The Ecstasy of Gold: Money in RPGs

Posted: 2024-01-11
Last Modified: 2024-01-11
Word Count: 2149
Tags: i-have-opinions rpg

Table of Contents

Money in D&D

For a while now I’ve been dissatisfied by the way The World’s Most Popular1 Role-Playing Game(tm) has handled commodity money.

In D&D, 1 gold piece (gp) equals 10 silver pieces (sp) equals 100 copper pieces (cp). Electrum pieces (ep) are worth 5 sp and platinum pieces (pp) are worth 10 gp, but they’re not as common. 4th Edition tried to add “astral diamonds” as a currency above platinum, but they never caught on.

Meanwhile, in the modern world, gold is worth about 80 times more than silver per ounce, and copper’s price is negligible compared to silver. In the D&D world we can posit that gold is far more common than in ours. In any world we can assume that copper (or bronze in other games) is more of a representative money, i.e. ten copper pieces can be exchanged for one silver piece.2

So, problem solved, right?

Not quite. This problem of cheap gold, it tasks me. It tasks me, and I shall “fix” it.

Making Gold Great Again

I’m not going to do a survey of real-life or game values of gold and silver. I will only note the following:

All this points me to an alternate currency scheme for D&D and similar games:

  1. Convert to a silver standard, i.e. all prices in silver pieces or fractions of a silver piece. We’ll still use “sp” as the symbol for a silver piece.

  2. Redefine a gold “talent” as worth 50 silver pieces. Only nobles deal directly in gold, though, so most common transactions will use silver.

Our “reformed” coinage then becomes:

Coin Symbols G sp bp
gold talent G 1.000 50.0 500
silver shilling sp, ss, $ 0.020 1.0 10
copper penny cp, p 0.002 0.1 1

A “talent” is a measurement of weight equal to that of a standard coin (0.02 lb.). A gold coin weighing a talent is only about half the volume of a silver piece, due to gold’s higher density.

We can then add additional coinage, expressed in silver.

Coin Symbol Wt. sp
platinum piece pp 1.000 100.00
gold doubloon dG 2.000 100.00
pound sterling £ 50.000 50.00
electrum piece ep 1.000 25.00
piece of eight eG 0.125 12.50
copper halfpenny hp 0.500 0.05

A “pound sterling” is literally a pound of silver. It’s mainly used as a currency of account, on bank notes and ledgers. Who would be mad enough to walk around with pounds of silver …?

Electrum is a natural alloy of gold, silver, and other metals, generally paler than gold.

A “piece of eight” is literally a piece of a gold doubloon cut into eighths.

Other Solutions

Other RPGs I’ve seen use more abstract measures of money:

  1. Some games move away from commodity money to representative money, where all prices are stated as multiples (or fractions) of a dollar, pound, franc, mark, or credit. This avoids the silver vs. gold question, but still requires players to track said currency. (Examples: Traveller, most games set in the modern era or near future.)

  2. Credit Rating provides a number to roll against if the player wants to make a large purchase; failure indicates they can’t afford it. (Examples: Call of Cthulhu, Everywhen.)

  3. Wealth is a small number reflecting (usually) the order of magnitude of a character’s net worth. Thus a Wealth of 3 indicates someone twice (or ten times) as Wealthy as someone of Wealth 2. Instead of counting every guilder and florin, those with Wealth can afford to spend any amount well within their Wealth level. Only a big purchase, like a sailing ship, threatens to reduce their Wealth. (Example: 7th Sea)

In both cases “small” purchases as defined by the GM aren’t tracked at all, and in practice PCs may buy any reasonably common item without a second thought. Both mechanics also work best in Early Modern to near-future scenarios, as most residents of those eras have steady jobs (or inherited wealth) an easy access to shops where wonders like flashlights and binoculars are commonplace.

On the other hand, D&D and many other fantasy RPGs assume that characters own only what they can carry, and that innovations like banks, credit cards, and mass production are at least centuries away. D&D in particular began as a game of resource tracking, including money.3 Thus tracking gold, silver, and copper makes sense. That said, most DMs and GMs fudge things like the cost of daily food, clothing and shelter.

Still, if some enterprising DM wants to retrofit a Wealth or even Credit Rating system onto D&D, I’d be interested in seeing it.

Appendix A: 5e SRD Prices in Silver

Armor

Armor Cost (sp) Weight (lb)
Light armor
Padded 50 8
Leather 100 10
Studded leather 450 13
Medium armor
Hide 100 12
Chain shirt 500 20
Scale mail 500 45
Breastplate 4,000 20
Half plate 7,500 40
Heavy armor
Ring mail 300 40
Chain mail 750 55
Splint 2,000 60
Plate 15,000 65
Shield
Shield 100 6

Weapons

Name Cost (sp) Weight (lb)
Simple Melee Weapons
Club 1 2
Dagger 20 1
Greatclub 2 10
Handaxe 50 2
Javelin 5 2
Light Hammer 20 2
Mace 50 4
Quarterstaff 2 4
Sickle 10 2
Spear 10 3
Simple Ranged Weapons
Crossbow, light 250 5
Dart 5 ¼
Shortbow 10 2
Sling
Martial Melee Weapons
Battleaxe 100 4
Flail 100 2
Glaive 200 6
Greataxe 300 7
Greatsword 500 6
Halberd 200 6
Lance 100 6
Longsword 150 3
Maul 100 10
Morningstar 150 4
Pike 50 18
Rapier 250 2
Scimitar 250 3
Shortsword 100 2
Trident 50 4
War pick 50 2
Warhammer 150 2
Whip 20 3
Martial Ranged Weapons
Blowgun 100 1
Crossbow, hand 750 3
Crossbow, heavy 500 18
Longbow 500 2
Net 10 3

Adventuring Gear

Name Cost (sp) Weight (lb)
Abacus 20 2
Acid (vial) 250 1
Alchemist’s fire (flask) 500 1
Ammunition
– Arrows (20) 10 1
– Blowgun needles (20) 10 1
– Crossbow bolts (20) 10
– Sling bullets (20) 0.4
Antitoxin (vial) 500
Arcane focus
– Crystal 100 1
– Orb 200 3
– Rod 100 2
– Staff 100 4
– Wand 50 1
Backpack 20 5
Ball Bearings (bag) 10 2
Barrel 20 70
Basket 4 2
Bedroll 10 7
Bell 10
Blanket 5 3
Block and Tackle 10 5
Book 250 5
Bottle, glass 20 2
Bucket 0.5 2
Caltrops (bag of 20) 10 2
Candle 0.1
Case, crossbow bolt 10 1
Case, map or scroll 10 1
Chain (10 feet) 50 10
Chalk (1 piece) 0.1
Chest 50 25
Climber’s kit 250 12
Clothes, common 5 3
Clothes, costume 50 4
Clothes, fine 150 6
Clothes, traveler’s 20 4
Component pouch 250 2
Crowbar 20 5
Druidic focus
– Sprig of mistletoe 10
– Totem 10
– Wooden staff 50 4
– Yew wand 100 1
Fishing tackle 10 4
Flask or tankard 0.2 1
Grappling hook 20 4
Hammer 10 3
Hammer, sledge 20 10
Healer’s kit 50 3
Holy Symbol
– Amulet 50 1
– Emblem 50
– Reliquary 50 2
Holy water (flask) 250 1
Hourglass 250 1
Hunting trap 50 25
Ink (1 ounce bottle) 100
Ink pen 0.2
Jug or pitcher 0.2 25
Ladder (10-foot) 1 1
Lamp 5 2
Lantern, bullseye 100 2
Lantern, hooded 50 1
Lock 100 1
Magnifying glass 1,000
Manacles 20 6
Mess kit 2 1
Mirror, steel 50 ½
Oil (flask) 1 1
Paper (one sheet) 2
Parchment (one sheet) 1
Perfume (vial) 50
Pick, miner’s 20 10
Piton 0.5 ¼
Poison, basic (vial) 1,000
Pole (10-foot) 0.5 7
Pot, iron 20 10
Potion of healing 500 ½
Pouch 5 1
Quiver 10 1
Ram, portable 40 35
Rations (1/day) 5 2
Robes 10 4
Rope, hempen (50 ft) 10 10
Rope, silken (50 ft) 100 5
Sack 0.1 ½
Scale, merchant’s 50 3
Sealing wax 5
Shovel 20 5
Signal whistle 0.5
Signet ring 20
Soap 0.2
Spellbook 500 3
Spikes, iron (10) 10 5
Spyglass 10,000 1
Tent, two-person 20 20
Tinderbox 5 1
Torch 0.1 1
Vial 10
Waterskin 2 5
Whetstone 0.1 1

Tools

Name Cost (sp) Weight (lb)
Artisan’s tools
– Alchemist’s supplies 500 8
– Brewer’s supplies 200 9
– Calligrapher’s supplies 100 5
– Carpenter’s tools 80 6
– Cartographer’s tools 150 6
– Cobbler’s tools 50 5
– Cook’s utensils 10 8
– Glassblower’s tools 300 5
– Jeweler’s tools 250 2
– Leatherworker’s tools 50 5
– Mason’s tools 100 8
– Painter’s supplies 100 5
– Potter’s tools 100 3
– Smith’s tools 200 8
– Tinker’s tools 500 10
– Weaver’s tools 10 5
– Woodcarver’s tools 10 5
– Disguise kit 250 3
– Forgery kit 150 5
Gaming set
– Dice set 10
– Playing card set 50
Herbalism kit 50 3
Musical instrument
– Bagpipes 300 6
– Drum 60 3
– Dulcimer 250 10
– Flute 20 1
– Lute 350 2
– Lyre 300 2
– Horn 30 2
– Pan flute 120 2
– Shawm 20 1
– Viol 300 1
Navigator’s tools 250 2
Poisoner’s kit 500 2
Thieves’ tools 250 1

Mounts

Name Cost (sp) Movement Carrying Capacity (lb)
Camel 500 50 ft. 480
Donkey or mule 80 40 ft. 420
Elephant 2,000 40 ft. 1,320
Horse, draft 500 40 ft. 540
Horse, riding 750 60 ft. 480
Mastiff 250 40 ft. 195
Pony 300 40 ft. 225
Warhorse 4,000 60 ft. 540

Tack, Harness, and Drawn Vehicles

Name Cost (sp) Weight (lb)
Barding ×4 ×2
Bit and bridle 20 1
Carriage 1,000 600
Cart 150 200
Chariot 2,500 100
Feed (per day) 0.5 10
Saddle
– Exotic 600 40
– Military 200 30
– Pack 50 15
– Riding 100 25
Saddlebags 40 8
Sled 200 300
Stabling (per day) 5
Wagon 350 400

Water Vehicles

Name Cost (sp) Speed
Galley 300,000 4 mph
Keelboat 30,000 1 mph
Longship 100,000 3 mph
Rowboat 500 1½ mph
Sailing Ship 100,000 2 mph
Warship 250,000 2½ mph

Trade Goods

Cost (sp) Goods
0.1 1 lb. of wheat
0.2 1 lb. of flour or one chicken
0.5 1 lb. of salt
1 1 lb. of iron or 1 sq. yd. of canvas
5 1 lb. of copper or 1 sq. yd. of cotton cloth
10 1 lb. of ginger or one goat
20 1 lb. of cinnamon or pepper, or one sheep
30 1 lb. of cloves or one pig
50 1 sq. yd. of linen
100 1 sq. yd. of silk or one cow
150 1 lb. of saffron or one ox

The following changed to reflect the new values of silver and gold.

Cost (sp) Metal
50 1 lb. of silver
2,500 1 lb. of gold
5,000 1 lb. of platinum

Expenses

Lifestyle Expenses

Type Cost (sp)
Wretched
Squalid 1
Poor 2
Modest 10
Comfortable 20
Wealthy 40
Aristocratic minimum 100

Food, Drink, and Lodging

Name Cost (sp)
Ale
– Gallon 2
– Mug 0.4
Banquet (per person) 100
Cheese, hunk 1
Inn stay (per day)
– Squalid 0.7
– Poor 1
– Modest 5
– Comfortable 8
– Wealthy 20
– Aristocratic 40
Meals (per day)
– Squalid 0.3
– Poor 0.6
– Modest 3
– Comfortable 5
– Wealthy 8
– Aristocratic 20
Meat, chunk 3
Wine
– Common (pitcher) 2
– Fine (bottle) 100

Services

Name Cost (sp)
Coach cab
– Between towns 0.3 sp per mile
– Within a city 0.1 sp
Hireling
– Skilled 20 sp per day
– Untrained 2 sp per day
Messenger 0.2 sp per mile
Road or gate toll 0.1 sp
Ship’s passage 1 sp per mile

  1. Sometimes marketing materials call D&D “The World’s Greatest” or “The World’s First” Role-Playing Game. I refuse to do so, as “greatest” is vague and eminently debatable, and D&D has changed so much since its original version or even Advanced D&D 2nd Edition that it’s hard to call it the same game. ↩︎

  2. Real world commodity currencies have also suffered from debasement, wherein the mint puts less gold in their “gold” and less silver in their “silver” or unscrupulous people shave the edges of coins to counterfeit new ones. We’ll ignore that problem here. ↩︎

  3. Consider, also, that in early D&D most experience points came from finding gold, not killing things (although killing things soon took over). ↩︎