Friday, February 25, 2011

coins of Wessex

OD&D used three types of coinage: copper, silver and gold pieces.  Later editions add electrum and platinum pieces.  I've taken to using only two main types of coinage.

The Solidus is an ancient gold coin, minted from the 4th century to the end of the Roman empire.  Usually they have the face of some emperor on the front and a cross on the reverse.  A lot of more of these things are in circulation in my campaign as compared to the real world.  That's because back in the day King Arthur scored a lot of them in his adventures abroad and spread the wealth around.

The silver Penny is the only coin that has been minted in the area in any significant number.  Most of them have some dumb dead king on them, with a cross on the back.  Many mints currently producing coins in my campaign have switched to putting something else on the front, just in case Empress Maud unseats King Stephen.  For smaller transactions it's pretty common to cut pennies in halves or quarters (the halfpenny and farthing, respectively) but adventurers don't normally deal with such trifles.

It takes about 100 Solidus coins to make a modern pound of weight, while Pennies come in at about 300 to the modern pound.  So for encumbrance purposes a mixture of both kinds of coins counts as 200 to the pound.  Not that I ever remember to bother players with encumbrance.

A lot of smart people have argued that realistic medieval type D&D games should switch from the gold to the silver standard.  I see the argument, but I just can't get behind it.  The game is about adventuring and adventuring is about gold, so the setting focuses on gold.  That's good enough for me.

I've agonized about the proper ratio of values between my gold and silver pieces.  20 silver to 1 gold is probably the right answer, but 10:1 makes my life easier, so I favor the latter.


  1. In my way of thinking-
    pieces is a measure of WEIGHT/ mass.
    Coins can be of any size;
    their value is their weight.

    8 pieces = one troy ounce
    100 pieces = 1 pound of encumbrance

    2 sp coin = one quarter
    8 sp coin = one dubloon or dollar

    you are RIGHT,
    it is all about the gold ; - )

  2. Europe had a huge influx of gold and silver after the discovery of the New World, especially coming from South America. Most of the gold coated the insides of churches, but it inflated the money supply so much that there was plenty left over for common adventurers, privateers, and their "parties": joint-stock companies.

    In a fantasy setting, who knows where all the gold comes from? If playing Warcraft II taught me anything, it's that every frontier village needs a gold mine just to survive against the ork hordes, right?

  3. Historically some gold coins had other metals added to them. The Greek Sater was made from a gold and silver alloy (electrum) and was worth 10 silver drachms.

  4. Anonymous11:56 AM

    Also worth noting: those 100 gold coins that weigh a pound take up a bit less that one and a half cubic inches.

    Fill up your pint tankard with gold and you've got yourself about 2000 gp.

  5. Being that most D&D campaigns are of the high fantasy variety, it only makes scene that gold is a bit more common then here on earth. How else could all those dungeons and forgotten cites be made.

  6. 10:1 is always a good choice.

    Sure as heck makes for easier math than the 12:1 ratio enforced through a lot of the Middle Ages.

    And as others have pointed out, the relative value of coins needn't equal the relative value of their metals, for numerous reasons.

    And 10:1 is an entirely defensible ratio for some parts of history, anyway (not that it needs to be defensible, but as it happens, it is)

    I've been a hardcore fan of strictly 10:1 coin ratios ever since the CityBook series showed me the light years ago on that score.

  7. I've agonized about the proper ratio of values between my gold and silver pieces. 20 silver to 1 gold is probably the right answer, but 10:1 makes my life easier, so I favor the latter.

    If your solidus weighs c. 4.5 grams and your penny c. 1.5 grams, then 30:1, I reckon, though since gold pennies or "thirds" were extant in the same period you can go straight with 10:1 and 100 "gold pennies" or "silver pennies" to the pound. Sometimes life is easy.