D&D 5E Slaves - what they cost and why it matters

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clearstream

(He, Him)
An unskilled laborer earns 2 SP a day. PHB pg 159.

However, you also need to subtract the cost of living. While the conditions a slave lives in certainly qualifies as "inhumane," a term used to describe the wretched standard of living (PHB pg 158), the truth is that the remainder of the description fails to line up with what we'd expect for housing a slave. The squalid living condition (also PHB pg 158) is far more accurate, and that costs 1 SP a day.

So, we have a net income of 1 SP per day. And, that's ignoring any costs for hiring out the slave, or paying people to make sure the slave doesn't run away or otherwise try to fight for its freedom (perhaps by killing its owner).

Let's use your 10 year assumption for how long they can work. So, we have 1 SP per day, 365 days per year, for 10 years: that's 3,650 SP, or 365 GP.

But, that's future income. Now you have to discount that income stream. Since there really is no good way to determine the prevailing interest rate, our best bet is to use the desired rate of return as the discount rate so we can see what a willing buyer would pay in an arms'-length fair-market transaction.

Using the formula for the present value of an annuity, where the annual net income of 365 SP is the annual rents, 10 years is the number of periods, and 10% is the desired rate of return, we get 2,242.77 SP. That's a price of 224 GP, 2 SP, and 8 CP (actually 7.7 CP, but I rounded up). Which is actually equivalent to the PHB price for 4.5 draft horses (at 50 GP each). PHB pg 157.

To give that further perspective, examine that cost if paid in trade goods.
22,428 CP = 22,428 pounds of wheat. That's more than eleven tons of wheat!
22,428 CP = 4,485.6 pounds of salt. That's more than two tons of salt!
22,428 CP = 11,214 pounds of flour, or 11,214 chickens.
22,428 CP = 224 goats, or 112 sheep, or 112 pounds of cinnamon or pepper.
22,428 CP = 75 pigs.
22,428 CP = 15 oxen.
22,428 CP = an elephant and 1 mastiff (approximately).
22,428 CP = 448.4 pounds of copper, or 448.4 square yards of cotton cloth.

Edit: of course, all that changes if you tinker with the rate of return. And, naturally, rate of return is pegged to perceived risk of investment loss (escape, death, etc). So, it really wouldn't be outrageous for a buyer to expect a rate of return that would seem obscenely high to us in modern times. I could easily see a desire for a 25% to 50% rate of return being reasonable.

And, for the record, at increased levels of risk we're talking about the following prices:
20% = 15,302 CP
25% = 13,032 CP
30% = 11,284 CP
40% = 8,809 CP
50% = 7,173 CP
Thank you for your analysis. agree with your range for an unskilled slave. With a working life of 10-years taking risks and costs into account, 2-years paid up front felt about right taking into cost of living and a desired return on investment. To respect accuracy over precision I roughed the number to 150gp. That falls within your estimates for 20-30% discount rates so it's probably fine to use. Taking @CapnZapp's example of hard-bargaining, the 50% discount level could represent quite well what you can get a seller down to in the right circumstances.

A skilled slave's price is based on the 2gp/day from the book i.e. 10x that amount. Where I've struggled most is the tier-1 and tier-2 equivalent slaves. Here I believe my daily income assumption is incorrect. I initially assumed 5x the skilled income, based in part of the tier-1 spell casting services costs. I now believe that is incorrect. If you flip to PHB 157 to look at the costs of living, the next steps are doublings not quintuplings. I believe we exclude the aristocratic level because anyone at that level is not earning their income from their own labour, but rather from rents. (Hence the logic of ransoming them back to their faction or family rather than enslaving them.) Also taking other posters thoughts into account I would revise to

Slavery
Slavery is common in the Underdark, being most practiced by drow, duergar and fomorians. About 1/5 such creatures own on average 5 slaves, while 1/50 own on average 50. About 1/10 slaves are skilled, of whom 1/10 have tier 1 character-class equivalence. Old slaves are rare: most are young or adult. Adult slaves in good health are priced on the basis of 2 years earnings from their labour, and are expected to last 10 years in service. A seller could be forced down to half the starting price through circumstance or hard bargaining. Prices are sometimes paid in trade goods or promises of goods such as shares in future harvests.

Menzoberranzan (pop 20,000 free)
Type...........Slaves.......Usual Price
Unskilled......40,000.........150gp based on 2sp earnings/day
Skilled...........4,000.........1500gp based on 2gp earnings/day
Tier 1...............400.........3000gp based on 4gp earnings/day
Tier 2.................40.........6000gp based on 8gp earnings/day
Tier 3..................4.........priceless
Tier 4...............0-1.........priceless
Epic+..................0.........priceless
 
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clearstream

(He, Him)
I don't know how you reached the value of a Sestertii. First of all the price of a kg of gold seems wrong. But the current price of gold is, historically speaking, a bit of an abberation. I think it's a mistake to translate via "dollar" because it can introduce all sorts of wonky errors.
I didn't translate via the dollar: I converted gp directly into sestertii. In doing so I valued accuracy and usability, over precision. Across the whole population, Rome appears to have had 200-300 sestertii annual GDP. That was distributed very unevenly, of course. A skilled worker appears to have earned about 1000 sestertii per annum. Soldiers appear to have earned three times that amount. Prices for goods from Pompeii supported those figures. A skilled worker in D&D earns 730gp per year. Thus I postulated 730gp is about equal to 1000 sestertii.

At 60 gp (or 600 sp) for an ordinary laborer, given that you have to feed the guy and other care (at say 1 sp/day), you are only saving 1 sp a day (at best). So it would take close to 2 years to recoup the "savings" from purchasing the slave.
Yes, exactly. I take it that of the ten years expected life in service, the first two are spent repaying the cost of purchase. That seems reasonably well supported, and as [MENTION=82779]MechaPilot[/MENTION] showed, falls in line with a 20% discount rate (i.e. the future earnings of a slave are discounted to produce their present value). Working on the basis of earnings over 2 years looks robust.

Lastly, when you say that my figures are a bit low... do you mean my conclusion (gp value) or the starting value (price in sestertii)
Hmm... you described the price for a particularly skilled or attractive slave as several hundred gp, but that seems to low-ball it, based on historical prices from Rome, Colonial Britain, and Antebellum America. I believe that a skilled or attractive slave is correctly valued at 1500-2000gp in D&D terms. However, I think with hard-bargaining or in unusual circumstance a seller might accept the price you suggest. Hence to me it looks a bit low but not outright incorrect, if that makes sense.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
Okay, putting aside the price of unskilled slaves... why are skilled slaves 10x the price? Why not just buy five slaves for half the price?

And why are level 1-3 PCs 50x the price?! They can't do fifty times the work. They're not fifty times as effective.
I've looked into this further. 10x is robust for the jump from unskilled to skilled. But I agree with you about the next jumps. They should be doublings not quintuplings! I've corrected my estimates accordingly.
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
The ancient Drachma was a coin of about 4.3 grams of silver, very similar to the denari.

Sources I had found claimed that a laborer would earn about a drachma a day. So I told myself "the 2 sp/day for a laborer in D&D is therefore reasonable".

But I'm now seeing this qualified as a skilled worker or hoplite. A juror (what is this exactly?) could earn half a drachma a day, which was considered "just enough" to sustain a family of 3. So my previous impression is now suspect... :/
 


clearstream

(He, Him)
The ancient Drachma was a coin of about 4.3 grams of silver, very similar to the denari.

Sources I had found claimed that a laborer would earn about a drachma a day. So I told myself "the 2 sp/day for a laborer in D&D is therefore reasonable".

But I'm now seeing this qualified as a skilled worker or hoplite. A juror (what is this exactly?) could earn half a drachma a day, which was considered "just enough" to sustain a family of 3. So my previous impression is now suspect... :/
I guess we need to decide if we are satisfied that "Adult slaves in good health are priced on the basis of 2 years earnings from their labour"? If we are, then their annual income sets their usual price. I triangulated on the central principle - two years earnings - from sources dealing with Ancient Rome, Colonial Britain and Antebellum America. Those consistently showed that unskilled slaves had meagre value (much less than a warhorse) while skilled slaves commanded a much, much high value. I felt that supernally skilled slaves - tier 1 and tier 2 equivalents - should command the very highest prices seen among those recorded.
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
I think that the 2 year labor is a pretty good yardstick but we must not forget 2 things:

1: as mentioned above, there is a cost of ownership (food, shelter, possibly guards).

2: the income impact of highly skilled labor should not be exaggerated. By this I mean that a highly skilled swordsmith, for example, might earn 2 gp a day, but he probably has the help of an apprentice or two and or a few servants. This can be used to justify toning down the upper values a bit.

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E

Elderbrain

Guest
The 3e book Lords of Madness has suggestions on pricing slaves in the section on Neogi, and the 2e historical sourcebook on Celts also has a pricing guide, if you want "official" prices. (Don't have these in front of me at the moment, mea culpa.)
 

Well, until recently people did rather enslave one another than tend to the crops themselves. Once our culture rejected slavery, other means came into play. Isn't this kind of the point of good-alignment? Non-evil characters should not want to enslave other sentient creatures even if it is profitable to do so. Just as they should not loot every settlement that lacks power to stop them. Alignment posits reasons beyond profit for doing or not doing something. You might say that on the question of slavery at least, our cultures became generally good aligned. I feel like the - if it is profitable, PCs will do it - argument doesn't work well.

I'm glad for this thread, and I especially appreciate this point you make here. I struggle sometimes between wanting to provide clear antagonists (because morally grey is fun only some of the time), but also not wanting to darken my table my actually depicting in detail brutality and horror. I don't want to make the players feel the evil as a palpable miasma leeching into real life, but I want there to be times when that evil is undeniably there in the game world. (This is one of the cases where I don't want player emotions to match PC emotions.) You've got me thinking that slavery may be a relatively family-friendly way to show evil in the game world.

Maybe it's as simple as everyone in the orc settlement, even the children, having one or more human slaves to do their work for them and take their whippings for them. That's probably enough to infuriate the PCs into having no qualms about destroying that orc settlement's culture, but in a way that leaves the players feeling vindicated instead of psychically scarred.

So, thank you for this thread and for that last post.
 

I guess we need to decide if we are satisfied that "Adult slaves in good health are priced on the basis of 2 years earnings from their labour"? If we are, then their annual income sets their usual price. I triangulated on the central principle - two years earnings - from sources dealing with Ancient Rome, Colonial Britain and Antebellum America. Those consistently showed that unskilled slaves had meagre value (much less than a warhorse) while skilled slaves commanded a much, much high value. I felt that supernally skilled slaves - tier 1 and tier 2 equivalents - should command the very highest prices seen among those recorded.

A thought: should long-lived slave races like elves and dwarves be priced on the basis of a longer period? If an adult elf can potentially serve for 500 years doing skilled labor (e.g. cooking, or casting Mold Earth for construction projects), is a two-year window really sufficient to capture his or her economic value?
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
The 3e book Lords of Madness has suggestions on pricing slaves in the section on Neogi, and the 2e historical sourcebook on Celts also has a pricing guide, if you want "official" prices. (Don't have these in front of me at the moment, mea culpa.)
I considered a method similar to Lords of Madness, which offers that "The basic method for determining the value of a slave is based on the creature’s CR, using the following formula: Cost = (CR, minimum 1)^2 × 100 gp. An unskilled dwarf, for example, with CR 1/2, costs 100 gp (CR 1/2 rounds up to 1; 1 squared = 1; 1 times 100 gp = 100 gp). A troll slave, on the other hand, costs 2,500 gp (CR 5 squared = 25, times 100 gp = 2,500 gp). Unusual or marketable qualities in a slave, such as great strength, great beauty, valuable skill, or exotic origin, can multiply the price by two, three, or four. A skilled miner dwarf might bring 200 gp if sold at a mine. If that same dwarf were exceptionally strong, he could cost 400 gp. If that dwarf was an 8th-level rogue and the buyer was the head of a thieves’ guild, the slave could cost between 12,800 and 25,600 gp." Regarding their examples, I feel they don't give enough thought to the slaves earnings potential for the owner which historically appears to have been a central element of pricing. That skilled miner for instance is going to yield far more than a dwarf that is merely strong.

I like that the formula recognises a need to exponentiate for more powerful creatures, although I feel it scales too weakly, e.g. 57,000gp feels low for an Ancient Gold Dragon to me. It's hoard will contain quintuple that in coins alone. It's also broken in that it has to be corrected with a minimum of 1 for CR in order to avoid raising a fraction to a power. Where I landed was to continue with the principle (from another thread) that tier equivalence for non-PCs is based on HD. So a Troll (HD8) counts as tier 2. And anything much more powerful than that will be "priceless" - i.e. not bought and sold as a slave.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
A thought: should long-lived slave races like elves and dwarves be priced on the basis of a longer period? If an adult elf can potentially serve for 500 years doing skilled labor (e.g. cooking, or casting Mold Earth for construction projects), is a two-year window really sufficient to capture his or her economic value?
Good point! I did make an assumption about that, which might seem like it evades your question. That is, I assumed slaves die of causes other than old age. So even an elf survives only an average of 10 years in service. Does that sound reasonable? In some societies slaves could buy their freedom, also, which might affect the long-lived races issue.
 
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CapnZapp

Legend
It's absurd if capturing the monsters alive net you much more loot. I dislike how that encourages the players to take and sell slaves.

Much better to keep all kinds of mundane economies low, so the focus remains strictly on heroic adventuring.

I think being able to sell a Troll for 5000 gp is a big mistake. That's far too much money; easily more than the actual loot carried by the Troll.

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clearstream

(He, Him)
It's absurd if capturing the monsters alive net you much more loot. I dislike how that encourages the players to take and sell slaves.

Much better to keep all kinds of mundane economies low, so the focus remains strictly on heroic adventuring.

I think being able to sell a Troll for 5000 gp is a big mistake. That's far too much money; easily more than the actual loot carried by the Troll.
So just to be clear, is owning sentient creatures "evil" or not evil in your campaign? How about stealing from everyone you can easily defeat in combat? I believe you rightly argue that PCs don't do such things, but then advance a conclusion that contradicts your argument.

If PCs are motivated by greed without moral qualms, why would they stop at slavery?
 

CapnZapp

Legend
So just to be clear, is owning sentient creatures "evil" or not evil in your campaign? How about stealing from everyone you can easily defeat in combat? I believe you rightly argue that PCs don't do such things, but then advance a conclusion that contradicts your argument.

If PCs are motivated by greed without moral qualms, why would they stop at slavery?
Why do you ask.

My players would never hesitate "farming" monsters if they can find some with a good gold per danger ratio.

Better to say most slavers deal with raggedy commoners in the goat price range, so the players lose interest almost immediately.

Being able to get thousands of gold just for rounding up a few dozen strangers feels completely off to me.

Mostly, the wages tables should be assumed not to deal with actual gold and silver. But goods and services that, if sold, would cost those amounts. Which is to say, the actual monetary sum somebody would play for 10 years slave service is considerably lower than the listed figure times ten.

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cmad1977

Hero
A life isn't as valuable as you think. Slaves are cheap because lives are cheap.


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clearstream

(He, Him)
Why do you ask.

My players would never hesitate "farming" monsters if they can find some with a good gold per danger ratio.
I guess there we differ. For me, buying and selling sentient creatures equates with evil.

Better to say most slavers deal with raggedy commoners in the goat price range, so the players lose interest almost immediately.

Being able to get thousands of gold just for rounding up a few dozen strangers feels completely off to me.
Well, we know that in the official campaign world, drow put a great deal of effort into exactly that. To sustain that activity they will need to double or treble their costs with their eventual sale price. The estimates I've given are robust from that angle, too. For example, an unskilled slave won't be too much trouble for half a dozen drow lead by an elite to capture. A month's work to scout out, capture, and return with a few of them could cost 200gp. Skilled slaves could be riskier to seek out, but worth taking the chance. If the prices drop much below what I've suggested, it becomes difficult to explain the prevalence of slavery from the perspective of motivations such as greed.

Mostly, the wages tables should be assumed not to deal with actual gold and silver. But goods and services that, if sold, would cost those amounts. Which is to say, the actual monetary sum somebody would play for 10 years slave service is considerably lower than the listed figure times ten.
Hmm... maybe there is a misunderstanding there. Slave prices are based on only 2 years of their earnings. The other 8 years cover costs, risks and returns. [MENTION=82779]MechaPilot[/MENTION] did a good piece of analysis on this above.

Bottom line it sounds like this isn't for you because your players are what I would call in my campaign world "evil". They are motivated strongly by greed and comfortable capturing sentient creatures for the purpose of selling them. They could argue that some sentient creatures - ones that are themselves evil such as orcs - are okay to enslave. I couldn't agree with such an argument but I could understand the appearance it could create of grey areas.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
A life isn't as valuable as you think. Slaves are cheap because lives are cheap.
I've valued slaves on their earnings potential for their owners. Slaves are expensive because owning them is profitable. What I'm getting at is that even if you dislike having a value on life, that doesn't matter to the valuation. In a competitive market, a bidder is benefited for bidding up to the return less costs, risks and the desired rate of return. I suggest 20% of the slave's lifetime earnings potential for that. In a very brutal culture where slaves die in half the time, it would be reasonable to dial that back to one year (halve the values I suggest). However, one would have to envision a great deal of activity replacing slaves in such a location, and the continual pressure of an opportunity to greatly increase profitability by treating them a little better!
 

Good point! I did make an assumption about that, which might seem like it evades your question. That is, I assumed slaves die of causes other than old age. So even an elf survives only an average of 10 years in service. Does that sound reasonable? In some societies slaves could buy their freedom, also, which might affect the long-lived races issue.

I don't know much about elf physiology, nor about the typical causes of slave death historically. Intuitively though I'd expect elves to last longer than historical humans if only because the conditions a rational slaveowner would keep his slaves in can't be THAT different from typical peasant conditions, and if typical peasant conditions are enough to bring elvish lifespans down to human norms, elves wouldn't be noted for being long-lived in the first place. Whether it's due to better tolerance for malnutrition, better immune systems, or being better psychologically adapted to decades of drudgery, I would be surprised if elves and dwarves didn't manage to live longer in slavery than historical humans did.

Besides, it's a trope. :)
 

jgsugden

Legend
A drow slave surviving for two years? Huh, your drow are much nicer than mine.

The first line of the thread hit on the key element in my mind - this is a repugnant topic, and we're playing a game, so perhaps we should ask ourselves if there is a way to address it in a less detailed way to avoid sticky topics.

My approach: There is no market for slaves. Buying a slave from someone of lesser statue, especially a non-drow, would be showing weakness. Slaves are captured, not bought. And if you kill my slave, you'll pay the price in blood, not coin... unless we find it amusing ourselves, in which case we may grab another slave and try to one-up you.
 

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