Thursday, November 18, 2010

Using the Silver Standard

For various reasons, I’m currently considering using a different monetary system in the book that I’m working on. If I were to go this route, I would likely adopt the “silver standard” method of price calculation and monetary rewards (i.e. prices are adjusted to make the silver piece the base economic unit rather than the gold piece). The problem is that I’ve never used this system before and would be a neophyte wandering wide-eyed in a strange land.

My question(s) then to you, gentle reader, is this: For those of you who have used the silver standard in your games, how have you gone about doing so and what was your experience with it? How did you handle monster treasure? Did you bother keeping electrum or platinum in the game? Is there anything else I should know? Any input would be gratefully appreciated.


Joshua said...

I use it. I just translate gold=silver, silver=copper, and platinum=gold in any published stuff I want to use. Copper gets dropped (though you could use bronze, I guess), and I never much used electrum anyway. I like it because it makes players excited to find gold, which strikes me as much more the feel I want. Nobody who finds gold ought to be asking "Do we want to mess with this extra weight?"

Joshua L. Lyle said...

Here's what I use:
The base unit of currency is the silver penny (d), accompanied by the gold bezant (b) and copper farthing (f), each of a similar weight (240 to the pound, about 21 grains or 1.36 grams, just a little lighter than the American dime, counted as 1000 to the ½ stone), valued in a ratio of 1:10:40 (gold:silver:copper). Pennies are also often found cut into halves or quarters to make small change.
Gold and silver are also sometimes cast into marks (M), weighing half a pound. The silver mark is by far the more common and is also used as a money of account, being defined as 120d (using the Scandinavian mark of 1/2 pound rather than the English mark of 2/3 pound for convenience).

I'm building my own treasure tables, but for converting treasure hoards from other sources, I divide all values by 10, then convert copper and electrum into silver pennies and platinum into silver marks. I award experience at 1d = 1xp.

So far, it has worked very well. The logistical problem of treasure is much reduced, although half a stone per 1000 still adds up after a while. I've also got a largish equipment list calibrated to approximations and interpolations of prices in 12th century England, if you're interested. Players seem to have little problem picking up the nomenclature or figuring out how much the money is worth, and the units scale up conveniently.

I also keep a leather bag with 200 American dimes in my gaming kit, which is a very close approximation of 1 pound of silver pennies in weight and bulk, to use as a tactile and visual aid.

bighara said...

Weapons, armor, and vehicles are in GP. Pretty much everything else is converted to SP. PCs start with 1-2 freebie items (i.e. a short sword and/or leather armor). Electrum exists, but platinum is only used in large commercial or governmental transaction (ingots, not coins).

Monster treasure is silver-based as well, slowing advancement.

Jeff Rients said...

Hey, Joshua! Please send me a copy of your price lists! jrients, gmail, etc. Thanks a bunch!

Todd said...

Yes using silver works really well and you can easily just shift everything down to convert treasure on the fly. It makes copper more valuable and solves some of the absurd weight problems with large treasure piles. I found in gold standard games players don't even pick up the copper pieces so it really just makes things cleaner anyway. Gold and Platinum is certainly more exciting to find. In the past I used a couple different silver based systems and had the players walking around with silver pennies, gold crowns alongside quarter marks/half marks or even paper note currency in their pockets.

redwald said...

I'm using a simplified Anglo-Saxon silver standard . . .

Seolfor Pund (pound of silver in the form of an ingot) Scillingas (Shillings), Seolfor Peningas (Silver Pennies), Healfpening Stycce (Hapenny Pieces), and Feorðungas (Farthings).

Currency Breakdown
1 Seolfor Pund (P) = 50 Scillingas (Sc)= 250 Seolfor Peningas(Sp) = 500 Healfpening Stycce (Hs) = 1,000 Feorðungas (F).

1 Scillingas = 5 Seolfor Peningas = 10 Healfpening Stycce = 20 Feorðungas.

1 Seolfor Peningas = 2 Healfpening Stycce = 4 Feorðungas.

1 Healfpening Stycce = 2 Feorðungas.

The Scillingas and Seolfor Peningas are coins in their own right, but the Healfpening Stycce, as the name halfpenny piece implies, is a silver penny that has been cut in half and a Feorðung (farthing) is made by cutting a silver penny into quarters.

Gratuitous Saxon Violence said...

1/2 Gold 'Sovereign'=
One Gold 'Crown'=
12 Silver 'Shillings'=
20 Copper 'Pennies'(240 pennies to the Crown)

Starting gold is just that, the number of 'Crowns' a character starts with.

Jed said...

I posted a longish post on this subject on my blog, with a possibly useful table (at the bottom)

Roger the GS said...

It's working very well for us in the first level. I can't wait to see eyes bug out when they finally get their hands on real gold. As far as a coinage system there's really no substitute for decimal - anything else is misplaced historicism IMO.

Anonymous said...

Real life historical coinage and monetary systems might be a better place to start than any silver-ized version of D&D. I'm not saying copy the real life complexities of it, but do an hour or two of reading on the subject online and see if it spurs some ideas and gives you a better understanding of how to incorporate it into an RPG.

Michael Curtis said...

Thnaks for the insights, all. You've given me much to consider. It is greatly appreciated.

Rob Conley said...

I created a post answer your question on Bat in the Attic. (

Joshua L. Lyle said...

actually, I really like using the duodecimal factor for the large unit, and not just for quasi-historicism. I find it nice for doing quick mental division at the table because it has so many factors: its easy to break down X marks of treasure into 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, or 12 shares, figured in pence.

1d30 said...

I'm also against using non-decimal currency. It's just so much easier at the table to work with shifts of one decimal place rather than division.

I did a campaign with a silver standard once. I just converted any mention of GP into SP, and SP into CP, and CP into Bits (a copper coin can be broken into 10 copper bits). This way, a copper coin was worth taking, a silver coin was significant treasure, and a gold coin was pretty awesome. But they didn't find gold as often, which was kind of a downer. This is heroic adventure, right? But you end up with a dragon squatting on a pile of rusty copper and silver, which feels a lot less exciting.

It's important to keep the same ratio of treasure found: if the Hill Giant would have had 1,000 GP you need him to have 1,000 SP (or 100 GP, whatever), and if 1 GP used to buy a hand axe then 1 SP needs to buy that same hand axe. Someone mentioned slowing progression: you'll find that if you just cut the treasure PCs get by 1/10th it'll mess things up. Of course, if the players can't use their money for anything anyway, and they don't get XP for finding it, then it's meaningless and cutting money down to 10% won't matter.

I use 1,000 coins = 1 stone = 14 pounds = 2 single-hand weapons (Delta-like). This removes the problem of 10 cn = 1 lb, which was the main reason why players wouldn't take copper. If you have a choice between taking a pile of copper that weighs as much as a hand axe, it works out to 10 CP vs a hand axe worth 1 GP (10 times more valuable per pound) in 2E AD&D. It's not much better in 3E. But with my weight system the player could carry 500 CP or the hand axe for the same weight, and the copper would be worth 5 GP while the hand axe is worth 3 GP. It's a better choice to take the money. Certainly with silver and especially gold it's worth the weight.

LordVreeg said...

I actually have more of an 'Age of Reason' game, and we use an Electrum Standard.

Silver is also used, and gold is used for larger purchases, and is referenced for land purchases as well.

I also make sure that ancient coinages a different, other countries might mint coins as well, and most importantly, moneychangers make bank on changing stuff to the local coinages.

Philter said...

Absolutely, my own Greyhawk After the Wars campaign (Iuz _won_ :) ) used Silver as the baseline coinage.
there was an old dragon magazine article recommending it.
Heroes could live well on gold pieces, and gems became extremely valuable.
We binned Electrum, and platinum coins only turned up in Dragons horde, mostly ancient Suelloise coins, etc.