My players recently came into possession of an inn in a small village and I'm trying to figure out how to run it.

On page 127 of the DMG, it says that an inn costs 5GP maintenance per day, including payment for one skilled and 5 unskilled hirelings. There are two main points of confusion for me.

  1. The daily cost for an inn on the roadside is 10GP, but this is supposed to include the payment for five skilled and ten unskilled hirelings. Since they earn 2GP and 2SP respectively, shouldn't the cost be at least 9GP higher?

  2. Of course, the section on total cost per day says that potential revenue is already factored in. But if that's the case, why is there another table on page 129, where you can roll a d100 in order to find out how much money you made?

As far as I see, these two rules contradict themselves.


4 Answers 4


Managing the 'contradiction'

I cannot give you an absolute definitive answer, but here is how I've handled it in the past, and how I reconcile that apparent contradiction:

The 'maintenance cost' listed for mercantile affairs (like an inn, shop, etc) is how that business performs if you ignore it. It has an income, it has expenses, and that (for the sake of simplicity) works out to the property losing money at the rate of the Maintenance Cost. They are making money, but not quite enough to cover their costs.

On the other hand...

An adventurer-owned business can earn enough money to cover its own maintenance costs. However, the owner needs to periodically ensure that everything is running smoothly by tending to the business between adventures. See the information on running a business in the "Downtime Activities" section of this chapter.


The 'Running a Business' table (downtime activity) represents how a business performs when you actually do something with that business, rather than just establishing that it exists and wandering off. You might screw up, and the business expends 1.5x its maintenance cost (the 0-20 range), but most likely it's going to perform better with someone actually taking an active hand in running it.

So that is how I have reconciled this 'contradiction' in the past. The businesses in the Ongoing Expenses table represents a business steadily (but slowly) losing money because no one is actively managing it. The 'Running a Business' results represent someone engaging with the business to try and make it actually profitable.

My Experience

My experience in this has generally been that players aren't very happy when they have to constantly expend Downtime to make sure their business doesn't cost them money...so I made a minor quest hook out of it, then rolled that into ongoing side-goals for the party. (In my case, they were running a roadside inn)

I suggested that the party could, perhaps, find a better manager to run the business while they were away, then maybe do some things to improve the business and make it more appealing.

So there was a short little quest where they went looking for someone to run the Inn for them, they drafted a well-organized NPC they'd met earlier, resolved some minor issue for them, and brought them on as their manager. Now, instead of just steadily losing money, the inn had an active manager, and I let them roll on the Running a Business table 'once a month' without having to run the business themselves.

Additionally, they started bringing home adventuring trophies, exotic alcohols, recruiting specialist NPCs (like a minstrel) to go to their inn. Depending on what they brought home, I either gave them bonuses to their d100 roll or added an extra die to the profits (if they got any).

This kept things pretty low impact for both the players, and myself, and they were quite happy with their inn.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I can attest as both a player and a GM to the alternate mechanics outlined in the second half of this answer working well. Of course, results vary based on type of business. A tavern, inn, or even art studio or conservatory works well with this because the secondary hooks can be part of a regular adventure, but something like a shipping business will involve much more specific involvement in more concrete ways even with these rules. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 21, 2021 at 11:40

You missed one of the sections

Businesses (DMG 127)

An adventurer-owned business can earn enough money to cover its own maintenance costs. However, the owner needs to periodically ensure that everything is running smoothly by tending to the business between adventures. See the information on running a business in the "Downtime Activities" section of this chapter.

The last sentence there refers to the Running A Business section you mention on DMG 129.

Basically, by default you lose money, but if managed well, you might earn money.

Note that the Businesses heading on DMG 127 is smaller than the Recurring Expenses heading, which is where the Maintenance costs you reference is defined. That means that this is part of the same section, and is giving the additional context to those type of properties (there is also a heading on Garrisons, which explains more about those properties.)

So, by including that section titled Businesses you can see how those two seemingly contradictory sections are intended to be used together.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ You should also mention the Running a Business table. \$\endgroup\$
    – Akixkisu
    Sep 20, 2021 at 23:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Akixkisu I added the name of that section to where I already mentioned it, on DMG 129. Not sure what your intent with mentioning the table is. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 20, 2021 at 23:45
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Because the tables showcases exactly how maintenance works, it is conditional. I think that makes the answer much easier to understand :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Akixkisu
    Sep 20, 2021 at 23:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Akixkisu I'm not trying to be difficult, I legitimately don't understand what you are suggesting I add. The question reads to me like "Hey, there's a section about running a business where it says you lose money and a section where it says you roll on a table, aren't these contradictory?" My answer is "there is another section that connects the always lose money and the roll on the table section". And your suggestion is "You should mention the roll on the table section." Do you see why I'm confused? If you don't find it clear, it probably could use improving, but I'm at a loss as to what. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 21, 2021 at 14:14

The rural inn doesn't add up.

An inn in town has 1 skilled and 5 unskilled hirelings, and costs 5 GP per day to operate. At the list prices given in the PHB, the skilled hireling would cost 2 GP per day, the 5 unskilled cost 2 silver each, or one gold between them, leaving 2 GP for general operating costs.

A rural inn has 5 skilled and 10 unskilled hirelings, and costs 10 GP per day to operate. The skilled hirelings would cost a total of 10 GP between them, leaving nothing left for the unskilled help and upkeep costs.

How do we deal with this?

Well, we don't have to, really -- the book simply states that the 10 GP covers costs, and we can simply accept that. It doesn't necessarily have to be consistent among different rule sets.

That said, one potential solution is room and board. The help in a city is presumably living off-site, in an apartment or some such housing arrangement, and expending their income on living expenses -- as given in the PHB p. 157, a skilled hireling's 2 GP income can support a Comfortable lifestyle, or Modest if they want to save some money, while an unskilled hireling probably lives in Poor conditions and has little opportunity to save.

However, a rural inn most likely houses and feeds the help on-site, so the employees receive lower actual wages because they're being paid in kind. If they get paid half the usual amount, then that adds up to 6 GP in wages, leaving 4 GP to upkeep the premises.

This is just a hand-wave, but it's a reasonable explanation if you need one. The skilled workers likely have their own rooms, while the unskilled workers probably have a shared bunkroom or sleep on the floor in the public room (this was a pretty common arrangement, historically).

  • \$\begingroup\$ Workers who live and work in a rural area, outside of any town, probably have substantially lower cost of living expenses, so they probably cost less compared to living in a city. At least, that's what I would argue as a DM if this question came up in play. \$\endgroup\$
    – TylerH
    Sep 23, 2021 at 15:56

The assumptions are different - what contradiction?

The assumptions for the rules on page 127 are different from the assumptions on page 129.

Given that adventurers need to spend much of their time adventuring, the staff includes a steward who can make payments in the party's absence (p. 127)

They are adventuring, someone else is running it. As opposed to them managing it directly.

If they hold on to the business, they might feel obliged to spend time between adventures maintaining the venture and making sure it runs smoothly. (p. 129)

The roll on the table is to abstract that process, since it is listed in Downtime activities, which is separate from adventuring activities in both the PHB and the DMG. The table is rolled on to see if they succeed or fail, something like an ability check, though this table delves into degrees of success or degrees of failure.

The former (p. 127) assumes a break even status.

An adventurer-owned business can earn enough money to cover its own maintenance costs.

The latter (p. 129) allows for either success or failure. Per the Chapter 7 ability check rules, and DMG guidance on ability checks (p. 237):

Only call for a roll if there is a meaningful consequence for failure.

You are better off using the newly acquired inn as an adventure hook.

A raid by local bandits results in the inn burning down

I offer you this as a solution to your perceived problem since D&D 5e sometimes needs a hook for an adventure (your PCs are adventurers primarily) and what better motive could the PCs have for tracking down and defeating / disrupting / neutralizing a group of bandits than that their bar / inn / tavern / investment property just got torched? It's a fine motive.

You can even tie this into a second tier adventure by having the bandits actually be hirelings of a cult leader (a temperance cult) led by a higher CR spell caster, priest, knight, or warlock whose raison d'etre is instituting, in the local region, something like Prohibition. (A ban on drunkenness or drink, what have you).

You now have two small story arcs ready to go for your players.

  1. One, track down the bandits and neutralize them, somehow.

  2. Two: find out who is behind this criminal activity and neutralize them, somehow.

Getting wrapped around the axle on the debits and credits of tavern management isn't what D&D 5e is best at. For that you'll want a different game, called Accountants and Audits.

Well, there isn't really a published game called that, but there should be!

You can do the same thing as above, except rather than bandits torching the Inn/Tavern, the local thieves guild is behind the vandalism since the PCs made a powerful enemy in a previous adventure, unbeknownst to them, and he's trying to hurt them in the pocketbook. They now need to go into investigator mode and figure out who is behind the arson.

Or, take it one step deeper. The inn is built over the ruins of a very old shrine (whose altar stone is hidden under the floor boards of the basement where the ale barrels are stored) where the ritual sacrifice of kender served a deity of law and justice. That religion is experiencing a revival, and the followers hired an arsonist to burn down the defiling building over their holy/unholy ground. The party needs to find out why, and perhaps prevent the rebuilding of a new shrine to that long forgotten deity, demon, or archdevil.

With the above solutions, the contradiction that you perceived is rendered moot. 😊

But which rule should I use?

Whichever one fits what the characters are engaged in: adventuring or downtime.


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