s1037868_74114626It doesn’t take much more than a quick flip through the pages of “…And A 10-foot Pole” to realise that it’s an extensively-researched volume. Aside from breaking history into twelve periods covering everything from the stone age (prior to 9000 BC) to the information age (1980+), it divides commodities into standardised categories and gives prices for each item in a common currency, that used for I.C.E.’s Rolemaster (except for modern eras, which use US$) – in fact, it’s even more extensive than I remembered when I reviewed it for inclusion in my top-20 3.x supplements. And on top of that, it lists Weights, has an Availability subsystem, gives the manufacturing time, and illustrates many thousands of products. Heck, how many RPG supplements do you know of that have 24 referance books listed in the Bibliography – how many even have a bibliography, if it comes to that!? (You can click on the cover illustration below to be taken to the Amazon purchase page for the supplement in a new window).

anda10-footpoleIt should come as no surprise, then, that one of the priority items on my to-do list when I set aside my TORG campaign (due to waning interest and availability of players), and dusted off plans for my first D&D campaign in over a decade, was to work out a conversion system to permit me to replace the one-size-fits-all-eras price list in the PHB (it’s been over a decade since that decision was made, and I’m now GMing more D&D campaigns than non-D&D, so I must have done something right when I made that decision!)

Since others might want to do the same thing, or might want to adapt the procedure to some other referance volume, I thought I would use this blog to explain what I did, why it didn’t work, and how I got around the problems, concluding with the conversion rates in use in my Fumanor Campaign. In a follow-up blog, I’ll describe the coinage that I use in that campaign and list some of the tricks that I use to keep my hair from going grey while enhancing the realism of the coinage system, and that you can use too. But that’s for later…

When Is Right Now, Anyway?

The first decision that had to be made was what era the game was in. I didn’t want black-powder weapons, so that established a pre-gunpowder era. The campaign was set in a fallen Empire that was struggling to emerge from a sudden dark age initiated by the slaughter of most of the Gods and most of the population 100 years earlier, so I decided that the empire had been on the verge of gunpowder but the fall from enlightenment had cost them close to 100 years of progress.

So I looked up the sections on Typical Weapons for the different eras and found the earliest firearms in the “Renaissance” chapter, p85. This chapter therefore identified the technology level of the Old Empire, falling just short of the invention of these weapons. That in turn defined the preceeding chapter as the technological setting of the inner regions (“The Middle Ages”) while the chapter prior to that identified the “Dark Ages” as the technological standard in the outer regions.

While more realistic, I don’t think I’d do it that way again, it made for too much work. Far better to pick an era from “10-foot pole” and simply tag anything not listed in the previous chapter of the referance as being a “lost technology” not available in the outer regions. In fact, when that first campaign concluded and the sequel campaigns began, I quietly updated the setting to an entirely “Middle Ages” standard.

The failure of the obvious

The Rolemaster system uses a coinage system with eight different denomenations of coin: Mithril, Platinum, Gold, Silver, Bronze, Copper, Tin, and Iron. Each of these is worth 10 of the next denomenation, enabling a price like “123456.78″ to be read directly as “1 Mithril, 2 Gold, 3 Silver,” and so on. There are clear advantages to such a decimal system.

Until you know of the decimalisation of the Rolemaster currency, the obvious solution is simply to equate “1gp” in the D&D system with “1 Gold” in Rolemaster, “1sp” with “1 silver”, and so on. That solution falls apart immediatly when it is realised that the D&D ratios are not the same.

The next obvious solution is to use the Rolemaster solution exclusively; that doesn’t work either, because there are too many things in the game which have no equivalents in the Rolemaster product listing. How much is “+1 armour” worth? How about a Potion Of Healing, or a Ring of Invisibility? What of the gems and jewellery offered as treasures?

The next obvious solution is to pick one of the coin types common to both and define them as being equal in both systems. The question then becomes, which one? In an effort to resolve this question, I examined the prices for half-a-dozen items and commodities common to both sources – lanterns, arrows, swords, chain mail, a meal, and a pack horse. I was hoping for a consensus view, but some of these gave different answers, some didn’t give any satisfactory equivalents at all.

Complicating Factors

Other questions came to mind; while the copper piece is the most common currency in D&D, for many commodities this was still too gross a measure, as many units of a commodity could be purchased for the price of a single copper piece (or a number of copper pieces not divisible by the number of units). Should I equate like with like, or would ‘like with unlike’ yield more useful answers? Should the value of a copper piece be related to that of a tin coin (or a silver coin?) from the Rolemaster system, instead of the more obvious copper to copper?

This was a question complicated by the fact that the campaign in question was designed to be run with AD&D (this was before 3.0 was released) and was actually being run using 2nd edition rules (I was persuaded by my players). That meant that it had “electrum pieces” in between copper and silver. I disliked these intensely because electrum is a naturally-occurring alloy of silver and gold, and for the life of me I couldn’t see why that should place it’s value as a coin where it was. I intended to rename these “Bronze Pieces”, but otherwise retain their value in the coinage heirarchy.

I was also disturbed to realise that one of my primary intended conveniences, the standardisation of coinage, would not be possible in the D&D system, simply because the ratio of values of precious metals by weight was not reflected anywhere close to accurately by the values of D&D coinage.

Still another complicating factor was that the politics of the campaign background was intruding onto the relatively straightforward questions (I’ll go into details in the next blog post on the subject). Suffice it to say that the Old kingdom’s coins had been supplanted by newer currency (as often happened in the Roman Empire when an Emperor died) and a number of sources of social and political tension were at play as a result. This was, in part, a bid to control how much ready currency the characters acquired, something that I discussed in my last blog post, but for the most part it was to give the characters complications to deal with as a way of having them interact with the game world beyond simply finding the nearest dungeon and stripping it down like an unlocked fancy car in a slum neighberhood.

Finally, I wanted to try and provide some coins with more realistic face values. Why should every coin be worth “1″ of something? Why not coins in denomenations of “2″ or “5″?

The Lowest Common Denomenator

Part of the answer came when I learned that the Romans, to make change, or pay for something that cost less than a complete coin of the lowest denomenation, used to cut up their coins. This meant that I could keep the copper piece as the lowest denomenation if I wanted to.

I resolved a second of the complicating factors by decided to peg the currency conversion to the ‘modern’ coins in the campaign and worry about relationships with the old coins as a seperate issue.

Another complication was resolved be realising that most coins in modern times were adulterated alloys, often bearing no more than superficial appearance to the metals for which they aren named by common usage. Between that fact, and the realisation that coin values in part represented the rarity of a particular precious metal – something that could be intentionally varied relative to ‘real life’ in a game setting – any ratio of values of precious metals necessary could be stated as the de facto reality.

What’s more, the presence of Dwarvish Miners made it all the more likely that there would BE such a variation; rather than weakening the plausibility of the campaign, this could be a subtle tool to enhance it. I would need to assess just how much more common gold and platinum had to be for the currency ratios to fit, but once I had reverse-engineered my way back to that information, I could then reflect it in the use of precious metals for decoration – gold thread in sewing, and in armour inlays, and so on. This meant that the standardisation of coinage, inspired by an article read with great interest in an issue of The Dragon more than a decade earlier, was back on the table.

That left only two complicating factors, the first being what I should tag as the ‘lowest common denomenator,’ and the other being the desiire for more realistic face values. The second was easily dismissed; the very concept of a ‘lowest common denomenator’ meant that all “10-Foot Pole” prices would have to be converted into that coin scale, exchanged for campaign coins, and that price then converted back up the scale to get the number of sp, gp, pp, and so on. Following this logic, and that in the preceeding paragraphs, I could establish the relative value of coins for the campaign as whatever I liked and then return to the initial question.

I also saw the opportunity to enact another change that I felt quite strongly about during this process. Historically, silver coins were the basis of the economy, the largest denomenation currency that any ordinary person ever saw or handled. Gold coins were rare, and ownership of such vast sums was usually ‘transferred’ with drafts from a bank or moneylender or from the royal treasury; these were the origins of banknotes. I wanted gold coins to be as rare as hens teeth, and platinum even moreso; silver was to be the currency of standard in the Fumanor campaign.

You might think that this will make the work that I did back then less valuable to the readers of this blog, unless they enact the same change, and I’ve described exactly how to go about it if you want to do that; but I’ve taken the liberty of doing the work for you, both ways.

Standard D&D

Platinum Gold Silver Copper
1 10 100 1000
- 1 10 100
- - 1 10
- - - 1

Fumanor

Platinum Gold Silver Bronze Copper
1 5 10 50 500
- 1 2 10 100
- - 1 5 50
- - - 1 10
- - - - 1

If you want to enact this change for yourself, here’s the procedure:

1. Convert character treasuries

  • cp stay the same,
  • sp are relabelled “bp”,
  • extract about 90% of the gp, double the number of coins, and relable them “sp”
  • keep the rest of the gp as “gp”,
  • and double the number of “pp”.

2. Whenever you see a price or a treasure in an official source in sp, you read bp, whenever you see one in gp, you read sp, and whenever you see one in pp, you read gp.

3. You then have choices to make regarding the values of gems, artworks, and other valuables – either keep the value as written, keep the numeric componant but change the currency type (as for 2), or convert the values. I went with the middle of those three options to be consistant, EXCEPT that my campaign was taking place in a world where magic items were rare and hence more valuable, so those stayed ‘as written’.

4a. Consequences:

  • of choice 1: the value of these immediatly doubles in real terms, ie buying power. It becomes twice as expensive to have these made to order. It can become cheaper to pay temple fees for low-level healing than to carry around healing potions.
  • of choice 2: values stay the same in terms of number of coins, but the changed relationships of currencies mean that cheap things in the PHB become cheaper relative to things with the value in ‘gp’. This is slightly closer to being historically accurate.
  • of choice 3: this is the most work and gives the most accurate conversion. But every price or value you ever see will need to be converted into copper pieces by multiplying by 1000 and then converted back into the new currency, which is a pain.
If I were doing it over…

Much of this stems from the legacy of ‘electrum pieces’ and the coinage conversions of 2nd Ed D&D and of the AD&D that preceeded it. These days, I would start with the 3e currency and do straight label exchanges: “sp” to “bp”, “gp” to “sp”, “pp” to “gp”, and then a new line for “pp” worth 10,000 coppers. It would make life so much easier. In fact, I’m strongly tempted to grandfather this change in – it’s something that I should have done when I converted the campaign to 3.0, but overlooked or decided not to, I forget which. I’ll have to discuss it with my players….

The Fumanor Basis Of Conversion

Getting back to the discussion at hand, I was more or less left back where I had been before all those complicating factors had tried to confuse the issue: with the question of what to peg as the basis of the exchange rate between the campaign and “10-foot Pole”. I was initially tempted to use salt, as that had been the standard currency used historically before coinage came along, but decided that a higher-value commodity would give more accurate results. That also excluded the price of a meal, or a standard night’s lodgings, and left me with a choice between a longsword, a pack horse, and a suit of chain mail.

The next step was to list those prices in detail, in all the different coin sizes:

Standard D&D 3.x Fumanor "10-foot Pole"
1 Longsword = 15 gp:
1.5 pp
or 15 gp
or 150 sp
or 1500 cp
1 Longsword = 15 sp:
1.5 pp
or 7.5 gp
or 15 sp
or 75bp
or 750cp
1 Longsword = 18 silver:
or 0.018 mithril
or 0.18 platinum
or 1.8 gold
or 18 silver
or 180 bronze
or 1800 copper
or 18,000 tin
or 180,000 iron
1 Pack Horse = 75gp:
7.5 pp
or 75gp
or 750sp
or 7,500cp
1 Pack Horse = 75sp:
7.5pp
or 32.5gp
or 75sp
or 325bp
or 3,250cp
1 Pack Horse = 45 silver:
or 0.045 mithril
or 0.45 platinum
or 4.5 gold
or 45 silver
or 450 bronze
or 4500 copper
or 45,000 tin
or 450,000 iron
1 Chain Mail = 150gp:
1.5 pp
or 15 gp
or 150 sp
or 1500 cp
1 Chain Mail = 150sp:
1.5 pp
or 7.5 gp
or 15 sp
or 75bp
or 750cp
1 Chain Mail = 65 silver:
or 0.065 mithril
or 0.65 platinum
or 6.5 gold
or 65 silver
or 650 bronze
or 6,500 copper
or 65,000 tin
or 650,000 iron

Each of these gives radically different conversion standards (NB: this is comparing Fumanor currency with “10-foot pole”. The answers would be different for standard 3.x currency).

The Longsword standard gives a ratio of 75:180 for both copper and bronze, or 5:12, roughly 1:2. It also gives a ratio of 15 to 18 silvers, or 5:6, which isn’t all that far removed from a 1:1 ratio.

The Pack Horse standard gives a ratio of 325:450 for both copper and bronze, or 13:18, roughly 2:3. It also gives a ratio of 75:45 silvers, or 15:9, or 5:3.

The Chain Mail standard gives a ratio of 75:650 for both copper and bronze, or 3:26, roughly 1:8. It also gives a ratio of 15:65 silvers or 3:13, about 1:4.

All of these are potentially viable conversion rates, but by far the easiest to use is the longsword silver pieces rate – it’s so close to being 1:1. Furthermore, the fact that both the PHB (as filtered through ‘Fumanor Eyes’) and “Ten-Foot Pole” both list the price in silver pieces adds a further layer of temptation to the result, enacting the Silver Standard that I desired. So that’s how I worked it for Fumanor:

To convert a price from “10-foot pole”, convert it into sp (if it isn’t already) to get the price in Fumanorian SP.

A Standard D&D 3.x Basis Of Conversion

You only have to run your eye over the price comparisons to realise that the only values that are anywhere numerically close to 1:1 are the sp price in standard D&D for longswords and the bronze piece price from “10-foot pole”. In fact, the 150:180 ratio is exactly the same as the one we simplified to 1:1 when working on the Fumanor Standard. So:

to convert “10-foot pole” prices to standard D&D prices:
1. Convert the “10-foot pole” price into bronze pieces; and,
2. Read that as the price in sp.

ie,

  • If the price is given in “gp” in 10-Foot Pole, x100 gives the D&D price in sp, or x10 gives the price in gp, or the price can be read directly in pp.
  • If the price is given in “sp” in 10-Foot Pole, x10 gives the D&D price in sp, or the price can be read directly in cp.
  • If the price is given in “bp” in 10-Foot Pole, it can be read directly as the D&D price in cp.
  • If the price is given in “cp” in 10-Foot Pole, 10x as much can be purchased for the D&D price in cp.
  • And finally, if the price is given in “tp” in 10-Foot Pole, 100x as much can be purchased for the D&D price in cp.

NB: “10-foot pole” gives no prices in iron pieces for the “Middle Ages”.

Once again, though, if you wish to usea different historical era as the equivalent civilization within your campaign, you will get different prices from “10-Foot Pole”, and a different conversion rate.

Conclusions:

I wish that it had been simpler; it wasn’t. I wish that the authors of the various editions of D&D had been consistant in their definitions of currency; they weren’t. I wish that they had historically-consistant pricing of goods; they don’t.

I suspect that the authors tried to be too generic, too one-era-fits-all, when compiling the equipment price list in the PHB; there are too many details of armour types and other historical information for them not to have researched the prices. In part, there may have been a “this feels right” allocation of prices, but I prefer to think that they did their research but failed to render a consistant picture through a failure to place the price lists they found into context.

But that’s precisely why a more detailed and researched volume like “…and a 10-Foot Pole” is so useful, even today, a decade after its initial publication, and for ANY roleplaying system.

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