Friday, July 2, 2010


So here's a question.

Suppose the party wants to put a roof on a building that has no roof.  And the moment comes when the ask the inevitable question, "How much will it cost?"

I find myself wondering about that, since I now have a system that provides costs so that the actual number of board feet can be estimated, multiplied against the cost and an answer produced.  Which means that any player ought to be able to sit down, with the measurements of the building provided, and work out the cost for themselves ... by designing the roof themselves AND calculating the board feet.  If they don't know how to design a roof, they can look it up on the Internet, follow a few principles they can read about, and educate themselves.

This is, after all, what I'd have to do.  I'm not a carpenter.  I don't know how big the roof would be, or how many board feet it would require to build.  Moreover, is it really up to me to decide if it is a high peak or a low peak?  Is this not a player's issue?

For that matter, if you, a real person, were to come across such a structure and decide to roof it, YOU would have to research it, and YOU would have to buy the wood.  Hell, you'd also have to measure the building, wouldn't you ... and design a scale map for it if you wanted.  Scale maps don't appear when you look at things, do they?

Now, I'm willing to go far enough to give the dimensions on the building ... I may even provide a scale map, if that were strictly necessary ... but if image presentation continues to move forward, why not just a snapshot from GoogleEarth circa 2017 to show what the building looks like, hm?  Here's a pic, lay your own measurement grid upon it with your own design program, and let me know how much your roof it going to cost when it's done, hm?

Listen, a player is going to appreciate that roof MUCH more if he or she designs the thing before paying for it, right?  Hey, I worked out the cost of the damn wood - which wasn't easy - and I have quite a lot of things to do already.

So here is the question.  How far off am I to say to the player, work out your own design, and work out your own costs?  Wood and stone cost such and such per board and cubic foot.  Have fun.


Symeon Kokolas said...

I think it makes perfect sense. If the player doesn't want to go to the trouble, they can pay a carpenter to help them. Building a roof requires no significant experience other than the ability to measure and the possession of a few very simple tools. It probably won't come out perfect, but it will be functional.
Designing a roof is a little different, and there are climate considerations. If a character stuck with the general style of the area they would probably be ok, but if they build a wide low-peak roof in an area with blizzards, they are likely to wake up in a splintery snowdrift come November.
Either way, if they use a carpenter for one stage of the process, they will probably be obligated to use them for the whole project under guild rules.

Andrew said...

What I've done in my (Rolemaster) campaign is to set a roughly equivalent between RL prices and game world prices (in my case it is $50 = 1 SP). With that in place, you can have your player find out how much the actual roof would cost and then kind of translate (with hand-waving as needed) from there.


Alexis said...


'Hire a carpenter' sounds suspiciously like, 'have the DM do it.'


You don't quite understand. I have a system in place to determine the price; what isn't know is how many board feet does it take to cover a particular building ... or for that matter, how many materials go into anything the player's design.

It isn't an economics question. It's a volume question.

Zak S said...

"'Hire a carpenter' sounds suspiciously like, 'have the DM do it.'"

And therein lies a conundrum. After all, there's no in-game, general reason a player shouldn't be able to hire a carpenter, right?

By hiring a carpenter, the player's saying "I want to put a roof in the game's building but I don't want to play a game about putting a roof on a building."

If you refuse to let him/her hire a carpenter, you're saying "I want you to be able to do (mostly) whatever you could in real life, but I don't want to do everything everyone in real life would be able to do for you."

It would appear that so long as both DM and players view a worldbuilding task as having an interesting result, but as being too boring* to actually do the legwork on, there's no way it can possibly occur.

*Maybe the DM doesn't see it as "too boring" maybe it's more like a sportsmanship question--like "I'm not going to have your hirelings think up a plan to kill the manticore for you, so I'm not going to have one do math for you".

I guess the idea is: you can have a Hard Simulation Value System. You can also have value system that says Players Should Have To Do Certain Things Themselves. But these two value systems will eventually conflict and at that point one has to be prioritized over the other, right?

Carl said...


I agree with you. You've gone to the trouble to figure out costs for materials and labor. You shouldn't have to hand-hold them through the process.

Should you play their characters for them, too? Perhaps run them through and adventure while they aren't there?

There's a line that DMs must draw. I'm personally having issues with players who have been so conditioned to expect NPCs to run up to them with a bouncing exclamation point over their head shouting, "I start a quest!" that the group is semi-self-destructing because no one can figure out what to do.

I hope that when the time comes for them to start building forts and buying property that they're ready to do their own leg work in regards to how things are engineered and designed. I have enough on my plate without having to figure out the cost of villas and insulas for them.


The Hex Master said...

I personally think this is one of the DM's duties.

Something to consider, is that there are probably (if I may make an assumption about your game) no architects or civil engineers in all but the largest of cities and drafted plans are likely rare too. If the local builders traditionally make only high peaked thatched roofs, then getting something other than a high peaked thatched roof will probably be an exercise in disappointment. Getting a slate roof or leaden roof or ziggurat or whatever done right will probably require some imported craftsmen.

Players may complain that if they are forced into accepting the local architectural vernacular then the locals should at least be expected to give them a quote, which is probably fair.

The advice I'd give to every other DM would be to wait for the details to get worked out on The Tao of D&D blog and then make a abstracted version based on those numbers for their own game. I can see how this approach would be of less use to you.

Instead, you may find this roofing calculator handy. It takes the size, pitch, and materials (modern material only) and complexity and outputs the results in USD. You could easily mine it for cost to material ratios for your own world:

2eDM said...

IF you were to allow the Carpenter, there's also a wide range in how skilled any given carpenter is. The carpenters who offer their services(rather than being sought out) are not going to be the most skilled individuals. If, in effect, the PCs don't do their homework on the carpenter, it's perfectly ok to charge them whatever number you can pull out of your bum and inflict on them whatever quality work(and materials) you want to have done(in whatever time frame you want them to have it). Caveat emptor.

Golgotha Kinslayer said...

I think that it is perfectly reasonable to make the players do their homework for this.

It must also be considered that not all carpenters/roofers are also total-project contractors. That is, it is reasonable for a carpenter to assume that the job he has been hired to do does not also include him having to do all of the architectural designs and purchase all materials beforehand.

When the player decides to be clever and let the GM do it, do a quick and very rough--and very, very liberal--estimate of the materials cost. Then triple that, at least. Then add in the wages for the master carpenter, a dozen helpers, a guild-certified architect, a drafter assistant, a contractor, the profit of the contractor's company, meals and inn costs for all of the above, permits and bribes, local inspectors to ensure everything is up to code, and account for wasted materials and theft. Then double all of that.

If it is later discovered that, after all those costs have been added, the actual cost should have been even greater, then obviously someone cut corners and the roof is destined to fail soon.

JB said...

Well, to me the exercise seems a bit silly. After all, there's no internet (and probably no library) for the CHARACTERS to go to...why should they be able to use the PLAYERS knowledge for design? If you want an ultra-realistic simulation, most PCs aren't going to be great hands at carpentry having not been apprenticed from a young age, right?

Of course, I play B/X D&D. The cost of a two story wood house is 1500gp. Call it 750gp per level (the first level including a basement, the second including a roof). I'd guesstimate 500gp for the roof, or half that if the PCs do the work themselves. Then they could all head off to their next "adventure."
; )

Anonymous said...

I think there's a lot of "missing the point" going on in the comments above, folks. The DM's hands are typically rather full; particularly when the DM is an adult with all of the responsibilities that typically implies. Having the players get involved with ANYTHING outside of what goes on at the table is a means of sharing the work. My character wouldn't know diddly squat about building a roof. In game, HE might still need a carpenter or even an architect, but out of game why shouldn't I help the DM by figuring out what the damn thing costs? I personally remember many fond hours spent (as a player)pouring over the construction costs listed in the DMG and designing my PC's Fortress of Solitude. Maybe that's just me, though.

One could hand-wave a roof, sure, and I've done it plenty as a DM. If you've been following this blog, though, you must see that not a lot of hand waving goes on in Alexis's game if he can help it. Why vanquish the windmill of a dynamic, wolrd-wide economic system if you're just going to wave your hand and say "the roof costs you 200 gold pieces in labor and material... and 3 days of work."

Alexis said...

Thank you Andrej,

I was biting my tongue.

Anonymous said...

I will say that this advice from Hex Master accurately describes my typical, recent approach:

"The advice I'd give to every other DM would be to wait for the details to get worked out on The Tao of D&D blog and then make a abstracted version based on those numbers for their own game. I can see how this approach would be of less use to you."

Sorry Alexis. :)

Steve Lalanne said...

If the player prefers, I (as DM) would let him do the calculations. I'd also have him show me his work so I could see how he derived his results. Then I'd make corrections as necessary, perhaps adding other costs (e.g., dealing with a officialdom--which could be role-played if the players are interested).

For designing PC strongholds, I'd have the player draw the plans (something he should want to do, anyway). The NPC architect would then make suggestions according to his experience and acumen (e.g., "I suggest angling this wall like so in order to take advantage of this ravine" or "the latest fortifications are using rounded towers, rather than square, to reduce their vulnerability to sappers").