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.
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 …