[D&D] Gold vs. Silver coins

The silver standard thing is a bit setting dependent but I think Alex explains it best here. That's for fantasy England and medieval Europe. In al-Qadim, a gp also match well up to a historical gold dinar in both market value and weight, and an sp to a silver dirham. I.e. same standard, they just were more likely to actually have 1 GP than to have 10 SP.

1e and B/X has 10 coins weigh one pound (which is why Delta and LotFP want to use the silver standard),
5e has 50 coins weigh one pound,
and ACKS has 100 coins weigh one pound. 5e's econ and prices overall matches well up to ACKS (with one big difference: wealth-by-level is around 5 times higher in ACKS).

If you want to continue this in a new thread, I'll be there (these "What did you play this week" threads are pretty singular in purpose but I was really happy to be able to read some of your house rules).
I don't buy Alex's explanation because of inuition about the actual value of gold and the relative cost of living and wages in Byzantium, which the default ACKs setting is based on. I have a vague memory of an elite cavalryman being paid 12 gold coins while meager living conditions in ACKS are calculated at 3gp per month.

The unit of weight in ACKS is stone, which in the game is either 6 items, an unwieldy thing like a bow or a spear or about 10 lbs or 4.54 kg. The pure gold coin of Byzantium and late Rome was called the Solidus and weighed 4.5 grams which is almost exactly 1,000 coins to the ACKS-stone. Better yet the coin wasn't debased till later in the 11th century letting us compare it to other gold coins of equal weight.

http://www.roiw.org/2006/2006-22.pdf

This paper compares Byzantine wages with the cost of military and monastic rations. Monastic rations are assumed to be the subsistence minimum as they are close to the minimum caloric intake for an adult male (military rations cost about twice as much as they include more meat, oil and wine).

Historical
Unskilled work: 12 gold coins/year
Military ration: 6 gold coins/year
Subsistence minimum: 3.5 gold coins/year

ACKS
Unskilled work: 36 gp/year
Wretched living conditions: 12 gp/year (I take this to be subsistence minimum)
Meager living conditions: 36-144gp/year (living standard of most laborers and soldiers)

If we just take the subsistence minumum we can see that the ACKS gp is worth 0.29 Solidus, or to put is the other way, 1 Soliudus ~ 3.4 gp. Comparing the compensation for unskilled work gives us the ratio 1 Soliudus = 3 gp.

In conclusion: In ACKS the value of gold is 29-33% of the historical value. In my campaign where 1 gold coin = 10 gp the value of historical gold is 30-34% of the value in my campaign. So under these conditions (provided that the 1:10 gold:silver ratio is true, it was unpopular for coins in Byzantium because of the unstable price relative to gold) the gold standard is exactly as wrong as the silver standard.

My main gripe with the default ACKS weight system is how a piece of jewelry like a golden crown can worth thousands of gp while the gold weight is ~166gp, I want the value of a piece of jewelry to be close to the scrap metal value unless it's made with extraordinary craftsmanship.

Anyway, if you see a flaw in my reasoning here feel free to point it out.

Comments

  • Right, but did you see where he based it on silver pieces and then had gp based of the silver? He also writes: "So if you want to make ACKS function on a historical silver standard, just reduce the weight of all the coins by 66%."

    Gold pieces weighing around 5 grams is right, here is my own rationale (in Swedish) for keeping with 5e/2e/ACKS prices in our al-Qadim campaign. It looked good enough™

  • Anyway, if you see a flaw in my reasoning here feel free to point it out.
    I don't particularly disagree with any of that except the assumption that there is such a thing as "historical value of gold" that can be arbitrarily read off late Roman economics history. It is true that the overall supply of gold in the Mediterranean world remained relatively stable through the antiquity and medieval period, but that's just one half of the economic equation: the value of goods fluctuated the same as always with supply and demand, which in turn made gold more or less "valuable" based on what it could actually buy. Wage levels also changed with societal conditions through history; generally a more inequal society would mean lower wages and greater return on invested wealth, and vice versa.

    These changing factors basically mean that any particular fixed price list (particularly one that you haven't tuned to your specific setting assumptions) is going to be so unrealistic that the amount of physical gold or silver in the coinage is a minor detail in comparison.
  • NB: I tend to use an abstract commodity basket currency for D&D accounting when GMing, which I then convert into actual currencies for the benefit of the players when necessary; in other words, I don't actually calculate in dinars, I just let the players do that [grin]. I often call this abstract accounting currency the "rupee"; it has multiple competing and overlapping definitions, but these are the most important touchstones for triangulating it in various conditions:
    * Pre-industrial rural living expense is around 1 rupee per day (routinely doubled or tripled for adventurers actually paying in money)
    * Travel rations cost around 2 rupee per day to purchase rurally
    * Hiring unskilled rural labour costs around 2 rupees
    * One rupee of treasure is worth 1 XP
    * Unless otherwise indicated, adventure module treasure amounts are interpreted as rupee values, so a treasure with "3000 gp" actually has 3000 rupee worth of local currency rather than literal 3000 golden coins.

    (The big implicit economic assumption in the above list is that unskilled labour works at close to subsistence wage. This is not always true, but I account for it when this is not the case.)

    Converting the rupees into local currency is simple if I have some basic commodity values for the locality (basically, how much work it takes to earn a single dinar/mark/ecu/whatever). This then enables me to tell the players how many XP a "gold mark" or whatever is actually worth, or how much food it buys, or whatever. Because much of the adventurer fiscal activity centers around the costs of food and day labor, defining my accounting unit in those terms generally simplifies all sorts of pricing calculations.

    In historical gaming specifically, the European medieval silver penny's value is often reasonably close to the value of the rupee. I guess I could say that my game is on a "silver standard" in that sense, even if technically it is a commodity basket.
  • Right, but did you see where he based it on silver pieces and then had gp based of the silver? He also writes: "So if you want to make ACKS function on a historical silver standard, just reduce the weight of all the coins by 66%."

    Gold pieces weighing around 5 grams is right, here is my own rationale (in Swedish) for keeping with 5e/2e/ACKS prices in our al-Qadim campaign. It looked good enough™

    I think using both England and Byzantium for comaprisons is what makes the math confusing. The Byzantines barely used silver, the English barely used gold.
    Anyway, if you see a flaw in my reasoning here feel free to point it out.
    I don't particularly disagree with any of that except the assumption that there is such a thing as "historical value of gold" that can be arbitrarily read off late Roman economics history. It is true that the overall supply of gold in the Mediterranean world remained relatively stable through the antiquity and medieval period, but that's just one half of the economic equation: the value of goods fluctuated the same as always with supply and demand, which in turn made gold more or less "valuable" based on what it could actually buy. Wage levels also changed with societal conditions through history; generally a more inequal society would mean lower wages and greater return on invested wealth, and vice versa.

    These changing factors basically mean that any particular fixed price list (particularly one that you haven't tuned to your specific setting assumptions) is going to be so unrealistic that the amount of physical gold or silver in the coinage is a minor detail in comparison.
    Historical in this post means 11th century Byzantium. Byzantium exists in my campaign but the geography is all scrambled and Constantinople is ruled by The Devil. I'm not that concerned with how many swords or suits if mail my players can buy (the answer is enough after a reasonably successful adventure) but rather how likely it is they will have to leave silver or gold coins in the dungeon because they're physically unable to carry it. How rich are you if you found more gold than you could carry? I think the answer is closer to "you could buy a castle" than "you could buy a longboat".
  • @Eero_Tuovinen the basket system is an interesting solution if prices vary that much. Are labor and food expenses a big budget item for your players? I simply let the players decide how many gp they spend per month in conspicuous consumption (servants, perfume, food) and if they spend less than the ACKS assumption for living standard at a certain level they lose access to the social status their level would otherwise afford them.

    In ACKS profit from adventure, crime or land ownership has a metaphysical value as it grants xp, an emperor will quickly reach 13th/14th level from gathering taxes. In my campaign the emperor of Japan is 0th level, but his father-in-law who holds the real power is 13th level because of his control of the empire.
  • Historical in this post means 11th century Byzantium. Byzantium exists in my campaign but the geography is all scrambled and Constantinople is ruled by The Devil.
    Yeah, so basically business as usual, then. Sounds good to me.
  • edited May 2018

    Yeah, so basically business as usual, then. Sounds good to me.
    I don't think my players will reach the level required to start adventuring in the holy land, but it's basically an alignment inverted version of standard D&D. The cities are filled with Neutral and Chaotic people with hidden Lawful sects trying to undermine society. The desert and remote mountains are home to Lawful semi-civilized raiders. Unless the players ally with the demonic overlords they will take on the role normally filled by the evil badass who is uniting the orcs for an attack on civilization.
  • Are labor and food expenses a big budget item for your players?
    We spend a lot of time scrappling for bits at low levels - probably something to do with the precise ways we play, but it seems that even making a couple thousand rupees worth of wealth takes a lot of work and luck.

    With that in mind, yeah - living expenses and hiring workers (retainers or dayworkers for various projects) tend to be major fiscal elements. When the characters find some money it's not uncommon for them to expend it in downtime activities (living expenses run all the time, of course, and usually the characters want to live better than beggars) or in hiring more and better retainers to build a larger dungeoneering party. The more people you have the more wages you pay and the more mouths you have to feed, so at these lowest levels the expenditures tend to go up as money comes in.

    When we've gotten to mid-levels, it has not been uncommon for this to actually get worse: if the party decides that the best way to spend their money is to start a mercenary company and really ramp up the number of men involved in the enterprise, then obviously these expenses jump up as well. Running even a small army with nothing but adventure hauls is not easy (or smart).

    The other major expenses at low levels are purchasing armor, mounts and beasts of burden, so it's not all just living expenses.

    It goes without saying that when characters have more money, the lesser expense items get hand-waved. My basic rule of thumb is that I encourage the players to ignore any costs that come under 1% of their net worth - just overpay a bit here and there as tips or whatever, and assume that the small change stuff gets taken care of in between the big investments. For example, a given party might have say 30 rupees daily maintenance in base quarters, so I'm not going to ask them for daily payments if they have more than 3000 rupees in their treasury - I'd rather ask them for 200 weekly, or 500 monthly, to be more in line with the level of operations, and to help avoid drowning in the small budget items.
  • A parallell to what your players suffer is found in the Conquistadors. I read somewhere that most of them were in debt and Cortéz added their adventuring expenses to their account making their quest for gold a frenetic race just to stay afloat despite plundering a very rich civilization.
  • I think using both England and Byzantium for comaprisons is what makes the math confusing. The Byzantines barely used silver, the English barely used gold.
    Once you have chosen your datapoints from one or several historical economies and created an economy you're all set. Did you see the part about reducing the weight of coins even further?

    Arguably, calling gp "silver coins" has proven to be a bit confusing in your own campaign experience as well, right?
  • edited May 2018
    I did and it would square the math with the 33% discrepancy in my calculation (provided you also reduce the weight of gold). The change has confused my players a bit but we use the abbreviations and not the full words. Now they know that finding a golden object is a big deal. In the end I value my aesthetic preference over perfect clarity.
  • That's valid ofc
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