Economics of D&D

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    So I’m doing this because I’m bored.

    I’m going to look at how the rules of D&D 5e create a world (or at least imply one) as an exercise in killing time and showing how the rules of a system affect the setting. While you can set a D&D adventure in pretty much any world you want the RAW (rules as written) have implications for the setting if the PCs have to abide by the same rules as everyone else or vice versa. So this isn’t meant to be any kind of prescriptive demand on DMs more a look at what kind of world are D&Ds rules describing and possibly ways to house-rule it.

    I’m making some basics assumptions here as well.

    1. Player Characters (or inhabitants built like them) are rare enough that it’s better to think of people in terms of the proficiencies and spells that they have rather than the character class.

    2. Adventurers and dungeon raiders are rare enough that magic items and large amounts of loot aren’t going to be a significant part of the economy.

    3. Generally the social structure and technology will at least passingly similar to late medieval western and central Europe

    4. If it makes sense I can go against any of these assumptions.

    Lastly I’m coming from a Marxist background so that’s where most of the terminology will be coming from.



    The Peasant
    So if our D&D setting of Economica has a largely Feudal economy that means that the majority of people will be peasants and their days will be spent farming, while the majority of the ruling class will be nobles who own the land that these peasants farm on.

    In the DMG the farm is given as a player holding with an upkeep cost and the potential for profit (page 127). It has has an upkeep cost of 5 sp/day which includes the pay of 1 skilled hireling and 2 unskilled hirelings. Strangely this is less that the given daily rate of those hirelings which is 14 sp/day but I’ll just ignore that because it looks like a can of worms to open. That money made of the farm is given in the ‘Running a Business’ downtime activity (page 129).

    When running a business you roll a d100 and add the number of days you’ve been working there. Given that the maximum possible days you can spend is 30 I’ll assume that for someone working on a business full time the roll is made every month.

    This means that a farmer working 5 days a week earns around 31 gold a month, this means that they can support a modest lifestyle which makes sense for a more independent peasant that either owns some land or has a more generous arrangement with their lord. In this case it also makes sense that the hirelings on the farm could represent the family of the farmer rather than hired labour.

    So in 5th edition the prosperous peasant family is possible and we can have some kind of utopian shire where no hobbit need be enslaved by the other. That’s all I have time for at the minute, if I get back to this I’ll take a look at how many you people you do need to enslave if you want to be an aristocrat.



    The Aristocracy
    On the other hand we have those who own land but don’t want to work it. The aristocracy, either through conquest or inheritance, have gained possession of huge tracts of lands. Peasants farm this land as rent for land they can farm to fill their own larder. Details of the exact nature of the feudal relations will change from setting to setting but the important detail is that it’s the ownership of land rather than cash that gives them their economic power.

    So what makes an aristocrat? I’ll keep it simple and assume that the bare minimum is either being able to maintain a noble estate or upkeep an aristocratic lifestyle, the former representing the aristocrats who stay on their family estates the latter being those who move to the city to partake in politics and court life. Conveniently these both cost the same though, 10 gp/day.

    This also is a useful benchmark as an aristocrat like this will have no extra money to give to relatives that live away from the estate, say children who go off to become adventurers.

    Of course there will be those that are much wealthier than this, who can afford to field armies, build fortifications and spend money scheming at court. There will also be poorer aristocrats who are noble in name and blood only. And of course between the aristocrats and free peasants we talked about before there will be a number of richer peasants and knights.

    Now we have our expenses we need to work out how much land you need to fund this. We can assume that our lord isn’t spending their time managing individual farms so I’ll bend the business management rules and say that every month you roll for each farm with no bonus from days spent managing. Technically you shouldn’t be able to collect any money without spending a day managing the business.

    So if we work from this a farm generates an average 9.5 gold a month To get the 300gp/month they need to maintain their lifestyle an aristocrat needs at minimum 32 farms worth of land.

    Based on this we can also come up with an estimate for the class demographics in rural area. The number of working commoners needed to maintain a noble estate and 63 farms is 207. So if we don’t count the gentry, those living in urban areas (much fewer than do in our world) and free peasants then there are 207 commoners for each noble making nobles 0.48% of the population.



    The Bourgeoisie
    Today we’ll move from the country to the town but first we need to have a closer look at running a business in D&D. I’ve already gone over how I’m using the ‘Running a Business’ downtime option slightly tweaked for people who have full time job rather than need a way to kill time between dungeons. This System has a weird quirk though, there are two variables, the businesses upkeep costs and the days spent running the business (I’m working with one role on the table every month). While different kinds of business have different costs the income they generate is all the same. So the only thing you need to look at when comparing different kinds of business is the upkeep cost, the lower the better.

    Let’s have look at these costs then, the lowest upkeep is a farm or a hunting lodge with 5sp/day. A shop will cost 2gp/day. An inn in a town or city will cost 5gp/day while a rural roadside inn will cost 10gp/day.

    What do these costs mean? Firstly I’ll look at high does the upkeep cost need to be before you actually need to spend time there. This is the most important value, once you need to actually spend time running it you’re limited in the number you can run, while if you don’t need to spend time running a business you can keep growing indefinitely. I’ve calculated this value as 5.8sp/day, so that limits the mega rich to owning farms and hunting lodges. I see this as being pretty clear that the vast majority of the wealthy in D&D are nobles ruling over feudal estates.

    We’ve found that you can’t really have the Jeff Bezos style rich capitalists just going by RAW, any super rich capitalists will be exceptional. In a general case we’ll be talking about small-business owners or the petit-bourgeoisie.

    Working 6 days a week a shopkeeper earns 32gp a month so can support a modest lifestyle but does have much extra to save. If the shopkeeper is a member of a guild, like a player character with a guild artisan or guild merchant background, they’d better be making the most out of it because they don’t have 5gp to throw away on a useless guild every month.

    It’s even worse for an innkeeper in a town or city. They need to work 7 days a week to keep a modest lifestyle and earn 33.5gp a month. For a rural Inn the only way you can maintain a modest life is if the inn is being subsidised. Given how much time players spend in inns it can be worth thinking about the economic situation of the inn and let that help you build this small part of the world.

    So why are people who already have capital running businesses in the city when being a farmer would be an easier, more prosperous life. Well the DMG doesn’t give a hard rule on the cost of land but the suggestions go pretty high if the land can be bought at all and of course farms need a lot of land. I can see that in a D&D world a powerful nobility with a strong grip on land rights would lead to those with some capital having an easier time investing in a city shop than buying farmland.

    As a final point I’ll talk about subsidies, for the higher upkeep properties there’s no way that they could ever turn enough profit to support someone. However they still need to exist so someone who benefits from their existence. No-one will travel over a bridge and pay the tolls to the local lord if there’s no inn nearby, likewise for the trading post.



    Wage Labourers

    This one might be less interesting because everything works as intended here, so I’m just going to try and contextualise things a bit.

    But before we get to the ice-cream of worldbuilding we have to go through the vegetables of rules. I’m going to be using the hireling costs for skilled and unskilled work, skilled being work that requires any kind of proficiency. So an unskilled worker will get 2sp/day and a skilled worker 2gp/day. When we compare this to the lifestyle expenses these fit well with the 2sp/day poor standard of living and the 2gp/day comfortable standard of living. The poor lifestyle being a a spartan existence where the law offers little protection, while the comfortable lifestyle is one of upper-middle class comfort.

    However what if these labourers have families, they also need to be considered. Well first we need to determine what a family means, this is really a matter of worldbuilding, there are uncountable variations of the family in human society and surely more in elf, dwarf etc societies. One thing which I think I’m safe in assuming is that there are going to be at least as many children as there are parents over the course of a lifetime, check the age section of the race stat block for how many children are likely being raised at the same time. I didn’t come with any kind of formula for this but think about how long it takes for a child to mature for that race compared to it’s lifespan. Another factor of a family life is that due to economies of scale it’s cheaper to live as a group than by yourself, D&D doesn’t do economies of scale so you’ll have to judge for yourself how big a factor it is. Another factor is how much cheaper children’s lifestyle expenses are than adults and when can children start working, once again you have to judge this for yourself.

    Based on this a skilled worker probably won’t be spending their entire wage on lifestyle cost for themselves. They’ll probably want to spend some on their families and save some in case of a rainy day. Unskilled workers don’t have this luxury, they can’t go down a lifestyle category (the squalid lifestyle is basically unlivable), so there will be no money to save for their children and those children will have to work as soon as possible.

    In a wider context what does this mean? First thing I want to say is that just because unskilled work is work that doesn’t require a proficiency doesn’t mean that all unskilled workers lack proficiency, they simply lack a proficiency they can find employment for. This situation can easily arise due to economic crisis or a population forced to move. However there’s little time for a child raised in a poor family to learn the proficiencies that will get good jobs, only the ones that will help them eat the next day. Going off the numbers of skilled and unskilled hirelings that make up the properties that can be owned I’d estimate unskilled wage labourers make up between half and two thirds of the population.

    So not a huge amount of new ideas here, most people in a feudal economy are poor, but there’s plenty to think about when it comes to how the average person lives and it looks like there are a lot of reasons for the serfs to be unhappy.

    • This reply was modified 10 months, 1 week ago by  Sam.


    Sorry guys it’s been a while because the forum ate my last post and cb retyping it.
    That’s the best excuse your going to get from me.

    A Corrction Correction

    First off I made an arithmetic error when calculating the earnings of a shop. This led me to mistakenly claim that the shop won’t generate profit if the owner doesn’t invest time into it. This was wrong, it will generate profit, just not as much as a hunting lodge or farm. This means you can own a chain of shops and generate profit for yourself. This might have important implications for guilds and the urban economy that I’ll look at some other time.

    Magic Items

    If you’re a mage who doesn’t want to adventure and want to earn more than the 1gp a day for a skilled worker you might consider crafting and selling magic items. Just as important is the question of where are magic items coming from? re they still being made? Is this a profitable endeavor?

    The short answer is that it is profitable, but not honest. The only way you can make any money over the base price as given in the ‘Selling A Magic Item’ table in the DMG (page 130) is ‘A shady buyer, offering one and a half times the base price, no questions asked’. Shady buyer here means a proxy for an anonymous buyer, this may or may not be legal, and may or may not have complications later. It’s shady, you don’t know what you’re getting in to.

    You’re ability to find a buyer is also influenced by your average Investigation check and your average Persuasion check, with the investigation check having a much bigger effect. The other factor that will affect your earnings is the rarity of the magic item you’re crafting, the rarer the item the more you earn.

    As a note for my calculations I’ve assumed that the crafter is proficient in investigation and persuasion and has a 14 in intelligence and charisma. They are also selling only one item at a time, there are rules that allow some level of economy of scale however they seem geared towards adventurers selling a goodie bag of different items.

    The mages crafting common magic items aren’t earning much, in fact they would need an investigation modifier of +6 to make the same as a skilled worker. I expect underground single item sales would not be the dominant means of exchange for healing potions and other common items. More likely they would work for a guild or noble as a waged (and legal) employee for a wage comparable to a skilled worker. Those selling on the black market would be very intelligent but unable to find an honest trade. The minimum caster level is 3rd.

    Those crafting uncommon items can maintain a modest lifestyle with a little extra on top. With earnings of around 1.6gp/day. It’s easy to see why someone would led this life given how tough it can be to move above the income of a skilled worker. The minimum caster level is 3rd here as well. This suggests to me that a crafter of a common magic item might just be a crafter of uncommon magic items that’s fallen on hard times. The DMG mentions that there are specific rituals and rare ingredients needed for crafting a magic item. So if you can’t get the Illithid tentacles needed for a helm of telepathy why wouldn’t you just craft a potion of climbing to keep the lights on.

    When we get to crafting rare items we get into the real big boys. Just imagine Flame Tongues and Necklaces of Fireballs floating around on the black market. These guys have a minimum caster level of 6 and are pulling in 3.5 gp/day. Now were getting in to the fantasy equivalent of arms dealers. They can live a comfortable lifestyle easily with enough spare to invest in other nefarious plots or hire a henchman. They’re also only putting out a piece once every two years. This sort of character is my favourite of all the one’s I’ve discovered in writing these posts, I really like the idea of someone able to live an upper middle class lifestyle, with a day comparable to their peers, who could also be a dangerous and ruthless opponent for a party of PCs. Because you know if their job is magic items they’e got a few tricks and traps hidden up their sleeves and their occupation gives them connections to all kinds of powerful beings.

    Lastly are crafters of very rare items. Who make a living comparable to a small aristocrat. The items they produce could be serious threats to a kingdom if they got into the wrong hands. However, given that they have a minimum caster level of 11 were moving away from looking at the economics of D&D and more to whether a BBEG’s business scheme works. This does provide a fertile ground for plot hooks particularly if you want to include intrigue with a fantasy twist. One thing I would also imagine is that the method for creating rare magic items would be viciously guarded and could be a flashpoint for conflict between different factions.




    This isn’t really economics but I wanted to make a short post on this downtime activity. Carousing has some strange results when you only look at the average financial results.After a period of carousing you roll on a table in (DMG pg 128) adding your level, with less interesting monetary and more interesting story results. For the purpose of this post I’m assuming characters who get in trouble with the law will pay the fine rather than go to jail or resist arrest as they seem like long term actions that will get you killed. From the table in the DMG (pg 128) even a first level character will make money from the carousing table on average, the cost comes from having to maintain a wealthy lifestyle (4gp/day). Since the table result isn’t affected by the time spent carousing this means that the less time you spend carousing (or the more frequently you roll on the table) the more money you make.

    Given this DMs might want to put limits on or houserule how often you can role on the table, or what counts as a proper carouse. Personally, like the wild magic table, I’d like to see an extended carousing table with some consequences that would make people think twice about rolling too often.

    This post I’ll look at the life of a young noble dilettante. This rake has their lifestyle paid for by the bank of mum and dad and lives a life of pure leisure. I’ll treat the rolling on the table like I treated the table for running a business, the subject will roll once a month. Over a long period of time the cost per day of this outrageous lifestyle will be…

    1gp per day

    While this is not insginificant to most people it still seems low to me, an allowance equal to a skilled workers wage would cover it. There is one other consideration, you need some amount of savings to cover the unlucky times. So maybe up to 3gp/day would be more realistic.

    Personally I’m not a fan of these carousing rules, they don’t account for different degrees of hedonism and all of the rewards are financial rather than story based.

    A note on magic item crafting

    Looking at the DMG errata I found that consumable items cost half the base price to create. This detail makes it possible to be an crafter who, while not completely avoiding shady clients, does not exclusively rely on them.



    Undead Labour Force

    Just making the point that RAW a skeleton labour force doesn’t work. Lots of people talk about skeletons as if with a few necromancers you can basically automate production. Unfortunately the animate dead spell only allows you to control 4 skellies or zombies, if you aren’t controlling it then it might kill people so clearly undead must be controlled at all times. So you need one necromancer per 4 undead, if you pay the necromancer a skilled wage then this is 0.5gp per undead per day. Given that an unskilled worker’s wage is 0.2gp per day this doesn’t seem too economical.

    Don’t force zombies and skeletons on to the assembly line. Let them do what they do best, eating people.

    • This reply was modified 8 months, 1 week ago by  Sam.


    Just a quick note, you seem to be looking to the DMG for downtimes? You’re definitely right that they’re quite uninteresting, they aren’t fleshed out there at all. Xanathar’s Guide to Everything though has a fully detailed section on Downtimes with more thought put into them, and includes lots of great potential hooks for roleplay and adventure in them. I’ve played using those and found them really enjoyable.

    Having played with the XGE downtimes one thing I picked up on is… Work sucks! It’s very difficult to actually make money doing legitimate work. Pit Fighting is the most lucrative with little risk, while Crime and Gambling also pay well but with higher risk. I’m fairly certain this is done because hey, it’s a game, working is boring and if it fulfilled everyone’s needs why would there be adventurers? Or crime? Or adventurers to stop (or perpetrate) those crimes?



    After getting XGE I was thinking of making a post saying to forget everything I said and just use that or homebrew your own system.

    While adventuring should be the most lucrative way to earn money, especially for player characters, it should also be the riskiest. If it was the rational financial decision for everyone then there’d be no farmers and a lot more adventurers. This means that if you have rules for working a normal job they need to at least be able to support someone.

    Remeber work is only one side of the coin (pun not intended). If player’s are ever rewarded with land they’ll want to know how much they can collect in taxes and rents. The same goes for those who start any kind of business, found a thieves’ guild or start any kind of organisation.

    It’s more useful on the DM’s side though. You’ll want to know how much value 1gp represents in terms of things other than magic items. It’s useful to know the level of resources an enemy could throw at the party and how much an ally could help. This is especially important if there’s a political aspect to the game where treasure is just as important as blood.

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