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D&D General D&D game world economy, wages and modelling the ancent world

Money can be used to buy magic. Or loyalty. Or military might. Or land. Or politicians. Or...

Money is power because, like any other kind of power, it can be converted into whatever type of power or resources needed for a situation.
No you can't. Not always. Their are always people that can not be "bought", their is always someone who is not willing to sell their land at any price, some soldier will not fight for an unjust cause, some wizard who will not sell their services.

And if you disagree with me, then using your own example, you might as well say "Sheep are power" because with sheep I can make food, and clothes, and with food and clothes you can trade for...x.

EDIT: Give me sheep and I shall rule the world!

Sure, money can be used to exert power, sometimes. But it is not the same thing as power itself.

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Arcadian Knight
Oh no.because there can be conversion exceptions there MUST BE zero problems with too much power/money discrepancy what a joke ....keep on being useless.
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First a recommendation, when thinking about my game world economy I found 'Grain into Gold' to be helpful.

While not perfect, it has some good ideas and a long list of standard items priced out using the author's method of pricing. Basically, he starts with what it might cost to make a loaf of bread, how much a peasant could farm to feed themselves and their familiy, and extrapolates from there. It includes some advice on wages, different foodstuffs, and so forth.

There is always a big push<--> pull in RPGs between being 'gameist' vs 'simulationist'.
Some people say, "Hey its just a game! Don't bother trying to make it more realistic or complex, your players won't care!" They're right and that's good advice. But that's the gameist side of the spectrum.
Other people (DM's mostly) see value in trying to reflect aspects of the reality into their homebrewed worlds, and find value and fun in that same complexity. There is fun to be had in looking at the simulationist side of the hobby.

Either way, if you're having fun, you're doing it right.

I've toyed with economics for my homebrew world off and on, I find it fun to think about how many peasant farms it takes to support the local lord. It can even serve as a springboard for adventure ideas. In my current campaign, the players are the driving force behind the survival of a fledgling village on the frontier. But instead of just slaying monsters in the area and wandering the countryside, they're to the point of worrying about if they have enough food for the winter, housing for everyone, setting up trade routes, and other more complex problems than what they can just poke with a sword to solve it.

Have fun and happy gaming!


You're right, some people can't be bought. That has noting to do with my point though, unless the person who can't be bought is unique in the entire world. Otherwise you can buy somebody, and that's all I actually said.

Need military might? That's what mercenaries/adventurers are for.

Need Magic? See the table in the PHB for spellcasting services. It has a price chart.

Need magic items? Finding specific one might be problematic, depending on the game world, but again, they do have listed prices.

Need a political ally? There's always somebody with gold-powered ambitions. Not everyone, of course, but the old Golden Rule still applies: Who has the gold makes the rules.

As for sheep: In the old Chaosium game Runequest (I believe it was anyway), the currency was based on chickens, as in the coin of the realm was always worth one chicken. So if you wanted fame and fortune, don't be an adventurer, be a chicken farmer.

In feudal Japan the currency was the Koku, which represented enough rice to keep a peasant farmer alive and working for one year.

So with this in mind your "Sheep is Power" mantra isn't inconceivable. :)


For those of you interested in why the number of sheep one has = power, just know that all large flocks sheep are owned by powerful wizards!

Read the blog by Multiplexer for the (humorously logical) reason why



Well, as a practical matter most groups will not be interested in a detailed economics simulation.

And if you are going to create a detailed economics simulation, I should tell you that most economists and many historians believe Diocletian's edict on maximum prices was the single largest contributor to the collapse of the Roman empire. I feel you were going to point to the one thing that caused the fall of Rome, that would be it, because his edict was so far removed from the economic reality of the empire that it basically destroyed the small farms and independent merchants that had made up the backbone of not only the empire's economy, but critically the social class from which the Legions were primarily drawn. Between the two, this created almost all of Rome's latter difficulties, from the fact that it had to depend on foreign mercenaries to defend it's borders to the fact that it could never balance it's budgets. So if you are looking for realistic prices, don't look to the edict.

For my part, I find that mostly I just need decent approximations. And a decent approximation can be found by getting a price of any handmade good and dividing that price by the local expected daily wage. The resulting price is roughly it's price in daily wages in D&D, so then all you have to decide is what a daily wage in your setting is - in mine it is the silver piece. You can do some interesting things with purchasing power parity to try to simulate a pre-industrial economy but mostly you just need something that is quick and close enough to work that it keeps the game moving forward.

Word of warning. Even this quick and dirty method can be a lot of work if you are going to adjust the daily wage from anything but 1 g.p. per day, because you'll need to redo the standard price lists and costs of magic items and spell components extensively, and you'll need to adjust values of just about everything you find in published texts (treasure allocation for example). And even if you stick with the gold piece standard, you're going to find that there are typically still artifacts of the old 1e AD&D two pricing standards hidden in various places in the price lists where those assumptions have been copied forward into succeeding editions. Particularly take care on prices of buildings, taxation, commodity goods and food, which are often uncorrected.


In general, there are so many things going on 'off screen' that would impact the economy, any attempt to model a complete economy is going to be incomplete at best, and a waste of effort at most. Further, figuring out things in advance that do not need to be specified limits your options in the future by providing additionl constraints in which your world must fit.

You're much better off, generally, just letting the economy be static and follow the guidelines in the books. I've rarely worried about the fine details of economics in my games, I've been playing D&D since the 70s, and I was an Economics major at Cal. I've never felt that going into this type of detailed world building would do anything beneficial for any of my campaign worlds.


Mod Squad
Staff member
In general, there are so many things going on 'off screen' that would impact the economy, any attempt to model a complete economy is going to be incomplete at best, and a waste of effort at most.

I'd go farther to say that we don't even have particualrly accurate, predictive models of our own real economy. Why do we think we're going to have any luck modelling a different, fictional economy with different constraints and influences?


Magic will break any "realistic" economic model, if only because it isn't "realistic".

Over the different editions we've joked about the simple exploits of the published prices: In one edition iron pots sold for less, per pound, than iron as a trade commodity. In theory you could buy pots and sell iron at a profit indefinitely. In another a 10 foot pole cost more than 1/2 the price of a 10 foot ladder, so people speculated that you could buy ladders, split them into 10 foot poles and make infinite profit there.

But there are other, far different abuses available when magic comes into play. While Teleport can span the globe much faster and more safely than any sailing ship, the cargo capacity is significantly less. Still, there have been spells in different editions that could bypass that problem: Itemize in 2E, Shrink Item in 3e etc. Big cargoes get small and light, and a caster can fit a hold's worth of stuff in his Bag of Holding.

Then we look at what it takes to actually build that ship or cargo wagon, or the quality goods that require a master craftsman to make. And we look at spells like Fabricate, in 3.* and Pathfinder. Same skill levels required, but the days, weeks, months or years needed to craft the item (with all the skill checks that could fail along the way) are reduced to a single skill check and a few minutes time.

Food? Pity the farmer who can't/won't/didn't pay the local Druid to bless his field. Plant Growth (again3.* and Pathfinder) increases crop yield sharply. And, large scale, that makes a huge difference in the economy as a whole.

Through much of the Middle Ages in Europe, something like 95% of the population had to work on farms to grow enough food for everyone. That means that the economy can only afford to have 5% of the people work as craftsmen, merchants, scholars, clergy, and yes nobility. Improvements in farming and crop yield mean that there can be more skilled people other than those on the farm. And that's the foundation of societal wealth. (IRL it's been speculated that the Renaissance can be tied to the introduction of new food crops from the New World, particularly the potato.)

Much of the English wealth that fueled their Renaissance came from a shift to wool production under King Henry VIII, and a policy of religious tolerance under Queen Elizabeth that allowed Jewish scholars, teachers and skilled craftsmen who were fleeing the Spanish Inquisition to come to England and practice their trade there.

So in many ways the "Sheep is Power" quip holds some real world meaning.

Any society that has access to magical transport, such as Gates and Portals (which can take substantial cargo loads) is going to get rich pretty quickly. The Spice trade had a 40,000 percent profit margin, even counting product damaged in shipping and the loss of entire ships to pirates and foul weather. If my country can magically access the far markets for exotic goods my neighbors want, then my neighbors will be better off trading with me than risking their venture capital on a ship that takes months to build and years to sail there and back (if it makes it at all).

It's been said that economists are learned folk who have studied the intricacies of commerce and the human elements of trade, and who (when challenged) will stand together, shoulder to shoulder, and disagree with one another.

Add in such transient and unpredictable elements that Magic can supply and it's even more of a guessing game.

So set your economies up as you will. And yes, leave a few exploitable holes for players to seize upon and abuse. I mean, there are bound to be some anyway, but if you design in a few fairly obvious ones you'll at least know where they're going, and you can decide exactly how big that wormhole can be. (After all, ladder staves are kind of heavy, and there's only so much market for 10 foot poles.)

Besides, if your players think they're getting away with something it makes them feel better, feel clever and special, and it keeps them from digging up exploits that you hadn't considered.

For me, I just use the prices listed in the books, plus or minus a bit based on the location and what I have listed as local product and what's "imported".

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