Posts Tagged ‘money’

Setting a Gold Standard

March 6, 2012

We’ve spoken before about how Pathfinder portrays the economy. However, while it’s useful to look at that in terms of an individual’s earning power over time, there’s also some merit in looking at the value of Pathfinder’s currency.

Good for your character, hell on the stock market.

On the surface, this is fairly self-explanatory. Pathfinder runs on a gold piece-standard, with greater (platinum) and lesser (silver and copper) denominations; if you want to judge how expensive something is, its price is measured in gold pieces. Easy enough to understand, right?

But what if we wanted to express that in more familiar terms? What if we wanted to measure something’s cost in terms of real-world currency?

Many readers are probably rolling their eyes at this, expecting things to devolve into a dry set of extrapolations based on the weight of gold coins (in troy or avoirdupois) and the current value of gold on the world market. Don’t worry, we’re not going to delve into such dry minutia…much.

Realistic Abstractionism

In order to develop a baseline for how much gold coins are worth in United States dollars, there’s a much easier rubric. Game Room Creations’ book The Modern Path – Heroes of the Modern World 2.0 has, among other things, a chart that compares Pathfinder currency to USD. This holds that one gold piece is equivalent to $10.

By itself, that’s not a bad conversion guideline, if perhaps a slightly prosaic one. But let’s try and lend this just a little bit of economic context. In order to do this, we’re going to need to make a comparison between a particular measurement for a given economic condition in Pathfinder and one in the real world.

Luckily we have just such a condition to compare: the poverty line.

Take a look at the cost of living breakdown for Pathfinder. This measures how much a PC – that is, one person – must pay per month to maintain a given standard of living. The base minimum that a person must pay to be “average,” which is just above “poor,” is 10 gp per month. That’s 120 gp per year, which with the above calculations is $1,200 per year. Hence, Pathfinder’s poverty line is $1,200 USD.

Now, let’s compare this to the poverty line for a single person living in the United States in the year 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This lists that for a single person (in the lower forty-eight states) the poverty line is $10,980 – much higher than the Pathfinder standard!

Now, let’s divide one into the other – real world America’s poverty line is higher than Pathfinder’s by a factor of 9.075. What does that mean? It means that if you wanted to calculate how much a Pathfinder gold piece can buy, in terms of today’s money, you have to multiply its standard USD equivalent ($10) by this number.

In other words, one gp is worth $90.75 USD.

Hence, someone earning only 120 gp in a year in a Pathfinder game is making the same amount of money as someone earning $10,890 in contemporary America; just enough to get by.

Think about that the next time your character off-handedly slaps down 315 gp for a masterwork longsword. That’s the equivalent of putting down almost thirty thousand dollars for a purchase; buying a masterwork longsword is your character’s equivalent of buying a new car.

And that's before you start adding bling.

The idea of a character who quits being a humble farmer to go out into the world and make it big is a trite one, to be sure, but this makes it a little easier to see why they’d do it.

The 1% of Pathfinder

December 20, 2011

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.

Just Gimme GP (That’s What I Want)

July 30, 2011

I was pleasantly surprised by the positive reactions I received to Death of a Die Roll; apparently, quite a few people like the idea of playing Pathfinder with an old-school feeling. Given that, let’s stay on this particular train of thought for a bit and focus on the actual motivations that PCs tended to have back in the proverbial day.

Pathfinder, and D&D before it, is a game about playing heroes…but there’s a perception that in previous editions of the game, PCs had a more mercenary bent. This didn’t mean that they killed purely for coin, of course, but rather than striking it big and become rich was a larger motivation for PCs; often, it was why they had struck out as adventurers to begin with.

Few know that Uncle Pennybags made his fortune killing kobolds.

There’s nothing wrong with playing this type of character. Oftentimes, adventures are constructed in such a way that even if your character feels no moral obligation to go slay evil, the stakes are high enough that they’ll suffer if they don’t take action. When the world is going to be devastated by the meteor that is being pulled towards it, for example, that isn’t really a problem you can ignore, even if you have no shred of altruism.

Leaving aside that even greedy characters are motivated by necessity and self-preservation, however, is an unspoken aspect to playing a PC that’s just in it for the money – how much money is enough? After all, a greedy character is generally presumed to be trying to achieve enough to be independently wealthy, but how much money does that take? Let’s crunch some numbers.

Greedy Bastards are Fi-douche-iary

In order to figure out how much money a character needs to retire and live a carefree life of luxury, we first need to define a few things.

First, what constitutes “luxury”? Well, according to Pathfinder’s rules for cost of living, an “extravagant” lifestyle is 1,000 gp per month. Sure, we could go for “wealthy,” which is only 100 gp/month, but if your character wants to be able to live in the lap of luxury, why not go for the highest rating (that said, reduce all of the following totals by 90% if your character just wants to be wealthy for the rest of his life, rather than extravagant)? So, your character needs to square away 1,000 gp per month, or 12,000 gp per year every year for the rest of his life.

How long will that be, though? Let’s turn our attention to Pathfinder’s age rules. Right away, one thing should become clear: longer-lived races will need to acquire more money, simply because they’ll need to sustain themselves longer.

Now, let’s take an extreme look at the age ranges and get some initial figures. If we take the earliest possible starting age for each race (that is, in the Random Starting Ages table, taking the “adulthood” age and adding the minimum result possible from the “barbarian, rogue, sorcerer” column), and subtract it from the maximum result possible in the “maximum age” column of the Aging Effects table, multiplying the result by 12,000 gp, we get the following:

  • Humans will need to pay for 94 years, costing 1,128,000 gp.
  • Dwarves will need to pay for 403 years, costing 4,884,000 gp.
  • Elves will need to pay for 636 years, costing 7,632,000 gp.
  • Gnomes will need to pay for 456 years, costing 5,472,000 gp.
  • Half-elves will need to pay for 164 years, costing 1,968,000 gp.
  • Half-orcs will need to pay for 65 years, costing 780,000 gp.
  • Halflings will need to pay for 178 years, costing 2,136,000 gp.

Okay, so these are a fairly good baseline, but we can do better. For one thing, we’re assuming the longest lifespan possible (and that this wealth will be acquired almost immediately upon hitting adulthood). Let’s trim that a bit; we’ll keep the standard we used to generate a character’s minimum possible adventuring age, but this time we’ll figure that a character will live to their race’s average lifespan (taking the average die rolls given in the aforementioned “maximum age” column). This trims things a bit, giving us the following:

  • Humans will need to pay for 75 years, costing 900,000 gp.
  • Dwarves will need to pay for 308 years, costing 3,696,000 gp.
  • Elves will need to pay for 438 years, costing 5,256,000 gp.
  • Gnomes will need to pay for 307 years, costing 3,684,000 gp.
  • Half-elves will need to pay for 135 years, costing 1,620,000 gp.
  • Half-orcs will need to pay for 56 years, costing 672,000 gp.
  • Halflings will need to pay for 130 years, costing 1,560,000 gp.

Okay, now these numbers are a little more accurate. We’re still erring on the side of a longer life by presuming that they’ll strike it rich in their first year of adventuring, but given how most campaigns seem to take place in a year of game-time, this isn’t a bad idea.

Now, we mentioned that these numbers are achieved by taking the cost of living an extravagant lifestyle every month for the rest of their lives. But what if there’s some sort of disaster with their finances? What if the character lives longer than expected? The above numbers are a bare-bones estimate, and any financially-conscious character should have at least a slight cushion to catch them in the event of something unforeseen. So, let’s increase each of the previous totals by 20%:

  • Humans will want to achieve 1,080,000 gp.
  • Dwarves will want to achieve 4,435,200 gp.
  • Elves will want to achieve 6,307,200 gp.
  • Gnomes will want to achieve 4,420,800 gp.
  • Half-elves will want to achieve 1,944,000 gp.
  • Half-orcs will want to achieve 806,400 gp.
  • Halflings will want to achieve 1,872,000 gp.

Now those numbers are more conducive to living a long and comfortable life. But let’s go one step further; let’s assume that your PC isn’t a junior accountant carefully tabulating the costs for his dream life. Let’s instead presume that your character has a single figure in mind, and is working towards that. It’s still based off of what he needs to retire as a rich man with a long life ahead of him, but it’s not quite so academic in mind. Hence, we’ll round the above numbers off to the nearest whole, giving us our finally tally.

So, all things being equal, if your character wants to retire young and live a rich life, he’ll be adventuring to try and make the following amount:

Humans will want to earn 1,000,000 gp.

Dwarves and Gnomes will want to earn 4,500,000 gp.

Elves will want to earn 6,500,000 gp.

Half-elves and Halflings will want to earn 2,000,000 gp.

Half-orcs will want to earn 800,000 gp.

One Rich Witch…or Fighter, Oracle, Rogue, etc.

The above totals are pretty astronomical, even for a character that campaigns from 1st-level all the way to 20th. According to the Character Wealth By Level table, only the half-orc would meet his financial goal by 20th level, and even then he’d have to liquidate almost everything to do it. Hence, there’s little reason to worry that a PC will suddenly meet these goals and decide to retire, leaving the rest of the party (who wants to keep adventuring) in a lurch. (Though, that possibility becomes more likely if you, as noted above, reduced the above to 1/10th of the listed values and retired at the “wealthy” level.)

The reason to max out your ranks in Swim.

Even if your character does retire, however, that doesn’t mean they have to stop adventuring; remember, major-threats demand a response. Likewise, smaller but more personal events can force an adventurer out of retirement as well – for example, while your retired character might not be so rich as to be on The Forbes Fictional 15, he’ll still have enough wealth to attract thieves. Your character fought hard for his wealth, and it just might turn out that staying wealthy is just as difficult as earning it.

Finally, there are other methods of adventuring, such as entering the arena of politics. One needn’t wield a sword to do battle, after all, and that’s especially true where money is concerned.

Even after raiding many dungeons and finding lost treasure after lost treasure, a character can find more excitement and danger in retirement than he ever did while adventuring.