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I'm building a campaign that includes a Plutocracy style government. The several wealthiest people in each city govern that city, and the wealthiest of those join to govern the entire empire.

I anticipate certain party members will be interested in acquiring enough wealth to join the government. However, I'm at a loss as to how wealthy those people would be. I can calculate basic averages from running multiple large businesses over the course of years, but that doesn't account for inheritance, investments, or other large scale wealth generating activities not covered in the rules.

Are there any official or unofficial sources that suggest such wealth numbers in the Forgotten Realms?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ How interested are you in answers based on previous editions? \$\endgroup\$ – fectin Jan 31 '17 at 2:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ That's fine, though I would like to know which edition and the source. \$\endgroup\$ – Avilyn Jan 31 '17 at 2:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ Reminder: comments are for clarifying content, not posting small or incomplete answers. Please use answer posts to submit answers instead. Prior comments containing answers have been removed. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Feb 1 '17 at 15:39
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In Basic D&D (BECMI), The Republic of Darokin (GAZ11) has a Level of Government Participation table on page 10:

\$\begin{array}{|r|l|} \hline \textbf{Total Worth (in daros)} & \textbf{Allowed Position} \\ \hline \text{under }\,15,000 & \text{Non-voting Citizen} \\ 15,000 & \text{Voting Citizen} \\ 25,000 & \text{Local Office} \\ 75,000 & \text{Regional Appointee} \\ 150,000 & \text{Outer Council} \\ 250,000 & \text{National Appointee} \\ 1,000,000 & \text{Inner Council} \\ 3,000,000 & \text{Chancellor} \\ \hline \end{array} \$

The gold daro is the currency of Darokin. I think you can take these numbers the way they are (I mean: no conversion, one daro is one gold piece), and just change the positions if you want.

The point is that the thresholds are fixed by the government, so much depends on national wealth (very high for Darokin) and maybe political games (to exclude someone from some positions).

If you want to adjust the numbers, my advice is that you do not look at how much they earn. Look instead at how much they can buy. Specifically you can look at the cost of building (DMG 5e pg 128: 5,000 gp for a large estate, 25,000 gp for a noble estate, 50,000 gp for a small castle, 500,000 gp for a large castle. Also maintenance (pg 127) ranging from 10 to 100 gp daily).

Also you can look at the daily expense: 4 gp for a wealthy, 10 gp minimum for a noble (PHB 5e pg. 157). This income must come from interests and investment because the aristocracy don't work, so at 3% yearly, they must have 50,000 to 125,000 capital, respectively.

A wealthy must have a 5,000 gp house, 50,000 gp invested plus extra.

An aristocrat must have maybe(?) a 50,000 gp castle, at least 125,000 gp invested plus extra.

The extra is the money spent for extraordinary expenses and for improving their conditions. How much? Well I have no idea... I think you can double the capital invested. The problem is that a rich can have many serfs to pay, and soldiers, specialists and much more. Those are very expensive and must come from interests on capital (so the capital will need to be much higher).

I'm afraid it will not help you much but I made a research on some FR supplements and here are the results:

  • In Ed Greenwood Presents Elminster's Forgotten Realms pg 116 speaking about a very successful merchant (rich like royalty) it say he owns more than twelve buildings in each of three cities.
  • Moonsea (AD&D2) pg 28: to take a vacant council seat you have to pay 100,000 gp, to create a new one 2,000,000 gp.
  • The City of Ravens Bluff (AD&D2) pg 48: the Boldtalons (a noble family) own more than 500 houses.
  • Same book, pg 79: the Tempest Rose Merchant House, the richest of all the merchant houses in Ravens Bluff, has many sources of interest, one of them is to lend money to nobles, millions of gp. Even if the house loses this money it can continue to live in confort.
  • FR 3 Empires of the Sands (AD&D2) pg 7: Fenzic trading house paid for 14 cargo vessels worth 3,500,000 gp with one big trade bar. Another merchant made a fortune selling 23,000 birds for 150 gp each (total 3,450,000 gp).
  • Shining South (D&D3) pg 105: the richer Crinti own a dozen or more ranches each with thousands horses. Each ranch is a manor, with barracks, a smith, numerous barns and grain storage buildings, and several corrals. These buildings are surrounded by thousands and thousands of acres of open grassland.

What we can see is that the real rich count their capitals using millions. The numbers given in GAZ11 can be valid, maybe not counting the buildings, but you can do your considerations by yourself.

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The novel The Pirate King by R.A. Salvatore might offer some perspective. It offers two points of note on the subject of wealth:

  1. a conversation between Cpt. Deudermont (himself of noble status in Waterdeep) and Lord Brambleberry (also of noble status in Waterdeep, though "higher" than Deudermont),
  2. and Lord Brambleberry funding the invasion of the city of Luskan.

Sadly i do not have my copy at hand, so this is from memory.

Concerning point #1: Brambleberry notes that he can easily buy three pirate vessels captured by Deudermont (and supposedly more) without influencing his wealth at all. It is not entirely clear what these ships cost, but the PHB lists sailing ships and longships at 10,000 GP, and warships at 25,000 GP. The wine both drink during this conversation is priced beyond what Deudermont could afford (for reference, he owns a mansion or some similar house in Waterdeep, DMG lists this at 25,000 GP + annual upkeep of 3650 GP). I think the price is mentioned at roughly his annual income, but i am not certain on this. Brambleberry has apparently a lot of these bottles, maybe even entire wine cellars full (so much that he throws the (almost full) bottle against the wall for dramatic effect). It is also mentioned that the Brambleberry family owns various properties in and around Waterdeep.

Concerning point #2: Lord Brambleberry pays (i think out of his own pocket, at least mostly) for the invasion of Luskan. The invasion force consists of several ships, magical and mundane ground forces, provisions, and so on. This also apparently without impact on his personal fortune.

The main opponent of Deudermont and Brambleberry in the story is the Arcane Brotherhood, which numbers around 130 spellcasters. They are led by a lich and 3 "overwizards". The rest are probably a mix of low to mid-level magic users. They are entrenched and prepared.

I found this note on Lord Brambleberry. According to it, the armed forces invading Luskan are the Brambleberry family's troops. Which means, that a wealthy noble of Waterdeep (population 130,000 to 2,000,000) has a standing force large enough to invade a large (population ~15,000) and reasonable wealthy city (Luskan is a major trade hub in the north).

I also should probably mention, that Brambleberry has a somewhat personal interest in this endeavor an his decisions might not be entirely reasonable because of that. (He wants to leave a mark in history beyond his family's wealth)

Assumption: (these numbers seem reasonable to me)
setting up and supplying the invasion force (500 soldiers, 50 cavalry on warhorses, 50 magic users, 5 warships, 6 longships (for transport)) for 60 days probably costs upward of 352,000 GP.

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In Timeless by R.A. Salvatore, one family casually shuffles around hundreds of thousands of platinum pieces without batting an eye at cost, but rather the secrecy needed for such an endeavor. On average, this would be millions of gold pieces, the likes of which could barely be mustered by the great dwarven kingdoms combined.

Hope this helps with what "rich" means.

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Spoiler Alert: This comment includes spoilers from Ed Greenwood's Death Masks.

K.o. is misremembering what they read, based on their answer.

The following is a quote from Timeless (chapter 8) about the incident in question:

Regis did some quick calculations and tried not to gasp. A long ton, a tonne, of platinum would be more than a hundred thousand coins, valued at ten gold pieces each! No wonder Clan Stoneshaft had come south with an army guarding their carts. The only wonder was why a horde of dragons hadn’t sniffed out such a treasure and descended upon them.

And where had a clan of dwarves Regis had only barely heard of come up with that kind of a haul? Bruenor, the most powerful dwarf king in the north—at least the north, he acknowledged—would have to empty the treasuries of both Mithral Hall and Gauntlgrym, and likely call in a favor from Citadel Adbar, to approach that fortune.

For the sake of those who are not mathematically inclined, there are 2,240 lbs in a tonne, and 50 pp in a pound. That means the transaction involved around 1,120,000 gp worth of pp.

As you can see from the full quote, Salvatore is saying that this is hardly usual for even wealthy individuals. In fact, it's hardly usual for ultrawealthy individuals. By the sounds of it, Bruenor might not even have a full 1,000,000 gp between two dwarven kingdoms—Gauntlgrym and Mithral Hall. Regis, who is well acquainted with how fantastically wealthy his friend is, almost gasps when he grasps the sum in question.

But what about non-kings? Well, in Death Masks by Ed Greenwood, the 1% of the 1% of Waterdeep can outbid the other 99% of the 1% by a significant factor. One especially wealthy individual bankrolls the assassinations of several of Waterdeep's Masked Lords. The bounty for such an individual? Well, it starts off at 100,000 gp, with a 10,000 gp down payment. The other 90,000 gp was available soon after, but then subsequent payments had to be in gems.

And a little later in the same book, Mirt offers 100,000 gp to resurrect someone—an offer he ups to 200,000 gp when 100k isn't enough.

Now, it would be a fair point to ask, then, how some other occasions exist where someone might be expected to drop a few million gp in the Forgotten Realms. For example, to create a new seat in one of the Moonsea city councils takes 2,000,000 gp.

The answer to that goes back to how values were different in previous editions. While much of the equipment section for 5th Edition was pretty much copied and pasted from 3rd Edition (the "Common Trade Goods" and "Food, Drink, and Lodging" tables are identical and only a few of the weapons have different costs), in 2nd Edition things were quite different. Rather than a bottle of good wine being 10 gp, you could get a tun (250 gallons) of good wine for 20 gp. Nice, sure, but... a silk jacket was 80 gp (instead of 15 gp for a whole 'fine' outfit of clothes in 5E), a large tent was 25 gp instead of 2 gp, full plate armour was 4,000-10,000 gp instead of 1,500 gp, and even a poor lock was 20 gp instead of a decent one for 10 gp.

In other words, to be rich in the edition where you could buy a seat on the city council for 2,000,000 meant that you might possibly be able to afford that.

In short, the D&D economy is screwed up, always has been and always will be. There is maybe a little more consistency now that the writing roster for the Realms has been somewhat culled, but at the end of the day the concept of 'rich' is ephemeral and based entirely on the DM's idea of what it should be.

But just for the sake of it, here's my suggestion:

Income Class ... Liquid Wealth

The Bottom 99% ... Anything up to 100 gp

"Rich" ... 100 - 25,000 gp

"Ultra rich" ... 25,000 - 100,000 gp

"Small nation" ... 100,000 gp - 500,000 gp

"Large nation" ... 500,000 gp +

This is just liquid wealth, remember. Net worth is a whole other equation. It could be anywhere from 10 to 10,000 times more than what your liquid assets are. If you own an inn with five rooms, for example, your liquid assets are probably the 112 gp you got this month from renting out the rooms at 8 sp each, but your net worth includes the food and wine stores, the lot in town, the building itself, etc. You could be looking at 5,000 gp or more. In a city like Waterdeep, where land is at a premium (if the city's population really is 2 million, my rough estimate of the city's density is about 270,000 people per square kilometer... the most densely populated city in our world is 41,515 per square kilometer!) you would be looking at a runaway housing bubble. A single acre might be worth more than a normal average Joe could afford in their entire life.

But I digress... the wealthy are as wealthy as the DM wants them to be. That's the most that can be said on this.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The answer you seem to be referring to is by K.o., not KorvinStarmast. Korvin is just the one who edited it last. (I've edited your answer to fix this reference.) Otherwise, this seems like a good, well-referenced answer! \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jul 17 at 7:03

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