“Bilbo had heard tell and sing of dragon-hoards before, but the splendour, the lust, the glory of such treasure had never yet come home to him. His heart was filled and pierced with enchantment and with the desire of dwarves; and he gazed motionless, almost forgetting the frightful guardian, at the gold beyond price and count.”
—J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit (1937)
“There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”
—Thorin Oakenshield, J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit (1937)
Four great villains seek a glimmering treasure hidden within the city of Waterdeep. Five hundred thousand gold coins have been secreted away, and now the Xanathar, Lord and Lady Cassalanter, Jarlaxle Baenre, and Manshoon the Manyfaced seek that wealth… but so do the player characters, as well as several other factions, such as the Harpers and their allies within the Masked Lords. It seems anyone who’s anyone in Waterdeep has heard of this hidden cache, and they will stop at nothing to find it.
The only question is, what will they do with it when they find it? Half a million gold pieces is a regal sum, especially in the hands of a group of 5th-level adventurers. If the four antagonists of this adventure get the money, there’s no doubt that they will use it to advance their own sinister motives—no spoilers on this one, you’ll have to wait ‘til Waterdeep: Dragon Heist hits D&D Beyond’s digital shelves at 12 AM Eastern on September 7th, or the very same date at your friendly local game store. If the Lords of Waterdeep (or the Open Lord, Laeral Silverhand) acquires this gold, it will likely go straight back into the city’s coffers, and Waterdeep’s wealthiest will live a little more comfortably for the next few years.
What if you could get that gold? What could you possibly spend it on? Now there will probably be caveats; a windfall of that size will surely create problems and expenses all on its own, and you will surely have to spend a fair sum of it just to protect yourself from enemies, politicians, and “long lost cousins.” But what if this were a perfect world, and you could keep it all? Let’s speculate on the sheer magnificence of 500,000 gold pieces, and what a group of adventurers could do with it all.
Divided up Among the Party
Let’s be real, every member of the party is going to want to get their own special thing. The wizard will want a staff of power, the fighter will a fortress and a retinue of loyal knights, and so on and so forth. So if you’re just one player in a party of four characters, that means you’re (ideally) going to walk away from the Dragon Heist with 125,000 gold pieces to your name. What could you spend that on? Well:
Live in Luxury for the Rest of Your Days
According to the Player’s Handbook, an aristocratic lifestyle costs a minimum of 10 gold per day. Let’s do the math. If you spend an average of 10 gold per day on lifestyle expenses, how many years can you live in the lap of luxury on 125,000 gp? (This isn’t taking into account the many ways the rich stay rich, such as investments and interest, making this a rather conservative estimate.)
125,000/10 gp per day = 12,500 days/365 days in the Faerûnian calendar = just over 34 years. Assuming your character is a young adult of about 18 to 25 years, your character will live in a lavish lifestyle for until the middle or end of their fifth decade without lifting a finger before their haul runs out. Older characters could easily ride this wealth to the end of their natural life.
As a general rule, magic items aren’t widely purchasable in the worlds of Dungeons and Dragons, but hey, your DM might allow it! You might have to go on a quest to find the person selling such rare artifact, but that’s a small price to pay.
The Dungeon Master’s Guide provides very loose guidelines on the price of magic items based on rarity. By these metrics, the most expensive very rare magic items cost 50,000 gp, and legendary magic items cost an undefined amount upwards of that. With a tidy 125,000 gp in your pocket, you could easily buy two very rare magic items (and maybe a third) and perhaps one legendary magic item—depending on your DM’s attitude towards the purchasability of magic items.
Keep in mind, though, that no amount of money can buy artifact-level magic items. Relics such as the rod of Orcus or the eye of Vecna cannot be bought in any shop, and can only be discovered through dedicated adventuring.
When you have 125,000 gp in your pocket, you don’t buy adventuring equipment like rope or lanterns. Or, you do, but you don’t worry about the handful of coppers you pay for them. You set your sights on larger things. You look at elephants. If each elephant costs 200 gp plus an extra 60 gp for an exotic saddle, you could spend your cut of the treasure on an army of nearly 500 war elephants.
Or you look at a galley. Do you want to start your own pirate crew or Viking-style raiding ship? Buy a galley for 30,000 gp, and save another 30,000 for repairs, or just in case your ship is totaled and you need to commission a new one. Acquiring a crew is another big expense. In the Classical era, many galleys were powered by slaves, but you’re an adventurer of some moral character, right? And after all, you have enough money to pay your hard-working crew.
In the real world, we have surviving example of a Byzantine galley from the late 17th century that was powered by 144 rowers. It could probably carry about as many crew, including warriors. If you paid each member of your crew (288 people, at full capacity) 2 sp per day to maintain a “Poor” lifestyle, you would spend about 58 gp per day on crew alone. If you didn’t plan on fighting or doing any rigorous activity, you could probably cut back and maintain a light crew (144 rowers and 72 crew), dropping your costs to just over 43 gp per day. As long as you returned to Waterdeep, Neverwinter, or Baldur’s Gate every few months or so for repairs and shore leave, you could keep up your raiding vessel, pleasure barge, or exploratory craft for about four years! To be exact: [125,000 gp – a 30,000 gp galley = 95,000 gp / 58 gp per day / 365 days] = 4.4 years. Acquiring some form of income, either through adventuring, raiding, or a wealthy patron would offset these costs a little, of course.
If you want to live a little less large, a simple sailing ship (the Player’s Handbook doesn’t elaborate, but let’s assume that a “sailing ship” is a caravel) would let you sail along the Sword Coast with up to 50 people, including crew and passengers. Such a vessel would be strong enough to sail along the Sword Coast and perhaps even cruise through the Moonsea or the Sea of Fallen Stars. You could operate this small vessel for about 31 years. To be exact: [125,000 gp – a 10,000 gp sailing ship – 115,000 gp/ 10 gp per day / 365 days] = 31.5 years.
As a Group
On the other hand, let’s say that your party has come together as perfect family unit, and is willing to spend the whole half million on one big expense.
Run the Best Pub in Town
In the run-up to Waterdeep: Dragon Heist’s release, the Waffle Crew (the cast of “Dice, Camera, Action”) came into possession of a run-down tavern in Waterdeep’s North Ward. If your party was to acquire a tavern, and wanted to invest all 500,000 gold into its operation, you could afford to renovate the entire tavern and easily pay off all of the operating costs in advance, all while living comfortably. If you wanted to cater to an elite clientele, you could definitely afford the startup costs of high-end food, the best chefs in Faerûn, and art and décor to suit such a fancy establishment.
But maybe you’re not so fanciful. Perhaps, just like Durnan of the Yawning Portal Inn and Tavern, you want to serve all kinds of folk without pricing out the common people who just want a cold pint and a hot bowl of stew.
When you’re half a million gold coins rich, you can afford to go all out. Waterdeep: Dragon Heist contains information pertaining to the expenses of running a tavern, but making your tavern the best pub in town tends to cost a little extra. Performing a simple renovation of a tavern costs only 1,000 gold—a huge expense to 1st level characters, but easily doable for those with a dragon’s hoard of gold at their disposal, plus an additional 250 in guild fees and such. Upgrading a tavern to contain real finery, such as elaborate suits of armors, the finest beds money can buy, and gorgeous hardwood chairs and tables could easily cost 10,000 gp. Running a modest tavern costs about 60 gp per tenday for expenses, but hiring expert chefs, full cleaning crews, and purchasing the best cuts of meat and the juiciest fruit and crispest vegetables could easily cost 300 gp per tenday.
Of course, running a tavern like this attracts wealthy customers. At the end of every tenday, look at the Running a Business table in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. For a tavern like this, roll 1d100 and add 20 (+10 for the tenday spent operating it, and a +10 bonus based on the high quality of your establishment) to the result.
Adventurers running a tavern like this are, barring major accidents, never in danger of running out of money. With 500,000 gold at your disposal, you can cover just about any disasters that befall the tavern. You could even commission a few suits of animated armor or even a helmed horror to guard the place against thieves—or worse. Adventurers like you will make some nasty enemies, after all.
Create a Fortress
D&D doesn’t have rules for creating fortresses these days, but most adventurers dream of owning their own stronghold. If you complete Waterdeep: Dragon Heist and earn the favor of the Lords of Waterdeep, you may find yourself knighted or even granted the rank of count or countess somewhere in the lands of the Sword Coast. And such nobility requires a keep.
In third edition Dungeons & Dragons, a book called the Stronghold Builder’s Guidebook offered rules for building and maintaining a stronghold. You could use this book and update the rules (and fudge the numbers somewhat) to work in a post-Dragon Heist game. However, earlier this year, Matthew Colville completed one of the most successful RPG Kickstarter campaigns of all time: Strongholds & Followers, a book which details how to create and maintain a stronghold using fifth edition rules. The book isn’t out yet (at the time of writing), but it will be soon enough. Probably by the time you complete your Dragon Heist campaign and want to spend all your hard-earned gold, anyway.
What Would You do with 500,000 Gold?
I have plenty of ideas of my own, but what would you do with all this cold, hard cash? In truth, the amount you will truly get discovering from Waterdeep’s hidden treasure will probably be much less than the full half million, but it’s fun to dream, isn’t it? And who knows… maybe your cut of the treasure will help you finance an expedition into Undermountain, where even greater treasure awaits in the Dungeon of the Mad Mage…
James Haeck is the lead writer for D&D Beyond, the co-author of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist and the Critical Role Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting, the DM of Worlds Apart, and a freelance writer for Wizards of the Coast, the D&D Adventurers League, and Kobold Press. He lives in Seattle, Washington with his partner Hannah and his two sparkly ball-hoarders, Mei and Marzipan. You can usually find him wasting time on Twitter at @jamesjhaeck.