OSR: Dragon Banks

Yellow dragons are Creation's greatest bankers. Silver dragons often try, and copper dragons often set up banks that deliberately fail, but yellow dragons have a true talent for finance. Dragons might be neurotic lizards the size of cargo ships but their neuroses make them excellent at risk assessment. Their cold and ageless perspective makes them good at speculation. Their obsessive hoarding drive focuses their intellect to a razor edge.

No one knows who taught them. But perhaps it happened like this...
Jaemin Kim
"Very nice hoard you have," she said, casually eyeing the enormous pile of gold.
The dragon rumbled. Not quite agreement, but not a threat either. A hoard, it seemed to imply, was never 'very nice'. It could always be larger.
"Would you like to increase it?"
This was familiar music to the dragon. It slowly opened one eye, like a curtain being pulled back across a vast fire-lit stage, and stared at her. "Speak," it said.

"Only if you swear not to eat me," she said, crossing her arms and trying to look impressive. It didn't work.

The dragon considered the idea. It hadn't planned on eating the prisoner. "Speak, and if you speak truth, I will not eat you." I could always throw her into the scorpion pit, it thought, or squish her with one claw. And she'll starve to death eventually. All the rest did.

"Well, uh, you see, all this gold you have... it isn't really doing anything," the woman continued.
"It is being my hoard," the dragon replied slowly, wearily. "That's what it's for."
"Right, but what if you could use this gold to make more gold?" 
"Are you an alchemist," the dragon said peevishly, "because the last alchemist I met..."
"I'm not an alchemist," she said, as the dragon continued.
"...and it turned all green and runny the next day..."
"I'm not an alchemist."
"...boiling oil, and they never found his head. Well, what are you then?"
"I work for a bank. Well, more accurately, my father owns a bank."
"What is... a bank?" the dragon asked, its giant orange-white eye staring at her, unblinking.

"A bank," the woman explained, "is a large secure building. People who wanted to protect their gold put it inside the bank. That way, they can't be robbed or accidentally lose their wealth. The bank keeps very good records and always knows how much a person deposits."

"Like tribute," the dragon said. It understood tribute. People gave it gold all the time, usually to prevent the dragon from ransacking their cities. Sometimes people too, which is how he'd ended up with this prisoner. She was talking a lot more than the usual prisoners and screaming a lot less. This intrigued him.

"Not... quite. You see, the bank gives them the gold back if they ask."
"Gives it... back."
"Because it's their gold." She could see the dragon was struggling with the idea. "But don't worry. Most of the time the gold doesn't leave the bank."
"If two people are using the bank, and one wants to pay the other, they can go to the bank and say, 'give this man ten gold coins'. The bank could hand the first man ten gold coins, and he could hand it to the second man, and the second man could hand it back to the bank. Or..."
"Or the bank could just say it has been done and... move the gold from one pile to another. Cunning. Yes, I see," the dragon said. 

"Except there aren't really piles of gold," the  woman said.
This was the part the woman was worried about. She had the dragon's full attention now. It was like sitting in front of a loaded ballista. "Because," she said carefully, "the bank didn't really keep the money. It kept some and gave the rest out as a loan."

"What is... a loan?" the dragon asked. It liked the sound of the word. A. Loan. Alone. As in 'desolated and abandoned.' It had a pleasant ring to it.

"Imagine someone needs money to build a flour mill," the woman explained. "It takes a lot of money to start, but once it gets going the mill produces a steady stream of flour, and therefore gold. But without the starting funds it never gets built. So this person goes to a bank and says, 'If you give me ten gold pieces today, in a year's time, I will give you fifteen gold pieces back.' "

"And... people do?" the dragon said, incredulous. 
"All the time."
"What if they don't? What if the person who took the loan spends the money on... human things. Pants," it said, grasping for something a human could possible desire. "And does not build the mill? Your bank looks very foolish then."

"Well, perhaps," the woman said carefully, "but to get this loan, the mill-builder had to give the bank more than his word. He also promised to give the bank his house or his treasures if he didn't pay back the loan. So if he fails to pay, the bank takes his house or his treasures or his children and sells them. And," she said hastily, "that is worth more than the loan."

"So... the bank wants people to fail?"
"Not quite. I can take time to sell houses. People can vanish. There are sometimes losses. It's tidier if the loan is repaid, but the bank makes money either way."

The dragon closed its eye. The woman could hear it thinking. It sounded like a distant thunderstorm. After ten long minutes it opened its eye again, and this time it glowed with inner fire.

"How much gold is in your bank?" it asked.
"About one hundred thousand gold pieces," she said. The dragon's nostrils flared. 
"One hundred thousand! A mighty hoard In one convenient building?"
"Oh no. Most of the money is loaned or invested."
"Ah," the dragon said, "more pants." It understood vestments.
"Not... quite. You remember the mill?"
The dragon, who could remember when humans were hairy apes that fell out of trees a lot, considered a sharp reply, then decided it had been a long enough day. "Yes," it said.
"Well, if the bank knew that the mill would make money, it could avoid the entire loan business and build the mill itself, or pay someone to do it. If the bank invested ten gold pieces it could make back fifty in a few years, easily. More profitable than a loan."

"But what if someone burns the mill?" the dragon said. It had burned a lot of mills. They made a satisfying fluttering sound and sometimes exploded. 
"Wars are always a problem, it's true. But the bank can pay mercenaries and make loans to kings and try to keep the peace. Or..."
"Or?" the dragon asked.
"Well, if the bank was a dragon, then anyone who who wanted to burn the dragon's mills or tried to rob the dragon's bank would probably reconsider."

The gears inside the dragon's mind stopped. Heavy counterweights of thought shifted and clunked into new grooves. Unused tracts of neurons fired into life with startling speed. Dragons had never needed to evolve. There aren't many things that can pressure an immortal reincarnating lizard-god from the dawn of creation. But they could adapt very, very quickly when they needed to.

"You could have two hoards," the woman was saying. "A private hoard with the finest gold pieces, just for you, and the bank-hoard, your reserves. You could build a great banking-house in every city. And..."
"The humans... would do this voluntarily?"
"Yes. At first it would be a sort of tribute, but when everyone realizes the benefits they will rush to give you their gold."

"But... if a bank has all this money, why is the bank not a king?" the dragon asked slowly. It already had the shape of the answer in its mind.
"Because kings die all the time. The bank stays. Sometimes, the bank can even chose the king."

This matched the dragon's expectations. It had eaten a lot of kings over the centuries, usually after a proclamation went out to the tune of, 'Slay the dragon and win a princess.' Kings always seemed to want money. Loans. It could give them a loan. And if they didn't pay it could eat them... and everyone would think it was right and proper.

"How... do we begin?" the dragon said carefully, slowly rising from its enormous treasure hoard. It shook a small avalanche of gold from its wings.

Later that afternoon, the dragon landed on the roof of the largest bank in the nearby city. The woman hopped off one scaly arm, climbed into the building, and politely informed her father that he would need to take an early retirement. The dragon spent the first few days memorizing the ledgers, fixing inconsistencies, and tracking down defaulters and deadbeats. A few people took all their money out of the bank and fled; the dragon let them go. After a week, things returned to normal. After a month, the bank and the city were flourishing.
Bastien Lecouffe Deharme

The First National Dragon Bank

The default bank in my setting (in the county of Pellamy) is owned by Sicorax the Mercantile (formerly Sicorax the Merciless). All major cities in the county (Elderstone, Boyer, etc.) have a banking house with the dragon's shield on it. Sicorax lives somewhere up in the mountains and hasn't been seen for decades. Her children (Melsworth, Korbal, and Zut) are more active, and serve as roving auditors. They sometimes conduct customer satisfaction surveys and oddly enough, everyone surveyed by a yellow dragon the size of an aeroplane reports complete satisfaction.

Like all yellow dragons, Sicorax and her brood have an affinity for stone. They can swim through it like a fish swims through water, appearing stealthily and suddenly in the middle of cities or from bare stone cliffs. They can also vomit stone cannonballs at tremendous speed. If you are handed a carved stone sphere covered in scales, you have been marked by the Dragon Bank. Pay up or expect a cannonball through your window.

Such threats are rarely needed. The Dragon Bank is prosperous, if a touch ungenerous. Other banks offer better rates and more polite service, but none can match the Dragon Bank's deep reserves and deeper security. Adventurers and the newly enriched are encouraged to bank their gold. The sudden injection of thousands of gold pieces into a limited economy can cause chaos; the Dragon Bank likes things tidy and quietly prosperous.

Each account comes with a unique brass identity card. The card allows the bearer to draw funds from any Dragon Bank house. Provisions for next-of-kin access or distribution after death are available for a small fee. Everything at the Dragon Bank has a small fee: coin counting, coin washing, jewelry smelting, special storage for magical items, deposits over a certain amount, deposits under a certain amount, withdrawals on days of the week ending in "y", etc, etc, etc. 

The Dragon Bank hires unusual people for unusual tasks. Tracking down ghost currency. Espionage. Magical item retrieval. They can even loan you Adventure Capital to fund your next mission.


  1. Have you been reading the Dungeonomics column from Critical-Hits.com? Sounds like one of her ideas.

    1. Nope, this one's been in my settings for years and years.

    2. They're worth checking out. Wizard battles fought over flocks of sheep, etc.

  2. This brought me entirely too much happiness.

  3. Stolen. The First Dragon Bank of Felladorne thanks you.