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Xanathar's Guide to Everything introduces a new method of downtime activities, some of which offer the opportunity to leverage skills into making money.

Ignoring complications (as these are largely DM fiat), what options provide the greatest expected profit?

A good answer would account for a reasonably wide range of starting funds, possible ability scores, skill proficiencies, and expertises.

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2 Answers 2

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Selling magic items is the best, but with lower starting cash: pit fighting

Introduction

There are five downtime activities that can provide profit: Crime, Gambling, Pit Fighting, Selling Magic Items, and Working. Here is a brief pro and con list:

Option Pros Cons
Crime Moderate Yield with exceptional skill Low Yield otherwise, and prison time cuts down on profits when cost
Gambling High Yields with moderate skill High variance, and you only profit on what you have to spend
Pit Fighting No entry cost, Moderate Yield even with low skill Still Moderate Yield even with exceptional skill
Selling Magic Items High Yield even with moderate skill High entry cost as you must produce/buy the items first
Working none Low Yield even with exceptional skill

That being said, this doesn't capture the full picture, so I will dive into each further (with the exception of Working because it is a terrible option if profit is the goal).

Crime

Crime costs 25 gp per week to execute and provides very little yield unless you are able to take the risk and target one of the richest figures in town. However, this requires fairly exceptional skills. The relevant skills for crime are:

  • Dexterity (Stealth)
  • Dexterity (Thieves' Tools)
  • one of Intelligence (Investigation), Wisdom (Perception), Charisma (Deception)

Additionally, if you fail all three checks, you go to jail and miss out on a couple workweeks of profit opportunity. Here are the expected yields (Weeks per Payout includes jailtime from failed attempts):

Skill Level Optimal Robbery Target Expected Net Yield Weeks per Payout Profit per Week
+4 Struggling Merchant (DC 10) 5.86 gp 1.03 weeks 5.68 gp
+6 Struggling Merchant (DC 10) 13.67 gp 1.01 weeks 13.57 gp
+8 Prosperous Merchant (DC 15) 28.65 gp 1.11 weeks 25.86 gp
+10 Prosperous Merchant (DC 15) 44.6 gp 1.03 weeks 43.22 gp
+12 Prosperous Merchant (DC 15) 59.95 gp 1.00 weeks 59.71 gp
+14 Noble (DC 20) 98.44 gp 1.13 weeks 87.5 gp
+16 Noble (DC 20) 129.66 gp 1.03 weeks 126.25 gp
+18 One of the Richest Figures (DC 25) 511.5 gp 2.08 weeks 245.91 gp
+20 One of the Richest Figures (DC 25) 671 gp 1.32 weeks 508.33 gp

Gambling

Gambling only returns what you put in, and requires moderate or exceptional skills to be worthwhile. Below +6 skill level, you will break even or lose money on average. The relevant skills are:

  • Wisdom (Insight)
  • Charisma (Deception)
  • Charisma (Intimidation)

Here are the expected yields for gambling with 1,000 gp (the maximum per workweek):

Skill Level Expected Net Yield Weeks per Payout Profit per Week
+6 224.75 gp 1 week 224.75 gp
+8 668.25 gp 1 week 668.25 gp
+10 1093.75 gp 1 week 1093.75 gp
+12 1489.25 gp 1 week 1489.25 gp
+14 1842.75 gp 1 week 1842.75 gp
+16 2000 gp 1 week 2000 gp

Pit Fighting

Pit fighting is not quite as profitable as gambling, but requires no entry cost, and can be accomplished with lesser skills. The relevant skills are three between:

  • Dexterity (Acrobatics)
  • Strength (Athletics)
  • Roll of the largest hit die
  • Attack Roll

Because attack rolls are typically high for all characters but strict spellcasters, and hit dice are typically d8 or d10, pit fighting is quite doable regardless of investment in skills. Here are the yields (using a 5 for hit die roll, and 1 higher than the indicated skill level for attack rolls; capped at 11):

Skill Level Expected Net Yield Weeks per Payout Profit per Week
+4 78.13 gp 1 week 78.13 gp
+6 94.08 gp 1 week 94.08 gp
+8 114.79 gp 1 week 114.79 gp
+10 137.5 gp 1 week 137.5 gp
+12 153.9 gp 1 week 153.9 gp
+14 171.1 gp 1 week 171.1 gp
+16 180 gp 1 week 180 gp

Selling Magic Items

This option is even better than gambling if you have money to spend on crafting/buying magic items and then reselling them. The extra benefit is it only requires investment in one skill to do well:

  • Charisma (Persuasion)

There are 4 options for how to renewably gain the magic items to sell:

  • Brewing healing potions
  • Scribing spell scrolls
  • Crafting
  • Buying

For the magic item market, the more money you have to invest, the more profit you get. Never accept a 50% offer, but at lower costs and lower skills it can be better to accept a 100% offer rather than waiting for the rare 150%. Here are the yields if you have 500 gp or less to start with (crafting is better despite the greater time investment because you don't have to spend the 100 extra gp on buying the item):

Skill Level Optimal Item Source Cost Offer to Wait For Expected Net Yield Weeks per Payout Profit per Week
+4 Crafted Uncommon 200 gp 100% 240 gp 3.43 weeks 70 gp
+6 Crafted Uncommon 200 gp 100% 260 gp 3.25 weeks 80 gp
+8 Crafted Uncommon 200 gp 100% 280 gp 3.11 weeks 90 gp
+10 Crafted Uncommon 200 gp 100% 300 gp 3 weeks 100 gp
+12 Crafted Uncommon 200 gp 150% 400 gp 3.67 weeks 109.09 gp
+14 Crafted Uncommon 200 gp 150% 400 gp 3.43 weeks 116.67 gp
+16 Crafted Uncommon 200 gp 150% 400 gp 3.25 weeks 123.08 gp
+18 Crafted Uncommon 200 gp 150% 400 gp 3.11 weeks 128.57 gp
+20 Crafted Uncommon 200 gp 150% 400 gp 3 weeks 133.33 gp

Note: if you don't have the formula for an uncommon magic item, or the reagents are too difficult to get your hands on in large quantities, brewing greater healing potions is almost as good)

Here are the yields if you have 5000 gp or less to start with:

Skill Level Optimal Item Source Cost Offer to Wait For Expected Net Yield Weeks per Payout Profit per Week
+4 Crafted Rare 2000 gp 150% 4000 gp 15 weeks 266.67 gp
+6 Brewed Superior Healing Potion 1000 gp 150% 2000 gp 6.33 weeks 315.79 gp
+8 Brewed Superior Healing Potion 1000 gp 150% 2000 gp 5.5 weeks 363.64 gp
+10 Brewed Superior Healing Potion 1000 gp 150% 2000 gp 5 weeks 400 gp
+12 Brewed Superior Healing Potion 1000 gp 150% 2000 gp 4.67 weeks 428.57 gp
+14 Brewed Superior Healing Potion 1000 gp 150% 2000 gp 4.43 weeks 451.61 gp
+16 Brewed Superior Healing Potion 1000 gp 150% 2000 gp 4.25 weeks 470.59 gp
+18 Brewed Superior Healing Potion 1000 gp 150% 2000 gp 4.11 weeks 486.49 gp
+20 Brewed Superior Healing Potion 1000 gp 150% 2000 gp 4 weeks 500 gp

Here are the yields if you have 50000 gp or less to start with:

Skill Level Optimal Item Source Cost Offer to Wait For Expected Net Yield Weeks per Payout Profit per Week
+4 Purchase Very Rare (invest 1000 gp to find merchant) 36100 gp 150% 23900 gp 7 weeks 3414.29 gp
+6 Purchase Very Rare (invest 1000 gp to find merchant) 36100 gp 150% 23900 gp 5 weeks 4780 gp
+8 Purchase Very Rare (invest 1000 gp to find merchant) 36100 gp 150% 23900 gp 3.93 weeks 6083.64 gp
+10 Purchase Very Rare (invest 1000 gp to find merchant) 36100 gp 150% 23900 gp 3.25 weeks 7353.85 gp
+12 Purchase Very Rare (invest 1000 gp to find merchant) 36100 gp 150% 23900 gp 2.78 weeks 8604 gp
+14 Purchase Very Rare (invest 1000 gp to find merchant) 36100 gp 150% 23900 gp 2.43 weeks 9841.18 gp
+16 Purchase Very Rare (invest 1000 gp to find merchant) 36100 gp 150% 23900 gp 2.25 weeks 10622.22 gp
+18 Purchase Very Rare (invest 1000 gp to find merchant) 36100 gp 150% 23900 gp 2.11 weeks 11321.05 gp
+20 Purchase Very Rare (invest 1000 gp to find merchant) 36100 gp 150% 23900 gp 2 weeks 11950 gp

...and if you have an absurd amount of money, you can get even more absurd profits by buying and reselling legendary magic items.

Conclusion

The best option if we are starting from scratch is to invest a little bit (just proficiency should do) into Acrobatics or Athletics (whichever of Dexterity or Strength is higher). This will let you start Pit Fighting with reasonable yields while you invest in Persuasion (ideally get Expertise with a feat at some point).

If you particularly strong Insight, Deception, and Intimidation you can gamble once you have ~400 gp; otherwise, stick to Pit Fighting until you have a strong enough Persuasion score and cash on hand that crafting uncommon magic items or brewing greater healing potions to sell is more profitable.

Once you have enough money, graduate what magic items you are brewing to superior healing potions, and eventually start buying very rare and eventually legendary magic items to resell.

If you want to know what the most profitable options are for your specific characters set of skills, here is a spreadsheet that will let you calculate it (just select File > Make a Copy) to edit your own version.

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    \$\begingroup\$ That last row in the first table hits kinda hard. \$\endgroup\$
    – T.E.D.
    Jul 11, 2023 at 15:19
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Gambling if there is no stake limit

David Coffron's answer has covered most of the main points, but I'd like to expand more on gambling.

Assumptions

Unfortunately the wording of the rules has some ambiguities.

First, the stake limit is said to be

a maximum of 1,000 gp or more, as you see fit.

In context, "you" seems to refer to the DM. So with a sufficiently generous DM you could potentially bet as much as you want. For this analysis we'll assume you can bet as much as 100% of your bankroll.

A more serious issue is the wording of the gambling results. The text for 0 successes says:

Lose all the money you bet, and accrue a debt equal to that amount.

The only way I can see of interpreting this is a net loss of 200% of the stake: 100% from the first clause, and 100% from the second clause.

Then the text for 1 success:

Lose half the money you bet.

Okay, a net loss of 50% of the stake. Fair enough.

Now the text for 2 successes:

Gain the amount you bet plus half again more.

"Gain" is the opposite of "lose", and profit is the opposite of loss, so this would imply a net profit of 150% of the stake. However, this does seem disproportionate compared to the other of the two central results.

Finally, the text for 3 successes:

Gain double the amount you bet.

Again: a net profit of 100% of the stake, or 200%?

For our calculations we'll take the generous interpretation as David Coffron's answer has done.

A final question is whether the Lucky feat can be applied to gambling. It is certainly on-brand, but I can see the rules being interpreted either way. We'll ignore it for this answer.

Kelly criterion

The trouble with betting your entire bankroll is that you could get a bad result and be bankrupt permanently, or at least be set back severely. Fortunately, there is a formula for optimizing the expected long-term growth rate: the Kelly criterion. For this example, we'll assume that all three checks are made with the same bonus. With a little coding we can find the optimal stake (rounded down to the nearest percent) and the expected time to double your bankroll:

import numpy
import scipy.optimize

def dc_chance(dc):
    return (10.0 - abs(dc - 16.0)) / 100.0

def success_chance(bonus, lucky=False):
    result = 0.0
    for dc in range(7, 26):
        p_dc = dc_chance(dc)
        p_make = min(max(bonus + 21 - dc, 0), 20) / 20.0
        if lucky:
            p_make = 1.0 - (1.0 - p_make) ** 2.0
        result += p_dc * p_make
    return result

def result_chances(bonus, lucky=False):
    p_success = success_chance(bonus, lucky)
    return [
        (1.0 - p_success) ** 3.0,
        3.0 * (1.0 - p_success) ** 2.0 * p_success,
        3.0 * (1.0 - p_success) * p_success ** 2.0,
        p_success ** 3.0,
        ]

payoffs = [-2.0, -0.5, 1.5, 2.0]

def optimize_stake(bonus, lucky=False):
    p_results = result_chances(bonus, lucky)
    def objective(x):
        return sum(
            -numpy.log(1.0 + x * payoff) * p_result
            for p_result, payoff in zip(p_results, payoffs))

    result = scipy.optimize.minimize_scalar(objective, bounds=(0, 0.5), method='bounded')
    optimal_stake_percent = numpy.floor(result.x * 100.0)
    doubling_time = numpy.log(0.5) / objective(optimal_stake_percent / 100.0)
    return p_results, optimal_stake_percent, doubling_time
Bonus 0 successes 1 2 3 Optimal stake Mean doubling time (workweeks)
+0 40.5% 42.7% 15.0% 1.8% - -
+1 33.6% 44.2% 19.4% 2.8% - -
+2 27.2% 44.3% 24.1% 4.4% - -
+3 21.5% 43.2% 28.8% 6.4% - -
+4 16.6% 40.8% 33.4% 9.1% 7% 122.5
+5 12.5% 37.5% 37.5% 12.5% 19% 18.7
+6 9.1% 33.4% 40.8% 16.6% 29% 7.5
+7 6.4% 28.8% 43.2% 21.5% 36% 4.2
+8 4.4% 24.1% 44.3% 27.2% 42% 2.8
+9 2.8% 19.4% 44.2% 33.6% 45% 2.1
+10 1.8% 15.0% 42.7% 40.5% 47% 1.7
+11 1.0% 11.1% 40.0% 47.9% 48% 1.5
+12 0.6% 7.8% 36.1% 55.5% 49% 1.3
+13 0.3% 5.2% 31.4% 63.2% 49% 1.2
+14 0.1% 3.2% 26.1% 70.5% 49% 1.1
+15 0.1% 1.9% 20.8% 77.2% 49% 1.1
+16 0.0% 1.0% 15.9% 83.1% 49% 1.1
+17 0.0% 0.5% 11.6% 87.9% 49% 1.0
+18 0.0% 0.2% 7.9% 91.8% 49% 1.0
+19 0.0% 0.1% 5.1% 94.8% 49% 1.0
+20 0.0% 0.0% 2.9% 97.0% 49% 1.0
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    \$\begingroup\$ Always a huge fan of the mathematical approach. \$\endgroup\$
    – order
    Jul 10, 2023 at 23:28

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