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Heroic Cribs: Living… and Paying for… the Dream!

airspur imageOne of the things I liked seeing in the recent Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium (see this link for the review) is a price list for constructing buildings in D&D 4E.  Admittedly, it was not nearly an exhaustive discussion as that found in the Stronghold Builder’s Guidebook from 3rd Edition, but at least it gives the Dungeon Master a ballpark figure on what to charge the heroes when they decide they’re tired of paying rent at the inn, and want to buy a place to call their own.

Now some heroes from fantasy literature have managed to acquire real estate without paying for it.  I recall a Fafhrd and Grey Mouser story in which the two heroes literally stole a nobleman’s cottage from one part of town and carted it off to the slums to serve as an abode (The Price of Pain Ease by Fritz Lieber), but most DMs are not going to let their player-characters get away with such an audacious heist.

But one thing that was not covered in the MME, regarding buying and owning your own medieval fantasy “crib”, was the cost of the land upon which it is built!

Paying the Rent

In the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the time periods which most D&D settings are based upon, the local lord exacted a yearly cost for the land used by the populace.  Based upon the type of land being used, and what buildings were constructed on it, the lord would assess and charge the occupants a fee, simply called rent.

Land was actually considered a fairly expensive commodity, given that a fairly sizable amount of land was required to feed and clothe the population.  Even in medieval towns, land was not cheap, and no one actually “owned” the land their homes and businesses were built upon, unless they were nobles of a certain rank.  But even those land-owning nobles still had to pay a portion of their rents to the king, so it was in their interest to make sure all their land was productive and that rents were being paid by the lower classes.

And from some reading I was doing, I discovered that the size of a building’s ground floor also affected the rent.  So many medieval buildings had a smaller ground floor, and then were built up vertically, and often had more floor space on the 2nd and subsequent floors.  Of course in medieval towns and cities, buildings crowded each other, so building upward was also a way to get more living space on the same spot of land.

There is an interesting website I discovered researching these ideas which have a list of rent prices for various buildings in the late Middle Ages.  There are also common wages of medieval citizens on the same page, so it looks like the cost of living was pretty steep when you owned your own home.  I noted the rent on a cottage 5 shillings and the yearly income of a laborer was £2, which meant that 25% of the poor fellow’s income just went to keeping the roof over his head.

There’s Gold in Them There Dungeons!

Heroic adventurers will have fairly little to worry about when it comes to paying for a home, given how much money comes out of storming dungeons and sacking evil temples in D&D 4E.  In fact, whether one uses the Treasure Parcel system from the DMG, or the random loot rolls in the Rules Compendium, the amount of gold flowing into a campaign from killing off monsters and looting ancient strongholds is almost ludicrous.  Of course, the cost of magic items in the game is also ludicrous, particularly past the Heroic Tier, but discussion the short-comings of the D&D 4E economy is worth a blog all on its own.

But given the money pouring through the character’s hands, one would think it should be pretty easy to buy a home and pay rent overall.  And for the most part it is, at every level in the Paragon and Epic Tiers.  But before allowing a hero to start building their dream keep or manor house in the local town, there should are some things to think about as a DM.

Location, Location, Location!

One big question to consider about any real estate is that of location.  But we’re not talking about location as in “Woohoo, this cliffside property has a great view of those mermaids down at the beach!”, but more importantly, who owns the location and will they let you build there without some strings attached.

If the characters are building in a city or town, they are going to be restricted to the size and type of building they can build, and they will almost certainly have to pay rent on it.  Sure, they will probably have no problem getting permission to build a cottage, mansion, or even lone tower, but dropping the foundations on a palace, keep, or castle is going to be a real problem!

Building large-scale buildings like castles and keeps tend to be problematic for the local lord, because they are also military bases, and most rulers have serious issues with private military bases springing up in their backyards.  Buildings of that magnitude would require special permissions, as well as a gift of land from the local lord, if not the king himself, and would probably require numerous quests to acquire the rights to plop down a palace, even in the countryside.

Of course, characters could opt to build their castle or keep out in the wilderness, beyond the long arm of the king or baron.  But then there would be the problems of getting laborers and materials out there to build the castle, clearing the land of monsters, and building roads that lead back toward the “points of light” that make up civilization in the D&D 4E world settings.

Real Estate: Gamist versus Simulationist

As with many facets of D&D 4E, taking the gamist approach to real estate is certainly an option.  A simple skill challenge can be used to obtain the land for most non-military style buildings in town, and the prices for building the “crib” can be handled right with the table in the MME.  And keeping it simple, the rent for the land can be a modest, but not too modest, percentage of the cost of the building (10-20%) per year, which should never really be too big of a hardship for the characters.

Using a gamist approach for large installations, like castles, keeps, and palaces, can still work if you look at castle construction as its own storyline.  Getting the land and permission to build a keep or castle could involve doing quests for the king, succeeding at skill challenges for dealing with swaying key members of court, and perhaps expanding the kingdom’s borders by clearing dangerous monsters from a parcel of land on the border.  The characters might still have to pay “rent” to the king, but it would not have to be paid in gold, as powerful heroes could offer services to the local monarch which no commoner could match – military service, quests, and moster-slaying as examples.

For a simulationist approach to building a heroic homestead, I’d chuck the table from the MME out, and find a copy of the Stronghold Builder’s Guide and use that instead.  The costs might have to be modified slightly, given the vast amounts of gold that 4E drops into campaigns, but it was a very thorough supplement for allowing powerful characters to build their perfect base of operations – even if that happens to be a floating castle!

So until next blog… I wish you Happy Gaming!

About The Author

Michael is an Adept of a Secret Order of Dungeon Masters, and dwells in a hidden realm with his two evil cat-familiars, deep within the Vale of Wolverines, called by some "Michigan". He has been esoterically conjuring D&D Campaigns for nearly a Third of a Century, and has been known to cast ritual blogs concerning Dungeons & Dragons every few days with some regularity. Michael has freelanced for Wizards of the Coast, and writes reviews of D&D and other Role-Playing Game products on EN World News.


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