Gold coinage is widespread in WFRP1. A brief review of the ‘Consumer Guide’ shows that gold coins are required to purchase items as modest as shirts, tunics, saddlebags, cooking pots, cutlery and even small but vicious dogs. These items seem to place a surprisingly low value on a gold coin.
In fact, I wondered if the value was so low that some items might be worth their weight in gold. A set of metal cutlery costs 3GC. The historical equivalents of gold crowns in mediaeval and Renaissance Europe weighed around 15-25g. If gold crowns are assumed to be pure gold, that means 45-75g of gold is required to buy a knife, fork and spoon. It turns out that the weight of a metal cutlery placement is more like 200g, so cutlery is not quite worth its weight in gold. Likewise, a suit of plate armour costs 301-310GC, which is somewhere between 4.5 and 7.8kg of gold coinage. This again falls short of the weights of historical suits of plate armour, which were around 40-50kg.
Although the undervaluation of gold coins is not so egregious that items are worth their weight in gold, it is nonetheless very far from the historical situation. I obtained some data on prices in England during the mediaeval and Renaissance periods and compared them with the prices in WFRP1 (assuming £1 equals 1GC and adjusting for some inflation in the later Renaissance period). There is an enormous range of disparities, with WFRP prices at levels between 1.2 and 543.9 times their historical equivalents. The median price difference is such that WFRP1 prices are 44.1 times their historical analogues.
Distribution and median of price variances
This could, of course, just mean that gold is more widespread in the Old World than in historical England. However, in all aspects other than coinage, the distribution of gold is not evidently different. Were gold many times more abundant in the Old World, we should expect it to appear in utensils, statues and buildings. We should also expect it to be common to wear gold jewellery. Yet there is no evidence of any of these things in the Old World.
A better explanation is that the Old World’s currency is debased. Currency debasement was a problem in many historical economies. The difference in prices could be attributable to greater debasement in the Old World versus England. English gold coins were 92% pure (22 karat). Assuming the median price discrepancy of 44.1 times is due to currency debasement, we can calculate that gold crowns are only 2% gold. They are barely gold at all! Such a level of debasement would be far beyond historical norms, but not entirely unprecedented. European coins were often only 50-60% pure and sometimes only 20% pure, but in the extreme case of the Italian denarius silver content fell by 97% between 800 and 1150.
There are even advantages of debasement. The high purity of English coinage meant the need for fractional coins, such as the farthing (a quarter of a penny). Even the farthing was too high a denomination for many transactions. Coinage was also often in short supply.
The debasement explanation of price variances can also be supplemented by different assumptions of coin size. If we assume Old World coins are one quarter of the size of their English equivalents, coin purity can be assumed to be roughly 8%. That would make Old World pennies, shillings and crowns equivalent to English farthings, groats and half ryals.
So WFRP1‘s prices are explicable if we assume currency debasement and possibly smaller coin sizes. The alternative, of course, is to adjust the prices in the ‘Consumer Guide’. This can be done by dividing all prices by 40, roughly in line with the median price variance, so that 1GC becomes 6d. However, the price disparities between the ‘Consumer Guide’ and historic English prices vary significantly by category. For most items that characters are likely to purchase (clothes, armour and weapons) the difference is more like 20 (1GC conveniently becomes 1/-). For other categories, the differences are much greater. The table below provides a list of approximate divisors by category, should the GM want to adjust prices more finely. In order to simplify the arithmetic it rounds divisors to multiples of twenty for gold crowns and twenty-four for shillings and pence. So for clothing 1GC becomes 1/-, 2/- become 1d and pence become fractional.
The implied values of coinage did not change materially in WFRP2, which used essentially the same prices as WFRP1, and so the same analysis applies. This is also true of the fan-made Universal Price List for WFRP2.
WFRP3, however, completely overhauled equipment prices, and even changed the currency system. The currency changes make exact comparison with prior editions difficult, and I only have a small sample of prices, but it appears that prices in WFRP3 are roughly one fiftieth of those in prior editions. This makes them close to historic levels.
WFRP4 does not follow WFRP3‘s prices, but prices have still been lowered substantially from the levels of WFRP1 and WFRP2. WFRP4‘s prices are a little less than one third the level of those editions. This still implies an extremely debased currency (7% pure if coin sizes are the same as English sovereigns, shillings and pennies, and 28% pure if coins are a quarter of the size of English coins).
Zweihänder, the WFRP retroclone, seems to set prices at a similar level to WFRP4, roughly one third the level of WFRP1 and WFRP2.
I have provided the historical price data below (adjusted in some cases for inflation), in case it is of use to GMs.