Within a game of Dungeons & Dragons, the currency used is in Gold pieces, as well as Silver, and Copper (we don’t talk about Electrum or Platinum here). What’s better, at the end of a long dungeon, with a dangerous monster at the end, then to kick over a chest and have gold pieces spilling out, as well as expensive gemstones, and maybe some nice pieces of art, like a gold crown or a statuette. If you’re lucky, you might even find magical arms and armor as well. Treasure is great!
Treasure is only great, however, for it’s usefulness in being spent. You head back to town with your great pile of loot, hard won by grave robbing and killing, and you spend your spoils. How much can we get though?
When playing D&D, I’ve always had a hard time with contextualizing gold. On the one hand, some things seem simple, like a mug of ale being 4cp (Copper pieces), and at my local bar I can get a beer for about $4. Okay, so a copper is worth a dollar. But then, I’ll see a spyglass for 1000gp, or $100,000! What the heck?? A book is $2500? What is going on here?
So, I crunched the numbers. I took a look at everything on the equipment and lifestyle pages, and I found the real world equivalent. I brought all the prices down to Copper, to convert it easily, and started to see how much money a Copper piece was worth.
Long story short, 1 Copper is $1USD, so 1 Gold is $100.
I split them into 2 categories, Common Items (things you can get easily in the real world, like equipment) and Mundane Items (things you can get, but not easily, like weapons). On average everything in the two groups were between $0.90-$1.10.
Sources: Amazon, and KultOfAthena
So then why are some items more expensive than others?
It’s because those things lean toward historical accuracy.
The reason a spyglass is $100,000 instead of $20, a magnifying glass was $10,000 instead of $10, and the hourglass was $2,500 instead of $15, is because it was really hard to blow glass back then. All of that stuff had to be made by hand, not with the fancy machines we now have.
The reason a book was $2,500 is because those things were handwritten to be copied from one to the other. There weren’t printing presses that could recreate books. Basically, everything is cheaper now, because we can make things at a fraction of the time and effort than it took before.
So, let’s make things a bit more relatable and understandable, even if it is less historically accurate.
Whenever your party goes shopping for basic supplies, instead of looking it up in the Player’s Handbook, just use your best guess on how much stuff costs.
A large design principle of D&D5e, is “Rulings, Not Rules” meaning the focus is on how the DM should be able to make decisions on the fly, and they will usually get it good enough to move on.
Now, how much money you’ve found in the dungeon can really mean something, if we know each Gold is like a $100 bill, and it will have the same (or similar) purchasing power in town. With that, you can also recontextualize how much magic items really are. A Potion of Healing is 50gp, so $5,000! This can either lead to a game of scarcity, or a game of epic proportions, whichever you prefer.
If a player at your table tries to bring up how glassblowing or book copying should be more expensive, just tell them “Magic did it. They used magic.”
“But there isn’t a spell that does that!”
Not one you know of.
The NPCs in your world have access to different spells than you do, this is just a simple fact. Magic is so much more complex than the Spell Lists will lead you to believe, because this is a game about killing monsters, and so the spells they give you are helpful for that, and related, goals. Every time they put something in the book that isn’t helpful for the goals relating to killing monsters, the community complains that they are useless.
See? So instead of putting a bunch of non-adventure related spells in the rules for ScreenRant to complain about, they just skip them, and assume they are in the world regardless.
So while we could just take the prices and treasure as given, if you instead decide to change it to where 1 Copper is $1, and things cost similar to how they do in the real world, you can get a lot of headaches off the table, for just a little bit more prep when an adventure has a preset treasure or reward that you have to adjust yourself.
This might mess with the “Economy” of the world, but with magic, it’s already pretty messed up as it is. Personally, I’d rather it be messed in a way that I can understand.
P.S. If you don’t focus on money, because there isn’t much to spend your money on, there are two things you might find interesting. First, in older editions of the game you got 1xp (Experience Point) per 1gp (Gold Piece). Finding treasure was the fastest way to level up, so that was it’s own reward. Also, it was common in older editions for your character to want to retire from this adventuring business. Adventuring was a job, for money. It had a high level of danger, so there was a lot of money associated. Once you got enough money to retire (or invest in safer forms of wealth management) then you would stop slinging swords at Dragons and move on.