Hi, I’m James and welcome to Code/Switch, today I want to talk about mail. I recently finished a Curse of the Crimson Throne adventure path and I had a character that wasn’t native to the central city of the campaign, also, unlike most RPG characters, I had family that I actually liked. Toward the end, where I was sure we were going to TPK, I wanted to write a letter home to my family, only to realize I couldn’t find any postal rates in any Pathfinder rulebook! 2 weeks later, I realized I was blind, as were all my co-players and GM. Regardless, today, I want to find the cost of sending a letter in Pathfinder if it was indexed to actual U.S. Dollars.
I think it’d be a cop out to take current U.S. postal rates and just translate them using Alex’s approximate gold to U.S. dollar calculations from this article. Instead I’m going to pull the oldest U.S. Postal Service data I can find and use that as our starting point.
The oldest data I can find comes from the U.S. Postal Service itself. According to their records, in 1792, a letter used to cost 25 cents to deliver if it was going 400 or more miles. We’re using the 400 mile rate as the letter I was trying to mail had a 500 mile journey in our game. According to this website 25 cents from 1792 is worth roughly $6.38 in today’s dollars. Using Alex’s calculations, 1gp in Pathfinder is worth roughly $65 dollars in 2015 dollars, making our letter cost roughly 10 copper to mail, pretty cheap! This correlation if enforced by Alex’s estimation that a “poor” quality meal in Pathfinder cost 1 silver, or about 6.5 dollars, making our letter cost roughly 65 cents to mail. Currently a stamp in the U.S. costs 55 cents, pretty dang close to our 65 cent estimate.
That was easy, so lets be extra. The previous formula works, it makes sense, and it mimics our expectations, for mail to be cheap. I was able to find some laborer daily pay rates from 1792 for the U.S. State of Massachusetts, where the low average was 33 cents per day, and the higher end was about 60 cents per day. According to our U.S. Postal rates, a letter could cost you anywhere from 41% to 75% of your daily wages. Currently, using the U.S. Federal minimum wage of 7.25, you’d make 58 dollars per day, making a letter today cost .006% of your daily income.
Going back to Alex’s article, a poor standard of living is 3gp per day, divide that by 30 days and you end up living on 10 silver per day, so using our proportional pay method from the last paragraph a letter may cost you between 4 and 7.5 silver to mail. This is roughly 6 times more expensive on average than our previous estimate.
This whole time you may be screaming “But James, there is a cost for a messenger, its 2cp/mile, none of this matters!”, and you’d be right, but this was an interesting exercise for me, so I figured I’d share it anyway. My letter to my family would cost 10g to send 500 miles, blowing previous cost estimates away. This makes sense, colonial America, while lousy with Redcoats, doesn’t have harpies, giants, goblins, and spring-heeled jacks.
Do you have things you obsess about in Pathfinder, Starfinders, or other RPGs? Find me at the KD Discord along with the rest of the crew, if it’s a fun idea, I may take a crack at overthinking it and reading colonial records before finding the section in the rulebook!