PEACH: Building social classes explicitly into the economy

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In trying to work out the size and population distribution of Sharn in Eberron, I ended up devising a way to systematize social classes that I think might be useful for the D&D economy as a whole.

The basic idea is eight social classes, with a formula to estimate their typical income (and eventually savings/assets, but I haven't gotten that far). The basic idea is that each increase in social class requires a doubling of income, with Nobility having no cap.

Level Title (Income Factor)
8 Nobility (128+)
7 Aristocratic (64)
6 Upper (32)
5 Upper Middle (16)
4 Middle (8)
3 Lower Middle (4)
2 Lower (2)
1 Poverty (1)

Using today's dollars, annual household income works out like this:

Nobility $1,024,000+/year
Aristocracy $512,000
Upper $256,000
Upper Middle $128,000
Middle $64,000
Lower Middle $32,000
Lower $16,000
Poverty $8,000

It's not perfect, and one can certainly argue that $16,000 is really poverty, but aside from that one detail I think it's good enough to use for a fantasy campaign.

So, if you go with the idea that a commoner makes 1 sp per day and works about 300 days per year (six days per week, fifty weeks), the table looks like this:

Nobility 3,840+ gp/year
Aristocracy 1,920
Upper 960
Upper Middle 480
Middle 240
Lower Middle 120
Lower 60
Poverty 30

(If you think a commoner making 1 sp/day should be Lower class, then cut all the numbers in half so 30 gp/year becomes Lower class.)

I think using a well-defined system like this can help designers and DMs alike to be able to set the costs of goods and services in a rational fashion.

I also think it would help to fix the broken PC/magic economy, where mid-level PC's have assets that would rival the royal coffers, and where any sane adventurer would quickly stop risking their necks and retire to a life of leisure.

When you use a system like this, and consider that 250 gold pieces is the average annual income of a middle class family, or that 2000 gold pieces is the average annual income of an aristocrat, it makes the prices of magic items seem rather ridiculous, and it makes the cost of hired spellcasting absolutely laughable.

In summary, I think using this 8-tier system provides a useful framework that would help the designers come up with reasonably realistic and consistent pricing for goods and services.

Comments and suggestions are welcome.
I think this is a great idea. If the designers and DMs have a clear idea of how much income various NPCs get, they can more easily assign prices based on who should be able to afford it.

For example, if they want an aristocrat to be be able to afford a casting of cure disease, they'll price cure disease to be in their grasp. Then, after that's done, the designers can figure out how much money adventurers should have at various levels. If they don't want adventurers to be able to afford cure disease at first level, then they'll give first level adventurers less money than an aristocrat. It's not very hard to work out, and I think it would go a long way toward fixing the quirky D&D economy.

I know that gold is supposed to be a reward mechanic, and it works just fine for dungeon-delving games. However, keeping the PCs absolutely central when figuring out the value of money does not work as well in urban campaigns. The economy is a large part of how players interact with a city -- it's often the reason for going to them. There are numerous opportunities to trade, and the daily lives of working people help set the scene. You can see squalid poverty and opulent wealth in the same square mile. The cloth that suspends economic believability gets pulled out very often in an urban campaign, and it can be disappointing when you start to find holes that the Tarrasque could fall through.

That said, I don't need an economy to be as developed as combat. I'd just like it to make a little more sense. Your idea, Radazim, is a very good one.
Thanks for the kind words. I'm just wondering how the rest of the game would look with a system like this. What would the assets (or "net worth") of these people be? I think that at or below a certain level, probably middle class, people have very little savings, and then it increases dramatically above that, as the cost of a wealthy lifestyle is dwarfed by the high incomes.

How would PC treasure look? Clearly much smaller in raw numbers. What about the price of a suit of full plate? Should the price be out of reach for all but the wealthiest high level adventurer? Should (as currently) all 3rd level fighters be able to easily afford it - even though at 1500 gp it represents FIFTY YEARS worth of gross income of a commoner who makes 1 sp per day? I suspect not.

I think by dramatically adjusting prices, treasure, and the values of magic items, you can create a more realistic and meaningful economy where money has actual value, and where mid-level adventurers don't have financial assets that rival aristocrats and nobility.
Something else to consider when setting prices: people at different income levels probably spend different proportions of their income on the same commodity. That is, a person living in poverty may spend over 50% of his income on food. By contrast, a nobleman may spend more silver per meal, but still spend less than 10% of his income on it.
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