Monday, January 8, 2018

On Support and Upkeep

Let's look at some old-school rules regarding PC support and upkeep expenses.

Original D&D

Gygax in Vol-3 says this (p. 24):
Player/Characters must pay Gold Pieces equal to 1% of their experience points for support and upkeep, until such time as they build a stronghold. If the stronghold is in a wilderness area all support and upkeep costs then cease, but if it is in a village or town not controlled by the player/character then support and upkeep payments must continue.
Here we have a fairly simple rule to simulate cost-of-living expenses for the presumably high-living adventurer; including a built-in incentive for one to build a stronghold at the topmost levels. The rate of the expense is not explicated, but we can assume it to be monthly, as it is in both the AD&D DMG and the Dalluhn manuscript (the early draft for OD&D; see the post on the OD&D boards by user aldarron here). One obvious, small gap with this rule: a 1st-level adventurer starts with 0 XP and therefore pays zero upkeep so long as they stay that way.

AD&D 1st Edition

Gygax in the 1E AD&D DMG changes the rule to this instead:
Each player character will automatically expend not less than 100 gold pieces per level of experience per month.  This  is simply support, upkeep, equipment, and entertainment expense. These costs are to be deducted by the Dungeon Master automatically, and any further spending by the PC is to be added to these costs. Such expense  is  justified by the "fact" that adventurers are a  free-wheeling and high-living lot...
The expense calculation is greatly simplified (a linear multiplier by level), and in so doing, enormously reduced in the long run (i.e., after 8th level). The other detail is that the saving from having a stronghold seems to be removed; the passage goes on to establish a 1% stronghold value cost per month, in addition to the preceding cost.

AD&D 2nd Edition

Dave Cook in the 2E AD&D DMG adjusted the rule to give players a choice of living conditions:

Even though this choice is given, as is the idiom for 2E, there are no specific in-game results of this decision; only some vague role-playing suggestions:
"The only direct game effect of living conditions is the expense involved, but living conditions can also determine some role-playing events and conditions in your game. Your player characters' lifestyles even can be used as a starting point for many different types of adventures."

D&D 3rd Edition

The 3E D&D DMG has a "Variant: Upkeep" in a sidebar (p. 142 of my copy), much in the spirit of the 2E rule. Here the options expand to 6 categories, and again, some soft role-playing suggestions attached to each are given, but no hard-and-fast rules. One change is that all of the category expenses are fixed values, including the topmost ones, such that none of them scale by level. The categories in question are: Self-Sufficient (2 gp/month), Meager (5 gp), Poor (12 gp), Common (45 gp), Good (100 gp), Extravagant (200 gp).

Basic D&D

To my knowledge, no version of Basic D&D ever included a rule of this sort. Searching Holmes Basic, Moldvay B/X, Mentzer BECMI, and the Allston Cyclopedia, I was unable to find any reference to "expense", "upkeep", or "support" in this context.


I think it reasonable to have some (simple) rule for simulating mundane cost-of-living expenses to the resting adventurer. I am really not fond of the 2E/3E expression of a choice with no real in-game ramifications. One way of resolving this would be to draft a more full-fledged set of rules with some kind of concrete results from that choice -- like modifiers to abilities, checks, hit points, reaction rolls, different encounter tables, etc. (Somewhat in the vein of the infamous "carousing" rules.) Another path would be to say we're not really that interested in mundane details, and just strike out the whole system in favor of an earlier, simpler, choice-less accounting.

One thing that's interesting to note is that -- once again -- if we convert the OD&D rule to a silver standard, and assume 1 sp = 1 groat (i.e., 1/3 of a shilling), then the results are somewhat surpringly more in line with reality than we first might guess. Check the following table:

Example expenses are taken by looking at the Medieval Sourcebook: Medieval Prices (currently here). They actually track quite well, as around Name level the expense resembles that of a Baron's estate, etc. The 1E DMG rule would not work this well, as its linearity does not reflect the exponential curve seen in a real economy, such as in the Sourcebook above (but nicely modeled by the OD&D XP charts, fortunately).

So for my OED campaign I expect to use exactly the OD&D rule, as shown here. This removes any choice from the player and abstracts out the expenses to something we don't have to role-play around every month (indeed, it presumes our adventurers are a hard-drinking, hard-experimenting, and/or hard-tithing lot, with more rooms and servants as time goes by). It's reasonable to set a minimum 10 silver/month expense to fill in the gap for low-XP PCs (economically we could defensibly set this at 20 sp/month, but I think the round number is easier to remember and distinguishes from the 2nd level tier). I've also got a rough rule that if the PCs refuse or cannot pay this cost, then a −1 modifier to all ability scores is taken (but I'm open to some more refined, if equivalently simple rule on this score).


  1. I like it!
    Some penalty ideas:
    large penalty on reaction rolls (since they are not washing, acting, and dressing the part)
    increased likelihood of weapon breakage/critical fumbles (got to take care of your tools)
    XP penalty? (Again, got to keep yourself, your reputation, your tools, etc in good shape or you lose some "efficiency" on the effort to XP conversion.

    1. Another idea for a penalty, specifically referencing the Fighter Feats in Delta's house rules, would be to disable any feats while living below "required" cost due to a lack of the proper practice needed to maintain such skills.

      Magic-users might lose out on spells instead; perhaps if they don't spend the proper amount of money to ensure quiet, solitude, and freedom from distraction, then they find it impossible to maintain mental focus needed to memorize their most powerful spells.

      Thieves might suffer a lesser penalty, or even no penalty at all, as a class feature. After all, the fiction that thieves is full of the "rags to riches, then back to rags and start the cycle all over again" trope.

    2. That last sentence should read: "After all, the fiction that thieves in D&D are inspired by..."

    3. I kind of like the XP penalty idea. And I totally agree that our thieves (and really, adventurers in general) should be apt to big swings in their finances.

  2. Nice article. One quibble: You say that in AD&D the expense calculation is “enormously reduced” over OD&D. But it strikes me that in fact it’s the opposite. For example, a 4th level Fighter with 10,000 experience points would pay 100/mo in OD&D but 400/mo in AD&D. Or am I missing something?

    1. I assume he was speaking about the long term. For example, a 10th level fighter paying 1% of XP earned might need 5000 per month, whereas 100 per level would only come out to 1000 total. It only escalates from there, with each successive level increasing the OD&D cost by over 2000 while the AD&D cost increase by a measly 100 per level. The differences at these higher levels dwarf the differences of a couple hundred per month at the lower levels. Incidentally, higher-level characters also tend to spend more time in town between adventures, doing things like researching spells, seeking political power, amassing followers, hiring sages to find out more information about the locale of their next upcoming adventure, etc.

    2. Thanks for that correction -- I glitched up by only thinking about it in the limit (high levels). I edited that passage to make it clearer above.

  3. There is nothing in the B/X books regarding support and upkeep. When I wrote my B/X Companion, I went back to the OD&D books to write my upkeep rules. Here's the pertinent paragraph (keeping in mind I'm still using the "gold standard" found in B/X):

    "While low level characters can expect to spend part of their adventuring wealth on rations and the occasional night at an inn, higher level characters are expected to treat themselves and maintain a lifestyle commensurate with their level. Any character of name level or greater is expected to spend a total amount of gold equal to 1% of their total earned experience every year on their own upkeep. This cost includes maintaining a household, servants, meals, throwing parties and generally 'living the high life' of a successful adventurer. This upkeep cost is waived for characters that build strongholds and establish dominions."

    The OD&D system is very abstract (which some folks won't like), but it seems to scale well, especially considering the large amounts of treasure to which high level characters (generally) have access.

    1. Interesting! Was the "every year" rate your interpretation of OD&D, or an intentional switch? I definitely felt compelled to do research around that, and the signals before and after were that it should be monthly (as indicated above).

      The other thing that occurred to me was: say roughly half of someone's XP came from gold. Then at the monthly rate they should have about 50 months of upkeep if they don't adventure, i.e., a bit over 4 years. I felt that was generous enough. (As opposed to an annual rate, ~50 years, which seems to imply anyone can retire any time they wish.)

  4. I like the idea of some sort of penalty, but I think that the kind of penalty should depend on where the money isn't getting spent. Presumably there are taxes, upkeep, and day-to-day expenses like food and rent.

    If you don't pay your taxes, then I'm guessing you become a criminal, people aren't allowed to trade with you, there's a reward for turning you in so bounty hunters will come after you etc. (Higher penalties for more tax owed).

    If you don't pay for upkeep, then every month something of yours breaks or degrades (armour would be a good one).

    And if you don't pay for food or rent, then it's stat penalties for living rough and not eating properly (there really should be some difference between a person who's well fed and rested, vs someone who's spent the night in a cold wet dungeon, eating barbecue rat).

  5. 4E doesn't seem to include any rules whatsoever for this. Perhaps this is unsurprising - after all, 3E hid it away as an optional rule in the DMG.

    5E's "lifestyle expenses" are (converting daily costs into 30-day months):
    0gp for a "wretched" lifestyle,
    3gp Squalid
    6gp Poor
    30gp Modest
    60gp Comfortable
    120gp Wealthy
    300+gp Aristocratic

    When it comes to OD&D, I'm not sure that 0XP adventurers not paying upkeep is much of an issue. After all, they don't have any money - if they did, they would have more than 0XP!
    And, to be honest, to return from an adventure without a single experience point to your name is quite the shame. Such a character hardly needs to be punished further for their ill luck, unless you wish to encourage PCs to commit suicide in the hopes that their successors are better off.

    1. Thank you for the 5E info!

      It's true that the 0 expense at 0 XP may not be a common situation, but I do want to be cognizant of what a realistic lower-bound would be; and I like putting some amount of pressure on the new PCs to get their fortune started (a bit like blinds/ante in poker, perhaps).

    2. I figure that in that case you could probably just put a lower limit on the amount - probably a single GP, if going with by-the-book pricing. (Silver and copper mostly seems to exist to encumber your characters, for all books seem to care. With the silver standard the same applies to copper, I suppose, unless you rewrite the economy completely a la AD&D or ACKS.)
      And you could also, perhaps, assume that PCs who have no wealth whatsoever for an entire month (even after selling their starting gear!) simply starve to death. It's probably more merciful that way.

      Although the Dalluhn manuscript seems to indicate that it's more meant to represent taxes than it does money for food/water/shelter/etc., so perhaps that's a bit harsh. How did historical tax collectors treat the poor and homeless? Jail 'em?

    3. "... simply starve to death. It's probably more merciful that way." LOL, both persuasive and severe enough I did a double-take!

  6. I like carousing instead of upkeep. (1) It's player-choice driven, (2) most players will end up carousing a little, (3) those who don't can be assumed to enjoy the largesse of friends' parties to keep from starving in an alley, (4) there are interesting consequences, (5) the cost scales with level because players will splurge more at higher levels, (6) there's no economic adversary - no tax collector to slay, no innkeeper to drive off and replace.

    I would use carousing instead of upkeep. If the players want to just spend the night in town quietly, I ask how comfortable they want to be, and quote a price for the whole party. They have to buy rations etc. for wilderness expeditions. So I guess we just itemize. If you have a city with multiple waterways and toll bridges, part of the fun is getting the players to invest in a small boat to avoid the little tolls.