Thursday, November 18, 2010

Penny, Nickel, Dime, Quarter, Dollar (Slacker DM Item Costs)

Sometimes, particularly during city adventures, you have to buy and sell alotta items, and you don't want to look them up (or they're not on any equipment list you own). Like if somebody wants to buy a quick disguise to enact a weird scheme and you want to wrap up this part of the adventure before dinner and you don't really want to spend a half hour shopping.

This is a formalization how I generally think of it--Penny, Nickel, Dime, Quarter, Dollar:

"Penny" items are things that cost less than a G.P.. I assume all the things an average medieval joe might buy in an average medieval day all add up to about 1 gp. So you can get a humble meal or two, some nails, a torch, some thread, and a "dose" or three of beer for less than a gp. Anything on the daily shopping list. Food animals count as if they were the number of days food they represent--like if you think a chicken is 4 days food, then it's about 4 gp.

If you need to know exactly how much a sub-1 gp item costs (4 cp? 24 sp?), stop using this system and look it up, lazy ass.

"Nickel" items are anything you'd take camping and basic adventure gear. Rope, pole, spikes, lantern, etc. 5 gp per syllable ("lantern" is 2 syllables--10 gp).

The syllable thing sounds silly but more syllables generally indicates the PC wants a more specific thing (i.e. not just "rope" but "silk rope" not just "a lantern" but "a hooded lantern"). If you ask for something general you're going to get the humblest item that qualifies--like if you ask for a "horse" you won't get a warhorse, and if you ask for a "warhorse" you won't get a heavy warhorse.

"Dime" items are specialist items--anything that usually only a certain profession or class would use. Thieves tools, navigation tools, a bible, a marionette. Dime items cost 10 x number of syllables in the name. So: a lute costs 10 gp, a cello would cost 20.


"Quarter" items are luxury items. A string of pearls, fancy shoes, etc. 25 gp x number of syllables in the name. A "Rich old woman's clothes" would be 125 gp. (You'll notice women's clothes always cost 25 gp more than men's.)


"Dollar" items are things which are lethal or highly dangerous all by themselves--drugs and dangerous animals included. 100 gp per syllable--poison and acid would be 200 gp per dose, a wardog or falcon would be 200 gp, gunpowder or a heavy warhorse would be 300 gp, etc.

Weapons: Melee weapons cost gp = maximum normal damage. Missile weapons cost twice that.

Armor: Armor? Seriously? Look it up.

So, yeah, that's that. All kinds of things are unrealistically pricey or cheap when you do this, but remember, this is just for when you're trying to get things to move fast. If you have time to look up items, do it.


  1. Your talent with mini-games & off-kilter rules of thumb that work is seriously impressive. Very "knights move" of logic.

  2. This and the city map thing you talked about a long time ago (mapping a city using letters) are outstanding gaming innovations. I love posts like this.

    From the title of the post, though, I thought of the Danny Devito line from Throw Mama From the Train.

    "All right. This is a nickel. And this one, also is a nickel. And here’s a quarter. And another quarter. And a penny. See? Nickel, nickel, quarter, quarter, penny… And here is another nickel."

  3. D&D rules are weird like that. They either under-value or over-value items severely. I just tend to estimate, either for whole items or in general for costs. Makes the game that much faster if I say "Yeah, you manage to get away with 8 gp of spending for what you want" instead of 7 gp, 1 ep, 2 sp, and 12 cp. MAybe laziness has an evolutionary advantage (as I'm convinced Darwin's rules apply to surviving in D&D).

  4. I use the 1897 Sears catalog as a guide for common or household items.
    $1 = 1 gold piece.

    Not only are the pictures fun,
    the Sears Catalog gives the players something to leaf thru
    when someone else is the center of attention.

  5. I can remember numbers to an unusual degree... but I don't think anything will ever make me remember costs and values in a game.

  6. I've got a generic supplement called "..And a 10' pole" full of equipment lists and price guides from the bronze age to information age. Most complete equipment style source I've ever found...

  7. This is great; My players have taken to parading their wealth around town, rather than trying to buy weapons and items; this will be a handy tool for determining the costs of their various foibles and vanities. Would you use this method for the costs of modifications to existing items, as well?

  8. @WonderGecko

    I would use it any time you wanted shopping over with fast.

    1. I'd probably try to enforce a "pony up" way of using this system, where people actually toss nickles, dimes, etc into a pot which is then used to buy the pizza and soda for the group.

    2. That's actually a really good idea.

  9. I don't get the gunpowder thing, though? Isn't the point in firearms that they're powerful, easy to use and the ammunition is cheap?
    That said, it's sometimes best to exclude firearms from fantasy. I have no problems with characters armed with handgonnes, but it tends to put archers in a specialist niche.

  10. @Tommi

    I believe in Fantasy Gun Control:
    largely for aesthetic reasons.

    I am not shooting for realism here.

  11. I feel for anyone who plays the triangle under this system, especially when someone's next to him playing a pipe organ.