Commoner Wealth By Level – Purchasing the Basics

According to Pathfinder (where the wealth-by-level tables are open game content), two first level commoners can be expected to have a combined wealth of 520 GP. That’s actually fairly impressive – so what can you expect to find on a basic peasant farm?

The Land (No Cost): While the most important piece of a farm is, of course, the land, land isn’t something that peasants (or most other d20 characters) normally own – at least not in the modern sense.

In classical (that is; theoretical) feudalism, land ultimately belonged to the King, because the King was the ultimate organizer of the realm’s defense. The king essentially rented out chunks of land in exchange for service – and those nobles sublet some of that land, and so on, creating a a complex (if mostly improvised) “system” of obligations, defining a network of protection in return for service. At the bottom were farmers – people with little or no military power and basically considered a part of the land – the part needed to make it useful.

That was pretty messy in practice, and full of thousands of complications and exceptions since I’m summarizing complex social systems that existed across Europe over several centuries in a short paragraph. In part thanks to those messy complications medieval governments were nowhere near as efficient as an imperial government could be as far as massive public works and armies went – but the many, MANY, variations on the general theme worked well enough to get along for quite some time in the real world.

In d20 however… Claiming a piece of land in d20 probably calls for dealing with various divine mandates, making pacts with entities from other dimensions who hold power or influence in the area, negotiations with nature spirits, bargaining with beings who may have far older claims to the land, encounters (and mining and weather rights claims) with creatures that live under or above it, and defending against raiding horrors.

And no, farmers aren’t up to dealing with that themselves – although it could provide a better-defined hierarchy for fantastic feudalism; the King literally balances the divine mandates governing the land (and gains divine powers of kingship), the major nobles deal with the extradimensional entities (and gain strange magics), intermediate ones deal with nature spirits (gaining some druidical style powers), and so on – right down to the local nobles who fight the minor monsters (gaining combat experience points) and hold the lines so that the local farmers can actually do something with the land (and hopefully produce enough of a surplus to support the rest of the pyramid).

Regardless… the farmers work the land. Some will pay rent, a few will hold the right to work some land without paying thanks to various grants, others owe the local lord labor on his lands, others share their crops, some “own” land (at least until someone more powerful claims it), and so on. The details rarely matter; the peasants have land to work and it hasn’t got any kind of a consistent “value” – and so does not count against their personal wealth by level.

Besides; there are no rules anywhere that I can find on pricing or simply owning land. You can buy buildings, and control domains, but d20 doesn’t seem to consider “real estate” by itself to be a meaningful form of wealth.  That alone makes it pretty much impossible to set a value.

Housing (120 GP): Peasant farmers may not own their homes either – but they generally have a well-established interest in them. A wattle and daub cottage would “cost” about 35 GP – given that the raw materials were a few posts and stakes, some brushwood to weave between them, and mud. More elaborate ones with multiple rooms and a few sheds will cost a bit more. However, given the danger level of a typical d20 universe, a nice solid Log Cabin (90-120 GP, depending on how elaborate) is about the minimum; it will at least keep out bears and wolves and slow up minor raiders and monsters for a few moments. We’ll take the large economy size in case of kids, for 120 GP.

But wait! The SRD says that a House costs 1000 GP! Therefore all first level characters must either live in communes (or perhaps tents) or go homeless!

Well no, not really. That is – at least presumably – the price for a modern-sized stone house with roman-style central heating, running water (from an aqueduct or rooftop cistern), glass in the windows, a full set of good furnishings, at least basic locks, fireplaces, hearths, and chimneys, dedicated bathrooms with some ventilation, and various other goodies. The kind of house that comes fairly close to what most PLAYERS will think of as a decent house. What we’re talking about for the peasantry is more of a big box with a bar for the door, a hole for smoke to get out of, a fieldstone hearth, and some boards which can be put in place to seal the windows. Such houses are fairly quick to build, use little in the way of materials beyond what is ready to hand, and are fairly cheap – even in realty at current prices, much less at quasi-medieval ones.

Furnishings (17 GP) weren’t a big thing for the peasantry normally – but d20 peasants are both far better off and have more leisure time. This is fairly crude and straightforward furniture; the fancy upholstery and finely finished (anyone can POLISH) surfaces are generally for the rich.

  • Large Table (1 GP).
  • Small Table x2 (1 GP).
  • Shelves or Cabinets, Assorted, x4 (2 GP).
  • Chairs x5 (2.5 GP).
  • Benches x3 (1.5 GP).
  • Cots / Basic Beds with blankets, simple pillows, and bedding x5 (5 GP, the parents will usually put theirs together of course).
  • Medium Chests x2 (4 GP). Yes, the SRD says 10 GP – but these are just sturdy boxes to keep things in, not travelers chests with basic locks and such.

Clothing (10 GP):

  • While the rules state that characters begin with one outfit valued at 10 GP or less for free, peasants probably don’t. On the other hand, d20 Peasants are actually quite prosperous – and are not likely to wear a “Peasants Outfit”. A choice of the equivalents of an Artisan’s Outfit, Soldier’s Uniform, or Traveler’s Outfit (at 1 GP each) is reasonable. Given that they don’t need combat mobility and such, normal people simply add layers when it’s cold, a second set for each family member is also reasonable, at a net cost of (5 GP).
  • Common Copper Jewelry (5 GP). In practical terms this is a bit of money stashed away in the most secure available place – on the owners person in difficult-to-steal forms.

Livestock (85 GP): Here we have the largest “treasure” on a classical medieval farm – and many modern ones. In many cases this represents a share of the village herd/flock/whatever, but that makes no real difference.

  • Pigs x4 (12 GP). Normally turned loose to forage in the woods, pigs turn bitter acorns, chestnuts, various household wastes, and other roughage into rich, tasty, pork. While only about 65% of a pigs weight is reasonably good eating for humans, 100% of it is usable for other things or can be fed to other farm animals.
  • Chickens x50 (1 GP). While finding the eggs from your free-range chickens was a knack, chickens were also invaluable in keeping down the bugs. As long as you keep the foxes and other predators away (and perhaps scatter a little loose grain every so often) you can easily have plenty of chickens.
  • Goats x4 (4 GP). Goats browse brush and leaves and will help clear your land, producing a fair quantity of milk, some meat, and modest quantities of woolly fur along the way. They also smell terrible, but most livestock doesn’t smell all that nice anyway.
  • Sheep x8 (16 GP). Sheep need good grazing, but are more productive than goats – producing lots of wool, a fair amount of meat, and a little milk. Unfortunately, they require a lot more care than goats as well.
  • Cows x2 (20 GP). Milk goes bad, but butter and cheese keep quite well – and each cow will produce a heifer or calf every year. The stomachs of young cattle are also vital for providing Rennet, with which to make cheese.
  • Oxen x2 (30 GP). Pretty much a necessity for hauling carts and plows. Note that bulls are valuable – cows need to be bred regularly to keep the milk coming – but they are big, dangerous, and uncooperative. Generally only one or two farmers in an area keep a bull, paying for it by renting out its services in breeding cows.
  • Beehive (2 GP). Once you find a wild swarm, bees are actually pretty easy; you dump the swarm into a container and install it in a box or woven beehive and that’s about it. A broken jug on a pole will do to scoop them off a branch. European honeybees are pretty cooperative; swarms that let themselves get collected get protected and leave lots of descendent swarms. Swarms that flee from farms don’t get protection. Selective breeding – however unintentional – strikes again!
  • Cats (Number Unknown). There’s no price on these since “barn cats” don’t really belong to anyone in particular; they just wander in and out, ensuring their welcome (and the occasional bit of milk, food, warmth, or petting) by keeping down the vermin.
  • Dogs x2: There’s no price on dogs either; unless they’re well-trained and proven exceptional. Dogs produce plenty of puppies, and more than a few are given away by owners who don’t need that many dogs.
  • Other Animals x0 (0 GP): If there are ponds or streams, ducks, geese, and fish join the list – but they’re iffy, and breed themselves. There’s no assigned cost. If you need to buy some to start, they’re a bit more expensive than chickens, but not horrendously so.
  • Horses x 0 (0 GP). Horses are rare amongst the peasantry; while horses are faster, they need a higher quality diet and more care. Horses are thus preferred in battle, and may be encouraged by landlords who want a pool of breeding stock. Oxen, however, are just as enduring – perhaps THE primary factor in farm work – and so peasants commonly prefer the cheaper ox.

This is, of course, a VERY prosperous little farm – not just one but two cows, no need to rent oxen to pull the plow, pigs enough to have meat regularly throughout the year, chickens for eggs, sheep for wool, bees for wax and honey, and goats for whatever it is that they want to do with goats. (It’s also an unusually diverse farm, but this is a generic list. If you only want sheep remove some other animals and spend more on sheep. Or wait for level two, and more wealth by level).

Tools and Supplies (95 GP) are the next major component of taking care of a farm. Unfortunately – if quite understandably – what “Artisan’s Tools” might be is never specified. Ergo, here are some lists – Artisan’s Tools: Ten sets, at double cost (100 GP) since these are fairly through sets. That also ensures that there are always enough tools for two people to work at once without sharing any. Overall, however, I’m taking 5% off to represent duplication given that almost every set of tools includes knives and hammers.

  • Animal Husbandry: Harnesses and Yokes, Butter Churn, Cheese and Butter Molds. Cheesecloth, Restraints, Gelding Kit, Horn Rasp, Hoof Knife, Hoof Pick, Nippers, Hoof Stand, Shearing Tools, Pitch Ointment, Branding Iron., and Goad.
  • Butchering: Smokehouse, Flensing Knife, Bone Saw, Knives, Hand Axe, Grill, Meat Hooks, Brine Tub, Bacon Hangers, Scrapers, Sausage Grinder / Stuffer, Boning Knife, Whetstone, Cutting Boards, Netting, Salt, Gut Hook, Skinning Knife, Carcass Rack, and Drying Rack.
  • Ceramics: Potters Wheel, Kiln, Throwing Rib, Rags, Knife, Turning Blade, Beating Tub, Drying Boards, Mallet (for breaking up clay), Sieve (to remove bits of stone and rubbish from clay), Vats (to let clay settle out of water in), Waiting Boards, Molds, Roulettes, and Awls.
  • Clothworking: Loom, Spinning Wheel, Carding Combs, Needles, Pins, Thimbles, Scissors, Shears, Needlecase, Pincushion, Bobbins, Reels, Threadholders, (Cloth) Iron, Lucets, Spindles, Beaters, Dye Vat, Fulling Hammers, Tenterframes, Hecklers (beds of spikes for getting the fiber out of flax), Washboard, Buttons, and Press.
  • Cooking: Iron Pot, Skillet, Grill, Skewers, Tripod, and Cauldron, Cutting Board, Knives, Ladle, Cleaver, Strainer, Sieve, Colander, Mallet, Whisk, Spoons, Rolling Pin, Buckets, Grater, Drying Rack, Mortar and Pestle, Quern / Handmill, assorted Jugs and Clay Pots with Lids, Pitchers, Pickling Crocks, Bowls, Canisters, Pans, and various local or otherwise easy-to-find Seasonings.
  • Farming: Axe, Billhook, Flail, Harrow, Haymaking Fork, Hoe, Mattock or Pick, Maul, Moldboard or Wheeled Plow (to suit local conditions, although plows were often communally owned), Rake, Scythe, Shears, Scythe, Sickle, Spade, Box Sieve, Wheelbarrow, Winnowing Basket, and Bells, Rattles, and Drums (to give the kids to keep birds away from freshly sown seeds; this can make a rather large difference in yields).
  • Fishing: Birchwood Rod, Fishing Net, Fish Trap, Silken Line, Cork Bobbers, Steel Hooks, Lead Sinkers, Velvet Lures, Narrow Netting, Trident, Fish Drying Rack, and minor items (tiny file for sharpening hooks, etc). .
  • Metalworking: Forge, Crucible, Molds, Anvil, Tongs, Plyers, Wedges, Punch, Bending Fork, Bellows, Hammers, Swages and a Swage Block, Fullers, Sledge Hammer, Punches, Drifts, Axe, Chisels, Bits Augers, Files, Whetstone or Grinding Wheel, and Metal Polish. Another kit that would probably be more than 5 GP as a base since an anvil alone is listed at 5 GP (and, according to the trade goods section, contains up to 10 GP worth of Iron. Oh well. It averages out anyway since many other tool sets should be cheaper than 5 GP).
  • Tanning / Leatherworking: Vat, Scraper, Various Awls, Punch, Knives, Shears, Stropping Stick, Whetstone, Needles, Paste Horn, Pincers, Polishing Bone, Burnishing Stone, Tacks, Thimble, Thread, Stamping Irons, and a source of Tannic Acid (often Oak or Chestnut shavings).
  • Woodworking / Carpentry: Awl, Cording Mallet, Hammer, Clamps, Saw, Square, Chisels, Chalk, Prybar / Crowbar, Bow Drill, Ladder, Plane, Rasp, File, Mallet, Plumb Line, Knife, Axe, Draw Knife, and Lathe. Nails were expensive, and generally purchased for a job. For most work pegs were quite sufficient.

This is, of course, rather absurdly complete. No normal medieval peasant household would have ALL (or even most) of those tools or even most of the relevant skills. Villagers tended to specialize a bit (that’s a manor point of living in a community). In reality, most would only have some basics and would assemble others or improvise as needed. Secondarily, there’s probably a good deal more than 5% overlap between the various sets of tools – but that 520 GP worth Wealth-by-Level has to go into SOMETHING, and it’s better to be vastly over-equipped than under-equipped.

Lighting (3 GP). Lighting was normally a rather limited thing for the peasantry, and was often restricted to the light of the hearthfire – but a dawn-to-dusk workday didn’t leave a lot of time or energy for activities beyond having a snack and going to bed after the sun went down anyway. If the night was long… waking up for some conversation, or lovemaking, or prayers, or to urinate, or some such would be natural enough – but that sort of thing didn’t call for much light. Thus most peasants made do with a few rushlights or candles for those limited times when they were up at night. We’ll do better here since these peasants are pretty rich by earthly standards.

  • 2 Lamps (2 SP). Cheap, simple, and often used to burn animal fat. It’s important to keep the wick well trimmed to get as much light as possible.
  • 18 Pints of Oil (18 SP). That’s 255 hours – enough to leave a light burning all night for several weeks if something comes up.
  • 1000 Rushlights (1 GP). These are simply peeled reeds soaked with animal fat (usually mutton fat or tallow, although lard or any similar fat would do. A little beeswax was sometimes mixed in since it was said to improve the light and unsalted fats were preferable), and are virtually free (10 per CP). These are quite fragile, give poor light, and only last half an hour or so, but they will generally suffice for “I got up to check the kids / go to the bathroom / secure a loose window shutter / find out what that noise was / have to finish something up despite the sun going down” and can easily be lit from a smoldering hearthfire or any other flame.
  • If a nearby town or noble has an Eternal Flame (The Practical Enchanter) the local farms are likely to have Continual Flame light sources at a comparable expense.

Medication (30 GP).

  • Midwife’s Kit (10 GP). Hopefully you will have an actual midwife on hand when a baby comes – but if not, this is much better than nothing.
  • Blessed Bandages x2 (Magic Item Compendium, 10 GP Each, 20 GP). These are mildly expensive – at least a weeks income for our little peasant family – but if the baby tips over the boiling cauldron on itself, or a kid falls out of a tree and lands badly, or a youth gets kicked by a horse, or there’s an accident with an axe… there is very little time to get help, the odds of a patient stabilizing on their own are poor, and most peasants aren’t skilled healers. A Blessed Bandage, and automatic stabilization for a dying character, is all too likely to be the difference between “Full Recovery” and “Holding a Funeral”. Any sane parent will find that money. At higher levels you will want a few more – because that will mean that you will NEVER have to choose who lives and who dies.
  • Normal Bandages may simply be cut as needed from the supply of Flannel (under Miscellany).
  • In reality the medieval peasantry had access to a wide variety of herbal remedies, some of them reasonably effective – but that sort of thing doesn’t exist in d20. Fortunately, most of the things that they treated don’t exist in d20 either; the rules only cover things that are serious threats to adventurers. If you want to presume a stock of herbal remedies, go right ahead; no game effect = no cost.

Religion (19 GP):

  • Five Wooden Holy Symbols (5 GP). Going without a symbol of divine protection is just stupid.
  • Cheap Holy Text (10 GP). A rarity in reality – if only because most actual medieval peasants couldn’t read anyway.

Here’s a test. If you can read the following passage out loud – whether or not you understand it – then under mediaeval English law (established in 1172, enshrined as a legal literacy test in 1351, and not fully abolished until 1706), you would be presumed to be a priest or monk, would get the Benefit of Clergy, and could not be legally executed for any crime short of high treason. In all likelihood, if accused of any minor crime, you’d go free.

“Miserere mei, Deus: secundum magnam misericordiam tuam.
Et secundum multitudinem miserationum tuarum, dele iniquitatem meam.
Amplius lava me ab iniquitate mea: et a peccato meo munda me.”

The idea was very simple: only clergymen were literate – so being able to read that text was legal proof that you were a priest or monk, outside the jurisdiction of royal courts, and thus exempt from the most serious punishments.

That doesn’t actually not PROVE that most people at the time were illiterate, but I’d say that it’s pretty good evidence.

  • Household Shrine (Icon or crude statuette, 3 GP). Peasants rarely had these in reality, but then in reality you generally don’t see gods having fistfights in the streets.
  • Votive Candles/Incense/supply of other tiny symbolic offerings (1 GP).

Recreation and Education (11 GP): This wasn’t that big a concern for actual medieval peasants, but d20 peasants are RICH peasants. Why shouldn’t their kids get a few toys and a bit of education?

  • 5′ Ball (2 SP).
  • Five Board Games (5 SP).
  • Bowling Set (5 SP).
  • Playing Cards (1 SP).
  • Dice (1 SP).
  • Dominos (1 SP).
  • Horseshoes Game (5 SP).
  • Five Hornbooks (1 GP). These are single (two if two sided) printed sheets, glued to wooden paddles and covered with thin, transparent, layers of horn. They basically highly-condensed children’s primers. They usually show the alphabet, some religious bits, numbers, and a few other important bits of elementary education at very modest prices. Basically the extreme Cliff’s Notes version of an elementary school education.
  • Five Wax Slates and Styluses (1 GP). These are basically two boards with slight rims on them, bound together and with the inward faces coated with dark wax. You can write on them with a stylus, and smooth them over to reuse with a bit of warmth.
  • Common Musical Instrument (5 GP). Honesty, a set of reed flutes or some such ought to be free – but music was one of the few things shared by rich and poor alike.

Storage (18 GP):

  • 5 Barrels (10 GP). The large economy size.
  • 10 Baskets (4 GP). Also large, and with lids.
  • Sacks x 40 (4 GP).

Provisions (1 Year for a family of Five, 75 GP): As a note, this comes to about 4 CP per person per day – and represents eating well above the basic “subsistence” level, which is about 2-3 CP per person per day.

  • 2500 Lb of Grains (25 GP). Milling Grain and Baking Bread were traditionally village-level monopolies granted (and taxed) by the local Lord – but in d20 taxation is usually a little more direct; given the number of monsters nobody has the time to run around enforcing this sort of thing.
  • 400 Lb of Dried Beans or Lentils (8 GP). This presumes that bread-and-beans is the staple diet, and pretty well covers basic nutrition in terms of calories, proteins, and carbohydrates. Fats are needed in relatively small amounts and some vitamins and minerals must be added by gathering greens and/or eating a little meat –
  • 200 Lb of Nuts (6 GP). These cover the fat requirements, and are nutritious and tasty to boot. What’s not to like? At least given that d20 really doesn’t have serious allergies.
  • 400 Lb of Root Vegetables (Potatoes, Turnips, Carrots, Onions, Etc – whatever is cheap, 4 GP).
  • Assorted greens and herbs. These are mostly gathered, or grown in the kitchen garden, at no real expense – but should cover any remaining need for vitamins and minerals.
  • 4 Lb of Salt (20 GP). They’ll probably need a lot more salt over a year for preserving meat, pickling things, and similar – but they won’t have it on hand at any given moment and won’t need it for the table.
  • Ale (5 small kegs, 1 GP).
  • Common Wine (5 Bottles, 1 GP). Mostly for weddings and other celebrations.
  • Sundries (10 GP). A bit of spice, fruit, and beer here and there.
  • Meat, eggs, butter, cheese, and milk come from the livestock in quite adequate, if not enormous, quantities. Fish are normally obtained fresh from ponds and streams with nets, traps, and fishing rods.

Miscellany (37 GP):

  • Cart (15 GP).
  • Flint and Steel (1 GP).
  • Grooming Kit (1 GP): Comb, scissors, nail file, sponge, hairbrush, very small mirror, soap, chewing sticks, and tooth powder.
  • 5 Mess Kits (1 GP) – plate, bowl, cup, fork, knife, and spoon each.
  • 20 Lb Plaster of Paris (1 GP). This has rather a lot of uses, from patching walls to making molds for casting things.
  • Canvas: 40 Square Yards (4 GP). In the period this was probably made of hemp. While industrial hemp is not the miracle plant that it’s promoters describe, it IS pretty good and makes cloth of good quality.
  • Flannel: 40 Square Yards (4 GP). Another cheap and highly servicable cloth, Flannel tends to become clothing, then polishing cloths, then cleaning rags.
  • Hemp Rope, 250 Feet (5 GP). It does take several people, a ropewalk (a long series of supports to hold the rope up), and a set of geared hooks to twist several strands of twine into rope – but a few not-especially skilled youngsters would be expected to produce about three miles of rope a day (better than a hundred GP worth). Yet another item priced for adventurers.
  • 5000 Feet of Twine (1 GP). The earliest known twine dates back 32,000 years – and represents one of the most valuable inventions in history. Twine was the basis for snares, rope, nets, cloth, restraining animals, gathering wood, carrying tools, and thousands of other activities. Respect the twine!
  • Winter Firewood (100 Days, 1 GP).
  • Two Pots of Glue (1 GP). Peasants will make more when they need it – it is an animal byproduct after all – but it is always good to have some on hand.
  • Leather, Thin, 2 Square Yards (1 GP). Straps, laces, patches… A bit of leather has many, MANY, uses.
  • Mops, Brooms, Dusters, Etc (1 GP). You tie some straw to a stick for a broom, a bunch of twine to a stick for a mop, and some feathers to a stick for a duster. A bit of glue to hold things together better is optional.

And there we have our 520 GP – and, by classical real-world standards, an absurdly wealth set of peasants – and it will get even better for them as they go up in level. You also have a list for what can be found in a village, and what bandits can steal from one.

Items that are specifically NOT on the list:

  • Block and Tackle (5 GP). This actually isn’t very useful on a farm when you have oxen handy. Dragging heavy stuff around is what oxen are really good at.
  • 3.5 and Pathfinder both list Ink at 8 GP per ounce. The recipe for classical India Ink (a staple for many centuries) is to grind dry hide glue, burnt vegetable oil, soot, and charred bone together in a mortar and pestle. This gets you powdered ink. Add a little water, press it into a mold, and let it dry to make ink sticks, add a larger amount of wanter and bottle it to make battled ink. Berry juice, salt, and vinegar makes colored ink. Boiled walnut shells and vinegar make walnut ink. Ink is easy, and I will assume that the peasantry prepares some if they want to mark things.
  • Writing Quills aren’t priced in Pathfinder, although metal-tipped pens are at 1 SP. If a fantasy peasant wants a quill pen goose and swan feathers were the classical choices (but who knows what a fantasy universe will favor), need to be collected (usually from molting birds), cleaned (cutting off most of the barbs and cleaning the inside with something long and thin), stuck into hot sand for half an hour or so (to draw off the oils and “temper” them), and cut a proper tip – by far the trickiest part, but still only a minutes work.
  • Brushes. Classically a Brush is simply some fur tied and glued to a stick. There’s not much cost to this if a peasant wants to label some stuff.
  • Pathfinder paper is apparently twice as expensive as parchment (although the price drops by 50% if you have it bound into a book). Small farms produce animal hides, and thus can produce parchment for free. They could make paper too, but it would call for another set of tools.

One Response

  1. […] actually important is what this says about the setting. As shown in the post on Commoner Wealth By Level, a pair of first level commoners will actually be quite prosperous by default. The boost from level […]

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