In Real Life
gold coins were like hundred-dollar bills; only used for very large transactionsnote
, and most people were unlikely to see very many in their lifetimes. But in many fantasy settings the most basic equipment costs dozens or even hundreds of gold pieces.
This is most likely to give players some point of familiarity by making the cost similar to what it would be in dollars, or yen in Japanese games (which might be why they tend to be worse with it, as the yen is currently worth about $0.01).
For a basis of comparison, a "cheap sword for a peasant" cost six pence (1/40th of a pound) in the 1340s. In the 14th century an unskilled or semiskilled laborer working for wages-only would have earned around 1 to 2 pounds per year (a servant working for board plus wages might have earned as little as two shillings - a tenth of a pound). A middle-class urban family might earn 5-10 pounds per year.note
The most common gold coins of the era were worth around six shillings (a bit under a third of a pound) or more, so for most people, one (generic) gold coin would represent at least a few weeks' earnings, if not a few months'. You would not use gold to do your grocery shopping.
Indeed, even today in First World countries, one Troy ounce of gold is worth about a week's pay for many people that we would consider Middle Class. (The price of gold exceeds one thousand US dollars per Troy ounce as of this writing.) It's been noted that for most of civilized history (down to today), a one-ounce gold coin would pay for a nice gentleman's suit of clothes.
Subtrope of Fictional Currency
and Gold Silver Copper Standard
. Contrast Ridiculous Future Inflation
. Compare Worthless Yellow Rocks
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Anime & Manga
- Averted in Spice and Wolf, where in one episode Lawrence has to exchange his gold coins for silver in order to buy clothing (the vendors wouldn't have change). Also one of the early plot arcs involves speculation on the silver content of one nation's coins.
- Cerebus the Aardvark: Partially averted, in that Cerebus is able to buy room and board at an inn for the rest of his natural life with a single gold coin — but only because his and the Cirinists' abortive attempt at ascension used up all the gold in the economy.
- Mainly averted in Discworld, where the "gold coins" issued by the Ankh-Morpork banks actually contain less gold than the equivalent volume of seawater, which ends up being a plot point in Making Money. Justified in the Agatean Empire (the fantasy counterpart to Imperial China), where gold is a very common metal and is used for low-value coins. Played with when the first Agatean tourist arrives in Ankh-Morpork with a chest full of pure gold coins, and starts paying for meals with enough gold to buy the restaurant, forcing the Ankh-Morporkian authorities to react to the threat to the economy.
- Parodied in Myth Adventures, Skeeve and Aahz are given a pitiful amount (on Klah) of gold coins to win a war with, but on Deva it turns out that one gold coin is a pretty decent asking price for an interdimensional mercenary's services.
- Of course, said mercenary was a powerless imp who was desperate for a job, and the others were just interested in a scrap. Aahz's attempts to hire a legitimate fighting squad flopped when they demanded he pay their drink tab first.
- In a later book it's a plot point that twenty gold pieces is a really small amount of money, even by the standards of a low-grade con artist.
- Realistically averted in The Curse Of Chalion: one gold coin is enough money to make Cazaril very frightened of muggers, and the first thing he does when he gets to a city is change it for more practical copper pieces. Further, he cannot do this at just any shop; he has to visit a moneylender.
- Played with in The Quest of the Unaligned, when rich airhead Ruahkini produces 25 gold to cover a month's bar fees for the main character. Judging from the reaction of the bar's patrons, he probably paid for a couple of year's worth of drinks.
- Harry Potter, in an interview J.K. Rowling said a gold Galleon was equivalent to "about a fiver". On the other hand, there's nothing to say they're made of gold as opposed to being simply gold-coloured.
- Pippi Longstocking pays for everything with the gold coins in the chest her father left her. She's basically unaware of their real value, though (she once pays a whole handful of them to a sweets shop in exchange for candy for the children of the entire village!), and nobody seems especially willing to point it out to her.
Live Action TV
- Averted in an episode of the Babylon 5 follow-up Crusade; the crew visits a human colony which is voluntarily living at a pre-industrial level. Captain Gideon goes to a tavern and holds up a gold-colored coin, asking for whatever it will buy. The tavernkeeper responds that it's enough to buy the entire tavern. Not just all the food and drink in it. All of it.
- Dungeons & Dragons:
- A simple dagger costs two gold pieces. According to the Player's Handbook v.3.5 gold pieces are a third of an ounce. Even if gold is more common in that setting, that amount should still be worth a lot more than just a simple dagger.
- It was worse in 1st Edition, wherein a gold piece weighed a tenth of a pound (about 1.5 Troy ounces). And a simple dagger still cost two gold pieces.
- In 1st Edition the widespread use of gold coins was explained in the Dungeon Master's Guide as being a result of "gold rush" economics. Adventurers were constantly going out and raiding lost tombs and monster hoards, bringing back the gold they found and spending it. This led to serious inflation and a significant decrease in the value of gold.
- Which is handled fairly realistically in this Nodwick comic.
- Goblins once parodied the poorly thought out prices in the Player's Handbook.
- Previews for the fifth edition have claimed it will avert this, basing prices in silver instead of gold.
- Gold is common enough in the Dragonlance setting that it isn't even valuable enough to be used for coinage at all.
- Averted in GURPS Dungeon crawl adventures. A copper piece is worth about a dollar, while a gold coin is closer to $80.
- The basic set campaigns book suggests that if you want a more realistic setting make a copper farthing worth $1 and a silver penny half the diameter $4, and exchanging silver and gold at a 20 to 1 rate. But if a GM wants wealth to be less portable they could make a dollar equivalent to a one ounce silver coin and thus make a one ounce gold piece worth $20.
- Ironclaw averts this. The standard coin is the silver denar, which is worth a day of unskilled labor, or a day's worth of good food and a room at an inn. Gold aureals are worth 24 denarii.
- Averted in Fantasy Craft which uses silver coins as the standard.
- The Elder Scrolls series in general. In Skyrim, one merchant mentions that with the dragon attacks supply routes are cut off and he can charge almost anything.
- Gold pieces are RuneScape's standard Global Currency. A typical tavern might charge one or two gold pieces for a mug of beer. A chocolate cake is about 400 gold pieces. A typical piece of armour could be anywhere from 40,000 to 20,000,000. A pumpkin costs hundreds of millions.
- It's possible to mine gold in RuneScape, which is where things start to get weird. Gold ore and gold bars are almost worthless, being worth less than 100 coins and only used in making jewelry. This is partly due to the fact that they can't be crafted into coins outside of alchemy, which only results in a mere 180 coins at best. On the flip side, gold leaves are incredibly expensive, costing 130,000 coins, as they can only be purchased from an NPC who sells them as a ingredient for posh furniture. This results in a rather strange case where a single sheet of gold is worth thousands of bars of gold.
- Almost averted in Dragon Age: Origins, where one gold coin equals 100 silver coins or 10,000 copper coins. IRL, the respective metals' prices ratio is about 427:8:1, so the balance is still a bit off comparatively.
- Nethack: A fortune cookie costs 7 gold "zorkmids", a food ration 45 zorkmids, and artifact weapons cost a few thousand zorkmids. Back-calculation from the weight system suggests that a zorkmid weighs about 40 grams, or about one and a quarter troy ounces. At that size and those prices, gold wouldn't be worth much.
- The Ultima series is an odd case with this. The existence of silver and copper coins in the game world is mentioned, but you only ever see gold yourself. A person working at the mint in Ultima VI shows you copper and silver coins, and then says something like "A grand adventurer such as yourself would surely only deal in gold." That still doesn't explain why one night at a regular inn can cost twenty gold.
- Averted in Ultima I, where your cash on hand is denominated in Copper Pence. The game's flavor text refers to gold and silver coins as being worth 100 or 10 pence respectively. A suit of plate armor costs about 150 pence (1.5 gold pieces), and a space shuttle costs about 13 gold pieces.
- Castlevania II: The absolute cheapest, most worthless crap goes for 50 gold.
- In Diablo II and III, a gold piece is the tiniest unit of currency in the game. Level 1 monsters routinely carry up to 10 gold pieces (which they drop on the ground when you kill them). Vendors are willing to pay you 2 gold pieces for a damaged club (basically a broken stick). By level 10, you'll be carrying around (and paying) thousands of gold pieces.
- In the second game, between players, the gold piece was even more devalued than it was with vendors. While a vendor might pay 140 gold for a single low-quality gemstone, already a pretty silly exchange, you'd have a hard time convincing a player to part with a single chipped gem even for all the gold he could physically carry (several hundred thousand).
- Used and abused in the Dragon Quest series, where a simple healing herb, the sort that grows wild pretty much everywhere and is dropped en masse by the ludicrously-easy-to-kill slimes, generally costs eight gold pieces. A cloth bandana will run you forty-five gold pieces.
- Fallout 2 used gold coins (later established as NCR dollars) as the main currency in the Core Region. A simple pre-war police tonfa costs 30 of these coins. A sharpened wooden pole is worth 5!
- Averted and arguably inverted in Wurm Online. Gold coins are extremely rare, and few players will ever actually see one even if they have a gold deposit inside their territory; even silver coins aren't that common, understandably so given that the exchange rate is fixed at one silver coin to 1€, or about US$1.35.
- Averted in Tales of the Questor, a gold coin is more money than many people see in their lifetime. And certainly enough to hire a Questor, especially in the metal-poor Seven Villages where they normally use rings and beads instead of coins.
- This site compares sci-fi and fantasy currencies to real life ones.