Skip to main content

2020 GURPS Challenge PDFs: Incense Trail prices

Over on the forum, somebody asked me how much frankincense and myrrh cost in antiquity. Well, we don't know. We never get as much price information as we like out of history. There's the occasional mention of this or that product being worth its weight in silver or gold, but we can reasonably believe that those are descriptions written by political, cultural, or philosophical commentators trying to give an idea of how expensive things are, not people who have actually done an economic analysis and discovered that the material in question is, by coincidence, exactly the same value as silver or gold and not, say, one and a half times the price of silver or three quarters of the price of gold. We know it was valuable, but not how valuable on the level of individual purchases.

But for the convenience of the GM, we can use those comparisons to establish some ballpark figures. Mind you, this is based largely on GURPS rather than historical sources, so it's not something I would have added to Incense Trail, but it might be a generally useful exercise. Frankincense and myrrh are incense (GURPS Low Tech, p. 36), with a base price of $6 to $15/oz., and it's emphatically subject to luxury pricing (Low Tech, p. 37). Silver is canonically $1000/lb. or $62.5 oz. Gold is canonically worth 20 times that much, or $1250/oz. (gold was almost certainly less valuable than that in most of classical antiquity, but we'll pass over that). If aromatic resins are the same price as silver, that's about five times a base price of $12.5/oz., a plausible figure in the upper half of the typical range, making it suitable for regular use by people Status 2 or greater, which seems, if not right, then at least close enough. If it costs as much as gold, that's about 100x the base price, or suitable for regular use by people Status 4 or greater. It's absolutely plausible that both of these prices could be valid at the same time, reflecting different grades of resin. The really high-grade stuff is vastly more expensive, while the low end product is within the reach of even the working class for times of special celebrations.

Oh, and a bit about usage: Like the book says, resins come in irregularly shaped "tears," about the size of a small coin, though generally significantly thicker than very flat ancient coins, so while precious metals are much denser (silver is about ten times as dense as aromatic resin), it's probably about the same number of pieces per weight, or about 5 to 10 tears per ounce. Just how much one used at any given time will be wildly variable, but casual use would likely entail 1-3 tears used at a time, chewed to freshen breath or tossed onto a brazier for a routine prayer.


Charles Saeger said…
Checking … you have both in DF8, with $16/oz. for frankincense and $15/oz. for myrrh, which means that there are loads of wise men making visits in the Dungeon Fantasy universe.
Peter D said…
Your comment about gold and silver relative prices intrigues me. What are some better ratios of value?
Iron Llama said…
The official imperial Roman price ratio was, IIRC, 12.5:1. Other ancient societies had ratios in that ballpark. 10:1 wouldn't be a bad rule of thumb, though of course it varied considerably. In very early Egypt, gold (which was produced much closer to Egypt than silver was) was only worth 2-3 times as much as silver, but through antiquity it could spike to as high as 15:1.

The 20:1 ratio GURPS uses is an historically plausible approximation (albeit rounded up) for the 19th and chunks of the earlier 20th century, with vastly higher gold prices around the Depression, the World Wars, and economic disturbances around the end of the century.
Peter D said…
Thanks! 10:1 is easy enough to use.

Popular posts from this blog

Pyramid Dungeon Collection Reference List

As I've mentioned over on the forum, the Pyramid Dungeon Collection contains an article ("The Wellsprings of Creation") which fits most PDF-Pyramid and GURPS 4e fantasy locations and adventure locales not already spoken for (for example, nothing from Yrth is included) into a single game world. Here, for everybody's dining and dancing pleasure, is a list of what those are and which publications they're in.

Amadan, Pyramid Dungeon CollectionAmanapur, Pyramid Dungeon CollectionAquaclaro, Pyramid #3/40Aulos, Pyramid Dungeon CollectionCaerceol, Pyramid Dungeon CollectionCaverntown, GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Setting 1: CaverntownDevouring Lands, GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Adventure 1: Mirror of the Fire DemonEcho Wall Mountains, GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Adventure 2: Tomb of the Dragon KingEmpire of Thebor, Pyramid #3/41Golden Geniza of Ezkali, Pyramid #3/38Hellsgate, GURPS Locations: HellsgateKunruk, Pyramid Dungeon CollectionSaroo, Pyramid Dungeon CollectionTanir Aesayya, Pyramid …

Notes on Cold Shard Mountains

Yesterday saw the publication of my latest GURPS thing, a setting/location/framework for dungeon crawling campaigns (buy it here early and often). The idea behind it is to ignore the dungeon fantasy mission statement.

Do what, now? Well, let's review the introduction of GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 1: Adventurers, which sets out what DF is about:

Fantasy is an engaging genre, bursting with wonder and mystery. It offers worlds full of fascinating lands, dotted with great cities and populated by exotic cultures. All of this has a powerful resonance with any gamer familiar with myth, fairytales, and the fantasy epics of literature and film. For that, get GURPS Fantasy.

But something else resonates with nearly every gamer. That’s the thrill of taking a powerful, faux-medieval adventurer down into a cave – or a haunted forest, or a sinister stronghold – and seeing lots of monsters, killing them, and taking their treasure. For that, there’s GURPS Dungeon Fantasy.
So what does Cold Shard Mount…

Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu

I've remarked elsewhere on the sad demise of Pyramid. And I mentioned that my not writing as much for the third iteration of the magazine was a consequence of moving on to writing longer works. That's certainly a part of it, but another part was that the looser format of the second edition lent itself to a more eclectic, impulsive style of writing. Something which happened quite often is that I'd read a book, realize that there was a gaming angle on it, and write a brief article about it. "Atomic Zombies of the Pacific," for example, was the result of reading a book about recent exploration of the sunken ships of the Bikini Atoll and dashing off a lightweight piece on the topic before moving on. The tighter format of the newer Pyramid made that kind of thing more difficult (whatever I was reading at any given moment might not fit well with any theme Steven might come up with, though given his historical performance, I suppose that's deeply and unfairly undere…