Monday, 15 July 2019

Spending your loot, part 3: houses, mansions, castles

Are your PCs traveling the world? Dirt poor even though they're ordering pit fiends around? Then this post isn't for your. If you're interested in giving PCs a place to live, though - read on. Part 3 of a mini-series; part 2 looked at buying yourself a position like head merchant, baron or bishop. Part 1 is an inventory of the many ways to siphon wealth from your PCs. Part four is about outfitting a lab, library or shrine to further your spellcasting.


No more sleeping in the gutter or on the floor of the tavern common room! Get your own private hut, a house, or even a tower or a fortified manor. If you can get permission from the ruler, that is.

This post builds on Skerples' Castle building and Investments by Skerples. I've changed some numbers for 5e and added details such as prices for ordinary houses, and information on manors - like how large they are, the staff they need and the lifestyle that a manor will provide you with, gratis.

Benefits of buying a house are of course no more paying rent, or even getting meals for free in a manor; a place to keep your belongings safe and bragging rights over who has the most elaborate stonework on their tower.
Downsides: locks you to one location, big homes need a caretaker, servants and upkeep.

Tavern life becomes boring after a while. Found here


D&D 5e handily gives you a chart of the cost to maintain a certain standard of living, split into housing (if you're renting a room), meal costs and 'other'. I'll reproduce it here, so you can see what buying a house saves you on rent and food costs (in case of a farm or manor).

  • Wretched - life on the road, begging for scraps. Doesn't cost a thing. Hunt or beg for food, or starve.
  • Squalid - a leaky, filty shack in the most violent and disease stricken part of town. Threadbare clothes. Thin gruel and moldy bread. Daily cost: 7 cp rent, 3 cp food.
  • Poor - a one-room cottage, a room in a flophouse or a mat in the tavern common room. Much-patched clothes. Sufficient food, although you seldom see meat. The few coppers you can spend each day may go to repairs for belongings, or you can save up for big expenses. Like a torch. Daily cost: 1 sp rent, 6 cp food, 4 cp for other expenses.
  • Modest - two rooms in a larger house, or a simple room at the inn. You eat healthily and can afford meat once or twice per week affair, and you can afford new clothes and some luxury items. Daily cost: 5 sp rent, 3 sp food, 2 sp for other expenses.
  • Comfortable - You rent a house or a quality room. The food is varied and prepared well; you can afford meat or other luxuries daily (although you might need to dip into your 'other' expenses). Daily cost: 8 sp rent, 5 sp food, 7 sp for other expenses.
  • Wealthy - Not a care in the world, except for money and the opinions of the high and mighty you're becoming visible to. Daily cost: 2 gp rent, 8 sp food, 12 sp for other expenses.
  • Aristocratic - Daily cost: 4 gp rent, 2 gp food, 4 gp for other expenses.

There you are, chests full of arcana that could level a castle - and nowhere to store it because you decided "wretched is free, why pay for more?"

So who lives at what step on this ladder? Find a complete overview of who-earns-what in part 2 of this series, but here's a summary:

  • Assume that unskilled workers, apprentices or subsistence farmers live a squalid or poor life.
  • Journeymen crafters are poor or live a modest lifestyle if they're in a high-status guild.
  • A wizard adept - barely out of apprenticehood - lives poorly unless their spells can be monetized. They'll spend most of their extra earnings to pay of the loan that paid for their education, then move up to a comfortable or even wealthy lifestyle.
  • Modest to comfortable lifestyles are where you find people with some delegated responsibility. An expert in a trade, a guard captain.
  • Wealthy living costs 4 gp a day, or 120 gp a month; these are for merchant guild masters, who can technically just afford an aristocratic standard of living but will spend their entire monthly income on it. Expect a couple of luxuriously decorated rooms to entertain guests.
  • An aristocratic lifestyle pulls out all the stops. The entire house full of art and luxury, grand feasts and hunts organized, trophy pets kept and so on - living at this standard is reserved for the very wealthy; high status bishops and corrupt abbotts, viscounts, counts, earls and higher, merchant princes and master wizards.
Merchants live well, but they're still commoners. Still, better to cry in an opulent mansion than out on the street, no?


From leaking huts to large town houses. The price is either to buy or to build, we're not going to detail construction costs and loans here.

  • Hovel - cost 5 gp, one room of 5x10 ft. A wooden frame with woven mats. Miserable.
    Saves you the housing costs of a squalid lifestyle: 25 gp per year.
  • Cottage - cost 100 gp, two rooms of 10x10 ft each. Piled stone wall and thatched roof. Saves you the housing costs of a squalid to poor lifestyle: 25-36 gp per year
  • Small house - cost 1000 gp, two rooms of 10x10 ft and an attic. Wattle and daub.
    Saves you the housing costs of a poor to modest lifestyle: 36-180 gp per year
  • House - cost 2000 gp, two floors of two 10x10 ft rooms each. Wattle and daub or brick.
    Saves you the housing costs of a comfortable to wealthy lifestyle: 288 to 720 gp per year.
  • Large house - cost 4000 gp, two to three floors of three 10x15 ft rooms each. Wattle and daub or brick. Includes 5 poor servants. Maintenance and servant wages run to 100 gp per year, but this saves you the housing costs of a wealthy to aristocratic lifestyle: 720 to 1440 gp per year.

Medieval Buildings by GrimDreamArt at DeviantArt

Farms include a parcel of land you can work or have worked. A small farm is just enough for a family to not starve, 

  • Small farm - cost 500 gp, cottage and surrounding land. If you work all the time, you will not starve. Congratulations, you can now maintain squalid living conditions (36 gp/year total) indefinitely. Revenue 12 sp/year. We'll find a way to tax that.
  • Large farm - cost 1500 gp, small house, surrounding land and cottage for 1d6 tenant farmers who work the land. Revenue 12 gp/month or 144 gp/year. A nice gift so a newly minted knight can meet their upkeep. Will produce enough to keep its occupants in poor living conditions (72 gp/year total).


A local lord's manor and estate are the smallest unit of feudal life. Part of the estate is reserved as farmland or hunting grounds, and the estate can generally support itself and even turn a profit. 

Buildings are made out of wattle and daub, brick or dressed stone. They can be fortified, with a watchtower and moat, but do not include a proper central keep like a castle. Includes cottages for tenant farmers (2d6 families of 1d4 farmers each) and extra housing for other farmers (2d6 / 3d6 / 4d6 families of 1d4 for a small/medium/large estate) who pay you homage.

The cost includes the deed to the surrounding land. Revenue is after paying for repairs and servants' wages. What's not included is the upkeep for your noble rank, or the bribes (upwards of 2000 gp) you'll have to ply the local baron to knight you with to grant you the estate if you're not already a noble.

Manors generate revenue instead of costing upkeep. The servants still draw wages and the roof still needs fixing, but the manor's produce takes care of all those costs as well as food and housing. (In other words, I didn't feel like having to add, then deduct costs for production, wages and maintenance.)

Stokesay Castle in Shropshire, a fortified manor house - photo Jeffrey L. Thomas.

  • Small manor - 10,000 gp, main house and two side buildings, cottages. Five servants, revenue 50 gp/month or 600 gp/year. Provides your family with a comfortable lifestyle.
  • Manor - cost 15,000 gp, large main house and three side buildings, cottages. Ten servants, revenue 65 gp/month or 780 gp/year. Provides your family with a wealthy lifestyle.
  • Large manor - cost 20,000 gp, main house and wings: three floors, many rooms, four side buildings, cottages. Fifteen servants, revenue 75 gp/month or 900 gp/year. Provides your family with an aristocratic lifestyle.
  • + hamlet under your protection - 2000 gp, 2d10+40 peasants. Adds tax revenue: 10 gp/month or 120 gp/year.

Go wild with the side buildings: add stables, a hunting lodge, definitely a watchtower, a butchery, a chapel or hospital - whatever tickles your fancy.

Two notes about manor houses for ruling nobles.
See how they're way more expensive than large houses, even though the main building is the same size? What you're not seeing is the surrounding estate with all its free labour. That's why a manor house generates revenue while a large house only costs you. Farmers growing crops, a carpenter, a smithy; all are available on site.

Also, did you spot the sentence about "providing your family with a ... lifestyle"? That refers to the table for lifestyle expenses by social class - meals, housing and other. A large manor provides your group of 4-6 with an aristocratic lifestyle, 10 gp's worth per person per day, for free. Nobles with a manor may have less raw income than high Clergy, but their basic costs are completely provided for.

A New and Accurate Plan of Blenheim Palace, the Seat of His Grace the Duke of Marlborough. Look like a place you could retire?


Suppose your band of miscreants wants to raise their own fortified keep, a monastery or a wizard tower. That's fine! You can either repurpose one of the options above (reorder a house and you have a four storey tower of 10x10 feet), or design and build a structure of your own.

For fortified structures, you'll need permission from the lord of the land - either the local knight or the baron. This generally includes getting a deed between 100-1000 gp (5000 gp for truly extravagant structures) and a knighthood (starts at 2000 gp worth; often not bought outright but gifted to you, not your heirs, for services rendered).

Coins and Scrolls' castle building procedure is dead easy to use. Here's his basic idea:

As building material you need dressed stone. Strip and collapse a dungeon after you've cleared it. Every 5ft stretch of 10ft high corridor wall gives you a 5x5x10 ft block of stone to place in a design of your choice. Cost to raise a construction of 100 such blocks in 1 year is 1980 gp, or 1380 if you are a noble and can get the basic labour for free from your serfs.

As an example of dungeon quarrying, here is the Tomb of the Serpent Kings with ceiling heights of 5, 10 and 15 feet. I'm counting enough stone to furnish 238 blocks of 5x5x10 feet for new constructions. Map by Janon.

Details and complications
Finishing a new structure and dreading to count each individual square? Just round to the nearest 25 or 50 blocks, pixelbitching is tiresome. If you do want to get fussy, use 20 gp per stone block as the cost of labour, food for the workers and sundry costs. Or 14 if you have serfs on the job.

If you don't have access to a cleared dungeon, you can buy stone at the quarry; count on an extra 25 gp per 5x5x10 ft block. For the 100 block structure above, that adds 5000 gp to the price! Clear that dungeon, the stone is worth more than the treasure hoard.

<digression>How do I figure 25 gp per 5x5x10 ft block of stone?

"Should be easy", says the physicist in me.

Here goes...this quarry quotes 125 pounds per tonne of garden wall stone. Looks sturdy enough; I'l take it.

Now to find out how many tonnes of stone in a square on the map. Search for the mass density of "Forest Marble"...I can't find an exact match, but this table gives densities for stones around 2500 kg/m3. I'll use 2470 kg/m3 as given by thisquarry

...which is a fine number, except not in the heretical unit of mass per cubic foot. So excel it up for 5x5x10x(.3048)^3 = 7.08 cubic metres per 5x5x10 foot block, and I end up with 17.5 tonnes per block. The cost is 125 pounds sterling per tonne, round up to get to 157 dollars per tonne, divide by 100 to get gp, multiply this by the 17.5 tonnes per block for 26.69 gp/block of stone. Then round down to 25 gp/block because.

Which matches nicely with the 20 gp in labor and supplies we were working with, and lends weight (ah-hah) to Skerples' statement about dressed stone being expensive.</digression>


What kind of structures can PCs afford to buy and what does this do for them?

Case 1: the watch tower
Your band of heroes has cleared the brigands from the forest ruin. In return, the local knight awards them a plot of land and the right to use the stone from the ruins to construct a guard tower that oversees the road. The PCs decide to build a four storey tower with walls 5ft thick and 10x10x10ft rooms, something defensible. For extra living space, they build a house of 25x35 feet. The house walls are half thickness of the tower walls; this place has to be sturdy but they don't need the walls to take up four storeys of weight.

Tower: 4 storeys of 12 stone blocks (5x5x10 ft) makes 48 stone blocks.
House: 20 half-width blocks makes 10 stone blocks.

Cost to construct: 58 x 20 = 1160 gp, and the builders take half a year because this is ~half of their standard 100 block job. The PCs don't have that much time and double the cost to 2320 gp to get the construction finished in three months. Using xp-for-gp, a 4th level character is worth 2700 XP = gp; a band of four could certainly afford this hideout.

At ~50 blocks, annual upkeep is 6 gp per month, for 2.5 servants - I'm assuming a guard dog.

Note that the PCs could have saved themselves about 700 gp if they'd asked the local knight to have his serfs offset the manual labour. Oh well.

Watch tower and small house.

Case 2: the wizard's tower
Not content to buy a large town house, the master wizard decides to have an old-fashioned tower constructed. There's no easily cleared dungeon nearby - and they want to live near the city anyway - so to the quarry it is. Having lived in the cramped tower from case 1 for years, they decide on a spacious 20x20 ft room size, with five stories and a two storey house attached. The tower walls will be 5 ft thick.

Hearing about the plans, the baron slaps down a 500 gp deed for the fortified tower. Five stories with outer walls 20 ft long runs to 100 blocks for the tower walls; or 4500 gp to be built in a year. The medium-sized house adds 2000 more gp, and with the 500 gp deed this adds up to 7000 gp total. Annual upkeep is 12 gp, which funds maintenance and the five servants.

A level 9 wizard is worth 48,000 gp, so this is easily affordable. Adding furnature and lab equipment is going to be the expensive part (should I do a post, or does that risk turning Dungeons & Dragons into Home & Garden?)

Case 3: Blenheim Palace
Because that estate totally looks like a place my PC could retire. I'm eyeballing this without any clue as to how big this is as an estate; let's go with a large one, a raison de 20,000 gp plus 8000 gp to become a manor lord. 28.000 gp for a single PC is a staggering amount, but by level 8-9, you could afford it and not go completely bankrupt. That's nine levels to curry enough favor with the baron so they'll consider you in the first place. You'll live in appalling luxury ever after, even if you sometimes have to venture forth and loot dungeons to pay for the king's mercenaries.

But wait! We know from the overview image above that this manor is the seat of a duke, so instead of 8000 gp for the position of a mere manor lord, you'd be spending around 100,000 gp for the privilige of becoming Lord of Blenheim! Level 13 characters or higher may apply and will need to spend 5/6th of their wealth on this position. On the plus side, the 'estate' they'd rule now becomes a full Duchy, with an estimated annual income of ~12,000 gp.

20,000 gp for the estate plus 100,000 gp for the Duke's crown - worth it. From

Case 4: the Monastery of the Serpent Kings
Skerples has created the huge castle of elemental evil using his rules already, which runs to 10,000 5x5x5 foot blocks and takes five years to build at a friendly price of 34,500 gp/year.

I want to build a smaller place for a new order of monks.

Having cleared the Tomb of the Serpent Kings, a party of 5-6th level clerics, monks and bards (all part of the nosy, dungeon delving Order of the Scroll) decide to sanctify this dreadful place and build a monastery. Let's see how far they get. According to the xp-for-gp rule and XP chart, they're worth 6,500 - 14,000 gp each.

From my tally, the whole dungeon has 238 blocks of stone to offer. However, let's assume that the group wants to continue dealing with a couple of inhabitants and leaves the lower tomb (rooms 38-49) intact, leaving them with 179 blocks to work with. Xiximanter doesn't care as long as there's an acolyte or two to work with/on; dito the basilisk.

A quick count says the building below is about 183 blocks; lets round up to 200 so the roof of the central chapel can be raised a bit. There are seven cells for acolytes and five for more senior monks. Storage spaces, a library, refectory and so on - quite the structure.

Cost to construct: 200 blocks at 20 gp per block comes to 4000 gp, and construction will take 2 years. Doubling for a one year project, this comes to 8000 gp. (Actually 8850, because those extra 200-183 blocks not only need to be handled by the masons, they need to be bought at the quarry as well.) Upkeep is 24 gp per year; the "servants" get a tonsure and are the first batch of initiates.

Monastery of the Serpent. Totally not named after the huge basilisk in the basement.

Are we done yet? Hardly. This monastery is now part of the Order of the Scroll, but the PCs don't automatically hold a position. Of the four PC party, let's make one a lowly Abbot (rank 2; cost 12,000) while the others become monks or nuns (3x300 = 900 gp), for 12,900 appointment costs.

Appetite whet? I'm sure one of the PCs -let's say the party barbarian- bit the bucket while they were clearing the Tomb. Let's cannonize them as a minor saint for 10,000 gp. Unfortunately, the barbarian wasn't part of the First Estate, so we'd also have to have him made a priest posthumously (300 gp). This is becoming pricey, and the barbarian's loot doesn't begin to cover these expenses. Have them be officially made into a Blessed Soul for 2,500 gp instead.

Total cost of this venture:
  • excavate dungeon and build a monastery: 8,850 gp.
  • appointing one player as Abbott and the others as monks: 12,900 gp
  • cannonizing a dead PC as a minor saintblessed soul: 2,500 gp 
  • TOTAL: 24,250 gp, or about 6060 gp per character.
The four PCs in this excercise are level 5 or 6 and are worth 6,500 - 14,000 gp apiece; this is ruinously expensive for the level 5 characters, while the level 6 characters still see half of their wealth disappear. On the other hand, they now have an annual income of 5-60 gp (monks/nuns, depending on how debauched they are) to 2400 gp (for the Abbot). The band retires safely and can offer a safe haven for future characters.

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