The Economy

I have been round and around this subject so many times, because the various rules and rule iterations really don’t fit together very well – however, I have dome to a compromise position that gets reasonably close. 

I use a three tier economic model based on the principle that there aren’t enough regular jobs to go around and that many people have to take whatever work is available, when it is available.

The Copper Economy, is based on ‘Unskilled labour earns 1sp per day’ – a rule that made a lot of sense in AD&D, but stopped making sense with 3rd edition.   Many commoners, nearly all L1, most L2 and even a few L3 commoners live at this standard – as well as many other L1 NPC-class characters.

My views on the economy are partially informed by this post that deals with food and cooking.

The Copper Economy

Characters in the Copper Economy can afford things that are costed in Copper Pieces, but have to save for anything costed in Silver.  This probably means plain porridge for breakfast, a flat bread and an onion at mid-day, with vegetable stew (perhaps Potato, Beans, Turnip or Cabbage) for dinner.  A couple of times a week there might be some chicken or fish in the stew, and occasionally there might be some cheese with lunch. Clothing is often second hand, or hand-me-downs, that has often been altered or patched – it looks reasonably tidy, rather than ragged.  Even the lowest peasant has some personal pride.

Characters in the Copper Economy live communally – this might mean a whole family sharing two rooms in a city or a basic cottage in the countryside.  However, it could also be bunk rooms, dormitory accommodation, students room-sharing, or any other form of communal living.

The Silver Economy

The Silver Economy is based on Skills in the various d20 rule systems.  All of them seem to have a section that says ‘Earn ½ your skill roll in GP per week’, or something similar.  For most skilled NPCs in my world that works out at between 10 and 20sp per day, on average – this includes a few well-off commoners, most of the other NPC classes (once they have been trained) and NPCs with a few levels of a PC class. 

Characters in the Silver Economy can afford things that are costed in Silver Pieces, but have to save for anything costed in Gold.  Meals are more varied and include meat much more frequently – sometimes even twice a day.  Breakfast Porridge is still probably a staple, but it might be flavoured with honey, lunch might include an apple, a hard-boiled egg or cheese on a regular basis.  Dinner will quite often still be a stew (it is really easy to cook) but with more fish and meat, a better range of vegetables and bread to mop up the gravy.  NPCs in the silver economy have more than one set of clothes, with at least one decent-looking set for best.  At the top end of the Silver Economy scale, characters might have a courtier’s costume to attend up-scale events.

However, the biggest difference is privacy.  Silver Economy households have more rooms with specific purposes.  The head of the household and their spouse will have their own bedroom, children will probably share rooms, but there are separate rooms for the boys and the girls. There is a separate ‘living room’ for cooking and socialising.  The toilet only serves this household, there is probably a small private yard – rather than shared facilities.  There might be a live-in apprentice or even a servant, to help keep the house and workshops running smoothly.

The Gold Economy

The Gold Economy covers everyone who can readily purchase items valued at 1gp or more without saving.  This includes PCs, most NPCs with PC levels, many Aristocrats and a few higher level characters with other NPC classes.   It is by far the widest ranging part of the economy – but covers the least number of people.  It can include anything from a decent house in town, mansions, noble estates or even palaces.  Meals will be varied and enjoyable – accompanied by anything from a decent ale to an expensive wine.  It almost certainly involves at least one courtier’s costume and in some cases, noble or royal clothing.  It almost always includes servants or assistants – with the wealthiest having a whole entourage of staff.

Social Mobility

There isn’t much social mobility, most people stay at the economic level they were born to.  The big exception are characters with PC classes, who can crash through to the Gold Economy.  PCs tend to do this really quickly as they go adventuring and find huge amounts (in relative terms) of treasure.   NPCs with PC classes tend to do it more slowly, but normally enter the Gold Economy at higher levels – in my games that normally means level five or six,  although that could be very different in your games.

Other than that, moving between the economic bands is generational.  A commoner who does really well for themselves and moves to the top part of the Copper Economy might be able to afford Military Training for their eldest child.  That child might then work their way into the Silver Economy as a sergeant or junior office in the local military, and be able to afford a better education for their own children and establish a whole generation into the Silver Economy.  In the next generation, one of the children mi break into the Gold Economy …


There has been lots of stuff written about demographics in Fantasy Worlds. In AD&D just everyone who wasn’t a PC was a level 0 Commoner – except for a few special character classes such as the sage.  In early D20 all the NPCs were L1 because they didn’t get XP – but that was never reflected in the modules or APs that people wrote.  Then we went through a phase of NPCs learn something every day – and there were a series of well worked out character sheets and histories for L20 commoners.  None of which quite made sense, or made for a consistent game world.  So I did some analysis, made some calculations – and decided that I could make the numbers say whatever I wanted them to.   So I just made some decisions ….

Something like 60% of the characters in my worlds are commoners, and they average out at (roughly) second level.  Younger Commoners are L1, the average adult is L2 and some reach L3.  A very few go beyond that, but they are few and far between.  There are two main reasons for that:  I want Commoners who won’t die at the drop of a hat; and I want to control the skill levels available to commoners.  Commoners are equally distributed between towns, cities and the countryside, and provide the basic labour force across the land.  In the countryside they are small holders and farm labourers, in settlements they perform all the grunt labour and low skilled jobs.

Another 30% of the population are NPC classes – Adept, Aristocrat, Expert and Warrior.  There are fewer Aristocrats than the other classes – but they all average out at about L3.  Again, that is an arbitrary figure, but it means that Experts can be significantly more skilful than Commoners, that Warriors make reasonable guards and that there is an Adept in most temples who can brew potions.  Lower levels are still in training, and there are a few higher levels – but rarely higher than L5.   You will find more of these classes in towns than you will in the countryside.  The markets are a lot bigger with more people to protect, pray for and sell to.

The last 10% of the population have PC classes.  This includes all the Player Characters as well as their peers, colleagues, competition and many of their enemies.  In my world, most of these have some sort of ‘adventuring’ experience – although I am quite flexible in the way I count adventuring.  Working as a caravan guard or a mercenary counts, so might body guard, working as a navigator or a missionary, dealing with bandits on the frontier or nursing the injured in a war zone.  Years ago, I had a sage character, who accompanied a group as a chronicler and field artist –  be flexible, it all counts.  However, many of these PCs are lowish level and, unless they are in direct competition with the party, rarely go above tenth level.  Enemies are always of a high enough level to pose a decent threat.

Most turn up where you would expect them:  Clerics in temples; Rangers and Barbarians in the wilds; Fighters and Paladins running the military; Wizards in colleges and towers.  However, they are also the wildcards that let me do the unusual – the Oracle in a distant cave, the weird old witch or even a self-sufficient village miles from anywhere.

It makes for a stable, predictable, world where the PCs are the stars of the show –  but still lets me throw in the occasional curve-ball to keep them on their toes.

NPC Training and Development

A strange place to start, perhaps, but this is the concept that underpins much of my thinking in world design, although it doesn’t really affect the players and their characters at all.  However, in a campaign game you have some idea of the PCs background, where they have come from, where they learned their skills, what ages they are –  all things guided by various game rules.  This just codifiers those rules for NPCs and tweaks them slightly to make a useable framework.

The playing areas of my worlds are very human-centric – so the number work well for humans and half-orcs and can stretch to halflings and half-elves without too much hassle.  Elves, Dwarves and gnomes are generally home educated, although the stages are about the same.  99% of NPCs go through the following stages – although not all of them continue to the end.  In my worlds any NPC that doesn’t fit this model has a personal history and character sheet – although it is probably short and basic.

  • Child – Minimal stats
  • Adolescent – Young Template Commoner
  • Adult – Commoner Class
  • Adult – NPC Class
  • Adult – PC Class


Up to about the age of ten or eleven for a human or half-orc, longer for a half-elf or halfling.  Children stay at home, looked after by parents or servants and play.  They don’t have skills and they don’t have stats.  They run away if they are attacked and tend to get very shy if they are spoken to by strangers – or they gable about everything under the sun that is interesting to them.  Take your pick.


Four or five years until they reach their Adult Age.  This is a time when the character starts to interact with the wider world, they go to school and do minor jobs for a few coppers, and they start learning how to interact with people.  For most adolescents school  doesn’t happen every day – instead they might attend two or three half days a week where they learn reading, writing, arithmetic, local customs and basic social behaviour.  Between lessons these are the kids you hold your horse, run errands or deliver messages.  Some street kids might be begging, picking pockets, stealing fruit from market stalls or acting as lookout for older street gangs.

If every you need stats for an adolescent –  treat them as a commoner with the young template and  no skill points  (ie natural roll in every skill).  You are unlikely to employ these guys for a whole day at a time, but you might drop them a copper or two for holding your horse or delivering a message.

Adult – Commoner

When humans reach the age of fifteen, or thereabouts, they become full blown L1 commoners – over half of them stop their education here.  Most of these L1 Commoners don’t have useful skill and need to go out to find work, in the 1sp per day unskilled labour market.  After a few years of this (I normally say 20-21 for a human) they have seen enough to advance to L2, and learn a useful skill which lets them hold down a regular job.  A few will go on to be L3 commoners, even less will become L4 or L5 Commoners.  This 60% of the population make up the working class whose labour keeps the world working.

Adult – NPC Class

The rest are the lucky ones – they come from a wealthy family, a skilled family, a family with contacts, have a benefactor or are extremely gifted.  But somehow someone takes them on as a trainee or pays for them to go to school for extra training.  This might be an apprenticeship, working in the family business or going to a school of some description.  Whatever it is, the character remains an L1 commoner for a year or so and earns next to nothing (more of the 1sp per day employment market).   

Once the training is completed, and the character is about sixteen years old, they become an L1 in the appropriate NPC class (Aristocrat, Adept, Expert or Warrior) learn saleable skills and start to earn better money.  However, the training doesn’t stop there.  The NPC may be working in a family business or serving as a junior member of a temple, as a mage’s apprentice or taking work as a body guard – and gaining experience in their chosen vocation and perhaps taking extra classes.  I use the following ball-park figures and say twenty years old for L2 and twenty-five years old for L3 – with most going on to get those extra levels.  A few will go on to become L4 or L5, and possibly (in exceptional circumstances) L6.  Higher levels are very rare.

NPC class characters probably make up about 30% of the population of my worlds, and manage the day-to-day running of the world.

Adult – PC Class

Few, about 10%, go on to train into PC classes.  These characters are exceptional – they either have wealth families, are really lucky, or have outstanding abilities.  These guys go on to be leaders, specialists and companions (or competition) for the PCs.  In their training the passed through the NPC class stage –  but then either went out adventuring or followed the same path as Adults with  NPC  classes.  It is only when they get to higher levels or they come into direct conflict with your PCs that you need specific character sheets for them.

PCs are most likely to meet Clerics running larger churches,   Fighters as military officers and Wizards as academics.  Other classes slide into equivalent social when appropriate.

The main exception is Aristocrats who go on for PC class training.  Unlike other characters, they generally multi-class aristocrat with their PC class – so they retain the traditional aristocrat abilities as well as their class abilities.