This question was inspired by the the Fortnightly Challenge, and also a common occurrence in many fantasy novels.

This question is going to use the incomes of England around 1270-1400, based from this article, for some of the prices of services and goods. We have 4 heroes. Like all so many heroes, they are on a journey.

Journeys cost money, though. Our heroes were simple laborers, farmers or some such. Since their call to action was sudden, they don't have much but the clothes on their back and a few tools- 1 dagger per person, a hammer, and some spare bits of cloth and leather.

These heroes need to stay at an inn. They've run into baddies, etc. and want some rest in a proper house. The innkeeper, a practical man, demands they pay for their stay, either with money or through their own sweat. The heroes currently have no money; they need to work to get a room. If there are 4 heroes, all of them being "laborers", what can they do to earn their stay? (Please provide monetary values for what they do; that way, we're sure the work they've done has covered their costs.) They must complete their labors over the course of 1 working day, or 8 hours. Any task taking longer and these heroes will not be on a journey any longer, and our tale will end with them trying to work off debt in a most un-heroic way. There are ample opportunities to practice almost any trade which falls under the category "laborer" and the locals seem willing to fairly pay them for help they offer. (Laborers can be: farmhands, (apprentice-level) smiths, (apprentice-level) weavers, fishers, lumberjacks, etc.)

These 4 heroes will eat a whole chicken, a 1-pound loaf of bread, and 1 gallon of ale between the 4 of them over the course of their 1 night and morning stay. (They are thirsty!) The innkeeper also wants a profit margin of around 20%. About .1 pence for the bread, .5 pence for the chicken, and 1 pence for the gallon of ale, so about 1.6 pence total costs for the innkeeper. With the profit margin needed, that means it costs around 1.92 pence for all four of them.

If this is not possible, what can they afford in terms of lodging and food?

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Let the 3 heroes disguised as bandits trying to rob the inn owner, then 1 hero who won the draws earlier pretend to chase off the bandits. Thereafter seeks reward from inn owner... rotate shift between towns until all heroes can affort good gears lol. $\endgroup$
    – user6760
    May 6, 2015 at 16:33
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    $\begingroup$ @user6760 That doesn't sound very heroic, more like organized crime's "protection money" racket... :P $\endgroup$
    – Kromey
    May 6, 2015 at 16:36
  • $\begingroup$ @Kromey but I think chivalry comes after life experiences don't you agree? $\endgroup$
    – user6760
    May 6, 2015 at 16:38
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    $\begingroup$ Unless your innkeeper is a robot, I doubt he would perform such fine-grained calculations to decide what work he would ask out of the guys. You should also probably take personalities/emotions into account, as he might be partial to their plight, have a generous heart. Oh, and he might also just try to take advantage of their naivete and ask much more of them than what a meal is worth. $\endgroup$ May 6, 2015 at 17:42
  • $\begingroup$ @user6760 Why not let 3 of them disguised as bandits actually rob the inn, and the other guy give chase, and come back with half or a little more of the money? "I was only able to catch two of them," he says, but of course they are all okay. He then gets a meal and a night's stay for him and his friends as a thank-you, plus a little money on the side. And if they've fought actual bandits, well then, here's the bodies as proof that I really did chase down the robbers! $\endgroup$
    – KSmarts
    May 6, 2015 at 19:20

4 Answers 4


In addition to the fact that our heroes could have looted the baddies they encountered and thus most likely do have at least a bit more of value on them...

It's important to keep in mind that at this point you're discussing a barter economy. It's not merely a matter of figuring out how much coin someone could earn in 8 hours of a given labor and comparing that against the cost of a room for the night and a hot meal. A laborer might earn just half a pence for mucking out a dirty stall -- but to an innkeeper with empty rooms, even if he normally rents them out for 5 pence a night (just an arbitrary number), that day spent mucking his stalls could easily be worth letting them stay in the room. (On the other hand, if he's got a steady flow of paying customers coming into his rooms, he might not be so willing to let one go for so cheap!)

The same could be said of the food -- if there's not enough customers coming by, the food's going to spoil anyway, so even if the labor wouldn't earn enough coin to pay for it, he very well might be willing to feed them for some basic labor anyway.

On the flip side, maybe a blacksmith can expect to earn 10 pence shoeing a horse, but a blacksmith who really needs a roof over his head for the night might happily do it in exchange for a 5 pence room and a 1 pence meal.

What's the nature of your heroes' journey? If it's something the innkeeper favors -- perhaps they're off to slay the evil witch that's been harassing travelers and thus hurting his income -- then perhaps he'll let them stay the night in return for the mere promise that they will succeed on the quest, or at the very least the hope that they will. On the other hand, if he's in league with the evil witch, he might still offer them that room -- and then inform the witch exactly where to send her flying monkey assassins that night!

Bottom line: The money doesn't matter. It's a matter of how much the innkeeper values their work versus how much he values what he's giving in exchange. This is how barter economies have always worked; you can see it even today on numerous "For Trade" Facebook groups and Craigslist postings -- someone has something that is "worth" \$\$\$\$, and they trade it happily for something "worth" only \$\$. Did they get ripped off? Absolutely not (well, maybe not, at least...) -- they made a trade based on how much value the traded items have for them, not how many arbitrary units of currency would be required to buy them.

Bottom line: Monetary value has very little to do with the exchange of labor/goods, except in the case where one is buying them with money.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ +1 for pointing out that thinking about monetary value is quite anachronistic $\endgroup$
    – Rob Watts
    May 6, 2015 at 16:43
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    $\begingroup$ +1, Sometimes a person has that one extra thing, be it a room, an object, or food - and they have a task they hate or simply don't have the skills for. If they can get rid of the hateful task by giving away whatever had no worth otherwise.. its a win. $\endgroup$ May 6, 2015 at 17:10
  • $\begingroup$ +1 for pointing both (1) that monetary value depends on circumstances (supplies and demand) and (2) is not necessarily at the heart of an exchange. $\endgroup$ May 6, 2015 at 17:37
  • $\begingroup$ This is a Hero's Journey of the Joseph Campbell variety. $\endgroup$
    – PipperChip
    May 6, 2015 at 17:59
  • $\begingroup$ Could whomever downvoted this add a comment as to why? $\endgroup$
    – Kromey
    May 6, 2015 at 21:10

Since you mention the date range: 1270-1400 there's another option: iron and steel.

It varies depending on whether you're at the beginning or end of that range because cast iron was coming in around then and iron was getting a lot cheaper. If you intend for your world to be at the point where they have cannonballs iron will be cheaper, if not then iron will be very very expensive.

(For context in Normandy ca. 1066, a healthy adult cow could cost about 12 ounces(340 grams) of iron and cows were quite valuable at that time)

People don't realize just how valuable decent iron and steel was. Swords and suits of armor were symbols of wealth because the material needed to make them was so expensive.

It's hard to get approximate prices from the time but a cheap sword looted from an enemy would easily pay for a night in an inn. Some metal armor would pay for a lot more.

An apprentice blacksmith who's willing to steal and who doesn't intend to come home could also probably steal enough iron to fund a trip across the country.


They ran into baddies... Check their bodies for loose change.

Depending on their skills and backgrounds there are a few jobs on this list that could be useful in an inn:
Blacksmith: Shoe a horse, sharpen some knives.
Rat catcher: The cellar has a few big ones.
Minstrel: Sing for your supper.
Storyteller: Because there's nothing good on TV.

Otherwise, have them muck out the stalls. If I had a busy stable I'd probably let a few honest looking but down on their luck people clean it in exchange for some food and a place on the floor near the fire for the night.

If the working it off isn't terribly important to the story, it's not out of the question for at least one of them to be carrying a purse with a few coins in it.

Regarding your edit, I'm looking into what a days work could be, which is somewhat difficult since most sources list average yearly wages.
BUT, as Kromey pointed out, the biggest thing is not what the job would normally pay, but what it's worth to the inn keeper.
For instance, if I had a horse that needed a shoe, and the closest blacksmith was miles away, couldn't get out to see me for a couple days, and would cost me 1 pence, I'd probably be more than happy to trade that for some food and a place on the floor.
Likewise, if I had a stinky stable that needed cleaning and knew it was going to take a couple hours for me to do, I'd probably be happy to trade a meal not to have to do it myself.
Same goes for entertainment. If you have someone with a good voice or some tales of adventure that no one has heard before, they would probably have the other patrons at the inn buying them drinks and stuff. You come off the trail, it's been a long day and you want to unwind a bit, and here's this person with a good singing voice and a rousting story to get your mind off your own troubles...
It's a value for value situation, so you don't HAVE to get stuck on small details.

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    $\begingroup$ Don't just check the bodies for loose change. Take their weapons, armor, horses, and any clothing that missed getting blood-soaked. $\endgroup$ May 6, 2015 at 16:06
  • $\begingroup$ @WhatRoughBeast Good point! $\endgroup$
    – AndyD273
    May 6, 2015 at 16:07
  • $\begingroup$ I'm sorry; I suppose I should have made clear that I want actual, monetary values for their work. Does shoeing 1 horse cover their stay? 5 horses? I've changed my question to reflect this, and I'm letting you know here. $\endgroup$
    – PipperChip
    May 6, 2015 at 16:12
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    $\begingroup$ @PipperChip The problem is we don't know anything about the innkeeper or the economy in question: how badly does he need a horse shoed? Is there a blacksmith or someone else he knows willing to do it (if not, its worth more)? Maybe shoeing a horse is worthless to him, it doesn't matter how many horses they offer to shoe - he just doesn't need it because they were just shoed yesterday.. you could literally determine the actual monetary values to be whatever you want depending on supply and demand. $\endgroup$ May 6, 2015 at 17:20

In the Middle Ages, Pilgrimages to Holy Sites were a big deal. There were travelers' aid stations and many were interested in helping poor pilgrims get where they are going.

If they are willing to mix the travel with a pilgrimage (our noble heroes would never lie about being a pilgrim) they could save quite a bit of money at the expense of speed.


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