Home > Uncategorized > To haters of D&D’s ridiculous big gold pieces

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.

  1. December 31, 2011 at 2:23 pm

    Nothing wrong with PCs finding 24lb – or 0.1 lb – gold coins in a treasure hoard, the issue is their use as a daily currency in the campaign setting. By using 100 standard gp to the lb, that 24lb gold disk is worth a decent 2400gp, or 6 suits of platemail, and a huge pile of gold is a suitable quest object for high level adventurers, not a nuisance.

    • January 1, 2012 at 6:24 am

      The appropriate size for a gp is an evergreen problem, in which a lot of people seem to object to 0.1 lbs purely because they have no experience with such large coins.

      In fact I agree that the weight/value ratio of the gp looks totally insane, and much more so that of the cp. It stretches my credulity that copper would be used as a coining metal at all. But that’s a relatively small problem compared with trying to imagine a working economy that would give rise to the D&D price lists of any edition. Grappling hooks in the 1e Dungeoneers’ Survival Guide, for instance (a volume dedicated to introducing “realistic” spelunking to the game) cost 70sp and weigh 70 coins, so either they’re made of silver or the relative values of silver and iron are much closer in D&D land than on Earth.

      But none of that has to be a problem if we can pretend there really is some sense behind it. What if the price lists are right? Most of all, what if every ne’er-do-well conjurer really does need a couple of thousand pieces of gold to learn his second spell (the gp/xp conversion being the most alien element of the whole economy, of course)? Then there is no ultra-high value material in the world, that would allow you to carry a fortune in your pocket. There are historical precedents for that situation, even if none of them involve gold. Then labour is very expensive compared with materials, which is true in our own world. So treasure piles have a low value-density and are inconvenient to shift, and the dungeon-puzzle is only half done when you’ve murdered everyone inside – I’m OK with that. It’s an emergent problem as you go up in level. Maybe the solution, then, is that it encourages high level mages to research spells for heavy lifting (leading to flying islands, maybe, which are simply dungeons so full of loot that the mage decided it was easiest to bring the whole thing?), or maybe higher-level adventurers simply stop grubbing after coins, in favour of magical treasures, on purely practical grounds – they leave mere gold behind.

    • January 1, 2012 at 7:04 am

      …actually, if we regard the weight of gold as a creative spur, it might be that it’s not heavy enough. I strongly dislike bags of holding and Tenser’s floating disk not because they’re unrealistic but because they’re unproblematic: they take a potential challenge and neutralize it, rendering it boring in the process. I dislike them because they don’t encourage me to imagine bigger.

      What if, instead, you had to shift your giant gold statues and petrified-into-gold-ore former companions into the astral plane to get them out of the dungeon, where they might attract spiritual nasties, or what if you could only render big things weightless – say, the size of a sleigh, and then a certain curious compulsion to generosity was a side-effect of the magic?

      • January 1, 2012 at 9:33 am

        I tend not to use bags of holding, personally, so the weight of coinage can be an issue. But at low level I can use copper, I’m using 50 copper pennies’ weight to the lb, close to the actual weight of the pre-decimal UK copper penny (wikipedia says 9.4 grams), a big coin, which were worth 12 to the silver shilling, 240 to the gold sovereign.

        Using AD&D 200cp=20sp=1gp; IMC 200 cp = 4 lb = 1 gp value. So you have to deal with 4 lb weight for every gp you want to extract from the dungeon, and no silly coin weights or gold being often worth less than the stuff you buy with it.

  1. July 31, 2011 at 3:45 pm
  2. January 21, 2012 at 12:27 am

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