I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Friday, August 02, 2019

The WEIGHT of GOLD - is OD&D right again?

How much does a gold coin weight?

The answer is not as simple as you think. Here is my favorite post on the subject. Delta's thinking and research are awesome, and have influenced many old school RPGs, including mine. Ii convinced me of using silver coins instead of gold... and also use a reasonable weight to coins, like D&D did from 2e on - now there are 50 coins for every pound, instead of the original 10 coins. (BTW, I use a 1 gp = 10 sp = 100 cp, for simplicity).

He makes a great point. Here is one interesting bit:

Some of the lessons here, I think, are these: You don't want to "blow your wad" with enormous summer-action-movie-size treasures right at 1st level. A fat purse with a few dozen coins should be worth a thief's time to knife someone over. A wizard should be able to carry enough money in the folds of his robe to buy a night's stay at an inn, hire a lantern-bearer, or procure some interesting ephemera. If you want to jump into "heroic" adventure from the get-go, then it should match the rest of the D&D mechanics in that 3rd or 4th level is where you would start.

This is not only practical but also historically realistic.

However, there are other things to consider.

I've been thinking about item cards lately; I've even bought some. I want to make these things tangible to my players; not just things they can fill in a form. Maybe in this regard, I want my games to LOOK like games instead of accounting exercises. I even thought of buying some fake gold coins... but then it would starting looking like cosplay.

Now, there is something about those weighty, "low value! gold coins that makes them more... tangible.

In Moldvay basic, for example, 400 coins is the most you can carry before being affected (that is, if you're carrying nothing else... like weapons, armor or rations). It's the price of 40 swords (a normal sword weights as much as 60 coins). These coins are BIG!

Fifth edition is different: you can carry 150 pounds before being encumbered... that is, 7500 coins in 5e. You could buy 500 longswords (15 gp) with that!

In Moldvay (etc.), however, carrying a fortune hinders your movement. It is not always worth it. Getting greedy will kill you. Find a big hoard of coins, and you might be forced to return another day for the rest of the money, or risk being unable to run while being chased by stronger enemies!

In short, carrying coins becomes a meaningful decision, not an exercise in accounting. This might be one of the reasons why keeping track of money is unpopular nowadays. Feels like nitpicking.

There is also the mythical aspect of dragons sitting in huge piles of gold... There is no way any economy can be saved from total destruction if the adventures find one of these! If my memories of "1001 nights" are correct, piles of gold were used to buy castles... not entire continents!

See this excerpt, for example (source):

We are the better way to a billion coins being sequestered in a dragon’s hoard, which is more than 5,400 imperial tons of precious metal, including over 1,000 tons of gold. For reference, GFMS (the foremost consultancy and research company for the global precious metals market) estimates that the total amount of gold that humanity had extracted up until 1492 CE was about 12,780 tonnes (12,580 imperial tons). In other words, the dragon would have laid claim to a significant portion of global gold reserves on Earth, and probably would in your world, as well.

Of course, you could go the other way and make gold valuable to add some drama to that bag of gold. Each single gold piece could be impressive in itself - throwing gold around is for kings, not adventurers. This is the best way to use the "silver standard" proposed by Delta, IMO: gold is valuable, but not easy to find. There is absolutely no guarantee the players will find anyone with enough gold in the next town to buy 900 silver from them! Better find a bank or start digging a hole to protect your money...

Gold becomes more mythical than dragons, and dragons lay in piles of cooper and silver, etc.

Conversely, if you use gold instead of silver, finding some electrum piece could be a novel experience for the characters...The 5e SRD says that:

In addition, unusual coins made of other precious metals sometimes appear in treasure hoards. The electrum piece (ep) and the platinum piece (pp) originate from fallen empires and lost kingdoms, and they sometimes arouse suspicion and skepticism when used in transactions. An electrum piece is worth five silver pieces, and a platinum piece is worth ten gold pieces.

As for using tokens... I obviously don't want to play around with thousands of fake coins in my table. 50 coins representing one encumbrance slot feels just right for me. If all players use the same pool, I could use less than 100 coin tokes and a few treasure cards to represent all their money, including gold, silver, cooper and platinum (I fail to see the usefulness of electrum...). Ha, I could even buy some chocolate coins to allow players to eat while they spend...

Anyway, both systems have their merits and the choice is not the easiest one.

However, I can't help but feel that making OD&D better is a lot harder than it looks. There are just so many things that seem wrong, but have excellent reasons to be that way once you consider all the implications.

Further reading:









  1. This is a fine overview of the social aspect of gold. It also touches on the game aspects in a couple ways. It’s a good article.

    Here’s what I wrote about the gold piece and it’s integral place in OD&D:


    tl;dr: the gold piece measures wealth, XP, encumbrance and speed.

    Check out the post.

    1. You know, this is a great post. I'm adding it to the recommended reading list above!

    2. Thank you Eric. It was something that just dawned on me when I was making up my fantasy heartbreaker. The 10 coins to a lb seems wacky until you consider the gamist properties.

    3. I just want to add to this that a Ration could also be considered a comparable unit, as it also directly impacts days of travel in wilderness and hostile lands. Perhaps "Ration" could be for both food and water, with different climates and conditions effecting dehydration vs. Starvation effects. Given the right tools (a survival kit) foraging rules can be used along with a biome DC to determine if you get enough resources to subsist,sustain, or rapid recovery. For those terms, I'm envisioning subsist as recover from status effects but slow HP recovery, sustain being normal recovery, where in 5e context I argue a long rest should restore half Hit Dice only, and rapid recovery akin to 3.5 bed-rest (double exhaustion recovery and restore all HD, and perhaps X amount of HP restored). For ease of maths, I would make subsisrance at 1 Ration a day, normal at 2, and rapid recovery at 3.

      Foraging check should be done where you roll Survival, and then divide the result by the Biome DC (probably call it a Rank to avoid confusion), and the result is the number of Rations (be it water or food) you recover.

      In regions where water matters more (hot deserts), your Ration focus is primarily on water, so you can just say you consume 1+X Rations during the day, with X being proportional to the Challenge of the biome.

      It is a bit gamist, and possibly breaks down with things like Camels in a desert, but I think at the point the cracks start showing, you've slaughtered the pack animals for food.

      If one wanted a further distinction, I could see making a distinction between fresh rations and dried, prepared rations. Off the top of my head, fresh rations have "one week duration" with all rations spoiling 1d4 days after the 1st week as rot spreads, but it restores 1 + CON mod HP at normal level of Rations. Dried rations cost more, but are lighter and last indefinitely, and the cost difference is comparable to say 1 silver in carrying capacity. However uou do not get the bonus HP per rest.

      This allows for amendments to Goodberry and Create Food and Water (which is now Create Rations), where they have their effects, but can only count as 1 ration per person per day, regardless of how much is eaten.

      I am certain I've missed points, but I think this meshes with the other resource tracking.

    4. Oh wow that’s a great idea and a convergent thought. I have not used it yet but my new procedure for overland rations is the Ration Unit. 5 gp and 300 cn per week.

      It feeds 1 man
      2 feed a hobbit
      5 feed a horse.

    5. Hah. Great minds and all that.

      As for ration sizes, this ties into my ideas on integrating size scaling on Eric's slot system. Have encumberance slots scale as a power of 2 with the creature size in relation to Medium size. So Medium gets STR score slots, Small gets half, and Large/Powerful Build gets double. But item sizes stay the same. What this means for arms and shields is that size dictates how you handle them. So Buckler and dagger on a human is a short sword and shield on a hobbit and other small folk. This works the other way with large folk/high str.

      Size modifier could also be used for rations, with modifiers for race (hobbit) or other sizes. Perhaps additional consumption beyond size norm conveys benefits. For halflings, they recover faster (perhaps they treat a rest as one category higher). For Powerful Build, they don't have issue medium spaces (plus I would give them a boosted overall athletics at being pound for pound that much stronger), as well as a size multiplier on fall damage. Quadrupeds gain higher carrying capacity and hauling capacity.

      The reason for using power of 2 is that double and halving things makes easy enough maths at the table, and should feel like a smooth transition along with other 5e mechanics.

      The reasoning behind health recovery as I have it can be seen in a thread throughout my comments on this site, where I am musing with the idea that 5e Hit dice are equivalent to Wound points in a Wounds and vitality system, so if one is in an unlucky fight (lots of critical hits along with regular hits), it will take a long time to recover, even with a bed rest mechanic.

    6. I like this, the weight of food is really something that is worth considering for overland travel.

    7. Sure. I mean if you're going to actually do outdoor survival, then do it. Food and water are huge - especially water. A person doesn't actually *need* food over short periods but you need water every day.


    8. I was considering that today. However, I think I'd assume characters are able to get water everywhere except for deserted/wated terrains (where they would need even more water); otherwise, travelling on foot over long distances would be nearly impossible (which... might be ok in some circumstances, but probably not that often).

    9. The reason for the terrain score and a Ration unit is that the exact specifics of your ration doesn't matter as much. If a desert requires one consume 5 units of rations a day (with most of a ration being water), and is difficult to cross, perhaps biome difficulty is 25, meaning that you need to roll a check greater than a multiple of 25 to get roll/biome check round down rations.

      Flip this conceptually with high arctic and food, and the mechanics do not change.

      For this, the ranger gets expertise and perhaps reliable talent in relation to survival check, with an additional bonus in favoured terrain.