To haters of D&D’s ridiculous big gold pieces
So pretty much everyone who’s serious and historicist about D&D has weighed in by now about (a) why D&D should follow a silver standard, and (b) why the coins in D&D are absurdly big. And in general I agree – prices for stuff in D&D seem pretty crazy, given that you only get 10gp to the lb.*
But here‘s a horde of 11th century Chinese coins (mostly copper, some silver), and they’re.. about 22 to the lb. And there’s 4 tons of them, enough to justify that train of pack mules parked at the dungeon entrance. And these Ptolemaic commemorative coins are about 16 to the lb. So I started to wonder.
It turns out that in 1613 some 1,000-mohur gold coins were struck in India for Jahangir, at a weight just shy of 24lbs each, and a diameter a little over 8 inches. This being part of a tradition of giant gold coin minting, that also produced 2.25 and 4.5 lb (100 and 200 tola) coins from the Delhi mint, comparable with the 9.25 lb, 1,000 mithqal coins** found at the Abbasid court.
And then we get to the contemporary scene, and of course things just get silly. 230lbs? A camel could carry 4. I’m guessing both the Canadians and the Chinese are preparing for some kind of Ragnarok event, where they have to pay weregild to the Frost Giants.
Still, I can’t shake that image of Asas, Babur’s court jester, dancing about in glee, looking like Flavor Flav or Chacrinha, barely able to hold up his giant gold medallion. And I like the idea of a treasure so inappropriately sized, so inconvenient, that the party seriously considers just leaving it in the dungeon they’ve recently unpeopled planning to come back later, either with saws and chisels or with a train of elephants or, quite possibly, with a land deed and bricks and mortar, deciding to build their new home around it. And now I’m thinking about a Return of the Once and Future King type story, where refugees from your ancient fantasy land start to appear in the modern day, and they insist on being paid in Australian nuggets, not trusting fiddly little Krugerrands.
Like I said, serious posting resumes in September.
* But then, the vanilla D&D setting is pretty crazy all over – I figure it’s somewhere on the rough Atlantis/El Dorado border before the fall, and children really do play with gold coins in the streets. Or maybe since the doors to the Dungeon Dimensions opened and every monster has gold teeth attached, D&D just occupies a brief period of efflorescence between the strait, narrow and muddy path of pseudo-medieval virtue and the gilded halls of hell where the damned poop diamonds for all eternity.
** alas unattested in the metal today, and therefore mythical. Yeah, yeah.