ACKS for Bronze Age historical fantasy?

Hi everyone! My name is Gilda, and I just got the ACKS pdf. I’m too young to have played B/X D&D, and what attracted me to this version of class ‘n’ level fantasy role playing is the amount of work put into the economics. The idea of running a campaign where the PCs organically grow into lords with castles, temples, or dungeons and the choices they can make remain coherent with the rest of the world is very exciting.

I’m only interested in doing historical fantasy, and based on blog entries like “Why Julius Caesar had 70 hit points”, ACKS seems to be sympatico with this. I’m just about to get started mapping the Eastern Mediterranean on a big roll of hex paper, but I have hit a snag with my campaign idea.

See, I’m thinking about setting it when Pharaoh Ahmose expelled the Hyksos, which is also when the Greek Heroic Age began, according to Diodorus Siculus. All the hex-level stuff should work as written, as we’re still talking about pre-industrial farm yields and civilization spreading into its borderlands, but… I can’t use a price chart in gold pieces before the invention of coins. :slight_smile:

My understanding is that the listed prices are “really” English pennies from medieval price lists with the unit changed to gp. So if a penny was 1.9 grams and the Bronze Age shekel 9 or more (in ingot or jewelry form), should I just divided the numbers by 5?

There’s someone on these forums named Kiero who did some serious work in the same vein as what you’re proposing. I think you two are going to be fast friends :stuck_out_tongue:

Ancient Egypt is interesting, since it had various means of exchange. Some workers were paid in bread and beer, with the government establishing standard sizes for beer jars and loaves of bread. The basic wage was 10 loaves and somewhere between 1/3 and 2 jugs of beer per day.

However, since some people were paid the equivalent of hundreds of loaves per day, it’s fairly plain that at least the highly paid people weren’t literally paid in bread. Instead, they received written orders authorizing them to take a certain number of loaves. Those orders could be exchanged for goods, essentially forming a bread-backed currency rather than a metal-backed currency.

However, I think it would be easier to use New Kingdom pseudo-currency, when similar tokens existed for specific weights of copper or silver (in fact, the word for silver, hedj, later became the word for money in Egyptian after coins were developed). Metals were measured in deben (about 90 grams) and kites (about 9 grams), with copper generally being used in masses of a half-deben or more, and silver or gold a half-deben or less.

A deben of copper was worth one-tenth a kite of silver in the time of Ramses; by the Hellenstic era, it was closer to 35 deben of copper per kite of silver.
A good site for prices of goods is Unless otherwise specified, a deben is a deben of copper.

Except for the cow, most of those prices are close enough that I could see using 1 deben of copper = 1 gold piece, 1 kite of copper = 1 silver piece, and copper fragments that weighed 1/10 of a kite would be 1 copper piece. That would make a kite of silver equivalent to 20 platinum/200 gold, and a deben of silver the same as 2000 gold.

My rules hack, Mercenary, Liberator, Tyrant (see campaign page for rules), is solidly Iron Age (assumes 300BC), but many of the principles are still valid.

I completely decoupled XP from gold, and indeed the notion that being in charge means you have a high character level. Which means a much flatter level demographic. I capped progression at 9th level and I'd recommend starting PCs at 3rd level, having very few people higher than that.

Thanks, Dark! That makes things really easy. Just call a gp a copper deben, an sp a copper kite, a silver kite 10 copper deben, and treat a Mesopotamian silver shekel as the same weight as a kite.

I’m thinking of starting this campaign when Avaris fell to Ahmose and identifying him with the “Egyptus” whom Danaus an his daughters fled to the Argolid (i.e. Mycenae) from. This would give PCs starting at Avaris hooks to take off to different parts of the sandbox: they could be followers of Ahmose like Ahmose son of Ebana
(see )
or Hyksos loyalists who follow “their” pharaoh to Sharuhen, exiles following Danaus to clear the wilderness that will one day be Greece, or thieves trying to get in some last minute tomb raiding while central authority is still distracted.
Speaking of Greece, has anyone else noticed that its first three generations of rulers (Cecrops I, the Cecropidai, and Erichthonius) were half-serpent? That could be mined to give primitive Greece sword & sorcery flavor…

  • Rulers of Athens, I meant.

Note that the weights are fairly heavy, at 90 grams for the deben and 9 grams for the kite. 50 deben would weight a stone, so adventurers will want to go for silver or trade goods (or the gold mentioned below).

For Greek coinage, the didrachm (2 drachmae) is closest in weight to the kite, so a drachma should be half a kite, or 5 deben. Didrachm show up regularly in Egyptian archaeology, probably because they were so close to a kite. Larger coins included the tetradrachm (4 drachmae) and dekadrachm (10 drachmae), while smaller ones were based on the obol, and are detailed in the historical section of This would give all sorts of values, although since it’s still based on weight of silver, there’s no real advantage to carrying a dekadrachm over 10 drachmae.

The shekel ranged between 9 and 17 grams, and could be either gold or silver, but for the purposes of gameability, the 9 gram silver shekel works perfectly, since it’s equivalent to a kite. The gerah was a smaller coin valued at 1/20th of a shekel, so it would be about half a gram and worth half a deben.

For the relative value between silver and gold, the earliest comparison I can find is the Daric and Siglos of the Achaemenid dynasty, where the 8.5 gram gold Daric was worth twenty 5.5 gram silver Siglos. That puts the value by weight at about 13:1, so a gold kite would be worth 130 copper deben.

It’s based on a later exchange rate, but Alex and I worked out a silver drachma conversion for MLT:

All economies are based on the silver standard. Halve all values quoted (or alternatively multiply all quoted gold piece values by 5) to arrive at a roughly accurate value in silver drachmae for all goods, services and living costs.

In ancient Greece, these were the main currencies:
8 chalkoi = 1 obolus
6 oboloi = 1 drachma
100 drachmae = 1 mina (or mnai)
60 minae = 1 Athenian Talent

1 Athenian talent is about 60lb of silver. In ACKS, there are 100 coins per pound, so 1 Athenian talent is 6000 coins. There are (100 x 60) 6,000 drachma per Athenian talent. Gold is worth ten times as much as silver (it was as much as 27 times as much, but the glut of Persian gold in the market has devalued it).

The only gold coins in wide circulation at this time are Persian gold darics, which are about four times the size of a silver drachma. Thus each one is worth 40 drachmae. Gold staters are twice the size of a silver drachma (thus are worth 20 each), and are beginning to be minted.

In this period, gold is worth a lot more than ten times as much as silver, but most of it graces the inside of treasuries, not people’s pockets/pouches.