"Wealth is like the twinkling of an eye—no friend could be more faithless."
Odin, Hávamál, stanza 78

Coinage refers to the metal pieces often found by adventurers as treasure and used to purchase goods and services. The standard currency in most worlds of Dungeons & Dragons is the gold piece (abbreviated gp), although platinum, silver, copper, and coinage of other materials are also found as treasure.

Standard coinage[edit | edit source]

The Free City of Greyhawk on the world of Oerth mints circular coins of five precious metals,[1] each weighing approximately one third of an ounce, or one fiftieth of a pound. Whether by coincidence or design, this standard is common across many worlds. However, the relative value of precious metals can vary.

  • Platinum piece (pp): A coin worth ten gold pieces. Though rarely used in trade, ancient platinum coins are found in dragon's hoards. A single platinum piece will buy one cow or a steel short sword.[2] In some worlds, owing perhaps to rarity or size, platinum coins are minted with a value of 100 gold pieces.[3] In some worlds, platinum is worth only five times that of gold.[4]
  • Gold piece (gp): The "gold standard", both literally and figuratively, although still too valuable for peasants to handle on an everyday basis. One gold piece will buy a shortspear or twenty arrows.[2] The city of Waterdeep in Faerûn mints gold pieces with a particular convex shape, rather than circular.
  • Electrum piece (ep): A coin worth half a gold piece. Many kingdoms don't use this coin, but old electrum coinage is still found in treasure chests in forgotten dungeons. Some realms mint larger electrum coins worth twice as much as their gold coin.[4]
  • Silver piece (sp): A commonly-used coin worth one-tenth of a gold piece. Will buy a pound of iron, a lamp, or a day's labor.[2]
  • Copper piece (cp): A coin worth one-hundredth of a gold piece.[2] Will buy half a loaf of bread, a piece of chalk, or a torch. Sometimes found in large quantities in dungeons, where they a nuisance for adventurers to carry out due to their low value per weight. Some realms mint a copper piece worth as much as one-fiftieth of a gold piece.[4]

Less common coinage[edit | edit source]

Uncommon materials or denominations[edit | edit source]

  • Bronze piece (bzp): Worth one tenth of a copper piece, or one-thousandth of a gold piece. Used in poor empires such as the Empire of Iuz on Oerth, which mints a coin called the bronze dullbone.
  • Steel piece: A coin minted on the world of Krynn, worth fifty silver pieces due to that metal's rarity.
  • Iron piece (ip): Worth one hundredth of a copper piece, or one ten-thousandth of a gold piece. Intentionally minted by oppressive empires because it rusts over time, making it difficult for low-status individuals to accumulate wealth.

Fiat currency[edit | edit source]

Fiat currency is a form of exchange where the coinage itself has no intrinsic material value, but whose value is determined arbitrarily by the government who produces it. Such currency often incorporates measures to avoid counterfeiting.

Examples of fiat currency include:

  • The ceramic coin, or bit, minted in the world of Athas. Each coin holds arbitrary value equivalent to one copper, silver, gold, or platinum piece, and weighs one sixth of an ounce.[5]
  • The British pound, minted by the nation-state of England on the technologically advanced world of Earth, with an approximate value of £155 per gold piece.[6]

Other forms of currency[edit | edit source]

Large trade bars of precious metal are sometimes used to conduct large purchases. However, for large trades, such as the purchase of property worth thousands of gold pieces, promissory notes or other units of trade are more practical.

Rare coins, such as those from ancient fallen kingdoms or foreign lands, may sell at a premium to collectors. Such coins are worth up to 10% more than their metal value would ordinarily indicate.[7]

Gemstones of various types are often found as treasure in dungeons, or used to carry large amounts of wealth. Gemstones range from semiprecious stones like obsidian, worth around ten gold pieces, to rare diamonds worth around 5,000 gp,[8] with a few rare and massive examples reaching hundreds of thousands of gold pieces.[4] However, appraising the value of a gemstone is more difficult than a standard minted coin, so they are not used as standard currency.

Publication history[edit | edit source]

The exact relative value of coins vary considerably between editions of Dungeons & Dragons.

Original D&D[edit | edit source]

According to Monsters & Treasure (1974), p.39, the exchange rate between coins is as follows:

  • 1 silver = 5 copper
  • 1 gold = 10 silver
  • 1 gold = 2 electrum; OR 2 gold = 1 electrum
  • 1 platinum = 5 gold

Basic D&D[edit | edit source]

AD&D 1st edition[edit | edit source]

According to the Players Handbook (1e) (1978), p.35, the exchange rate between coins is as follows:

  • 1 silver = 10 copper
  • 1 gold = 20 silver
  • 1 gold = 2 electrum
  • 1 platinum = 5 gold

All coins are assumed to be of roughly equal weight and size.

AD&D 2nd edition[edit | edit source]

According to the Player's Handbook (2e revised) (1995), p.89, the exchange rate of coins is the same as in AD&D 1st edition. A table of provided showing the calculated conversions between each of the five types of coin; e.g. 1 platinum is worth 500 copper.

D&D 3rd edition[edit | edit source]

According to the Player's Handbook (3.0) (2000), p.96 and Player's Handbook (3.5) (2003), p.112, the exchange rate between coins is as follows:

  • 1 silver = 10 copper
  • 1 gold = 10 silver
  • 1 platinum = 10 gold

D&D 3e's decision to use a purely decimal system simplifies the calculation of treasure hoards in terms of gold pieces, which is important since the game rules generally allow the purchase of things like expensive magic items whose prices are listed in gold pieces.

Notably absent is the electrum piece.

D&D 4th edition[edit | edit source]

According to the Player's Handbook (4e) (2008), p.212, the exchange rate of coins is:

  • 1 silver = 10 copper
  • 1 gold = 10 silver
  • 1 platinum = 100 gold
  • 1 astral diamond = 100 platinum

Notably, this edition multiplies the value of platinum by ten, creating a useful unit for inclusion in massive high-level treasure hoards. 4th edition also adds the astral diamond, worth 10,000 gold pieces each.

D&D 5th edition[edit | edit source]

According to the Player's Handbook (5e) (2014), p.143, the exchange rate of coins is:

  • 1 silver = 10 copper
  • 1 electrum = 5 silver
  • 1 gold = 10 silver
  • 1 platinum = 10 gold

D&D 5th edition, which aimed to return to D&D's traditions, re-instates D&D 3e's value of 1 platinum to 10 gold, abandons 4e astral diamond, and even returns AD&D's electrum piece to D&D's core rules.

Creative origins[edit | edit source]

The earliest known real-world coins date back to the 6th or 7th century BC, where King Alyattes of Lydia is credited with minting the first electrum coinage. King Croesus of Lydia subsequently minted coins of gold and silver, and coins of precious metals continued to be used throughout Europe until the modern period. (For further reading, see the Wikipedia entry for "Coin".)

The use of the term "gold piece" to refer to a gold coin pre-dates Dungeons & Dragons. In Robert E. Howard's The Hour of the Dragon (1950):

"Almaric hesitated, tugging his chin. In these chaotic times it was not rare to find men willing to sell their souls for a few gold pieces."

Hoards of coins frequently appeared in the fantasy fiction which inspired Dungeons & Dragons, including The Hobbit, where coins appear in Smaug the dragon's treasure hoard.

The use of archaic precious metal coinage, rather than modern fiat currency whose value depends on the issuing nation, is an important thematic feature of Dungeons & Dragons.

Reception and influence[edit | edit source]

Alternative systems[edit | edit source]

In D20 Modern, a roleplaying game based on the D&D 3rd edition rules and set around the 20th century, tracking currency is replaced with a wealth bonus which abstractly represents a character's buying power. Buying expensive equipment reduces the wealth bonus, while buying items below the character's wealth bonus does not reduce it.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Living Greyhawk Gazetteer (2000), p.51.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Player's Handbook (3.5) (2003), p.112.
  3. Player's Handbook (4e) (2008).
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Monsters & Treasure (1974), p.39.
  5. Dark Sun Campaign Setting (4e) (2010), p.14.
  6. The City Beyond the Gate, Dragon #100 (Aug 1985), p.45-68.
  7. Draconomicon: Chromatic Dragons (2008), p.64-65.
  8. Dungeon Master's Guide (3.5) (2003), p.55.
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