be measured by volume, where each word you say when casting a spell represents a certain level of fatigue. So, saying 'fireball' could be the equivalent of saying 'hello'. Or you could have a combination of these, where each word is a certain amount of energy. But the amount of energy is also affected by the volume.

The third thing I think of is the concept of 'wizard's fatigue'. Just like a sportsman can become physically tired from too much exertion, a wizard can become mentally and emotionally tired from too much exertion. If this state of fatigue is ignored, then the wizard could become susceptible to outside influences. This could be anything from the mind controlling powers of another wizard to the weak will of a commoner.

So, this is something you want to take into consideration when designing your spell system.

Oh and by the way, all of the above was written by GPT-3 (AI). I didn't write a single character.

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    $\begingroup$ As much as I love GPT3 shenanigans, it still has a long way to go before being able to write a coherent answer to a question. $\endgroup$ – Maciej Stachowski Aug 11 at 9:47
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    $\begingroup$ I think the initial part with the cores was spot on. But the rest of the answer went off on a tangent and then zig-zagged around. Not a bad write-up honestly but not fit for the question. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Aug 11 at 10:38
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    $\begingroup$ On a separate note, the "fatigue" system for spellcasting makes a bit of sense from a distance but I find it doesn't work when you start looking at it. Many gamesemploy something similar which leads to a paradox, where the wizards that are supposed to be weak-ish actually invest in increasing their fatigue/stamina and thus are better or at least comparable than characters that are supposed to be focusing on this stat. So, in a world where spellcasting tires a person, wizards should be doing cardio all the time. Yet, it's rarely taken into account when portraying them. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Aug 11 at 10:44
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Using mana as a currency would have many parallels to the physical currencies that we already have. Some things will be different as in this case casting spells would be the equivalent of lighting a pile of money on fire.

The Manabit -- Mana's Coin

A unit of mana is an arbitrary definition, or definied in the context of other things. It will also be a centralized definition -- one that was set by the ruling party when the system was first developed.

The main thing about the manacoin unit that needs to be known is how many does the average person have and how fast does their internal storage refill. This is the basis that will guide you on the very basics of the mana economy, or manaconomy as I want to call it.

Side Effect: Spells have a direct cost, not just in time but in manabits as well. This could translate into a spell cast for others netting more mana to the caster as they are paid not just for the mana of the spell, but for their time as well.

The Mana Vault

The next critical thing that will be needed for this manaconomy is a means to partition out discrete levels of manabits as well as a way to store them. Ideally, the manabits can be released, moved, and otherwise handles like we handle money now.

The key thing that will be needed is a way to reliably make mana storage devices that hold specific amounts of mana and do it repeatedly. This is comparable to minting coins, but could be made of things other than metals (noble or otherwise). Probably some manner of crystal to keep a theme going and to differentiate it from coinage.

These storage devices have to be made to hold the a fixed amount of mana within them, either through ritual or through a relationship between mass and power storable. This process needs to be repeatable -- as in one can keep makinmg these storage devices for a reasonable fare.

It would be prefered that they are as close to identical as possible, so that it is easy to recognize not only what they are but their capacity. Labelling, appearance, shape are all options here. If everyone generates mana, it might be that the storages devices are regulated by the rulers to keep things honest.

The more math nerd of me would note that binary would be the most efficient system for having storage devices to hold value for the purposes of commerce. There should also be some large capacity ones for the purpose of being a vault of mana.

The Nature of Magic and the Manaconomy

In our world, the noble metal gold tends to be used as a standard for money. You can't really make it effectively, you can only mine what's present. Plus, there is only so much of it to go around.

Back to the manaconomy ... how it will continue will depend on how magic and mana interact with your world. To be useful as an ongoing economic resource, a person's natural mana will have to rechage over time. Basically your paycheck -- a basic income if you will. But what of the world's magic supply?

This leads to savings. We know that some manner of device will be needed to store mana -- if not as a centralized invention, then as personal ones. Are these devices available enough to people so that they can spend time effectively saving mana for a big purchase? This will have influence on larger purchases -- can people reliably save or will this become a society that pays off things by the time period?

But Why Manabit?

There are three main reasons why I can think of readily to use mana as the currency of choice as opposed to something physical.

The first is that material transmutation and/or conjuration is a common thing. The potential ability to just summon the money you want to buy things will rapidly devalue the value of it unless the ratio of mana to money is a well-known thing. Mana cannot be conjured up from nothing, but possibly drawn from the planet and from yourself. Thus it is a good standard to base it off of because there is only so much of it. By using mana as a currency, one skips that intermediate step of conjuring cash and repeatedly throwing a physical-based economy in flux.

The second premise is that the entire society is innately magical the same way ours is innately technological. Mana is the lifeblood of the world and needing man to power just about everything means that there is always a market for it. It might have started with magic slaves to power things for others, but time has allowed the residents to use magic in the same way we use electricity -- namely batteries in this case. Yes, a person can live simply and charge their own devices themselves, but there are people that want more.

The third reason is that good coin metal is scarse and (better) used for other things. Gold is better used to line cauldrons for certain magics while silver might be best to inlay weapons with to fight monsters. Other precious metals have their uses in other things that keep the world running and are needed there so just having a large stockpile of it for backing currency is less practical. We could use gems, but they are useful as reagents in magic and are often consumed by higher rituals.

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