D&D Commoners Make Plenty of Money

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I think the father (and perhaps the son as well) should also get a +1 competence bonus to Profession (Farmer).
Regarding feudal taxes: Given the abstract nature of the Profession skill, it's possible that the end result you get takes expenses like taxes into account.
The post was an interesting read. However, I have to say this and most of the posts in the vein of 'omg commoners couldn’t survive' ect ect, 3rd edition dnd is a system meant to provide a frame-work for adventuring, adventurers and, in general, things adventuresome. To take the system and critic or even try to defend it based on realism is fairly silly. Yes, 3rd edition has plenty of realism tied into, but I would venture to say that it is not meant to be a whole realistic setting, and I for one am glad of that. That point aside though, your going to be able to find problems with how things work in the real world for how they do in the dnd world, that’s part of the cost you pay for making the system more about being manageable and not bogged down by need less rules and charts and such, if you want that then there are other systems which provide them, in great depth and detail which I'm sure your local gaming store will be happy to sell you.

My point of course is that if you find that commoners don't actually make enough based on the system to get by, then so what? I would much prefer that the creators spent time balancing the combat system then making sure that the npc wage chart was flawless and realistic to an extreme most players wouldn’t even bother to appreciate.

3rd edition is -not- the system you want if you have a need for complete realism at the expense of fun and lacking of excess rule baggage, the sooner people accept that and move on, the better for everyone involved.
Your analysis is good, but doesn't cover the issue that really makes the D&D economy feel wrong: the price of gold. Today, gold is trading for over $600 an ounce (the amount of gold in a standard D&D coin). Applying your model to today's reality, this family would be taking in over $6000 a week for an annual income of $312,000!!!! That is definitely not commoner pay, as the average American family makes more like $60,000 in a year (This number is an educated guess so don't flame me if I'm off). Considering the fact that gold was much rarer in the medieval period, it stands to reason that it would have been much more valuable. I just can't see a farmer making over a gold piece a day. Historically, said farmer would have been very lucky if he EVER owned a single gold piece in his life. Basically, making gold and silver much more valuable would make the D&D economy seem more realistic.

I think of it like this: the average commoner has a +5 in profession so makes DC 15 profession checks so makes about 7gp a week. We'll round that up to 10gp a week per household, as Endymion's model. This is about 40gp a month. Now I believe the poverty line for a family of 4 is about $18000US a year, or $1500 a month. So 40gp = $1500, or 1gp = $37.5.

And just look what happens when you consider that value: a mug of ale costs 4cp, which is about $1.5. Sounds pretty reasonable for what's basically a cup of soda, right? Also, this means that a masterwork weapon (300gp) costs $11250. So a masterwork weapon is about the same as a car might be. This makes sense to me intuitively--most families own a masterwork weapon, but it's a pretty heavy investment. Some affluent families may own two or three!

So if we consider the gold coin as worth about $30-40 (which is of course going to be a lot less than the price of gold IRL. After all, they're using them as currency!), then the system still kind of has a modern equivalency.
If they grow and cook food themselves, wouldn't it be free? Not half-price.
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I would like to call your attention to this series of articles called population demographics which expands Sean K. Reynolds’s article a theory about peasants.

Basically these articles deal with the flaws of the DMG's system of town generation and how to fix them. In the course of this process such topics like racial family size and income of the commoner are touched and discussed.

I wonder if this thread could make something of it? A more streamlined population generation AND D&D economics would be something not only I seem to be interested in seeing.
This is a very important point. A farmer can farm only about half a year, the rest of the year he needs to find other ways to earn some coppers, and he would be 'unskilled labor'.

Again, while a logical conclusion, it is not one that is supported by the rules. There is nothing in there that says profession checks cannot be made during the "off season", so it is not covered by this article. It is also important to remember that farming was only the easiest to do example. The profession could also be blacksmithing, scribe work, or anything else that would not have to worry about off seasons.

Actually, as far as I am informed, back in the days they didn't know about land management and letting the land recover. They just farmed it all year after year (which obviously let to the soil becoming exhausted and giving less/worse crops).

However, seeing as D&D is not mundane medieval Europe, and the concept of soil exhaustion never comes up, it is again something that is outside the scope of this article. And for the record, the idea of crop rotation *WAS* around in that time period, only it wasn't being used by the Europeans. It’s just as easy to say that D&D commoners understand the concept of crop rotation, and hence this problem goes away. Given that the typical image of a commoner working the same land generation after generation, its safe to assume that this is the case.

Taxes and rent man. Every game I've played where the commoners are super-poor is because of overtaxation and/or rent. It's not because they are just commoners. Rent may not be a concern, but there's pretty much no way they are getting by without paying taxes.

And just what are the tax rates for a normal country in D&D? Anything we say here is completely arbitrary, and as such is not something that needs to be addressed for the sake of the article.

So, if the farmer has a farm that he pays no rent or taxes on, and free stuff like longbows, farm implements, and animals, and a baby who never eats enough that it costs any money whatsoever, then yeah, his life will be pretty comfortable. But he will be paying taxes. He does have to pay for all the things he uses for farming, and even if he has some kind of credit that he used, he would have to pay it back. In this case all it takes is a single drought or especially rainy season to make his farming lousy and he will be pushed into being poor.

Who said he got free longbows and farm implements? He would have paid for them just like anybody else. The entire point of the article is to show that they could easily save up enough money to buy these sorts of things. As for the baby, it could just as easily still be breast feeding, meaning no, it would not cost any money at all to feed it.

They make 150-200 gp per year, which is more than enough to be able to afford to buy things like new livestock, farming tools (the ones they can't craft themselves), and everything else they need to get by on.

And that's all just real-world stuff. In the D&D world they have to contend with fantasy problems.

And, as I find myself repeating, repeatedly, is that this is based entirely on the rules as written, which everyone complains are broken. The rules are not broken, if anything, it is people houseruling overly harsh expenses on the commoners that is ruining things.

Your analysis is good, but doesn't cover the issue that really makes the D&D economy feel wrong: the price of gold.

It doesn't need to.

1) Gold has a set value in the game. Its real world value never enters into the equation. It doesn't matter if real world gold is worth 3 cents a pound or 10 million dollars a pound, it does not affect the value of the metal in the game in any way.

2) Your common D&D setting has got gold coins coming out of its ears. Dragons that live in caves in the middle of nowhere have hundreds of thousands of gold coins that it just lays on top of. There are generally considered to be hundreds or thousands, or even tens of thousands of years of habitation and civilization that also used gold coins as currency, meaning there is plenty of backstock of coin out there.

Essentially, any attempt to compare the value of a D&D gold coin to a real world exchange rate based on the current value of gold is inherently flawed to the point that it is unusable.

Another good example, the current US penny actually contains more than 1 cent worth of copper in it, meaning it's face value is less than it's intrinsic value. The exact same thing could be happening in D&D, where the value of a gold coin is worth less than the value of the gold in it. However, this is almost certainly not the case, as a pure gold bar costs the same by weight as an equal weight of gold coins.

If you insist on trying to find a real world value for D&D currency, you can't use a direct metal value comparison, you need to look at what the currency can buy, and work from there to see how much the relative value of gold is. I've done those calculations in the past (and I may do an article on it for Regdar’s here soon), but the best exchange rate that I've found is that 1 sp = $1 US, making the value of gold ($10 for a gold coin) drastically less than it is in the real world. Although, given the simple fact that the value of gold in the real world is artificially inflated to begin with (they intentionally don't mine as much gold as they could, and continue to advertise it as some great thing simply to keep the price up), its not that much of a surprise that the peoples in D&D would value it less than we do currently.

Considering the fact that gold was much rarer in the medieval period, it stands to reason that it would have been much more valuable. I just can't see a farmer making over a gold piece a day. Historically, said farmer would have been very lucky if he EVER owned a single gold piece in his life. Basically, making gold and silver much more valuable would make the D&D economy seem more realistic.

This is a totally separate discussion, but:

1) D&D is not medieval Europe. The rarity/scarcity of any given object or substance cannot fairly be judged by using real world values.

2) I already addressed in the article itself that the "gold" values for much of this is not in actual coin, but in barter/trade goods. No, the farmer isn't getting a big stack of shiny gold coins every year, and he's not paying gold to other people for what he needs. He's trading a sack of wheat, or a bag of dried carrots for what he needs.
Great read. I always figured that a commoner household leader would be more like 4th level. Things look even better at that point. But that's just me.

As for Ruslanchik's post, the average income in the U.S. and A (in 2003) is $40,688. Actually, that's for a man. Women make $30,724 a year on average. But that is probably Expert range, not Commoner. I dunno. It's hard to compare. Minimum wage makes something like $11,000 a year or so, and that would be the unskilled ditch-digging. Full-time. That is a good base in which to compare. I don't know where I was going with that, but I thought it was interesting and relevant.

Census.

As for RogerC's comment, I think how you interpreted the description makes sense. I guess it's technically one of those "It doesn't say you can't" arguments, but it does say that you make X amount. I usually interpreted similarly (or didn't care).
A point on soil exhaustion: Edymnion makes a valid point, D&D is not medieval Europe and it's quite possible that farmers do know about crop rotation.

There are also other methods of keeping the soil fertile, one of them being the use of fertilizers. Bovine and other animal excrement would do. It's also possible that D&D farmers know about compost.
There are also other methods of keeping the soil fertile, one of them being the use of fertilizers. Bovine and other animal excrement would do. It's also possible that D&D farmers know about compost.

And medieval farmers *DID* know about fertilizers. They would routinely put manure on their fields. Its one reason why English food still tends to be bland today, because of a long history of having to boil everything for hours precisely because their food was covered in .
Medieval Europeans didn't have a particularly efficient system of crop rotation, but I believe they did have one. I believe it was based on three fields, one of which was fallow at all times.

xpochian's 25% annual death rate is a bit silly -- it indicates that 99% of people don't make it to age 16, which clearly would have lead to extinction.

By the way -- the real world value of gold (i.e., about $600/troy oz) is largely based on speculation, not the normal mechanics of supply and demand. In the year 2000, six years ago, for instance, gold cost "only" about $275 an ounce. While gold is very cheap and abundant in D&D by normal standards, gold in the real world is also rather expensive at the moment. (I'm no financial consultant, so please don't trust all of your money to my advice, but I'd hazard a guess that gold will be cheaper in 2010 than it is now.)
And in a few years, when little Suzy picks up a "profession," they'll really be rakin' in the cash, eh ;)

Seriously, good write up. Now we can see why goblins and other nasties might raid the village...the people actually do have a bit of coin.

Are you trying to suggest that Suzy finds work as a prostitute? I think that is marvelous.
Taxes: If I don't pay taxes on my profession checks, neither does the commoner. Most likely income from profession is income after taxes.

Gold value: There were also a LOT less people back then, which would lower the value of gold. Regardless, the rules allow for the peasant to survive (even if a yearly savings of 4lbs. of solid gold sounds weird). As it happens my DM uses the "silver standard": sp replaces gp, cp replaces sp, bp (bronze) replaces cp.
A few questions and things I want to point out.

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First off why a level 2 commoner?
Joe has spent the last 30 some odd years focused on farming. He listens to rumors, talks to others, jacks his price up when adventurers come to town, haggles, and spends time in a church. He continues to improve in his life, the experience continues to improve as well.

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Winter.
During the winter Joe cuts wood for his heat and to sell, he might milk his cows, spend time carving out crude chairs, smelting his own tools to reforge them. Arrows do not cost 1gp to a commoner. They find a stick, whittle it, bash a rock until its sharp, pluck a feather or two from a chicken. It does not fly as good as ones intended to be sold to others. But it works. They get things for free because you cannot buy raw resources from land you own.
Money does not grow on trees, it grows in them. You can chop a tree up and sell it and no cost other than physical labor to you.

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Crop rotation.
People in D&D explore other worlds and planes. The found their gods and some even shake their hands. They found out how to create helpful things from nothing but a word. How to heal ANY disease, and bring people back to life.

We are still stuck on earth. We still argue about gods. We create stuff that slowly kills us. We cure one disease and 2 more are found and kill us, If your heart stops we can try to restart it. If your blown to bits we mourn you.

Who’s more advanced? I would think they know about crop rotation...

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Taxes?
I have seen many people point out taxes. but not a one pointed out that fact clerics and paladins tithe to their church, and that very church helps out commoners in need.

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Our lives.
No matter what points are said, keep in mind D&D is not real life.
Think of how different it could be if a wizard could summon iron, or a druid makes every corp grow bigger, maybe make crops grow in the winter. And how long can a family live off a adult dragon's corpse give?
D&D uses its own system of costs, do not apply real life values to it.

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First post.
Well made, and possess great insight.
Love this article!!

Yes, I do tend to bring in some 'historical' aspects to D&D. But the average commoner's life as portrayed in the game does not seem so different from the 'historical' commoner. So I think we can use it as a base. For example, [HTML]http://www.hyw.com/books/history/Agricult.htm[/HTML] provides some excellent information about agriculture in various eras.

In my first reply, for example, I tried to use historical data to divide up the land a farmer might have to try to separate the family 'needs' from the excess. Of course, many other's posts are correct as well- there is ample opportunity for our sample family to make extra pocket money.

And, of course, there are other factors- taxes, the influence of the clergy on the abundance of the crops, and the trade-vs-sale value of goods.
D&D makes some pretty weird assumptions. Mostly, as follows:

Each character of a given level will have the same level of skill because they maxed ranks (if they didn't, they're dumb). Now, here's an interesting concept: what if maximizing ranks isn't a conscious choice of the character? PCs do it, but that's because their players choose to (as is their right!). But commoners probably don't have that option.

Also, why are all craft skills and all profession skills valued equally? Granted, if we go by what I said in point 1 in that any 1st level commoner has 4 ranks in their respective field, then all craft and profession skills are acquired just as easily, so the supply curves for each should be roughly identical, which admittedly would make sense on that end. But the DEMAND for different products would not be the same (we could say that the costs of Profession and Craft are bare minimums though). Of course, the assumption we make here is that 4 ranks in craft doesn't represent the same level of skill as 4 ranks in another craft.

Ultimately, what we know is that not everyone can be there to supervise. And that's what the profession skill represents. The majority of labor IS unskilled, because if everyone was skilled, the value of skilled labor would just plummet. Most of the guys on a sailing vessel don't have ranks in Profession (Sailor), which is why the one guy does have it, and why he gets GP instead of SP on a regular basis.

In short: NPCs don't necessarily have optimum skill results.

But here's another thing. The cost of a cow or a wagon is based on the cost of production of said cow/wagon (supply) and the value of said cow/wagon (demand). So when you buy a wagon, you are competing against a commoner who can use that wagon. When you buy a cow, you are competing against a commoner that can use said cow. Presumably, cows are worth more to wealthy aristocrats that like beef than they are to commoners (except that the commoner then sells the cow, but we're talking about cows as an input not a finished product). Therefore, the price of the cow probably represents the higher class. However, a wagon is probably more useful to a commoner than to an aristocrat. That doesn't mean the wagon represents its worth to a commoner though, because the commoner may want it more, but he can afford it less. So in short, we have a situation where the inputs probably aren't going in the most optimum direction.

Where was I going with this again? Oh, right.

The cost of a wagon or cow isn't the cost to a commoner. It's the cost to an adventurer who wants to buy it. And he's competing against EVERYONE who wants it, not against commoners. So why do commoners get their things cheaper? Because they make them themselves. Or maybe they're subsidized and the duke doesn't allow adventurers to buy cows directly from a peasent. And if they sold it directly, the duke would just take their gold from them.

I totally lost myself on this one, as I was arguing with a disenfranchised player over something entirely different. Overall, D&D's economy is BS, but it's not really that much the fault of the commoner. Personally I think the craft and profession skills in general are probably a bit off as well...
First off why a level 2 commoner?

Because I'm an Eberron player, not a Faerun player. NPCs don't run around being level 15 commoners, most are lucky to ever be anything more than a level 1 commoner/expert/adept.

I fully subscribe to the idea that NPCs use NPC classes if at all possible, and that they are the absolute lowest level possible to get the job done.
Regarding the "Aid Another" discussion for the farmer. It would be more efficient for each to make their own checks--but that implies that they are each farming the biggest plot they can manage. If cleared land is not free for the taking, and barns and the like have to be built, then you don't have the space for each to farm their own plot. With a shortage of land, "Aid Another" gets the most silver per acre.
Ummm... What if TooLongName meant "Why level 2 commoners instead of level 1?"
Regarding the "Aid Another" discussion for the farmer. It would be more efficient for each to make their own checks--but that implies that they are each farming the biggest plot they can manage. If cleared land is not free for the taking, and barns and the like have to be built, then you don't have the space for each to farm their own plot. With a shortage of land, "Aid Another" gets the most silver per acre.

Yup. Each one making their own checks means each one has to have their own farm, their own set of tools, their own everything. If two people are using the same equipment in the same area for the same goal, then one is using Aid Other on the other.
I think we can make some pretty good estimates about the tax burden for commoners. In a sixty-person (number chosen for easy demographic division) Thorp, we can reasonably expect to see these three individuals drawing their upkeep from other people's work:

A Tax Collector (1st-level Aristocrat)
A Constable (2nd-level Warrior)
A Wise-woman (1st-level Adept)

For take-home salaries, these folks will draw 4sp (Clerk wage), 6sp (Mercenary Leader wage) and 1gp (Alchemist wage, as a representation of the sorts of things that an Adept does in a community) per day. Now, 2gp/day doesn't seem like that much for having these folks in town, but it doesn't take into account the standard of living to which they have become accustomed - that has to be paid for in addition to their take-home wage.

The Tax Collector expects a Good upkeep, for 100gp/month. The Constable, being less of a snob, will settle for Common, still requiring 45gp/month; while the Wise-woman only asks for what amounts to a poor upkeep, at 12gp/month. So, we've gone from 60gp/month to 217gp/month, to be split evenly (no progressive taxation in D&D, remember) among the other residents.

According to the scenario we've had drawn up for us, the standard commoner organisation is the 4-person household (following Rome, I am not regarding infants as persons). Each of the 14 other households of the community will then have a tax burden of 15gp/month assigned to it, just to pay for the local authorities. We can also assume that the Tax Collector's boss would like to see some coin coming from the Thorpians; if the Tax Collector is in fact the Supreme Executive Authority, then he'll have to pocket more change in order to more regularly hire mercenaries/adventurers to deal with problems that a feudal army might otherwise put down.
Nice commoner farmer article. I'd consider reducing annual income to income to 2/3 to 3/4 annually because of winter and being unable to grow crops from December to February and devoting the time to performing the repairing and rebuilding.

A Magical Medieval Society has a very interesting PDF on Manors and quite a few pages devoted to the commoners and what they are doing each month of the year with a labor calendar. Half own 10 or fewer acres, one third own 12-16 acres and the poorest have little or no land. Plant growth grants that production bonus.
You mentioned the standard of living of the three to be on top of their take home pay. Shouldn't they be responsible for their standard of living out of their expense like everyone else in world?
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Nice commoner farmer article. I'd consider reducing annual income to income to 2/3 to 3/4 annually because of winter and being unable to grow crops from December to February and devoting the time to performing the repairing and rebuilding.

Again:
  • The point of the article is that they can survive quite nicely using the rules as written. Nowhere in the rules does it say that you have to take entire months off from work due to the weather.
  • Also as I have already pointed out, farming is just one example of the commoner life. I could have just as easily have made this a blacksmith family, a thatcher family, or any number of other profession choices that would not be bothered by winter. I simply chose farmer because it is the most "common" commoner job.
  • The idea of dropping the income also rests on the (incorrect) assumption that farming involves nothing but plants. They would also have livestock such as goats, chickens, etc that they could rely on for income when the season changes. They could also be selling off stocks of grain or whatnot that they didn't sell as soon as they produced it. Its a faulty assumption to think that farm life just totally shuts down in the winter time.

But, we've already covered all of this on this thread already, right?
Here's a few numbers from a Magical Medieval Society for the average gentry manor of a local lord or knight. 450 adults produce 9,660 GP a year 2,160 goes straight to the ruler leaving 7,500 GP a year.

General costs:

Alms 1-5%, Maintenance Consumption 5 - 30 % of income. Scutage 10% of income, Tax 20% of income, Maintenance and Repair 1 - 8% of income. Special Mishap (25% chance 10 - 40%), Normal (50%), Good year (25% No maintenance cost to +20% or +1,000 GP).

Steward Chamberlain 300 GP, Household and Kitchen 5% of income, laborers 4% of income, managerial staff 3% of income. Personal Staff:360 GP + 10% per additional manor, Barber 300 GP, Doctor 300 GP, Falconer 300 GP, Huntsmen 300 GP, Keeper of the Wardrobe 300 GP, Tailor 200 GP other servants 50 - 200 GP.
You mentioned the standard of living of the three to be on top of their take home pay. Shouldn't they be responsible for their standard of living out of their expense like everyone else in world?

The section on Hirelings in the DMG notes that the wages do not reflect the cost of "materials, tools or weapons" required for the job. While the cost of living isn't going to precisely reflect that, it seems like a reasonable way of estimating what these officials might claim, in addition to the extra expenses that they run up in the line of duty (such as hiring adventurers).
Now, in closing, it should be said that the idea of them having this much money does not necessarily mean they actually ever see that much actual coin. Joe and his family are capable of outputting 10 gp worth of produce per week, and consuming 6 gp worth of goods per week. It is almost guaranteed that most of the food money is actually coming out of what they grow (so they grow 10 gp worth of food, then turn around and eat 6 gp worth of it every week), and that anything else they get from others in the village is in the form of barter (2 bags of potatoes for that new hoe, for example).

However, much of the food that they produce might be in the form of cash crops, with only a small garden on the side; you also have to keep in mind droughts and market stresses that these farmers must prepare for. Plus... you need to keep overhead costs in mind, such as bribes, taxes, sharecropping, and other forms of 'revenue farming' that higher-ups do to the lessers; no matter what sort of medieval-style socio-economic system you look at, there are class inequalities that tend to seriously strain commoners... usually as far as the nobles/landlords/merchants/etc can push them without getting rebellions in payment.

So, while this commoner family may not have much money, they are in no way destitute, and are quite capable of living very comfortable lives, without the need to overall the entire D&D economy just to make it more "realistic" for them.

Your examination as per the mechanics was quite astute, but I feel that you may have simply exposed more problems with the mechanics... or more accurately, you've raised pertinent questions about how DMs and players should frame class-issues in-game.
Logically, the women shouldn't bother with farming, they should take Profession: Cook, up to the maximum and use their rolls to both feed the family and turn a tidy profit. This practically eliminates the living expenses of the family.
I'm not sure if someone's mentioned it just yet, but I believe the PHB or DMG's reference to commoners earning 1 silver a week is mirrored by the craft or profession skilled: an "unskilled" laborer earns 1 silver a week. The example family of commoners are far from unskilled.

Poe's Law is alive and well.

Logically, the women shouldn't bother with farming, they should take Profession: Cook, up to the maximum and use their rolls to both feed the family and turn a tidy profit. This practically eliminates the living expenses of the family.

Thus the family sells the farm and moves closer to town and builds an inn and tavern. Why? Because most farms are in Rural Areas, with few travelers and nearby roads. Every family in the area will also be attempting to lure what few rare travelers there are in the area to their houses to reap the rewards of excess good food. Granted every overworked house wife slaving over a hot fire will want time off and go over to the nearest homestead and spend some of the hard earned "excess" money so she doesn't have to cook as much.
Logically, the women shouldn't bother with farming...QUOTE]

Oh if only my Feminist Theories prof could read this ;)

Or maybe the men should not bother with farming and max out their ranks in cooking
That article was great, and has inspired me to resubmit one of my own.

I've been trying to figure out how commoners made ends meet for an urban setting, but this puts it more clearly in perspective, as the principle holds true.

Thanks, Edymnion!
Thus the family sells the farm and moves closer to town and builds an inn and tavern. Why? Because most farms are in Rural Areas, with few travelers and nearby roads. Every family in the area will also be attempting to lure what few rare travelers there are in the area to their houses to reap the rewards of excess good food. Granted every overworked house wife slaving over a hot fire will want time off and go over to the nearest homestead and spend some of the hard earned "excess" money so she doesn't have to cook as much.

Ah, but that doesn't matter. Remember this is a purely RAW discussion, and nowhere does it say that the money you make using your Profession or Craft skills are affected by any kind of environmental situation. You make your Skill Check/2 Gold Pieces a week, every week.

Heck for that matter there's no real reason for these farmers to bother farming, they could pick far easier professions and make just as much money.
I'm not sure if someone's mentioned it just yet, but I believe the PHB or DMG's reference to commoners earning 1 silver a week is mirrored by the craft or profession skilled: an "unskilled" laborer earns 1 silver a week. The example family of commoners are far from unskilled.

That's the thing though. In D&D, according to RAW, there is no such thing as an "unskilled" labourer. Everybody gets skill points, pretty much everybody gets Profession or Craft as a class skill, so there's never any reason for anybody to be on 1sp a day.
Furthermore, there is no unemployment in D&D, your ability to make money is based purely on your skill roll.

According to RAW.
In pre-industrial society most peasant women worked the fields and cooked. That might explain why so many become adventurers...

I think the issue should come back to the world you want to create and interpreting the rules in a way that allows you to do it. For example: If you’re a fan of Robin Hood than the commoners SHOULD be dirt poor, and unjustly so. That way the good aligned characters will feel compelled to help.

If you like magic to be a substitute for technology than the commoners should be better off - spell like create water and plant growth as well as magically enhanced farm implements would allow farming at modern industrial levels. Bear in mind that such a campaign wouldn't feel medieval though.

In a medieval flavoured campaign the commoners lot should be about getting by. Maybe they do have to maintain elderly relatives (as was usually the case). Maybe grandma has leveled up and learned craft (bowmaker) which explains the bow, (or maybe she just has low ranks, enough to keep the families precious longbow in good nick but not enough to craft a new one).

The Joe Commoner farmer family would face a lot of dangers - a hard winter, disasters such as gales, earthquakes, snowstorms, droughts, epidemics, bandits and wild animals (not just man-eaters, but animals which threaten livestock) in addition to fantasy perils. If they survive then I guess they should gain XP. So if Joe and Jill Commoner manage to keep everyone in the family alive through a tough winter they may may well gain a level: a few more points in profession (farmer, feats such as great fortitude and endurance could both be essential.

In Tolstoy’s novels the noble characters often describe how the Russian peasants are incredibly tough so Great Fortitude (protects from privation, dodgy foods, disease and cold) and Endurance (lets you work for longer) feats should be common.
Also remember that good aligned clerics should help people. In baseline D&D Pelor is the most popular deity probably because his clerics heal and help the commoners. Yes the cleric may charge adventurers laden with gold (or rather, expect a donation), but they probably wouldn't (and definitely shouldn't) charge for healing the poor (the donations from the wealthy are probably what enables them to work for the commoners for free).
First off, great article!

Taxation and the DMG:

Second, while several people have mentioned taxation and the like, I don't recall seeing anyone raise the point I'm about to (though if I missed it, forgive me for the oversight). From the DMG, pg 140:

"Taxes paid the queen, the emperor, or the local baroness might consume as much as one-fifth of a character's wealth (although these expenses vary considerably from land to land). Representatives of the government usually collect taxes yearly, biannually, or quarterly. Of course, as travelers, adventurers might avoid most collection periods (and so you can ignore taxes for the PCs if you want). Those who own land or a residence may find themselves assessed and taxed, however."

As such, it seems rather clear that any NPC resident/farmer/etc. within an area is likely to incur some taxation. While it is certainly arguable as to what might be an appropriate "average" consideration (for a discussion such as this one), we can at least figure that more oppressive societies tax 1/5th of NPC income, scaling down from there toward more lenient, poorly run or simply generous and benevolent societies.

Religion and NPC tithes/donations:

If I might allow the DMG to interject a small bit further, from the same page:

"Tithes are paid to the church by those who are faithful participants in a religion. Tithes often amount to as much as one-tenth of a character's adventuring earnings, but collection is voluntary except in strict, oppressive religions that have their own tithe collectors. Such onerous religious taxation requires the support of the government."

While not a mandatory expense (except as noted), it isn't difficult to think that most commoners are adherents of one sort or another, and probably tithe at least a small additional amount each year for religious purposes. I also think it would be reasonable to view this outside of merely tithing to an organization and consider it also as costs incurred by commoners who make offerings to a deity they seek to gain favor or protection from.

In our example family from the original post, it shouldn't be unexpected for them to spend 5%+ or more of their income in some combination of tithes and offerings to, say, Chauntea (or some similar agriculture related deity). Not to mention that some portion of that likely would be given by the family to the institutions (and clergy) of a deity like that in return for blessings over their fields, or similar activities in the hope of gaining some increased degree of certainty that their crops will come through well, in a world with lots of uncertainty at hand.

This might include donations to clergy and offerings to deities they don't even worship, but instead fear. Our hunter boy might make some costly annual offerings to Malar, in the hopes of placating the god's anger with the hope of avoiding dangerous animals, or even to grant them greater success in future hunts over the coming year. This despite the fact that the boy generally is (or consider himself to be) faithful to Chauntea, as with the rest of the family.

Scale of Economy:

Also, while not remarked upon here (not that it is wholly relevant ... or wholly irrelevant) is the consideration of the economy on a greater and localized scale.

What I mean is that a community will only maintain enough economic power to support some [x] number of members within the community. Beyond that, the economy falters in so far as providing actual gold income to members who are least able to compete.

By way of example, the DMG describes that a Thorp has GP limit of 40gp -- you simply can't find items of a value beyond that within the scope of that Thorp and it's economy. This gives a hint as to the strength (or weakness) of a localized economy, but what it really does is provide an indication as to the number of skilled workers that economy can both support and demand. Workers who effectively produce goods which exceed a 40gp limit will find no buyers, aside from the very occasional adventurer who might need their product. The result is that those more highly skilled workers will move to a location with a stronger economy.

The wagon maker, as one example, will find it unsustainable to setup shop in something smaller than, say, a village (at a minimum). The degree of competition found in wagon makers within a village is also therefore limited -- before one person is either pushed out or simply moves to an even larger economic center where his or her skill can reap a greater reward.

As a result, we find something along the lines of more highly skilled NPC commoners and experts (i.e., professionals) congregating in larger population centers, with the converse as you inspect toward the smaller locales like a Hamlet or Thorp. I do find the "highest level locals" system the DMG recommends to be a bit out of whack, for this reason -- you can end up with significantly high level commoners in a thorp, for example.

As a generalized rule, it might be wise to apply the "max GP value" of a good that can be purchased in a locale to also represent the maximum amount of gold an NPC (or even a family) can earn in a year from that economy. That is, even a highly skilled commoner in a thorp will find that they simply can't squeeze more than 40 gold of income from the local economy, no matter how fabulous they can craft or guide or farm. Some adventurer who comes in and buys that max-40gp item has really made someone’s year, perhaps even given the economy a strange bump alongside. But that is beyond the norm. 40 gold is the max, not an average or typical purchase being made.

For some professions (such as a farmer) who produce a product of some kind, travel alleviates the dilemma to some degree (so long as they can reasonably transport the goods to a place that both has the economic demand and wealth to purchase those goods). If we exclude farmer from the rule, it actually provides an impetus for the economy to become more agrarian as you move toward smaller communities, and more professional skill based as you move toward larger population centers.

It also provides an explanation (or motivation) for traffic between locations, as some profession types ply their wares and skills in places that can actually afford them -- take hunters and even guides as an example, who generate their product or offer their service by going into remote locales but earn the most gold for their efforts in more populated ones.

For other professions who provide a skill, this simply isn't true. That sort of skilled professional is selling their labor, not a good. A 20th level expert (sailor) will find it exceptionally hard to make any money if they are 200 miles inland, living in an all but forgotten hamlet. It simply has to be tough to earn money as a sea captain if you are utterly land-locked.

Again, I'd suggest that the community max GP value lend itself to the issue -- that expert sailor obviously has some very strong skills even when not at sea, and though he is a "fish-out-of-water", so to speak, he could still earn at least 40 gold even in the worst of locations. Maybe, I dunno, assisting a local cartographer, or managing field hands (hey, they can manage a ship full of scurvy men, you'd think they could handle a field of laborers).

While a strong motivation for the expert or professional to leave for a brighter place, it does create some interesting story hooks for highly skilled NPCs in places that they are woefully underpaid, or simply out of context. The first thing I would ask, as a player, is who is that 20th level expert sailor hiding from?
I really enjoyed this article as well as it's follow up Complex Commoner Math.

I have a question about the levels of the commoners used in example. I've read on other forums that commoners and other NPCs in their 30s should be about 3rd to 5th level. I tend to agree with this; only their very young adults should be 1st level IMHO.

Would this increase in level significantly increase the earning potential of NPCs? Do you disagree about NPCs and increased levels?
Great article, very well done.

I would, however, like to add that most families would be a great deal larger than 5 people. Off times, in a feudal society and less specifically pre-industrial societies, families were very large. You would have upwards of 5 children, typically more. Add to that the older grandparents, whom could not support themselves, and the high possibility that when sons and daughters come of age they live very near, if not with their parents, even after marriage. The same house could be shared by 3 generations of people, simply being passed down to the eldest son, if such records would even be kept.

So in effect the median income of the house would increase but due to extra dependencies the weekly and yearly income of the family would probably mirror or at the very least be in the ball park of your estimate.

The factor(s) I believe you are missing are the taxes. Now granted this statistic would vary from country to country, world to world so there is no reliable median. The only solution would be to say that typically 1/3 of the family income (for a commoner family) would be required in taxes per week (for simplicities sake, we’ll stick to per week rather than per month, as would more of a realistic tax period), depending on the country, if the economy is not feudal; or 1/3 of the harvested crops due weekly if the economy is feudal.

Sounds reasonable, more or less; in that case a family, living in a non-feudal economic area, would be taxed 3.3gp a week, leaving the family with a mere 6.7gp per week. Now it is reasonable to assume that a lord/government may only tax what the family actually sells at market, which according to your estimates would be roughly 4gp per week. So 1/3 of 4 would be 1.32gp spent in taxes per week, thus leaving the family with 2.68gp left over per week.

In a feudal society the lord would not be as forgiving and he would demand his share, which in this case would be 1/3 of the harvested crops per week. Now if Joe's family is able to harvest 10gp worth of Crops per week then the Lord would take 3.3gp away, thus leaving the family with 6.7gp a week. In this case the family would only have .7gp per week left over; now that's quite a bit less than the originally estimated 4gp per week in sheer profits.

In the case of the feudal society it is assumed the commoner are in fact surfs, not free men, and in that case it would be more acceptable to believe they would be closer to destitution and thus possess less money overall. Of course this concept fails to account for the fact that a family of surfs would more than likely not eat any ‘good meals’ and would eat perhaps only 2 meals a day (or ration the food out so you eat the quantity of 2 meals over three servings). Further the family would rely even more on the Son’s ability to hunt, if hunting would be allowed in the area.

Anyways, I just want to say that the article was really well written and very thought provoking in so far as I have never given any consideration to how close (or far) from destitution commoner families were and merely assumed they existed near enough not to garner the wealth required to acquire expensive items.
Edymnion, I liked you post. It was very insightful.

To all others that criticize his math/ideas/whatever. . . Come on people, he made nice sense of the rules. Now, understand, every DM interprets the rules the way they want (and makes his own assumptions). So, what ever you say doesn't make his article more or less valid. It is his way of thinking. Heck, I even included supply and demand schemes in my game. Technology varies from different eras and there's even a banking/stock system. Those are my rules, who's to say that I am wrong?

So, please, if you really want to say something, go do some research, and post your own series of equations, showing the way you think it should be done. This is a fantasy game, where the rules can be changed and bent at the DMs will. If you've got nothing nice to say, don't say it at all. (And, definitely, don't repeat what other people have said, it's redundant and takes more time than really needed to read a good thread.)

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For example: If you’re a fan of Robin Hood than the commoners SHOULD be dirt poor, and unjustly so. That way the good aligned characters will feel compelled to help.

In Robin Hood, the commoners were actually in one of the worst situations imaginable. First, it was war (far away, in the Holy Land, but anyway) and taxes always rise during wartime. And then there were tyrants (LE?) ruling the land, which is also never good for the population. It was bad enough to create active resistance, after all.

While it's okay to create such a situation so the PCs can slip into the Robin-Hood-role, it shouldn't be assumed "standard".