Thursday, July 17, 2014
Better Living Through Clones: The Silver Standard
Dungeons & Dragons, if you follow its basic logic, assumes lots and lots of gold is present in the world. No, more than that. Nope, higher. Gold coins are the basic economic unit, and weigh 1/10th of a pound (45.4 grams). Think of a silver dollar, which is 1 troy ounce (31.1 grams). Now, add 50% more weight and make it 3/4ths as thick, due to the relative density of gold and silver. That's the D&D gold piece.
Most clones don't fiddle much with the basic monetary system. Adventurer Conqueror King makes the gold piece 1/1000th of 1 stone. This is actually a bit light in "real" stone (14 lbs), but because ACKS assumes 1 stone is roughly equal to 10 lbs, this gives 4.54 grams per gold piece. That's equal to the Roman denarii pictured above, or the late Roman solidus that was the basis for gold coins for most of the Middle Ages. But it's still a gold-based economy, even if the gold requirements are significantly lower.
Lamentations of the Flame Princess switches to a silver standard, and gives 1 XP per silver piece. Silver pieces are 1/50th of a gold piece, which is probably a better approximation than 1/10th or 1/20th, although prices fluctuated drastically in history. It also eschews odd metals like platinum and electrum, to its credit. But it doesn't get weight very precise; the encumbrance system is kind of abstract, and 100 coins are an encumbrance unit. I would still
LotFP's silver standard has a lot of appeal for me, because it makes a chest of gold absolutely phenomenal. 40 GP? In a gold standard that's a rounding error, but in LotFP it's enough to get a fighter to second level. Even a few gold pieces are worth a lot more risk relative to the reward.
And at the same time I like to geek out a bit over ancient silver coins, which is heavily supported by a silver standard. They aren't just an encumbrance penalty to the PCs who have to haul them back, or loose change that get stuck between the couch cushions, but the basic unit of economic value that the PCs have to deal with. Even copper pieces aren't worthless: the infamous 2000 CP of Dwimmermount are worth 200 XP in LotFP.
By making gold extremely valuable and rare, the silver standard also lets you use different metals, like bronze or brass, and have some interesting variables in your coinage. Relative values can be fixed at various rates. Electrum (a gold/silver alloy) coinage was extremely rare, and platinum as a metal was unheard of until the 1500s. Billon was frequently used, famously in the gradual debasement of Roman silver coinage to bronze (the antoninianus or "double denarius" was the coin most associated with this).
Overall, I think that a hybrid of the ideas that find expression in LotFP and ACKS provide the best solution for coinage: the values from LotFP (1 GP = 50 SP = 500 CP) and the weights from ACKS (100 coins = 1 pound). It makes the denarius the model coin, as it should be.
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Somewhat related, there's a discussion on the Silver Standard in ACKS here that may be of interest:ReplyDelete
As much as I'm a rabidly pro-1974 OD&D person, I think the system of coinage in the original game and its later editions is completely broken from pretty much every point of view. Weirdly, even though successive editions "fixed" all sorts of things, they never tried to fix that. Many of the clones attempt to with pretty good degrees of success. But many others I think stayed away from trying for fear of tampering with something that was now (it seemed) canonical. I think Gygax himself argued for a silver standard...but only after he had left TSR. Before that he probably would have said, "Well, you can have a silver standard, but then you just wouldn't be playing AD&D". :)ReplyDelete
Switching coinage standards would have caused the game to immediately lose backwards compatability with older modules and such.Delete
I guess. Although they did fiddle with the value of silver pieces and copper pieces (for example, in the transition from OD&D to AD&D), for what obvious purpose I have no idea.Delete
There were conversion guidelines in the Rules Cyclopedia for moving between 1e and RC D&D adventures. I think they could've done a conversion chart between a gold and silver standard without seriously breaking compatibility.Delete
I definitely want to take D&D away from gold pieces... The challenges is that it is now so baked into player's heads that copper pieces are worthless, silver only slightly less worthless, which means "take only the gold, leave the rest". We need to reset that mindset.Delete
D&D economics as a whole are completely broken, but a revision I would like to see is changes made to the equipment lists to create a better sense of value.
A horse was an exceedingly expensive purchase for a tradesman in the middle ages. A suit of armor was more than any non-noble could afford. It would be great to really try to get a better scale value on these kinds of items. A lot more 1st level players would be running around in leathers and a short sword.
A game I'd love is where you can't quite afford metal armors with starting cash. You are a peasant hero wanna be, after all. Where do you have the cash to afford a soldier's full kit?
When we were playing Tower of the Stargazer, the obviously evil wizard offered us 100 gold pieces to free him. I think you should have converted that as it was a ridiculously low offer.ReplyDelete
I think it was meant to be insulting. Stargazer was for LotFP Deluxe Edition, which used the gold standard. Raggi didn't convert to silver until the Grindhouse Edition.Delete
Yea in the new version he offers the same in silver, it's fuck all compared to the rest of the loot. Especially since the 5000sp star crystal is right there on the shelf.Delete
If we are to do the roman numbers, 12d. = 1s. & 20s. = L.1. Historically this means a gold piece weighs 16x39/20 grams, or 31 grams, and conversely, go 20 to a lb. About the same size but four times as heavy as a US quarter or English 10p.ReplyDelete
I also agree that gold is probably more like 40:1 in terms of value with respect to silver. So L.1 becomes worth a half-pound of silver, paradoxically. That makes the good piece weigh twice as much as a quarter. It's likely roughly the same radius as the quarter but a little thinner.
The exchange rate becomes 12d. = 1s. & 40s. = L.1 or 480d. = L1. This makes the gold piece a real prize.
I also now favor the silver standard for purchasing power. But that's kind of all fluff isn't it?
I've always used a silver system for my games. Just liked it better. And I pretty much simplified like you did. It works great for my group. Gold means something then.ReplyDelete
As I've been going on, I've come to enjoy the benefits of the duodecimal coins, specifically the pound/shilling/pence/farthing series. If a penny is a silver piece, and a shilling is equivalent to a gold piece, a pound coin would be worth 20 gold pieces (£1 = 20s. = 240d. = 960f.). People who are really fixed on decimal currency could easily say 10d. to the shilling, five "farthings" to the penny, making the relationship £1 = 20s. = 200d. = 1000f.ReplyDelete
I suspect that the 20 shillings to the pound relationship is the source of AD&D's attempt to restructure it to 20sp to the gp.
Dragon #167 has an article called "Just give me money" which proposes the following system:ReplyDelete
The silver piece replaces the gold piece as the basic currency unit.
1 gp = 20sp; 1sp = 20cp
and 80 coins = 1 pound weight (which would mean 1120 coins = 1 stone).
The article also has tables giving values for historical currencies in AD&D terms, and for generating random jewellery, with weights and values.
If you use the silver system, do you value gems in silver pieces or in gold pieces? The article I mentioned recommends valuing them in gold pieces ("Gems, as mentioned before, are now worth 20 times as much as formerly - so they need to be 20 times as rare") but I think it would be better to value them in silver. I've always thought the tables in the DMG over-valued gems relative to gold, and I don't like the idea of making gems so rare.
My instinct is to go with keeping gem numbers but transferring them to SP instead of GP. Combined with the LotFP values it puts gold pieces on the same tier with low-value gems and doesn't ridiculously inflate jewelry and higher tier gems.Delete
Part of the reason I love the weight of the denarius and solidus is that it's historically accurate and works out to almost exactly 100/lb. (They were actually 72 to the Roman pound but that was a different measure.) It was very nice of the Romans to work out such a convenient system. ;-)
I think gems are undervalued by at least a factor of ten, although I've never made a fix. Keep them valued in gold IMO.ReplyDelete