According to the Player’s Handbook, 50 coins weigh 1 lb. Now, many groups handwave this and treat gold the same way a video game does: ie, you can carry as much as you like. But what if we’re playing rules as written? In this post, I’m looking at the logistics of D&D numismatics and how our richest adventurers can best manage their wealth.
There are only so many ways you can carry your coins. Let’s start from the bottom and work up.
A pouch can carry about 6 lb of gear. That’s 3 gp in copper, 30 gp in silver, 300 gp in gold, 3,000 gp in platinum. The pouch itself weighs 1 lb. Looking at starting equipment, most characters won’t have more than this. In other words, unless they put their money in platinum, most adventurers will be carrying no more than 300 gp at a time. According to the treasure tables in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, a pouch of coins is a typical find for an individual monster in Tier 3 and below.
A sack can carry five times what’s in a pouch. That’s 15 gp in copper, 150 gp in silver, 1,500 gp in gold, or 15,000 gp in platinum. Sacks are light: only ½ lb. Adventurers would be unlikely to find a sack of coins in Tier 1, and if they did, it would be silver.
A chest can carry ten times what’s in a sack: 150 gp in copper, 1,500 gp in silver, 15,000 gp in gold, or 150,000 gp in platinum. But the chest itself weighs 25 lb: that’s 325 lb total! You would need a Strength score of 22 to carry such a thing, and a character of Strength 10 or lower wouldn’t even be able to drag it. According to the DMG, this is the sort of hoard a party might find in Tier 2 (if it’s a mix of coins), Tier 3 (if it’s mainly gold), or Tier 4 (if it’s mainly platinum).
What about beasts of burden? Curiously, the Player’s Handbook does not list the capacity for saddlebags, but a backpack has the same capacity as a sack (see above), so one sackload on either side seems reasonable. That’s 30 gp in copper, 300 gp in silver, 3,000 gp in gold, or 30,000 gp in platinum. The latter would be a sizeable hoard even in Tier 3.
This is D&D of course, so there are magical storage options. A bag of holding (an uncommon magic item) can hold up to 500 lb, so 25,000 gp. Heward’s handy haversack (a rare item) can only carry 120 lb, so it’s less useful for carrying gold. Interestingly, though, the capacity of a portable hole (a rare item) is measured in volume, not weight, but since we know that it is 6 ft wide and 10 ft deep, we can work out that it has a volume of approximately 282.74 cubic feet (or about 8,000 litres). If we work on the basis that a gold coin is approximately the size of a US half-dollar (or a £1 coin in the UK), it’s fair to say that a portable hole might hold five million coins, give or take.
But without such items, you are looking at vehicles. The PH notes that an animal pulling a carriage, cart, wagon etc can move weight ‘up to five times its base carrying capacity, including the weight of the vehicle’, and ‘if multiple animals pull the same vehicle, they can add their carrying capacity together.’ I did some maths, and here’s what I came up with:
- A donkey pulling a cart could transport 95,000 coins – about 60 sacks.
- A draft horse pulling a wagon could transport 115,000 coins – about seven full chests.
- Two draft horses pulling a wagon together could transport more than double that: 250,000 coins.
- A team of four mules pulling a wagon could transport 400,000 coins (probably in gold bars at this point, I imagine).
- A train of 30 such wagons could collectively transport 12,000,000 gp in bullion.
Incidentally, what does a pile of coins look like? Dungeon Master Assistance has a great post on this (link); I’m no mathematician but the numbers look right. If you think of a pile of coins in terms of monster size categories, then a large pile of coins is maybe 50,000 to 150,000 coins, and a huge pile is maybe three or four times that. But others have different calculations. For example, according to this Redditor, the hoard in Waterdeep: Dragon Heist (which is half a million coins) would be about eight feet wide and about two feet deep.
What’s the solution? As every Diablo player knows: gems! These are in the DMG and practically weightless. If you want them colour-coded for your convenience:
- Amethysts 🟣 are about 100 gp.
- Topaz 🟡 is about 500 gp.
- Emeralds 🟢 and sapphires 🔵 are 1,000 gp.
- Rubies 🔴 and diamonds ⚪ are 5,000 gp.
(If you really want to impose rules on weights then bear in mind that the world’s most expensive gemstone, the Pink Star diamond, is estimated to be worth about $71.2m and weighs about half an ounce. I’m not sure this is a level of meaningful granularity the game needs.)
Wealth by tier
It’s hard to know exactly how wealthy adventurers will be at each level, but there have been various attempts at working out the maths. Here’s one calculation on Reddit and another by DM David. As you can see, they don’t match; it’s hard to be completely scientific about this. So instead, here’s a general sense of what how wealthy your character will ‘feel’ at each tier of play.
In Tier 1 (levels 1–4), characters will be dealing with a mix of silver and gold. They can still probably carry most of what they don’t spend in a belt pouch. They will have very few magic items, if any.
By Tier 2 (levels 5–10), characters will probably be dealing exclusively in gold and platinum and will probably need a beast of burden to transport their lucre if they don’t have a bag of holding or similar. Magic items (see this post) are starting to replace mundane equipment.
By Tier 3 (levels 11–16), characters are fabulously wealthy. Conventional means of transporting their riches are no longer practical. (Frankly, this may have been true by the middle of Tier 2.) Gemstones and magic items are probably their main currency now. The party can probably afford their own warship if they want and still have plenty of money left over.
By Tier 4 (levels 17–20), the party can probably afford their own fortress or a palace as a base of operations. They are wielding weapons of legendary power. According to DM Dave, a party of adventurers can expect to receive nearly a quarter of a million gold pieces every session. Conventional wealth may well have become meaningless to them. Congratulations: you are Beelzebezos. Don’t spend it all at once.
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