So today I've been researching medieval and ancient currencies in prep for my posted world setting. Ugh...what a freaking nightmare.
I won't say it hasn't been worthwhile reading, but it's a total pain in the ass trying to bend a fantasy game equipment list to anything historically accurate. And the conclusion I came to in the end is, it doesn't need to be "historically accurate." This isn't history we're talking about, it's fantasy.
Why does B/X D&D use a gold standard of currency instead of a silver standard? Because it's a damn fantasy world, that's why. While I can see that Gygax's AD&D currencies are based in large part on medieval England (with the pound substituting for the gold piece, the schilling for the silver piece, and the penny for copper...all in the appropriate rate of exchange of 1=20=200), who's to say what might be more (or less) valuable in an alternate (i.e. self-devised) fantasy setting? I'd want to build my fantasy economy on the silver mark, personally (the coins were a lot more portable)...but would a dragon want to sleep on a horde of guilders or florins?
I have seen, in more than one writing (and not just the internet) people complaining about the "unrealistic" costs of armor in the B/X system (for example, 60gps for a suit of plate mail, 40gps for a suit of chain). Per wikipedia (sorry) a hauberk alone cost the equivalent of 12 dairy cows and a full suit of mail might cost "as much as a small house." Well, okay then...how much would a dairy cow have cost in the 11th century?
Well, per one web site, the cost of a good cow in the 12th century would have been 10 schillings. If we use the AD&D Gygaxian conversion (pound = GP, schilling = SP, pence = CP) then a cow would be 10sp and a chain hauberk about 120sp (6gp, using AD&D conversion of 20sp to 1gp). The same site lists a 14th century merchant's house to cost from 33L to 66L (that's 33-66gp in conversion)...although a 14th century cottage is only 2L = 2gp. Guess it depends on your definition of a "small house."
The same site lists the cost of a suit of chainmail (12th century) as 100 schillings (sps); the equivalent of 5 pounds (or 5gp with D&D conversion). A complete suit of "lance armor" (plate & mail) as 3L 6S (that's 3gp and 6sp), while "ready-made milanese armor is L8 6S 8D (8gp + 6sp + 8cp), and "armor of proof" (plate tested against pistols and such) being L14 2S 8D. Under 15gp seems pretty good for firearm-sturdy plate armor, right?
As I said, it's enough to make your head spin. 13 schillings converts to about 1 silver mark. A silver mark is (or was rather) the value of half a pound of silver. In D&D terms, that's 5 silver pieces in any edition due to the giant-size of coins in the Gygaxian universe (10 coins = 1 pound). So if I do a straight conversion from real world to fantasy world (rather than just have the Gygaxian stand-in of 1=20=200 or L=gp, S=sp, D=cp), then you get this in real world terms:
Chainmail = 100 schillings
100 schillings = 7.69 silver marks (we'll round up to 8).
8 silver marks = 4 pounds of silver
4 pounds of silver = 40 silver coins in D&D (40sp)
Which means chainmail in D&D should be either 4gp or 2gp (in AD&D).
Now the cost of chainmail in B/X D&D is 40 gold pieces, not 40 silver pieces. Can we do a straight across conversion (i.e. real silver = "fantasy gold")? I mean it IS a "fantasy world," right? Sure you can...in which case, the costs in the B/X book seem just fine without blowing up the costs. I mean, the average cost of plate and mail is about 60 silver (i.e. 60 fantasy gold pieces). There may be an issue with the amount of starting wealth characters have (and some of the other equipment seems a bit over-priced), but I don't think inflating the prices makes the game more "realistic."
Interesting that "armor for the Prince of Wales, gilt and graven" cost a grand total of 340 L in the 17th century. Even converting pounds straight to gold pieces, I've seen an awful lot of "plate mail" listings post-B/X in the 400+ gp range (even DCC lists half-plate as 550gp and full plate as a whopping 1200gp!). Totally ridiculous!
All right, that's enough for now. My new world setting is going to be on the gold system, and costs will be fairly equivalent to B/X, but I plan on doing some weirdness with starting wealth (and I may also reduce the cost of some items...or not). But if anyone's wondering why I don't up the price of armor, well, this is why.