D&D Commoners Make Plenty of Money

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If you have been on these boards long enough, you have seen (if not made) posts that decry the D&D economy as being "broken" because the poor, poor commoners could never afford anything because they only make 1 silver a day, and everything is just so terribly expensive, etc etc etc, right? The only problem is that it just isn't true. The commoners make more than enough money to get by on, and even make enough money to save it for expensive purchases. The following article will focus on the misconceptions of how the rules work, and will show an example of a "standard" commoner family, how much money said family makes in a week, and how much money they use in a week.

But, before we get into that, the linch pin in the "it’s broken!" argument is that commoners only make 1 sp a day. In the majority of cases, I argue that this is not true. The 1 sp a day salary is for completely unskilled, clueless laborers. The ditch diggers or migrant day laborer types. This is not what the majority of commoners will be. Let’s look at the Commoner entry in the DMG, paying special attention to their skillpoints. They get 2 skillpoints per level, with the standard x4 at level 1. Now look at their class skills, and you'll notice that they have both Craft and Profession. On top of this, like any other class, they get a feat at first level. For the purposes of this article, the commoners in question will be assumed to have 8 skillpoints and 1 feat to spend. Obviously, humans will have 9 points and 2 feats, but I'm going to work it as a generic so that it applies to everyone. We can assume the humans spend their extra point and feat on personal things that don't contribute to their overall ability to survive day to day life (like a rank or two in Knowledge [Local]).

Now then, let us assume that the typical commoner family consists of 5 individuals; a mother, a father, a teenage son, a child daughter, and a baby.

Joe Commoner lives in a small village, and has a small farm out by the woods. He built the main house himself, with help from his father as a youth when he was old enough to move out on his own. They used wood harvested from the nearby forest, and did the work themselves, meaning the house was essentially free. Joe learned how to farm from his father, and has been a farmer for as long as he can remember. Mechanically, Joe is in his mid 30's, and is a 2nd level commoner. He's not as fit as he was in his younger days, but he's a little wiser. We will still assume that he has a +0 modifier to all of his stats though.

Jill Commoner is Joe's wife. She helps her husband with the farming by working in the fields part of the day, and also does the cooking, cleaning, and mending of clothes, as well as watching after the children. Mechanically, she is a first level commoner, also with +0 mods to all of her stats.

Billy Commoner is Joe's oldest child, a 15 year old boy that grew up much the same as Joe did, and will soon be old enough to start his own family, but for now is still helping dad around the family farm. Billy is a first level commoner with +0 stat mods.

Susy Commoner is the middle child, and helps her mother with the household chores. Susy is a 0th level commoner, and has only 2 skillpoints.

Baby Commoner is a baby, and gurgles a lot, but is too young to provide any meaningful contribution to the family's financial situation.

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As a D&D character, Joe has maxxed out his ranks in Profession (Farmer), and has also taken Skill Focus (Farming), for a total of +8 to his skill checks. He also has 3 ranks in Craft (Woodworking), and 2 ranks in Knowledge (Local).

Jill Commoner has 2 ranks in Profession (Farmer), 2 ranks in Profession (Cook), 2 ranks in Craft (Clothing), and 2 ranks in Heal (for all the family's normal ailments).

Billy Commoner has 3 ranks in Profession (Farmer) that he learned from his father, Martial Weapon Proficiency (longbow), 2 ranks in Survival (he uses his bow to go hunting in the nearby woods), 2 ranks in Craft (woodworking), and 1 rank in Knowledge (Local).

Susy Commoner is too young to do much, but has 1 rank in both Profession (Cooking) and Craft (Clothing).

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Joe Commoner takes 10 on his Profession (Farmer) check, for a total of 18. Jill and Billy both use Aid Other to help Joe with his check. Jill has a 60% chance of getting her Aid Other to succeed, while Billy has a 65% chance of succeeding. We'll be a bit conservative and say that, on average, one of them succeeds in giving Joe +2 to his checks, for a total of 20. Since you earn half your check in gold per week, this means the family has a weekly income of 10 gp, which is substantially better than the 21 sp (or 2.1 gp) they would have gotten as unskilled labor. The other skill ranks for the other family members do not factor into weekly income, and serve only to round them out and allow them to do things like carve their own wooden bowls, make their own clothes, etc.

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We will assume that Joe, Jill, and Billy each eat the equivalent of 1 common meal and 2 poor meals per day (5 sp per day, each), and that Susy eats the equivalent of 2 poor meals per day (2 sp per day), and that the baby does not eat enough to be worth factoring into this.

That means they eat, on average, 1.7 gp of food per day, as a family, for a total of 11.9 gp worth of food per week. Whoops, that’s too much, as they only make 10 gp a week, right? Wrong, that’s the price for if you are buying your meals from someone else. Jill and Susy both have Profession (Cook) and make their own meals out of what they grow on the farm, plus whatever meat Billy brings home from when he goes hunting, meaning they are crafting their own meals, which means they pay half price, or 5.95 gp per week for food. Let’s also assume that once per week Joe heads down to the village tavern for a mug of ale with the neighbors for 4 coppers, which brings it up to 5.99 gp per week.

So, the Commoner family is making 10 gp per week, on average, consuming 6 gp a week in food. That leaves 4 gp per week that can be spent on things like raw cloth for sewing clothes out of, assorted metal tools and implements from the blacksmith, or just squirreled away for a rainy day.

We'll assume there are 50 weeks a year (with a total of two weeks off for holidays and the like), that means our Commoner family can save upwards of 200 gp per year for luxuries, or the gods forbid, healing potions for injuries or sicknesses that are too severe for Jill to handle with her Heal skill.

Even without Aid Other, Joe would have a Take 10 check of 18 with his farming, meaning they would only lose out on 1 gp per week, which would still let him feed his family the same food, provide the same living conditions, and still be able to put away upwards of 150 gp per year, probably more because that would free Billy up to go hunting and gathering in the forest more often, meaning the weekly food bill would go down as well.

And, with that much money available per year, it is not a stretch of the imagination in any way to think that Joe could hire some help to expand his farm, upgrade his house, buy better equipment, and potentially get the equivalent of masterwork farming tools for another +2 to his checks so he can make even more money.

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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).

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.
Nice article, enjoyable read.

I just want to mention one major expense for feudal commoners that you neglected to take into account: Taxes.

A peasant farmer could be expected to pay anywhere from 1/3 to 1/2 his income in taxes to his protector, even if he wasn't paying rent on his land.
Excellent, excellent post, Edymnion. It shines with insight and experience that is so hard to find on these boards.
Hmmm...never looked at it that way. Very interesting point. At least, the poor commoners are finally able to lead comfortable lives!
Good job overall.
Things without all remedy should be without regard. - Shakespeare, Macbeth Resident Evil Madman by popular acclaim.
Very nicely written article. I would like to add just a few comments to give even more support, by putting Joe's salary in context to item prices.

There are items in the PHB, like horses, or wagons, that have relatively high gp prices, and that don't always seem reasonable on a commoner's salary. A good work horse, tackle, bit and bridle, and a plow might cost upwards of 100g, for example.

However, 100g (a nice round number) is not completely outside of commoner Joe's funding. It is a large portion of his yearly savings, but it is not unpayable. If farmer Joe decided to spend that money on a new horse and plow, or a new wagon, etc., he would be heavily invested in them, and would probably try and take very good care that they don't get damaged. If you look at the historical lifestyle of that type of farmer, they did indeed carefully guard such things. To lose your horse would have been a heavy financial problem.

Again, well done, and thanks for breaking down the numbers. I'd never actually questioned whether D&D farmers could survive (it just never came up), but it is good to know roughly how much income a commoner makes in a week (~5g).
You know, I always thought the D&D money was kind of wacky and small towns getting adventurers to do their work was off somehow, but your article is fairly well thought out and was a good read. My only complaint was the possible winter months and not being able to farm, but then again the family might have a winter crop as well...

The only thing I would like to see is perhaps the statistics for a family more along the lines of Jill, Billy, and Susy. The reason is from most of my gaming experiences we encounter a fair amount of widows (either from war, or monster attacks) and I’m not 100% that a family like that would be as well off.
Oh wow. Good job. Really good job. I never thought of it in the way you describe here, but it makes perfect sense. You never cease to amaze, Edymnion.
Wow, that was very insightful. Now I am curious about how other people might live in the D&D world. For example shop owners like the one that Joe Commoner sells his produce to.

‘Course that would get into a much larger discussion on supply and demand and I'm not sure the game warrants that.
A few points to make.

Number one, very well thought out post. You've done some excellent calculations, using the skill system already in use. A human gets +4 starting skill points, not +1, by the way, so a human commoner with Int 10 would have 2 feats and 12 skill points.

Number two, do keep in mind that not every commoner is a farmer. That's merely one type of commoner, but with a generic set of Craft and Profession skills, each granting roughly the same income for the same level of skill (however unrealistic that may be), there are any number of commoner types that could be used. So, no problem there, though the numbers don't match up to the hireling prices in the DMG.

Number three, your model assumes that the land is freely owned by the farmer (like a homesteader), and that he has no taxes to pay. Neither are likely to be true. In a feudal system (which most D&D campaign worlds are), the land is owned by the lord, and the peasants work the land for him (ostensibly), taking enough for them to live (hopefully).

That means that the farm of Joe Commoner is on the land of Lord Landbaron, and Lord Landbaron wants his share first, before the Commoners gets squat. Lord Landbaron may take a third of the proceeds, possibly even more. Out of the 500 gp annual income that your model projected, that means that 167 gp would go to Lord Landbaron. That leaves the Commoner family with about 33 gp per year in "mad money," assuming there were no problems in that year that cost them more than food and normal supplies.

Now let's look at farm animals and equipment. A wagon costs 35 gp, a cart 15 gp. A heavy horse costs 200 gp, a light one 75 gp. A mule is a bargain at 8 gp. Bit and bridle are 2 gp.

A spade or shovel is 2 gp. A miner's pick is 3 gp. I sure hope that Commoner doesn't need chain, because 10 feet of it will cost 30 gp (but he can buy a spiked chain for only 25 gp - go figure). That longbow that Billy owns cost 75 gp, and the quiver of 20 arrows is another 1 gp.

Tools don't last forever. They need to be replaced periodically. Even using the Profession skill system for income as you've done, rather than the hireling rates from the DMG, this Commoner family is going to barely get by after taxes.
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.
This was very well done, but should have been titled "Commoners Can Live Fairly Normal Lives." I will point out some things that make this situation more complex, but neither better or worse.

For their mid-thirties, Joe and Jill have a very small family. More mouths to feed would be balanced by more "aid another" input, so we are still good. Taxes would eat into that "extra" income.

Beer and/or Ale is a lot cheaper to make than to buy at a pub.

The assumption seems to have been made that Joe and Jill have enough arable land to raise sufficient food for themselves and family. This is a fair assumption, and in historical European setting would be accurate (and allow for fair taxes).

I will stop at this point, as I am sure that others will have different takes on this.

Good job, Edymnion.
I generally agree with this, although I do have two comments:

1) The DMG hireling prices are all wrong. Cooks -- at least those who know more about cooking than an untrained person -- should demand more than 1 sp/day, and mercenaries would be insane to work for 2 sp/day.

2) Is there any reason why they other members of the family aid another to add 1 gp to the family's weekly income rather than farming cooperatively but independently, adding something like 6 gp? Does aiding another take less work, allowing more time for sewing or something?

A third comment, although one that's rather controversial and only partially germane
Although NPC commoners can survive fine, I still think that the NPC classes are silly anyway, because they're just generally bad. There is no way in which the commoner is better than the ranger, at carpentry, farming, or anything else. I think that classes -- not just individuals -- should be good at what they do, even if it isn't adventuring. I realize that I'm in the minority on this issue, but I still think that generalized weakness should be represented by having a low ECL and/or low ability scores, not by having a bad class. This is not necessarily to say that a psion 3/wizard 3/sorcerer 3 should be balanced in combat or party utility against a cleric 9 -- the psion 3/wizard 3/sorcerer 3 is just generally screwed up from an optimization perspective. However, I think there should be ways in which a fighter 20 is better than a cleric 20, ways in which a wizard 1 is better than a barbarian 1, and ways in which a commoner 4 should be better than a ranger 4. That isn't to say that whatever class commoners use should be useful in adventures -- just that it should be more useful in non-adventure circumstances than other classes, rather than equal at best. Naturally, I have my own proposed replacement for the commoner.
Of course, they can only harvest their crop(s) during certain periods, and can grow nothing during the winter months. We are also assuming the commoners are Freemen and not serfs....

But, yeah, the average D&D village is pretty storybook happy.
Very well thought out and conceived. I have no issues with your mathematics based on skills, etc. The one issue I do have is with the PHB trade goods listings, as it does not support your arguments.

Let us look at the historical acre. It was roughly defined as the amount of land one man and one ox could plow in one day. Typically, it also meant the amount of land that would allow 1 person to exist at subsistence level. It is now defined as 43,560 sq ft. That works out to roughly 121’x 360’. For reference, the NCAA standard soccer field ‘optimum’ is 75 yards by 120 yards, or 225’x360’.

Taking the medieval assumption of 1 man day per acre, let us assume your family has a 20 acre spread. 9 acres for wheat production, 9 fallow acres for grazing, and 2 acres for a personal garden, barns, and a home. With 2 adults, 1 teen, and 1 child, this is probably maintained quite easily, with time for other chores- weaving, woodcutting, hunting, etc. They could get their entire wheat harvest plowed and planted within a week. With the garden, let us assume that the family consumes the proceeds from 4 of those acres for food, seed, and other personal uses. That leaves them 5 acres of wheat to sell at the end of the season.

Now, In England in the 1720s, the average yield for wheat was 19 bushels per acre. A bushel of wheat weighed roughly 60 pounds. That means your farm family was creating 1140 pounds of wheat per acre, or 5700 pounds on their 5 acre farm. Given the D&D trade value of 1 copper per pound of wheat, that means their entire crop, for an entire year, nets them 57gold.

Now, you have 9 acres for grazing. Good land management meant allowing your fertilizer factories aka cows, to graze on land recovering that year. Now, calculating the number of animals who can graze over the course of a year on a given acre can be quite challenging. See http://www.ext.vt.edu/pubs/livestock/418-012/418-012.html. But let’s assume the farmer has no concept of math, and just turns the animals loose on the 9 acres for the year. Following the math given in the link above, 9 acres is enough land for two 500# animals to graze on for a year. We could probably assume 1 bull, 1 cow, and 1 calf, and still make the math work. Assuming they sell the calf in the fall, that is another 10gp. We can assume that, with a baby, the milk production of the cow is being consumed by the family in butter, cheese, drink, etc.

So, for the year, our farm family makes 57 gold on their wheat, and 10 gold on the calf they raised. That is less than half of what you are assuming, based on skills.
Re: All the comments about taxes, winter, etc.

The way the Profession skill is written up, I'm inclined to think that the income represents an average, after-taxes profit. After you own the farm and have paid off the mortgage and all the guild fees and all the taxes and averaged across all the seasons, at the end of the day, you end up with X more money in your pocket.

Given D&D's inclination and ability to be used as an economics simulator, I think that's a reasonable conclusion.


Cheers,
Roger
Your breakdown is based on that D&D farmers have no access to magic of any kind. If all the local farmers got together, I imagine they'd gladly pay the local cleric with the Plant domain to cast Plant Growth on their fields; if he's the village priest, he might even do it for or reduced cost, since he likely reaps some of the benefits (free food, etc). That increases productivity by a third.

I also find it highly unlikely that in a world where there are things like Owlbears, no wizard has ever devised a better seed that produces more food.
One small addendum:

If we assume that the TRADE GOODS costs are for trading, and the 'equipment' costs are for selling, then we could assume that the trade value of wheat is 1cp, but the sale value is twice that. The same should go for a cow.

That being the case, they could sell their wheat for 114 gold, and get 20 gold for the cow. That gets closer to your figures of a net 4 gp per week for 50 weeks, or 200gp.
Conclusion: D&D undervalues the gold peice.
I believe your math is a bit off. They should have about 2GP more per month, 100GP per year. You only pay 1/3 the cost of something to Craft something, not 1/2.
Yes, I am assuming that the Commoner family here lives in a homestead type environment, and do not owe loyalty or taxes to any reigning lord. However, if they did, then it does not become a situation of them just losing a lot of money for nothing in return. The local lord's responsibility in feudalism was not just collecting taxes, but providing for defense and their people's welfare. The people could count on the lord to provide them with things like housing, and the amount of taxes paid would *NOT* be a third or half of everything the peasant produced. The taxes went mainly towards supporting the lord and his family, meaning that once their food needs were met, and he got enough coin to keep his affairs in order, the people kept everything else. If you've got a lot of peasants, you don't need to take much from any single family in order to do this. But yes, the assumption here is that the community is self supporting, self defending, and not in need of any local lords to, well, lord over them.

As for what they grow, it isn't fair to just judge everything on a single crop. Livestock, dairy, and crops would all factor in. And its equally unfair to pick the single lowest priced item in the book to judge on. They could just as easily have a tobacco field that brings in 5 sp a pound, instead of 1 cp. Or they could grow cloves, which bring in 15 gp per pound, which means they would only need to grow about 33 pounds of the stuff all year to completely pay for everything they need.

The point is, though, that this level of detail isn't really important, as the game rules do not go into that level of detail for anyone, PC or NPC. The rules as written, which is what everybody claims are broken, is that you make your profession check and you get so much money out of it. If you houserule additional complications on top of that, of course you will make it harder to get by. However, when you get to that level, it becomes just as easy to use the oddball prices for things to your advantage.

Base rules are how I described them above, however. Anything else is purely added by the DM on the basis of personal preference, and hence are not valid for a general comparison.

And of course there is the fact that this is simply one example of how it could be done. You could just as easily be a blacksmith, a roof thatcher, or anything else you want to be, and the rules would be the same. The details on what exactly you do is little more than flavor text.
Number three, your model assumes that the land is freely owned by the farmer (like a homesteader), and that he has no taxes to pay. Neither are likely to be true. In a feudal system (which most D&D campaign worlds are), the land is owned by the lord, and the peasants work the land for him (ostensibly), taking enough for them to live (hopefully).

Tools don't last forever. They need to be replaced periodically. Even using the Profession skill system for income as you've done, rather than the hireling rates from the DMG, this Commoner family is going to barely get by after taxes.

Well, real peasants living under feudal landlords barely get by anyway, so they're still getting on fine (okay, not fine, but they can survive, and possibly go deeper and deeper and deeper into debt until they become serfs, or slaves, or something.) I think the point is just that commoner's aren't that much poorer than you would imagine in a generic campaign world.
Nice article, some good points made throughout. I'd still rather be a 1hd Humanoid (human) than a commoner any day of the week.
And in a few years, when little Suzy picks up a "profession," they'll really be rakin' in the cash

By the time she hits that age, she'll likely have married off and be helping her new husband out instead of her old family. :p
Of course, they can only harvest their crop(s) during certain periods, and can grow nothing during the winter months. We are also assuming the commoners are Freemen and not serfs....

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'.
Good land management meant allowing your fertilizer factories aka cows, to graze on land recovering that year.

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).
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.

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.

And that's all just real-world stuff. In the D&D world they have to contend with fantasy problems.
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.
Lieutenant, that is a good analysis, but it misses one major thing. The nature of the D20 system. The core "dogma" of the D20 system, if you will, is that the players need know nothing of the required information to accomplish the skill check/attack roll/saving throw etc. Complex training is summed up in the skill ranks. For example, if in the course of rolling a diplomacy check you receive a natural 20 with a +8 modifier you receive a 28. This is enough to make a friendly person helpful, or a Hostile person indifferent. Now, place this check in the context of say, a farmer selling his crops (as farming seems to be the point of the debate) it would normally be that the hostile person would go out of their way to harm, or as I'd like to use for this example "interfere." Interfering for a hostile merchant might be spreading rumors around and deliberately paying less than its worth. Now, the diplomacy skill as written in the SRD allows no circumstance modifiers, so ignoring rule 0 (and this whole discussion relies on that) the merchant can hate the farmer as much as is humanly possible. The farmer could have killed the merchant's entire family in cold blood. In real life it would be entirely impossible to ever convince such a person to become indifferent, but a skill check allows such a thing to occur. Even though the player (or anyone for that matter) could ever conceive of a way to placate the merchant a skill check result of 28 means the farmer does conceive of and execute such an action, so the merchant is pacified.

That doesn't make a lot of sense in its natural element so I personally like to explain it a little bit. Usually when I'm DMing and a skill allows something that isn't explainable I excuse it through luck. So in the case above I would say something like this "You plead with the merchant for a long time in an attempt to pacify his understandable hate. When finally he refuses to give up you mutter 'by the undertooth'. His eyes light up as he recognizes the catchphrase of the secret church group you both belong to, he looks at you without love, but without hate." and its over. Something impossible happened because the D20 says it did.

Finally to bring it back to the farmer, this makes it very understandable how it would work. A farmer's check result indicates 11 gp a week. All available farming information indicates 3 gp (or whatever number you'd like to use). Without DM cheese the money must be made (you'd never take that money from a player who rolled the skill check, would you?) somehow. How about something like this "In the course of your farming you find a set of plants that can be sold for much more than ordinary weeds growing among your wheat". Simple, and he gets his money. Here's another "The new farmer in town comes bye to get instructions in farming as you work, he pays you 7 gp a week." Another: "You are given a stipend by the lord for your excellent work in leading the community in farming work-ethic, its 7 gp a week." These are just a few I could go on all day.

Its really more important what the rules says happen (as in the original post) then whether it’s really possible.


~Rogue Newb
In a medieval type setting, the family would also probably have a Tyke Commoner and a Toddler Commoner who would be consumers, and not producers. Additionally, the family would very likely be supporting the older generation, who might have quite a few ranks in Commoner, and quite a few skill points in Farming, but due to age and infirmity, might not be able to do much more than childcare and light chores. They would be unable to "aid other" in farming checks, but would still be consuming food.

Your model assumes that the Commoner family owns their land free and clear and owes no rent, nor do they live within the jurisdiction of a tax-collector. Also, you assume that the family got free wood from the nearby forest to build their house. In most medieval societies, the forest belonged to the king, or to a local noble, and cutting trees was considered stealing, and exacted a harsh penalty. Peasants were allowed to gather fallen wood with which to make fire. Poaching on the king's land / noble's land was an act punishable by death.

You factor in the cost of the family's food, but fail to factor in the cost of feeding and caring for the livestock. A previous poster mentioned that the family might possibly own a bull, a cow, and a calf. Most farmers did not keep bulls. They were too unruly, ate a lot, and didn't contribute to the farm economy by birthing calves or producing milk. There might be just a few bulls kept in the district, and farmers would pay stud fees for their, umm, time. Many peasant farmers, in fact, would keep goats instead of cows, because they can graze on less desirable land.
This is a fine and interesting article, and may actually help me to determine what kind of wealth PCs could expect for rewards, looters could expect for value and whatnot. I'd like to see a follow-up detailing city dwellers --those who most likely rent their living quarters as opposed to farmers who can build.

Also, some things to consider: extended families, greater number of children and neighbors. We live in a modern world of the nuclear family (with 2.5 children) and many medieval families were extended and dwelling in or near the same household and sharing chores and work, with stories of seven children or more per wedded couple. I also remember stories where newlyweds would receive a house built for them by family and/or friends.

I also have some contention with the "meals" estimate. I would figure the adults and teenager would require 3 common meals per day (a regular diet of poor meals I would assume would lead to malnutrition for adults, but that is my opinion). I would figure the baby would require at least a poor meal a day otherwise what is the risk of not having enough money to keep the child fed?
Bravo, Edymnion. Your explanation does make the D&D economy seem more plausible. If nothing else, it answers a question: where do nobles get all their money from, anyway? I've typically assumed that income earned from profession and craft was after taxes, but getting away from the standard "1 SP per day" model explains things better all the same.

It doesn't mean that the D&D economy makes total sense, of course. Who would really be interested in buying multi-thousand GP items except other adventurers, typically? Plus, there's always the effect of wizards with fabricate to consider.... mass production, anyone?

An enjoyable and insightful article in any case.
Joe Commoner takes 10 on his Profession (Farmer) check, for a total of 18. Jill and Billy both use Aid Other to help Joe with his check. Jill has a 60% chance of getting her Aid Other to succeed, while Billy has a 65% chance of succeeding. We'll be a bit conservative and say that, on average, one of them succeeds in giving Joe +2 to his checks, for a total of 20. Since you earn half your check in gold per week, this means the family has a weekly income of 10 gp, which is substantially better than the 21 sp (or 2.1 gp) they would have gotten as unskilled labor. The other skill ranks for the other family members do not factor into weekly income, and serve only to round them out and allow them to do things like carve their own wooden bowls, make their own clothes, etc.

Aid Another might not be the most efficient thing to do, here. Realistically, they might each be working on a separate profession skill. Joe tends to the crops and animals with Profession: Farming, Jill could sell baked goods with Profession: Cook or work as a seamstress with Craft: Clothes, Billy could use Profession: Hunting or Farming to assist, even little Susy could craft trinkets or bake cookies to sell.

If Joe, Jill, Billy, and Susy each make separate Profession Checks, all taking 10, then Joe gets 18, Billy 13, Jill 12, and Susy 11 - that's 9, 6, 6, and 5 gold, for a total of 26 GP a week.

Now if they work 50 weeks of the year they're producing a cool 1,300 GP per year. They could get 2 Common and 1 Good meal per day for ~15 GP and still have 550 GP left at the end of the year. If they live on Poor/Common meals as you suggest, and pay 1/3 of their gross income in taxes, they still have ~500 GP left at the end of the year for equipment.

That's enough for several Horses, a Dog, etc. A Cart/Wagon/Carriage, maybe new plow, not to mention some Masterwork Tools (each providing an extra 50 GP/Year). Investment in extra labor - even unskilled - should always pay for itself, making at least 5 GP a week at the cost of 7-21 SP. The real problem would be getting enough land to expand the farm onto.
For those who are mentioning the high cost of tools and horses...

Might I suggest that the prices listed in the PHB are what adventurers would pay for them? This could quite likely be a step up from what the townie would pay. Like with over-charging tourists. Our commoner could maybe bargain and get his hammer at a cheaper rate from his friend the blacksmith (those extra skill points could go towards diplomacy!). Also, the kinds of horses you buy for overland travel (while being chased by orcs) are different and probably more expensive than you'd pay for a creature to pull your plow. And most simple farming instruments (a shovel, a hoe) could be crafted easily to save money there. So I think the family is still able to survive, though they aren't exactly living the good life.

As for taxes... well super-high taxes would mean that yes, the peasants are starving. That's how the story works--the evil baron is overcharging the poor peasants. However the nice duke across the river takes a very reasonable sum so that the peasants can still get buy. So our peasants have very little spending money, but they should break even nicely, which is the point. And that's why such an economy would at least sustain itself, though not necessarily grow (if I understand things correctly).
Wheat is a necessity for the Bread that they eat. That doesn't mean that that is where they make their money. What if they grind it and sell it for flour? Flour is worth more than wheat. Then they are millers as well as farmers but you could count them as being farmers. What if they bake the flour into bread and that is how they sell part of their crop? That seems reasonable since Jill is an able Cook. That bumps their profits above the basic price of wheat.

I think that they probably made a large part of their cash by growing more valuable crops than wheat. Some garlic and onions at least. Some hops to sell to the innkeeper/brewer would be a good cash crop. Heck, it would be reasonable to say that there were poppies in one of their fields - because pretty flowers sell well to those rich aristocrats who are taxing them so heavily.

Also they would be planning ahead. They might be clearing more fields in the forest, so that their son can set himself up with his own homestead. That means logs that they could sell at the sawmill. That is a common winter occupation for farmers.

And it is more likely that the farmer would have an Ox or a Pony. Both are cheaper than a light or heavy horse. Heavy horses were developed for Knights in platemail. Thinking of heavy horses as work horses is I believe a relatively modern idea. The feudal world would have seen the heavy horse working only as a way of making the breed stock herd and spare animals of the knights pay their own way on a Lord's large estate where the large amount of work to be done made them useful.

The low maintenance pony of the farmer is a completely different animal. But before we discuss what animal's Joe owns we should ask, where are Joe's ranks in animal handling?
As far as the Profession mathematics go, it would be better for the most productive members of the family to work separately, instead of making checks to aid each other.

If Joe, Jill, and Billy all work on their own (presumably performing completely separate farming tasks or other jobs), they could each take 10, significantly increasing their profits. Working alone, Joe would still earn 9 gold per week, in addition to the 6 gold that both Jill and Billy earn, allowing them to bring in a weekly total of 22 gold pieces; more than double what they earn by working together.

The kraken stirs. And ten billion sushi dinners cry out for vengeance. - Good Omens

Co-Author of the Dreamfane, Euralden Eye, Fulminating Crab, Gajuisan Crawler, Gruesome LurkerIronglass Rose, Sheengrass Swarm, Spryjack, Usunag, and Warp Drifter, and author of the Magmal Horror from Force of Nature.

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I could be wrong, but don't the materials for mundane crafting cost one third, not one half? Will check later...
Very good article. You seem to have put a lot of thought into it.

I would like to address the people arguing against it, though. What you have to realise is that while it may not be historically accurate, that’s how it [i]has[i]to work in D&D. Remember that adventurers running around and slaying dragons isn't exactly historically accurate. How far off is it that in a world that has much more race/sex equality than ours did at an equivalent time period that there would actually be fair taxes that don't shaft the common man?
As a historian, I would like to add 2cp to this discussion.

The vital thing about medieval farms was the grazing rights each household had on the common land. If Joe Commoner can pasture his animals on the common waste land between villages, then he can devote all his own land to growing crops etc.

Another thing that helped was the practice of holding 1 bull, 1 ram and 1 boar in common within each village.

Finally, each household owed three days of labour by one man to their overlord - for this purpose, Billy would count just as much as Joe without dropping the family income by much.

So (sticking as far as possible to D&D prices and round figures) Joe's yearly income might run something like this:

Joe Commoner, his wife and children live on a 20 acre farm, 2 acres of which contains the house, barns, garden etc. Of the remainder, half is sown with wheat and half is left as pasture. For livestock, they graze 1 cow and 10 sheep on the common land (which are brought in for milking) and keep 5 chickens and a pig closer to home. When he has time, Billy hunts rabbits in the nearby wood.

9 acres of wheat brings in around 85gp
The straw left after threshing - 40gp
Hay from the pasture - 40gp
From the sheep: wool - 2gp
On average 1 lamb each - 20gp
Cheese (from their milk) - around 176gp
From the chickens: chicks - 10gp
2 doz eggs/week - 1gp
From the cow: calf - 10gp
Milk - around 140gp
From the pig - piglets - 30gp
Rabbit skins (from hunting) - 1gp

TOTAL INCOME 550gp

Minus: Living Expenses - 330gp
Taxes - 120gp

DISPOSABLE INCOME 100gp /2gp per week
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If you think commoners can't do anything, you should meet Joe Wood! The pen is mightier than the sword - but only if the sword is very small and the pen is very sharp - Terry Pratchett Methinks (still) wizards bit off more than they can chew. fantasy-28.gif
I often use the Variant "Upkeep" rules on p.131 of the DMG which cover "...every expense except the cost of specific adventuring equipment- even taxes."

Using the math found above (Profession (whatever) 20/ 10 gp week) at a total of 4 weeks/month, we can say that the average monthly income would be approximately 40gp/month. (This is an abstract which would vary throughout the year, of course, but it is a useful average.)

Now, if we have a family of 5, the math would work out as follows. Assuming the "Self-Sufficient" lifestyle, the family of 5 would require 10gp a month to maintain itself. (2gp per person per month. 2x5=10gp/month)

Subtract this from the 40 "average income," and you have 30gp a month for "specific adventuring equipment," such as a mule, plow, tools, blankets, trade goods, lamps & oil, etc...

30gp x 12 months = 360gp to spend as necessary, which is not a bad total at all.

You could even move up to the "Meager" lifestyle at 5gp/month per person. Our family would be paying 25gp/month, leaving 15gp/month for "equipment." That leaves a total of 180gp/year for our family to spend on equipment.

Depending on their lifestyles, the average commoner family should be relatively comfortable, if not wealthy, for the majority of their lives.
Excellent post! Although some may argue against such a storybook family, I enjoy it and mostly agree with it. Although, I'd wager Billy would've been trained in the sling, since it's easier to replace if lost. If that family had a longbow worth more than their entire income they wouldn't let their kid go running around with it. A 15 year old shepherd with a sling could still be rather dangerous to the local rabbit and game bird population. He'd use survival to get close and then would move in for the kill. He'd also probably get way more leverage from point blank shot, as that extra attack bonus and damage go a long way. If the sling were to break, it won't bankrupt the family to replace it.

I've noticed some people complaining about realism. If we wanted ultra realism, we could factor in diseases. Basically, it would effect the game as follows:

Dungeons & Dragons: Real diseases in fantasy ages

Character Creation:

When you are born, roll a d20. If you roll under a 5, you die. If you roll a 1, your mother dies giving birth. Hand your character concept over to the DM who is allowed to rip it up and ask you to start over again.

If you roll anything below an 14, you have some manner of physical deformity or condition; this ranges from allergies to asthma, to a blind eye or a bum leg. This is either from lack of food, genetic diseases, sanitary conditions, or living conditions from your family's inherent habitations. The DM gets to choose this and since you're a poor rock-farmer, you can never afford any manner of magical healing and will probably have a miserable, but thankfully short life.

If you roll 15 or over you are born free of deformities or diseases. If you roll a 20, you could pass as a noble-born person (or most present day humans in a first-world climate).

Living and surviving

For ever year that you live, roll a d20. If you roll lower than a 5, you have died; most likely from a disease.

If you roll lower than 19, you gain one of the following (DM's choice): crippling affliction, the plague, blindness, deafness, withered limb, horrid disease, terrible disease.

If you roll a 1, you are considered a witch and burned (no save).

If you roll a 20, congratulations, no diseases this year.

Repeat once per year, or whenever you are within 50' of water, animals or other people. If you ever eat food, roll this check as well.

Note: Women aren't allowed to be anything asides from wives or dead. Please consult with your DM about choosing an alternate sex.

I think my players might initially object, but think of the rich roleplaying opportunities this ultra-realistic system brings about.
Lt. Murgen has a very non fantastical point. What he is leaving out however is that this is D&D. Other than that, hes got a point.