Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Coinage in Fantasy RPGs - Why So Large?


One thing that has irked me since my early days of gaming was the 10 coins to a pound ratio in AD&D. Even in my teen years it seemed outrageously large, and I vaguely remember an issue of The Dragon from the early 80s discussing such.

Above I have a pic of some Roman coins and a US Quarter. One pound of quarters gives you 80 quarters, so a coin in AD&D is the weight of 8 quarters I (2 bucks of coins jangling in your pocket)

At 10 coins per pound, a gold coin weighs in at 1.6 ounces. That's roughly $3k in today's dollars.

The denarius (Latin pronunciation: [deːˈnaːrɪ.ʊs], pl. dēnāriī [deːˈnaːrɪ.iː]) was the standard Roman silver coin for about 450 years (211 BC to 244 AD). There were 72 denarii to the pound of, though by the end of its mintage that had lighted to 96 to a pound or (and lighter still at the end).

So, 100 coins to the pound isn't a stretch, its historically accurate. Certainly more realistic.

So, why 10 coins to the pound in AD&D 1e? I'm guessing to make retrieving the spoils a worthy effort. I just don't see the need for such heavy coinage and never have.

What are your thoughts?

Further thoughts at tonight's podcast:


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  1. Well, the weight of everything was measured in coins so having 10 coins to a pound made for easier book-keeping as well as an easier way to visualize the weight of things for matters of encumbrance.

    Or hide them. A two-handed sword weighed 250 coins? A 25 lbs sword? Really?

  2. It's a game construct. It's not meant to map reality. Wondering this is like wondering why the coinage isn't on a more realistic silver standard. All pointless. A DM can revise the coinage system to his heart's content; his players won't care because they're not looking for a currency simulator.

    1. There is doing things because it more playable and then there are things that are play arbitrary and make no sense. A 100 coins to a pounds is just as easy to use as any set of round numbers like 50, 100, 200, 250, 500, etc. Nor was it obscure information as coin collecting was a thing and one of the better encyclopedias would have a short entry on medieval or ancient coinage.

  3. One of my experimental variant games considered the 1000's of GP treasure to be generated by the OD&D treasure tables to be in the form of loot rather than coin. So it makes somewhat more sense to consider the coin weight to be a measure of the GP encumbrance with value of this loot, rather than the actual weight of a coin. Although in this case I went in the other direction, and reduced the gp loads that could be carried by people and things.

    The value indicated where the loot could be traded for coin - copper anywhere, silver at towns, gold in the cities, and platinum at the royal courts. Copper actually turned out to be pretty valuable, because it basically represented food and other supplies taken from villages - since it could be traded anywhere it could also be consumed directly by your expedition.

    Actual coinage was pretty rare, although it now became a gem/jewelry option (you didn't manage to bury your hoard of coin in time). In addition to the 1d6 sp carried by Men in OD&D.

  4. The value of the coins is based on the availability of the metal. If a world had lots of gold then you would need more to equal a smaller value. The only reason ours are sized the way they are now is tradition. Also if you look at a real gold dollar they werent very big. Easier to lose so you are better off mixing the metal with something baser to make the coin larger and easier to track.

    1. Gold is scares here because we don't have dwarves, or maybe we dont have dwarves because gold is scares. Either way you have bug coins cause dwarves mine a lot of gold.

  5. I use a silver based system where 1 silver penny = 1 sp = 1d (denarius). And there are 250 silver pennies to a pound and the coins are the size of a US Dime. I also have a coin of much greater values the Gold crown which is worth 320d which is minted 16 to 1 1b, and the coins are the size of a US Half-dollar.

    I talk about it in this equipment booklet on my website.


  6. Good point. When I was in Trier, DE last year, I marveled at how small the Roman coins were, especially compared to the Euros I carried there.


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