Monday, October 29, 2012

Treasure, Coins, and my GURPS DF game

I've been meaning to post about treasure in my GURPS Dungeon Fantasy game.

Bog-standard DF uses a copper standard, with copper/silver/gold being worth $1/$4/$80 respectively, 250 to the pound. Gems and jewelry are salable for 100% of stated market value. Other things are worth 40% of their list value if sold, although the Wealth advantage allows you a better network of contacts and buyers and thus increased take-home from other stuff.

Mine is a bit different:

I'm using a silver standard.

Copper Pieces are $0.10. 250 coins/pound. One pound of copper pieces is worth $25.
Silver Pieces are worth $1. 250 coins/pound. One pound of silver pieces is worth $250.
Gold Pieces are worth $20. 250 coins/pound. One pound of gold pieces is worth $5000.
Gold Eagles are worth $100. 50 coins/pound. One pound of gold eagles is worth $5000.

Gems, jewelry, statues, art objects - obvious pieces of fungible wealth - sell for 100% of their value.

- I tend to round off gem prices. If you check here, the GURPS carat-based system works but often gives overly specific numbers ($188, $920, etc.), so I tend to round them off like I learned in math class.

Magic items, weapons and armor, and other goods are generally salable for 40% of list value - modified for Wealth as above, although wear and tear affects everything you sell.


Why are gold pieces different? 50 coins/pound is not a physically imposing coin when it's made of gold, but it's on a larger scale than the smaller ones. Well, basically, I screwed up early on. During our one-shot playtest of DFA1, I said gold was $100, and silver was $5 a coin, which was fine. Then I changed silver to $1 but forgot to change gold before our game. My players strongly vetoed changing gold after the fact. They like gold coins being $100, although they mostly wanted it to be 250 coins/pound. But if I did that it messed with gold jewelry badly - a pound of gold would be $25K and a 20 pound gold ingot worth $500,000. So I sized gold coins at 50/pound (not crazy, gold is heavy) and recently just went ahead and added a $20 gold coin at 250 coins/pound so I could spray around more coin variety.

No electrum? No platinum? No. Electrum jewelry exists, but I find it an odd choice for coins. Platinum just hurts my brain. There is so little platinum in the world, and it's so hard to work, that I can't see people making coins out of it. It'll show up sometimes in my games as jewelry, though.

What about odd coins? They exist. Oddball coinage that might be salable as jewelry, or sold for its metal weight, or exchanged with a conversion tax for local coins. That's where I drop in jade pieces, bronze pieces, odd-sized silver coins, crazy etched pieces of rock, etc. - put it in, give it a value, and let the PCs sell it like jewelry.

You can just sell magic items? And why less than full value? Sure, why not? They aren't totally rare, just hard to make, and the PCs often have ones they can't use effectively or ones worth more in cash than in adventuring utility. Someone will buy them, but no one wants to pay full markup for a used item when they could pay 100% cost and buy a new one from some NPC enchanter. The market price is based on the cost to get one made, and you'll get less for the finished product when you're selling to someone who's going to sell it to someone else.

Why so much treasure detail? Because the game is about finding loot. The whole damn game is fight the monsters (the big fun for the players) and find the money (the other big fun for the players and the motivation for the PCs). So I make monsters exciting, combat evocative and scary and detailed, and I make the loot descriptive and interesting. Packets of spices, rare gems, strange foreign coins, pieces of beautiful jewelry, and unusual art objects sit in piles of copper, silver, and gold coins or spill out of from chests or get hidden behind clever traps by those who couldn't haul it away. Once the nasty monster is dead, the players should be salivating over the interesting treasure, and I find this helps.

Isn't this confusing? It hasn't come up yet, but we had two sizes of gold coins in my last game, and two sizes in the one before, and it didn't confuse anyone. So I don't see it confusing anyone now. As for the rest, it can all get converted to sp for the lazy types, and since town is a safe base, they can more or less just leave it behind when they adventure and I don't molest it. I don't mind if they convert everything they find to sp, divide it up, and that's that - it's the coolness of the find that matters to me, not the composition of coins in their pockets once they've got it.

* GURPS uses the $ for all pricing, to aid conversion, so I use that shorthand too.


  1. As an FYI, at 50 per pound, and 453 grams per pound, you're basically positing a 9 gram coin.

    The US Gold Half-Eagle was a coin weighing 8.75g, and was about an inch across. Basically the size of a quarter, but a bit more than twice as heavy. Since a quarter is mostly copper, with a bit of nickel, the gold coin of the same dimensions as a quarter would mass about 12g.

    So your hypothetical 9g gold coin would be just a tetch smaller than a quarter, about twice as heavy.

    In 2004, gold varied from $400-450 per troy ounce, or just shy of $14 per gram. Your 9g coin is thus worth about $125 in 2004 currency.

    In short, a $100 gold coin the size of a quarter, weighing about twice as much (50 per pound) is ENTIRELY realistic. Go you.

    1. That should be "a bit less than twice as heavy," since the quarter is 5.67g in its current incarnation, and the Half-Eagle is 8.75g.

    2. If anything, it's the 250 coins per pound that's really small. The current US dime is 2.25g and is the lightest coin in US circulation. The 0.01 Euro coin is about 2.5g (same as the US penny).

      So a coin that is 200 per pound would be the size and weight of a dime; silver is about 20% more dense than copper and nickel. so a coin made of pure silver the size of a dime would be 175 per pound.

      Were I to do it from scratch from just "understandable coin sizes," and building on your work for value of metals:

      Copper: dime-sized and 200 per pound; 12 cp = 1 silver
      Silver: dime-sized and 175 per pound; 1sp = $1.50
      Gold Mark: dime-sized and 100 per pound; $50 per coin, or 33.3 sp per Goldmark.
      Gold Eagle: quarter-sized and 50 per pound; $100 per coin, or 66.6 sp per Gold Eagle.
      Gold Crown: half-dollar sized and 20 per pound. $250 per coin, or 166 sp per Gold Crown.

      Of course, those numbers are totally British in their comprehensibility. But if you just look at coin sizes, that's about what you get.

      This post rapidly turned into a death-spiral of stupid. Sorry. I blame the virus.

    3. No worries man.

      And yeah, it's not like I chose 50/pound randomly, but I didn't plan it to be quite that size. Sub-dime sized coins is fine with me, too - historical coins were often quite small!

    4. "Sub-dime sized coins is fine with me, too - historical coins were often quite small!"

      I did not know that!

  2. Cool treasures are one of my favorite things, especially stuff from history and archeology. I feel it is fun to learn new types of art and treasure too. I really like different types of gems and minerals as well. I think that Gygax was a big influence for me to learn about rocks and minerals like malachite and blood stone.

  3. Whatever you do, just make sure not to leave coins in round numbers. The internet hates that.

    1. Yeah, I gather. I rarely have odd assortments of coin end in round numbers, but that's a personal perk, not an attempt to appease the Gods of the Internets. ;)


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