How much does that sword really cost?
Let's talk money, lifestyle expenses, and more in DnD 5e.
You might be familiar with the standard Lifestyle Expenses Table:
But what does that really mean for the NPCs and Players of your world?
Well - that's exactly what I wanted to know!
So I decided to look into how much people in the medieval world earned. This took a little bit of math (which I will save you from) and in the end, I had to adjust the expenses chart a little.
Some of the professions, it should be noted, come with the benefit of wealthy individuals (or groups) providing housing or other resources. For example, an acolyte will live within a temple. Their earnings make them 'poor' but generally they won't struggle for shelter or food.
* Professions in Italics are where I could place DnD Backgrounds
|Daily Earnings & Profession
|What does that mean?
3 cp (~10gp a year)
Any money made goes to food and accommodation. Accommodation is likely a patch of floor-space in a small, cramped room shared by others. A servant might reside in the house of their lord, often on the floor of the Great Hall.
Those of a wretched lifestyle NEVER eat meat, and almost never fruit and vegetables except when it is offered out of charity. They live off grains and soups.
1 sp (~35 gp a year)
2 sp (~70 gp a year)
These people often live in a boarding house or a room of a tenement block in the worst part of town. But they not on the edge starvation most of the time.
They never had the luxury of meat outside of charity, but on occasion can source an egg, vegetables, or fruit.
At the edge of civilisation, these folk might find it easier to access day-to-day necessities, but the luxuries of the world are far out of reach.
3 sp (~105 gp)
Common Infantry (Soldier)
Pirate / Sailor
These people live off simple foods and lodging. They typically own a few sets of clothes. They benefit from semi-secure housing, where they can store their possessions.
On special occasions they might have funds to purchase meat and other luxuries. Cheap drink is something those of this category can regularly afford, and they may even splurge on a nice wine from time to time.
6 sp (~210 gp)
* small modificiation here*
These people are the middle class of the world. They can afford to live in a nice (but not luxurious) area. They likely have a couple fine sets of outfits to go out in.
Entertainment might involve going to see a show, eating out, or hosting a party.
They are often well educated, either in their trade or in scholarship.
2gpElite Cavalry Member
Those who live in this bracket as the upper middle class. Often they are still considered 'commoners' though they can afford many small luxurious.
Highly Successful Merchants,
This lifestyle is a kin to the lowest rank of nobility or extremely well-off merchants. These peole can afford a small staff of servants (cost to maintain 8sp – 17sp a day). They might live in a spacious home in a well to do area or in a fine terrace within the finer parts of town.
10gp – 30 gp
Cleric (High Ranking Priests)
20gp – 600 gp
Wages of the aristocracy vary wildly. One thing is for sure, they live a life of plenty and comfort. These circles hold the most powerful people in the community. They often own multiple houses, including a townhouse in the nicest part of town or a country estate.
They dine at the best restaurants, retain the most skilled and fashionable tailors, and have a small battlation of servants.
As you can see the way of life for people can vary dramatically depending on their wealth. It would take several years for a maidservant to earn the amount of money an earl makes in a day!
But this can all be a little hard to keep in mind while playing. Considering that - there's an easy why to quickly convert prices into $$.
1 cp = $1
1 sp = $10
1 gp = $100 (and so on!)
That means that a swineherd makes about $3 a day, while a knight makes $400 - that's a huge difference.
What Does This Mean for Your Character?
Depending on a character's background, they might have become accustomed to a variety of different lifestyles. I think it can really help get into the head of the character, especially when it comes to adventuring jobs and how they deal with different classes of people.
An urchin for example has probably spent most of their life dealing in copper pieces (or even parts of copper pieces). A loaf of fine, white bread might be enough to convince them a job is worth taking - simply because they've never had any.
Of course, that's a bit extreme, but consider the difference between a Folk Hero. A person likely from a rural region, familiar with community and the ways of the world. Versus, a sage, someone who afforded a long term and comprehensive education. A Folk Hero might be accustomed to making about 3 sp a day, while a Sage around 6sp. That doesn't seem like a lot, day to day, but that's twice as much!
A Folk Hero might feel the need to save any excess money for a rainy day, to be frugal with every gold piece they recieve, while a Sage will be willing to drop money on a nicely bound book.
How Much Does it Cost to be an Adventurer?
In terms of starting items, let's look at the overall "yearly wage" of various background and what they start with. Remember, this is your character earthly possessions (excluding any family or community funds).
Let's use the two examples from earlier: the Sage and the Folk Hero, and see how long it might take them to earn the money to become a "Wizard" (in terms of coin).
Wizards can learn in many ways but it they go via an institution they might have expected to pay 1sp – 3sp a day for tuition + living expenses (that's about 73 gp a year) . For a Folk Hero, they would have struggled to maintain this for a long period of time without the aid of a patron. Though it should be noted attending the prestigious Strixhaven, the cost is 800 gp a year! Only a Wealthy or richer person could afford that school.
(Of course, scholarships exist)
The Wizard starts with:
- a quarterstaff, 2sp or dagger, 2gp
- a component pouch, 25gp (or arcane focus)
- a scholar’s pack, 40 gp or an explorer’s pack, 10 gp
- a spellbook, 50 gp
Therefore, most Wizard's starting out in the "adventuring trade" has 85 gp - 117 gp of sunken costs. That's more than a year's wages for someone like our Folk Hero. Such an investment would take a long time which a patron. But a frugal Sage could probably come up with the money within a couple years.
Magical Items and Magical Healing
A Bag of Holding
As an uncommon magic item, it's price can be anywhere between 100 and 500 gp, depending on the seller. I would expect a 100 gp Bag of Holding to be pretty old and dodgy! Regardless, while a wealthy noble would find such an item reasonably priced - a requirement even. Even middle class people could find such an item very expensive, costing several months wages.
A Healing Potion
Even to first level adventurers, healing potions are outside their usually ability to pay for. This is even more true for the average person!
Health Care By Magic
Hiring someone to cast a relatively common spell of 1st or 2nd level, such as cure wounds or identify, is easy enough in a city or town, and might cost 10 to 50 gold pieces (plus the cost of any expensive material components). [From PHB 159]
Once again, the cost of spells is high. And it should be noted, since few people can pay spell-services at these prices, it prohibits Players from selling their spells to NPCs. They might low the cost - but they would probably be working for only a few gold, enough to get them by if adventuring jobs are slow.
Still, having a healer or skilled mage on staff is not out of the question for a wealthy individual.
Considering all of this, in a High Magic setting where magic is ubiquitious, I would argue the cost of these things could be significantly less. Instead of 50 gp it's 25 gp, or even 5 gp, and so on.
It can be useful to understand what the average person in your world makes, and what that can afford them relatively.
How much would convince them to look the other way? What access to magic and magical items does the average person have?
Of course, all of this varies from community to community - not to mention that magic would inevitably change the economy!
Planning on making some money in your game? Here is a handy equipment tracker!