Years ago I decided that I was unhappy with the published prices for goods and services. I created my own economic structure and have been using that ever since. Recently I have been revamping my entire rule set, so I figured it was time to re-evaluate my economy as well.
That Didn’t Work Very Well
After spending quite some time looking at my prices trying to evaluate what I had, I decided instead to completely ignore it and create an economy from scratch. Then I could go back and compare the two and evaluate the differences between them with a better grasp of the matter.
I wrote most of this very late last night. It was more of a brainstorming session than anything. Instead of re-writing it, I decided to leave it as it is in order to present the thought process and development cycle involved. Although I edited it somewhat, this is essentially what I came up with at three in the morning.
Starting From Scratch
First off, I need to define the coinage and set the standard. I use a pretty standard system of 10 copper = 1 silver, 10 silver = 1 gold, and 10 gold = 1 platinum. Unlike most DMs, I use a silver standard instead of a gold standard. That way, if you think of the standard coin as a dollar, I eliminate pennies and copper becomes worth a dime (actually worth stopping to pick up a bag of those).
Next, I arbitrarily decided that a commoner earns one silver piece per hour. I should state that my game does not include what most people think of as peasants. A commoner is a laborer with little or no special skills but is clean, well fed, and able to secure a modest residence. It’s not fancy but it’s not a hovel either. There is a shanty town but those folks aren’t commoners or peasants. They are more of a group who want to remain under the radar, so to speak, but I’m digressing.
My calendar involves 13 months, each made up of four, seven day weeks. (We should use something so simple). Given that calendar, an 8-hour work day, and a 7-day work week (Ouch!), my commoner who makes 1s per hour would make 8s per day, 56s per week, 224s per month, or 2,912s per year.
His pay should be slightly more than his expenses and enough to go out drinking every night. I decided on a rough budget of 40% for rent, 30% for food, 10% for drink, 10% for misc items, and 10% left over each month. After all, commoners have to have something to hide away under their mattresses.
Now rent is probably an uncommon notion in a fantasy world. However, I decided long ago that I am not trying to emulate medieval England. It’s convenient for players to have various rental opportunities opposed to staying at an inn until they can afford to build a keep or find a deserted one and fortify it.
At 40%, rent comes to 3.2s per day, 22.4 silver per week, 89.6s per month, or 1,164.8s per year. I don’t envision commoners being able to save enough to pay for a year in advance and nightly or weekly rent is more of an inn sort of thing. Monthly rent seems like it would work best. Rounding that figure to 90s per month sounds like a good starting point. Those other numbers are still pretty useful though. Round those up (and bump them up a bit) to 5s per night and 30s per week and you have a reasonable inn fee.
A driving factor in setting many prices is convenience. I don’t want a meal to cost 1s 4c. That would be a pain to deal with. I want to keep it simple. One silver per day for drinks and two silver per day for food are easy amounts to deal with. My calendar has 28 days in every month so that comes to 28s per month for drinks, and 56s per month for food. Those are bulky numbers again but here I’m just working out expenses in order to develop reasonable relationships between everything. The 1s for drinks, and 2s for food are things a character may have to deal with so those are what I want to keep simple.
My commoner is making 224s per month, and paying 90s per month for rent, 56s per month for food, and 28s per month for drink. That leaves 50s for misc and saving. Split that in half to get 25s for each of those and everything is accounted for and reasonably close to the budget I set.
I want to define two types of merchants. Poor merchants should be making just slightly more than commoners and wealthy merchants should be living well and saving quite a nest egg at the same time. Both should have a building with the store on the main level and a residence above. The wealthy merchant obviously will have a much larger and nicer building with a better location.
To determine the rent for the small shop, I started by looking back to the commoner’s home. That would be a tiny one-room place, much smaller than the residence above a shop. Let’s say two commoner’s got married and had kids. Obviously, they wouldn’t all live in a tiny one-room place. Instead of a studio, we are now looking at a two-room apartment. Instead of 90s per month, let’s bump that up to 150s a month. That two bedroom apartment is more like what you would find above a shop. But the rent has to include the shop as well. Decent shop space is probably more limited than apartment space so that should be taken into account. For now, I’ll assign 500s per month rent to a small shop.
To cover that amount of rent, I think the poor merchant will need to earn about three times what the commoner earns (672s per month).
The noble who controls the town is going to want a cut of all sales. I think half would be reasonable (from the nobles point of view). The merchant also wants to double his investment on every sale. That means that if he buys an item for 1s, and sells it for 4s, he will keep 2s from the sale, and turn 2s over to the noble. Since he bought the item for 1s and kept 2s from the sale, he doubled his money. Those numbers work for me. Now, in order to earn 672s per month, sales must be 2,688s per month. It may be useful later to have some idea how much a typical shop sells in a month.
Our poor merchant is earning 672s a month and paying 500s a month in rent. If he eats, drinks, and saves using the same amounts as a commoner, that leaves him 63s a month for misc items (38s more than a commoner). Being a merchant, he may have to spend more on clothes to look better and have other misc expenses that a commoner wouldn’t have. Maybe he can even splurge a bit once in a while. That works out nicely. The poor merchant is defined and is just slightly better off than a commoner which is what I wanted.
Now for the wealthy merchant. I’m going to start him off at earning twenty times what a commoner earns (4,480s per month). His shop should probably be about three times as big as the poor merchant, considerably nicer, and in a better location. That also means he will have a larger and nicer residence on top. I’m going to charge him 3,000s per month (six times as much as a small shop). That leaves him 1,480s per month. He can probably afford better food and drink and given his position, he really should be seen in better places that would then have better food and cost more. The commoner is paying 1s per day for drinks and 2s per day for food. Higher quality fare may run 5s and 10s respectively. That comes to 140s for drinks and 280s for food per month, leaving 1,060s for misc items and savings. Given his position, let’s bump the misc expenses up to 260s a month (roughly four times the budget of the poor merchant) which leaves a nice even 800s per month to put into savings. That amounts to 9,600s a year or 96,000s over ten years. That gives a great indication of how much a small “fortune” is.
I don’t want to make it easy to buy a house within the curtain wall. Space is limited so I would expect the noble to want to maintain complete control. That is part of why I have adopted the idea of rentals. However, I do think that certain powerful merchants would be expected to own a house. This opens the door for characters wanting to buy one as well. That leads to the obvious question, how much do you charge for a house. I just determined that a wealthy merchant is able to save 96,000s over a ten year period (of course he could probably use those savings to increase it faster than just sticking it in the bank but let’s ignore that for now). A 30 year mortgage is pretty common in the real world. Perhaps that’s a good starting place here. Not that I’m suggesting offering loans to get into housing, just using the 30 year figure as a base. We could set the price on a house at 250,000s which a wealthy merchant could manage after 30 years and still have substantial savings left over.
The mounds of treasure that adventurer’s haul in is likely to destroy any economy if it isn’t balanced into the equation as well. I want 1st level characters to be able to go out, fight some difficult battles, and come back with significantly more loot than they would have made working as a commoner in town. However, I don’t want a group of 10th level adventurers to go out, loot a dungeon in an afternoon and return with enough money to put a wealthy merchant to shame.
As you’ve seen in earlier posts, I like triangular numbers so I based my treasure tables on them (at least I am planning to do so with my new ones). Therefore, each encounter will yield treasure by level as follows: 1=10s, 2=30s, 3=60s, 4=100s, 5=150s, 6=210s, 7=280s, 8=360s, 9=450s, 10=550s, etc (I’ll save the analysis of the treasure tables for a later post). The question then becomes how many encounters can a group do in a month? Let’s say that our weekend warriors head out every weekend and face three encounters each time. At 1st level that’s 120s for 12 encounters in a month. At 5th level, that’s 1,800s. At 10th level the group comes back with 6,600s. A wealthy merchant earns 4,480s a month and pays 3,000s a month in rent. A group of five 10th level characters collectively earning half again as much in a month as a wealthy merchant, and with less expenses, doesn’t sound game-breaking. In a large city, that shouldn’t have an overly large impact on the local economy.
These numbers fit easily into what I’m trying to do. However, notice that 1st level characters are earning half what a commoner would earn plus they have to split the take among themselves. In fact, with these numbers, adventures don’t earn as much as commoners until level four (12 level four encounters in a month earns 1,200s split between five characters comes to 240s a month vs. 224s a month for a commoner). This isn’t what I envisioned but maybe I should rethink my vision. If anyone could pick up a sword at level one and immediately earn more than working as a commoner, everyone would at least consider it. So maybe not earning as much as a commoner in the beginning isn’t such a bad idea. Not to mention that reaching level four is relatively quick and easy. Plus, we are basing this on three encounters a week. That could be increased.
What About Magic Items
Even low-level magic items can sell for enough to severely affect the economy. Here is how I deal with that. Other than potions and scrolls, magic items are not treated as a commodity. There are no shops or markets that sell them. NPC adventurers that have items they don’t need give those items to loyal companions and valued hirelings (guards if they own a keep and retain a garrison) or donate them to their church or offer them as a gift to their noble in order to buy his favor. Magic items have no listed value (that characters are aware of) so items that characters want to sell are worth what they can get for them. In these cases, they get about a tenth of what the item would sell for if they manage to find it for sale somewhere. Therefore, I completely leave magical treasure out of the equation when developing the economy.
What We Have So Far
We’ve actually achieved quite a bit now! We know how much commoners make in an hour and in a month, what their expenses are, where they live, what they can afford, and how much they can save each month. We know similar things about merchants as well as what their sales are a month and how much a wealthy merchant can accumulate over time.
Expanding on the prices used for everything up till now, I’ve come up with the following:
25c pint of grog
1s pint of common beer
5s pint of good beer
25s especially good pint of beer or glass of wine
1s commoner meal
5s merchant meal
25s especially good meal
5s per night to stay at the inn
30s per week to stay at the inn
100s per month to stay at the inn
10s per night to stay at the inn (room & board)
60s per week to stay at the inn (room & board)
200s per month to stay at the inn (room & board)
90s per month for a studio
150s per month for a 2-room apartment
900s per month for a 4-room apartment
500s per month for a small shop w/ 2-room apartment above
3,000s per month for a large shop w/ 4-room apartment above
250,000s to buy a house
That covers the basics: what do commoners and merchants earn, what does food and drink cost, how much does it cost to stay at the inn or rent a more private residence. There are a ton of other items that need to be priced now but this fixes the primary costs and sets a basis for the rest. I will write a follow-up, covering some of those things in a future post.