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Here is why I ask this question:

I want to create a wizard character that goes to the best magic school in the Eberron settings (which I will also be playing in): the Arcanix. But, I want to say in his background that he has a large debt that he accrued to pay for his studies.

I wanted to find how much it could cost to study to become a wizard level 1, but I found nothing.

How much will studying magic in an academy cost?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Does the debt need to be monetary? Maybe the price is that your character is bound to complete a certain amount of service, leading them to be asked to perform certain tasks on the academy's behalf. There's a lot of potential for plot hooks that way, though you would need the DM's buy-in. \$\endgroup\$ – Seth R Jun 20 at 15:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ See also Is there a place to find the pricing for (non-magical) things not mentioned in the PHB? \$\endgroup\$ – mattdm Jun 20 at 16:21
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I didn't find any references to costs of higher education, so I'm going to do a real world comparison.

Disclaimer

As it's well said in @NautArch's answer, this is not an accurate comparison, and I fully agree that a fantasy world is going to have a lot of nuances that will vary the prices of products, like guild based economy where competition doesn't exist and holds prices, for instance. But I still think it can serve as a reference to how much things cost in a more broader sense. The more you compare what things cost between them the more sense you can have of how much money (meaning coin) itself is worth.

It's impossible to find the real price of a product or service that exists only in fiction. There is no real way to compare it with something real moreso when the used coin itself is not real. This is not me saying "This is the accurate price". It's just "If X costs Y in our world, and Z in fantasy, you can compare it and have a clue of how much something is worth". Maybe the result is outrageous, maybe it makes sense to you. In the end it's fiction, so take this only as a way, or a tool to decide on the cost, nothing else. In the end prices are subjective. Economy is very complex, and in a roleplaying game, every product and every coin is put in circulation by the authority of the DM.

A little bit of math

A spiced apple cinnamon wine bottle, which is likely a cider, costs 5 silvers in Eberron. (Got the reference from here)

In Madrid a bottle of cider costs around 3€.

In Madrid higher education costs an average of 1,609€ a year.

Then we do a rule of three.

0.5 [gp cost of cider in Eberron] * 1,609 [Higher education in Madrid] / 3 [Cost of cider in Madrid] = The average cost of higher education in Eberron should go around 268.16 GP per year. This is more or less the cost of a coach with a horse, so it's pretty expensive.

Take in mind this is a rough approximate for an average university cost. Values could vary depending on market conditions. But I think it's a good measure of the basic cost, you could go up from there.

Probably magic schools in Eberron take a lot less students, which means increased prices, so you could get a more accurate price if you could know how many students does a magic school in Eberron have vs how many students does the average college or university have.

Since we got the cost of studying in Harvard from the answer user @Phillip gave us before (67,580$) we can use this method to do a similar comparison with the cider bottle in USA (around 5$ for a litre) giving us a total of 6,758gp a year.

DM controls the economy

But definitely, this is just another perspective and more of a thought experiment. @NautArch's answer is the most practical in regards to the game. The DM decides the value of money and controls all the economy, so the DM should decide.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Considering higher education in Europe tends to be heavily subsidized, I gotta think the US figure is a closer analogy. \$\endgroup\$ – SirTechSpec Jun 20 at 2:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ You don't need to use USA numbers but you should use un-subsidized numbers. In France, it's very easy to go to a public university and only pay around 200€ per year. The real price, though, is closer to 8 or 10k € (that's the price it costs to the state). So even in Spain, I doubt that 1,609€ represents anything close to the real price of a year in uni. \$\endgroup\$ – Echox Jun 20 at 7:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ What make you use cider as a baseline? If the choice was arbitrary, it's worth noting the price of a single item (relative to other items) can vary greatly based on a number of factors. Maybe the ingredients can only grow in few or far away places, there are many similar products available, the production is much easier or cheaper due to the existence or abundance of other things or maybe there are cultural or historic reasons affecting demand. \$\endgroup\$ – NotThatGuy Jun 20 at 12:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ If it seems like I'm aiming to give a concrete price maybe this answer is really off the rails... Maybe I need to maul the point about this being merely a tool and not a concrete answer. \$\endgroup\$ – NameDisplay Jun 20 at 14:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this just highlights that all of the pricing for mundane equipment and services in 5E is ridiculously arbitrary and nonsensical and probably just made up on the spot. If you try to extrapolate anything from existing pricing in order to build out a bigger model like this, it all just collapses. \$\endgroup\$ – mattdm Jun 20 at 16:22
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It's going to be up to the DM

5e doesn't cover schooling costs for Wizards, but I'll leave it to others better versed in D&D lore to see if it's covered in other editions and, if so, to update the cost to match 5e.

But it's okay that there isn't a RAW answer here. Your question is more about creating a background hook, not about a mechanical need.

DM and player should work together on this

As you've described, this is to wanting to create a plot hook about having a debt that can be used in the game. Which is awesome!

The DM is going to need to consider the rate at which you'll accumulate wealth and how that ties into your debt so that they can build a narrative around this hook for you.

Determining what debt amount is going to be a driver is the difficult part here. The DM will need to consider the following: - How much loot they expect to hand out regularly - Is there magic item economy and how prevalent are magic items (that can be sold for gold.) - Will downtime activities be available to make additional money

The above can help guide a DM in looking at how quickly their PCs will accumulate wealth and combine that with how they'd like the plot hook to work. Utilizing that information along with how long they want this hook to continue for will help guide the DM in coming up with a sum that works for the story.

Just creating a straight value (say 1000gp) that seems like a lot may not actually be so if wealth accumulation is faster because of the some of the levers above. This is ultimately a relative value, but only the DM knows how wealth and accumulation of wealth is going to work for the PCs in their game.

Beware of false equivalences

They can opt to pull data from modern high education, but that is not necessarily an equivalent. Education costs have been variable historically and geographically.

Rather than trying to create an equivalence that isn't necessarily accurate, it's better to create a number that works for the story.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I like it, and hope the OP and their DM take that approach. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jun 19 at 15:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ I definitely agree with this because (as nick pointed out) there are already background features that incorporate the concept of debt. Generally, even having a number is not really a good way to go... because the whole point of this is to have an RP hook... and it should be momentous when it's taken care of. It should not be "oh, finally got the exact amount when we sold the copper tea set, done". \$\endgroup\$ – Reginald Blue Jun 20 at 17:36
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As the answer by nick012000 points out, RAW your character has no obligation to start their game with a debt. But let's say you really want to burden your character with such a student loan for RP purposes.

One approach to eyeballing this could be to assume the academy operates at cost and uses the fees paid by the students to finance the lifestyles of the students as well as the faculty.

We can use the lifestyle expenses table for that purpose. If we assume that living on campus has a "Modest" lifestyle cost at 1gp/day (it's a fine university and campus life is expensive), the faculty get paid enough to have a "Wealthy" lifestyle at 4gp/day (they are the best wizardry teachers you can get, so you should give them proper lodgings), and you assume a student-to-faculty ratio of 7 to 1 (just like on real-world Ivy-League schools) you have a cost of (7gp + 4gp)/7 = 1.57gp per day to cover the lifestyle costs of the student and the faculty members who teach them.

However, they also need to pay for maintaining the building and for teaching material, specifically all the material components the students need for training. The material costs of most 1st level spells the students would learn would be negligible. But just as with any university, we can also assume that some higher-level research goes on at the academy which requires more expensive components. So let's round our 1.57gp up to 2gp/day.


Another way to approach this could be to use a real-world anlogue. Studying at Harvard with room and board costs $67,580 a year. That's very close to the median household income in the US. Assuming that a median household has "Comfortable" living expenses and doesn't accumulate wealth, we also arrive at about 2gp/day. This should be about what the average upper-middle-class Eberron citizen could afford to pay for studying at an university.


An Eberron year has 13 months with 28 days each, or 364 days. So with a cost of 2gp per day you would end up with a student debt of 728gp per year.


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  • \$\begingroup\$ Could be less if the schools take a summer break or something \$\endgroup\$ – guildsbounty Jun 19 at 15:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ Is there a reason why modern American schooling is an equivalent for Eberron? Our education costs are far different than other countries - and historically they've changed greatly as well. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jun 19 at 15:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch Well if you want to be in a large debt for the character background it would be the best schooling costs to use. If costs were lower, most characters would be able to pay off their debt after a dungeon or two. \$\endgroup\$ – Nathan Jun 19 at 17:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Nathan Sure, but then you're just making something up. You can use that, but if you can't support why that system is applicable, then it's not as helpful. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jun 19 at 17:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch, the mathematics of the answer doesn't change if you change the real-world base cost. Just reapply the same formula from the different starting point, and you'll reach an answer equivalent to that starting point. ANY comparison between a fictional world, with a fictional currency, and the real world is going to be every bit as arbitrary as your chosen starting point. Just pick the starting point you thing is appropriate, and work from there. \$\endgroup\$ – Theo Brinkman Jun 20 at 22:13
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Hirelings

One quick and easy way to estimate this is with Hirelings (PHB 159). The chart indicates that a Skilled hireling costs 2gp/day, and the text says this:

Skilled hirelings include anyone hired to perform a service that involves a proficiency (including weapon, tool, or skill): a mercenary, artisan, scribe, and so on. The pay shown is a minimum; some expert hirelings require more pay.

Presumably your elite university averages out to around 3 to 5, with the extra skill required. So, superficially, 3-5gp/day times 364 days/year times several years of study gets you into the thousands of gold pretty easily. Don't forget to include interest payments and fees.

There are also some great world building opportunities here. You could restructure this and say that the government covers most of tuition. Or that nobles overpay for their children and sycophants to learn cantrips. Or that nobles pay outrageously for spellcasting services. Any of these could mean no financial debt, which is fine because

D&D: Finance Edition is boring

Since you're already on PHB 159, keep reading the next section, Spellcasting Services. It explicitly mentions that spellcasters, particularly of higher levels, may ask for services or favors instead of currency.

The point is debts do not necessarily have to be monetary.

Consider what a wizarding school might want from a magically trained individual that would be harder to acquire for someone mundane. Here are some more interesting, plot-hook-esque options:

  • In-kind services teaching a semester or three of Cantrips for Cads and Remedial Rituals
  • 10 levels worth of previously lost/unknown written spells for the archives
  • Magical reagents such as crystal spheres or valuable gems
  • Oddly specific magical reagents, like a forked piece of metal attuned to a particular plane for casting Plane Shift
  • Right of first bid on found magic items
  • Requirement to help anyone bearing the Academy's sigil with anything they may ask for
  • Favors like helping the forgetful headmaster recover his lost Leomund's Secret Chest
  • Performing flashy parlor tricks as part of the annual recruitment drive and pep rally

Note that several of these provide good options for player turnabout. If you teach some students, maybe they owe you a favor. If you bear the guild's sigil, then maybe the alumni network can help out once in a while, possibly in return for future favors.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is excellent; by turning the obligation into plot hooks, you get more out of it. \$\endgroup\$ – Yakk Jun 20 at 13:02
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Per G. Moylan's suggestion, you can refer to the debt table in Wayfinder's Guide to Eberron (page 11, Why Do You Need 200 Gold Pieces?).

Establishing a debt requires collaboration and approval by both player and DM. Work together to develop the details: who is blackmailing you? What’s this secret society? What’s the story behind the magic item you’ve pawned, and what sort of item is it? As a player, you present ideas but the DM has final approval.

The table seems to suggest that all of the backgrounds require you to raise 200 gold pieces within a month.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think they just say 200gp as an example, same with the reasons in the quoted text \$\endgroup\$ – G. Moylan Jun 19 at 14:57
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As DnD is set primarily in a medieval fantasy world, using the costs of going to a middle ages university seems like a good idea.

Universities back than did not function the way most universities work today.

  1. They were privately owned, for profit universities. They existed to make a profit and pay for the livelihoods of the professors who ran them.
  2. you didn't pay a tuition to the school, you paid your professors individually. Which makes the yearly costs a little hard to calculate as it depended on what classes you were taking. The prices were set for the various course by the University, with classes for valuable degrees (like medicine) costing princely sums while classes for useless degrees (art) cost very little.

The university of Barcelona was calculated (by a professor in the 1300s) to charge a princely sum of 100 Lyre (roughly equivalent to the British pound) per year for a 5 year degree in medicine.

If we than compare the cost of university to other things during the middle ages such as unskilled labor, we can get a useful thing to judge what the price of attending a university of magic should approximate.

Unskilled laborers made 2 pence a day or 2 pounds a year in the 1300s (working 240 days a year). Meaning it takes 50 years of unskilled labor to pay for 1 year of university education.

Unskilled Hirelings (in dnd 5e) cost 2 sp a day, and assuming your average unskilled laborer works the same number of days per years as an medieval unskilled laborer your average cost per year should be around 2 sp * 240 days/per year * 50 years common labor/ year school = 48gp * 50 years = 2400 gp per year of schooling. If it takes 5 years of study to become a "graduate" than that is a debt of 12000 gp.

Sources: University Records and Life in the Middle Ages (1944), Lynn Thorndike. https://thehistoryofengland.co.uk/resource/medieval-prices-and-wages/

Now we could instead have used a modern day for profit university and the price of a bushel of wheat. To calculate the cost of attending a university in Eberon but comparing medieval economies to modern day economies is hard because we place a different value on everything.

The equivalent value of a pound from medieval Europe to modern day currency is hard to calculate:

  • if we were to just look at what commodities a pound could buy in the 1300s than each pound is only worth $997.0
  • if we look at the amount of labor a single pound could purchase than each pound is worth $18,981.
  • If we look at the equivalent income value of each pound (What your equivalent income would be if you made 1 pound a year) than each pound is worth $37,454.
  • If we look at the economic share of a pound (relative worth divided by the periods GDP) than a pound is worth $413,875

Which shows that any comparisons between one economic system and another are going to be very problematic, and prone to inaccuracies, therefore my suggested sum of 2400 gp per year should not be in any way considered an accurate market value for the yearly costs of attending a school of Magic on Eberron.

https://measuringworth.com/calculators/ukcompare/

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Nothing. They owe no debts. Under the Rules As Written, the starting gear of a PC is determined by their Class and Background, and this includes their starting money.

For a Sage Wizard, like a character who attended a wizard academy likely would be, their starting equipment would be as follows:

  • (a) a quarterstaff or (b) a dagger
  • (a) a component pouch or (b) an arcane focus
  • (a) a scholar’s pack or (b) an explorer’s pack
  • A spellbook
  • A bottle of black ink, a quill, a small knife, a letter from a dead colleague posing a question you have not yet been able to answer, a set of com m on clothes, and a belt pouch containing 10 gp A single Trinket, rolled on or chosen from the Trinket table on p. 160-161 of the PHB

Since they start off with a positive balance of gold, and there are no options for them to take on a debt in the Trinket table or the Flaws or Bonds of their Background, they would not owe any debts for their time at wizard school - presumably, if they ever owed any such debts, they would have already paid them off.

However, there is one exception: in the Ravnica setting, members of the Orzhov Syndicate (with the Orzhoc Representative Background) can take the following Bond: "The unbearable weight of my debt has driven me to desperation." A GM might be willing to allow you to take it with other Backgrounds, as well.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Note: Wayfinder's Guide does suggest owing a debt as part of a potential character backstory \$\endgroup\$ – G. Moylan Jun 19 at 14:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ Based on the actual real life, you can be owing a debt and have money on you, so the argument is invalid. plus you actually don't answer the question at all \$\endgroup\$ – Rorp Jun 19 at 14:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ OP is specifically building a backstory around this, I see no reason why they can't do that. While you don't 'start' with a debt RAW, wanting to have one for a backstory hook is totally reasonable. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jun 19 at 14:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ Given that the book explicitly encourages the creation of custom backgrounds, I think that you may want to support your answer some other way. "Only one background allows this so the RAW says no" is not really tenable when the book allows you to freely create backgrounds at DM discretion. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Jun 19 at 15:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ FYI The backgrounds Criminal/Spy, Urban Bounty Hunter, Guild Artisan/Merchant and the tabaxi race all reference having and being in debt as well. "I'm trying to pay off an old debt I owe to a generous benefactor" and "You are always in debt since you spend your gold on lavish parties and gifts for friends" for example. So there seems to be more than one exception. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Jun 19 at 15:30

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