Hireling prices are insane!

I was playing around with the idea that players keeping a stronghold in the wilderness with a staff of servant and guards would have to keep stocks of food to feed everyone, as a constant money drain and source of fun side adventures. While I was checking if food and other stuff is already included in the cost of hiring mercenaries and specialists, I realized that the wages given are completely nuts!

The most expensive mercenaries cost just as much per month as the price of rations for four weeks. Most of them are making much less than that. I was first considering to lower the price of rations to something more sensible, but looking at the prices of other items as well, it really is the cost of mercenaries that is ridiculous.

Peasant militias can be hired for a month for the price of a small sack. Professional light footmen for the price of a large sack. And archers for the price of a backpack. Meanwhile an animal trainer makes a hundred times as much money as an archer, and a sage a thousand times as much money as a basic soldier. Talk about wage gap.

I really don’t know who originally came up with the costs for mercenaries and how this could ever have gone into print? This confirms my suspicion that TSR didn’t know about the concept of playtesting. And apparently not even proofreading. I think these costs probably will have to be increased by a factor of ten to make any semblance of sense. At least.

8 thoughts on “Hireling prices are insane!”

  1. Maybe are expected to also cloth, feed and house mercenaries if you want to employ them long time. While you expect civilian experts to pay for their own expanses.

  2. If a short bow archer costs 20 GP / month instead of 2, then a unit of 20 archers cost 400 GP/month, or almost 5000 gold per year. If the stronghold builder is a fighter, he’s only taking 7 SP/head each month for each resident. If he’s got 5000 residents that’s 35,000 SP = 1750 GP a month. From that he needs to pay the archers, their serjeants (minimum 2, cost ten times their troop type, so 200 GP each), a 2nd level lieutenant (cost 200 GP/month in the DMG; would he be 2000 GP in your version? I assume not), and a weapon maker at 100 GP/month. That’s 1100 GP/month and the strongholder still needs to pay upkeep, other servants, maybe a castellan, etc., etc.
    The system as it is now allows a lord to have a small force of mercs and pay for much of it from taxes. Making merc costs ten times higher will make that impossible.

    1. In that case, coats for normal stuff like food, sacks, and ropes are way too high. Which they are. 2 gold pieces for a sack is ridiculous as well. My main point being that it makes no sense that hiring soldiers to war being much cheaper than buying trivial items. The soldiers have to be able to survive on the money that is spend to employ them.

      But even if you get past this issue of inconsistency, the question is how big a force you think a mid-level party should be able to afford with the money they make from adventuring. I am thinking of a completely different scale of troops. I’ve got in mind something more like 50 than 5,000.

  3. > I really don’t know who originally came up with the costs for mercenaries

    Maybe the same guy who came up with the weapons’ ridiculous weights.

    Here’s an interesting list of real historical prices from various sources, for those interested:


    The problem, of course, is that they don’t come all from the place and time, so they aren’t all directly comparable. And – as noted – the medieval economy had peculiarities that we laymen aren’t necessarily aware of. But it’s a good reference nevertheless.

  4. With all due respect, do you realize you are assuming this price structure was not playtested and can’t possibly work, *without playtesting it yourself*? “This wasn’t playtested, I don’t need to playtest this to know it can’t work in play!”

    Most of the rules in the oldest editions of D&D and AD&D were “reverse playtested”, in the sense that they were only added to the official rule sets AFTER having been developed through play. Perhaps you’re right and this is totally unplayable. But perhaps you’re wrong and in fact you will discover very good, fun-enhancing reasons for things to be this way if you try it out. I have no idea.

  5. The D&D tables are slightly wrong, the soldiers should be per week, and IIRC were in Arneson’s tables. But low-class human labor was very very cheap, less than any manufactured goods, in the ancient world and up until the Black Plague, and still cheaper than you’d expect up to the Industrial Revolution. Skilled, educated people were one in thousands.

    Cheap staple foods aren’t the same price as preserved rations, depending on time equivalent of 1 CP-1 SP/day, but you need to buy rations to march an army any distance.

    1. Thanks, I had been wondering about a month seeming like a really long base hiring period. For escorting the party’s supplies or clearing out a bandit camp, a week makes much more sense.
      I’ll take that into account for updating my price tables.

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