Hi, my name is James and welcome to Code/Switch, today I want to finish up our 3 part investigation of the financial straits of houses of religion in Pathfinder. Last time we spoke, we found out the average church in a large city earns over 130,000gp per year from a 10% tithe per year. We also had a maximum estimate of the amount of wealth the church could earn from spells, which was around 2.4 million gp. Today I want to refine that spellcasting income and examine potential community services to see if the places of worship in Golarion are worthy of their tight-pursed reputation.
To examine the value of spells, we really need to look at the head priests spells available, along with estimating the frequency spells are used as it is incredibly unlikely that the head priest would be blowing through all their spell slots each day. While I was unable to find data tables for spells used or requested, I did look at distributions of data. I first went to order of magnitudes to estimate spell usage, which ended up having the head priest cast their 5th level spell only once every 27 years, while they cast 1 first level spell each day. Seeing that extreme, a more tame analysis would be that the head priest casts a first level spell each day, with a spell of higher level being cast at a rate double the frequency of a spell of the previous level. So 1 first level spell each day, a second level spell every other day, a third level spell every 4 days, a fourth level spell every 8 days, and a fifth level spell every 16 days. This distribution allows for the inclusion of days where the cleric may use multiple spells, but doesn’t account for days without spell use, so a downward revision would be likely, if only I could find data.
Running this through a calculator, the head priest casts; 365 1st level spells, 182 2nd level spells, 91 3rd level spells, 45 4th level spells, and 22 5th level spells. I’m no mathematician, but with the 5th level spell list including Raise Dead, Commune, Cleanse, and Hallow, this seems a relatively likely distribution of spells used in a Pathfinder setting for a Priest in a large city. The total value of these spells would be 116,505gp/year to the church via High Priest spellcasting income, with the incomes of the other spellcasters rounding out the yearly spellcasting revenue to a nice 167,152gp once their spells are used along the same distribution. That number feels a lot more realistic and combined with the tithe and subtracting the worker costs, the church brings in 298,936gp per year. A holy sum sure, but not nearly as high as a maximum 2.5 million gp.
The real question is what the church does with this money. Even if it did bring in 2.5 million gp, as long as it gave out roughly 2.5 million in services, its income likely wouldn’t be a problem. This is where I hit a wall in researching this topic. In real life many organizations of faith like to talk about helping the needy, but I couldn’t find expense sheets or tax info about churches in our size range. However, rather than leave you dry, we can give some estimates of goods and services which can help roughly determine the churches impact on its community.
With that 298,936gp/year, our church could purchase any of the following; over half a million good quality meals, 149,000 nights of good quality inn rest for the impoverished, the salary of 2.9 million unskilled laborers, 5 new airships, 9 galleys for the holy navy, 4 10th level adventurers or 1 15th level adventurer… Oh. It looks like, just possibly, the players reward money comes from these coffers. This church is located in a Large Town with population around 5,000 which seems small, but includes such notable places as; Diobel, Mordant Spire, Pezzack, Saringallow, Sauerton, and Thrushmoor, all places that need adventurers of a wide range of levels to help solve their problems. I guess churches in Golarion ain’t so bad.
I was genuinely surprised by this outcome. I had an idea that about half of their income would just be unaccounted for, until I realized that the setting doesn’t exist without heroes. Man, PCs can be greedy and demanding! Think my maths wonky? Have other ideas where the loot goes? Feel free to drop me a line here or in our Discord, where you can also reach out to other members of the KD Crew.