Coins & Calendars, Redeux

A while ago, I had written about the pseudo-medieval economy of Dungeons & Dragons by treating it as a pre-industrial capitalist economy emerging out of a feudal society. I had also written about a simple calendar system in light of that, to make it easy to model long-term play on top of social relations grounded in a living game-world. In this article, I will combine my insights from both of those earlier attempts to develop a singular theory of managing time and society in a campaign. The primary concern is creating a fictional timekeeping system that harmonizes with different scales of play, so that players can zoom out and act in the capacity of months or years without much mental math to scale these activities.

Edit 3/15 12:00 PM: Throughout this post, I say that the ratio of pounds:shillings:pence is 1:12:240, when it was actually 1:20:240. This means there are 20 shillings in a pound, not 12; and there are 12 pence in a shilling, not 20. I should have checked this before writing and publishing! Anyway, I'm probably just going to remove references to the old English currency system since I see no use for it in this context, but it'll take some time. This page is under construction!

Summary

If you just want the useful stuff, here you go! First, here is a table for traditional D&D currency (1:10:50), except that copper is the denomination used for everyday purchases. It is not totally faithful to OD&D since I have found that the prices in that book are really inconsistent. It also assumes a calendar of 10 months.


If you want to switch to the modern, fully decimal D&D currency ratio of 1:10:100, just multiply any prices in copper pieces by two (and not for any of the other denominations)!

Each six-mile hex has 1-6 tithings, where each tithing is a group of 10 homesteads. It is called a tithing because 10 homesteads generate enough tithes or taxes to produce a total equal to any one homestead’s annual income. Therefore if the annual minimum income is one pound, then a tithing generates one pound in taxes. If it is ten gold pieces, then a tithing generates ten gold pieces.

In early levels, players could purchase certificates of citizenship from a barony or certificates of faith from a church, each costing a tenth of your income (i.e. 1 g.p.). A citizenship certificate allows the character to live and work in a barony and to use 'public' services, and may even function as a share in policy deciding. A faith certificate allows the character to heal at associated temples at a hastened rate. These are just ideas to make lifestyle costs matter, rather than anything concrete. See also footnote [6].

The development of agricultural productivity results in a movement away from the countryside and into cities, such that the population of the latter increases. Suppose that any one city was once supported by 12 tithings. If one farmer can support one non-farmer, there might be 12 tithing-equivalents (120 families) in the city. If one farmer can support four non-farmers, however, there might be up to 480 families in the city. The greater the productivity of agriculture, the more it has become a big industry rather than one of the peasantry.

Using the traditional D&D currency actually makes the most sense with a calendar of 10 months because that makes it easier to talk about monthly and annual revenue or expenses

Currency

Dungeons & Dragons (1974) prescribes a semi-decimal coinage system with three main denominations, gold/silver/copper, in the ratio of 1:10:50. One gold piece is worth ten silver pieces, and one silver piece is worth five copper pieces

This scale alone is not enough to understand the value of any one coin denomination. We must understand how much purchasing power one piece of any type laid claim to. We know a decent amount about feudal economies that used the pound system of currency. One pound was considered the value produced by a homestead of 120 acres. One tenth of this output was tithed by the church, and a tenth by the state. One pound is obviously a great value, such that even one penny (1 d = 1/240 L) might be too great a value to exchange common everyday products. It’s for this reason that some goods were priced in fourths of a penny, or farthings.

Meanwhile, the coin denominations of D&D are totally made-up, so we can only extrapolate how they might be used. The prices given for different goods and services in OD&D are very inconsistent, seeing that the minimum wage of a worker is 1 gp/month but each citizen of a barony pays 10 gp/year in taxes. It is fair, then, to reconstruct a more consistent set of values for different things just to make the coinage system as a whole more consistent and intuitive. For example, we can assume that taxes are 1 gp/year (10 sp), and keep the minimum wage at 1 gp/month.

Given that there is little material for how to use the pound system of coinage for D&D, and the prices of things using the original coinage system are so inconsistent, we can kill two birds with one stone by modeling an economic system for both coinages. This entails modeling the society presumed by D&D, and the system of timekeeping which that fictional society presumes.

Gygaxian Society

D&D ostensibly takes place in a medieval fantasy world, even though it seems more capitalist with respect to how the economy is geared towards the accumulation of commodities and the expansion of value. We can have the best of both worlds by modeling a feudal economy while it blossoms into a capitalist one, as productivity improves and people move from the countryside to the cities. Throughout this section, I will use the pound coinage system because it is convenient when talking about a society whose years are twelve months each, and also because it was the coinage system of the medieval societies that D&D tries to emulate aesthetically.

As mentioned prior, the state measured the productivity of peasant homesteads to levy taxes. One atomic homestead could produce 1 L in value per year, and so taxing them one tenth of their income would result in a tax revenue of 2 s per homestead each year. Homesteads were grouped into tithings of ten, such that one tithing generated 1 L in taxes per year. Supposing that the game-world is modeled as a hex map where each hex is six miles across, we can presume that a hex might have 1-6 tithings (10-60 homesteads). Each hex would then generate 1-6 L in tax revenue per year.

In medieval England, a homestead was supposed to have 120 acres, or to have the average productivity of 120 acres. Let us suppose that each acre produces four bushels of wheat, and one bushel is replanted such that there is only one left over to consume or sell. Although it would seem that a base household of 120 acres would then produce 360 bushels a year, this is not so. It was standard practice to rotate crops each year according to the three field system where one field is cultivated, one field hosted livestock, and another field was left to fallow. Therefore, only 40 acres are active during one year, and thus one homestead produces 120 bushels per year. Tithes and taxes each extract 12 bushels [1], and so there are 96 leftover to use or sell. Assuming a household has four members and each individual consumes a bushel per month, one homestead can thus support one family besides itself. By extension, if one homestead produces 120 bushels and that output equals 1 L in value, then each bushel is worth 2 d.

Industrial Development

The ratio of farmers to non-farmers informs the organization of society and is driven by increasing productivity on one hand and increasing commodification on the other. Of course, these factors are not unrelated; the improvement of food productivity necessitates that the amount of social productivity invested into food be lowered lest the value of food decrease. This is not a foregone conclusion, but if the value of food decreases such that it is no longer profitable to produce, it is likely that firms (peasants etc.) will depart the industry to pursue more worthwhile ventures, and thus the value of the produce will increase again. There can be some degrees of granularity, e.g. farming becomes four times as effective but there are half as many farmers, such that the value only decreases by a degree of 4 * 0.5 = 2.

In any case, I don’t think it’s unfair to extrapolate that, over time, a decrease in food’s value due to an increase in food’s productivity will result in there being less producers of food. This can be cleanly represented by distinguishing rural hexes from urban hexes on a map. Whereas, before industrialization, an urban settlement would have a total population equal to the sum of all its associated food-producing villages’ populations, now an urban settlement would multiply that sum by the increased ratio of non-farmers to farmers. For example, suppose that 3 villages of 4 tithings (40 homesteads) each fed one settlement. At a ratio of 1:1 non-farmers to farmers, the city could have a population of up to 12 tithings or the equivalent thereof (i.e. 120 families). At 2:1, the city could now have up to 24 tithing-equivalents.

Employing Soldiers

Besides directly representing a hex’s tax revenue, a tithing can also represent a hex’s capacity to supply forces in battle. Suppose a hex contained 6 tithings (60 families). That hex could be said to supply 2 individual soldiers from each tithing, or 12 total. This is because every five households were expected to supply one soldier for battle, and one tithing is ten households.

Decimal Conversion

All of the money values given above assume that the society uses pound coinage, at the 1:20:240 ratio. This is not an assumption held by any official D&D material at any time. Instead of changing the coinage to match the historical society presumed by D&D, why not change the society (and astronomy) to match the official coinage of D&D? Let us now switch to gold/silver/copper at a ratio of 1:10:50.

The first assumption I will make is that the monthly minimum wage of a worker is 1 gp, and taxes paid annually are 10 sp = 1 gp rather than the 10 gp suggested by OD&D (which, as I have said earlier, makes no sense). If taxes and tithes are 1/10 of the annual income, which is both a useful assumption and a historical one, and employees are paid at a rate per month equal to what they pay in taxes, it follows that the D&D world might have a 10-month calendar rather than a 12-month one.

Treating 10 gp as 1 pound, with the caveat that they each represent someone’s annual income, means that a lot of the math up to this point is basically the same. A tithing generates 10 gp a year in taxes, and one homestead generates just 1 gp in taxes. One convenience is that since 1 month is the same fraction of the year as is taxes of someone’s income, we can make it a rule that one month of the year is paid as taxes (whether in money, time, etc.). This is a really useful assumption to make, if you want to switch between taxes-as-compulsory-labor and taxes-as-rent. Now the rule of extracting taxes is that there are 1-6 tithings per hex, that each generate 10 gp in revenue per year or 1 gp in revenue per month. How easy is that!

If one homestead produces 10 gp (500 cp) in value a year, we can extrapolate from this the cost of wheat and thus the cost of living in terms of buying food. Since the year is 10 months rather than 12 months, we can assume for convenience’s sake that 100 bushels are produced per year instead of 120 bushels. It feeds the same amount of people per year: after taxes and tithes, 80 bushels are leftover; if 1 bushel feeds 1 person for a month so 10 bushels feed 1 person for a year, 80 bushels will feed 8 people for a year or 1 household each of farmers and non-farmers. Besides this, the value of 1 bushel is 5 cp or 1 sp. Isn’t that nice!

Each tithing can still supply 2 soldiers, where 20 soldiers from 10 tithings costs 20 gp for a month. Scaling between individual and mass combat is that much more easy, especially when all you need to know is 1 individual soldier costs 1 gp! If you want to adhere to OD&D’s price of 2 gp per light foot soldier, the math is not that much more difficult.

A Simple Calendar

A 10-month calendar is, however, sort of peculiar to us. My idea for all this came from reading Wanderhome and realizing that its own calendar, having 5 seasons of 2 months each, actually made more sense for D&D’s decimal currency than would a 12-month calendar, at least as far as scaling goes. Since it is not natural to us, though, it is worth figuring out how a decimal calendar might work in practice.

Wanderhome gives the following months (40-1) [2]:

  1. Tillsoil: “when it is time to unthaw the ground and plant crops”
  2. Mansoon: “… when the rains are heavy and constant”
  3. Bloommeadow: “… when fields and trees are covered in flowers”
  4. Devildays: “a month of relaxation, sleep, and escape from the burning heat”
  5. Swarming: “the traditional mating season for many bugs”
  6. Gateling: “a month of cold nights but hot days”
  7. Firetop: “when all the trees turn red and orange”
  8. Grasping: “when the leaves fall from the trees and the plants look like claws pointing towards the heavens”
  9. Snowblanket: “when the world goes quiet and calm under the weight of heavy snow”
  10. Frostbite: “when the air is bitter and dreadfully cold”

As is apparent from the above, an nontraditional list of months is a good opportunity to make each month meaningful by assigning it a particular relationship to the world’s society or the way in which the world interacts with its inhabitants. In case you were curious, medieval Europeans did the same thing for their own twelve months apropos farming tasks (as opposed to traveling as in Wanderhome’s world Haeth). I quote the below from R.G. Calkins’ Illuminated Books of the Middle Ages:

  1. January: Feasting
  2. February: Sitting by the fire
  3. March: Pruning trees, digging
  4. April: Planting, enjoying the country, picking flowers
  5. May: Hawking, courtly love
  6. June: Hay harvest
  7. July: Wheat harvest
  8. August: Wheat threshing
  9. September: Grape harvest
  10. October: Plowing, sowing
  11. November: Gathering acorns for pigs
  12. December: Killing pigs, baking

You can see, then, the value in coming up with a thematic schema for each month of the year! It means there is very often some new activity around the corner, or something changes about the world in a noticeable and/or awe-inspiring way.

Other ‘rules’ of a decimal calendar will feel more unnatural than will the 10 months themselves. For example, how many weeks do we figure are there in a month? If we suppose 5 weeks to a month, that aligns well with there being 5 cp per 1 sp and we can say that you earn 10 cp a week. That means by extension there are 10 weeks to a season, which is a nice round number. There would no longer be a natural way to harmonize the sun and the moon except by changing the period of the latter’s cycle, or by keeping track of the moon’s phases separately.

That is sort of a shame, but it’s for this reason that we find new schemas of meaning to assign to the months. The goal in general is to make the year as a whole feel meaningful in its progression, and make the passage of time interesting. To find your character’s birth week in a decimal calendar, roll 1-10 for month and 1-5 for week.

Downtime

One week (or two weeks, a month, etc.) is a fine duration for a downtime turn where characters are out of action, pursuing long-term goals or attempting tasks that take time. Others have written about the interesting situations that downtime turns or campaign play enable: Ben L. [3], Ava Islam [4], Dwiz [5], et al. What follows in this section is basically supplementary to their advice that downtime can create interest in the game-world and lead to higher-stakes situations that cannot be played out on the scale of 10-minute dungeon turns: researching magic, establishing institutions, fostering relationships, etc. All I am offering here is a framework for such actions to take place, and for them to be scaled at different increments of time as desired.

In any case, resources to consider during a downtime turn might include food and shelter, or paying taxes or tithes to the state or church respectively. Food and shelter are more immediate and so they might be better seen as prerequisites of having free time to spend doing something besides subsisting. They make more sense as resources on a day-to-day level, when traveling for example. Taxes, on the other hand, can be a limitation of the month or year (depending on when they are levied). Have you gotten enough treasure to pay 1 gp to the baron and the bishop each at the end of the year? Will you choose to take some shifts between adventures to make some extra cash?

Of course, it's sort of boring to pay taxes and tithes without them meaning anything. As it stands, they're just like the Monopoly 'go' square except you lose money when you pass. Instead, why not purchase certificates of citizenship (and of tithes)? For 1 gp a year, you can buy the right to live and work in a territory, and to call upon the services of the state-firm to your aid. Likewise, for 1 gp, you can buy the right to heal at temples of the church you sponsor [6]. This presumes taking the apparent social dynamics of Gygax's D&D seriously, treating each barony like an ultra-capitalist city-state firm. It also leads to implicit faction politics when players travel to a different barony, or when they try to visit another church's house of assembly.

Scaling Economics

A peasant household generates 10 gp (100 sp, 500 cp) a year, and we can assume the same of a minimum wage worker. This is equivalent to 1 gp (10 sp) a month, or 2 sp (10 cp) a week.

Knowing this allows us to scale, first of all, the expenses and revenue of a firm or other money-dealing entity across different scales of time. In terms of silver to gold, weeks scale to months at 1:1. For example, 3 gp a year equals 3 sp a month.

Let us suppose that a firm employs 100 sp worth of labor time a month, and their rate of exploitation is 200% such that they generate a surplus of 200 sp each month. This is equivalent to 200 gp of surplus value generated each year.

Likewise, let us suppose that a tithing generates 10 gp of taxes each year. This is equivalent to 1 gp per month, which might be useful when treating weeks as the atomic duration of activity rather than months. Imagine that each ‘domain turn’, your state executes some action or policy. If taxes are levied annually but one turn has the duration of a week, there would be forty-eight turns between each time the state generates new revenue. Conversely, if one turn has the duration of a month but taxes are levied monthly, then the state would receive revenue on each turn of play. None of these composite scales are inherently preferable over the others, but it is worth considering when playing what should be the scale and pace of domain actions for them to make the most sense for your game.

Converting Price Values

Neither of the coinage/calendar complexes I describe above are fully ‘vanilla’ to D&D. Either they use a totally different coinage system, or they use the same coinage ratios but on what seems to be a different (hopefully, more consistent) scale. The good news is that it’s quite easy to convert between these two systems. Recall that a bushel is worth 2 d or 1 sp. This means that you can convert any price in sp to d by multiplying by two, or you can convert any price in d to sp by dividing by two.

Converting OD&D values, however, is a greater task because of how inconsistent they are. I have already mentioned treating taxes as 10 sp (1 gp) per homestead instead of 10 gp. This is basically because I favor the listing of monthly wages as 1 gp, and so I have adapted tax rates to match. That’s easy enough. It’s the equipment list for adventurers that’s difficult.

I recommend reading them as in cp rather than gp. Assume that a character starts with 30-180 cp, and read all listings as cp. A sword costs 10 cp. A week’s rations cost 5 cp. A mule costs 20 cp. A ship costs 5,000 cp, ten years of wages. Read experience thresholds as 1 xp : 1 cp, rather than 1 xp : 1 gp. Don’t bother with treasure tables for thousands of coins, and instead either treat treasure as discrete objects or deal mostly with copper or silver.

Converting OD&D values to pence and shillings is a little more complicated. Take the values of cp, divide by five (i.e. convert to sp) and multiply by two. A sword is now worth 4 pence, and a mule 8 pence. A week’s worth of rations costs 2 pence, like the Mary Poppins song. A level-one fighter requires 800 xp to level up, where 1 xp : 1 penny. A starting character might now have 30-180 pence; this is less purchasing power than 30-180 cp, to a degree of 2 d : 5 cp, but I think having to be more stringent with money is interesting.

Conclusion

I think that viewing the possibilities for coinage and timekeeping systems in combination helps us make better decisions about which methods we use, and how to judge how much something should cost or how long something should take. One thing I will say is that using one coinage system over another basically hinges on whether you want to do annual accounting or not. On a month-to-month basis, I don't see why you shouldn't use the basic D&D currency system on a 12-month calendar. The main goal, as I have said earlier, is just to be intentional about how we engage with time and money in our campaigns, and how we can mess with systems for them to better fit our needs for game procedures etc.

 

[1] Taxes can be extracted either in terms of output (i.e. bushels), or input (i.e. labor that could have been exerted on producing wheat). It was often a combination of both, since serfs would be contractually obligated to work their lord’s land for a fraction of the year. In any case, we can assume that a government extracts taxes in money if and only if money has enough social power to actually command society, compared to people contractually doing direct labor for the state at certain times of the year.

[2] The pre-Republican Roman calendar also had ten months: Martius, Aprilis, Maius, Iunius, Quintilis, Sextilis, September, October, November, December. You can tell someone got lazy after naming the first four.

[3] https://maziriansgarden.blogspot.com/2022/02/downtime-in-zyan.html

[4] https://permacrandam.blogspot.com/2022/02/errant-deep-dive-7-downtime.html

[5] https://knightattheopera.blogspot.com/2020/11/campaign-level-play-part-1-maybe-best.html

[6] You might consider having tithes be monthly rather than annually, thus being 1 s.p. per month instead. Besides keeping players more on their toes, it means that the church must only receive money in silver rather than in gold. This opens the door to crafting silver items for clerics, each one requiring their weight in silver coins to be crafted. A silver sword might need 50 s.p, and 1 s.p. might proffer 50 arrows.

Also, I refer to churches because I think this recalls well how people attend and interact with churches in our own time. I think there's a bit of horror when I see a megachurch buy up a local church and rename it "Buzzword: Such-and-Such Campus". Given the sort of politics and economics we see are implied in D&D, why not go whole-hog with it?

Comments

  1. I'd be very curious to play in a game that operated on an economy that was modeled to this extent. I am frequently reminded of how much of an outlier my experience is, because I run campaigns that last multiple years. Managing the weight of years-long campaigns has forced me to hew always towards simplicity and fuzzy details about the underlying mechanisms on which the society and economy operate. Systems that codify the economy in ways that assume multi-year-long campaigns are thus a bit of a mystery to me. I have difficulty imagining how they would interact with the play of the game. Playing under a referee who used a system like this would doubtless be educational for me. :D

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    1. thank you for your comment! 😊 i haven't tried any of the above yet, but my goal was to give the various use cases for currency in OD&D a more consistent/cohesive basis. the use cases are (1) buying equipment, (2) paying 'taxes', (3) levying taxes proper, and (4) hiring soldiers etc. i totally agree that simulating a dynamic economy is too intensive and basically a one-sided game, but my thinking is that if players want to opt into things like domain play, it should make sense (which OD&D does not!).

      i should have said this in the post, but i think all this works best if you set certain 'variables' as static. for example, agricultural productivity probably shouldn't be a thing that changes but it could be something you glean from the social and technological state of the game-world. deciding on factors like that allows any interactions on the players' side to not require much simulation of the larger world.

      as for the interactions themselves, i think them being opt-in and non-involved (on the referee's part) is important because any of this would be annoying if you didn't want to play that way. it's not that interesting to say "a year has passed in the game, so now it's time to pay your taxes". we already accept that buying equipment etc is basically an opt-in interaction, why not everything else? so i can see buying citizenship certificates or church certificates at flat rates (1 gp/year or 1/sp month of membership) being handy ways of incorporating costs of living with actual gameable effects, without it being overbearing.

      for domain play, i see this as mostly simplifying the rules and procedures in OD&D (and making them more consistent)! in OD&D, you roll 3d4 times 100 for how many people live on a hex, and then each person pays 10 gp in taxes a year (which you spend on building castles, employing units for battles, etc). that's kind of nonsense and i think the authors knew it too. instead, by rolling 1-6 for how many tax units there are in a hex and getting 10 times that many gp, figuring all that out becomes a lot less involved and the costs of doing all the castle things make more sense.

      this is all experimental and hypothetical, so i wouldn't know how it works in practice! but i don't see the practical applications being super involved or requiring much world-sim overhead. in short, the new bits i offer in level of practical priority here are:

      - treat equipment prices as if they were in cp, not gp
      - hirelings cost 1 gp/month, at a base level
      - use a 10-month calendar instead of a 12-month one
      - instead of paying upkeep, pay for citizenship/church/faction dues
      - taxes are 1-6 gp/month/hex, or x10 per year

      hope this is all useful! thank you again :) it's a big concern for me to avoid overbearing or complex things at the table

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