Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Gold-Silver-Copper Conundrum

In most games, gold is ten times more valuable than silver and silver is ten times more valuable than copper.  Do you know why?  Because nobody wants to strain their brains.

That’s the honest answer.  You may not like it, but it is true.  In the modern world, this 100=10=1 ratio is pure nonsense.  Want to see what the ratios would have been historically on Earth?


We set it so silver would always be considered “1.00”, but you can see that not only is it not 100-10-1, but it is constantly moving.

Why?  Well, I don’t want to get too deep into the economics, because I think we have already gone too far in that direction, but ... First off, it is the fiat currency of the US$.  The US$ is worth whatever the US government pretends it is, and whatever other folks will trade for it.  That trade value is actually a detailed calculation based on interest rates in different countries.  So in a shorter answer - the foreign exchange value of the US$ affects the chart.

What else?  Lots of stuff!  People being scared about wars and riots change the prices.  New finds of deposits affect the prices.  New technology in extracting the minerals and metals affect the prices.  Could be anything.  Do you want to run your fantasy world that way?  I wouldn’t recommend it!  I have spent years of my life watching the currency markets and I can tell you without hesitation - do not run your world like this!  This is a small suspension of disbelief that yields an enormous amount of benefit.

So why even bring it up?  Well, I believe it must be addressed.  I believe that if you are stating that 10 silver coins = one gold coin and so on, then in your world, there should be 10 times as much silver as there is gold.  You are not running Earth.  If you wanted, diamonds could be commonplace and topaz could be really rare and valuable.  You’d have a ton to figure out if you tried to do the same with gold, silver, copper, iron, or tin, but you could.  Just because there is no clear gold to silver ratio on Earth doesn’t mean that there cannot be on your fantasy world.

 Then again, the ratio could be artificial.  We mentioned the Gold Guild in our last edition of Small Bites (Hoards & Other Treasures).  The legend says that the Gold Guild holds the ratio consistent by arbitrarily controlling the bulk of the gold reserves in the world.  But no one believes that, right?  There couldn’t possibly be a small group of people who were so rich that they could control the price of gold globally, could they?


  1. I think, as in "Hoards", introducing the concept of 'conspiracy theory' to our fantasy worlds can yield enormous gains for the GM. I would like to see more of these ideas brought over from our world into things like fantasy secret societies, guilds, and such.
    On topic, though, I have within the past years (when I starting learning some real world economics) been using the 10cp=1sp, 100sp=1gp. I think it makes gold that much rarer and silver an obvious choice for most currencies; of course, the introduction of silver 'bars' makes this easier.

  2. An upcoming edition of Small Bites (through Patreon)is going to be secret societies. Strap on your tin foil hats!

  3. I guess the tricky part about silver bars is establishing the denominations...12 ounces to the pound in troy ounces...480 grains in a Troy ounce...I like the feel of a one ounce silver coin, they're substantial enough to even appeal to some barter cultures.
    So 120 Troy ounce silver bar, at 10 pounds, is going to be 'worth' a Troy ounce of silver. That does make gold a pretty valuable commodity for merchants, rulers, or anyone who wants to carry their wealth on them!
    I know a lot of folks around here are buying silver and stashing it instead of gold in the case of economic collapse; it's far more easy to trade an ounce of silver for a 50 box of say, .22lr, than trying to argue over a crate of the stuff; plus, gold pieces are an invitation to anyone (be it on the streets of a fantasy city or in RL) that someone might be worth trying to murder for it...I never thought, back in the 90s, that I'd be stocking up on precious metals to bury in twenty's a scary time. Kinda like in a fantasy world, I guess!

  4. In a fantasy setting, I’ve always thought silver bars were risky, because you don’t know what some guy may have loaded in the middle. A 10lb silver bar could have copper or lead filling it. So the only way around that is to establish maker’s marks or guilds. If the money changer in Brinston sees Velorus’ mark on the bar, then he simply takes it as 10lbs of silver, but if there is no mark, he’s going to want to chop it in half and start doing some tests.
    That is how things are today - people want that certificate guaranteeing its 99.99% pure. Unfortunately, unskilled buyers too often take those certificates without knowing who is truly issuing them.
    There may come a point that precious metals are required for barter and trade, but as an investment, I think they’re on the way down. My crystal ball is no better than anyone else’s, but I laugh every time I hear one of those commercials, “Silver could appreciate by 67% in the next year!” Yes, it could; but I’m more likely to learn to flap my ears and fly.