Gold Pieces vs the Common Living Wage in Fantasy Role Playing Games.

Retainers would be easy to come by at that point. But our old friend Jimmy the torch bearer is suddenly going to up his torch bearing game and his prices. He’s probably going to ask for a raise to 3GP per day instead of 3 CP. Then there’s health and dental benefits, especially for his dying grandmother. Probably even talk of the torch bearers and dungeon loot porters forming a union of some kind.

Adventurers walk around with hundreds, even thousand of Gold Pieces (GP), yet most commoners make their wages in terms of Copper (CP) and Silver (SP.)

Quick explanation of coinage from a Basic fantasy OSR type game. Pretty common system.

One single gold piece would be considered a fortune to most peasants who normally earn their wages in terms of copper and silver. However, certain professions would be considered very lucrative in a medieval fantasy society. Quite honestly, I think either the standards should change or the amount of loot adventurers run around with needs to be seriously nerfed. Honestly, it could go either way.

What jobs pay well if I were a commoner?

Presuming the adventurers are still bringing cart loads of gold, magic items, and art objects into a tiny village, who would profit the most? Let’s start with the innkeeper. Most farmers, cobblers, and carpenters come in, buy an ale for maybe 3cp. Most adventurers come in and order “top shelf” ale and the finest accommodations and throw gold around like it’s nothing. They also tend to blow the place up occasionally or get into the occasional donnybrook.

The other townsfolk that always seem to do well for themselves around adventurers are blacksmiths, especially those well versed in weapons or armor. Animals also need shod and barded on occasion. Anyone with an anvil and a forge seem to be in high demand everywhere, but adventurers usually want a rush job and pay extra well.

Let’s not forget the shopkeepers. If a town is (un)fortunate enough to have a general store, they may find themselves at the mercy or good will of an adventuring party. Rations, new water/wineskins, torches, oil, bags, rope and more might be available at a bargain. Unscrupulous shopkeepers usually find themselves on the business end of the group’s weapons. Generous, kind, and understanding villagers might develop a working relationship with the group.

Photo by Mehmet Turgut Kirkgoz on

Never overlook the power (or price) of experts.

(Insert evil-ish GM laugh here.) Suppose the group comes into town with a member of the group that is missing a couple of fingers and may have accidentally been poisoned (by his own weapon.) Said group, not having a Cleric or anyone knowledgeable in dealing with such things is going to need an apothecary before the dumb Thief expires messily. While their friend is being tended, the rest of the group is free to go off an hammer down some ale, but they might want to be careful how much they spend. Apothecary services can run tens or even hundreds of gold depending on the severity of the illness/injury. Otherwise our apothecary could just tell the barbarian to go out to the town cemetery and dig a grave.

A lot of what NPCs charge will be determined by the Judge/GM/DM. It could be based off of what their professional guild recommends or by what the NPC in question would think is reasonable. Non-magical aid would require far less of a toll than magical aid. Reattaching limbs, removing curses, and raising the dead would be far beyond the capabilities of villagers and townsfolk in most fantasy RPG settings. Those capable would likely charge a hefty pile of gold.

Let’s look at Medieval England circa 1300 as an example.

I’m using The History of England as my example.

English wages circa 1300.

Let’s pretend £1 = 1GP and 1 schilling = 1SP. Pence are obviously 1CP. Yes, I know D&D and most other fantasy RPGs use 10CP=1SP, but we’ll make an exception here.

Unskilled labor would be people such as barmaids, stable boys, and many common villagers. I’m guessing slightly more skilled laborers are represented under the second category of Laborer?

I imagine an apothecary or other guild specialist had their prices determined by their professional guild. I’d put them somewhere in the range of £4-5 per year. That’s a guess. Guilds and independent artisans probably chose to charge more or less depending on circumstances.

I estimate blacksmiths and other cottage artisans were mostly paid by selling goods, which is why they are not listed above. I’m certain a fair amount of barter also occurred prior to 1600 AD in the real world much as it would likely happen in most fantasy RPGs. How much are cows, chickens, trades, favors and other items worth? Can you really put a price on friendship and goodwill?

Putting it in some perspective.

In Dungeon Crawl Classics, adventurers are about 1% of the population. (1 out of every 100 people.) That 1% brings back hundreds if not thousands of gold potentially to small towns and villages where the average living wage is no more than, say 5 GP per year.

Wouldn’t ALL of the townsfolk flock to incoming adventurers begging to provide goods, chickens, services, etc? Would less scrupulous villagers suddenly start price gouging?

“Wot? No we’re having a special today. That loaf of bread is going to cost 1 GP.”
“Want to buy me lantern? That’ll be 10 gold and, uh, how about that horse you rode in on?”

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It could potentially get out of control fast. Suddenly a room at the inn comes to a total of 100 GP per night. Or the innkeeper says, “I guess our adventurers could go out of town and sleep in some farmer’s barn or probably on the cold, hard ground again. The inn has nice, soft beds and warm chambermaids to attend to their every wanton desire. ”

Who’s gonna turn that room down? It’s only a couple hundred gold out of thousands, right? Sure hope the town’s banking establishment and exchequer isn’t corrupt. “What bag of gold? Oh, this little thing? That’s a coin purse, not thousands of gold crowns. Surely you jest.”

Of course, corrupt practices could result in adventuring parties burning the entire town to the ground if they’re serious murder hobos.

I recently talked to a player who literally destabilized the economy of an entire town, possibly the whole province.

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He gave 10GP to every villager he encountered. Yet another player threatened to teach “Magic Missile Class.” and turn as many who showed up into Level 1 Wizards. What would those actions do to a town where silver and copper are the standard medium of exchange? It’s mind boggling.

It’s not dissimilar to a government sending out $1,000 checks to every tax paying citizen in the country. It does some truly crazy things to inflation in the modern world. Imagine the kind of havoc it could wreak in the fantasy medieval world.

Retainers would be easy to come by at that point. But our old friend Jimmy the torch bearer is suddenly going to up his torch bearing game and his prices. He’s probably going to ask for a raise to 3GP per day instead of 3 CP. Then there’s health and dental benefits, especially for his dying grandmother. Probably even talk of the torch bearers and dungeon loot porters forming a union of some kind.

Ultimately, it’s in the hands of the Judge/GM/DM.

Big money, spending GP.

What I’m trying to get at is there seems to always be a massive fiscal disparity between the rules as written for what typical villagers/townsfolk make vs the ludicrous amounts of gold the average adventuring party hauls out of a dungeon. When there’s a massive gap between the haves and the have-nots in the real world, it leads to socio political upheaval. In a fantasy game, it just makes a big mess for the NPCs and probably a headache for most GMs.

I know a lot of DMs tend to rewrite the chart for goods and services. In some cases the scaling almost looks like our more modern economy. 1 GP = $1. That way when the group floods a town with gold they’re barely making a dent in the economy. Is it possible to devalue the GP in a fantasy economy? If someone was paying attention, they could teach the school kids a real lesson in economics.

Thank you for stopping by. I hope all of this ends up being of some use. We might take this discussion up again later. I appreciate you being here.

Author: Jeff Craigmile

I'm a tabletop role-playing game writer and designer from Des Moines, Iowa. I'm the father of four boys and human to three cats.

One thought on “Gold Pieces vs the Common Living Wage in Fantasy Role Playing Games.”

  1. Part One. What happens is this: the kids decide it is more lucrative being an adventurer than a farm-boy. They individually and collectively set off to raid dungeons. Most of them do not come back. The population of towns are reduced dramatically so only the bare essential skills for survival are retained. All communities have the sad bond that most of their kids disappeared. This happens to every generation in living memory. Adventurers discover the bones of missing kids in dungeons. They provide staple food for monsters. Folklore illustrates this.
    Two. What also happens is this: Bandits & Witches. They prey on rich adventurers. It’s a major hazard. They also prey on kids who have value for a variety of reasons, eg; selling them to foreign slavers encountered along coastal ports, or sacrificing them to monsters in exchange for personal security.
    Three. Medieval times were very much more like this in the real world than people are willing to assimilate.

    Liked by 1 person

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