Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Save Versus All Wands Contest: What is the Value of the Coin Hoard?

Treasure Type H 

Announcing the third annual (well, not quite) Save Versus All Wands contest!

You can read about and see the results of the first two - Seven Voyages of Zylarthen: What's in a Name and the Jack Vance Dialogue Writing Contest here/here/here and here/here. They were four years ago. Apologies.

Okay, so here's the current contest question: How much money is in the above picture?

What does this have to do with anything? Well, here's the background:

In Characters and Combat, Vol. I of Seven Voyages of Zylarthen, I talked about using actual United States coins as props for in-game copper pieces, silver pieces and gold pieces.

Using coin props is fun, especially for kids. I should say that I started doing this for AD&D before I wrote Zylarthen.

The idea for using actual coins as props is that U.S. metal currency is worth so little now that if you want props for fantasy money, US coinage is, weirdly enough, your cheapest bet. A penny, nickel or sometimes even a dime is in most cases cheaper than, say, a washer from a hardware store or a plastic toy imitation "dubloon". Plus, US coins look more like, well, coins than, say, washers do, and they clink more than plastic toy coins.

In fact, they're not merely cheaper, they're in a sense, free. You can't trade your washers or plastic dubloons back for what you paid for them. But you can do that with US coins. In a sense it's simply a way (albeit odd) of saving money while getting some neat game props in the meantime.

Here is what I wrote in Zylarthen:
Physical Coin Tokens (Optional): 
In our campaign we actually give players little bags of pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, and (for really nice hauls) half dollars and dollars to represent their coin hoards. Everyone has found this vastly more fun (and potentially less prone to error) than the usual method of crossing digits or hatch marks off of a piece of paper. It makes discovering treasure—or spending it—more real, and even mundane items or inexpensive weapons seem more valuable when you have to pay for them with physical money. 
We keep about $200 worth of coins in a number of cigar boxes (these look very much like treasure chests), and have a dozen or so mock-velvet bags that we purchased for a few dollars at a jewelry store. To those who object that this is too great an expense, we would reply that it isn’t actually an expense—we still have the money (perhaps it’s even an admittedly odd way of saving money), and if we’re ever down to our last $200, we can always go back to hatch marks! 
Penny = Copper Piece 
Dime = Silver Piece 
Quarter = Gold Piece 
Kennedy Half Dollar = 100 Copper Pieces 
Presidential Dollar = 100 Silver Pieces 
Eisenhower Dollar = 100 Gold Pieces 
Small Washer = Iron Coin  
Nickel = 100 Iron Coins
Now, Zylarthen is on the silver standard, where 1 SP = 1 experience point. The exchange rates for coins are these:
5 CP = 1 SP 
10 SP = 1 GP 
4 iron scrip = 1 CP
Beginning player-characters get 30-180 silver pieces, and standard equipment is usually priced in silver pieces, to some extent roughly tracking the prices in OD&D and AD&D, though I twiddled things somewhat to make them more "realistic" relative to actual medieval prices.

I wrote about why I went on the silver standard here.

Among other things, the scheme makes copper pieces more valuable (thus giving people and monsters more reason to hoard them) and makes gold pieces rarer and more similar to, say gems. One of the problems with the treasure schemes in OD&D and AD&D is that gems and jewelry make up 97% (or whatever it is) of the value of treasure found on the charts. A silver standard goes some way towards solving that.

But back to using US coins as props.

I actually changed the original representation scheme, slightly.

The Eisenhower Dollar now represents 100 silver pieces and the Presidential or Sacagawea Dollar now represents 100 gold pieces. (This is because I came to believe that shiny Presidential and Sacagawea Dollar coins look more like gold.)

And nickels are now individual iron scrip coins, with Susan B. Anthony Dollars representing 100 of them.

Finding a large iron scrip hoard might be annoying.

So here's the current scheme:
Penny = Copper Piece 
Dime = Silver Piece 
Quarter = Gold Piece 
Kennedy Half Dollar = 100 Copper Pieces 
Eisenhower Dollar = 100 Silver Pieces 
Presidential Dollar = 100 Gold Pieces 
Nickel = 1 iron scrip  
Susan B. Anthony Dollar = 100 iron scrips
I'll write more later about how things have worked out - including tackling the knotty subject of are the coins really free? - but in the meantime I thought I'd launch a contest in the spirit of the first Zylarthen contest.

Above is my current hoard.

How much actual money (in US currency) is there in the picture?

Hint: it's not $200.

Vote once in the comments on this blog post.

The winner will receive the four original Zylarthen booklets plus the supplement Book of Spells. If you already own the five booklets, they makes a great gift!

Extra credit: What is the total Zylarthen equivalent in experience points? Include this estimate with your money guess. if the winner gets within 50% to 150% of the actual experience point total, I'll throw in the Zylarthen Electronic Edition, or if you already have it, some sort of equivalent.

Contest ends at midnight (CST) on Halloween.

Good luck!


  1. pre-decimal British coins can be a very cheap option as well, if you can get it without paying a lot for shipping. (shipping is usually 2x-3x the cost!)

    1. Yes, I found that to be true at the local coin store. 1930s pennies or shillings for like a nickel. They even gave me a 1832 Canadian shilling for free just for looking.

  2. Totally uneducated guess: $ 297,55

  3. Oh, I'll say $400, bestowing 160,000 xp.

  4. This is fun! Gives me a new understanding of what characters have to go through when they find a horde of coins, and the DM doesn't just tell them how many they find. I estimate $540, and 15,258 XP (based on the current scheme you're using).

  5. No idea what all those coins are, but I'll just guess 201$ and 31337 XP :D