Hi, I’m James and welcome to Code/Switch. Today I want to talk about wealth, its accumulation, and how wealth in Pathfinder corresponds with earnings in the real world. I had a reader ask a question about how wealth for level works on a day to day basis in Pathfinder, and if getting above average wealth would even be possible without arising suspicion.
Average wealth by level is a concept in the gamemastery section of the core rulebook which lets a GM figure out how much value a PC should have at a certain level. I can’t exactly find the genesis for it, or how its math is supposed to work, but it seems to be a continuation of a concept from 3.5. The tables for PC wealth are separate from NPCs as well. Generally, NPCs would be poorer than equally leveled player characters, using the data from the PC wealth by level and the treasure value charts as well. We know this is a system for GMs to conceptualize the characters in a world, but how realistic is this idea, and how would a PC go about subverting it.
Average wealth by level is different in the real world. Most pressing, is wealth itself is intersectional, combining factors like location, occupation, familial wealth, earnings, and a host of factors. For instance the median income of a US citizen was roughly $31,000 per year. The median here defines the average, normal American, not the “statistical average American”, and therefore is a more useful comparison than the mean. This median value shifts greatly if you start to subdivide Americans into groups. The median politician would earn a lot more than the median supermarket worker, and it’s this intersectionality that the Pathfinder average wealth by level chart doesn’t (and never set out) to address. The gamemastery section has just PC wealth by level and treasure by encounter by CR, simple, easy, but not at all realistic.
Using the gamemastery section as an example, my day job would have me above average wealth for my level using the US median income as the standard, but if you subdivide me into a group of working professional with a bachelor’s degree, I’d suddenly be making less than average wealth. Money is hard sometimes.
Now, with all these real world examples, how could a PC get above average wealth per level? The encounters are designed to keep you on that average track, and the Church of Abadar is checking your 1099 twice, how do you get ahead?
Crafting in general allows you to earn wealth above your level, magical crafting makes this process faster than mundane crafting, but some mundane crafts like alchemy can fetch a pretty penny. In general your crafting costs are similar to the value you’d get from selling the item, but by using certain traits like Hedge Magician, or the talents of your local merchant or bard to negotiate for a higher sale price.
The writer in question specifically mentioned an example where PCs get access to a vast treasure, but are only able to keep a small part due to the adventure holding to the average wealth by level table. If you have valuables that are beyond your value, trading them in piecemeal for trade goods like gems, spices, lumber, etc is a good way to make the value sub-dividable, and spendable. Golarion is a wild place, but because that wealth for level table is an average, there is wiggle room for above average wealth PCs. Going back to the U.S. as an example, the average household income is $73,000, but I know plenty of people whose earnings are above that and not all of them are famous or notable, some just have good jobs and revenue flows, and while the U.S. has the IRS to make sure all cash is accounted for, Golarion is a much more wild place, but wherever you go wealth will draw attention, and as they say in the River Kingdoms “You have what you hold.”
Thank you for joining me for this week’s Code/Switch! Do you think Golarion has accountants that care about your adventuring earnings? Have any rich-PC shenanigans you’d like to share? Find me and all the other KD authors at our Discord!