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Monday, July 12, 2021

Treasure Codes: How Coins Work

At some point, I plan to do a conversion table for OD&D treasure types to the treasure codes I wrote about last week. But that’s going to take a while to assemble, so in the short term, I’ll try to explain some of the thinking behind the codes, with an eye towards things I might change in the future.

First topic: coins in treasure troves.

The original treasure tables had separate rolls for three kinds of coins: copper, silver, and gold. Later official versions of the treasure table often include new columns for electrum and/or platinum. I decided it makes more sense to use relative coin values. This has a couple advantages:

  • It keeps the number of rolls low.
    The full AD&D treasure table would require five rolls just for coins. This way, there’s only three rolls in most cases.
  • It allows adjustments for GMs who use the silver standard.
    This is a pretty common house rule that interprets equipment prices in silver pieces instead of gold pieces. There are rarer variant house rules for a copper standard or other alternatives.
  • It allows temporary shifts for unusual treasure troves.
    Even if using the silver standard, a GM could change the common coin type for a dwarven hoard to “gold” to make it much more valuable.

In the previous write-up, I used the codes

C (common coin, in bags of 300 coins each)
Cl (low-value coin, bags of 300 coins each)
Cr (rare coin, bags of 300 coins each) and
L (loose coin, in smaller quantities)

Plus optional suffixes to specify other types. Re-thinking this, I’ve decided that it’s easier to just use C + vowel + suffix. Suffixes are up to individual GMs – they are mnemonics, after all – but my own suggestions, based on stuff I’ve seen, are:

c for copper
s for silver
l for electrum
g for gold
p for platinum
m for mithril
j for junk (any coin less valuable than copper, frex iron)
double or triple letters for larger coins, small bars, etc.

The missing element to these mnemonic codes, of course, is the vowels, which I defined as quantities. My original approach was to pick some of the most common quantities and assign them to vowels, but now I’m thinking that, if the die-type is constant (1d6) and we use numeric prefixes to indicate how many dice to roll (3 cig = 3d6 gold coins,) all we really need to use the vowel for is the multiplier (base number of coins.) So here’s a rewrite:

a for average (x20)
e for extra (x50)
o for overflowing (x300)
i for individual (x1)

These multipliers are based on container sizes in Men & Magic: 20 coins in a pouch, 50 coins in a small bag, 300 coins in a large sack. Which means that the first three vowels can be read as those container types. So:

2 cag = 2d6 pouches of gold pieces, or 40 to 240 gp
5 cog = 5d6 sacks of 300 gold each, or 1,500 to 9,000 gp

Double vowels, or vowel combinations, add the multiples together before multiplying: coog is twice as many sacks of coins as cog.

The missing vowels, y and u, can be redefined as needed, but by default. u is “unique” (no die roll, just a single item) and y is an abbreviation for “two sacks and two bags”, a x700 multiplier. This makes it easy to get the original quantities of coins in the treasure table with the oy combo (x1000).

Next up: gems and jewelry.

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  1. You have room for another mnemonic multiplier:

    u for uncountable (x1000)

    1. And to expand on that, we can count that as the contents of a large chest, so the number could be read in chests.

    2. I've got "u" as "unique" (one item, no die roll) at the moment, but officially it's user-defined, so you could do that if desired. For the x1000 level, I'm using "oy".

      I'm thinking those large chests are pretty huge. 300 coins is the size of a backpack or large sack, basically the size and shape of a 30-pound bag of potatoes. Most chests are going to be in that range. Larger chests would exist, but keep in mind 1000 coins is more than three of those potato sacks. Although maybe we could say that the chest stores the same volume as a backpack, but sturdy enough to hold 1000 coins of weight. 300 coins would only partially fill a potato sack because of the density of gold and silver.

  2. I remember an article from Dragon magazine back in the day, "How Many Coin in a Coffer?" by David F. Godwin, Dragon #80 (Dec. 1983) & Best of Dragon, Vol. V (May 1986). He asks, "How many coins will fit into a chest 18x30x18 inches?" and comes up with the answer of 43,200 stacked coins or 38,880 loose coins. Because you can stack coins in a chest or coffer, you get a higher density of possible storage. But 18x30x18 is pretty large; I was envisioning a coffer 5" high, 9" wide, and 5" deep. By his math, that coffer holds exactly 1,000 coins stacked, or about 900 coins if they're loose.