The 1% of Pathfinder

A while back I posted an article about how much your PC would need to retire. It assumed that your character would be trying to acquire enough money to retire and live extravagantly for the rest of their life. Of course, the numbers soon showed that that was exceptionally difficult to do, although retiring as merely “wealthy” was much more feasible.

But what about everyone else in the game world?

It’s a Hard Knock Life

The main purpose to this article is that it provides a quick shorthand for determining an NPC’s economic status – that is, where they fall under Pathfinder’s cost of living designations. This provides GMs with a better understanding for the background and lifestyle that their NPCs come from, helping to flesh them out more.

Of course, sometimes an NPC’s background doesn’t matter.

Simply take their bonus in one of the three skills discussed below (if they have more than one, use the one with the highest bonus, or whichever one best fits the background you want them to have), and add 10 (as an average, or as taking 10 on the check) and check on the results given below.

Working Hard for the Money

Pathfinder assumes that, other than finding heaping hoards of treasure, the main ways to earn a living are via skill checks. Specifically via three skills: Craft, Perform, and Profession. Let’s look at these skills and see how much money a typical NPC can earn in a year.

Craft and Profession

Craft and Profession both require a one-week period when making checks to earn a living. You bring in a number of gold pieces equal to one-half your check result for that week.

Our method assumes the following: that you always take 10 on your check, adding in whatever skill bonus (and/or penalty) you have to get an average result. We then figure out your lifestyle – from the aforementioned cost of living rules – by multiplying the results by 52, and comparing them to the cost of living thresholds multiplied by 12 (as those are based on monthly income).

This gives us the following breakdown:

Destitute: The only way you could possibly end up this poor when taking 10 on a Craft/Profession check is if you have enough negative modifiers that it brings your check result down to a 1 or 0. In this case, you likely have a seriously low Intelligence or Wisdom, and likely a curse on you too. You’ll likely want to switch to Perform checks (see below), and if that’s not an option then consider adventuring/suicide.

Poor: Poor is what you are if your adjusted Craft/Profession check result is a 2 through 4, in which case you’re still struggling with some serious negative modifiers, since you took 10 on the check. Likewise, it’s worth noting that this will be your economic status if you have no ranks in either Craft or Profession, and are an untrained laborer earning a measly 1 silver piece per day.

Average: Overwhelmingly, you’re likely to have an average economic lifestyle when you rely on these skill checks to support yourself. Any check result from 5 to 46 will put you somewhere in this range. There are still gradations, of course, but for the most part you can take comfort in belonging to the middle class.

Wealthy: You’ve pretty well got to be the god of whatever it is you do in order to become truly wealthy by doing it. Your Craft/Profession check needs to hit a whopping 47 or higher to break into this category, which means that you’ve got a +37 to your check. Enjoy your goods, and know that all the little people are cursing you as a min-maxer.

Extravagant: Don’t even consider living at this level on skill checks alone. Seriously, just don’t. You’d need to have a skill total of 462 to hit this level, and I don’t care how good you are, nobody has a +452 skill modifier (and if you do, then get your point-whoring ass back to the CharOp boards where it belongs).


Unlike the latter skills, Perform is made once a day to bring in an income (the skill description says that it may be made as little as once per evening, but the intent seems clear). Also unlike Craft and Profession, Perform’s ability to generate revenue isn’t based directly on your check results; rather, you get a certain amount of money at certain DCs (the amount of money earned has likewise been averaged for the results given below). Hence the following:

Destitute: This is how you live if you can’t hit a DC 15 on your Perform check. True, you earn no income at all if you get less than a 10 (which, again, would only be possibly if you have some penalties), but even a 10 through 14 won’t generate enough income to even rise to the level of being poor. Speaking of which…

Poor: Remember that we’re taking the statistical average of the die rolls made for Perform checks. So when it says “you earn 1d10 silver pieces per day” we’re interpreting that to mean 5 silver and 5 copper (a 5.5 on the d10). Based purely on these statistical averages, you won’t ever be “poor” using the Perform skill. You’ll either be destitute because your results were so bad, or you’ll roll high enough to become average.

Average: This is the result of having a 15 through 24 on your Perform checks. Earning silver pieces, either 1d10 or 3d10 per day, you’ll make enough to live as well as any other ordinary person.

Wealthy: If you can consistently hit a 25 or above while taking 10 on a daily Perform check, then you’ll live as one of the wealthy. You’ll be more secure in this particular income bracket if you can instead hit 30 or more, but it’s still wealthy either way. This is, quite literally, as good as it gets using this skill.

Extravagant: This one is impossible. Literally. The best you can get with a Perform check is making 3d6 gold per day. Even if you always got all 18s (and if you do, why aren’t you using them to roll up new characters?!), you still wouldn’t make enough to live extravagantly. You’ll just have to settle for being wealthy instead, isn’t that a shame?

Hard Work is Hard

Ultimately, what this says about working for a living in Pathfinder is that it’s true to real life in that hard work can pull you out of poverty, but rarely makes you rich.


“Give me back my +2 stapler!”

In fact, between this and the previous article on the subject, you may be asking yourself, how does anyone live an extravagant lifestyle in Pathfinder?

There are two answers. The first is that the “extravagant” cost of living isn’t meant to be sustained indefinitely; rather, it’s how you can live for a few months when you’re particularly flush with cash. No, it’s not fiscally sound, but if you’re someone who makes a living from raiding old tombs, extravagance is the “living fast” that accompanies the inevitable dying young.

The second answer is that those who live extravagantly aren’t actually financing that lifestyle based on their own work. Much like actual feudal lords, their wealth comes from a combination of inheritance and collecting money from serfs, alongside various large-scale business enterprises (to say nothing of profitable criminal activity).

Of course, the real lesson here is that it’s ultimately more economically feasible for your PCs to be adventurers (just look at the Character Wealth by Level values!), as they’ll be much more likely to strike it rich that way. And, of course, playing Sir Stomp-Evil the Paladin is much more fun than playing Joe Nobody the Farmer anyway.

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4 Responses to “The 1% of Pathfinder”

  1. Yong Kyosunim Says:

    I like these posts. I’ve had similar thoughts as well, but hadn’t taken the time to figure out if the economy was “right” based on the Pathfinder assumptions.

    • Alzrius Says:

      Thanks for the feedback, Yong!

      I think that Pathfinder/the d20 System is a more apt model for the underlying backdrop that is the rest of the world (that is, the world that’s apart from the direct actions of the PCs) than most people give it credit for.

      I may do more posts about this topic in the future; they seem to be popular.

  2. vez99 Says:

    I appreciate the economic work-up of the system!

    I think that taxes need to be considered in this, though. With all of the different tenant’s fees, seigneural fees, royal taxes, levy taxes, etc., a commoner could expect to pay over half of his earnings to the crown and other nobles. This would throw a lot more of the population into the poor category, which is much more realistic.

    Then, we get back to the chaos that adventurers cause by dropping 75 gp on a longbow in a farming village… and now my head hurts.


    • Alzrius Says:

      Thanks for the comment, vez99!

      I’m hesitant to say that taxes aren’t included, simply because the breakdown of what goes into “cost of living” in the Pathfinder rules isn’t clearly defined. Presumably it includes everything, which means that taxes are accounted for.

      While I do think that the background economy that Pathfinder presents is self-consistent and a fairly accurate translation of contemporary socio-economic assumptions (that is, it models how things are now), it doesn’t necessarily present a feudal system – wherein the peasants were all essentially living in debt to their local lord, and so worked the land to pay it back – very well. But then, it also doesn’t replicate medieval society all that well, since most serfs were ravaged by disease, famine, malnutrition, and the rigors of age.

      Even taking magic into account, I don’t think that life for most commoners should be quite as good as it’s often portrayed in the game world. Maybe that’s a good topic for another post…

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