In the aftermath of a devastated world, a certain form of currency would definitely be necessary to define items of value. Most agree that a system of barter will definitely be the first form of trade that reemerges once the rebuilding begins but who is to say a carrot is worth ten potatoes? This is why I feel the need for a new form of consistent currency to be in the picture.
For a game world, an economic model that operated purely on bartering and trading goods would be extremely difficult to pull-off. There has to be at least a basic value system in place in order to base all the other items or services in the world. Imagine having to compare the value of a salvaged AK-47 assault rifle with the value of a healthy un-mutated cow? Also value varies between different people so a culture that lives near a stream would have a different value placed on clean water than a culture that lives on a dry rocky mountainside.
This is probably why for my post-apocalyptic world, I’d need at least a rudimentary form of new government or authority that have reestablished a working economy and a simple banking system to mint new coins that are unique to the citizens of this government. For the purpose of this idea, I’d imagine a large settlement or a city that produces ‘Ducats’ as their currency. These coins might be worthless to survivors that live beyond the influence of the city but if they wish to do trade within the city, these Ducats would come into play.
The Ducat has to be;
- made from a material that is difficult to obtain.
- Difficult to reproduce (counterfeit)
- Durable (unlike paper currency)
- Consistent in size and weight
- Can be manufactured in a regulated manner
Other suggested forms of currency;
Bullets and ammunition as the processes for making bullets might be lost in the destruction of the old world. In a world where Might makes Right, this would inadvertently make any surviving military force the main economic force as well (especially since soldiers may retain the knowledge of manufacturing the bullets).
The Fallout universe utilizes Nuka-Cola bottlecaps as their main currency which is also a pretty good choice as it does fit the requirements for a form of currency. It is hard to counterfeit as making caps might have been lost, its durable and consistent in size and weight. Also in game-rationale, it is also light, small and durable.
Cigarettes, canned food stuff are also possible but ultimately, it is one currency without a sustainable source. A currency which only gets rarer and rarer as time progresses would not be suitable for any long-term economy.
Clean drinkable water is also a legitimate contender to become post-apocalyptic currency, especially in a dry wasteland type of world but it also suffers from the fact that it isn’t very sustainable. One could argue that the only existing water treatment facility is under the control of the ruling authority therefore they control the value of water and trade. The only major beef in using water as a proper currency for a game would be the logistics of carrying around sufficient water to trade unless of course water consumption is controlled by government issued water vouchers and then THAT could be the currency.
Everything else would be a trade of objects of value or services of value. Even the act of selling sexual favors wouldn’t be uncommon. Slavery will definitely come back onto the scene but all of these cannot really be considered as proper currency.
Over time of course, things would progress from bartering to currency with real value (such as my Ducats) to currency with an insured value, (such as money value that is pegged to the value of gold) to credit (non-existent money) and we’d be right back where we started before the apocalypse.