We’ve spoken before about how Pathfinder portrays the economy. However, while it’s useful to look at that in terms of an individual’s earning power over time, there’s also some merit in looking at the value of Pathfinder’s currency.
On the surface, this is fairly self-explanatory. Pathfinder runs on a gold piece-standard, with greater (platinum) and lesser (silver and copper) denominations; if you want to judge how expensive something is, its price is measured in gold pieces. Easy enough to understand, right?
But what if we wanted to express that in more familiar terms? What if we wanted to measure something’s cost in terms of real-world currency?
Many readers are probably rolling their eyes at this, expecting things to devolve into a dry set of extrapolations based on the weight of gold coins (in troy or avoirdupois) and the current value of gold on the world market. Don’t worry, we’re not going to delve into such dry minutia…much.
In order to develop a baseline for how much gold coins are worth in United States dollars, there’s a much easier rubric. Game Room Creations’ book The Modern Path – Heroes of the Modern World 2.0 has, among other things, a chart that compares Pathfinder currency to USD. This holds that one gold piece is equivalent to $10.
By itself, that’s not a bad conversion guideline, if perhaps a slightly prosaic one. But let’s try and lend this just a little bit of economic context. In order to do this, we’re going to need to make a comparison between a particular measurement for a given economic condition in Pathfinder and one in the real world.
Luckily we have just such a condition to compare: the poverty line.
Take a look at the cost of living breakdown for Pathfinder. This measures how much a PC – that is, one person – must pay per month to maintain a given standard of living. The base minimum that a person must pay to be “average,” which is just above “poor,” is 10 gp per month. That’s 120 gp per year, which with the above calculations is $1,200 per year. Hence, Pathfinder’s poverty line is $1,200 USD.
Now, let’s compare this to the poverty line for a single person living in the United States in the year 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This lists that for a single person (in the lower forty-eight states) the poverty line is $10,980 – much higher than the Pathfinder standard!
Now, let’s divide one into the other – real world America’s poverty line is higher than Pathfinder’s by a factor of 9.075. What does that mean? It means that if you wanted to calculate how much a Pathfinder gold piece can buy, in terms of today’s money, you have to multiply its standard USD equivalent ($10) by this number.
In other words, one gp is worth $90.75 USD.
Hence, someone earning only 120 gp in a year in a Pathfinder game is making the same amount of money as someone earning $10,890 in contemporary America; just enough to get by.
Think about that the next time your character off-handedly slaps down 315 gp for a masterwork longsword. That’s the equivalent of putting down almost thirty thousand dollars for a purchase; buying a masterwork longsword is your character’s equivalent of buying a new car.
The idea of a character who quits being a humble farmer to go out into the world and make it big is a trite one, to be sure, but this makes it a little easier to see why they’d do it.