a rickety bridge of impossible crossing

precious meddling

If the scarcity of gold is what's going to make it valuable after our financial systems collapse, I wonder why the doomsday prepper types don't seem that interested in platinum? It's even scarcer than gold, but due to strange inexplicable market forces, it's currently selling at almost half the price. You never hear anyone talk about buying platinum, though, everyone still seems fixated on gold. There must be some other reason gold is valuable. Oh well, whatever that reason is, I'm sure it'll still be relevant after the apocalypse 🙃

dollars and dragons

Having completed Daggerfall to my satisfaction (for now), I wanted to dive into some more crusty old RPGs, so I fired up Pool of Radiance. It's the first of the "gold box" games, a series of computer RPGs based on the Dungeons and Dragons ruleset circa 1988. The series always held a mystique for me, because I grew up around friends and family who loved it, but I didn't have a PC at home until 1998, so I was limited to watching people play. They were dull and austere compared to the Nintendo games I was used to, with their ugly EGA color palette, limited animations, bad art, lack of music, and screechy unpleasant sound effects, but their complexity and the fact that you played with a keyboard made them seem more grown-up and prestigious.

I have it in my GOG library because I bought a big bundle of old D&D games for a couple bucks, ages ago. It packages everything up nicely so I don't have to go through the rigamarole of finding a cracked copy and installing and configuring DOSbox. It has PDFs of all the documentation, including the "cluebook" that would've been an additional purchase at the time. The cluebook gives away all the secrets, so I'm trying to rely on it as little as possible, but it's tough. The manual is very little help. It's mostly a primer on the rules of D&D; it barely acknowledges that you're playing a computer game. No screenshots, no hints on navigating the bizarre and arcane interface, just a bunch of questionably-useful information about saving throws and THAC0.

I knew the first thing to do was set up camp and rest, so my clerics and magic-user could memorize their spells. I tried to set up camp in town, but a cop came and told me to move along or there'd be trouble. ACAB 🖕👮

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So I went to the inn. The innkeeper told me it would cost one platinum piece to rest. I said fine. The innkeeper told me I didn't have any platinum. I thought that was odd.

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All of my characters started out with a bit of gold. How much is a platinum piece worth? Surely not more than all the gold in all of my characters' inventories. I checked the manual. It didn't say anything about inns, or resting, or currencies. Was I going to have to use the cheat book just to figure out how to rest?? Well, let's see what it says:

Where You Can Rest: The only place you can rest in the city is at an Inn (location 19 on the map). It costs 1 platinum piece for the party to rest, but they may rest as long as they like.

Uh... okay... so how the heck do I get platinum??

So finally I googled it and learned that 1 platinum piece = 5 gold pieces. But you can't just give the innkeeper 5 gold pieces. You have to go to the item shop, pool your characters' money, buy something, and redistribute the money among all your party members. It'll consolidate it into the most efficient currency and distribute it equally among your party members. Yes, each character has their own personal wallet. If I try to buy an item for my cleric but one of my fighters is carrying all the gold, my cleric's just out of luck.

Luckily pooling and redistributing your money becomes second nature after awhile, but it's still bizarre that anyone thought this was something anyone would want to do, and the fact that I had to google to find the answer is, to put it kindly, not a good sign of things to come.

Anyway, that's what got me thinking about the value of precious metals, and the relative lack of interest in platinum. "1PP = 5GP" makes sense in a fantasy game, but in the real world, it turns out that "scarcity = value" is a fake idea.

but wait

Actually, nothing about the way PoR (and D&D circa 1988) handles currency made sense. Who the hell wants their fun fantasy adventure to include a bunch of currency conversion? If you play AD&D by the book, you have to deal with copper, silver, gold, platinum and electrum. You're also supposed to pay close attention to your encumbrance, so if the monster you slayed dropped 400 copper pieces but you can only carry 200 coins' worth of weight, sucks to be you! Happy birthday, the ground! Of course that 200 copper you're carrying would only be worth 1 gold piece,1 and now because of your burden you can only move 3 squares in combat instead of 6, so is it even worth it?

Nobody wants this. Finding treasure should be a fun reward, not a math problem. Money and encumbrance should be abstracted away as much as possible. You can get away with a little bit of number pressure in a video game, because it's doing all the math for you in the background, but nobody playing a tabletop game wants to think about this shit.

There are only two situations where it makes sense for a game to have more than one unit of money:

  1. It has microtransactions and you're intentionally obfuscating values to confuse players and get them to spend more real-world money, in which case fuck you;

  2. There's an actual story reason for it, like in Fallout: New Vegas: The NCR, Caesar's Legion, and New Vegas all issue their own currencies, and they have different values (in bottle caps) depending on who you're trading with. Bottle caps are still the de facto currency in the wasteland, because no one completely trusts any of the new pseudo-governments, but their currencies can be useful for bartering with factionalists. Mechanically, the different currencies are just items you can sell for caps, so it doesn't add friction to transactions, it's just a neat bit of flavor.

Anyway, sorry for yelling at a 30-year-old game, but these sorts of observations are one of the reasons I'm interested in crusty old RPGs. We've all pretty much come around on the benefits of keeping it simple, but it's interesting to see how we got here 🦝


  1. 10 copper = 1 silver; 20 silver = 1 gold. Note that nothing in the store costs less than 1 gold. Why is copper still a thing??↩

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