Wednesday, 14 October 2015

The Golden Tune, or, the Economics of Busking in WFRP1e

I once had players generate new characters and each one ended up with the Dance skill. They could earn more money as a dance troupe, busking on the streets of Nuln, than they could by engaging in the kind of dirt-grubbing adventures that starting WFRP characters often find themselves. And the GCs they’d collect by dancing in the street would far outstrip anything they could hope to earn from steady employment.

Musicless Dancing in the Street

At least, that is how I remember it. But is it true?

First, let’s consider player character subsistence. A character who can afford it must spend 7/- per day on food, though he or she could stave off starvation by spending as little as 3/-. There are, of course(!) 8 days in an Imperial week. This means that characters ought to be spending 56/- a week on food (a minimum of 24/-). A bed in the common room of an inn would set them back another 24/-, giving us a weekly subsistence of 80/-, or 4 GCs, per week. Or, if our character foregoes the bed (spending just 16/- on floor space) and eats very badly, 40/- (2GCs).

What can a player character earn in a ‘steady’ job? 60/- (3GCs) per week as an artisan, 30/- (1GC 10/-) as an entertainer, 42/- (2GCs 2/-) as a labourer, and just 3/- per week as a servant, though free board and lodgings in provided in that case. I know the Old World is grim and perilous, and life for the working classes isn’t bread and roses, but we must presume that the subsistence costs given above are for itinerant adventurers. It would, of course, be very expensive living in even the cheapest hotel and eating out for every meal. An entertainer must be able to survive on 30/- a week, even if they can’t live well, and an artisan must have an appreciably better standard of living. We can assume that a character with a ‘permanent’ home and preparing his or her own food can get by at the wage rates listed. Still, there isn’t much money to be made is honest labour. And that is if the character can find work – finding these jobs is subject to an Employment test!*

But what about busking? A busking character makes a test against Fellowship every hour. Success = D4+1 GCs (average 3.5 GCs), failure = D6 shillings (average 3.5/-), and a failure by more than 30% = trouble. Let’s say that a character busks for 5 hours every day, for a total of 40 hours busking a week. Let’s also say that the busking character has a Fel of 30%, the average for a starting character. Having a skill such as Dance allows the character a +10% bonus to Busk tests. So, over 40 hours busking a character will have 16 successful hours, 12 unsuccessful hours, and 12 hours being hassled by rowdy locals, moved on by watchmen, etc. If the character can stand the 12 hours of ‘trouble’, he or she will collect an average of 56GC (over the good hours) and 42/- (the bad hours). Or 58GCs 2/-!

Oh, the trouble? These are player characters we are talking about. If they have survived even the introductory adventure they will have killed a handful of cultists and a demonic monster! Rowdy locals? Watchmen? Worth the hassle for nearly 60GCs a week.

So I wasn’t misremembering. And that is why players in my games spent a lot of the time busking, and very little adventuring.

*It does appear that these wage rates are for a 6 day working week, with the authors forgetting that they had made the Imperial week 8 days long. But, even adding an extra day's wages... 


  1. The economics system as described in the core supplements never did strike me as being WFRP's strongest feature....

    1. No, I guess that you are right. But I'm not looking for 'realistic' economics, or even a 'crunchy' economic sub-game. But if the rewards for adventure are treasure, it helps to have a way to 'calibrate' these rewards. An artisan might put down his tools and dig his rusty family sword out from the attic for a few tens of Gold Crowns. Somebody who can dance? That's a few days twirling in the street!

  2. Indeed the WFRP1 rulebook (pg 68) is ridiculously generous (a successful Busk test = D4+1 GCs, fail = D6 shillings & botch = arrest) so for our house rules I toned it down to arrest/assault/insult/0/D3/D6/2D4/2D6 shillings with a Busk test for every half day. In case you're unfamiliar with our range of outcomes, this corresonds to Horrific/Terrible/Awful/Unlucky/Lucky/Good/Great/Amazing which translates as Failed by +31/30-21/20-11/1-10 Pass by 0-9/10-19/20-29/30+. I think this matches more closely the daily income of an Entertainer of 4 shillings per day (pg 68 WFRP rulebook) and the Musician rates described Clive Oldfield's Universal Price List System for WFRP