The economy of D&D is a little confusing. We hear that peasants live on nothing, but yet items are sold for 100s, if not 1000s of gold! How does this even make sense?
Adventurers earning a lot in comparison to citizens, despite The economy of D&D changing from edition to edition.
This is the main reason why people question the D&D economy. How can a peasant live on so little and adventurers have so much?
Cost of Living
The cost of living for an adventurer can vary depending on the lifestyle they desire. This makes a lot of sense, but what about the common folk? What do they need to live on?
In previous editions the amount is different than in the current 5e setting.
AD&D had peasants earn about 1sp a day. This isn’t much, but we can gather this data from what hirelings cost. The most unskilled hirelings earned 1sp, and this went up all the way to 1gp a day! That jump is based on if the hireling is skilled, and what they are skilled in.
This didn’t change too much in 3.5. The speculation is that most unskilled peasants lived on 1sp a day which is quite pathetic. The lower your social status and craft, the less money you earned.
In D&D5e we have a much better table for this.
|Unskilled||2 sp per day|
|Guards/Skilled||1 gp per day|
|Wealthy||2 gp per day|
|Noble||4 gp per day|
|King/Uber Noble||10 gp per day|
As you can see, the D&D5e variant is much more generous to the common people. They earn more than in previous editions, but even so a king would earn 300 gp a month. An adventurer can earn that in 1 day if they are merely level 5+ from a treasure horde.
With this analysis the economy of D&D may seem a little bit out of order, but let us consider the wealth of the time and what it entails to be an adventurer. First, the wealth of society and then the crux of the issue. The reason why players don’t understand how the economy works.
Wealth of society
The economy of D&D resembles the economy of western Europe in the medieval ages. Even if D&D is focused to be in more of the renaissance period in your game, back then they were extremely poor.
People in the most wealthy countries would have standards of living akin to the poorest of us in our modern societies. No, that is too generous. They would wish that they lived as well and were as wealthy as our poor of the modern age.
This is because the wealth of society has greatly increased over time due to a few reasons. Back then, wealth was dictated by how much you could produce. A carpenter might be able to work on 3 houses a day and that is all. They couldn’t earn more, and they were stuck with that wealth.
Today, a carpenter can come up with ways to increase the labor quota quite easily. They can use technology to work on more houses, analyze problems quicker and easier, but that is just skilled labor. Products and items took time to make. They still do, but we have automation now. Once automation hit, we didn’t have to worry about how much we could make, but how much could be sold.
With this change alone, people can buy items for a cheaper cost and earn more. This is partially why the societies of the D&D world seem so poor, but there is more to it than that.
The lifestyle of an adventurer is far, FAR different than a normal person’s.
Why isn’t everyone an adventurer?
It pays extremely well and can make you popular to boot! With this in mind, why doesn’t everyone become an adventurer?
The answer is simple: The danger.
Why would you risk your life to get some gold? You can’t spend it if you are dead, and it keeps you away from your family. Who knows if you will die tomorrow or the next day. It is awful and no one in their right mind should be an adventurer.
Adventurers are best compared to mercenaries, but even then the mercenaries have it better. They might get paid to do nothing and don’t have a high chance of death every day. Mercenaries know what they are fighting most of the time while adventurers brave uncertainty.
Imagine living your life day to day with no real home (for most). The most you have is your favorite inn to stay at. Nothing that is your own, and the chances of dying everyday is pretty high. The mortality rate for adventurers is also pretty high, so why would you ever do it?
That is partially why adventurers earn so much. They do a job that has insane risk for a ridiculous reward. Most end up dying after all.
Putting this into perspective, you start to understand why adventurers earn more than a shoe maker or even a king once they get famous enough.
But if adventurers earn so much and the peasantry earns so little, why does it seem like everything costs so much? How can the peasants manage? Is the economy of D&D just broken?
There is a joke about the economy of D&D. The joke is best portraid in this comic strip. If you didn’t click on the comic strip, essentially it makes the joke that the local economy just inflates when adventurers arrive.
It is an interesting way to explain how peasants live so cheaply in comparison to the players. After all, players need to spend far more on cost of living than just 1 sp a day. Even if they do somehow manage that, they may live in a much worse condition than a peasant. That is, if it is even possible.
This joke can happen in your world of course, but that isn’t the usual reason why everything costs so much for adventurers in comparison.
We already went over how adventurers are rich compared to others and that they don’t have a home. At least, a single home to call their own. That is a HUGE reason why the cost of living is so high for adventurers compared to peasants.
You don’t eat out every day. You also don’t pay for a hotel room every day. Imagine if you did. How much more would that cost for you? I guarentee that if every meal was bought and not cooked by you, your food bill would be astronomically high. The same can be said with booking a room every single day.
Just those 2 factors are huge, but add all the other things. Equipment maintenance, buying off information, etc. Adventurers need all that money in order to live. Peasants do not. I mean, just look at how Shopping in D&D for magic items costs!
This is the biggest different in the citizens of D&D and how the players live. They are rich tourists that need to make bribes, political deals, and more all while risking their life every day.
Due to the difference in lifestyle, it seems like the economy of D&D is broken to the players. In reality, they are just crazy people who are the oddities.
The players are almost always confused with how the economy of D&D works. This usually stems from the differences in lifestyle cost. Living at home vs eating out for every meal, having a home vs booking a room every day, it all adds up.
Even kings might not earn as much as adventurers. That is due to the insanity that possesses adventurers. They wake up every day with a high chance of dying. Higher than any other profession. Only someone completely unhinged would chose this life, and thus they have to have some reason to get into this profession.
Usually, that reason is gold. It pays ludicrous amounts. It is the only way to make being an adventurer seem like a good idea, and even then most shy away from it.
If you convey these points to your group, they will understand that the economy of D&D isn’t broken. Your players are just high paying tourists who are mentally insane for picking such a high risk job. The risk however, does have a high reward.
With that, I hope I have helped explain the economy of D&D and why it seems like everyone else earns so little compared to the players.
This has been Wizo and keep rolling!