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Just How Much Is A Gold-Piece Worth?

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WARNING:- This is basically a rant, and a pretty boring one at that.

In a Dungeons & Dragons gameworld, a weeks stay in a good quality inn will set you back more than 4 ounces of gold.

I'll say this again, for the benefit of those who didn't realise how insanely stupid this is, the first time I said it.

In a Dungeons & Dragons gameworld, a weeks stay in a good quality inn will set you back more than 4 ounces of gold.

Ten feet of chain? 10 ounces.

An ounce of ink? Nearly 3 ounces.

A spyglass and a water clock? More than 300 ounces each.

How do we know this? Because the players handbook tells us so. A gold piece weighs a third of an ounce. (It's on page 96 of the players handbook, first column, towards the bottom... What? You thought I was bluffing?)

So how much is gold worth? Well this isn't quite as easy to calculate as you'd think. The price fluctuates all over, and besides that, the prices you see for ounces are for troy ounces instead of standard ounces.

So in the end I guestimated a figure of $300 an ounce. It probably ain't right, but it ain't much wrong either.

Which means that in a D&D world:

One gold piece equals $100.

So:

A weeks stay in a good quality inn costs $1200.

A ten foot length of chain costs $3000.

An ounce of ink costs $800.

A spyglass and a water clock will cost $100,000 each.

And a riding dog will set you back $15,000.

Of course, that isn't really what's happening. It isn't that things in D&D worlds are worth a lot. It's that gold isn't worth much at all.

Gold is merely a moderately priced mineral. Bit like copper. Nothing special. I'd say that gold in our world is at least ten times rarer than gold in D&D worlds.

So why is this weird?

Well - based on what happened on Earth - you'd expect a preindustrial economy to be based on a gold standard. This is where a currency is inextricably linked to a valuable material whose supply is limited (we - as the name suggests - used gold).

First, you use the gold itself to trade.

Then, you make coins out of gold, and use them to trade.

Finally, you produce paper money, where each banknote is a promise by the central bank to exchange the note for a certain quantity of gold.

Of course, in our modern western information economies, gold standards are regarded as terribly fuddy-duddy. Our currencies are abstract instruments representing nothing more than our faith in the government's ability to manage economy.

Sometimes this usually fragile faith breaks down totally, and hyperinflation results, as seen in Germany in the twenties and Yugoslavia in the nineties.

And here's where we get to the point.

D&D settings have feudal systems. There is no central bank. There is no government as we recognise it. Just a few lords and a bunch of superstitious peasants.

So without a gold standard they ought to have experienced galloping hyperinflation.

Or perhaps they have?

Maybe that's why a riding dog costs $15,000.


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