Have you ever had to guard a caravan carrying a load of silk in a game of D&D? It’s a common scenario.
A covered wagon, for example, an old American style Conestoga wagon can carry up to 12,000 pounds of cargo but needed a good team of large horses to pull it. The smaller Prairie schooner, a popular voice on the Oregon Trail, is much lighter, designed to ride and travel for further but would typically only be used to carry 2,000 pounds of cargo.
So, how much does a pound of silk cost in D&D 5e?
The SRD says that one square yard of silk costs 10 gp.
Calculating the weight of a square yard of silk is not a straight forward matter. Silk is traditionally measured in a unit called Mommes (mm), and different types and qualities of silk have different Momme values.
Silk chiffon tends to be in the region of 6 to 8 Momme and so let’s use that as our ‘average silk’. For comparison, silk gauze is in the area of 3 to 5 Momme and Charmeuse 12 to 30.
Update: This post has been updated with suggestions/corrections from Redditor TheMasterShizzle who understands this better, knowing, for example, that a yard of silk isn’t necessarily 36 inches by 36 inches!
A bolt of chiffon silk (8 Mommes) would weigh 8 pounds (and a bolt of silk gauze would weigh 3 pounds and a bolt of Charmeuse would weigh up to 30 pounds).
Let’s assume, for the sake of easy calculations and honest merchants, that our tightly bundled rolls of silk on the wagon are entirely silk. No one is trying to pad out the delivery with heavy dowels or anything like that.
At 100 square yards per bolt, we have a value of 1,000 gp for 8 pounds of silk.
A Prairie schooner could carry 2,000 pounds of chiffon silk which is the same as 250 bolts. That’s 250, 000 gp per wagon.
Incredibly, a Conestoga wagon could carry 1,500 bolts (12,000 pounds of capacity / 8 pounds per bolt) of chiffon which means 1,500,000 gold pieces.
Of course, in a fantasy world filled with goblin raiders and magic using bandits, it might well be the case that merchant wagons are smaller and faster! In this case, each wagon would carry far less silk.
If you have guarded a wagon of silk in a D&D adventure before, how much did the merchant pay you?
Creative Commons credit: Guarding The Bronze gate of the Great Palace by Amelianvs.
Do those calculations stand up to scrutiny? If you can spot an error or have an alternative suggestion or methodology, then please share it in the comments below.