The Burning Sands
Misc Setting Info
I’m using this as the official line on money in Athas, instead of the info in the book:
The game effect:
Currency in the game comes in three forms, which map to gold, silver, and copper pieces.
Sticks (gp) are thin glazed ceramic rods of 5-10 inches in length. Each stick has thin spots molded into it where it can be broken off into ten smaller pieces called bits.
Bits (sp) are the individual sections of a stick. One bit is generally equivalent to the amount of water a human requires to survive one day. This amount is usually fairly conservative – desert travel, for instance, would require more than one bit per day.
Chips (cp) are fragments of a bit. These are sometimes made separately as small, irregular chunks of glazed ceramic, but the sorcerer-kings often employ psionicists to imprint the bits with weak spots suck that carefully striking a bit with a stone will shatter it into ten equal parts.
Higher-value currencies (pp and ad) do exist, but are rarely seen in general circulation. They’re often in the form of small glazed discs imprinted by psionicists with a specific signature, to make them difficult to counterfeit.
Water is the most valuable commodity on Athas, and given the scarcity of metals it’s the best material for a currency (easy to separate into discrete quantities and re-combine, everyone wants it so it’s easy to trade, etc).
Since water is hard to transport in large quantities, people use ceramic “water markers” in their daily trade. Each marker can be traded in to the issuer for a fixed quantity of water. However, the value of a marker is only as good as the stability of the water source – if someone issues markers against their desert oasis and raiders capture it, the markers won’t be of much use. For this reason, almost all the markers in circulation are issued by the sorcerer-kings.
Original post is here: http://community.wizards.com/go/thread/view/75882/25671913/Water_Currency