My character is a half-elf, aged academic globetrotter researching ruins, fauna and flora - anything he can get his hands on really. In his 100+ year career it stands to reason that along with any research papers or the like, he would have additionally written some material for public consumption. Encyclopaedias, books of fact etc., along with perhaps an autobiography or two as he's pretty well renowned.

My group has never played D&D before but we're playing the Lost Mines of Phandelver campaign, set in the world of Toril, which is a stereotypical medieval world.

Assuming that the world has a publication system and royalties, what would be the most likely way my character would physically collect the money, and how much would be reasonable amount be per week to not break the game? My group currently has no idea about the value of currency at the moment.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I've edited the question to be what I actually wanted to ask, which is how much would be expected to be made. I always have had a problem being concise. As we're completely new to the game, our main concern is that having a weekly income for no effort will be game breaking, and that we're not sure how much it would be. \$\endgroup\$
    – E Jacobs
    Oct 30, 2018 at 11:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ What has your DM/GM advised you about this? \$\endgroup\$ Oct 30, 2018 at 12:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ Any answer that deals with whether (and how much) additonal wealth will unbalance the setting (LMOP) will inevitably need to deal in spoilers (ie. the amount of wealth normally available and the ways in which it can be used in this campaign). I could write an answer addressing that part of your question but it would be more usefully supplied to your DM than you as a player. I'm loathe to spoil module content for you, however tangentially. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tiggerous
    Oct 30, 2018 at 15:44

6 Answers 6


Simplify it as a downtime activity

There are no official rules for being an author, and while I can tell you, for example, that Volo (you know, the one who writes monster guides) will sell players a signed Volo's Guide to Monsters copy for 50 gold in the Tomb of Annihilation campaign, that kind of information doesn't really help you. Instead, this kind of thing is better simplified as a downtime activity.

Page 187 of the Player Handbook mentions practicing an occuptation:

You can work between adventures, allowing you to maintain a modest lifestyle without having to pay 1 gp per day.

This could be showing up at schools of learning to hold a lecture, or sending out messages to other scholars who in turn allow your character to stay at their place. If your DM is feeling particularly generous, they could increase the 'modest' lifestyle part and make it an even better lifestyle, but I'd strongly advice against asking the DM for actual gold.

Once your DM allows you a constant gold income, it becomes really hard to deny other players who come up with reasons why they should be allowed 'x' from their background and while gold is not nearly as important in 5e as in earlier editions, it's still going to unbalance the game to an extent, especially when players start mentioning that their family of nobles has several magic items and they'd surely be allowed to borrow them.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You could simplify the actual selling of books. I don't think mines of Phandelver is in a world with printing presses, which means that an author would sell a very limited number of copies. I would decide with the player how many copies of his book the PC is carrying, and try to work in opportunities for him to sell one or two in-person. You could also have some backstory that there are some booksellers that independently copy and sell his work, and if he goes to one, he can ask to collect his share of the sales since he last collected (which you the DM could decide, or roll) \$\endgroup\$
    – Jared K
    Oct 30, 2018 at 16:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ "This could be showing up at schools of learning to hold a lecture, or sending out messages to other scholars who in turn allow your character to stay at their place." -- This is actually how famous scholars got by before copyright (and largely after, too). They get benefits from their fame as freebies and services (the latter includes patronage) rather than actual money. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 31, 2018 at 0:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JaredK Mines of Phandelver is set in the Sword Coast on Faerun, on the planet Toril. This is a realm that has magical robots, talking books and the undead. It's trivially easy to mass produce books in a setting where a single first level wizard could have 6+ unseen servants active at the same time, scribing their books. The printing press is hardly needed, somewhere a bored wizard is performing the same ritual all day, doing the same thing as a printing press essentially. \$\endgroup\$
    – Theik
    Oct 31, 2018 at 9:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ "Assuming that the world has a publication system and royalties" - that's a big assumption. Copyright was first introduced in this world in 1710 in England - that's a long time after the introduction of printing. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 31, 2018 at 14:11

... a stereotypical medieval world.

Assuming that the world has a publication system and royalties ...

Stop right there

On Earth, the medieval period broadly runs from the fall of the Western Roman Empire to the fall of Constantinople in 1453.

The first printing press dates from 1439 and is primarily a renaissance development. The first state copyright act to protect authors was the UK’s Statute of Anne in 1710 although there had been protections granted to publishers prior to that.

Of course, D&D is an anachronism stew and The Forgotten Realms only slightly less so. Therefore, you can run your world as you like but if you are basing it on our history, medieval authors have patrons, books are copied by hand and “royalties” are the people who rule kingdoms.

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    \$\begingroup\$ While I agree that medieval worlds don't have printing presses, they also don't have mechanical robots or wizards, or the ability to simply have a magical creation copy your books. This doesn't really help the OP figure out a way to model being an author into their campaign. \$\endgroup\$
    – Theik
    Oct 30, 2018 at 12:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Theik Sometimes, when a question has flawed assumptions built into it, a challenge to the frame of the question is appropriate as a response. This is a valid answer. (The fact that D&D 5e operates on anachronisms in a dozen different ways is beyond the scope of this answer and question ...) \$\endgroup\$ Oct 30, 2018 at 12:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast But the OP doesn't mention the printing press anywhere, he just says "a publication system". And considering there are well-known authors in the Forgotten Realms like Volo, who are widely known, there is apparently some sort of distribution system in place. \$\endgroup\$
    – Theik
    Oct 30, 2018 at 12:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is the correct answer (History site mod here). I'd go a bit further and say that the Printing Press is the defining artifact of the Renaissance/Industrial Age. Unless you have a steampunk setting, there should be no such thing as printing (and thus copyright author royalties) in your universe. In fact, it would be far more likely that authors lie and say someone else famous wrote their creations, in order to increase the acceptance and dissemination of them by copyists. If you want some backstory flavor, consider making the character one of those famous folks. \$\endgroup\$
    – T.E.D.
    Oct 30, 2018 at 16:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Theik There were well known authors in the real world long before we had printing presses, but there was nothing we would have called a publication system prior to the printing presses. Before then, distribution involved making copies by hand, usually by scholars or religious institutions. The original author was generally not aware, much less compensated for the copies. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 30, 2018 at 16:30

Yes, your character can make money from publishing

I would set this up as the character running a publishing business. The DMG gives a guide under Running a Business in down time activities (p.129).


d100 + Days (30 days max)

01-20 You must pay one and a half times the business's maintenance cost for each of the days
21-30 You must pay the business's full maintenance cost for each of the days
31-40 You must pay half the business's maintenance cost for each of the days. Profits cover the other half.
41-60 The business covers its own maintenance cost for each of the days
61-80 The business covers its own maintenance cost for each of the days. It earns a profit of 1d6 × 5 gp.
81-90 The business covers its own maintenance cost for each of the days. It earns a profit of 2d8 × 5 gp.
91 or higher The business covers it s own maintenance cost for each of the days. It earns a profit of 3d10 × 5 gp.

Since the max days you can add is 30, I'd run a monthly income instead of weekly. As far as maintenance costs, I'd equate it to a town guild: 5 gp per day (DMG p.127)

  • \$\begingroup\$ I considered using the 'running a business' part for my answer as well, but the results don't really make a whole lot of sense. The maintenance costs for somebody who has written books in the past but doesn't produce them currently is essentially zero. \$\endgroup\$
    – Theik
    Oct 30, 2018 at 12:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Theik -- yes, my answer makes the character the publisher,distributer, etc. not just the author. \$\endgroup\$
    – ravery
    Oct 30, 2018 at 12:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Theik The publisher gets a cut, right? \$\endgroup\$ Oct 30, 2018 at 12:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't want to steal your thunder by immediately posting a separate answer, but if this is how much money the publisher earns then maybe work this out then send the player their 5% (Example) cut? \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Oct 30, 2018 at 12:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri I wouldn't mess with this table, as these are the (more or less) balanced outcomes to running a business. Better to simply re-fluff the outcomes: When you have to pay the business's maintenance costs, perhaps it is that the author is paying a mage's guild to "print" his book via magic, distribute it through various sister guilds, promote the author by booking lectures in prominent places of learning, etc. Rather than the publisher being out the money if the book flops, the author is. Then just use the table above as the final cut the character gets... \$\endgroup\$
    – Joshu's Mu
    Oct 30, 2018 at 14:12

I like this part in the answer by Dale M:

...medieval authors have patrons...

Get character a patron, a NPC who will pay small stipend, but also who might impose additional burden on the PC. For example, they might summon you for emergency service in the middle of campaign, or prevent from stirring up trouble in some area of interest to the NPC:

I'd like you and your friends to stay away from Forest of Glargamala, I do business with those orcs, no matter how terrible they are. We are friends, aren't we?

Will your character be OK with taking this kind of risk? There are very few selfless patrons of the arts. And there should be price paid for getting money from thin air.

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    \$\begingroup\$ While this kinda answers the question, it seems to be just an idea. Our site does not work with idea generation and answers like this should be based on actual play experience - did you ever have a character doing that, or DM'd for a character doing that? \$\endgroup\$
    – HellSaint
    Oct 30, 2018 at 20:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HellSaint nope, my RPG experience is pretty limited. Should i remove the answer? \$\endgroup\$ Oct 30, 2018 at 21:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ As I said, this does answer the question, so it won't be flagged for removal. It might attract downvotes, though, for the reason I mentioned. I was just commenting so you can understand better how the site works. \$\endgroup\$
    – HellSaint
    Oct 30, 2018 at 21:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HellSaint thanks, i appreciate this. Every community of SE has own standards \$\endgroup\$ Oct 30, 2018 at 21:22

Given that the ability to read is likely not nearly as widespread as in today's world, your author would need to be extremely popular to warrant repeat printings. Generally, you'd write your text and either someone would buy it outright (they would own the copyright) or you would pay a publisher, or agree to a cut with them, and they would publish your book to be distributed with you getting some profits. You only get royalties on the first sale of the book (i.e. used books don't generate royalties) so in order to get continued royalties you'd need the book to be in very high demand for a very long time. The main purchasers of your books are likely to be libraries, guilds, colleges, temples, etc. so the book would have to be popular enough to warrant repeat printings but not so popular that those organizations bought your book the first time around.

It's likely that you could write new books and get them sold, but continued royalties seems unlikely for a D&D world.

  • \$\begingroup\$ "Given that the ability to read is likely not nearly as widespread as in today's world": I don't think so, every player race is able to read and write common and in addition the Commoner creature is able to read and write one language. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 30, 2018 at 18:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ In most D&D settings it is loosely (very, very loosely) based off of a medieval or renaissance Western European culture. Literacy rates didn't hit 50% for men in England until the 1700's (www1.umassd.edu/ir/resources/laboreducation/literacy.pdf), which is generally a few hundred years of development further. And 50% didn't exactly enable a thriving book publishing culture. \$\endgroup\$
    – David Rice
    Oct 30, 2018 at 18:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ I understand that, but what I am saying is that going by the rules pretty much everyone can read and write. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 30, 2018 at 20:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ And that all depends on the style of world building, whether it's based solely on the rules or whether it's based more on "real"ness. I tend to favor ignoring rules that break immersion/suspension of disbelief, other people tend to favor strictly adhering to the texts to ensure everybody is on the same page. \$\endgroup\$
    – David Rice
    Oct 30, 2018 at 20:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @CaptainMan Every PC is able to read and write. The character creation rules to do not apply to NPCs. \$\endgroup\$
    – Barret
    Oct 30, 2018 at 21:48

"Running royalties" are unlikely (no copyright), but there are ways for authors to make money

While the nice answer by Theik provides information about modelling making money as a downtime activity in 5e (and I agree with his point), it really does not answer the question of "collecting royalties as an author" in the Forgotten Realms.

The answer is "unlikely" if you are considering running royalties in which you will keep on getting paid as your work is kept on being published, at least in the most metropolitan city of Faerun, Waterdeep. You can read about printing presses, bookshops, and famous publications in the 4-part series Small Presses of Waterdeep by Ed Greenwood published in 2003.

Anyone can copy any book without legal penalty in Waterdeep, and printers amass libraries of chapbooks printed by their rivals so that they can plunder for ornaments and illustrations when a "new" book must be swiftly assembled.

Please note that I am not saying that your character cannot make money, it is just that you cannot write a creative work at some point and expect to keep on making money out of it in perpetuity. For example, here is a part from a flood of unofficials tweet by Ed Greenwood about how famous authors like Volo make money:

Bookshops became fixtures of the Sword Coast port cities and all major Heartland trading cities and ports by 1475 DR, and places like Waterdeep, Silverymoon, Derlusk, Baldur’s Gate, and Suzail had local bestsellers and a marketplace of “here’s what’s coming” and “read a chapbook excerpt from the forthcoming new sequel to X by talented and famed Author Y” by 1478 DR. Traveling merchants (and simple peddlers, going from hamlet to village) since then have aided in spreading this ‘culture’ everywhere. So Volo is signing copies of his latest as just one author among many (albeit a notorious one who can claim a long and successful career), by the 1490s.

That is why modelling the attempt as a collective downtime activity (finding sponsors, authoring commissioned work, printing, giving lectures, book signing, etc.) is a very reasonable game mechanic.


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