2018-03-01: Can't take it with you.

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2018-03-01: Can't take it with you.

Postby Nosy Neighbordroid » March 1st, 2018, 3:19 am

Discussion thread for Can't take it with you.
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Re: 2018-03-01: Can't take it with you.

Postby Ugwump » March 1st, 2018, 7:29 am

Historically most gold coins were tiny, maybe half the size of the tip of your smallest finger. I don't mean the joint, I mean looking at it end-on. A backpack full of gold would be more than the net worth of an entire kingdom, serfs, land, and all.

All the gold mined throughout history could fill an Olympic sized swimming pool. So just how big is that pile, anyway?
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Re: 2018-03-01: Can't take it with you.

Postby mindstalk » March 1st, 2018, 9:40 am

Hey, I remembered my password!

There have been some big coins -- hell, I think 1 oz coins are the main ones made and sold today -- but yeah, typically rather smaller. I've looked up weights more than sizes, but in silver, the drachma and denarius were typically 4.3 to 4.5 grams. A gold coin from the same mint could target the same size, in which case it would be nearly twice as heavy, or the same weight, in which case it would be smaller. The Roman aureus and solidus were each one of those, though I forget which was which.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coins_of_ ... tes_dollar has US coin weights. The non-pennies are mostly copper (despite the penny color) which is about the same density as silver. The nickel is 5 grams, the quarter 5.67 grams. So an ancient style silver coin would likely be about the the size and weight of a nickel (but a bit smaller and lighter), and a gold coin as above. At 4.3 grams you get 100 coins to the regular (non-troy) pound, too, convenient for US gaming.

The Carolingian and later British penny were 240 to the troy pound (sterling), which comes out to 1.55 grams. A modern dime is 2.27 grams, and copper is 9 g/cc vs. silver's 10.5. So sterling pennies would have been *small*.

I think I've seen gold coins that small in museums, but I'm not sure they were common. You get more wear and tear at smaller sizes, plus chance of just losing it, and gold is valuable -- I think 12-20 more valuable than silver by weight was a common historical range, though sometimes as low as 10; the modern 60x is unusual, probably the result both of American silver glut and only gold having money-demand these days (and probably still being in a bubble, relative to prices in my lifetime.)

So yeah, fantasy hoards are ridiculous, on the level of Pizarro looting the Inca empire; D&D 3e coins at 50 to the pound are pretty heavy (not as heavy as half-dollar coins), old D&D coins at 10 to the pound for daily use are ridiculous.
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Re: 2018-03-01: Can't take it with you.

Postby dark_lord_zagato » March 1st, 2018, 2:38 pm

I don't care how crazy or impossible shopping with mountains of gold would be, I will always use the term "GP" when talking about old video games. Even if it says Gil or Zenny i'll still call it gold... because i'm stubborn, and I suck. :p

Besides, there are games where you can have 99 of every item in your inventory. Imagine trying to run around with more than one big ass shield, or having a pile of swords on your back, or a couple of full suits of armor that take forever to change in and out of. You pretty much have to assume that any video game uses 4 dimensional bags or magical storage to carry all that junk around.

Oh, and games with food items would be nasty. The stuff would rot in your bag and stink like crazy. You would have flies following you around. :lol:
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Re: 2018-03-01: Can't take it with you.

Postby mindstalk » March 1st, 2018, 7:05 pm

I assumed he meant TTRPGs, since this goes back to D&D.

More nerdery:

Commonly, a silver penny was a daily wage. That still allows for a lot of variation: 1.5 g or 4.5? Enough to feed you, or your family? Does your family own a home or a garden or have income from your spouse? But to be concrete, Athenian jurors were paid half a drachma a day, which was instituted to draw volunteers. A skilled worker or hoplite got 1 drachma; a mine slave might sell for 180 drachmae. I've read that Aristophanes implies that half a drachma is just enough for a family of three.

One source has Roman legionaries getting 250 denarii a year, and Praetorians 375. Of course, I'd guess they were fed by the army. And this is in Augustan times, before mass devaluation.

A large loaf of bread was half a sestertius, or 1/8th of a denarius.

The 3.5 D&D price list is interesting. A lot of ordinary goods and services make decent sense on a silver penny standard. But 'adventurer' goods are a lot more expensive, often the numbers are too big even if they were in silver, and they're in gold instead...

If you do your own research into "medieval price lists", look out for inflation. I think it started taking off in the 1200s or 1300s, and definitely in the 1500s with the flood of American silver into the world. If you combined 1100s and 1600s prices, you might get something as ridiculous as the D&D price list. And IIRC currency of the late Imperial period had numbers maybe 30x those of the early period, not from excess silver but from devaluation of the coinage.
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Re: 2018-03-01: Can't take it with you.

Postby Forrest » March 1st, 2018, 7:28 pm

About how much is the metal in a typical precious-metal coin of antiquity worth in today's fiat currency (e.g. USD)? Would someone from the distant past be shocked at how much silver it took to buy a loaf of bread, or how little? Or not shocked at all because bread-to-silver ratios are still comparable?
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Re: 2018-03-01: Can't take it with you.

Postby dark_lord_zagato » March 1st, 2018, 8:39 pm

mindstalk wrote:I assumed he meant TTRPGs, since this goes back to D&D.


He might have. By programmers I thought he meant game programmers but that could apply to both formats.
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Re: 2018-03-01: Can't take it with you.

Postby mindstalk » March 1st, 2018, 9:09 pm

Forrest wrote:About how much is the metal in a typical precious-metal coin of antiquity worth in today's fiat currency (e.g. USD)? Would someone from the distant past be shocked at how much silver it took to buy a loaf of bread, or how little? Or not shocked at all because bread-to-silver ratios are still comparable?


An excellent question!

As of today, silver is $16.43/troy ounce, or 52 cents/gram. Assuming close to pure silver content, a Carolingian/British penny would be worth 80 cents -- not far even in the countries where "less than $1/day" is the poverty measure. A 4.5 gram denarius would be $2.34, still not much -- then again, the past was kind of poor, so maybe that first the subsistence level of the poorest parts of the world. But it would barely buy a loaf of bread in the US today.

OTOH, the Americas had a *lot* of silver. At 3x the value, we'd be talking $2.40 for the small penny, $6.90 for the big one. So still pretty expensive for US bread. Is 3x the right modifier? No idea.

I visited the Soviet Union a bit before it fell. In Estonia, bread in the market by our hotel sold for 2 rubles, but the black market exchange rate was 30 rubles to the dollar. (Even the official one was 6 to the dollar, so that's like 33 cents for a loaf.) I have no idea about bread price variation otherwise; grain is easily traded, but a lot of the price of a loaf will be local labor and retail costs.

He might have. By programmers I thought he meant game programmers but that could apply to both formats.


'Programmers' wouldn't work for TTRPGs, but he said 'developers', which does.

4.5 grams of gold today is worth $190; at a 10:1 value ratio, that would make the same weight of silver $19, which is getting respectable if you expect bread to be 1/8 of daily wage.

So to answer your question, I think they'd be shocked at how much silver it took to buy bread, but our silver is cheaper than theirs was -- we have a lot, and we're not using it as money anymore. Gold is probably more in line with what they'd expect.
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Re: 2018-03-01: Can't take it with you.

Postby Michael Poe » March 2nd, 2018, 9:18 am

I was referring to both table top and video games. One my most significant memories of it was the old MMOG, Asheron's Call, which had their currency both have weight (one whole whole Burden Unit, the smallest weight that could be assigned in the engine) and take up inventory space (a maximum stack size of 25k gp if I recall correctly). Which I'm sure seemed like a fine idea during the game's creation (as many of the game's other questionable decisions) but as prices and inflation increased in the game world, it became a downright silly as characters would need to juggle and reorganize their whole inventories and clear off as much burden as possible just to carry enough gold on their persons to afford to restock high end spell components. D&D also had their own share of problems with the issue, being more or less severe depending on the edition. And really was the main cause of the whole damn "The dragon needs to be sleeping on a big pile of gold to be properly iconic, but we also can't let the players assfuck the whole game when they recover that pile of gold, but having the kingdom actually use a fiat currency system instead of precious metal coins would feel wrong in our pseudo medieval European setting"mess. And well as having gold values reach such a high number that they might as well be an abstract because you'd never actually use real currency to buy a thing as you'd need a fleet of oil tankers to physically carry that much. And that's not even touching the whole dimensional planes of diamonds/gold/whatever, Wish, and spells that just utterly break the economy and all concept of material scarcity. Really D&D settings should be using some sort of Gold Pressed Latinum/Magic Immune Macguffin Crystal type of trade currency at higher(5+) levels, but the game's developers can't do that because then what would the dragons sleep on?

Basically it's all the fault of stupid god damn dragons and their stupid god damn hoards
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Re: 2018-03-01: Can't take it with you.

Postby mindstalk » March 2nd, 2018, 5:28 pm

The hoards go back to Smaug... who had destroyed and looted two small kingdoms rich in dwarf-work and trade. So yeah he had a bed of gold but it was literally the wealth of a kingdom. Tolkien even alludes to transportation difficulties, solved for the dwarves by simply staying there, and for Bilbo by being more modest in what he took away. And everyone retired and avoided further adventuring, except Balin who wanted to go all Name Level and clear an area and establish a stronghold.

(A small chest each of silver and gold. One liter of gold is about 20 kg or 44 pounds. At current price 20 kg is $850,000. At classical prices it'd be worth at least 200 kg of silver, or 122 years at one drachma a day.

Why waste limited weight on silver? Good question, but bringing your own supply of small change could be beneficial.)

Smaug in turn goes back to Fafnir, but I don't know how much gold that was.
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