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

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hastur_nz

First Post
I haven't read the entire thread in detail, but to me the bit that's missing is the full 360-degree view of the Economics, i.e. I see lots of discussion on the expected earnings / profits affecting the price, but you also have to factor in the Supply side, i.e. how much does it cost to get a new slave, and hence if the price is too high then every adventurer will want to go out and get some new slaves to sell for huge profits, and hence the price will be driven down.

Basic supply and demand - the price is whatever balances the demand vs supply; Elasticity.

For example I imagine it cost a lot of money to get an initial supply of slaves from Africa to America; I'm not sure if it ever became illegal or just more difficult to get more later on, but there's food for thought in terms of the cost and time required for breeding vs re-supply. If your world is crawling with adventurer types and/or technology that makes getting new slaves relatively easy, I'd say that will drive prices down a lot; if there's very few people who can actually obtain new slaves, then higher prices can be sustained.
 

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clearstream

(He, Him)
I haven't read the entire thread in detail, but to me the bit that's missing is the full 360-degree view of the Economics, i.e. I see lots of discussion on the expected earnings / profits affecting the price, but you also have to factor in the Supply side, i.e. how much does it cost to get a new slave, and hence if the price is too high then every adventurer will want to go out and get some new slaves to sell for huge profits, and hence the price will be driven down.
Yes, I considered the supply side. We don't have much to go on. We know there are drow raiding parties who focus on capturing slaves, and we can guess some of the labour and risk costs of that. For instance, we know that part of Velkynvelve's space and resources are expended on it. The only commercial activity that Velkynvelve sustains is the slave pipeline and it needs to maintain half a dozen elites, two priestesses and about a dozen drow, plus a number of quaggoths and spiders. Using the PHB we can guess the monthly cost of all that at nearly 1000gp. Velkynvelve is a month's travel from the major slave market and at least a few weeks from the surface, so the parcel of slaves the PCs were part of likely represent 3 months of output once brought safely to market. It appears certain that some drow would be lost on a regular basis in such ventures. Given the risks I envision Ilvara Mizzrym needing to price at 3-5x her costs. At the prices I suggest, that parcel of slaves that included the PCs would be worth about the right amount. Most of the captives are unskilled. The four PCs are tier 1. A couple of the captives are skilled.

So much for supply. Regarding demand, the market in Menzoberranzen - with 2 slaves for every free humanoid - looks stronger than average to me. Perhaps prices should be ticked up a bit there? Certainly exotic slaves or those with special skills could see heated bidding.

For example I imagine it cost a lot of money to get an initial supply of slaves from Africa to America; I'm not sure if it ever became illegal or just more difficult to get more later on, but there's food for thought in terms of the cost and time required for breeding vs re-supply. If your world is crawling with adventurer types and/or technology that makes getting new slaves relatively easy, I'd say that will drive prices down a lot; if there's very few people who can actually obtain new slaves, then higher prices can be sustained.
Yes, I agree with that. I felt that the most important step is to get down a simple to use, rough guide to pricing that maps well to the core rules. Based on an array of game considerations (including supply and demand) and the historical evidence (which is helpful for understanding what factors are relevant), I suggest 20% of expected earnings from their labour. The earnings potential of skilled slaves would mean that even in Menzoberranzen, owners would have a motive to treat them relatively well.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
A drow slave surviving for two years? Huh, your drow are much nicer than mine.
Or perhaps mine are greedier and more self-interested. The earnings from skilled slaves sustains a life of luxury for their owners.

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.
That seems okay as an approach, but clearly isn't the assumption in the core D&D world, which expressly describes slave markets and lists slavery among the commercial activities of drow settlements. To be clear, I'm not knocking your approach but please appreciate that I am writing for the core D&D game world. Capturing slaves was historically a goal of war-making, and in some periods considered the inevitable fate of the losers. In the core game world I wouldn't characterise the drow in that way, but barbarians such as those in the North of Faerun could hold such views on slavery.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
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!
That you want slaves to be expensive is clear.

But please don't argue that's the logical conclusion.

The D&D economy isn't robust enough to draw any conclusions at all.

In the end, it boils down to what you, the DM, wants.

You want expensive slaves? Fine. Just mind the potential pitfalls.

You want cheap slaves? Equally fine.

There's absolutely no choice that is better than the other. Why? Because D&D is a game with a very strict focus on the player characters and their experiences!

So if it makes for a better game to have slaves cost a lot, then that's the best solution. And if the game is improved by slashing the profits of slavers and make slaves into nothing more than mundane cheap labor, then by all means do that instead.

All the arguments bringing up historical facts only serve to tell some people they're playing the game wrong, and that's just missing the point.

The point is: if your game of D&D follows historical data, that might well make the game worse! In fact, I'm sure of it. Adding dragons and magic makes the game better despite scant scientific evidence for it ever happening in history. So chances are an unhistoric take on slavery will also make your game better.


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clearstream

(He, Him)
That you want slaves to be expensive is clear.
I think I dispute that the prices are expensive. They provide useful motivations and avoid problems that could otherwise arise. For instance, one DM was asking about what to do if players want to free some slaves by purchasing them. Solid prices support that.

But please don't argue that's the logical conclusion.
Well, it is the "logical" conclusion, but it's not necessarily the best or most fun conclusion for anyone's game.

The D&D economy isn't robust enough to draw any conclusions at all.
Earnings potential has been a significant factor in the price of slaves. D&D supplies the needed figures.

In the end, it boils down to what you, the DM, wants.
Of course! But well-thought-out guides are handy. They're also easy to ignore.

You want expensive slaves? Fine. Just mind the potential pitfalls.

You want cheap slaves? Equally fine.
I feel like here is the divergence between us. Cheap slaves are problematic. Reasonably priced ones are less so.

There's absolutely no choice that is better than the other. Why? Because D&D is a game with a very strict focus on the player characters and their experiences!
That's true! And one official, published experience for players is being slaves.

So if it makes for a better game to have slaves cost a lot, then that's the best solution. And if the game is improved by slashing the profits of slavers and make slaves into nothing more than mundane cheap labor, then by all means do that instead.

All the arguments bringing up historical facts only serve to tell some people they're playing the game wrong, and that's just missing the point.

The point is: if your game of D&D follows historical data, that might well make the game worse! In fact, I'm sure of it. Adding dragons and magic makes the game better despite scant scientific evidence for it ever happening in history. So chances are an unhistoric take on slavery will also make your game better.
Heh, the one doesn't follow from the other at all. However, you may be mistaking the import of the historical facts. They help us understand interesting narrative and world factors that we might otherwise overlook and thus not have the fun and interest of using in our game.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
That you want slaves to be expensive is clear.
I think I dispute that the prices are expensive. They provide useful motivations and avoid problems that could otherwise arise. For instance, one DM was asking about what to do if players want to free some slaves by purchasing them. Solid prices support that.

But please don't argue that's the logical conclusion.
Well, it is the "logical" conclusion, but it's not necessarily the best or most fun conclusion for anyone's game.

The D&D economy isn't robust enough to draw any conclusions at all.
Earnings potential has been a significant factor in the price of slaves. D&D supplies the needed figures.

In the end, it boils down to what you, the DM, wants.
Of course! But well-thought-out guides are handy. They're also easy to ignore.

You want expensive slaves? Fine. Just mind the potential pitfalls.

You want cheap slaves? Equally fine.
I feel like here is the divergence between us. Cheap slaves are problematic. Reasonably priced ones are less so.

There's absolutely no choice that is better than the other. Why? Because D&D is a game with a very strict focus on the player characters and their experiences!
That's true! And one official, published experience for players is being slaves.

So if it makes for a better game to have slaves cost a lot, then that's the best solution. And if the game is improved by slashing the profits of slavers and make slaves into nothing more than mundane cheap labor, then by all means do that instead.

All the arguments bringing up historical facts only serve to tell some people they're playing the game wrong, and that's just missing the point.

The point is: if your game of D&D follows historical data, that might well make the game worse! In fact, I'm sure of it. Adding dragons and magic makes the game better despite scant scientific evidence for it ever happening in history. So chances are an unhistoric take on slavery will also make your game better.
Heh, the one doesn't follow from the other at all. However, you may be mistaking the import of the historical facts. They help us understand interesting narrative and world factors that we might otherwise overlook.
 


Gaming God

Villager
Two years ago a friend of mine was in Bangladesh working on busting a human trafficking ring in Detroit. He was tracking down the origin of a bunch of girls sold here in the USA. During his investigation, he made a purchase of 400 girls age 12-20. It cost him a mere $1000 Or $2.50 per person. He then had to arrange transport for those girls to a camp in India, where they were re-educated and allowed to assimilate back into society, the price of slaves is very cheap in many modern countries. Historically slave prices have varied from very expensive to almost nothing. They should be the same on a game setting too. In nations where slavery is very common, the cost should be cheap. In countries where it is is rare, the prices should be much higher but pose the risk of imprisonment. A slave can be purchased in the USA right now for about $5000-10,000. In India and much of Southeast Asia, where it is more accepted, you can buy them for prices as low as a couple of dollars. In much of Africa slaves are selling today for prices of about $100-150. In Brazil they sell for $2000-3000. if We apply the same logic to a fantasy game, the prices should rage from a few gold in poor countries/towns to about 10,000 gold is very wealthy countries/cities. Specialized skill sets, exceptional Abilities, and good looks will always drive the prices higher. I set the base in my world as the same as a draft horse. if slaves cost much more on average, then the world would be full of slavers making more than adventures. You could Raid one town and sell the inhabitants and then Retire because you are so rich. slaving should never be set up as the most lucrative job in the game.
 

Ixal

Hero
The necromancers are doing their rounds again...

This discussion is backwards anyway. Define first what slaves are used for and where they come from. Then you can start discussing prices based on supply and demand.
 
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Alzrius

The EN World kitten
There is also a cost of ownership. Since slaves are costly, you want to feed them and shelter them. That is probably at least 1sp/day....

I had done some brief research on the topic and in Roman times a slave could be sold for 2400 to 6000 sestertius, ie 600-1500 denari, and a denari is a basic sp, so yielding a value of 60-150 gp

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Interestingly, this broadly lines up with how much slaves are worth in Pathfinder 1E:

Source Adventurer's Armory pg. 19
Price 75 gp, 100 gp (hard labor), 50 gp (household), 100 gp (slip, halfling), 500 gp (specialized); Weight 175 lbs. , 200 lbs. (hard labor), 130 lbs. (household), 39 lbs. (slip, halfling), 160 lbs. (specialized)

Description​

Sentient creatures sold to perform a multitude of tasks all fall under the category of slaves. Most slaves are kept to do menial jobs, but sometimes slaves perform specialized tasks such as spellcasting or teaching. Slaves vary in quality; the price may be half as much for old or infirm slaves, or several times more for healthy, attractive specimens.

Now, if we presume that your average commoner has a +4 in their Profession skill (i.e. 1 rank and a +3 class bonus, since not everyone will have a Wisdom above 11), and take 10 on their check, they'll earn 7 gp per week, for 364 gp in a fifty-two-week year. According to the cost of living rules, an "average" lifestyle costs 10 gp per month, so in a twelve-month year that's 120 gp, leaving a net profit of just over 240 gp a year.

Given that the cost of living listings seem to be for household costs rather than per person (though that's presumably open to debate), and that household with two working adults would pull in more, possibly with one or two kids pulling in some additional funds (as per the "unskilled labor is worth 1 sp per day" rule), then most middle-class families are going to easily be able to afford at least one "household" slave, and really any of the other kinds also, save for the "specialized" type.
 

aco175

Legend
I was just thinking back to 2017 when this thread started. First I though about how much better life was before the Covid problems and then all the inflation we have now. With the value of the Dollar dropping slaves would be almost twice what the thread first thought. Of course the D&D tables have not really changed in 40 years so I can still buy a dagger for 2gp instead of 12gp.
 

NotAYakk

Legend
The yield of an enslaved person is going to be less than a free person, or the cost to get that yield will be higher (in terms of supervision).

Prior to the current era, people spent a good 50% of their income on food. You can give slaves worse food, but that will be another reason to reduce yield.

At 10 slaves per supervisor, 25% less productivity per slave than the equivalent free person, free supervisor earning 2x what a free person who did the slaves jobs would do (the more skilled the slave, the more skilled the supervisor), and 50% support costs (feeding, shelter, etc) on the slaves, and a 15% per year return on investment (this 15% factor includes slave death, escape, legal issues like a baron taking your assets, etc).

2 sp/day free job produces 0.75 sp/day of value.
0.4 sp/day for the supervisor leaves 0.35 sp/day profit from the slave.
127.75 sp per year or 12 gp per year profit.
At 15% ROI that is 80 gp for a 2 sp labourer slave, or 400x multiplier on the 'free job' equivalent labour.

2 sp is for a healthy unskilled worker. A slave in worse shape will have a much lower price.
 


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