Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Looking at Copper Pieces in the OSR - or - It Weights How Much?!?

It seems to me that copper pieces are much like pennies - pretty worthless except in exceptional numbers, at which point weight becomes an issue. Actually, weight is a serious issue for coinage of all types in most OSR games.

Lets see - 10 coins of any metal type make a pound in most OSR systems. The 2,000 cp that were making the rounds on G+ and blogs last week would have weighed 200 pounds for 20 gp worth of spending power. I think in most campaigns I've played in, unless the party had a portable hole or a bag of holding, copper and often silver pieces were being left behind. It just wasn't worth the effort to carry it.

When you think of it, 10 coins making a pound results in some heavy coins. These coins would weigh twice as much Eisenhower Dollar Coins, which have about 20 to a pound. US Quarters are approximately 90 to a pound.

Or, to put it another way, 9 US Quarters weight the same as 1 D&D Coin.

I don't think the issue is so much 2000 coppers, but the 200 pounds of copper they represent in D&D derived games.

If we went with 100 coins a pound, those 2,000 coppers would weight just 20 pounds. Still a significant weight, but more realistic than PCs stacking 200 pounds of any type of coin.

That will be my new house rule - 100 coins to the pound, so folks can actually pick up some of the copper they come across.

Maybe, just maybe, players wont have to drop 8 pounds of gold (or 800 pounds of copper) for a suit of chainmail ;)


  1. I was working on this for a house rule recently. Silver and copper are lighter than gold and platinum. This is kind of long, but here's what I did:

    Rule of thumb: Gold and platinum weigh twice as much as silver and copper by volume.

    The weight of these coins can be an encumbrance issue in large numbers. Here's how much they weigh:

    • 1 copper =one "penny weight" = approx. 150 coins to the pound = approx. 2000 coins to stone wt. 14 lbs.)
    • 1 silver penny has approx. same specific gravity as copper. It's the same in weight.
    • 1 gold piece (assumed to be 20K yellow gold) = 15 coins per pound = 200 coins per stone wt.)
    • 10 gold weight platinum wafer weighs the same as 10 gold coins (assuming 20K yellow gold)

    Silver, gold, platinum, electrum, and any other precious metals can also be cast into ingots, and their values are the equivalent coin weight.

  2. @edgar, drop this comment on the G+side and watch chaos ensue ;)

  3. Haha. Noooo way. Here's the rest, to put it in context:

    Silver-based Monetary Standard (stolen, in large part, from Delta’s D&D Blog. Link below)

    Once again, the historical solution could serve as our game-design solution: copper coins for peasants, silver coins for the daily trade of freemen, and gold coins for transactions between kings. (http://deltasdnd.blogspot.com/2010/03/on-money.html)

    It is against the law in some places for commoners to hold gold or platinum. This means that non-nobles tend to keep gems instead.

    Copper coins are relatively common, silver is something you possess (and use for trade) if you have means, and gold is something that is used by the nobility. Other coinages (e.g., Platinum and Electrum) do not exist as coins, though platinum may be minted into small bars with a maker's mark on them. These are of varying sizes, but usually no larger than a pound in weigh. Electrum is something rare, and is more commonly an alchemical ingredient than a unit of value, though bars or ingots of it would certainly be very valuable. They would have to be converted into (at least) gold coins in order to be used as currency. A large bank or trading house could do this, probably.

    Copper and silver comes in penny weights, and are generally about the size of an American or Canadian penny.

    The quality of copper coins varies considerably, but this is expected and accepted, and does not alter their comparative value. Copper coins may actually be bronze in some cases. They are called things like groats, fennig, gersh, as (plural "asses"), and whatnot.

    Silver coins, though, are usually minted to be standard, and represent kingdoms, ports of trade, or anywhere with the size and financial institutions (e.g., merchants' guildhouse, shipping house, royal treasury, etc.). They are called kruna, shils, ara, drachma, denari, and other names.

    Gold coins are usually made by royal or imperial treasuries. Gold coins typically are about the size of an American half-dollar, perhaps an 1.5 inches across and about a tenth of an inch thick. They are called crowns, gelt, guilder, daric, and other names.

    Gold also is used as a form of communication among the high nobles. What is stamped or depicted on gold coins is as much propaganda as it is unit of value, and the phrase "Where did he get his gold?" is often used to suggest the political ties or tendencies of the person in question. This sort of talk has to do with the waxing or waning fortunes and reputation of the high nobles and royal houses, certainly, but also has to do with the reputation of the treasury in question. Some use non-gold content in their gold coinage. This enhances the hardness of the metal, certainly, but it also makes it cheaper to mint larger numbers of gold coins using less actual gold, and lowers the reputations of the minters of such coins.

    Copper, on the other hand, comes with its own signature catchphrase: "Money has no provenence," meaning "I don't care where you got it, so long as you're giving it to me." (Stolen shamelessly from Glen Cook's Annals of the Black Company).

    Platinum is, again, in the form of smallish bars, usually flat and rectangular, though certainly there are some in coin form (though they tend to be large, the size of an American silver dollar).

    Here's how they break down in terms of value and weight.

    5 cp = 1 sp
    250 cp = 50 sp = 1 gp
    2500 cp= 500 sp = 10 gp = 1 pp*
    *Again, there are no real "coins" in platinum, but platinum is measured in units of "gold weight" and the most standard platinum units are rectangular wafers worth 10 gold weight.

  4. I use the same 100 coins = 1 pound houserule. Although metals have different densities, and ancient/medieval coins were small enough that there are really morethan 100 per pound in most cases, the math is easier! Ten to the pound is just plain awkward!

  5. @Erik Tenkar I went and did it. Now off to a meeting. Let the games begin!

  6. My version from a couple months ago.


  7. This is accomplishing the same effect as the "silver standard" approach, where the prices of all items in gold pieces are interpreted as being prices in silver pieces instead. This effectively means that everyone gets to carry around much more wealth, because actual gold coins (when discovered) are ten times more valuable but have the same weight that they did before.

    But given the choice myself, I also prefer changing weights, rather than changing currency standards. I also use the Holmes era 5:1 conversion for copper to silver for my game. With these two changes, copper becomes 20 times easier to tote around, which keeps it from being left in the dungeon as junk. It also ends up having almost the exact same purchasing power and size as the historical English farthing, which acts as a nice flavor benefit.

  8. I own a few ancient Roman coins, and they are very small. Some are smaller than an American dime? I don't know what they would have been worth, but it is interesting how small they are.

    I would imagine in a fantasy world, with different kingdoms, the coins might very well be different sizes. I know, I know, a complication, but realistic. That pile of old coins you find in a dungeon just might be thousands of years old!

  9. i hink gurps or RQ had a flat amount of 500 coins per kilo which ive stuck to ever game - though i like seeing piles of fused coins in museums - not sure if more or less convenient - trying to sell old coins with say a losing king from last civil war might get u branded a traitor - a coin expertise skill might be handy

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  11. We actually worked on this last night for the Encumbrance & Equipment rule book (universal enc. system for OSR games http://www.gamersandgrognards.blogspot.com/2012/10/a-cumbersome-project-awaits.html)

    Anyway, we actually weighed up currency and are doing real world tests to see how much of what fits in a backpack. Ever notice that 0 D&D rulebooks actually give that info? C&C is the first game that seems to, and the table in the CK's Guide is flawed in a big way. So, anyhow, we came to a consensus of 25 coins to a lb, presuming for "standard" size gold/silver coins and nothing that is as small as modern U.S. currency. It seems to work, and 1250 can fit in a standard backpack. The weight threshold is actually met prior to the backpack filling to the brim. Anyhow, that is what we have come to thus far. Keep updated on the project if you're interested in that sort of rule over on the aforementioned blog.


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