Recently, I was putting together an article around creating golems using the manual of golems from the DMG. But as I was trying to reverse engineer the entire process (and I still hope to release the info I came up with) it occurred to me that it just simply isn’t worth it due to opportunity costs.
What are opportunity costs?
Basically, an opportunity cost is the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen. Simply put, if you’re spending 120 days building an iron golem, you’re going to miss out on some mad loot.
But just how much mad loot will you miss out on?
Breaking it down: how much does an adventurer earn per hour?
Calculating the income for adventurers wasn’t too difficult. The only tricky part was figuring out how quickly (or slowly) adventurers were supposed to earn said loot.
Before I start this process, there are a few rules-bits that we’re going to need to know.
- Adventuring Day XP (Dungeon Master’s Guide, p84). As a character adventures, they don’t just gain loot. They also gain experience. And eventually, they level up.
- Treasure Chapter (Dungeon Master’s Guide, p133). Obviously, we need to know the treasure chapter because we need to know what kind of loot that the character is supposed to earn during those adventures.
- Magic Item Distribution (Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, p135). Finally, we need to understand the rules behind just how much treasure is supposed to be distributed through the course of an adventurers life. Plus, on the same page, we have details for the types of magic items awarded.
Now that we’ve got the rules out the way, we need to understand a few controls, too.
- The character is in a party of four characters including his or herself, and each character gets an even share of loot and experience.
- Characters only earn experience when they fight monsters. Plus, when they fight monsters, on average, they fight 3-6 monsters. This equates to a 2x encounter multiplier.
- The characters, on average, fight challenges with CRs roughly equal to their current level and earn treasure hoards on par with their level.
- The characters earn no other treasure beyond the DMG’s treasure hoards.
- he characters spend 8 hours per day adventuring.
Now let’s dig in.
The Four Tiers
If you didn’t know already, Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition divides the character levels into four distinct tiers. Here are how the levels work out with each tier:
- Character levels 1-4: tier 1
- Character levels 5-10: tier 2
- Character levels 11-16: tier 3
- Character levels 17-20: tier 4
This is important because as a character enters a new tier, the level of treasure that they earn increases significantly.
It’s also important to understand just how much experience a character needs to get from one tier to the other. This will help us plot a timeline for character growth and estimate the hours spent working while within that tier.
Conveniently, the Character Advancement chart on page 15 of the Player’s Handbook divides each of the tiers with green bands.
- To graduate from tier 1 to tier 2, a character needs to earn 2,700 experience.
- Moving from tier 2 to tier 3 requires 61,300 experience.
- And going from tier 3 to tier 4 requires 131,000 experience.
Adventuring Day XP
On page 84 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide, we’re treated to the Adventuring Day XP chart. This tells us exactly how much encounter experience character should earn in an adventuring day. Keep in mind that this is “encounter experience” and not actual experience.
Going on the assumptions of this experiment, we need to divide the adventuring day XP by 2 since we’re assuming that, on average, the characters fight 3 – 6 monsters.
Using this math, we now know how many adventuring days it takes a character to gain a level.
Adventuring Days to Level
|Level||Total XP||Delta||Adventure Day XP||Actual XP (Divided by Multiplier)||Days to Level|
What’s interesting to note is that, if a character non-stops adventures, they’ll go from level 1 to 20 in about 66.775 days, or about 93 days if they take off weekends.
Treasure per Tier
Now that we have a better idea of how the tiers are laid out and how long it takes to gain levels in Fifth Edition, let’s take a look at the amount of treasure a character gains per tier.
The Magic Item Distribution table (Xanthar’s Guide to Everything) tells us that over twenty levels of typical play, the game expect forty-five rolls on the treasure Hoard tables, distributed as follows:
- Seven rolls on the Challenge 0-4 table
- Eighteen rolls on the Challenge 5-10 table
- Twelve rolls on the Challenge 11-16 table
- Eight rolls on the Challenge 17+ table
Knowing this, we can then start estimating the amount of actual income earned.
The characters earn coins from the hoard tables as follows.
- 196 gp per roll on the Challenge 0-4 table for a total of 1,372 gp
- 3,857 gp per roll on the Challenge 5-10 table for a total of 69,426 gp
- 31,500 gp per roll on the Challenge 11-16 table for a total of 378,000 gp
- 70,000 gp per roll on the Challenge 17+ table for a total of 560,000 gp
For a party of adventurers, that’s a grand total of 1,008,798 gp that they will gain from Level 1 – 20. Assuming four adventurers, that’s a treasure split of 252,199.5 gp per character.
Gems and Art Objects
Characters don’t just earn gold from the Challenge Tables, but also sellable gems and art objects. Assuming that the characters can sell each of those sellable goods 1:1, here is what they should earn with those:
- 125 gp worth of gems/art objects per roll on the Challenge 0-4 table, for a grand total of 875 gp
- 500 gp worth of gems/art objects per roll on the Challenge 5-10 table, for a grand total of 9,000 gp
- 10,000 gp worth of gems/art objects per roll on the Challenge 11-16 table, for a grand total of 120,000 gp
- 15,000 gp worth of gems/ art objects per roll on the Challenge 17+ table, for a grand total of 120,000 gp
For a party of adventurers, that’s 249,875 gp worth of gems and art objects that they will gain from level 1 – 20. Assuming four adventurers, that’s a treasure split of 62,468.75 gp per character.
Finally, there are the magic items that characters earn. Xanathar’s Guide to Everything breaks down the types of magic items awarded by rarity. Using the sales Magic Item Base Prices table on page 133 (and assuming average rolls for selling them), here is what an party of adventurers could expect to earn in the way of magic items:
- From level 1-4, the characters earn 6 common (600 gp), 4 uncommon (1,600 gp), and 1 rare magic items (4,000 gp) for a grand total of 6,200 gp, or roughly 1,550 gp per tier 1 level.
- From level 5-10, the characters earn 10 common (1,000 gp), 17 uncommon (6,800 gp), 6 rare (24,000 gp), and 1 very rare (40,000 gp) magic items for a grand total of 71,800 gp, or roughly 11,967 gp per tier 2 level.
- From 11-16, the characters earn 3 common (300 gp), 7 uncommon (2,800 gp), 11 rare (44,000 gp), 7 very rare (280,000 gp), and 2 legendary magic items (400,000 gp) magic items for a grand total of 727,100 gp, or roughly 121,183.33 per tier 3 level.
- From 17-20, the characters earn 5 rare (20,000 gp), 11 very rare (440,000 gp), and 9 legendary (1,800,000 gp) magic items for a grand total of 2,260,000 gp, or roughly 565,000 gp per tier 4 level.
As you can see, magic items are where characters really make their income. By the time a party reaches level 20, they will have earned 3,065,100 gp worth of magic items. That’s 766,275 gp worth of magic items per character.
Total Earnings per Character Levels 1 – 20
Now that we’ve broken down the possible earnings for a party of characters, it’s time to add it all up.
- Gold: 252,200 gp per character
- Gems/Art Objects: 62,469 gp per character
- Magic Items: 766,275 gp per characters
- Total Earnings: 1,080,944 gp per character
Breaking it down even further, this is a character’s earnings per tier.
- Tier 1 (Levels 1-4) 2,112 gp, or 528 gp per level
- Tier 2 (Levels 5-10) 37,557 gp, or 6,259 gp per level
- Tier 3 (Levels 11-16) 306,275 gp, or 51,046 gp per level
- Tier 4 (Levels 17-20) 735,000 gp, or 183,750 gp per level
Bottom Line: How Much Does an Adventurer Earn Per Hour?
Okay, that was a lot of math! Time to put it all together and figure out just how much a character earns per hour. Let’s review what we know:
- A character working full time as an adventurer spends 66.775 days to go from Level 1 – 20.
- 11.471 of those days are spent going from Level 1 to Level 5.
- 26.844 of those days are spent going from Level 5 to Level 11.
- 18.964 of those days are spent going from Level 11 to Level 17.
- 9.496 of those days are spent going from Level 17 to Level 20.
- A character earns an average of 1,080,944 gp going from Level 1 to Level 20.
- 2,112 gp is earned between Level and Level 5.
- 37,557 gp is earned between level 5 and Level 11.
- 306,275 gp is earned between Level 11 and Level 17.
- 735,000 gp is earned between level 17 and Level 20.
From there, all we have to do is break it down by hours by multiplying the days by eight, then dividing that number into the earnings per tier.
- Tier 1 characters earn 23.123 gp per hour
- Tier 2 characters earn 174.885 gp per hour
- Tier 3 characters earn 2,018.792 gp per hour
- Tier 4 characters earn 9,675.126 gp per hour
So next time your 17th-level character thinks about spending time doing something like building a golem or anything else that’s particularly time-consuming, remember what he or she is missing out on by not going out and stabbing monsters ’til they’re dead.
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