5e Gold: All that Glitters Shouldn’t be Gold

Written by Leonardo Andrade

Leonardo is a writer/narrative designer. He spends most of his time crafting stories or immersed in them. Currently, he partakes in several D&D 5E campaigns and likes messing around with other systems such as Heart, Spire and Rats in The Walls. Here's his portfolio.

In D&D 5e’s table of expenses for food and lodging, a gallon of ale costs two silver pieces (sp), which means 0.2 gold pieces (gp). The average price of a longneck beer bottle in the US is $4.75 as of 2021. A longneck contains about 350 ml of beer, making a gallon about 10.7 long necks. So two sp equal US$ 50.82, which means one gp equals US$ 254.1. Beer being the only measure of purchasing power that truly matters, this is the objective Truth.

Okay, it’s a bit more complicated. There isn’t a definitive way to do this, but people all over have tried, and I love this particular attempt by Reddit user u/aerithynn. Not only does it take into account many more trade goods than just beer, but it also factors in medieval gold currency from the 1300s and used pre-COVID values. So how much is one gold piece to USD, and how can you use it?

1 gp is roughly 100 USD. Characters can spend money on lifestyle, transportation, toolsets, magic items/services—depending on playstyle—even on training and real estate. Often, adventuring is so lucrative that PCs hoard cool stuff in a way that feels unearned. But it doesn’t have to be so.

You can read about this and pretty much everything to do with money in 5e in this very article. Let’s begin!

5e Money & Gold Conversions (Also, What’s Up With Electrum?)

Alrighty, here’s how you convert 5e money:

CoinFrom CPFrom SPFrom EPFrom GPFrom PP
To Copper (CP)110501001,000
To Silver (SP)0.11510100
To Electrum (EP)0.020.21220
To Gold (GP)0.010.10.5110
To Platinum (PP)0.0010.010.050.11

Some of you might be seeing electrum coins for the first time. That’s normal; most settings and gaming groups don’t use them. 

When they do pop up, it’s as a coin type that was used in the remote past and is now nothing more than a historical curiosity. While electrum is a real-world metal alloy,  you can still make it awesome with some creativity. Here’s an example from Reddit:

“In one of my campaigns, the Mage guild deals exclusively in Electrum, because it is used to craft wands and magical goods. They refer to them as ‘mage money’.” (u/dmazmo)

Here’s an idea of my own: electrum is exceedingly rare, and at one point, electrum coins were equivalent to current day platinum ones. The coins disappeared when a horde of aberrations from the far realm invaded the world, and electrum was the only metal alloy that could hurt them without the weapons being enchanted. So the world’s electrum was almost entirely turned into weapons. Your PCs might need to go fetch some to deal with a repeat of history with these aberrations.

5e: Money & Money Weight 

According to the Dungeon Master’s Guide (DMG, pg 133), any 50 coins weigh roughly 1 pound—0.453 kg—which makes the weight of an individual coin about 9 grams. 

How many coins can a PC carry, though? The answer depends on their strength and size (we have a whole article on carrying capacity and encumbrance), what else they are carrying and how the coins are stored.

For fun, let’s suppose you want to figure out how many coins would add up to 100lbs. Simple math, that’s 5000 (50 coins x100). Now, 5000 coins sounds like a lot until you consider what kind of coins those are. Let’s see:

  • Copper: 50 gp
  • Silver: 500 gp
  • Electrum: 2500 gp
  • Platinum: 50k gp

In short, 100 lbs of coins could be 50-50,000 gp of value.

Back when D&D was a lot more loot-centric, the process of hauling back treasure was often a challenge. Dungeon Masters (DMs) bestowing wealth in the form of gargantuan piles of copper pieces wasn’t unheard of. Naturally, magic items like a bag of holding can make even that a non-issue.

In some games where the Dungeon Master (DM) is a stickler about coin weight, they may also be a stickler about exchanging large coins, which is the natural workaround for such weight limits, even with a bag of holding.

I had one friend whose party converted everything to platinum so that they could carry their wealth with them, but when they arrived at a small hamlet and needed to buy lodgings and supplies, no one could break 1 PP. This is just sadistic; please, don’t be that DM.


Discover Ancient Treasure

The party is tired, hurting, and in need of shelter when they discover a mysterious, ancient stone crypt.

The dusty tomb could hold immense treasure, danger, or both – depending on how they approach it.

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5e: Character Starting Wealth

There are two ways to determine starting wealth for 5e PCs: by class and background. 

Class Starting Wealth

The Player’s Handbook (PHB, ph 143) contains a table of starting wealth by class. 

ClassStarting GP
Barbarian2d4 x 10gp
Bard5d4 x 10gp
Cleric5d4 x 10gp
Druid2d4 x 10gp
Fighter5d4 x 10gp
Monk5d4 gp
Paladin5d4 x 10gp
Ranger5d4 x 10gp
Rogue4d4 x 10gp
Sorcerer3d4 x 10gp
Warlock4d4 x 10gp
Wizard4d4 x 10gp

This table is well-suited for 1st level characters, and there are no rules for scaling it up if you want to start at 5th. 

If you choose to get your starting wealth from your class, you don’t get your class’ starting equipment for free: you spend from this starting wealth to gear up. It’s an either/or situation.

Conversely, you get the class’ equipment for free, and your starting wealth comes from your background (which also comes with some equipment). The PHB doesn’t contain a similar starting wealth table for the backgrounds, as they are meant to be picked based on roleplaying flavor over anything else. 

Still, this is the money article, and I have a history of being more thorough than strictly necessary, so let’s explore further.. 

Background Starting Wealth

Here goes the list, covering the PHB backgrounds (pgs 125 to 141): 

  • Acolyte: 15 gp.
  • Charlatan: 15 gp.
  • Criminal: 15 gp.
  • Entertainer: 15 gp.
  • Folk Hero: 10 gp.
  • Guild Artisan: 15 gp.
  • Hermit: 5 gp.
  • Noble: 25 gp.
  • Outlander: 10 gp.
  • Sage: 10 gp.
  • Sailor: 10 gp.
  • Soldier: 10 gp.
  • Urchin: 10 gp.

When coming up with a homebrew background (full article here), consider noble (25gp) the upper limit of possible starting wealth for a background and hermit (5gp) the lower

Why the urchin gets to have as much money as a soldier or sailor is beyond me. 


Looking to challenge your players?

Puzzles and Riddles can be tricky! Too easy and they’re pointless; Too hard and it’s pure frustration. What is a DM to do?

Well, our friends over at Dungeon Vault have an assortment of puzzles, riddles, and tokens to enhance your gaming experience. They even have a murder mystery and a political intrigue system!

For easy-to-use resources for any D&D game, check out the selections at Dungeon Vault!


DMing: How Much Gold to Give Players

Now, on to rewarding with gold. First and foremost, gold is a useful but uninspired reward

Everyone likes magic items and expensive spell (or potion) components better, and when you’re dishing them out yourself, you control what comes into your campaign more easily. 

As to how much is appropriate, there’s no hard and fast rule. It depends on what gold can buy in your world

Your campaign’s economy should be balanced toward fairness and fun. It shouldn’t make gold feel worthless, but it also needs to prevent players from buying their way into being overpowered. How easy it is to come by wealth is one of the sliding scales that shape the overall difficulty of the campaign

In this article, we cover official rules about buying and selling magic wares. You’ll likely get good use out of it when calibrating the loot your PCs get.

If your party has no desire to leave the wandering vagabond lifestyle, less gold will do than for a party set on building a castle, staffing it, and becoming a regional power. This is to say that a party’s goals matter when deciding how much money they acquire.

For some additional guidance, the DMG (pgs 133 to 227) contains a whole chapter on treasure. Everything in it should be taken with a grain of salt for the reasons we discussed, of course, but it’s useful as a jumping-off point. Always consider the context of your campaign and world.


Frighten Your Players

In a dark room, Jon is on the edge of his seat. He’s afraid his next act will be his doom.

Everyone holds their breath—except you, the DM. You enjoy watching them sweat as tension comes to a head.

Do something!” Sara shouts, causing everyone to jump. Rattled, Jon does something stupid.

For less than a Starbucks coffee, gift a thrilling night for you and your crew;

Check out Weeping Walls, our haunted house intended to fit into any campaign.


What to Spend Gold On: Using Money Creatively

Roleplay, roleplay, roleplay. You can express your character’s personhood through how they spend money.

In one of the campaigns I run, there’s a fabulous orog bardbarian who’s as flamboyant as he is big. His player decided he needed an Armor Class upgrade and, for that, a regular 400 gp breastplate would suffice. 

The player still put another 100 gold on top to add an oversized codpiece topped with a lion’s face relief and make it all gold-plated. 

I reward this with incredulous stares on the streets and the occasional mention in the thick of the fighting. How could I not? The man spent 100 gold on roleplaying his character’s showy personality.

While this is an extreme example, it provides a window into how you can roleplay with money. There are more discrete ways to do it. 

On a revenge quest after the murderer of your parents? Keep a network of informants, hire bounty hunters, see to it that your quarry is made to stay put until your return, should you be out adventuring when they show up in town. 

Devout follower of a religion that eschews material possessions? Give generously to charitable causes, maybe even begin your own. Hell, start your own religion if you like.

Discredited academic trying to prove the theory that got them laughed out of wizard school? Science is expensive, buddy. You’ll need a lot of books, sometimes rare and pricey. Maybe spend on fancy apparel and flashy demonstrations to get into galas and pursue wealthy sponsors.

Running organizations and businesses can be a lot of fun if you’ve grown weary of the wandering vagabond lifestyle that’s in fashion nowadays in the D&D community. 

In the olden days of the hobby, acquiring a stronghold and running organizations was assumed to be a major party goal. This is how one becomes politically influential in a region. Matthew Colville’s The Chain stream is a deliberate throwback to this style of play that you can check out if what you read tickles your fancy.

Summary

  • 1 gp is roughly equivalent to $100 USD.
  • 1 gp = 10 sp = 100 cp
  • 10 gp = 1 pp
  • 1 gp = 2 ep
  • Electrum is a real metal; imbue it with any fantastic property you like to make it more than just “the weird old money people don’t use anymore”.
  • Any single coin in D&D weighs about 9 grams; 50 coins = 1lb.
  • 100lbs of coins can be as little as 50 gp (if all copper) and as much as 50,000 gp (if all platinum). 
  • Starting wealth in 5e depends on either character class or background.
  • Awarding money smartly depends on party goals, campaign flavor, and magic item availability.
    • Gold is an uninspired reward; useful goodies usually make everyone happier. 
  • You can roleplay with money and use it to pursue all manner of downtime goals. 

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