Sunday, November 26, 2017

Size of Gold Coins

First, I'll say a word or two about the costs of things associated with my pricing table, particularly armor. Here, for example, is a list of armor I posted on my blog back in 2011:

For some people these prices are high.  Let me explain why they're not.

The first-edition D&D game (and other early games, for all I know), established the weight of a gold coin as 1/10th of a pound (presumed avoirdupois, about 453 grams).  This was convenient for calculating weight, but anyone with experience in numismatics knows that 45 grams would be a ridiculous weight for a coin in circulation.  The South African Krugerrand, comparatively, weighs 33.93 grams.  The gold Brittania weighs 31.103 grams (one troy ounce).  Neither are used in circulation.  They are bullion coins.

The British gold sovereign, on the other hand, weighs 7.98 grams, a little more than one quarter the Brittania. It would take nearly 57 of these to equal a D&D pound.  The sovereign is no longer used as circulating currency now, and probably wasn't much between 1604 and 1816, so we couldn't call it a premier coin in Europe during the Middle Ages or Renaissance.  A more common gold coin was the Venetian ducat - which in the 13th century averaged only 3.5 grams.  That's about 13 ducats per old D&D gold coin, in weight.

I've settled on the gold content of my gold coins at 3.57 grams of gold.  They're mixed with 3.43 grams of silver (the value of the silver being discounted by state law), making a coin in my world 7 grams in weight ~ the purity of which can be checked by magic, so there's no danger of the alloy being modified to cheapen the hard value of the coins.  One benefit of a D&D world.

Comparing the gold in one of my gold coins ( with that of the old D&D system (, means that 1 = 12.69

The splinted mail above, listed at 473 g.p., is actually reasonable, the equivalent of 37.3 on the old Player's Handbook equipment table.  Looking at the Player's Handbook, I see splinted mail listed at 80 g.p. That would be more than a thousand in my system.

Moreover, it means that I technically give more than 12 x.p. per gold D&D coin ... except that I give considerable less gold than the old game did, as I like to keep my players poor.

Anyway, just food for thought.  This post was inspired by a post I read on The Gaming Den, where the first poster noted, "We know that D&D prices for stuff in chunks of gold is nuts ..."

No, not really.  Just the result of poor designers not doing their homework.


Fuzzy Skinner said...

The oddly high, yet nice and round, weight of coins is probably something that people stick with for the same reason that they stick with a ten-coin (or more rarely, 100-coin) exchange rate: it's a lot easier to remember and calculate on the fly, especially when hauling hundreds or thousands of the things. The uniform size and shape of said coins is probably kept for the same reason - although it was a bit sloppy of the writers of the early rules to set the weight of each coin at 0.1 pounds, and then state in the same paragraph that said coins are the same size and shape as an American half-dollar piece.

For a fantasy game, it's easy enough to hand-wave the value and size of all coins this way, just like it's easy to stick to round numbers in other areas. (I admit I'm guilty of this; my own setting has months that are exactly 30 days long, because at the time I didn't feel that it was necessary to do otherwise if I was creating the planet from scratch.) But in a game based in the real world, like your own, this can certainly add another layer of immersion for the "Alphas" you describe in the post following.

James said...

I miss Google Plus letting me "+1" a post, because there are several posts where I have nothing to add, but want to say "someone is reading and is interested."

Alexis Smolensk said...

Then let's make an agreement. Where you see a post like that, write,


In the comments. And I'll understand. Do it on as many posts as you like.

JB said...


Charles Taylor (Charles Angus) said...

My response would be that prices are relative to purchasing power. What's the annual income of a labourer, or a tradesman, or a lower landed gentry / knight?

In 14th century England, a knight had an income of at least £40. A man-at-arms made about 1s. a day on campaign. A labourer made about 2d. a day. A complete armour would start at £4 for a very basic model (gauntlets, bacinet, mail shirt), plus maybe another pound for the arming coat. Add on plate armour over top - brigandine, vambrace, and rerebrace, probably another £3 at least. So your entry level "plate mail" could be estimated at ~£8, or about 20% of the poorest knight's income, or 160 days wages for a man-at-arms, or about 960 days wages for a labourer.

Now, I realize your world is set some two hundred years later. Armour would be less expensive, as it was less useful, and industry had advanced. But the point is, armour was expensive. Unless a labourer is making less than half a gp a day, it doesn't seem high at all. Even if they were, the prices I quoted would be the entry-level unit. No leg armour, for instance (it doesn't seem to have been universally used).

D&D has always really underpriced armour.

Archon said...

It's interesting you should say this; the 3.5 gold coin is 50 to the pound.

Much closer to real values (but a easier to calculate number).