Between adventures, when the heroes stumble back into town for some rest, a chance to upgrade their equipment, and generally let off some steam, players may want an opportunity to express the standard of living that their characters expect. Adventuring is a lucrative business, after all, and players who want to enjoy their riches a little, instead of plowing it all into that next +1 for their weapon might want to purchase a lifestyle.
Lifestyles are entirely optional. Players can live day to day in town, knowing that they'll be moving on as soon as the next back-stabbed messenger staggers into the bar gasping out a quest with his dying words. Expenses like a room at an inn or a modest dinner can be purchased daily, if players wish, with minimal fuss.
But suppose the player wants a place to call home, or wants a fine wardrobe to wear around town. Suppose the character wants contacts among the merchants, or even nobility. These things are only achievable two ways: through somewhat dull role-playing where the character establishes his credentials with each individual he wants to have dealings with, or by buying and maintaining the appropriate level of lifestyle. In addition to giving the character a place to actually keep his nice wardrobe unsoiled (you really didn't want to carry all those clothes into the dungeon, did you?), a lifestyle can also provide easy access to numerous services. The grander lifestyles often come with butlers and housekeepers, private chefs and stable-masters. While not cheap, they allow the character to move around the town with the respect they deserve.
A purchased lifestyle also gives the player access to food, clothing and shelter of a quality described in the lifestyle's description. Assuming the character doesn't want something more extravagant than what is listed, these amenities are assumed to be included in the monthly cost of the lifestyle.
A lifestyle must be paid for every month, even if the character isn't around to enjoy it. and failing to consistently pay for a lifestyle can have consequences. Sometimes these are minor, such as having to buy services day-to-day for a while until new accommodations can be found. Other times, the consequences are more dire, such as a loss of reputation as you fall into hard times, or contacts deciding it is beneath them to continue doing business with you. Even if the character can afford to buy the lifestyle again later, he may find it difficult to fit back into that social group right away, as the stigma of his downfall clings to him.
It should be noted that the costs listed are per character. While it is possible for one character to allow other characters to "shack up" with him at his expense, this is often frowned upon by his social peers. These hangers-on (his other party members, presumably) are clearly freeloading, and taking advantage of the poor man. The freeloading characters are treated as though they are one lifestyle tier lower than the tier the paying character is maintaining, and the cost to maintain that lifestyle increases by 50% per additional character being supported.
- Cost per month: Free
Heroes are resourceful folks, and they can use their survival skill to live in an untamed area, surviving on hunted game, foraged fruits, nuts and vegetables, and making many of their menial necessities. A character who spends 6 hours hunting, tending to his campsite and generally carving out an existence for himself can make a survival check versus an Easy DC for their level, to successfully rough it for a day. For every 5 that the check is exceeded by, the character can support one additional character who can't fend for themselves, or they can store provisions for the next day. If a check is failed, the character goes without food for the day and gains the fatigued condition the following morning. This fatigued condition cannot be removed except by getting a good meal and a full day of rest, either from a successful hunt or by some other means. If a character fails his survival check three days in a row, he gains the exhausted condition, which can only be removed by getting a good meal, at which point, it reverts to fatigued. If an exhausted character fails three checks after becoming exhausted, he dies.
Characters who are roughing it are outside of society, and neither subject to, nor protected by, its laws. Furthermore, this lifestyle not only provides no social benefits in society, it is generally scorned by those of modest lifestyle or higher. To these people, you appear dirty and somewhat savage. Hardly the sort of person you'd invite into your home or introduce to your friends.
To someone skilled in Survival, roughing it primarily costs time. It takes a lot of effort and attention to keep alive in the wilderness, even for heroes. While it is possible to maintain this lifestyle indefinitely, there is very little leisure to it.
- Cost per month: 13 sp
The squalid lifestyle is, depending on the campaign world, often where the majority of humanoids live out their lives. A squalid lifestyle costs 3 silver piece per month to maintain, and for many of the people in this lifestyle, it is a daily struggle to achieve this meager cost. People living in squalor rarely eat more than once per day, are always hungry, often malnourished and even diseased. They might have a few places that they can go to sleep with only minimal fear of being attacked or robbed of their paltry possessions. However, they keep a few such places, because if someone tougher comes around, they'll move on rather than risk a fight, which could lead to an injury or infection which keeps them from scraping out the next day's meal. This is the lifestyle of beggars, petty thieves, unskilled laborers, the sick or elderly (those which have no family in better straits than they, anyway), and orphans. Often, these people rely on the largess of wealthier folk, or churches and charities. Some nobles also deign to distribute food or blankets to the poor and needy, though there is never enough to go around (and most nobles feel even the smallest token gesture is enough to establish their credentials as philanthropists).
Even if a character can afford the 13 sp upkeep of the squalid lifestyle, he still spends at least 6 hours each day actually using that money to continue living. Finding a place that will give him scraps of food for a couple of copper pieces, ensuring that no one robs him of his windfall while he sleeps, maybe daring to spend a little of the money on a blanket or some shoes. All of these things make it very difficult for someone living in squalor to find time for other things.
If a character fails to pay the 13 sp upkeep in any given month, he likely dies of exposure, contracts a serious illness, or suffers some other significant setback. This setback often makes it impossible to survive the next month, and makes the character vulnerable to predators and opportunists.
Characters living in squalor have very few protections from the lawful society. These parts of town are rarely patrolled by guards, and only the most grievous of crimes will draw any attention (and even then, only reluctantly). Most guards would rather look the other way than deal with the bureaucracy to resolve some dispute on behalf of the dregs of the city. People at this lifestyle might even be killed outright by the town guards for daring to "trespass" in the finer districts of a city.
The squalid lifestyle provides no social benefits, and is, in fact, a detriment, as characters in this social strata are dirty, often diseased, and generally an unpleasant reminder of just how depraved a human life can become. Few people of modest lifestyles or higher would ever even speak to someone living in squalor, being far more comfortable pretending they don't exist. People at this social strata aren't welcome in most parts of town outside of the slums. Shopkeepers and inns will actively drive them off, rather than letting them hang around, since they know there is no profit to be had.
Heroes almost never live in the squalid lifestyle. Even the lowliest of hero would prefer to take their chances in the wilderness roughing it, than sleep in a makeshift stack of crates under a bridge, begging for coin or scraps of food. If a hero chooses, or is forced, to live this lifestyle, they can use the Knowledge (Local) skill to try to get by, with an Average DC. This check can be made each day, and the character only needs to succeed once per month to successfully scrape together the 13 sp necessary to maintain the lifestyle. Those who wish to can simply take 20 on the roll, but doing so takes up the whole month.
- Cost per month: 11 gp
The best that can be said about a meager lifestyle is that it is stable. People living in this lifestyle tend to eat several times per day, and while the food is simple and often uninspired, it is nourishing and filling. The meager lifestyle also includes some form of consistent shelter, though this can range from a communal room in a flophouse to the common room of an inn. People living a meager lifestyle have clothing but it is threadbare, and often in need of repairs or replacement. It is the simplest of clothing, unadorned and unremarkable. However, people in this social strata have access to soap and buckets for washing their clothes and themselves at least a couple of times per week. As a result of these factors, disease is less common at this lifestyle.
The meager lifestyle enjoys some protection from the town guards, though living in common areas means that petty theft is commonplace. People in this lifestyle tend to be very cautious at all times, both to protect their few possessions, and to protect themselves. Because they are cleaner than those in a squalid lifestyle, the relative attractiveness of people is more obvious, and as a result, predators like slavers are more likely to try to attack people in the meager lifestyle than they are to try to sort through the filthy squalid lifestyle folks. While people at this lifestyle can go to most parts of town without issue, they're not usually welcome in most shops as the shopkeeper will rarely believe that they could afford to buy anything. More likely, they're up to no good.
The meager lifestyle does not offer any social benefits, but it does not offer any penalties. People in this lifestyle are often servants, laborers, dockworkers, thieves, mercenaries and other occupations requiring a small amount of skill. As productive members of society, those who live in more opulent lifestyles tolerate the people living a meager lifestyle, though they will also often ignore them. Even an aristocrat or nobleman wouldn't feel like he was sullying himself to speak to someone at this lifestyle. They might not feel obligated to be polite about it, of course.
Heroes sometimes find this lifestyle attractive, either because of its very affordable cost, or because of its anonymity. It is easy to move through a town without attracting attention in this lifestyle, though adventurers must be very cautious to protect their weapons, armor and equipment when sleeping in common rooms, as these items are easily pawned for a great deal of money. While most people at this social level spend their entire days laboring to maintain their existence, heroes can simply apply some small portion of their loot and easily get by here.
- Cost per month: 70 gp
A modest lifestyle means you're living in a better part of town. Perhaps its a bit run down, or older, and perhaps the roads are only repaired every couple of decades, leaving them rutted by wagon wheels for years at a time. However, living at this lifestyle means a rented room at a boarding house, temple or inn, and some actual privacy. Clothing at this level is quite plain, but it is sturdy, clean and well-tended. Meals are regular things and offer a decent variety, though still nothing extravagant. Sickness and disease are often only present if brought in from somewhere else, as everything is relatively clean.
The people living at this lifestyle are those with burgeoning prospects: soldiers of the guard, students, artists, laborers and assistants. Healers and alchemists are often found in this social strata, as are those supporting families. Some of the more successful thieves and other unsavory types maintain a lifestyle at this level as well.
People in the modest lifestyle enjoy all the protections of the law, and their neighborhoods are patrolled fairly regularly by the town watch. Because they have a private room, theft is less of an issue. Violent crimes in these areas are also uncommon, and rapidly responded to. This is a safe, if mundane existence.
Socially, those of a modest lifestyle are welcomed in shops, have run of nearly any part of a city, and are the sorts of people that the nobility look at as 'the right sort of folk'. Most nobility like to pretend that there aren't really any people surviving at less comfort than those in a modest lifestyle, and while they may not ever completely convince themselves of this delusion, it is made easier by being kind to those at this lifestyle, when it's convenient. While there are no specific social advantages at this lifestyle, it is easier to begin conversations with shopkeepers and dealers of specific wares at this lifestyle than for those living less well. This amounts to a +2 circumstance bonus to either Knowledge (Local) or Diplomacy, usable once per month while in the city in which you reside.
Heroes do quite well at this lifestyle. While anyone at this lifestyle can hardly be said to have 'settled down', it provides privacy, decent food and upstanding company. While this lifestyle isn't ever going to get invited to fancy parties or exclusive dinners, it is a comfortable way to live.
- Cost per month: 280 gp
The comfortable lifestyle is where signs of luxury begin to appear. Clothing is more refined, though still made of fairly common materials, it often has embroidery or silk linings. People at this lifestyle have access to food whenever they want it, and the holidays are always days of feasting and celebration. People at this level are not indolents and gadflys, however. They work at various trades and are good at those trades. These are the shop owners, the blacksmiths, the butlers and concierges, brothel owners and tavern keepers, banker's assistants and moneylenders. This lifestyle often means a house above the shop that is privately owned by the shopkeeper, or a small rented house in an older neighborhood. It could also be a rented room at a nice inn -- the sort of place that passing aristocrats might occasionally find their way into, if they want to "mingle with the common folk". This is a lifestyle where day-to-day survival is no longer a concern, and even a bad couple of months isn't likely to be life-threatening. People at this lifestyle usually have some savings set aside for harder times, and are skilled enough at a trade or two that they can get back on their feet, given time.
Legal protections are in full force at this social strata, and the town guards are commonplace in these parts of town. While the shops may be subject to shoplifters and petty theft, most shopkeepers at this level are able to absorb these losses with little discomfort. Guards will often act quickly and savagely to anyone trying to disrupt the lifestyles at this level, vigorously discouraging the less savory types from even coming into these parts of town. People of the comfortable lifestyle are welcomed in any shop they go to, and even actively attended to by the shopkeepers. This is because people at this level are often looking to make a name for themselves, and might just spend a good bit of coin to buy that special something that will help them stand out in a crowd. Such purchases might be rare, but the shopkeepers are happy to encourage them.
Socially, this lifestyle offers a few useful advantages. First, people at this lifestyle probably know which shops offer the best prices for various items, both for sale and for purchase. Second, it is not uncommon for someone at this social level to have the ear of a minor nobleman or wealthy businessman. Such contacts can sometimes even mean an invitation to a party or dinner, and opportunities to discuss business with people who have enough capital to invest in good ideas. This amounts to a +4 circumstance bonus to either Knowledge (Local) or Diplomacy, usable once per week while in the city in which you reside.
While not a cheap lifestyle, many heroes will find themselves tempted by this social level. It is, as the name suggests, quite comfortable. Displaying a bit of wealth is completely normal, and heroes often have a bit of wealth they can't help but show off. The food is good, the boarding is typically pretty nice, and there are some useful contacts to be had.
- Cost per month: 2,000 gp
The wealthy lifestyle is the domain of bankers and businessmen. These are the successful entrepreneurs and investors who fund trade expeditions and shipping voyages. They are often engaged in multiple business arrangements and a wide variety of services. This is also the domain of guildmasters, the city's best thieves and assassins, and crime lords. Housing at this level is often grand, beautifully decorated with expensive artwork and tapestries, alchemical chandeliers and imported or heirloom furniture. The clothing is similarly outstanding, finely tailored and nearly always custom-made by a favored tailor. People at this level may have a small staff of house servants, a couple of private guards, a chef and a steward. Staff personnel are often given rooms in the same house or an adjacent servant's house, and their lifestyles are often at the "Comfortable" level, as a result.
Living a wealthy lifestyle can mean that you are more protected by the law than your lessers. You often have your own private guards and, at least on your own property, you can enforce whatever "laws" you feel are just, with no one raising an eyebrow if that just happens to be a bit... enthusiastic. The town guard is highly likely to take your side in any affairs that might otherwise turn against you, especially if they are given the right incentives beforehand. In fact, it might be a good idea to keep a few town guard captains in your good graces all the time, just in case you ever need them. They'd be thrilled by the attention, and you never know when that will come in handy.
Socially, you mingle with the nobility fairly regularly. You are invited to dinner parties and can pay visits to the emperor himself if you have a need to (though it should probably be important). You know all the best tailors, the finest artists of the city, which ship captains can be trusted to be discrete, and a host of other useful people. This amounts to a +4 circumstance bonus to either Knowledge (Local) or Diplomacy, usable once per day while in the city in which you reside.
It is assumed you are earning money from your ventures at this lifestyle, and the actual cost of this lifestyle is probably two or three times what is listed. You only have to pay 2,000 gp a month because your investments are paying the other 4,000 gp a month you spend keeping your staff employed and your wardrobe fashionably relevant.
This is a very useful social strata for heroes, though it is quite expensive to maintain. It is impossible for a character living this lifestyle to remain anonymous, but they can certainly enjoy themselves while in town. Getting access to the city's best merchants and having friends among the city's nobility is also pretty useful.
- Cost per month: 30,000 gp
Most people can only live the noble lifestyle if they are born into it. However, lesser titles of nobility can sometimes be purchased, if you know the right people and there's a vacancy. It is also possible to have a title of nobility bestowed upon you by a king or emperor for some grand act in service to the kingdom.
However, even with the right title, it costs a LOT of money to live a noble lifestyle. There are certain expectations of you at this tier -- you must always wear the best clothing, and never the same thing twice. You must eat only the finest cuisine, often exotic or prepared by master chefs. You must socialize with only those worthy of your company, and you must at least maintain the appearance of being a noble person. This means you let someone else do anything that might require actual labor or risk any sort of dirt on your ambergold-trimmed ermine gloves. You must throw parties regularly, often at tremendous expense, to let the world see what a great and fair person you are. Surely those nobles which fail to throw parties must be malformed or of odious temperament.
You keep a large staff of attendants, servants, house cleaners, cooks, messengers, carriage drovers, gardeners and handymen. Many of these people live somewhere on your mansion's grounds. Each of them lives a "comfortable" lifestyle. You also keep a steward, house mistress, keeper of the keys, and master chef to manage all these people for you. You might also have a private detachment of guards, probably between 50 and 100 of them, to watch over your house, as well as one or two highly-competent full-time bodyguards for your person.
Your mansion is likely on a significant amount of land, possibly containing an orchard, several gardens, fountains, and a stable or two.
Legally, you answer only to the king or emperor. As long as you don't draw his attention to your dealings, you can probably get away with pretty much anything you're willing to try. Your fellow noblemen certainly do the same thing, and if some of them seem to be upright and law-abiding at all times, it just means they're better at hiding it than most people.
Socially, it's not who you know, it's who you allow to know you. You are an important and interesting person. If you decide you want to know someone, you can tell one of your many house staff to make arrangements, and that person will come calling at your convenience. Of course, if that person is too unsavory to ever be seen with you, you can always have all your dealings with him done through a proxy. This amounts to a +8 circumstance bonus to either Knowledge (Local), Knowledge (Nobility) or Diplomacy, usable once per day while in the city in which you reside.
Another perk of this lifestyle is that you collect taxes. Taxes are not personal spending money, contrary to the actions of most politicians. Taxes are money that should be spent to improve, or at least maintain, the kingdom, its infrastructure, trade, defenses and foreign relations. While it is possible to spend tax money on personal items, it nearly always ends badly. The peasants already hate the nobility, and flagrantly stealing from them for your own petty material gain is a good recipe for riots and coups.
Heroes who can achieve a title of nobility and who can afford this lifestyle may find its demands somewhat intrusive to their adventuring. On the other hand, the gallivanting playboy lifestyle might just be mysterious and exciting enough to keep your peers from looking too hard at that blood under your fingernails.
- Cost per month: 100,000 gp
Middle nobility are an interesting breed. Like lesser nobility, this is nearly always an inherited status, but on rare occasions can be bestowed upon lesser nobles by the emperor, if they have performed some great service to the empire. Unlike lesser nobility, however, middle nobility know they are in the line of secession and that even lesser nobles are but pawns in the game they must play each waking moment of their lives. At this social level, all daily routines are handled by the seemingly endless parade of staff and servants who tackle every task from brushing your hair, to dressing you, to ensuring that every room you enter is well-lit and the appropriate temperature. In addition to your regiment of house staff, you likely also have a small council of advisers who attend to your many ventures. You regularly juggle multiple intrigues against your fellow middle nobles, plotting to gain some small advantage, whether social or political.
A middle-tier nobleman likely commands an entire fiefdom or kingdom, and has armies at his beck and call. He meets with diplomats from neighboring countries, and has the power to declare war or make peace. He is responsible for directly improving the quality of the empire he serves, whether through new acquisitions of land, through trade deals or diplomatic policies, or through enacting domestic policies and laws. The city guards all likely answer directly to him, and him alone, and the laws of the city are enforced or ignored at his discretion.
Socially, middle nobility play a different game than their lessers. They're not arranging to sell that painting they acquired over a friendly game of poker. They're convincing the duke of Westingham that Avery is massing troops in the forests on Westingham's borders, even while convincing the Lector of Avory that Westingham's leadership is weak and distracted by the recent floods in their western plains. While middle noblemen are universally masters of diplomacy and bluffing, this lifestyle tier gains no numerical benefits. All the players at this level are masters of the game, and your title only allows you to try moving the pieces around.
Heroes seldom find themselves at the reins of a country. If they do, it is probably the focus of the campaign, rather than a sideboard to their dungeon-plundering. A campaign in which countries are pitted against countries, where kings gather to discuss policy and where the lives of millions are decided over an evening's pipe-smoke. This is the domain of the middle nobility.
- Cost per month: not for sale
Upper nobility means the emperor himself, or his immediate offspring. These are the several people at the very top of an empire's power, who have access to all the riches and wealth of the kingdom and whose whims are law. While it is possible for a game to allow players to achieve this status, it is not something they stumble into; it is likely how the campaign begins. In such a game, the sky is the limit! Wealth is no longer something desired, as characters at this level have more than their next twenty generations could hope to spend. Power is easily held, and frivolously applied. In point of fact, the only goal worth striving for at this level is the throne itself, and keeping it once you get it.
Socially, an emperor can order a merchant to take a loss on anything the emperor wants him to buy or sell. He can order his own middle nobility to their deaths or to dinner, with equal aplomb. He can even make tangible, enforceable threats against neighboring nations to make them react a certain way. His power is so vast that such orders will likely succeed in the short term, even if, longer term, they come back to haunt him.
GM's are cautioned about this tier of lifestyle. While it might sound interesting to try, the fact is that player motivation is very difficult to maintain at this level. When everything can be had as easily as telling someone to go get it for you, it's hard to build plotlines that will keep the players interested.