The Price is Right ..... Not!

This may seem trivial to some but it's bugged me for a long time.  The prices in the Player's Handbook ever since 1e seem to be divorced from reality in many cases.  I've had this issue come up a few time in campaigns I've run and I believe item prices in DnD are a big issue with many people based on the number of discussions I see on the issue at other forums.  I realize the game is Dungeons & Dragons and not Accountants & Economists but it would be nice to see half-way realistic prices in 5e and that's why I'm posting this message.


The DnD price level doesn't bother me.  If gold is scarce in a campaign world, gold will tend to be very valuable and the value of goods in gold will be relatively low.  If, on the other hand, gold is quite common, prices will be higher in gold pieces.  This seems to be the case in the core DnD rules as gold pieces are the standard currency while in Medieval Europe the silver piece was the coin used for day-to-day transactions.  What concerns me is the huge difference in the relative value of DnD goods compared to relative prices in Medieval Europe.


The following relative price comparison of 3.5e prices with actual High and Late Medieval prices comes from various academic sources taken off the web.  The majority of prices are from the 14th & 15th century, mostly in England.   All historic prices are in silver pennies (denier) while the 3.5e prices are in gold pieces.  I don't use the 4e books so if there have been radical changes to the price structure since 3.5e I apologize. 


I use the price of a bushel of wheat as the basis to calculate relative prices.  Note that I converted the value/lb. in the Player's Handbook to a per bushel value.  I'd prefer to use the daily wage of a laborer for comparison purposes, but the 3.5e books don't seem to provide the DnD wage for common labor.  Wheat is a basic commodity that nearly everyone would have consumed in some form in a world with Medieval technology so it makes sense to me to use wheat as the starting point.  Historical wheat prices varied greatly from year-to-year but I'm using an average of nearly 200 years of data.  All prices are expressed as a ratio to the wheat price and I then compare the 3.5e ratios to the historic ratios.








































































































































































































































































































Item



Cost in 3.5e Gold Pieces



Source



3.5e Ratio to Wheat



Cost in English Denier



Source



Medieval Ratio to Wheat



Ratio:  3.5 D&D to Medieval



Salt (lb.)



5



(7)



                   8.33



             0.11



(6)



           0.01



57276%



Bucket



0.5



(7)



                   0.83



0.5



(3)



           0.07



1271%



Full Plate



         1,500



(7)



                 2,500



           2,000



(4)



         262.3



953%



Sheep



2



(7)



                   3.33



                2.7



(1)



           0.35



953%



Linen (yard)



4



(7)



                   6.67



             5.84



(6)



           0.77



870%



Bottle



2



(7)



                   3.33



4



(3)



           0.52



635%



House, Grand



         5,000



(8)



                 8,333



         11,880



(3)



         1,558



535%



Iron (lb.)



0.5



(7)



                   0.83



             1.38



(6)



           0.18



461%



House, Simple



         1,000



(8)



                 1,667



3,000



(3)



            393



424%



Chest



2



(7)



                   3.33



6



(3)



           0.79



424%



Dagger



2



(7)



                   3.33



6



(3)



           0.79



424%



Inn, Common



0.5



(7)



                   0.83



1.5



(3)



           0.20



424%



Cart



15



(7)



                 25.00



48



(3)



           6.29



397%



Ale (gal.)



0.2



(7)



                   0.33



1



(2)



           0.13



254%



Chicken



0.1



(7)



                   0.17



0.5



(4)



           0.07



254%



Leather Armor



10



(7)



                 16.67



60



(3)



           7.87



212%



Ginger (lb.)



                 2



(7)



                   3.33



                 12



(5)



           1.57



212%



Pepper (lb.)



2



(7)



                   3.33



18.028



(5)



           2.36



141%



Pig



3



(7)



                   5.00



30



(3)



           3.93



127%



Ox



15



(7)



                 25.00



157



(1)



         20.59



121%



Saffron (lb.)



15



(7)



                 25.00



182.857



(5)



         23.98



104%



Wheat (bu.)



0.6



(7)



                   1.00



             7.63



(6)



           1.00



100%



Silk (yard)



10



(7)



                 16.67



132



(5)



         17.31



96%



Canvas (yard)



0.1



(7)



                   0.17



2



(5)



           0.26



64%



Cinnamon (lb.)



1



(7)



                   1.67



24.151



(5)



           3.17



53%



War Horse, Heavy



400



(7)



                    667



         19,200



(3)



         2,518



26%



Oil (pint)



0.1



(7)



                   0.17



             9.96



(6)



           1.31



13%



 























































Sources:

 



 



 



 



 



 



 



1 J.J. Jusserand, English Wayfaring Life in the XIVth Century, Putnam's Sons, 1931



 



 



2 A.R. Myers, London in the Age of Chaucer,  University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1972



 



3 Dyer, Christopher, Standards of Living in the Later Middle Ages, Cambridge University press, 1989



4 V.B. Norman and Don Pottinger, English Weapons & Warfare 449-1660, Barnes & Noble, 1992



5 Munro, John, The Luxury Trades of the Silk Road:  How Much Did Silks and Spcies Really Cost?, 1983



6 Clark, Greg, The Price History of English Agriculture, Research in Economic History, 2003



 



7 Players Handbook 3.5e



 



 



 



 



 



 



8 Dungeon Masters Guide II, 3.5e



 



 



 



 



 



 



Some of my observations:


1) Nearly every 3.5e item with the exception of warhorses and lamp oil seems overvalued compared to wheat prices.  Note that if houses are so valuable, many farm laborers would rush into the building trades which should reduce the cost of housing and increase the cost of agricultural products.  Historically, semi-skilled building laborers made only slightly more than farmhands which is probably one reason housing costs were moderate in the Middle Ages.


2) Most historical prices I've seen for plate armor are for extremely elaborate armor crafted for nobility in the Late Middle Ages or early Renaissance period.  Typical plate armor worn by run-of-the-mill knights would have been much less expensive.  For example, a suit of gilted armor crafted for the Prince of Wales in 1614 cost 340L while a set of off-the-shelf Milanese armor cost 8L 6s 8d in 1441 or only about 2.5% of the cost of the fancy pants armor.


3) The prices of most luxury goods appear to be in line with historic prices.  The prices of luxury items is somewhat arbitrary anyway since their value is based more on their scarcity than anything else.  If pepper and saffron happen grow in the kingdom your campaign is based in they could be quite common and worth much less than in Medieval Europe.


4) Why are sheep so expensive?  Are Scotsmen taking them as consorts?

It's actually not as bad as I'd expect.  It's certainly well within the realm of possibility, with all of the variables considered.  The main differences seem to be in the prices of salt and, of course, wheat.
The metagame is not the game.
This has never really bugged me, though I noticed some of the discrepancies, especially salt, since it's pretty easily accessable, by evaporating seawater. But really, I never used D&D as a Medieval-simulator-with-magic. D&D, to me, simulates fantasy settings, and most fantasy settings are medieval based, but to me, if sheep are expensive, maybe they're rare because the Owlbears find them to be a tasty snack. Maybe plate armor is so expensive because the techniques to smith it is less well known in the setting, so finding someone who knows how to make a set of plate armor. Maybe the whole supply and demand curves are thrown out of wack, because divine magics of harvest gods have granted blessings of good Harvests, which make the price of grain, per pound, much lower than historic numbers.

All I'm saying, is just as long as everything makes some sort of sense relative to other items (i.e. Leather armor shouldn't cost more than Full plate), and that nothing is so egregiously expensive that it makes the game not as fun (i.e. say some adventure relied on the heroes buying a house, and they should be able to, logically, but they can't because it's more overpriced than it should be) I have no problem if the prices aren't "Historically accurate."

I tried to be historically accurate, once, with my money: 1 gold per 20 silver, 1 silver per 12 copper, like the English Pound-Shilling-Penny and the French franc-sol-denier, and frankly most other currencies of the time. Turns out players don't like it. They, like residents of modern nations, like Decimalized currencies.

I am currently raising funds to run for President in 2016. Too many administrations have overlooked the international menace, that is Carmen Sandiego. I shall devote any and all necessary military resources to bring her to justice.

D&D makes a lot of concession to modern sensibilities and expectations.  Thus the odd lack of sexism or human-on-human racism in D&D, for instance.   Today, in the developed world, housing is very expensive, and cloth has been churned out by mills for many generations, so modern gamers would be a little wierded out to find that land (there's unclaimed wilderness all over the place) and houses (it's just wattle and daub) are 'cheap,' but canvas is a tad expensive.  It's not that it couldn't be explained, it's just that it's not worth the effort to set everyone straight on medieval history and economics in a fantasy world that's otherwise a bit more like the modern world than it should be, to make it familiar.  Really, D&D can stray into Flintstones territory, where you catch the game on your magic mirror and tool around on your flying carpet. 

 

 

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Since D&D does not take place in the real world, or anything remotely resembling it, the very concept of 'historical accuracy' is laughable at best.
Another day, another three or four entries to my Ignore List.
Since D&D does not take place in the real world, or anything remotely resembling it, the very concept of 'historical accuracy' is laughable at best.



I have DMed campaigns set in Middle Kingdom Egypt, Musketeers in France, and the Golden Age of Piracy.  I am currently putting together background for a campaign set in Dark Ages England.  Albeit all were with magic and monsters.  Real world history is as strong an influence on any game I DM as anything fantasy related, certainly moreso than any of those Appendix N books that I've never had the inclination to read.

I am certainly not alone in using real world historical inspiration.  Nothing laughable at throwing me a few bones for my style of play.
 Really, D&D can stray into Flintstones territory, where you catch the game on your magic mirror and tool around on your flying carpet. 


It could probably do so with more ummm consistancy... 
  Creative Character Build Collection and The Magic of King's and Heros  also Can Martial Characters Fly? 

Improvisation in 4e: Fave 4E Improvisations - also Wrecans Guides to improvisation beyond page 42
The Non-combatant Adventurer (aka Princess build Warlord or LazyLord)
Reality is unrealistic - and even monkeys protest unfairness
Reflavoring the Fighter : The Wizard : The Swordmage - Creative Character Collection: Bloodwright (Darksun Character) 

At full hit points and still wounded to incapacitation? you are playing 1e.
By virtue of being a player your characters are the protagonists in a heroic fantasy game even at level one
"Wizards and Warriors need abilities with explicit effects for opposite reasons. With the wizard its because you need to create artificial limits on them, they have no natural ones and for the Warrior you need to grant permission to do awesome."

 

Can't say that I've ever cared about this "problem".

But that's probably because I've always understood that D&D isn't actually trying to simulate medevial conditions....
The problem isn't so much the price relative to other units, but how woefully inconsistent D&D is with itself.  As a general rule, economies work in a sort of equilbirum, unless there's a truly game-changing effect in place.  The big constant is man-hours.

The amount that unskilled labor will get paid will be constant in an area, otherwise your unskilled labor will quickly all trend towards one job.  You can't expect being a woodcutter (hard labor, but easy to train) to pay five times being a farmhand (similar), otherwise all the farmhands would dash out to be woodcutters and the price of a woodcutter would fall.

You could make the argument that a soldier should be paid more than a woodcutter because of the risk of loss of life, or that a blacksmith should be paid more than a fletcher (requires hotter, harder work) but basically the economy has to make some degree of sense.

What's the difficultly in making a wagon?  What's the difficulty in mining ore?

Now, if there are some unusual things at work, that's fine.  Maybe houses cost so much because it's a points-of-light setting, and land is valuable.  Sure, land out in the wild is cheap, but who wants to live there?  Still, if those assumptions are in place, they have to be started!  Likewise, maybe a dagger is so expensive because iron is rare.  This is also an assumption which can be stated.

Nobody flips out about the economy of, say, Athas, because Athas has some very different, clearly stated assumptions.  But what are the assumptions in D&D?  A pre-industrial, agrigarian society which has magic.  Does magic play a part in everyday life?  Probably not.  Therefore, when you want to make a wagon wheel, you probably have to go through the steps not unlike a point in human history.  Therefore, the prices should more or less line up with the existing history, except where the assumptions diverge.

This is an area where a few days of research could go a long way.

Of course, this is all a moot point in a game which still tries to keep chain and plate armor as viable contemporaries.  (Perhaps if they clarified that the chain was closer to the ultra light weight Japanese style instead of the denser european style... but I digress.)  A little bit of explanation, just enough to retroactively justify the design choices, would go a long way to making the game make sense.

Undoubtably there will be people who don't care, they just check the tables of prices and move on.  "Oh look, parchement is a copper a page, that's not bad."  But for people who are thinking that's way too cheap, make a note that advances in alchemy by busy wizards with a neverending need for spell scrolls have made parchment easier to mass produce.  This isn't necessarily the best explanation, it's basically "because magic" but at least it's an explicit "because magic" which differentiates the world of D&D from ours.

Really, an entire chapter called "the economy" and "the day in the life of a commoner" would go a long way to helping DMs craft an interesting world.  I mean, this is a world with spiders the size of lions and where orcs are a real and dangerous thing.  Surely this affects the worlds in all sorts of interesting ways.  Work something out!
The biggest surprise here was that doing a conversion to a 1:1 value with wheat, Full Plate clocks in at 157.4 gp while Half Plate sits at 307.7.

I'm curious as to why Half Plate was apparently twice as expensive as full plate. 
Since D&D does not take place in the real world, or anything remotely resembling it, the very concept of 'historical accuracy' is laughable at best.


You can say this as often as you like, but it doesn't invalidate the playing styles of those who prefer a relatively higher level of historical realism to go with their wizards.

What's laughable to you may be dead handy to me. Have you tried not mocking other people's preferences?

Z.
The biggest surprise here was that doing a conversion to a 1:1 value with wheat, Full Plate clocks in at 157.4 gp while Half Plate sits at 307.7.

I'm curious as to why Half Plate was apparently twice as expensive as full plate. 



Thanks for pointing this out.  I went back to the source which stated the price for half plate was the armor in a knight's house which the author believed was half plate.  However, there's no indication it was only one suit or that all the armor belonged to the knight.  Some of the armor could have been his squire's or the knight might have had several duplicate pieces of armor which would explain why the price of half plate was higher than that of full plate.  Rather than try to guess what the armor was I removed it from the price table.

The full plate price is for a ready made suit of Milanese armor in 1441.  Milan's armor makers were considered some of the best around but the suit wasn't custom fitted so I think it's a fairly good comparison to an average suit of full plate DnD armor.

Since D&D does not take place in the real world, or anything remotely resembling it, the very concept of 'historical accuracy' is laughable at best.


You can say this as often as you like, but it doesn't invalidate the playing styles of those who prefer a relatively higher level of historical realism to go with their wizards.

What's laughable to you may be dead handy to me. Have you tried not mocking other people's preferences?

Z.



Have you considered putting me on your ignore list if you don't like me?
Another day, another three or four entries to my Ignore List.
I've always had more of a problem with the weights listed for different items than the price.  Prices can fluctuate based on several factors. 
@Salla

Have you ever considered not attacking and belitteling anyone who has a different opinion?  


But ok, each to its character I assume.     

___________________________________________________________

A little bit of good will is a big step towards making this planet a better place


Really, an entire chapter called "the economy" and "the day in the life of a commoner" would go a long way to helping DMs craft an interesting world.  I mean, this is a world with spiders the size of lions and where orcs are a real and dangerous thing.  Surely this affects the worlds in all sorts of interesting ways.  Work something out!




I don't think you can apply modern economics or capatialist concepts to feudal Europe... 

In feudal Europe, you did what your Lord told you to.  If you farmed you got whatever was left over,  hopefully it would be neough to feed your family.   You couldn't just stop farming and become a woodcutter or get an education.   You had your lot in life and you lived it.

here is a good book if you are interested.



I wonder if this book had better prices to compare with.  



3.5e is a bit too gamey in this regard and I wouldn't have used it as a source to compare against.  


The concept of "historical accuracy" and D&D always bugged me as well.  The various settings of D&D have drawn inspiration form dozens of cultures (at least) from periods that spanned hundreds of years. If one has a specific time period and culture they wish to emulate, than thats great. I don't think a few rules supplemets helping them achive this goal would be too much to ask for down thie line. Myself, I'm more concerned that the game world and economy is internally consistent.