Atlas   Rules   Resources   Adventures   Stories       FAQ   Search   Links

Building it

by Bruce Heard

These guidelines provide suggestions on finding the cost and time required to build houses and other structures. Several issues come up:

PC Inflation: Adventuring PCs pay a much higher price compared to dominion rulers (whether PCs or NPCs). This is due to the existence of feudal obligations and corvee labour available to dominion rulers, to which adventuring PCs do not have access. This means dominion rulers tend to need less cash, while PCs will pay mostly gold. PCs usually have wildly unrealistic amounts of gold and jewellery which tends to balance out campaign gaming. Huge treasures such as dragon hoards are not normally available in a more historical medieval setting, and silver often is the base currency -- not gold. Dominion rulers rely on feudal service, natural resources available locally, and collected taxes, which hardly compare to the kinds of treasures PC often acquire. The costs listed in these guidelines are for dominion rulers. For adventuring PCs, multiply all listed costs by ten or more, depending on how rich PCs are. To retain the same proportions, be sure to use the same multiplier for all costs.

Labour Productivity: These guidelines let the players pick how any people their PCs hire for a construction project, else, the decision is left for the DM to make. However individual productivity varies with the setting, the number of people working on the project, and a series of other factors listed below. Productivity is crucial because it affects both the cost and time needed to complete a project. This is optional, but adds more realism to construction projects. On a large project, foremen, cooks, priests, apprentices, architects, accountants, scribes, artists, an armed guard (and so forth) may be needed to keep things running although few of them are actually building anything at all.

First determine the overall number of people available for work. Cross-reference the appropriate column with all applicable lines. The modifiers listed are cumulative and expressed as percent change affecting construction costs.

Cost Changes due to Productivity Factors

Workers 1-10 11-20 21-50 51-100 101-500 501-1K 1001+
A. Wilderness +100% +120% +140% +160% +180% +200% +250%
B. Borderland +50% +60% +70% +80% +90% +100% +120%
C. Settled Lds N/C +10% +15% +20% +25% +40% +60%
D. Urban Centre -20% -15% -10% -5% N/C +10% +30%

Wilderness includes scarcely populated, remote, dangerous regions (monsters, hostile natives, etc). Borderlands include remote regions with some organised population and some law enforcement. Settled lands include rural farmland that is fairly secure. Urban centres include villages, towns, cities, and their suburbs. Although urban centres are notorious for being more expensive than rural settings, the immediate presence of resources makes up for the local inflation.

Other Cost Factors:

E. Extreme Climate: +40% regardless of crew size. Extreme climates involve either unusually cold or hot regions where adverse elements predominate all year long (like deserts, equatorial regions, or high mountains for example), or for at least four months out of a year (continental weather patterns).

F. Difficult terrain: +20% regardless of crew size. This reflects a construction project in an area that is difficult to reach (such as mountains, swampy terrain, high altitude plateau, broken lands, thick jungle, etc).

G. Fair Admin. Skills: +15% regardless of crew size

H. Average Admin. Skills: No modifier

I. Good Admin. Skills: -15% regardless of crew size

J. Outstanding Admin. Skills: -30% regardless of crew size

Administration skills reflect the ability of concentrating workers and managing them and their supplies efficiently. A Fair Administration corresponds to a setting inspired from real world Dark Ages. An Average Administration corresponds to a medieval setting. A Good Administration reflects a setting inspired from real world Renaissance. The Outstanding Administration reflects a setting inspired from real world ancient times (such as Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, etc), or some civilisation that is unusually familiar with large construction projects or highly competent with construction (dwarves, gnomes, or creatures with hive-like intelligence for example).

K. Fair Workforce Skill: +25% regardless of crew size. This describes a workforce that isn't entirely skilled at all aspects of the construction project. For example, a family of peasants building a house would eventually accomplish the project, with some improvisation along the way.

L. Good Workforce Skills: No modifier. Assumes the appropriate skills are brought in when needed during the construction. Although the total number of people working on the project remains the same, people are rotated in and out as needed. This would be the case in an urban setting and settled lands.

M. Motivated Workforce: No Modifier. This reflects how hard people are willing to work. For example, a family of peasants rebuilding their own house or a temple of their faith would fit in this category. The same family working to build a new tower for the local lord as part of their feudal obligation would not. Self-employed workers or monks working for the good of their order would fit here as well. For a mixed workforce to qualify, at least 2/3 of the workers should fit in this category.

N. Unmotivated/Hostile Workforce: +25% regardless of crew size. This includes slave labour, convicts, unpaid labour (corvee labour -- such as workers providing services as part of their feudal obligations). Hostile workers may rebel or attempt to run away each week they are forced to work under conditions involving a total cumulated construction modifier exceeding +200%. The chances of revolt start at 5% and grow 1% per month until the total cumulated construction modifier drops below +200%.

O. Missing Supplies: +50% regardless of crew size. In some cases, supplies cannot be found locally (for example, trying to build a wooden structure in a desert, or a stone building in an area that does not have a stone quarry of some kind) and therefore must be shipped in.

P. Lack of Tools: +50% regardless of crew size. This reflects a workforce with rudimentary tools or which is forced to make their own tools as the construction progresses. For example, clearing out gravel with baskets and porters, wheelbarrows, or ox-pulled carts isn't the same. This is usually the case for massive borderland projects with thousands of slave workers (the Great Wall of Wu stretching for hundreds of miles for example).

Establishing Costs & Time Frames

In general, construction breaks down into main steps, such as 1. Clearing & Levelling, 2. Foundations & Underground Levels, 3. Walls, etc. Find the Basic Cost of each of the main steps required in a construction. Unless stated otherwise, add the appropriate modifiers and multiply the total by the number of elements needed. For example: clearing and levelling a 10,000 sq. ft. wooded, uneven hillside area would cost: 100 x (1+5+5+10) = 2,100 cp.

For a rough time-scale, divide the cost of each construction step by 100 to find its duration (in work days), rounding up fractions. In the example above, the project requires 21 work days. If this took place in common, settled lands with no other productivity modifiers, four workers could accomplish the work in six days. With 10 people, the work still requires three days because the remaining fraction was rounded up (rounding up fractions represents unpredictable time variations). Use common sense here to avoid absurd results.

The number of people used for a project does not affect total costs directly. It does of course increase how quickly cash is paid out since the work is completed at a faster pace. The decrease in productivity associated with larger crews remains otherwise the only actual cost increase toward a project. The number of people available for a project is up to the player or the DM. Naturally, some consideration should be given to local population.

1. Clearing & Levelling
Basic Cost (BC) = 1cp per 100 sq. ft.

1.1 Flat & Level Surface: N/C
1.2 Wooded Surface: +5cp
1.3 Uneven Surface: +5cp
1.3 Sloped Surface: +10cp
1.4 Soft or wet terrain: +15cp
1.5 Hard and rocky terrain: +20cp
1.6 Urban lot w/rubble or debris: +2cp

2. Foundations*
Basic Cost (BC) = 2cp per ft. (Length of outside walls)

2.1 Pre-existing Foundations: skip foundation costs
2.2 Small Building: N/C
2.3 Large Building +6cp
2.4 Fortification: +18cp
2.5 Soft or wet terrain: +6cp
2.6 Hard or rocky terrain: +12cp

(*) Treat castle moats as foundations, where width is equal to 1/10 to moat's total outside length (up to 40ft) and depth is equal to half the moat's width.

3. Underground Levels
Basic Cost (BC) = 1cp per cu. ft. (volume excavated)

3.1 Underground Chambers
3.11 Basic Cellar: N/C
3.12 Multiple underground levels*: +3cp
3.13 Hard or rocky terrain: +2cp
3.14 Soft or wet terrain: +6cp

(*) Includes natural ceiling and supports

3.2 Tunnels, Galleries
2.21 Tunnelling: crude*: N/C
2.22 Tunnelling: solid**: +3cp
2.23 Hard or rocky terrain: +2cp
2.24 Soft or wet terrain: +6cp

(*) Includes rudimentary wooden supports
(**) Includes permanent stonework and wall sconces

3.3 Wells, Shafts
Basic Cost (BC) = 2cp per cu. ft.
3.31 Simple water well: N/C
3.32 Reinforced well w/masonry: +6cp
3.33 Hard or rocky terrain: +4cp
3.14 Soft or wet terrain: +12cp

4. Walls
BC = 3cp per foot

Count the length of each wall for each floor. A 100ft wide, square house with two stories would have 800ft of outside walls. Unless stated otherwise, a wooden wall is 1/10 thick as it is high, a stone wall is 1/5 as thick as it is high, heavy battlements are 1/3 as thick for the sake of simplicity. So, therefore a 7ft high wooden wall is about 8 inches thick, a 7ft stone wall would be 1.5 ft thick, and 30ft high battlements 10ft thick.

4.1 Small Building or Inside Walls (7ft high x 6@ thick approx.)
4.11 Sticks & mud: N/C
4.12 Wood frame & paper: +1cp
4.13 Wood planks (6"thick): +2cp
4.14 Wood logs (1ft thick): +7cp
4.15 Adobe bricks (6" thick): +7cp
4.16 Stone (1ft thick): +20cp

(*) Oriental settings only

4.2 Large Building (9ft high approx.)
4.21 Wood (9@ thick): +15cp
4.22 Adobe (1ft thick): +22cp
4.23 Stone (2ft thick): +60cp

4.3 Fortified Building (12ft high, includes buttresses)
4.31 Wood (2ft thick): +50cp
4.32 Adobe: (3ft thick): +75cp
4.33 Stone (4ft thick): +240cp

4.4 Battlements (includes buttresses, catwalks, stairs)
4.41 Wood (18ft high x 4ft thick): +150cp
4.42 Adobe (18ft high x 6ft thick): +200cp
4.43 Stone (18ft high x 6ft thick): +480cp
4.44 Adobe (24ft high x 8ft thick): +500cp
4.45 Stone (24ft high x 8ft thick): +960cp
4.46 Adobe (30ft high x 10ft thick): +1,250cp
4.47 Stone (30ft high x 10ft thick: +1,920cp

4.5 Wall Finish (inside walls*)
4.51 Humble (whitewash, plaster): +1cp
4.52 Common (plaster, simple wood): +3cp
4.53 Rich (wood panelling, marble, mouldings): +25cp

(*) Count each inner wall's length only once regardless of whether it is finished on both sides

4.6 Wall Finish (outside walls*)
4.61 Humble (mud, paint, whitewash): +1cp
4.62 Common: (wood slats, paint, plaster): +3cp
4.63 Rich (marble, statues, tiles): +20cp
4.64 Stone gargoyles (one every 10ft): +12cp
4.65 Machicolation: +8cp
4.66 Crenulation: + 4cp

(*) Count each outer wall's length only once regardless of whether it is finished on both sides

4.7 Shifting Walls, Secret Doors
Basic Cost (BC) = 100cp per sq. ft. (Count entire moving surface)
4.71 Building's Inside Wall: N/C
4.72 Building's Outside Wall: +100cp
4.73 Battlement: +200cp

5. Floors* & Terraces
BC = 1cp per 10 sq. ft

5.1 Packed dirt or gravel: N/C
5.2 Wood, common: +2cp
5.3 Wood, fancy or fortification: +4cp
5.4 Stone, common: +8cp
5.5 Stone, fancy or fortification: +16cp

(*) Includes supporting pillars & stairs

Note: Wood floors are either rough wood, or wood covered with varnished parquet slats. Stone floors usually include flagstone (fortresses), cheap tiles (common construction), or marble tiles for the more expensive abodes.

6. Roofing
BC = 2cp per 10 sq. ft. (flat surface to cover)

6.1 Roof Shape
6.11 Flat Terrace*: N/C
6.12 Peaked roof: double the surface
6.13 Pagoda Style: add 1/2 to the initial surface
6.14 Spherical dome: 2 x 3.14 x r2**
6.15 Onion-shaped: 3 x 3.14 x r2**

(*) See Floor & Terraces, earlier
(**) r2 = radius squared; where r = radius of the initial area to cover

6.2 Roof Style
6.21 Thatch: N/C
6.22 Wood tiles: +3cp
6.23 Slate tiles: +5cp
6.24 Baked-earth tiles: +6cp
6.25 Stonework: +14cp
6.26 Ceramic Tiles: +21cp
6.27 Metal covering (copper): +25cp
6.28 Unusual fancy style (double the roofing modifiers up to this point)
6.29 Stone Gargoyles*: +12cp

(*) Located at peaks and edges.

7. Doors* & Gates
BC = special

7.1 Outside Door, Human-sized (priced per item)
7.11 Humble, wood: 8cp
7.12 Common, wood: 100cp
7.13 Fancy, wood: 500cp
7.14 Fancy, metal: 2,000cp
7.15 Heavy, reinforced wood: 500cp
7.16 Fortress postern (metal): +800cp

7.2 Inside Door, Human-sized (priced per item)
7.21 Humble, wood: 4cp
7.22 Common, wood: 50cp
7.23 Fancy, wood: 350cp
7.24 Fancy, glass: 700cp
7.25 Fancy, metal: 1,400cp
7.26 Heavy, reinforced wood: 350cp

7.3 Oversized Openings (priced per size)
BC = 10 cp per sq. ft.(opening size)
7.31 Large Wooden Doors: N/C
7.32 Large Metal Doors: +100cp
7.33 Gate, portcullis: +80cp
7.44 Drawbridge & mechanism: +200cp

(*) Includes basic lock and bar when needed
Secret Door: see shifting walls (4.7)

8. Windows
BC = special

8.1 Average 8-10 sq. Ft. Opening* (priced per item)
8.11 Plain Shutters: 4cp
8.12 Plain glass window & shutters: 200cp
8.13 Fancy shape, clear glass, shutters w/louvres: +1,000cp
8.14 Arrow slits w/reinforced shutters: 150cp
8.15 Sturdy metal bars: +150cp per window
8.16 Fancy ironwork: +450cp per window

8.2 Oversized Openings (priced per size)
BC = 10 cp per sq. ft.(opening size)
8.21 Large, reinforced shutters: N/C
8.22 Fancy, stained glass: +90cp
8.23 Sturdy metal bars: +5cp
8.24 Fancy Ironwork: +35cp

(*) Includes basic lock and bar when needed

9. Other Items
BC = special

9.1 Plumbing
BC = 1cp per sq. ft. (Total surface to receive plumbing)
9.11 Rudimentary: N/C
9.12 Functional: +10cp
9.13 Advanced*: +50cp

(*) Requires the presence of sewers and a water cistern (see 9.4)

9.2 Fireplaces & Chimneys (priced per item)
9.21 Humble w/bricks/plaster (4'x4'): 50cp
9.22 Common w/stonework (4'x4'): 200cp
9.23 Common, w/stonework (8'x5'): 500cp
9.24 Fancy, w/marble decorations: 1,000cp

9.3 Furniture, Floor, Window, and Wall Dressing
BC = 2cp per 100 sq. ft. (Total surface to receive furniture)
9.31 Humble and rudimentary: N/C
9.31 Common, cheap and sturdy: +125cp
9.32 Common, comfortable: +250cp
9.33 Fancy, expensive trappings: 1,000cp

9.4 Well, Water Cistern (priced per item)
9.41 Common well (see underground levels 3.31)
9.42 Water cistern*, small wooden: 500cp
9.43 Water cistern*, large wooden: 2,000cp
9.44 Water cistern*, small stone: 1,000cp
9.45 Water cistern*, large stone: 4,000cp

(*) Requires functional plumbing (9.12) or better

Note: after all construction costs and its time frame have been calculated, don't forget to add the cost of the land if it was purchased.