Follow TV Tropes


Cheap Gold Coins

Go To

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 unless they happened to work at places where such large transactions were commonplace. In these economies, the average citizen would be much more likely to carry around their cash in the form of silver and bronze coins instead, making finding a gold coin a very special occurrence.

However, in many fantasy settings, the most basic equipment costs dozens or even hundreds of gold pieces, often to the point that characters can be seen walking around with bags stuffed full of the stuff!

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 one yen has been consistently worth about $0.01 for quite some time). In video games, another reason for it is simplifying things - having to deal with multiple denominations would be annoying, so everything is priced in gold.

For a basis of comparison, a cheap sword for a peasant cost six pence (1/40th of a poundnote ) 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. Between the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the mid-13th century, gold coinage wasn't even minted in Western Europe— the primary coin was the silver penny,note  which had a purchasing value of about 15 USD as of 2020.note 

Indeed, even today in First World countries, one Troy ounce of gold is worth anywhere from a fortnight to two month's pay for many people that are considered middle class. (The price of gold exceeds two 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 and Rare Money. Compare Treasure Is Bigger in Fiction and Worthless Yellow Rocks.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga  
  • Also averted in Gate, as the amount of money initially requested by Sugawara from The Empire as a reparation, 500 million suwani, turns up to be more gold than probably exists in their world. For the record, suwani is a really large gold coin weighing ~60 grams, with a couple of them often representing an average man's whole life savings. Otherwise the story pays little attention to the money, but the cost of a meal and a couple of beers paid by Yao in an Alnus tavern seems to be three or four copper pieces, which is about right for the High Medieval times.
  • Justified in Log Horizon: all gold in the world comes from monsters dying, which then comes from an endless supply created from nothing as far as we know, so gold is far more common in the world because it is far more abundant or at least easily available.
  • Averted in the Wano Country arc of One Piece, although using platinum instead of gold. It's noted that a single platinum coin would be worth enough to build a nice home, and the coins that most people use are silver. (This doesn't come up outside of Wano because the rest of the world uses beli, which appear to be fiat money.)
  • Downplayed in That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime: Rimuru takes the time to go over the various forms of currency used in the world (as well as noting trading in goods is still often used as payment in poorer areas and often used as collateral in richer nations) and notes gold coins are incredibly valuable (worth the equivalent of $1000 each), with the common pay being in silver for more day-to-day interactions. It's downplayed in that as the leader of Tempest, a rapidly rising economic and technological powerhouse, he's doing a lot more business in terms of gold with merchants and other nations due to the sheer financial power he has at his disposal and is capable of bringing to the table.

    Comic Books 
  • Cerebus the Aardvark: Played with when 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.
  • In The Smurfs story "The Finance Smurf", every Smurf uses gold coins, as that is the only precious metal the titular character has on hand to make the currency, and even Miner considers them Worthless Yellow Rocks.

    Fan Works 
  • I Woke Up As a Dungeon, Now What?: As one of the more common drops from dungeon treasure chests, gold coins are far less valuable in this setting than on Earth. Even a member of a poverty-strapped tribe can rustle up a bag full of gold coins, and is willing to spend dozens of them to power a taming ritual for a relatively minor dungeon monster.
  • Amusingly Subverted in One Tin Pegasus. When one of the Ranger recruits asks why Scootaloo happened to have a jam jar on hand to trap a poisonous spider, Scootaloo says that she wasn't about to throw away the jar after spending "good livres" on it. Everyone is gobsmacked that Scootaloo apparently paid in gold for a jar of jam, until she clarifies that it was Zap Apple jam.

  • 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. Gold is so common there that they often use it as an alternative to lead for roofing just because it's prettier. The coins only have value because the central banks back them with silver.
    • Further justified in that Agatean is on the "Counter Weight" continent. It's believed that all that gold keeps the Disc balanced. In fact, while there is indeed an abnormal metal density in the Counterweight Continent that balances out the Disc, the metal in question is not gold but Octiron, a highly magical mineral, and most of it is buried far too deep in the crust to be mined. Gold is 'only' about as common as copper, there.
    • In Hogfather, the Auditors pay for the assassination of the Disc's equivalent of Santa Claus with completely blank coin-sized disks. This somewhat relieves Lord Downey, the head of the Assassin's Guild who's not very comfortable with the contract, until he learns they are made of pure gold (and this is in Ankh-Morpork). The Auditors are able to manipulate matter effortlessly but don't know much about humans, which is also why they made the coins simply materialize already inside their vault.
  • 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.
  • In Harry Potter, golden Galleons are the highest denomination of currency, but still not worth that much — Harry pays ten Galleons for the Ominoculars in Goblet of Fire, for example. J.K. Rowling has said in an interview that one Galleon is worth roughly £5.
  • Pippi Longstocking pays for everything with the gold coins in the chest her father left her. Pippi, who isn't very sharp at math, is apparently 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. Justified in that it is virtually impossible for Pippi to break down the coins into smaller denominations, and since she has plenty of these coins she doesn't worry about running out.
  • Magic 2.0: Everyone in medieval England (renamed Camelot under the advice of a wizard calling himself Merlin) uses gold coins as pocket change. This is likely due to the fact that the wizards are capable of conjuring large amounts of gold at will, thus greatly depreciating its value. Jimmy even implies they're doing this on purpose, so that Camelot will never try to invade another country for their gold. By a few books in this has gotten so out of hand that the price of gold falls below silver right across Europe.
  • The Dark Profit Saga: Subverted. Dwarven alchemists figured out how to make gold, collapsing the gold standard and leading to the adoption of the giltin, a fiat currency backed by the trade guilds with gilded tin coins and banknotes. The fact that the dwarven kingdoms are still trying to use gold as a currency has resulted in a severe economic recession for them.
  • Averted in Spice and Wolf, where 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.

    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.
  • Subverted in Galavant, Madalena puts a bounty of six gold coins on Sid's head. He tries to convince a crowd of peasants who want to turn him in that it's too small a price for someone's life, and one of them retorts that it's enough to buy a farm. An earlier episode played it straight, with the buy-in for a jousting tournament being a hundred gold and one of the competitors substituting a chicken.
  • Averted in Game of Thrones. Ser Davos Seaworth talks the Iron Bank of Braavos into giving his master Stannis Baratheon a loan in gold coin to hire mercenaries. They're given a case of coin about the size of a textbook, which gets him thousands of cavalrymen.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Played with in Hägar the Horrible, a sleazy "public relations" man offers to improve Hagar's reputation for 100 gold, Hagar's idea for promoting goodwill instead amounts to buying a round for the whole bar for only five gold.

    Tabletop Games 
  • 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 claimed it would avert this by basing prices in silver instead of gold, but when the game was released it didn't - probably for the sake of ease and consistency with previous editions.
    • Gold is common enough in the Dragonlance setting that it isn't even valuable enough to be used for coinage at all.
    • Also parodied in The Order of the Stick, which suggested that these prices only apply to adventurers, and are massive mark-ups on what normal people would expect to spend.
  • 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.
  • Hero Realms has all the players start off with Gold coins, even if they're playing different character classes. Gold is also the lowest paying Item in the game, and this being a Deckbuilder is one of the cards to get rid of from the deck. Eventually, players will upgrade to higher paying Fire Gems and Actions, and sacrifice or discard Gold to get better cards.
  • 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.
  • Averted in Anima: Beyond Fantasy, where 1 gold coin equals to 100 silver coins and the daily wage of unskilled labor is 1 silver coin.
  • In Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, the money system goes brass, silver and gold and is based on Old British Money. The 4th edition core rulebook gives the main coinages in the Empire the equivalent modern value of 1 brass penny = £1, 1 silver shilling = £12 and 1 gold crown = £240. Outside of adventures, most characters earn a wage based on their status in society, with the lowest of the low earning between 2-20 pennies a week and the richest of the rich as much as 5 crowns (before cost of living is applied). Either way, it is as likely for a Player Character to be toting around a thousand gold crowns (or their equivalent) as it is for most people to walk around with 240,000 pounds on their person nowadays — which is to say, not very.
  • Flying Circus averts this. Whilst gold coins (referred to as Thaler) are the standard currency in the game, a single Thaler is worth a lot of money in-universe - about a few months pay for an unskilled labourer.
  • Blades in the Dark has a similar aversion. The only currency tracked by the game is Coin. A Coin is a large gold coin, worth a month of unskilled labor or the largest bag of silver coins you can comfortably hold in one hand. The game also mentions that physical Coins are rarely seen and that the Coin (much like the British Pound for most of its existence) is primarily a unit of accounting. "Flashing Coin" is a byword for reckless and extravagant spending.

    Video Games 
  • The Elder Scrolls
    • Standard for the series. Even the cheapest items (usually Shop Fodder) in the game generally cost at least a few gold coins (called Septims), with no lower value currency anywhere to be found. Hilariously, a gold ingot can be sold for more gold coins than that ingot would reasonably be able to produce.
    • Skyrim adds the "Transmute" spell, an Adept level Alteration school spell. Using it will turn any Iron Ore you are carrying into Silver Ore, and then the Silver Ore into Gold Ore. It is a rare spell (found only in two locations and not available for purchase), so it is hardly ubiquitous enough to justify the trope, though it does add to the plentiful Money for Nothing for the Player Character.
  • 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, 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.
  • Dragon Age:
    • Almost averted in Dragon Age: Origins, where one gold coin equals 100 silver coins or 10,000 copper coins, with two copper coins being enough for an ordinary flagon of ale.
    • Played straight in Dragon Age: Inquisition, where prices are all in gold instead of the Gold–Silver–Copper Standard of the prior two games. Justified in that you're working for an N.G.O. Superpower rather than simply handling the finances of a small group of adventurers.
  • NetHack: A fortune cookie costs 7 gold "zorkmids", a food ration 45 zorkmids, and artifact weapons cost a few thousand zorkmids.
  • 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.
  • In Diablo, 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. This becomes an issue due to a Scrappy Mechanic: every 5000 gold coins take up one unit of inventory space, forcing players to store gold in town. Apparently, massive piles of gold and other valuables were completely safe while sitting straight on the ground.
    • In Diablo II, 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 (Now limited to several hundred thousand, but thankfully stored as a simple number and not taking any storage space).
    • Diablo III, along with making the protagonists into awakened demigods who can slaughter and loot monsters at speeds previously unheard of in the franchise, also granted them the ability to carry as much gold as they would like. By the time the player can clear the content on the highest difficulty, their chests contain tens of billions of gold coins.
  • 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!
    • Done more sensibly in Fallout: New Vegas, since only Caesars Legion issues gold coins, and they're worth 25 of their silver coins. It's still only equivalent to 100 caps though.note  The NCR used to mint gold coins but during the NCR-Brotherhood war, the Brotherhood of Steel blew up the NCR gold deposits and their economic situation has only been going worse and worse as $100 NCR dollars give a measly 40 bottle caps, something citizens and military personnel in New Vegas bemoan.
  • 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.
  • Jade Empire runs on the silver standard, but you usually end up spending hundreds of coins at a time. Of course, what you're buying are immensely valuable things like unique legendary weapons and magical gems. At one point a character from the counterpart of Europe argues that the Empire should use gold as currency, "just because".
  • Played dead straight in nearly every Dungeons & Dragons video game (much as in the tabletop game itself, mentioned above) except Planescape: Torment where all money in the game is rendered in copper coins. You start the game in the Hive Ward, home to the poorest of the poor in Sigil, so the idea of finding any kind of gold coinage there is beyond ridiculous. Later, despite moving into more affluent areas, the sole coin remains copper because the game engine was designed only to use one kind of currency, even if buying late-game gear with them would be like buying a car with pennies.
  • In contrast to the Gold–Silver–Copper Standard of the first four games in the Quest for Glory series, Quest for Glory V has just one coin, the drachma, which is much more heavily inflated than the other currencies.
  • Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons games have the player pay for everything in G, short for gold. Most coins that can be found via foraging or mining are worth some value of G, but can't be used as currency.
  • In Titan Quest gold is the only currency and the player quickly starts amassing it in the hundreds of thousands.
  • Guild Wars has gold as the base currency, with platinum bars being the equivalent of 1000 gold. Interestingly averted in the sequel which moved to the Gold–Silver–Copper Standard.
  • World of Warcraft gradually manifested this trope as it became easier to acquire money over time. When the game first came out, five gold pieces represented a fairly substantial amount of money, but after several expansion packs, most players have cash reserves in the hundreds of thousands or millions of gold pieces.
  • The standard currency of Flight Rising is treasure, represented by gold coins. You get 250 treasure per day just for logging in and keeping your dragons fed, while higher-end lair expansions will set you back over a million treasure. Each.
  • In For the King, the only unit of currency in the game is the Fahrul gold piece, which is stated to be solid gold. Everything in the game is priced in a whole number of gold coins, and even the cheapest and most useless things are worth a gold coin or two.
  • In the original EverQuest, gold coins weren't just cheap, but they weren't even the most valuable coin. The platinum piece was most valuable, and some rare items could easily go for thousands of platinum (tens of thousands of gold).

    Web Comics  
  • 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.

    Web Original  
  • This site includes a converter for sci-fi, fantasy, and real life currencies.

    Western Animation  
  • In the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero episode "Money to Burn", Cobra Commander uses a plasma transmitter to detonate all cash in the United States so that he can blackmail civilians to trade in their material goods for "Cobra Currency" - gold coins with his face on it. At the end, G.I. Joe detonates the Cobra Currency supply sending those coins flying all over the snow-burdened mountains where they were battling Cobra troopers, who get busy trying to collect those coins for themselves as while Baroness tries to talk them out of doing so asserting that it's just gold-painted polymer alloy that is worthless to them if the Joes succeed in blocking widespread distribution of those coins to all civilians - which they do. The Vipers get captured and rounded up by the Joes.

    Real Life  
  • With the conquest of the Boer republics and their valuable mines in 1902, gold captured from the Dutch and Afrikaans-operated mines flooded the British markets and the Gold Sovereign (a 1-pound coin) became an everyday item, possibly making Edwardian Britain one of the few Real Life examples of this trope. On the other hand, the proliferation of cheap gold meant that the value of the pound fell dramatically, causing prices to inflate by a third and the value of wages to fall by 13%. Nowadays, the Sovereign is a prized bullion coin, valued both by collectors and investors for its high metal purity as well as its interesting history, and it's not uncommon to see Edwardian Sovereigns in good condition sell for hundreds to even thousands of pounds.
    • As a fun aside, the Sovereign, plus the Half Sovereign, rare Double Sovereign and even rarer Quintuple Sovereign, survived the decimalisation of the pound during the 1970's, and continue to be legal tender today, though for quite obvious reasons, you're not really meant to spend them for their face value - £1, £0.50, £2 and £5, respectively.
  • When king Mansa Musa went on pilgrimage to Mecca in the 1320s, he caused an economic crisis due to how much gold he spread around on the way there. When he learned of it, he bought the gold back.